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Rifan's Brag

Bishop Rifan Finds Peace at the Table of Full New Mass Communion

Brian McCall POSTED: 9/27/11

It was a great day and a solemn when the squire of Matstead went to Protestant Communion for the first time. . . . [S]entiments were not wholly on the squire’s side.  There was first a number of Catholics, openly confessed or at least secretly Catholic . . . and there was next a certain sentiment abroad, even amongst those who conformed, in favor of tradition. . . . There was little or no hot-gospel here; men still shook their heads sympathetically over the old days and the old faith, which indeed had ceased to be the faith of all scarcely twenty years ago; and it appeared to the most of them that the proper faith of the Quality . . . was that to which their own squire was to say goodbye. . . . Then he [Mr. Barton the Protestant Minister] went on to pray for the whole estate of Christ’s Church militant . . . He read the Comfortable Words; the English equivalent for sursum corda with the Easter preface then another prayer and finally rehearsed the story of the Institution of the Most Holy Sacrament though without any blessing of the bread and wine, at least by any action, since none such was ordered in the new Prayer -Book. . . . Now such manner of receiving was not unknown; yet it was the sign of a Puritan; and, so far from the folk expecting such behavior in their squire, they had looked rather for popish gestures . . . . He held the plate in his left hand and a fragment of bread in his fingers.  Then, as he began the words he had to say, one thing at least the people saw, and that was that a great flush dyed the old man’s face, though he sat quiet.  Then, as the minister held out the bread, the squire seemed to recover himself; he put out his fingers quickly, took the bread sharply and put it into his mouth; and so sat again until the minister brought the cup; and this too he drank of quickly and gave it back. ...Come Rack Come Rope, Chapter III

This excerpt comes from the classic tale of Catholic resistance to the Protestant novelty of the Sixteenth Century, penned by Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson.  It describes how the elderly Catholic squire of Matstead, after decades of firm resistance, finally comes to terms with the new religion.  Tired of the fines and persecutions, he accepts Protestant communion and buys his peace at the price of repudiating his earlier defense of Tradition.

Four centuries after this fictional but typical scene of backsliding, another public figure—a former leader of justified resistance—has made a similar peace with a new round of Cranmer’s Godly Order.  While outright heresy isn’t necessarily at issue this time, the Catholic heart is still scandalized by the image of His Excellency Bishop Fernando Rifan publicly and enthusiastically concelebrating a Novus Ordo Mass recently in Brazil.[1] 

As sad as that act of betrayal is, it pales in comparison to the Bishop’s recently released “defense” of his actions.[2] 


Unlike the squire, the Bishop has not gone silently to the New Mass table.  He released a public declaration defending his actions. Bishop Rifan’s Brag is the polar opposite of Father Campion’s Brag, and, in fact, of Father Rifan’s own eloquent and courageous clarion call to be faithful to Tradition scarcely twenty years ago.

His Excellency writes to defend his own actions and those of his priests who are concelebrating the Novus Ordo.  He admits that he has been accused of betraying Tradition he so ardently defended.  He even engages in an ad hominem attack of those questioning his actions, referring to “the malice of the suspicions, insinuations, and devious conclusions.”  He claims:

Most Catholics, in common sense, perfectly understand that, though in our Apostolic Administration the Roman Liturgy in its most ancient use is preserved, it may be normal that, in certain occasions, the Bishop and his priests may concelebrate Holy Mass in the current form, usually used by the Pope and by the entire Church of the Roman Rite; it is normal, correct, and good, because it demonstrates that we are Catholics in full communion with the whole Church. (emphasis added)

Now, let us recall that these are not the words of an orthodox Novus Ordo priest who is gradually learning the old Rite of Mass, saying it as often as he can, and moving in the direction of Tradition.  These are the words of a traditionalist priest who should know better—one who was ordained to offer only the Traditional Latin Mass, a sworn defender of that Mass and who’d refused on principle to be bi-ritual.  A position which unjustifiably cost him his parish church.

Now that he has gained a certain “legitimacy” in the eyes of the mainstream Church he has changed his tune considerably.

As Bishop Rifan, Father Rifan is now telling the world that to not take part in the watering down of the Roman Rite by active participation in the Novus Ordo would be wrong and even sinful and heretical.  His Excellency clarifies that his position is doctrinal not merely diplomatic.  The argument is based on two pillars: (1) concelebration is not inherently wrong and (2) the new Mass is “normal, correct, and good” so to refuse to participate would be sinful and heretical and separate one from the Church.

