Archbishop Lefebvre gives here the theological reasons for which the SSPX has constantly opposed the Novus Ordo Missæ which came out of the Second Vatican Council.
We find a very enlightening synthesis in the collection of declarations by its founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, The Mass of All Time. Likewise, in his Open Letter to Confused Catholics, published in 1985, the comparison between the old and the new Mass has lost nothing of its relevance, in spite of the desire of the Holy See to correct some abuses in the conciliar liturgy during the past few years.
The New Rite Already Judged
Extracts from The Mass of All Time
1. The judgement of Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci
We are not judging the intention but the facts (and the consequences of these facts, similar incidentally, to those of past centuries where these reforms had been introduced) oblige us to acknowledge, along with Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci1 (Short Critical Study of the New Order of Mass, sent to the Holy Father on September 3, 1969) that the “Novus Ordo Missae […] represents, both as a whole and in its details, a striking departure from the Catholic theology of the Mass as it was formulated [at] the Council of Trent”2
2. A new rite already condemned by several Popes and Councils
It is a conception more Protestant than Catholic which expresses everything which has been unduly exalted and everything which has been diminished.
Contrary to the teachings of the 22nd session of the Council of Trent, contrary to the encyclical Mediator Dei of Pius XII, the role of the faithful in the participation of the Mass has been exaggerated, and the role of the priest has been belittled to that of a mere president.
It has exaggerated the place given to the liturgy of the Word and lessened the place given to the propitiatory Sacrifice. It has exalted the communal meal and secularized it, at the expense of respect for and faith in the Real Presence effected by transubstantiation.
In suppressing the sacred language, it has pluralized the rites ad infinitum, profaning them by incorporating worldly or pagan elements, and it has spread false translations at the expense of the true faith and genuine piety of the faithful.
And yet the Councils of Florence3 and Trent4 had both declared anathemas against all of these changes, while affirming that our Mass in its Canon dated back to Apostolic times.
The popes St. Pius V and Clement VIII insisted on the necessity of avoiding changes and transformation and of preserving perpetually this Roman Rite hallowed by Tradition.
The desacralization of the Mass and its secularization lead to the laicization of the priesthood, in the Protestant manner5.
How can this reform of the Mass be reconciled with the canons of the Council of Trent and the condemnations in the Bull Auctorem Fidei of Pius VI6?
3. “It is Tradition which condemns them, not me”
I do not set myself up as a judge; I am nothing, I am merely an echo of a Magisterium which is clear, which is evident, which is in all of the books, the papal encyclicals, council documents, basically in all of the theological books prior to the Council. What is being said now does not at all conform with the Magisterium which has been professed for two thousand years. Therefore it is the Tradition of the Church, her Magisterium which condemns them. Not me!7
4. The traditional judgments of the Church on the Eucharist are definitive
As for our attitude vis-à-vis the liturgical reform and the breviary, we must hold fast to the affirmations of the Council of Trent. It is hard to see how to reconcile it with the liturgical reform. Yet the Council of Trent is a dogmatic, definitive Council and once the Church has made a definitive pronouncement on certain matters, another council may not change these definitions. Without this no more truth is possible!
Faith is something which is unchangeable. When the Church has presented it with all of her authority, there is an obligation to believe it to be immutable. Now, if the Council of Trent went to the trouble of adding anathemas to all of the verities concerning the sacraments and the liturgy, it was not for nothing. How can they behave so casually, as if the Council of Trent no longer exists and say that Vatican II has the same authority and consequently can change everything? We might just as well change our Credo which dates from the Council of Nicea, which is much more ancient, because Vatican II has the same authority and is more important than the Council of Nicea…
It is our duty to be firm about these things, and this is the strongest response we can make to the liturgical reform: it goes against the absolutely definitive and dogmatic definitions of the Council of Trent8.
5. An avowal by Paul VI
Here is an interesting little fact which illustrates what Paul VI thought of the changes in the Mass. (…) Jean Guitton asked him: “Why would you not accept that the priests at Ecône continue to celebrate the Mass of St. Pius V? It was what was said before. I do not see why the seminary is refused the ancient Mass. Why not allow them to celebrate it?” The response given by Paul VI is very significant. He replied: “No, if we grant the Mass of St. Pius V to the Society of St. Pius X, all that we have gained through Vatican II will be lost9.” (…) It is extraordinary that the pope could see the ruin of Vatican II in the return of the ancient Mass. It was an incredible revelation! This is why the liberals wanted so much for us to say this Mass which represents for them a totally different concept of the Church. The Mass of St. Pius V is not liberal, it is anti-liberal and anti-ecumenical. Therefore it cannot conform to the spirit of Vatican II10.
