Archbishop Lefebvre and the Moment of Truth
(Lille, France 1976)

Michael Davies (RIP)
(Remnant Columnist from 1972-2004)

Remnant Editor’s Note: As rumors of an imminent surrender to the Vatican by the Society of St. Pius X continue to abound, traditionalists would be well advised to take a deep breath, step back and prayerfully consider the situation confronting the largest traditional priestly fraternity in the world today. The late Archbishop Lefebvre and his followers have for over thirty years been waging war against the revolution of Vatican II, and the direct and indirect results of their labors are not difficult to see--hundreds of Indult Mass centers, dozens of approved priestly societies, hundreds of "unapproved" priests, countless vocations to the religious life, Mass centers, seminaries, chapels, schools, summer camps, etc. 

It is also true, on the other hand, that the SSPX (which is not in formal schism and which is not sedevacantist) cannot maintain its "irregular status" indefinitely.  Ultimately, the SSPX will return to Peter's full embrace, presumably after the "state of emergency" has subsided. The question is this, then: Has the "state of emergency"--which, according to canon law, rendered Archbishop Lefebvre's historic stand for tradition anything but an act of schism--subsided, and, if it has, what has changed since 1988 to make it so?

For months now, cyber “journalists” on both sides of the aisle have been banging on their infernal sauce pans in a desperate attempt to draw attention to their claims of omniscience when it comes to the future  of the SSPX and Bishop Bernard Fellay.  In recent weeks the rhetoric has escalated from the sensational to the absurd as Fellay has been vilified as a Zionist plant and a "centrist nut job" by those on the right and hailed by neo-Catholics as a "reasonable" antidote to the Society's "loose canon"-- Bishop Richard Williamson.  

This junior-high “journalism” no doubt plays pretty well in certain isolated hovels inside cyberspace but here in the real world such irresponsible tactics have a tendency to exacerbate the problem more than anything else. At the end of the day, nobody, perhaps not even Bishop Fellay himself (!), knows with any degree of certitude what the outcome of the Vatican’s vigorous push to regularize the SSPX will be.  And Internet caterwauling by traditionalists, if it has any effect at all, could theoretically begin to drive the leaders of the SSPX—who are no doubt under tremendous emotional and spiritual strain—in a direction that may not be in the best interests of our cause. They are, after all, only human.

Bottom line is this: Traditional Catholics need to spend more time praying for Bishop Fellay as he embarks on this dangerous mission and less time giving credence to smart-alecky commentary that could test the patience of a saint and maybe even badger a good bishop or two into the open arms of forked-tongued Vatican bureaucrats.

What should Bishop Fellay do?  This is not an easy question for anyone to answer. But perhaps bringing traditionalism's past into the discussion would be a constructive first step in trying to answer that question, both for those who favor a rapprochement and those who are leery of one. For our part, we plan to post and publish more  reports from the early days on how Archbishop Lefebvre resisted and especially why he did. It is our hope that this will serve to shed some light on the natural speculation that has now arisen over whether or not Archbishop Lefebvre, were he alive today, would concur that the time has come to end the standoff with the Vatican.

Let us pray that God will guide Bishop Fellay and, while making him impervious to the seductions of Romanitas, give him all the grace he needs to proceed with confidence in accordance with the Divine will.  It may be God’s will that the SSPX should make an accord with the Vatican, and thus usher in a new era of traditionalist restoration from within; seems hard to fathom, certainly, but we know neither the mind of God nor when the Holy Ghost will intervene to save His Church. For all we know that moment may have come. We must pray, then, that it has and that God will use Bishop Fellay and his team to bring tradition back to the heart of the Church--the Vatican--and to help soften hearts and prompt a true restoration of the Church along the lines of the Cluniac reforms of the 11th century.

On the other hand, a Vatican-led co-opting of the Catholic counterrevolution’s largest priestly fraternity on the very eve of the establishment of a Godless New World Order may be anything but God’s will, and could go down in history as the death knell of organized Catholic counterrevolution. Any student of human nature will no doubt find it difficult to comprehend why the modernists inside the Vatican would actually want to approve a worldwide order of traditionalist priests who will  go on vigorously opposing the Vatican's own agenda throughout the world. Now, why would the Vatican do that unless there's either some game afoot or the Vatican has indeed seen the folly of Vatican II, the New Mass and the new orientation of the Catholic Church.