First, His Excellency argues that Catholic Magisterial texts prove the legitimacy and goodness of concelebration.  Interestingly, his argument is documented, like most post-Conciliar papal encyclicals, only with references to Scripture, Vatican Council II and post-Conciliar documents.  He uses the same method of proof which has been employed to imply that the only continuity that matters is between Scripture and the Conciliar Church. Everything in between is irrelevant. 

His Excellency attempts to give the appearance of using one traditional source; yet I find it hard to believe that he does not understand the disingenuous nature of his statement.  He quotes Eucharisticum Mysterium May 25, 1967 of the Sacred Congregation for Rites, claiming this document was “given still at the time of the Mass in the ancient form.”  This is not true.  By 1967 the Liturgical Revolution was in full force.  The 1962 Missal had long since been superseded by the 1965 and 1967 texts and other experiments and novelties. Archbishop Lefebvre and Bishop de Castro Mayer recognized this fact and therefore established the position of adhering to the 1962 Missal as the last official edition of the “ancient form.”  Thus, this attempt to claim adherence to a pre-Liturgical Revolution document is fallacious.  All of Bishop Rifan’s Magisterial sources boil down to the Vatican II Constitution on the Liturgy and instructions, canon law and encyclicals issued by Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Unfortunately, Bishop Rifan’s argument about concelebration is equally suspect.  Like Modernist arguments of the past, his claim is built on a half-truth.  He argues that there is nothing inherently wrong with concelebration and that the practice has been in use “at least from the 13th century.”  This statement is true, in a sense.  Concelebration has been in use and is still in use today even among priests who refuse on principle the Novus Ordo.  The ordination Masses of the Society of St. Pius X, for example, contain a concelebration of the newly-ordained priest with the ordaining bishop.  This was a sign of continuity of the priesthood, showing that the newly-ordained priest in offering his first Mass the next day was merely handing on what he was given (taught) in the ordination Mass, kneeling behind the ordaining bishop. 

The problem with the concelebrations of Bishop Rifan and his priests is not the fact that they were concelebrations but rather that they are concelebrations in the Novus Ordo sense—which is unprecedented novelty.  This critical distinction is what is at issue. Thus, to argue the genealogy of concelebration as a ceremonial fact is utterly beside the point.  No priest in the 13th or 19th century would have concelebrated with many other priests, hands raised, gathered around a table, in a rite containing the texts of the Novus Ordo.  His argument is akin to arguing that since reception of Communion by the laity is a traditional practice, communicating the laity in the hand is also traditional.  The reception of communion is traditional; in the hand is novelty.

Likewise, concelebrating in its proper context is ancient; concelebrating according to the new norms is not.  Bishop Rifan is not concelebrating in the traditional context, i.e. ordination Masses, but rather in the novel post-Vatican II context whenever there might be more than one priest around.  The occasion for the May 28, 2011, New Mass concelebration was merely the inauguration of a chapel in Rio de Janeiro, which is not even part of the geographic territory of his Apostolic Administration. 

The heart of the doctrinal position espoused by His Excellency thus really has nothing to do with the traditional nature of concelebration but with the New Mass itself.  His novel position (going even further than the infamous paragraph 19 of Universae Eccelsiae) is not only that the Novus Ordo is valid and legitimate and that priests using the Traditional Mass can use the Novus Ordo—but rather they must do so.  First, His Excellency admits participating in the New Mass is “not compulsory.”  Yet, like all Liberal rights, freedom to do something eventually becomes an obligation.  His sentence, beginning with an affirmation, that it is not obligatory to concelebrate the New Mass ends thus: “but to refuse it systematically, out of principle, may be a sign of not being in full communion.” 

Ah, now we see that His Excellency has joined the crowd with his “sober” and “serious” concern over the Full Communion Bogyman.  Priests can commit sacrilege, call for women’s ordination, or advise people to use birth control—and they will remain in “full communion.” But if a priest is orthodox as the day is long and yet declines to concelebrate a Novus Ordo Mass—well, we’d better run for our lives!  After all, he may not be in “full communion.” 

