This second text is from Pope Saint Paul VI’s letter to archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. It reads as if it were written today to address those supporters of the TLM who reject Traditionis Custodes, who oppose Pope Francis and Vatican II, and who disdain the Novus Ordo Mass.
Letter of Pope Saint Paul VI to archbishop Lefebvre:
“In practice you put yourself forward as the defender and spokesman of the faithful and of priests “torn apart by what is happening in the church,” thus giving the sad impression that the Catholic faith and the essential values of tradition are not sufficiently respected and lived in a portion of the people of God, at least in certain countries. But in your interpretations of the facts and in the particular role that you assign yourself, as well as in the way in which you accomplish this role, there is something that misleads the people of God and deceives souls of good will who are justly desirous of fidelity and of spiritual and apostolic progress.”
“You want to convince the faithful that the proximate cause of the crisis is more than a wrong interpretation of the Council and that it flows from the Council itself. Moreover, you act as if you had a particular role in this regard. But the mission of discerning and remedying the abuses is first of all Ours; it is the mission of all the bishops who work together with Us.”
“Finally, your behavior is contradictory. You want, so you say, to remedy the abuses that disfigure the Church; you regret that authority in the church is not sufficiently respected; you wish to safeguard authentic faith, esteem for the ministerial priesthood and fervor for the Eucharist in its sacrificial and sacramental fullness. Such zeal would, in itself, merit our encouragement, since it is a question of exigencies which, together with evangelization and the unity of Christians, remain at the heart of Our preoccupations and of Our mission.
“But how can you at the same time, in order to fulfill this role, claim that you are obliged to act contrary to the recent Council in opposition to your brethren in the episcopate, to distrust the Holy See itself — which you call the ‘Rome of the neo-modernist and neo-Protestant tendency’ — and to set yourself up in open disobedience to Us? If you truly want to work ‘under Our authority,’ as you affirm in your last private letter, it is immediately necessary to put an end to these ambiguities and contradictions.”
“You would like to see recognized the right to celebrate Mass in various places of worship according to the Tridentine rite.”
“What is indeed at issue is the question — which must truly be called fundamental — of your clearly proclaimed refusal to recognize in its whole, the authority of the Second Vatican Council and that of the pope. This refusal is accompanied by an action that is oriented towards propagating and organizing what must indeed, unfortunately, be called a rebellion. This is the essential issue, and it is truly untenable.”
“Christ has given the supreme authority in his Church to Peter and to the apostolic college, that is, to the Pope and to the college of bishops una cum Capite.
“In regard to the pope, every Catholic admits that the words of Jesus to Peter determine also the charge of Peter’s legitimate successors: “… whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven” (Mt. 16:19 ); “… feed my sheep” (Jn. 21:17 ); “… confirm your brethren” (Lk. 22:32 ). And the First Vatican Council specified in these terms the assent due to the sovereign pontiff: “The pastors of every rank and of every rite and the faithful, each separately and all together, are bound by the duty or hierarchical subordination and of true obedience, not only in questions of faith and morals, but also in those that touch upon the discipline and government of the Church throughout the entire world. Thus, by preserving the unity of communion and of profession of faith with the Roman pontiff, the church is a single flock under one pastor. Such is the doctrine of Catholic truth, from which no one can separate himself without danger for his faith and his salvation” (Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Ch. 3, DZ 3060).
“Concerning bishops united with the sovereign pontiff, their power with regard to the universal church is solemnly exercised in the ecumenical councils, according to the words of Jesus to the body of the apostles: “… whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” (Mt. 18:18). And now in your conduct you refuse to recognize, as must be done, these two ways in which supreme authority is exercised.”
“You say that you are subject to the Church and faithful to tradition by the sole fact that you obey certain norms of the past that were decreed by the predecessor of him to whom God has today conferred the powers given to Peter. That is to say, on this point also, the concept of “tradition” that you invoke is distorted.
