The following is Archbishop Lefebvre’s 40th Episcopal Ordination sermon given on October 3, 1987:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
I am very grateful to you for having come in great numbers on the occasion of this anniversary of my episcopacy, to give thanks to God, to take part in our acts of thanksgiving, and also to ask of the Good Lord to have mercy on me for everything that, in the course of these forty years, may not have been accomplished according to His holy Will.
I am also happy to thank the members of my family for being here, and likewise to thank our dear sisters who have come in numbers to participate in this ceremony. I thank all the members of the associations who have determined to travel in order to participate in this Mass of thanksgiving.
My very dear brethren, what will be the main idea of these few words that I am happy to address to you during this Mass? Well, I would like you to imagine that, in the course of these forty years, all my episcopacy has been directed by a light. And then what is that light? It is summed up both in the motto which I wanted inscribed on my coat of arms when I was named Bishop of Dakar and in the motto of St. Pius X: “Credidimus Caritati – We have believed in charity”; and “To Restore All in Christ Jesus.” Credimus Caritati. What is this charity then if not the Incarnation of the Word of God, the mission that God has willed to accomplish among us, a mission of charity, a mission of love, a mission of mercy, by the Redemption, by the Cross, by His Holy Sacrifice? That is the Love in which we believe! We believe in Jesus Christ born, dead on the Cross, resurrected for the redemption of our souls. And we want to set up the Reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and this is the motto of St. Pius X, our holy Patron, the holy Patron of our Society. It is by this Light, my very dear brethren that these forty years of my episcopacy have unfolded.
Obviously, during these forty years, the circumstances have been very different according as I found myself at Dakar for fifteen years and at the same time Apostolic Delegate for French Africa, and then the years that have followed. The fifteen years at Dakar were, I can say, marvelous, marvelous years because they were filled with graces. During these years after the war, calm having returned, peace having returned, there was an atmosphere very favorable to the Reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the missions. The governments generally did not make any opposition, even as a whole rather favored our schools, our works and therefore our apostolate.
And it is thus that in those dioceses, which went from forty-five to sixty-four during the eleven years that I spent as Apostolic Delegate in Africa, in those dioceses an immense development was brought about by the zeal of the missionaries, by the zeal of the bishops, by the multiplication of the seminaries, multiplication of the religious works, abundance of vocations, seminaries full, sisters coming from Europe, coming from Canada to help in the evangelization, indigenous African sisters. It was truly very consoling on the occasion of my visits with this immense marvelous development in peace, in the union of all, and in the Faith, in the Catholic Faith. There were no problems, no disputes, no division.
But after those fifteen years spent at Dakar and at the end of those years, it is then that I was called by Pope John XXIII to participate in the preparatory commission of the Council. I went up many a time to Rome to be in that imposing assembly of seventy Cardinals, of twenty Archbishops and Bishops, and of four Generals of Orders, often in meetings presided over by Pope John XXIII himself, to prepare the council. And I admit that that ideal and that light which illuminated my episcopacy was then profoundly troubled. I felt on the occasion of the meetings, on the occasion of the discussions, on the occasion – it must be said – of the oppositions sometimes between the Cardinals, I felt that a new wind was passing through the Church, a wind that seemed to me truly not to be the breath of the Holy Ghost.
What I experienced in 1962, precisely during the preparation of the Council that opened in October 1962, I felt also that in the diocese of Tulle; for I had ended my functions as Archbishop of Dakar on the request of the Holy See in order to take the See of Tulle in 1962. A different atmosphere from that which I had felt at Dakar was blowing and was clearly revealing some grave difficulties in holy Church. In that diocese a certain discouragement was appearing, the contrary of what I had seen in Africa: a lessening of vocations, closing of the seminary.
“Every year now for the past several years, ” my predecessor, Bishop Chassagne, said to me, “religious houses close, Catholic schools close, the Sisters leave the hospitals.” A great sorrow, a great confusion was affecting those good priests; for the priests were very pious and very fervent, but they felt a kind of fatality that was coming down onto that diocese and moreover onto the other dioceses also, in the face of this lessening of the workers in the Lord’s vineyard.