Traditionally, one was either in the Church or not.  Today with the ambiguity of Vatican II, we have a whole spectrum of possibilities.  Now we learn that in addition to “partial Communion” (whatever that means – perhaps Catholics can get partially married, too?) there is a new status whereby one might appear to be in full communion (have the Faith in its integrity) but may still bear a sign of not being in full communion.  This ambiguity is the gateway to a Catholic priest’s obligation to go along with every liturgical novelty that comes down through approved channels. Bishop Rifan not only defends the New Mass but argues that to object in principle to the New Mass (as he did as Father Rifan) makes one a heretic who may not even be in “full communion.”  By not concelebrating, priests would demonstrate that they choose the Traditional Mass for reasons other than mere preference.  Heaven forbid!, they may actually have a problem with the abominable New Mass in one of its many approved variations around the world. Thus, concelebration becomes required because it is the only proof we have that a priest is in “full communion”.  Are you following all this?

Bishop Rifan’s main argument is unsubstantiated in doctrine and a logical fallacy:

Because if, in theory or practice, we did consider the New Mass, in itself, as invalid, sacrilegious, heterodox, or non-Catholic, sinful and, therefore, illegitimate, we would have to accept the logical theological consequences of this position and apply it to the Pope and to all the Episcopate in the world, that is, to all the Teaching Church: that is, maintain that the Church can officially promulgate, has promulgated, has kept for decades, and does offer to God every day illegitimate and sinful worship – a position condemned by the Magisterium – and that, therefore, the gates of Hell have prevailed against her, which would be a heresy.

His Excellency’s argument runs thus: not only must the faithful accept that the words of consecration of the New Mass, if combined with valid matter and intention, validly confect a sacrament but that the form of the rite used does not contain anything that is heterodox, sacrilegious or non-Catholic.  The use of this last term adds a great ambiguity to his statement.  What exactly does he mean by non-Catholic?  In its author, in its essence, in its circumstances, in its inconsistency with Catholic Tradition?  Each of these senses has different implications.  One could consider the New Mass Catholic in the sense that it was authorized by a Catholic hierarch, the Pope, but non-Catholic in the sense that it is a rupture with centuries of Catholic Tradition; that it has become a “fabricated liturgy…a banal, on-the-spot product,” as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger described it in his famous preface to Mons. Gamber’s book.  Bishop Rifan simply brushes aside these distinctions throwing out all principled objection to the New Mass on any ground.

 Next, if one recognizes in the reality of the priest turning his back on the tabernacle and facing the people, distributing Communion in the hand (which has proven to cause sacrilege), the reception under both species, the suppression of gestures rendering due honor to God and his saints, the relegation to virtual obscurity references to Our Lady, purgatory, hell, reparation, sin and sacrifice – all of which are officially approved parts of the New Mass and not unauthorized abuses – according to His Excellency, one must accept a theological conclusion.  This conclusion is that the gates of hell have prevailed against the Church. 

Yet, his argument contains a false middle term.  His middle term is that if the New Mass contains elements that are not consistent with Catholic Tradition then most priests in the Church have offered sinful worship.  Yet, this middle term does not logically connect the first and third point.  There is no connection between a universal tide of error, or even sin, among the clergy and the defectability of the Church.  Under the false logic of Bishop Rifan the gates of hell would have prevailed during a time of pervasive immorality in the clergy.  Put another way, he is saying if things are really universally bad all over the Church the gates of hell have prevailed.  An analogy to his argument in the early Tenth Century would have been since a vast majority of priests are living in objective states of moral sin and corruption, the Church has failed.  But wait, this was the argument of Luther.  The particular failings of clergy, and even high ranking ones at that, prove the failure of the Catholic Church as the Church of Christ.  Surely Bishop Rifan should see the similarity in logic between his statement and the justification for Protestant revolt? 

Likewise, even if a large number of clergy including the Holy Father were using or tolerating faith-destroying and potentially sacrilegious (communion in the hand) ceremonies for decades, one does not logically have to conclude the Church has failed.  Did the Church fail when over 90% of the clergy were at least materially Arian?  Again, if virtually the entire episcopacy was Arian, the worship they offered to God was not Catholic (in the sense that it was offered by a heretical (non-Catholic) priest) even if they confected a valid sacrament.  The Church did not fail because Our Lord keeps His promises. After decades of heterodoxy the Church was finally restored to orthodoxy.  Yet, under Bishop Rifan’s logic, St. Athanasius would have been a heretic for allowing his intellect to acknowledge the reality that most of the clergy in the Church were on the wrong path and for not embracing them in big bear hugs of full communion.