“Tradition is not a rigid and dead notion, a fact of a certain static sort which at a given moment of history blocks the life of this active organism which is the Church, that is, the mystical body of Christ. It is up to the pope and to councils to exercise judgment in order to discern in the traditions of the Church that which cannot be renounced without infidelity to the Lord and to the Holy Spirit — the deposit of faith — and that which, on the contrary, can and must be adapted to facilitate the prayer and the mission of the Church throughout a variety of times and places, in order better to translate the divine message into the language of today and better to communicate it, without an unwarranted surrender of principles.
“Hence tradition is inseparable from the living magisterium of the Church, just as it is inseparable from sacred scripture. “Sacred tradition, sacred scripture and the magisterium of the church … are so linked and joined together that one of these realities cannot exist without the others, and that all of them together, each in its own way, effectively contribute under the action of the Holy Spirit to the salvation of souls” (Constitution Dei Verbum, 10).
“With the special assistance of the Holy Spirit, the popes and the ecumenical councils have acted in this common way. And it is precisely this that the Second Vatican Council did. Nothing that was decreed in this Council, or in the reforms that we enacted in order to put the Council into effect, is opposed to what the 2,000 year-old tradition of the Church considers as fundamental and immutable. We are the guarantor of this, not in virtue of Our personal qualities but in virtue of the charge which the Lord has conferred upon Us as legitimate successor of Peter, and in virtue of the special assistance that He has promised to Us as well as to Peter: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Lk. 22:32). The universal episcopate is guarantor with us of this.
“Again, you cannot appeal to the distinction between what is dogmatic and what is pastoral to accept certain texts of this Council and to refuse others. Indeed, not everything in the Council requires an assent of the same nature: only what is affirmed by definitive acts as an object of faith or as a truth related to faith requires an assent of faith. But the rest also forms part of the solemn magisterium of the Church to which each member of the faithful owes a confident acceptance and a sincere application.”
“You say moreover that you do not always see how to reconcile certain texts of the Council, or certain dispositions which We have enacted in order to put the Council into practice, with the wholesome tradition of the Church and in particular with the Council of Trent or the affirmations of Our predecessors. These are for example: the responsibility of the college of bishops united with the sovereign pontiff, the new Ordo Missae, ecumenism, religious freedom, the attitude of dialogue, evangelization in the modern world.…
“It is not the place, in this letter, to deal with each of these problems. The precise tenor of the documents, with the totality of its nuances and its context, the authorized explanations, the detailed and objective commentaries which have been made, are of such a nature to enable you to overcome these personal difficulties. Absolutely secure counselors, theologians and spiritual directors would be able to help you even more, with God’s enlightenment, and We are ready to facilitate this fraternal assistance for you.
“But how can an interior personal difficulty — a spiritual drama which We respect — permit you to set yourself up publicly as a judge of what has been legitimately adopted, practically with unanimity, and knowingly to lead a portion of the faithful into your refusal? If justifications are useful in order to facilitate intellectual acceptance — and We hope that the troubled or reticent faithful will have the wisdom, honesty and humanity to accept those justifications that are widely placed at their disposal — they are not in themselves necessary for the assent of obedience that is due to the Ecumenical Council and to the decisions of the pope. It is the ecclesial sense that is at issue.
“In effect you and those who are following you are endeavoring to come to a standstill at a given moment in the life of the Church. By the same token you refuse to accept the living Church, which is the Church that has always been: you break with the Church’s legitimate pastors and scorn the legitimate exercise of their charge. And so you claim not even to be affected by the orders of the pope, or by the suspension a divinis, as you lament “subversion” in the Church.
“Is it not in this state of mind that you have ordained priests without dimissorial letters and against Our explicit command, thus creating a group of priests who are in an irregular situation in the Church and who are under grave ecclesiastical penalties? Moreover, you hold that the suspension that you have incurred applies only to the celebration of the sacraments according to the new rite, as if they were something improperly introduced into the Church, which you go so far as to call schismatic, and you think that you evade this sanction when you administer the sacraments according to the formulas of the past and against the established norms (cf. 1 Cor. 14:40).
