Sermon of Archbishop Lefebvre on the occasion of a new Priest’s first Mass
at Poitiers, France September 3, 1977:
Dear Father, you have the joy today of celebrating Holy Mass in the midst of your dear ones, surrounded by your family, by your friends and it is with great satisfaction that I find myself near you today to tell you also of my joy and prayers for your future apostolate, for the good which you will do for souls.
We will pray especially to St. Pius X, our patron, whose feast it is today and who has been present during all your studies and your formation. We will ask him to give you the heart of an apostle, the heart of a saintly priest like him. And since we are right here in the city of St. Hilary, of St. Radegonde and the great Cardinal Pie, well, we shall ask of all those protectors of the city of Poitiers to come and aid you so that you may follow their example, so that you may defend as they did in difficult times, the Catholic Faith.
You could have coveted an easy and comfortable life in the world. You had already begun the study of medicine. You could have gone in that direction. But no, you had the courage, even in times like these, to come and ask to be made a priest at Ecône. And why Ecône? Because there you found Tradition, you found that which corresponded to your faith. It was an act of courage which does you honor.
And that is why I would like, in a few words, to answer the accusations which have appeared in the local papers following the publication of the letter of Msgr. Rozier, Bishop of Poitiers. Oh, not in order to polemicize. I carefully avoid doing that. Generally, I do not answer these letters and I prefer to keep silent. However, since you as well as me are called into question it seems to me well to justify you here. We are not called into question because of our persons but because of the choice we have made. We are incriminated be-we have chosen the so-called way of disobedience. But we must understand clearly what this way of disobedience consists of. I think we may truthfully say that, if we have chosen the way of apparent disobedience, we have chosen the way of true obedience.
Then I think that those who accuse us have perhaps chosen the way of apparent obedience which, in reality, is disobedience. Because those who follow the new way, who follow the novelties, who attach themselves to new principles contrary to those taught us by Tradition, by all the Popes, by all the Councils, they are the ones who have chosen the way of disobedience.
Because one cannot say that one obeys authority today while disobeying the entire Tradition. Following Tradition is precisely the sign of our obedience. Jesus Christus heri, hodie et in saecula, “Jesus Christ yesterday, today and forever.”
One cannot separate Our Lord Jesus Christ. One cannot say that one obeys the Christ of today but not the Christ of yesterday, because then one does not obey the Christ of tomorrow. This is of vital importance. This is why we cannot say that we disobey the Pope of today and that, for that reason we disobey the Pope of yesterday. We obey the Pope of yesterday, consequently, we obey the one of today, consequently, we obey the one of tomorrow. For it is not possible that the Popes teach different things; it is not possible that the Popes gainsay each other, that they contradict each other.
And this is why we are convinced that in being faithful to all the Popes of yesterday, to all the Councils of yesterday, we are faithful to the Pope of today, to the Council of today and to the Council of tomorrow and the Pope of tomorrow. Again: Jesus Christus heri, hodie et in saecula.- And if today, by a mystery of Providence, a mystery which for us is unfathomable, incomprehensible, we are in apparent disobedience, in reality we are not disobedient but obedient.
How are we obedient? In believing in our catechism and because we always keep the same Credo, the same Ten Commandments, the same Mass, the same Sacraments, the same prayer—the Pater Noster of yesterday, today and tomorrow. This is why we are obedient and not disobedient.
On the other hand, if we study what is taught nowadays in the new religion we realize that it is not the same Faith, the same Creed, the same Ten Commandments, the same Sacraments, the same Our Father. It is sufficient to open the catechisms of today to realize that. It is sufficient to read the speeches which are made in our times to realize that those who accuse us of disobedience are those who do not follow the Popes, who do not follow the Councils, who, in reality, disobey. Because they do not have the right to change our Creed, to say today that the angels do not exist, to change the notion of original sin, to say that the Holy Virgin was not always a virgin, and so on.
They do not have the right to replace the Ten Commandments with the Rights of Man. Nowadays one speaks of nothing but the rights of man and no one speaks of his duties which are in the Ten Commandments. We don’t see that it is necessary to replace the Ten Commandments in our catechisms with the Rights of Man. And this is very grave. The commandments of God are attacked and thus those laws defending the family disappear.
