Traditional Mass

Friday, July 13, 2007

This is an "Inside the Vatican" Newsflash

"Fidelity To This Mass Was Never Disobedience"

The head of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X (founded by Archbishop Lefebvre) sees the motu proprio as absolving his group of blame in the break with Rome

- by Bishop Bernard Fellay

Note: We received today at Inside the Vatican the following letter from Bishop Bernard Fellay, the head of the Society of St. Pius X, on the July 7 motu proprio on the liturgy published by Pope Benedict XVI. We publish the letter in its entirety, so that our readers may see how Fellay is interpreting the document.

We note that Fellay's remarks are marked by caution.

He opens with thanks to the Holy Father, but then immediately makes this main point: that he is cautious about this document because he feels the great battle over the liturgy -- over which rite will be celebrated in the Church, and when and how often -- still lies ahead, and depends in considerable measure on the attitude and decisions of many bishops around the world who have not yet made clear their own positions. This seems prudent on his part. It is an attitude of "wait and see."

Moreover, Fellay rightly notes something of great importance: that implicit in this motu proprio of Benedict's is Benedict's conviction, and, consequently, his assertion, that what happened at and after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) was not a rupture with Church tradition. And Fellay rightly notes the corollary: that for those who would contest that assertion (as the Lefebvrists do) the time has arrived for an open dialogue -- for a debate.

This letter is, then, in effect, an offer to begin talking openly. As such, it is quite positive, for open discussion of disputed points is the only chance to settle them without force and coercion of consciences. And in this matter, as Rome seems to have recognized, debate and persuasion are necessary, for the existence of the Lefebvrist group, with its several hundred priests and perhaps 1 million laity who often have very large families, is a simple "fact" which evidently is not going away.

We note one other thing: in 1988, Joseph Ratzinger, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, directed the discussions held at that time with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in order to reconcile Lefebvre with Rome. Those discussions very nearly led to Lefebvre's reconciliation with Rome.

Lefebvre signed a "protocol of agreement" in early May in Rome, then went out to Albano, near Castel Gandolfo, where his headquarters were. That night, he stayed up almost the entire night in prayer, and the following morning he withdrew his consent from the document he had signed.

He then went on seven weeks later, against Pope John Paul II's express wishes, to ordain Fellay and three other bishops, at the end of June in Switzerland, which led to his excommunication -- the only open schism since the Second Vatican Council.

Ratzinger has said on different occasions that he regarded that breakdown in his attempt to "head off" the Lefebvrist schism as one of his greatest failures. And so it is not wrong to see his issuance of the motu proprio as directed, at least in part, to overcoming that failure, and healing the schism.

In this context, the letter of Fellay, the successor of Lefebvre, takes on a special, almost personal importance, in this pontificate. -- The Editor

The Letter of Bishop Bernard Fellay

July 7, 2007

Dear Faithful,

The Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum of July 7, 2007 re-establishes the Tridentine Mass in its legal right. In the text it is clearly acknowledged that it was never abrogated. And so fidelity to this Mass -- for the sake of which so many priests and lay people have been persecuted, or even severely punished, for almost forty years -- this fidelity was never disobedience. Today it is only right and just to thank Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre for having maintained us in this fidelity to the Mass of all times in the name of true obedience, and against all the abuses of power. Also there is no doubt that this recognition of the right of the traditional Mass is the fruit of the vast number of rosaries offered up to Our Lady during our Rosary Crusade last October; let us not forget now to express to her our gratitude.

Beyond the re-establishment of the Mass of Saint Pius V in its legitimate right, it is important to study the concrete measures issued by the Motu Proprio and the justification given by Benedict XVI in the letter which accompanies the text:

- By right, the practical measures taken by the pope must enable the traditional liturgy -- not only the Mass, but also the sacraments -- to be celebrated normally. This is an immense spiritual benefit for the whole Church, for the priests and faithful who were hitherto paralyzed by the unjust authority of the bishops. However, in the coming months it remains to be seen how these measures will be applied in fact by the bishops and parish priests. For this reason, we will continue to pray for the pope so that he may remain firm following this courageous act.

- The letter accompanying the Motu Proprio gives the pope’s reasons. The affirmation of the existence of one single rite under two forms -- the ordinary and the extraordinary forms -- of equal right, and especially the rejection of the exclusive celebration of the traditional liturgy, may, it is true, be interpreted as the expression of a political desire not to confront the Bishops’ Conferences which are openly opposed to any liberalization of the Tridentine Mass. But we may also see in this an expression of the "reform of the reform" desired by the pope himself, and in which, as he himself writes in this letter, the Mass of Saint Pius V and that of Paul VI would mutually enrich one another.

In any event, there is in Benedict XVI the clear desire to re-affirm the continuity of Vatican II and the Mass which issued from it, with the bimillenial Tradition. This denial of a rupture caused by the last council -- already shown in his address to the Curia on December 22, 2005 -- shows that what is at stake in the debate between Rome and the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X is essentially doctrinal. For this reason, the undeniable step forward made by the Motu Proprio in the liturgical domain must be followed -- after the withdrawal of the decree of excommunication -- by theological discussions.

The reference to Archbishop Lefebvre and the Society of Saint Pius X made in the accompanying letter, as well as the acknowledgment of the testimony given by the young generations which are taking up the torch of Tradition, clearly show that our constancy to defend the lex orandi has been taken into account. With God’s help, we must continue the combat for the lex credendi, the combat for the faith, with the same firmness.

Menzingen, July 7, 2007
Bernard Fellay

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