“From the same erroneous conception springs your abuse of celebrating Mass called that of Saint Pius V. You know full well that this rite had itself been the result of successive changes, and that the Roman Canon remains the first of the Eucharistic prayers authorized today.
“The present reform derived its raison d’être and its guidelines from the Council and from the historical sources of the liturgy. It enables the laity to draw greater nourishment from the word of God. Their more active participation leaves intact the unique role of the priest acting in the person of Christ. We have sanctioned this reform by Our authority, requiring that it be adopted by all Catholics.
“If, in general, We have not judged it good to permit any further delays or exceptions to this adoption, it is with a view to the spiritual good and the unity of the entire ecclesiastical community, because, for Catholics of the Roman Rite, the Ordo Missae is a privileged sign of their unity. It is also because, in your case, the old rite is in fact the expression of a warped ecclesiology, and a ground for dispute with the Council and its reforms under the pretext that in the old rite alone are preserved, without their meaning being obscured, the true sacrifice of the Mass and the ministerial priesthood.
“We cannot accept this erroneous judgment, this unjustified accusation, nor can We tolerate that the Lord’s Eucharist, the sacrament of unity, should be the object of such divisions (cf. 1 Cor. 11:18), and that it should even be used as an instrument and sign of rebellion.
“Of course there is room in the church for a certain pluralism, but in licit matters and in obedience. This is not understood by those who refuse the sum total of the liturgical reform; nor indeed on the other hand by those who imperil the holiness of the real presence of the Lord and of his sacrifice. In the same way there can be no question of a priestly formation which ignores the Council.”
“We cannot therefore take your requests into consideration, because it is a question of acts which have already been committed in rebellion against the one true Church of God. Be assured that this severity is not dictated by a refusal to make a concession on such and such a point of discipline or liturgy, but, given the meaning and the extent of your acts in the present context, to act thus would be on Our part to accept the introduction of a seriously erroneous concept of the church and of tradition. This is why, with the full consciousness of Our duties, We say to you, brother, that you are in error. And with the full ardor of Our fraternal love, as also with all the weight of Our authority as the successor of Peter, We invite you to retract, to correct yourself and to cease from inflicting wounds upon the Church of Christ.”
“3. Specifically, what do We ask of you?
“A. — First and foremost, a declaration that will rectify matters for Ourself and also for the people of God who have a right to clarity and who can no longer bear without damage such equivocations.
“This declaration will therefore have to affirm that you sincerely adhere to the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and to all its documents — sensu obvio — which were adopted by the Council fathers and approved and promulgated by Our authority. For such an adherence has always been the rule, in the Church, since the beginning, in the matter of ecumenical councils.
“It must be clear that you equally accept the decisions that We have made since the Council in order to put it into effect, with the help of the departments of the Holy See; among other things, you must explicitly recognize the legitimacy of the reformed liturgy, notably of the Ordo Missae, and our right to require its adoption by the entirety of the Christian people.
“You must also admit the binding character of the rules of canon law now in force which, for the greater part, still correspond with the content of the Code of Canon Law of Benedict XV, without excepting the part which deals with canonical penalties.
“As far as concerns Our person, you will make a point of desisting from and retracting the grave accusations or insinuations which you have publicly leveled against Us, against the orthodoxy of Our faith and Our fidelity to Our charge as the successor of Peter, and against Our immediate collaborators.
“With regard to the bishops, you must recognize their authority in their respective dioceses by abstaining from preaching in those dioceses and administering the sacraments there: the Eucharist, Confirmation, Holy Orders, etc., when these bishops expressly object to your doing so.
“Finally, you must undertake to abstain from all activities (such as conferences, publications, etc.) contrary to this declaration, and formally to reprove all those initiatives which may make use of your name in the face of this declaration.
“It is a question here of the minimum to which every Catholic bishop must subscribe: this adherence can tolerate no compromise. As soon as you show Us that you accept its principle, We will propose the practical manner of presenting this declaration. This is the first condition in order that the suspension a divinis be lifted.”
“From the Vatican, October 11, 1976.
“PAULUS PP. VI