The most Holy Mass, for example, which is the synthesis of our Faith, which is precisely our living catechism, the Holy Mass has been deprived of its nature, it has become confused and ambiguous. Protestants can say it, Catholics can say it. Concerning this I have never said, and I have never followed those who say that all the new Masses are invalid. I have never said anything of the sort but I believe that it is in fact very dangerous to make a habit of attending the New Mass because it no longer is representative of our Faith, because Protestant notions have been incorporated into the New Mass.
All the Sacraments have, to some “extent, been deprived of their nature and have become similar to an invitation to a religious assembly. These are not Sacraments. The Sacraments give us grace and take away our sins. They give us divine life, supernatural life. We are not simply part of a purely natural, purely human, religious collectivity.
This is why we keep to the Holy Mass. We keep to it also because it is the living catechism. It is not only a catechism written and printed on pages which can disappear, on lifeless pages. Rather it is our living catechism, our living Credo. This Credo is essentially the history, as it were, the “song” of the redemption of our souls by Our Lord Jesus Christ. We sing the praises of God, Our Lord, Our Redeemer, Our Saviour who became man to shed His blood for us and thus to give birth to His Church and the priesthood so that the Redemption might continue, so that our souls might be bathed in the blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ through Baptism, through all the Sacraments, in order that we might participate in the nature of Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, in His divine nature by means of His human nature and so that we might be admitted eternally into the family of the Most Holy Trinity.
This is our Christian life. This is our Faith. If the Mass is not the continuation of the Cross of Our Lord, the sign of His Redemption, is no longer the reality of His Redemption, then it is not our Credo. If the Mass is nothing but a meal, a eucharist, a “sharing” if one can sit around a table and simply pronounce the words of the Consecration in the midst of a meal, it is no longer our Sacrifice of the Mass. And if it is no longer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Redemption of Our Lord Jesus Christ is no longer accomplished.
We need the Redemption of Our Lord. We need the Blood of Our Lord. We cannot live without the Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. He came on earth to give us His Blood, to communicate to us His life. We have been created for this and it is the Holy Mass that gives His Blood to us. This sacrifice continues in all reality. Our Lord is really present in His Body, in His Soul, and in His Divinity.
That is why He created the priesthood and this is why there must be new priests. This is why we wish to make priests who can continue the Redemption of Our Lord Jesus Christ. All the greatness, the sublimity of the priesthood, the beauty of the priesthood, is in the celebration of the Holy Mass, in the saving words of the Consecration. It is in the making Our Lord Jesus Christ descend onto the altar, continuing the Sacrifice of the Cross, shedding His Blood on souls through Baptism, the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Penance. Oh, the beauty, the greatness of the priesthood! A greatness of which we are not worthy, of which no man is worthy. Our Lord Jesus Christ wanted it. What greatness, what sublimity!
And our young priests have understood this. You can be certain they have understood. Throughout their seminary days they loved the Holy Mass. They will never penetrate the mystery perfectly even if God gives them a long life on earth. But they love their Mass and I think they have understood and will understand even better that the Mass is the sun of their life, the raison d’etre of their priestly life so that they may give Our Lord Jesus Christ to the souls of the people and not simply so that they may break bread in friendship while Our Lord is absent. Because grace is absent from these new Masses which are purely a eucharist, a mere symbol of a sign and symbol of a sort of charity among human beings.
This is why we are attached to the Holy Mass. And the Holy Mass is the expression of the Ten Commandments. And what are the Ten Commandments if not the love of God and of our neighbor? How better is this love fulfilled than in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? God receives all the glory through Our Lord Jesus Christ and His sacrifice. There can be no greater act of charity for man than this sacrifice. And, is there any act of charity greater than that of giving one’s life for those whom one loves? Our Lord Himself asked that.
Consequently, the Ten Commandments are fulfilled in the Mass, the greatest act of love which God could have from man, the greatest act of love that we could have from God. Here are the Ten Commandments. Here is our living catechism. All the Sacraments take their radiance from the Eucharist. All the Sacraments, in a certain sense, are like satellites of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. From Baptism right through to Extreme Unction, the Sacraments are only reflections of the Eucharist since all grace comes from Jesus Christ, present in the Holy Eucharist.