Holy Sacrifice or Eucharistic meal?
Extract from Open Letter to Confused Catholics.
In preparation for the 1981 Eucharistic Congress, a questionnaire was distributed, the first question of which was: “Of these two definitions: ‘The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass’ and ‘Eucharistic Meal’, which one do you adopt spontaneously?” There is a great deal that could be said about this way of questioning Catholics, giving them to some extent the choice and appealing to their private judgment on a subject where spontaneity has no place. The definition of the Mass is not chosen in the same way that one chooses a political party.
Alas! The insinuation does not result from a blunder on the part of the person who drew up the questionnaire. One has to accept that the liturgical reform tends to replace the idea and the reality of the Sacrifice by the reality of a meal. That is how one comes to speak of Eucharistic celebration, or of a “Supper”; but the expression “Sacrifice” is much less used. It has almost totally disappeared from catechism handbooks just as it has from sermons. It is absent from Canon II, attributed to St. Hippolytus.
This tendency is connected with what we have discovered concerning the Real Presence: if there is no longer a sacrifice, there is no longer any need for a victim. The victim is present in view of the sacrifice. To make of the Mass a memorial or fraternal meal is the Protestant error. What happened in the sixteenth century? Precisely what is taking place today. Right from the start they replaced the altar by a table, removed the crucifix from it, and made the “president of the assembly” turn around to face the congregation. The setting of the Protestant Lord’s Supper is found in Pierres Vivantes, the prayer book prepared by the bishops in France which all children attending catechism are obliged to use:
“Christians meet together to celebrate the Eucharist. It is the Mass... They proclaim the faith of the Church, they pray for the whole world, they offer the bread and the wine. The priest who presides at the assembly says the great prayer of thanksgiving.”
Now in the Catholic religion it is the priest who celebrates Mass; it is he who offers the bread and wine. The notion of president has been borrowed directly from Protestantism. The vocabulary follows the change of ideas. Formerly, we would say, “Cardinal Lustiger will celebrate a Pontifical Mass.” I am told that at Radio Notre Dame, the phrase used at present is, “Jean-Marie Lustiger will preside at a concelebration.” Here is how they speak about Mass in a brochure issued by the Conference of Swiss Bishops: “The Lord’s Supper achieves firstly communion with Christ. It is the same communion that Jesus brought about during His life on earth when He sat at table with sinners, and has been continued in the Eucharistic meal since the day of the Resurrection. The Lord invites His friends to come together and He will be present among them.”
To that every Catholic is obliged to reply in a categorical manner, “NO! the Mass is not that!” It is not the continuation of a meal similar to that which Our Lord invited Saint Peter and a few of his disciples one morning on the lakeside, after His Resurrection. “When they came to land they saw a charcoal fire there and a fish laid thereon and bread. Jesus said to them, come and dine. And none of them durst ask Him, ‘Who art thou?,’ knowing that it was the Lord. And Jesus cometh and taketh the bread and giveth them, and fish in like manner” (John 21: 9-13).
The communion of the priest and the faithful is a communion to the Victim Who has offered Himself up on the altar of sacrifice. This is of solid stone; if not it contains at least the altar stone which is a stone of sacrifice. Within are laid relics of the martyrs because they have offered their blood for their Master. This communion of the Blood of Our Lord with the blood of the martyrs encourages us also to offer up our lives.
If the Mass is a meal, I understand the priest turning towards the congregation. One does not preside at a meal with one’s back to the guests. But a sacrifice is offered to God, not to the congregation. This is the reason why the priest as the head of the faithful turns toward God and the crucifix over the altar.
At every opportunity emphasis is laid on what the New Sunday Missal calls the “Narrative of the Institution.” The Jean-Bart Centre, the official centre for the Archdiocese of Paris, states, “At the center of the Mass, there is a narrative.” Again, no! The Mass is not a narrative; it is an action.
Three indispensable conditions are needed for it to be the continuation of the Sacrifice of the Cross: the oblation of the victim, the transubstantiation which renders the victim present effectively and not symbolically, and the celebration by a priest, consecrated by his priesthood, in place of the High Priest Who is Our Lord.