Bishop Rifan’s argument also seems to suggest the creation of a new form of infallibility.  He argues that it is impossible for a pope to promulgate (and for most clergy to use) a rite containing errors or at least harmful elements.  In other words, the Church cannot err in promulgating a rite that is used for decades.  Yet, this form of infallibility is unheard of in Catholic doctrine. It is not Extraordinary (i.e., fulfilling the four conditions necessary).  The promulgation of the New Mass certainly does not fulfill at least two conditions.  Authorizing a rite does not definitively define a doctrine.  Even the definitive bull of Pius V, Quo Primum, does not do so but rather simply declares the Traditional Mass free from error.  Paul VI’s Missale Romanum does not even do that. 

Further, the New Mass was not addressed to the universal Church but merely the Western Church.  Yet, the promulgation of the New Mass is not an act of the Ordinary Magisterium (i.e., teaching held always and everywhere by the whole Church).  By definition a “new” Mass has not been always and everywhere the practice of the Church.  Rather Bishop Rifan seems to invoke a novel Sub-Extraordinary Magisterium, (i.e. below Extraordinary but not Ordinary), the conditions of which are vague, imprecise, and ambiguous but which seem to be: (1) the Pope (2) officially approving (3) a practice related to but not specifically of the Faith (4) which, without abrogating the ancient practice, he wishes everyone would accept and (5) which is accepted for a few decades by most clerics. Each of these new conditions of this New Infallibility is a bastardization of its traditional counterparts. No, Bishop Rifan, the Church has defined only two forms of infallibility.  If the promulgation of a New Mass does not fall within either one (and it does not), then the rite can contain errors, even grave ones.  An invented hybrid form of infallibility cannot be invoked to save a flawed rite from itself. 

Further, Bishop Rifan makes participation by concelebration in the Novus Ordo (which he sees as “normal, correct and good” recognizing the “value and sanctity” of the New Mass) the litmus test of orthodoxy.  He jettisons the Faith as the first bond of communion (in addition to the same sacraments and the same government).  No longer is the Faith the bond and sign of unity but now the regular use of a non-compulsory concelebration in a legally non-compulsory novel Mass.  He declares all objection to the New Mass as such impermissible (allowing only objection to abuses): “Thus, refusing continuously and categorically to participate at every and any Mass in the rite celebrated by the Pope and by all Bishops of the Church, for judging this rite, in itself, incompatible with the Faith or sinful, represents a formal refusal of communion with the Pope and with the Catholic episcopate.” 

What canon does Bishop Rifan quote that states that such refusal constitutes a “formal refusal of communion?”  What dogmatic declaration does he quote that anathematized refusal of a Rite that has wrought havoc in the Church and precipitated the greatest loss of Faith since the Reformation?  What paragraph in Denzinger does he site to prove that the proposition “that the Church can officially promulgate, has promulgated, has kept for decades, and does offer to God every day illegitimate and sinful worship” has been “condemned by the Magisterium?”[3]  Not one!


That is because the condemnation exists only in the ambiguous realm of the novel Sub-Extraordinary Magisterium invented by Bishop Rifan.  His Excellency has accepted the slipshod argumentation of the past forty years: pay no attention to the dogma or law behind the condemnation for it is only a humbug.  Thus, the freedom to be bi-ritual has become the obligation at the point of sin, heresy and schism, with the corollary that to even question the smoke (not of incense by the way) and mirrors of the man behind the curtain is a sin.

Beyond the illogical nature of his argument and his embrace of the Neo-Modernist DeLubac ambiguity of “living Magisterium” (a phrase used three times in the text), the saddest part of this declaration is Bishop Rifan’s utter repudiation of the position taken by Bishop de Castro Mayer and his priests—including one Father Fernando Rifan.  He and his priests now only retain the Mass of All Ages as a preference, an option:  “We love, prefer, and preserve the Roman liturgy in its most ancient form because it is, for us, a better liturgical expression of the eucharistic dogmas.” (emphasis added).  So his Apostolic Administration is now an antiquarian society keeping a little out-of-the-way place in formaldehyde for those who prefer it.  I personally heard Bishop Rifan thunderously promise from the pulpit of St. James Spanish Place in London that his legal recognition by Rome in no way meant as a repudiation of the position taken by Bishop de Castro Mayer, himself and the other priests of Campos.  Yet, now we, in black and white, precisely that repudiation. 

