February 2007 - Superior General's Letter #70
Should a Motu Proprio grant the permission to celebrate the Tridentine Mass it would certainly be of great benefit to the Church. Nevertheless, we should not expect a drastic and rapid improvement but rather a more gradual one because of the circumstances in which this permission would be received. Let us pray an do penance in order that more and more souls benefit from assistance at the Tridentine Mass which gives more glory to God.
Dear Faithful and Benefactors,
Possible Motu Proprio would allow Tridentine Mass
For a long time we have desired to send you this letter to give you some news of our dear Society. We have postponed sending it because we wanted to explain to you our position after the publication announced months ago of the motu proprio on permission to celebrate the Tridentine Mass. For, last October while we were gathering our spiritual bouquet for obtaining the liberation of the holy Mass, everything seemed to indicate an imminent publication of a motu proprio by Pope Benedict XVI concerning the question. But it seems that the staunch opposition of certain episcopates has constrained the Sovereign Pontiff to delay it “a little while.”
Our take on this “little while”
This “little while” is turning into a lengthy duration, so that we shall not wait any longer to share with you our take on the situation.
First, let me thank you warmly for your generous prayer. Our [General] Chapter had set the goal of offering a million rosaries by the end of October. The harvest was abundant indeed, as we were finally able to send the pope a spiritual bouquet of two and a half million rosaries. In our letter [to the pope] accompanying the bouquet, we indicated that we had wanted to show by this concrete act our will to collaborate in the rebuilding of the Church and Christendom.
It is obvious to us that this terrible crisis, which has afflicted the Church since the Second Vatican Council, will not come to an end without a vast effort and a very great determination on the hierarchy’s part, beginning with the Vicar of Christ. For, in the circumstances, it will take overcoming the lethargy created by a bad habit; it will mean refuting errors and even heresies and other positions totally incompatible with the doctrine of the Church, the Bride of Christ, which have become embedded in the Mystical Body. A happy result cannot be hoped for without the powerful help of Heaven. That is why we turned, and are still turned, towards Our Lady and Our Lord to obtain an improvement in the Church.
Serious arguments made for the Tridentine Mass
Even if till now the desired result has not come about, nevertheless, in the month of October we were witness to a scene concerning the Mass of All Time that had not been seen in the last decade. For, contrary to the usual slogans, which attribute attachment to the Latin liturgy to nostalgia or a particular sensibility, this time serious arguments were being made: freedom for priests to celebrate the Tridentine Mass would create doctrinal problems, they tell us; this Mass endangers the achievements of Vatican II.
How could we not rejoice over this sudden discovery?
If we closely consider the arguments advanced this time, especially by the French episcopate, but also at Rome and in Germany, one notices that the bishops in fact are afraid of this Mass. Even Rome is being extremely careful not to disavow Paul VI’s reform while outlining the possibility of a return to the old Mass. The progressivists’ fear is such that it is necessary [for Rome] to go to great lengths and to argue forcefully for broadening the permission for priests to celebrate the Tridentine Mass. Certainly, that also explains why we have not yet received either thanks or a response to our letter from the Sovereign Pontiff or even the Vatican.
Seven conclusions about a possible Motu Proprio:
In the present situation, we can and we must draw some conclusions for the future, even if we do not yet know the exact terms of this much talked-about motu proprio.
1) If we consider how Roman documents have been received during the last decade by the episcopate and the faithful, we are obliged to say that what prevails is a very great indifference that has frustrated the measures recommended in them by Rome. Whether it be the place of laymen in the liturgy or, more recently, liturgical prescriptions; whether it concern the Declaration Dominus Jesus or the condemnation of abortion and euthanasia, one cannot fail to notice that the documents have had no real effect. One can well wonder even now whether the motu proprio will not have the same fate.
2) Nonetheless, since the document extends a favor rather than imposes a restriction, and since, moreover, it is addressed to persons who are very interested in the matter, it could well be that the expectations of the faithful and priests will awaken the hierarchies in some countries from their lethargy and disturb their resistance. This is what certain bishops are thinking of when they warn of a risk of liturgical anarchy in their dioceses. Considering the multiplicity of forms the New Mass has taken in reality, one might wonder where this new-found fear of “division” can be coming from. On the contrary, the traditional liturgy has always proven to be a factor of unity, especially because of its sacred language, Latin.
3) It is quite unlikely that this motu proprio will be followed by a mass movement. The priests and faithful who desire the old liturgy are proportionally few in number, and the others have lost the taste for it or the interest. It will take many serious efforts to restore to its place of honor in the whole Church the venerable and sacred rite that sanctified centuries and centuries of Christendom.
4) It will be, rather, a movement that will take off slowly, but which will slowly gain strength as the riches and beauty of the lost liturgy are rediscovered. Indeed, simply by granting the Tridentine Mass the right to exist (this Mass was never suppressed!), it will gradually impose itself since the New Mass cannot rival it.
5) At any rate, a broader permission to celebrate the old Mass is a blessing for the Church. Certainly, the publication of this document might engender a certain confusion “among us,” in the sense that it will create the impression of a rapprochement between the official Church and Tradition. When it happens, an appeal by Rome for renewed unity should be expected. For the SSPX, a greater liberalization of the holy Mass is a cause for rejoicing, a step towards the restoration of Tradition; however, the distrust born of years of self-defense and combat against “those who should be our pastors” will not be easily allayed. Indeed, the New Mass should be considered an effect much more than a cause of the crisis that has afflicted the Church for nearly forty years. In other words, our situation will be practically unchanged by the return of the old Mass so long as it is not accompanied by other absolutely essential rectifications.
6) Ecumenism, liberalism, and this spirit of the world that defiles the Bride of Christ are still the principles animating the Conciliar Church. These principles kill the spirit of God, the Christian spirit. We must understand more than ever the roots of the crisis in order to keep ourselves from rushing blindly into the new situation that would be created by the motu proprio. Before thinking of the measures that will need to be taken for our canonical regularization, an in-depth discussion of these questions is indispensable. We hope that Rome at last understands our demand to see any discussions preceded by what we call our preliminaries or preconditions, one of which would be met by the motu proprio. For thirty years we have refused to take the poison; it is for this reason that we have been rejected, and it is still the condition (more or less hidden) that Rome imposes for accepting us. Ecumenism, religious liberty, and collegiality remain the points of contention over which we will not budge.
7) What we have been saying up to this point is just speculation. The concrete circumstances, that is, the actual terms of the motu proprio, may require other distinctions and clarifications.
Entering Lent, let us remember that the gifts of Heaven are obtained by purifying prayer and penance, that God listens more willingly to the prayer of a pure and humble heart. Let us continue, then, our crusade of prayer, and join to it some voluntary penances to wrest from Heaven what the Churchmen find so hard to give to our souls. Even if God does not seem to listen to our supplications, let us not be discouraged. He is putting us to the test, and wants to make us earn even more merits.
† Bernard Fellay
On the First Sunday of Lent
February 25, 2007