And then a new spirit was breathing: we have to go to the world, we must come out of our sacristies, we have to change our liturgy, if we want to be up-to-date, if we want to be heard, we have to be wed to the ideas of this world, of this world of work. From this began the priest workers. Then for the first time, in a bishops’ meeting in Bordeaux, which I attended because the Archbishop of Bordeaux was the president of the meeting of the Southwest, in this assembly for the first time someone posed the question which seemed to me bewildering, improbable: “Is it necessary that the priests still wear the cassock?” As all our priests still wore the cassock, it was not a question of some priests having already abandoned it, but of the bishops posing the question and the Archbishop saying, “Oh, I think really that it would be quite preferable to give up the cassock.” I felt a new spirit, a spirit of abandonment of Our Lord Jesus Christ. For in short the cassock is a symbol. Certainly one can be a good priest without the cassock; but it is a symbol’ a symbol of the spirit of Our Lord Jesus Christ, of the spirit of poverty, of the spirit of renouncement, of the spirit of chastity! And what do we preach, we priests, if not these virtues – the virtue of poverty, of obedience, of chastity, of humility, of renouncement, of which the cassock is the model and the symbol? To abandon the cassock, that was in some way with regard to our people, to abandon the ideal of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which our faithful need in order to keep themselves in virtue! All that was ominous.
And indeed it was necessary to state that at the Council there were deep divisions. Then I was named Superior General of the Congregation of the Fathers of the Holy Ghost. Why did they put their trust in me, when I was already known for my traditionalist ideas? Nevertheless my confreres decided to elect me as Superior General of a congregation that counted 5,300 members and sixty bishops, sixty dioceses in the diverse countries in the African and American worlds. Then the Council took place, with its new spirit, with a spirit of listening, of a favorable listening in on the world, on the spirit of liberty, on the spirit of demagogy, which has been interpreted, by a collegial spirit, which destroyed the notion of authority. Authority could no longer be exercised without being obliged to ask all one’s subjects what their opinion was. And these subjects, as it is noted on the decree on religion – among the religious! – have a right to participate in the exercise of authority. This is the destruction of authority! How can authority act if it has to ask all the members to participate in the exercise of authority? That was one of the characteristics of the Council: the bishops rose up against the authority of the Pope – against the authority of the bishops, against all authority, even against the authority of the father in the family, against the authority of the superiors of religious congregations. I felt it in my congregation; it was difficult for me to direct the congregation because of this wind of liberty and of inquisition as it were that was rising up among the members. It was a revolutionary spirit that was breathing then in the Council.
And then came the post-conciliar reforms, reforms of the congregations, reforms of the seminaries, reforms of the Roman Curia, reforms of the religious congregations. And next came the order that the religious congregations had to adapt themselves to the new spirit, to what was then already called the spirit of the Council, a worldly spirit, a spirit that is no longer the truly Christian spirit, that is no more the spirit of humility, of obedience, of dependence on God. Everyone wanted his independence. And then, on the occasion of the General Chapter, when I reported specifically that the effects of the Council were completely destroying the authority of the congregation of which I had now been the superior for six years, (it was 1968) and since I was appointed until 1974, I preferred to hand in my resignation. I did not want to sign the acts of that General Chapter that was demolishing our Congregation of the Fathers of the Holy Ghost. And it is a fact that it is ruined; there is no more novitiate, there are no more missionaries to send to Africa; this is the destruction of our dear congregation. It is thus in this climate, my very dear brethren, that my episcopacy unfolded. After the fifteen years at Dakar, a painful atmosphere followed. We felt a spirit, which was no longer the spirit of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which was no more the truly Christian spirit.
And then, as the years passed, there came those manifestations of ecumenism, which is contrary to the spirit of Our Lord Jesus Christ, contrary to the Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
And next, because of the reforms, which were being set up everywhere and particularly in the seminaries, there came to me from the French Seminary some seminarians while I was making a retreat in the house of the Lithuanians in Rome. Some young men from the French Seminary came to me to insist that I do something for them because in the seminary there was disorder, there was also revolution, there was no discipline, there was no spirit of study, there was no longer a spirit of prayer, and there was a new liturgy that was being set up. Every week there was a liturgy committee appointed which changed the liturgy. Faced with this confusion, this disorder, they came to ask me to help them to keep the Faith, to preserve Tradition, to conserve what they had been taught in their youth!
Then urged on by these youths, I came here to Switzerland; and I came to see Bishop Charriere, whom I already knew, who had come to Dakar to spend two weeks because there were some young Swiss people who were in the diocese of Dakar. I asked the Good Lord that this might be the sign of Providence: either Bishop Charriere accepted this foundation or he refused it – that would be the sign from the Good Lord. And when I came to see him, dear Bishop Charriere said to me, “But of course Your Excellency, do it! Do it, I implore you! We are in a serious, tragic situation.” He said to me, “I perceive it in my diocese also. Where are we going? Where are we going? We are going towards the destruction of the Faith. Do it, do it, I beseech you. Do something here. Rent an apartment for your seminarians; look after this. I give you all authorization!” And it was a year afterwards that he signed for us the decree of recognition of the foundation of the Society of St. Pius X. Therefore we were perfectly in order with the authorities of the Church.
