On April 7, 1980 Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre celebrated the Holy mass at the Church of St. Simon Piccolo, in Venice, Italy. He gave the sermon in Italian, apologizing for not being very fluent.
Perhaps there are some among you who are having doubts. They are maybe wondering why Archbishop Lefebvre has come here to Venice, without having been invited by Cardinal Cé. My presence here creates a situation which, in the Church, is not normal.
This is true. When I was Archbishop of Dakar, if a bishop had come to my diocese without having asked me and without having been invited, I would have been very surprised. I realize this, that we are dealing with an abnormal situation. We must ask ourselves what the present situation in the Church is.
A Society to Serve the Church
Never, never would I have wanted to do anything contrary to the Church! All my life has been devoted to the service of the Church. In my fifty years of priesthood, thirty-three of them as a bishop, I have done nothing but serve the Church as a missionary, as a bishop in France, as Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers, and as a missionary bishop. The young seminarians and the priests that you see here with me represent a very small part of all those presently studying in my five seminaries.
Ten years ago, I began this work - this Society of St. Pius X - with the intention of wanting always to serve the Church. Why, then, is Cardinal Cé, Patriarch of Venice, not happy that I have come here? Why does he not understand the reason? How can I best explain? Obviously, he is not happy that I have continued my duties unchanged since the day of my ordination to the priesthood. I have never changed in any way, whether it was when I established new seminaries in Africa, or when, as Apostolic Delegate of His Holiness Pope Pius XII, I visited the sixty-four dioceses of French Africa during eleven years. I visited all the seminaries, laying down to the diocesan bishops the standards for the new ones to be opened.
I have never changed. I have preached and done what the Church has always taught. I have never changed what the Church said in the Council of Trent and at the First Vatican Council. So, who has changed? Myself or Cardinal Cé? I don’t know, but I think that considering the way things are - that is, the fruits of the changes made in the Church since the Second Vatican Council - as Catholics we can observe the fruits for ourselves, you can see it with your own eyes.
How are things going in the Church today? Ask His Grace Monsignor Pintonello, former Chaplain to the Armed Forces, who has made a detailed report on the present conditions of the Italian seminaries: a disaster! A real disaster! How many seminaries have been sold or closed? The Seminary of Turin with three hundred places - empty! And how many others have you seen closed in your own dioceses? So then, surely, something is wrong in the Church, because if there are no longer any seminaries there will in the future be no more priests - thus, there will no longer be the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. What will become of the Church? All this is unbelievable! They have changed, yes. They have changed, but why? They have done this, of course, with the idea of saving the Church, of doing something new. Before the Council there was a real decrease of fervor and therefore they thought that by changing, the Church would become more alive. But one cannot change what Jesus Christ has established. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Sacraments, the Creed, our catechism, the Sacred Scriptures - all come from Jesus Christ. To change them is to change the establishment of Jesus Christ. Impossible! One cannot say that the Church has been mistaken; if something is wrong one must look for the reason somewhere, but not in the Church. They also say that the Church must change as modem man changes, that as man has a new way of life, so too the Church must have another doctrine - a new Mass, new Sacraments, a new catechism, new seminaries - and, in this way, everything has gone to ruin. Everything has been ruined!
The Enemies come from Within the Church
The Church is not responsible. It is not the Church but rather the priests who are responsible for the deterioration of Catholicism. Pope St. Pius X, your Holy Patriarch of Venice, in the first pages of his encyclical Pascendi, writes that already in his time there were errors and heresies not outside but inside the Church; within the Church and not only among the laity but, more to the point, amongst the priests. St. Pius X saw these enemies from the very beginning of this century. Today we can add that if St. Pius X were still alive, he would see them not only amongst the priests but amongst the bishops and cardinals as well. It is certain, unfortunately, that there are even some cardinals who are diffusing error.
Where does the Dutch Catechism originate? Certainly not from the Catholic Catechism, even though it was approved by cardinals and bishops. Even the French catechism, with which I am acquainted, contains errors. It is no longer the true Catholic doctrine which has always been taught. We are dealing with a very serious situation.
Throughout the world, everywhere I have been, I have visited groups of Catholics like you, who ask themselves: "What is happening in the Church?" The Church is hardly recognizable today. The ceremonies - the half-Protestant, half-Catholic liturgy - are a circus; it is no longer a Mystery. The Sacred Mystery of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass - a great Mystery, heavenly and sublime - is no longer considered such. One no longer feels the supernatural character of the Mass; those who are present have a feeling of emptiness and no longer know whether they have been at a Catholic ceremony or at some kind of secular gathering.
This is an inadmissible situation. The faithful, good and simple people, are opposed to it. Because they intuitively know that there is something which is not right in this reform. They see seminaries empty; the novitiates of religious communities empty throughout the world. This, too, is inadmissible. for the good of the Church, we must resist, without being against the one who holds the authority. Never!
I Do not Want the Faith to Be Changed
I have always had a great respect for the Holy Father, the bishops, and the cardinals. I am not capable of pronouncing uncharitable words in the confrontation with Cardinal Cé, but that does not stop me from affirming Catholic doctrine because I want to remain a Catholic.