Likewise the Mass can obtain the remission of sins. A simple memorial, a narrative of the institution accompanied by a meal, would be far from sufficient for this. All the supernatural virtue of the Mass comes from its relationship to the Sacrifice of the Cross. If we no longer believe that, then we no longer believe anything about Holy Church, the Church would no longer have any reason for existing, we would no longer claim to be Catholics. Luther understood very clearly that the Mass is the heart and soul of the Church. He said: “Let us destroy the Mass and we shall destroy the Church.”
Now we can see that the Novus Ordo Missae, that is to say, the New Order adopted after the Council, has been drawn up on Protestant lines, or at any rate dangerously close to them. For Luther, the Mass was a sacrifice of praise, that is to say, an act of praise, an act of thanksgiving, but certainly not an expiatory sacrifice which renews and applies the Sacrifice of the Cross. For him, the Sacrifice of the Cross took place at a given moment of history, it is the prisoner of that history; we can only apply to ourselves Christ’s merits by our faith in His death and resurrection. Contrarily, the Church maintains that this Sacrifice is realized mystically upon our altars at each Mass, in an unbloody manner by the separation of the Body and the Blood under the species of bread and wine. This renewal allows the merits of the Cross to be applied to the faithful there present, perpetuating this source of grace in time and in space. The Gospel of St. Matthew ends with these words: “And behold, I am with you all days, even until the end of the world.”
The difference in conception is not slender. Efforts are being made to reduce it, however, by the alteration of Catholic doctrine of which we can see numerous signs in the liturgy.
Luther said, “Worship used to be addressed to God as a homage. Henceforth it will be addressed to man to console and enlighten him. The sacrifice used to have pride of place but the sermon will supplant it.” That signified the introduction of the Cult of Man, and, in the Church, the importance accorded to the “Liturgy of the Word.” If we open the new missals, this revolution has been accomplished in them too. A reading has been added to the two which existed, together with a “universal prayer” often utilized for propagating political or social ideas; taking the homily into account, we often end up with a shift of balance towards the “word.” Once the sermon is ended, the Mass is very close to its end.
Within the Church, the priest is marked with an indelible character which makes of him an alter Christus: he alone can offer the Holy Sacrifice. Luther considered the distinction between clergy and laity as the “first wall raised up by the Romanists”; all Christians are priests, the pastor is only exercising a function in presiding at the Evangelical Mass. In the Novus Ordo, the “I” of the celebrant has been replaced by “we”; it is written everywhere that the faithful “celebrate,” they are associated with the acts of worship, they read the epistle and occasionally the Gospel, give out Communion, sometimes preach the homily, which may be replaced by “a dialogue by small groups upon the Word of God,” meeting together beforehand to “construct” the Sunday celebration. But this is only a first step; for several years we have heard of those responsible for diocesan organizations who have been putting forward propositions of this nature: “It is not the ministers but the assembly who celebrate” (handouts by the National Center for Pastoral Liturgy), or “The assembly is the prime subject of the liturgy”; what matters is not the “functioning of the rites but the image the assembly gives to itself and the relationship the co-celebrants create between themselves” (Fr. Gelineau, architect of the liturgical reform and professor at the Paris Catholic Institute). If it is the assembly which matters then it is understandable that private Masses should be discredited, which means that priests no longer say them because it is less and less easy to find an assembly, above all during the week. It is a breach with the unchanging doctrine: the Church needs a multiplicity of Sacrifices of the Mass, both for the application of the Sacrifice of the Cross and for all the objects assigned to it, adoration, thanksgiving, propitiation, and impetration.
As if that were not enough, the objective of some is to eliminate the priest entirely, which has given rise to the notorious SAAP (Sunday Assemblies in the Absence of the Priest). We can imagine the faithful gathering to pray together in order to honor the Lord’s Day; but these SAAP are in reality a sort of “dry Mass,” lacking only the consecration; and the lack, as one can read in a document of the Regional Center for Social and Religious Studies at Lille, is only because “until further instructions lay people do not have the power to carry out this act.” The absence of the priest may even be intentional “so that the faithful can learn to manage for themselves.” Fr. Gelineau in Demain la Liturgie writes that the SAAP are only an “educational transition until such time as mentalities have changed,” and he concludes with disconcerting logic that there are still too many priests in the Church, “too many doubtless for things to evolve quickly.”