But, obviously now, Tradition is contrary to that wind which was blowing against it, and which was breathing in the highest authorities in the Church. Since the purge was already accomplished – the traditionalists, Cardinal traditionalists, Archbishop traditionalists in the important posts like that of Dublin, like that of Madrid, well, they were eliminated very simply. And the Cardinals who were traditionalists and conservative men in Rome were also immediately replaced. Cardinal Ottaviani and other Cardinals like him were certainly at once dismissed. It was evident that my initiative could not please the Roman authorities, and the French authorities particularly, who were afraid of seeing priests who kept Tradition, who retained the cassock, who held on to the liturgy of old come back among them. And this is why the persecution came, the persecution of which you, my dear Swiss friends who gathered around Econe were the witnesses; and you, very dear priests, who now have been priests for ten years or so, you were at that time witnesses from 1974 to 1977 of all the difficulties that we had with Rome, because we kept the Holy Mass of All Times, because we held on to the Faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, and because this Mass expresses precisely the Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ by that respect that is expressed in those ceremonies, you can verify this, a deep respect for the Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ, for the Body, the Blood, the Soul and the Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, and the respect that is expressed to those who represent Our Lord Jesus Christ in these ceremonies. The true liturgy is a school of Faith and a school of respect, of adoration towards God, and of respect toward those who participate in the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is an entire school, it is a whole education that is given from our infancy: when we verify that as children, we realize this in growing up that there is in this a great mystery, the Mystery of God, on whom we depend at every moment of our life, which is expressed in this mystery of the Cross that is realized on our altars. It is the whole attitude of the Church with regard to Our Lord Jesus Christ. And that is how it is with us also.
Then they have tried, right up to the present, to make us understand that we have to follow the
new current. And I repeated without ceasing, “If I follow the current that you yourselves are following, well, I will have the same results; that is to say, your seminaries are closing, your seminaries are being sold, and the priests whom you are forming do not have any longer the priestly spirit. The best proof is that a good number of them, three or four years after ordination, get married and abandon the priesthood. I do not want to arrive at that situation with my seminarians! I want authentic priests, priests of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who believe, who have the Faith, and who are ready to suffer for their Faith, who are ready to renounce all those worldly habits that have been introduced into the interior of the Church and that have invaded even the sacristies and the priesthood! “That is where I find myself now at the time of my fortieth year as a bishop.
Now it happens that, in the face of these two orientations which in practice are incompatible, – it is what I was saying to Cardinal Ratzinger last July 14th: “Eminence, you see, it is very hard for us to agree, because you are for the lessening of the Reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ, for the idea that no one speak of it, that silence be kept on it, that in civil society no one speak of the reign of Our Lord so that all the religions can be at ease in our societies, and so that there will not be only Our Lord Jesus Christ and therefore the Catholic religion. We must not insist on this social reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ so that the Jews, the Moslems, the Buddhists will not be offended by the Cross and by the Faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ – that is your attitude! Well, for us, it is exactly the opposite! We want Our Lord Jesus Christ to reign, because He is the only God, because there is no other God, because when we die and find ourselves in eternity, there will be no other God who will present Himself to us than Our Lord Jesus Christ, who will be our Judge. “Tu solus Dominus! Tu solus altissimus! We sang it again, a moment ago, in the Gloria. “There is no other God! It is not Buddha who will receive us in heaven, it is not Mohammed, it is not Luther; it is Our Lord Jesus Christ, He who created us, He who has lived on earth, He who redeemed us, and He who waits for us in eternity. Therefore we desire that He reign. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, – on earth as in heaven; and God knows whether the will of the Good Lord is done in heaven! If it is done in heaven, it must be done on the earth also: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven; Thykingdom come! That is what I teach,” I said to the Cardinal; “That is what I teach my seminarians and that is what they have in their hearts. They have only one care, only one desire, which is to make an apostolate for the reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the families, in souls, in society; that Jesus reign everywhere; that is it! And that is why it is indeed difficult for us to agree. Your ecumenism is ruining the social Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ; and this is why the book that I have written recently has as its title They Have Uncrowned Him, they have uncrowned Our Lord Jesus Christ, and gives the explanation of this situation that we are living in today.”