When I was baptized, the priest asked my godparents: "What does this child ask of the Church?" They replied: "Faith. He asks Faith from the Church." And even today I still ask Faith from the Church - the Catholic Faith. Why do the godparents ask Faith of the Church for the child? They do so to enable him to obtain everlasting life. If it is the Faith that obtains everlasting life, then it is this Faith that I want- and I don’t want to change it!
The Catholic Faith is the Catholic Faith. The Creed is the Creed. They cannot be changed. One cannot change the Catechism; one cannot change the Mass, transforming it into a meal as the Protestants have.
The Mass is a Sacrifice, the Sacrifice of the Cross and, as the Council of Trent says, it is the same Sacrifice as Calvary, with the only difference being that one is bloody and the other unbloody. But the two are the same; the same priest - Jesus Christ, and the same Victim - Jesus Christ.
If the Victim is truly Jesus Christ, God, our Creator and our Redeemer, who shed all His Blood for our souls, it is impossible to receive Him in our hands like just any piece of bread. And it is therefore impossible for a Catholic not to have respect and adoration, if he truly believes that in the Blessed Sacrament is Jesus Christ - God Himself - the Creator, our Judge, who will be seen coming in the clouds of heaven to judge the entire world. Like you, I am also scandalized, I am saddened and it pains my heart to see it - they even show it on television - pictures in which a cardinal or bishop approaches the Blessed Eucharist without making a genuflection or any other sign of respect towards the Blessed Sacrament - nothing! Once again, this is inadmissible and does not reflect the attitude of the Catholic Church. We must keep the Faith in this tempest that the Church is going through - a tempest that has lasted for a long time and that we hope will soon be over so that the Church can return to the Faith that she had before. We must have a little patience.
I go to Rome five or six times a year to plead with the cardinals, the Pope himself, to return to Tradition and to give back to the Church her Catholic spirit. I quote again from St. Pius X: "Who are the friends of the people? The true friends of the people are neither the revolutionaries nor the innovators but rather the traditionalists." Those are the words of St. Pius X to the French bishops. The true friends of the people are neither revolutionaries nor the innovators - and it was precisely the innovators who condemned St. Pius X - but rather the traditionalists. We want to be in the same spirit of St. Pius X whom for this reason I have chosen as patron of our Society, which is recognized by the Church.
Unjust Condemnation of the SSPX
My Society, in fact, was officially recognized ten years ago by Rome and by the Bishop of Fribourg in Switzerland in which diocese it was founded. Afterwards, progressive bishops and Modernists saw in my seminaries a danger for their theories. They were enraged with me and said to themselves: "We need to destroy these seminaries, we need to finish off Ecône and the work of Archbishop Lefebvre, because it presents a danger to our progressive and revolutionary plan." They addressed themselves to Rome in this calumnious manner and Rome consented.
But as I said to His Holiness John Paul II, the suppression was carried out in a manner contrary to Canon Law. Not even the Soviets pronounce judgments as the cardinals at Rome have done against my work. The Soviets have a tribunal, a kind of tribunal to condemn someone, but I have not even had this tribunal - nothing! I have been condemned without having had anything, not even a forewarning or a summons - nothing! One fine day a letter arrived to tell me that the seminary would have to be closed.
I have repeated this to the Holy Father that not even the Soviets behave like this. I told him that I have continued because this is not how the Church acts - it is the enemies of the Church that want her seminaries closed down. The Catholic Church cannot just forget her Tradition, it is impossible. It is the enemy, as St. Pius X said, the enemy who is working within the Church because he wants the Church to be finished with her tradition; because he is in a fury against her Tradition.
It is up to you to judge the facts. In my seminaries, we have over 200 seminarians and many vocations to the religious life. When a house opens it is soon filled with many new vocations. Why? Because the youth seek to find the Church - Tradition. There, where one finds Tradition, one also finds the Church. Through a priest all finds its ideal; all his heart is in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. To go unto the altar of God, to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, to give Our Christ, the true Victim - to souls. Thus, the fullness of the priesthood and the priests. My seminarians, such as those at Ecône, know this; they prepare themselves for the priesthood upon this basis.
I congratulate and thank those who have invited me to come. I hope that my visit has encouraged Catholics to maintain the Church of all time, the Catholic Church. In Rome, it has been said of me that I have done nothing other than halt, impede, progress in the Church. In that alone I would be doing a splendid thing! If only this, to halt, to impede the ruin of the Church!
That is not our only purpose. Not only do we wish to halt this ruin but we desire also to reconstruct the Church, a living Church. For this end, I preach to you a crusade, a true crusade of all Catholics who desire to maintain the Faith. To do so you must gather around good priests who wish to conserve the Faith by assuring life in the Church.
In closing, I ask all who are gathered around this altar, a true altar with a true priest, I ask you to continue the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We pray also for your children that they may see and know the Catholic religion, that they may frequent Catholic schools. Indeed, there are great trials for Catholic parents. These children must also conserve Tradition. We invoke, to this end, our highly venerated Patriarch of Venice, Pope St. Pius X, who was a saint who foresaw the future.
During this Mass let us ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to whom we must have a great devotion, especially through the invocation of the most holy Rosary, let us ask her to terminate this crisis in the Church and return to the Church the peace and grace of Almighty God.
Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre
Venice, on April 7, 1980