Now sacrament and sacrifice are intimately united in the Mass. One cannot separate sacrifice from sacrament. The Catechism of the Council of Trent explains this magnificently. There are two great realities in the Sacrifice of the Mass: the sacrifice and the sacrament deriving from the sacrifice, the fruit of the sacrifice. This is our holy religion and this is why we hold to the Mass. You will understand now, perhaps better than you understood before, why we defend this Mass and the reality of the Sacrifice. It is the life of the Church and the reason for the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ. And it is the reason for our existence, our union with Our Lord in the Mass. Therefore, we cry out if they try to take away the nature of the Mass, to deprive us in any way of this Sacrifice! We are wounded. We will not have them separate us from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
This why we hold firmly to the Sacrifice of the Mass. And we are convinced that our Holy Father, the Pope, has not forbidden it and that no one can ever forbid the celebration of the Mass of all time. Moreover, Pope St. Pius V proclaimed in a solemn and definitive manner that, whatever might happen in the future, no one might ever prevent a priest from celebrating the Sacrifice of the Mass; and that all excommunications, all suspensions, all the punishments which a priest might undergo because he celebrated this Holy Sacrifice would be utterly null and void, in futuro, in perpetuum.
Consequently, we have a clear conscience whatever may happen to us. If we are apparently disobedient, we are really obedient. This is our situation. And it is right for us to tell this, to explain it, because it is we who continue the Church. Really disobedient are those who corrupt the Sacrifice of the Mass, the Sacraments and our prayers, those who put the Rights of Man in the place of the Ten Commandments, those who transform the Credo. Because that is what the new catechisms do.
We feel deep pain at not being in perfect communion with the authors of those reforms. Indeed, we regret it infinitely. I would like to go at this very minute to Msgr. Rozier and tell him that I am in perfect communion with him. But it is impossible for me. If Msgr. Rozier condemns this Mass which we say, it is impossible. Those who refuse this Mass are no longer in communion with the Church of all time.
It is inconceivable that bishops and priests, ordained for this Mass and by this Mass, men who have celebrated it for perhaps twenty or thirty years of their priestly lives, persecute it with an implacable hatred—that they hound us from the churches, that they oblige us to say Mass here, in the open air, when the Mass is meant to be said in the churches constructed for that purpose. And was it not Msgr. Rozier himself who told one of you that if we were heretics and schismatics he would give us churches in which to celebrate our Masses? This is something beyond belief. If we were no longer in communion with the Church but heretics or schismatics we could have the churches. It is quite evident that we are still in communion with the Church. There is a contradiction in their attitude which condemns them. They know perfectly well that we are in the right because we cannot be outside of truth when we simply continue to do what has been done for two thousand years, believing what has been believed for two thousand years. This is not possible.
Once again, we must repeat this sentence and continue to repeat it: Jesus Christus heri, hodie et in saecula. If I am with the Jesus Christ of yesterday I am with the Jesus Christ of today and of tomorrow. I cannot be with the Jesus Christ of yesterday without being with the Jesus Christ of tomorrow. And that is because our Faith is that of the past and that of the future. If we are not with the Faith of the past we are not with the Faith of the present, nor yet of the future. This is what we must always believe. This is what we must hold to at any price— our salvation depends upon it. Let us ask this today of the guardian saints of Poitiers, ask it especially for these dear priests, for this new priest. Let us ask it of St. Hilary, of St. Radegunda who so loved the Cross—it was she who brought to this land of France the first relic of the True Cross and so loved the Sacrifice of the Mass; and finally, of Cardinal Pie who was an admirable defender of the Catholic Faith during the last century. Let us ask these protectors of Poitiers to give us the grace of fighting without hatred, without rancor.
Let us never be among those who try to polemicize, to disrupt, to be unjust to their neighbors. Let us love them with all our hearts but let us hold to the Faith. At all costs let us keep our Faith in the divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us ask this of the most Holy Virgin Mary. She can only have had a perfect faith in the divinity of her Divine Son. She loved Him with all her heart. She was present at the Holy Sacrifice of the Cross. Let us ask of Him the faith that she had.