There was a time when Father Rifan was willing to be forcibly removed from his parish rather than participate in the destructive New Mass.  The successor to Bishop de Castro Mayer as bishop of Compos in his letter unjustly removing Father Rifan from his parish chastised him for questioning the “legitimacy and accuracy“ of the New Mass.  He quoted Father Rifan as saying that “the Catholic conscience could not accept the New Mass.”  In his valiant final sermon to his flock before his forced removal to a parish in exile, Father Rifan declared: “Those responsible for the implantation of progressivism in this Church will be the same ones who will profane this temple, by a lack of respect, by the presence of indecent clothes, by the New Mass.”[4]

Yet, Father Rifan’s heroic resistance to unjust oppression because of his adherence to Tradition was in the opinion of Bishop Rifan a mistake for which he asks forgiveness: 

Thank God, many magisterial clarifications were given to us later. [what would those be? The equally ambiguous “clarification” of “subsists” given by the CDF in 2007 perhaps?)]  Under the light of these, we examine if there was any error or exaggeration in the past regarding the aforementioned questions – which, once recognized, must be humbly corrected. If there was any failure in attitudes or expressions, correcting oneself is no humiliation. After all, to err is human, to forgive is divine, to correct oneself is Christian, and to persevere in error is diabolical. Errors can be understood or explained, by misunderstanding or mistaken judgement, influences, circumstances, or human weaknesses, but they cannot be justified.

So Father Rifan was in persistent diabolical error for refusing the progressivism and its New Mass that destroyed the Faith of millions in Brazil.  He was merely exaggerating!  Bishop de Castro Mayer now should be seen as having died in persistent “diabolical error” for having refused the New Mass until his death.  The inference here is obvious.  Bishop Rifan has repudiated Bishop de Castro Mayer, Archbishop Lefebvre, Father Rifan and all those priests but for whose action Tradition would have been eradicated completely from Compos and the Church. 

Sadly, Bishop Rifan has clearly adopted the position rejected by Father Rifan and the other brave priests of Campos called “bi-ritualism” which they defined as:

Those who would like to keep the Tradition (reduced to the traditional liturgy) while at the same time observing obedience to the current authorities and their principles, and especially the innovating principles of the Second Vatican Council [like Living Magisterium perhaps?], accepting the legitimacy and doctrinal accuracy of the Novus Ordo. . . . They plead for the “Indult Mass” and bi-ritualism, upholding the legitimacy of both rites, that of the Traditional Mass and of the New Mass.[5]

Ultimately, what seems to be the reason for Bishop Rifan’s repudiation of Father Rifan?  It seems to be the same motivation of the old squire in Come Rack Come Rope—the desire for peace, the desire to be left alone, the need to be accepted.  The old squire is tired of fighting the system, tired of paying the fines. He capitulates to find peace.  Bishop Rifan repeats this message to the Pope in his ad limina visit “what matters to us” is “peace.”  He reports that relations with the diocesan bishops in Brazil are “peaceful.”  We might echo the question asked by those who were willing to see reality for what it was after Chamberlain returned from his peace negotiations with Hitler, “Peace at what price?”  To which Chamberlain replied “peace at any price.” 

The price of Bishop Rifan’s peace seems to be the same price paid by the old squire, repudiation of principles and participation in the new ways which would have been unrecognizable to the Faith of our Fathers.  Father Rifan, in a sad parallel to the Protestant Henry IV of France, seems to be saying: “Compos is well worth a concelebrated New Mass (or, make that quite a few of them).”[6] 

Fortunately for the fictional squire, his story ends well after his peace bargain.  He repents of his compromise with Protestantism at the scaffold of his dying son, now a sacrificing priest, the son who refused the peace of his Father so as to preserve the Faith and Liturgy of his Father.  Hopefully, Bishop Rifan’s story will end similarly.


[3] Certainly, the proposition that the Church can completely and utterly be destroyed has been condemned repeatedly.  Yet, the grammar of the statement of Bishop Rifan shows that the antecedent to which this phase occurs is not this subsequent statement but the proposition that the Church could promote for a time a defective rite.

[4] David Allen White, The Mouth of the Lion p.228.

[5] Catholic, Apostolic and Roman, p. 7-8.  The name of Father Rifan appears on the last page of the document p.44.

[6] Henry of Navarre, Henry IV is reputed to have said  “Paris vaut bien une messe (Paris is well worth a Mass) when he abandoned his protestant beliefs as a condition to becoming King. 

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