Obviously, ceaseless prayer is called for, and the temptation to rush to judgment one way or the other should perhaps be set aside for the moment. Something from the Bible about doves and serpents and wisdom and cooing comes to mind just now.

Here, then, is a short account of what it was like in the early days as Archbishop Lefebvre began his historic rise to resistance against the modernist Vatican and the revolution of Vatican II.   The article first appeared in The Remnant in September of 1976.  As we read the late Michael Davies' report, perhaps we might also remember to offer an Ave or two for the repose of his soul.  Michael J. Matt

Lille, France – The climax of a bullfight comes with what the Spaniards call “the moment of truth”.  The matador faces the bull; silence falls upon the arena; either the matador or the bull must die.

It would not be unreasonable to claim that the post-conciliar Church reached her moment of truth at Lille on Sunday 29 August 1976, at about 11:30 a.m.  Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre turned from the altar to address an immense congregation, possibly the largest congregation ever addressed by any priest during the course of his Mass.  Those actually present certainly constituted the largest congregation assisting at any Mass in the world that day.  There were seats for five thousand in the vast auditorium of the International Complex here at Lille.  Every seat had been taken well before the Mass began and thousands more had crammed themselves into every available inch of space; at least eight or nine hundred had been unable to inch their way into the auditorium and hence were crammed into a long passage leading to the exit, outside of which stood many who could not even get a foot inside the door.  There were at least seven thousand present here.

But on this Sunday, Mgr. Lefebvre was able to address himself to the world – television companies from many countries recorded the event, as did radio networks and reporters from innumerable journals.  The number of reporters alone ran into hundreds.

And so Mgr. Lefebvre turned to tell the world, the Catholic world in particular, the truth – the truth about himself, about what he was doing and why; the truth about his seminary; the truth about the Vatican Council and its orientations; the truth about the systematic campaign of calumny and misrepresentation to which he had been and continues to be subjected by the Vatican and the official Catholic press in so many countries.  The apparently frail prelate, speaking on his seventy-first birthday with a vigour and lucidity that belied his age, stood, like Athanasius, against the world – or against the entire Catholic ecclesiastical establishment, national hierarchies, the Vatican bureaucracy, the Pope himself.  The reforms intended to initiate an unprecedented renewal had proved to be a total, irremedial, and ignominious disaster.  The Church is in the process of accelerating decomposition.  Novelty after novelty had been introduced and the scale of the disaster increased – in some parishes, dioceses, whole countries even, it is hard to find a vestige of anything even reminiscent of Catholicism; the old Church, dedicated to the cult of God, is being replaced by a new Church dedicated to the cult of man, and yet the one bishop determined to uphold the traditional faith, come what may, is accused of trying to form ‘a new independent Church’.  What is happening is, as Mgr. Lefebvre remarked several times during his sermon, unbelievable (“incroyable”).

He began by stating that this Mass was not, as was being alleged, some sort of public manifestation of defiance.  He had originally intended to celebrate only a semi-private Mass and had been persuaded to make it a public Mass only a few days before.  Fortunately, I am able to add my personal testimony to the truth of this statement, as only seven days before I had arranged for a phone call directly to the Archbishop at Econe to obtain some details concerning the Mass, and he had replied in person that he did not want people to come and that those planning to do so should be discouraged.  But it became obvious that large numbers were coming nonetheless and, although one Lille church had been given over to the Muslims, none would be available to Catholic traditionalists.  So it was decided not just to hire a hall, but the largest hall available.  The fact that 7,000 Catholics managed to get to a Mass which was announced as being public only four days beforehand, gives an idea of Mgr. Lefebvre’s support in France and outside of France.  An opinion poll has in fact revealed that 28% of French Catholics now support him – the exact percentage, by the way, which the same poll revealed as opposed to divorce.

The second point which the Archbishop stressed in his sermon was his total repudiation of the role now ascribed to him as “the leader of traditionalist Catholics”.  He was, he insisted, simply a Catholic bishop; he was not and never would be the leader of any movement.  In any case, he added, evoking roars of laughter from the congregation, it was not really logical to speak of “TRADITIONALIST” Catholics – if a Catholic was not a traditionalist then he was not a Catholic.