Luther suppressed the Offertory; Why offer the pure and Immaculate Host if there is no more sacrifice? In the French Novus Ordo the Offertory is practically non-existent; besides which it no longer has this name. The New Sunday Missal speaks of the “prayers of presentation.” The formula used reminds one more of a thanksgiving, a thank-you, for the fruits of the earth. To realize this fully, it is sufficient to compare it with the formulas traditionally used by the Church in which clearly appears the propitiatory and expiatory nature of the Sacrifice “which I offer Thee for my innumerable sins, offenses and negligence, for all those here present and for all Christians living and dead, that it may avail for my salvation and theirs for eternal life.” Raising the chalice, the priest then says, “We offer Thee, Lord, the chalice of Thy redemption, imploring Thy goodness to accept it like a sweet perfume into the presence of Thy divine Majesty for our salvation and that of the whole world.”
What remains of that in the New Mass? This: “Blessed are You, Lord, God of the universe, You who give us this bread, fruit of the earth and work of human hands. We offer it to You; it will become the bread of life,” and the same for the wine which will become “our spiritual drink.” What purpose is served by adding, a little further on: “Wash me of my faults, Lord. Purify me of my sin,” and “may our sacrifice today find grace before You”? Which sin? Which sacrifice? What connection can the faithful make between this vague presentation of the offerings and the redemption that he is looking forward to? I will ask another question: Why substitute for a text that is clear and whose meaning is complete, a series of enigmatic and loosely bound phrases? If a need is found for change, it should be for something better. These incidental phrases which seem to make up for the insufficiency of the “prayers of presentation” remind us of Luther, who was at pains to arrange the changes with caution. He retained as much as possible of the old ceremonies, limiting himself to changing their meaning. The Mass, to a great extent, kept its external appearance, the people found in the churches nearly the same setting, nearly the same rites, with slight changes made to please them, because from then on people were consulted much more than before; they were much more aware of their importance in matters of worship, taking a more active part by means of chant and praying aloud. Little by little Latin gave way to German.
Doesn’t all this remind you of something? Luther was also anxious to create new hymns to replace “all the mumblings of popery”. Reforms always adopt the appearance of a cultural revolution.
In the Novus Ordo the most ancient parts of the Roman Canon which goes back to apostolic times has been reshaped to bring it closer to the Lutheran formula of consecration, with both an addition and a suppression. The translation in French has gone even further by altering the meaning of the words pro multis. Instead of “My blood which shall be shed for you and for many,” we read “which shall be shed for you and for the multitude.” This does not mean the same thing and theologically is not without significance.
You may have noticed that most priests nowadays recite as one continuous passage the principal part of the Canon which begins, “the night before the Passion He took bread in His holy hands,” without observing the pause implied by the rubric of the Roman Missal: “Holding with both hands the host between the index finger and the thumb, he pronounces the words of the Consecration in a low but distinct voice and attentively over the host.” The tone changes, becomes intimatory, the five words “Hoc est enim Corpus Meum,” operate the miracle of transubstantiation, as do those that are said for the consecration of the wine. The new Missal asks the celebrant to keep to the narrative tone of voice as if he were indeed proceeding with a memorial. Creativity being now the rule, we see some celebrants who recite the text while showing the Host all around or even breaking it in an ostentatious manner so as to add the gesture to their words and better illustrate their text. The two genuflections out of the four having been suppressed, those which remain being sometimes omitted, we have to ask ourselves if the priest in fact has the feeling of consecrating, even supposing that he really does have the intention to do so.
- 1. “The analysis of the Novus Ordo by these two Cardinals has lost none of its value, and unfortunately none of its topicality… The results of the reform are deemed by many today to be devastating. It was to the credit of Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci that they immediately realized that the modification of the rites would lead to a fundamental change in doctrine.” Cardinal Stickler - November 27, 2004, on the occasion of the re-printing of the book.
- 2. Letter to Cardinal Seper - February 26, 1978.
- 3. Cf. DS 1320.
- 4. Cf. DS 1751, 1753, 1756, 1759.
- 5. Open Letter to the Pope - November 21, 1983.
- 6. Bull of August 28, 1794 / DS 2600.
- 7. Spiritual Conference at Econe - March 13, 1975.
- 8. Spiritual Conference at Econe - March 18, 1977.
- 9. Jean Guitton, Paul VI secret, Desclée De Brouwer, 1979, pp. 158-159.
- 10. Sermon given at Zaitzkofen - February 15, 1987.