But on this occasion, it seems that by a particular circumstance, I think perhaps by the entreaties that have been made by certain Cardinals, by certain bishops to the Holy Father, to say, “But now we have to finish with this business of Tradition, with this affair of Econe, we have to finish. They are not, just the same, enemies of the Church! We have to profit from these living forces, which are found in this Priestly Society of St. Pius X for the good of the Church. You cannot let that go indefinitely because everything is collapsing everywhere! When we see and hear the echoes of the Holy Father’s trip to the United States, and the situation of the immorality in the United States, which is bewildering, even in Catholic spheres, even in the seminaries, it is unimaginable! Absolutely unimaginable!
So where are we going to find the renaissance of the Church? Not in those seminaries where homosexuality is advocated, in the seminaries! So then? We have to know where we are going to regain the true essence of the Faith and the true virtue of Our Lord Jesus Christ!”
Now I think that there is a new dialogue that is being set up. And pray, my very dear brethren, pray that this dialogue will lead to a solution that will be for the good of the Church. We are not seeking anything else; we are not looking for the good of the society; it is not a question of the Society, it concerns the good of the Church. It is a question of the salvation of souls, of the salvation of Christian families, of the salvation of Christian societies. So we hope that in this new climate, which has been established for some weeks, well, some new solutions will be able to spring up. It is a small hope. Oh, I do not have an exaggerated optimism, because, concisely, those two currents that are opposed are indeed difficult to reconcile. But if Rome really wants to give us true autonomy, the one that we have now, but with submission, we would want this, we have always desired to be subject to the Holy Father. It is not a question of despising the authority of the Holy Father; on the contrary.
But we have been as if thrown outside because we were traditionalists. Well, if, as I have often asked, Rome agrees to have us make the experiment of Tradition, well then, there will be no more problems. We will be free to continue the work that we are doing, as we are doing it now, under the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff. Obviously that calls for solutions that must be looked at, that must be discussed, which are not easy to settle in their details. But with the grace of the Good Lord, it is possible that we will find a solution that will permit us to continue our work without abandoning our Faith, without abandoning that light of which I was speaking to you, which has been that of my forty years as a bishop, which is the reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
We want, I would say, to live heaven a little already; since we are made to go to heaven, it is indeed necessary for us to prepare ourselves here below. Thus it is necessary to create this climate of the Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ, for we are going to find Him when we die, hoping that we will be among the members of that realm of Jesus Christ. That is the whole situation such as it presents itself.
And since today this Holy Mass is taking place under the patronage of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, since we have taken this votive Mass of the first Saturday of the month, well then, let us ask the Most Holy virgin, my very dear friends, my very dear brethren, let us ask that the Good Lord make it possible for us to contribute in an official, free, public manner to the building up of the Church, to the salvation of souls, for the honor of God, for the honor of Jesus Christ, for the honor of the Church, for the honor of Rome, of Catholic Rome.
My very dear seminarians, who have indeed determined to come here from Zaitzkofen and from Flavigny, and you, dear confreres, who have also made a long trip to come and attend this ceremony, promise before God, before the Church, not to have any other goal but to restore all in Our Lord Jesus Christ! This motto of our dear patron, of our Holy Patron St. Pius X, this is the way and the solution of all the problems; economic problems, political problems, moral problems, spiritual problems of every kind, all problems depend on the Reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We are created to live in Our Lord Jesus Christ, with Our Lord Jesus Christ, by Our Lord Jesus Christ, to end in Him; for He is God and God is heaven. Thus I desire that you be this army. And, thanks be to God, you are already 315 priests that I have ordained from Econe, and then you are, I think, 208 seminarians, which makes a small army of six hundred; six hundred soldiers of Our Lord Jesus Christ. You will be a ferment in the world which will make Holy Church revive, which will give it back that fervor, which will return its Faith, which will restore its catechism, which will gave back to it its sacraments, which will restore grace to those who desire it and to those who ask for it. How I desire that you be faithful to your commitments!
And I acknowledge that you are, as St. Paul said, “Corona mea – You are my crown!” It is I who, for almost all of you, have ordained you, and have given you the grace of the priesthood. I cannot have any more beautiful reward: to make priests, to make good priests, to make holy priests. I think that for a bishop there is nothing more beautiful, more touching, and more deeply satisfying before the Good Lord, before the Holy Church!
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.