The full text of Mgr. Lefebvre’s sermon is in the process of translation.  Most Remnant reader will already be familiar with the gist of the case he makes against the reform which has followed the council, which he repeated at Lille for the millions watching and listening who would not have heard it before.  One point which the media has seized upon is his use of the word ‘bastard’, to describe the new Liturgy and the new priesthood.  Evoking Old Testament imagery by describing the relations of the Catholic Church with the Revolution and with Protestantism as “adulterous”, he extended the metaphor by classifying the offspring of this adulterous liaison as “bastard” – thus, he claimed, we now have a mongrel liturgy (“mongrel” is probably the most precise translation).  Strong though this description may appear, upon reflection it is a most accurate manner of describing an attempt to concoct a form of Mass which would be acceptable to both Catholics and Protestants.

This, then, was indeed the moment of truth for the Pope and the hierarchy.  Mgr. Lefebvre has stated the truth concerning the reform to which their prestige is attached, and which has become a fiasco which is destroying the Church in the West.  What is to be done?  They must either accept the truth and devote themselves to undoing at least some of the damage that has been done, withdraw all the sanctions imposed upon Mgr. Lefebvre and his seminary, and make public reparation to him for the damage which has been done to his reputation, or they must continue to ignore reality and persist in enforcing the practical reforms of the council, which could reduce the Church in the West  to so abysmal a state that it will take centuries to undo the harm that has been done if, indeed, it ever can be undone.

The Mass itself was celebrated with immense fervour and great dignity.  France’s leading daily,  Le Monde,  remarked on Mgr. Lefebvre’s serenity and tranquil dignity despite the strain which he must have been undergoing since his suspension.  The volume and quality of congregational participation in the sung parts of the Mass – with more than seven thousand Catholics from at least half a dozen countries singing una voce, with one voice, and broadcasting to millions on T.V. and radio – has given the lie to the persistent claim that the traditional Mass precludes congregational participation.

It is also worth quoting Le Monde with regard to the make-up of the congregation.  A report in its issue of 31 August concurs in every detail with my own impression of those present.  Contrary to allegations that the atmosphere of the  Mass was political rather than religious, the report affirms that for the vast majority of those present it was “an act of piety, a gesture of solidarity with a bishop who was the object of sanctions, a gesture of fidelity to the traditional Church…Men were in a very definite majority, there were large numbers of young people, and entire families with their children…the general impression was of a normal parish congregation with a far from negligible proportion of workers’’. The same report adds that everyone from the town of Lille seemed to know what was going on.  The duty clerk in the ticket office at the station told Le Monde’s reporter “I’m broken-hearted at not being free to go to the Mass.  I’m 100% behind Mgr. Lefebvre.  I haven’t put a foot inside my parish church for ages, because of the clowning that goes on there, and they don’t get so much as a sou (cent) out of me anymore.”  On the way to the Mass even his taxi-driver told him that he was also a strong supporter of Mgr. Lefebvre.

The wide-based support for Mgr. Lefebvre and also its essentially religious nature are points which both need stressing, as the Vatican, the French hierarchy, the Catholic press and some secular journals are currently engaged on a campaign designed to show that the movement is ‘politically motivated’ and is concerned not so much with preserving the traditional faith, but with setting up an extreme right-wing (even fascist) government!  Some left-wing journals are now openly comparing Mgr. Lefebvre with Hitler!  It is true that some of the groups on the fringe of the French political right are trying to capitalize on the traditionalist movement for their own purposes.  Two youths were selling a fascist paper outside the auditorium, and Mgr. Lefebvre’s opponents have seized upon this fact with great glee, insinuating that he is an anti-Semitic fascist!  In point of fact, three times before the Mass a priest read a statement from Mgr. Lefebvre declaring that any sale or distribution of literature outside the hall would be against his express wishes.  Some of the French bishops are now involving themselves directly in this smear campaign of smear-by-association but, as always, those who use such despicable tactics will find that, eventually, the truth prevails and they themselves are the losers.

The Mass at Lille on 29 August 1976 is certainly one of the most important and decisive events to take place within the Church since Vatican II.  Indeed, it could be the most decisive event, as it provided the moment of truth which would enable Pope Paul to reverse the movement away from  tradition…

The Lille Mass was an event at which every traditionalist would certainly have dearly loved to be present. Meanwhile we all have a duty to pray – to pray as never before for Mgr. Lefebvre and Pope Paul VI, especially for Pope Paul VI.