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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A 1978 Reply to Archbishop Sheen's Comments on the SSPX Featured

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Archbishop Fulton Sheen Archbishop Fulton Sheen
Recently, anti-SSPX apologists have re-published what is reported to be a private 1978 letter from Archbishop Fulton Sheen advising against affiliation with the SSPX.

As luck would have it, this letter did not go unnoticed in SSPX circles at the time. Dr. Eugene McKenzie, a reader of The Angelus (the SSPX’s official magazine), saw the Archbishop’s letter and decided to write the Archbishop in reply.

Dr. McKenzie then sent his reply to the Angelus’ editor, Fr. Carl Pulvermacher, who decided to publish it. What follows is the text of Dr. McKenzie’s letter to Fr. Pulvermacher from 1978. Its contents are as true today as they were then:

Dear Father Carl:

Enclosed you will find a copy of a letter sent recently to a housewife who lives near Topeka, from Bishop Fulton Sheen. You will note the effort encourages one Mrs. Rew to continue her efforts to draw away from our congregation in St. Mary's at the St. Pius X Chapel, her friend and one of our people. I couldn't resist answering the good Bishop. I do not know if your policies allow printing this material but if you wish that is fine.


Dr. Eugene F. McKenzie

September 21, 1978

Dear Barbara:

I thank you for your kind letter and I admire you as the mother of eight small children. I am sure you are busy, but happy.

If you have any influence on your friend I would beg you to influence her to leave the so-called Society of Saint Pius X. This group has no ecclesiastical approval, and indeed, it can lead her and possibly her family into schism and even heresy.

The Vatican Council approved the updating of the Liturgy and amongst the changes were those recommended for the Mass. The changes made by Pope Paul VI were not doctrinal changes, they merely changed from Latin to the vernacular. There have been many changes in the Mass down through the centuries.

The Lord never said Mass in Latin; He used the language of the time. Moreover, the change in translation does not alter the meaning of the text. I am always looking for translations that make the Scriptures more understandable and clear.

Since I never write to anyone unless they have written to me I shall not write to Mrs. Richardon. I beg of you to tell her that she should withdraw from that schismatical sect as soon as possible, or suffer the consequence of possibly finding herself outside the Church.

God love you!

+ Fulton J. Sheen

September 30, 1978 

Most Reverend Fulton J. Sheen 
Titular Archbishop of Newport

Your Excellency:

Enclosed find your letter recently received by a housewife in this area. I respond because of your sweeping condemnation of the Society of St. Pius X and by inference, its founder, Archbishop Lefebvre. Also, your letter has been copied and distributed by its recipient. I will show that you have affixed your name to a litany of false and misleading statements. If I had not seen this letter I would not have believed that the famous Fulton Sheen could author it. Charity compels me to ask whether in fact the author was some untrained underling? I speak to your letter.

1. ("THE VATICAN COUNCIL APPROVED THE  UPDATING OF THE LITURGY AND AMONGST THE CHANGES WERE THOSE RECOMMENDED FOR THE MASS.") The Vatican Council never hinted at what has become a  revolution. The Council never intended that Latin should be removed from the Mass. The Fathers (were you there?) allowed the option of the vernacular for some opening prayers. They never hinted at the possibility of altering the Canon nor especially the Consecration. As you know, Article 36 of the Constitution on the Liturgy reads: "The use of the Latin language shall be maintained (servetur) in the Latin rites."

Why do you continue to violate this law? There is not a line in the Constitution on replacing our altars with tables; not a suggestion that the priest should face the congregation. The late English Cardinal Heenan testified that when the Fathers voted for the Constitution they did not foresee "that Latin would virtually disappear from Catholic Churches."

The late Archbishop Dwyer writing of the euphoric spirit of the Fathers on the day they voted in favor of the Constitution by 2,147 to 4, comments with the sadness and wisdom of hindsight: "Who dreamed on that day that within a few years, far less than a decade, the Latin past of the Church would be all but expunged, that it would be reduced to a memory. The thought of it would have horrified us, but it seemed for far beyond the realm of the possible as to be ridiculous. We laughed it off."

One prelate, who fulfilled important functions during the Council, expressed himself strongly on this matter in 1969: "I regret having voted in favor of the Council Constitution in whose name (but in what a manner) this heretical pseudo-reform has been carried out, a triumph of arrogance and ignorance. If it were possible, I would take back my vote, and attest before a magistrate that my assent had been obtained through trickery" (Mgr. Domenico Celada).

Finally, the Council took for granted the Bull Quo Primum which guarantees "in perpetuity" the right of any priest to say the Immemorial Mass (Tridentine) and the right of the laity to hear the same. It never even hinted at replacing the old Mass with the Novus Ordo—how could it—the Council closed in 1965. The Novus Ordo was not promulgated until 1969! Why do you then illegally refuse the priests and laity of your diocese the right to this Mass? Please don't reply like most diocesan papers that the Constitution Missale Romanun issued by Paul VI to institute the Novus Ordo rescinds Quo Primum and thus the Tridentine Mass—that is a lie!

If you have read the original Latin document you found it doesn't even mention Quo Primum but is merely a "permission" to say the Novus Ordo. The liberals try to make of this "permission" a binding law by "mistranslation" when going from the Latin to English, French, Italian and German. How does it happen, your Excellency, that these "experts" all made the same linguistic error on the fourth from last line of the document Missale Romanum? You haven't read it? Like the bishops of the nation you took the word of the liberal peritus Yves Congar for this?

2. ("THE CHANGES MADE BY POPE PAUL VI WERE NOT DOCTRINAL CHANGES, THEY MERELY CHANGED FROM LATIN TO THE VERNACULAR.") This statement, and from a Bishop, is so unreal as to leave the reader stupefied. We know that Pope Paul did not actually author all the radical liturgical changes which bear his name, but to say that this revolution was essentially linguistic in character, well, this is to ask not to be taken seriously.

According to Dietrich Von Hildebrand, Pope Paul's Novus Ordo "merely changed" 70 percent of the Tridentine Mass. A grand total of thirty-five prayers have been replaced or discarded. The contrast from the old Roman Missal which you compiled, to the new Missalettes, is so stark as to defy comparison. If your above statement were even partly true Catholics could go right on attending the new Mass and use their old missals by just reading the English section. Try it, Bishop Sheen. It would be like going to see the Yankees play with a program from the Bolshoi Ballet as a guide.

3. ("THERE HAVE BEEN MANY CHANGES IN THE MASS DOWN THROUGH THE CENTURIES.") No informed critic of the new Mass has ever suggested that the Missal of St. Pius V was untouchable or that Quo Primum precluded any reform of the Missal by subsequent Pontiffs. Archbishop Lefebvre has made no such claims. The historical evidence is there to show that up to 1969 when the Novus Ordo was imposed, the changes in the Mass for 1500 years were conducted with the utmost reverence and caution. Pope John XXIII's "reform" is typical of the changes which appeared only rarely. After much research and discussion that Pope allowed the Last Gospel to be dropped on occasion, altered the calendar slightly and timidly inserted the name of St. Joseph into the Canon. You surely know that numerous scholars of late have demonstrated that there is no possible comparison with what Pope Paul VI has permitted and the revisions of the Popes who went before him.

The following lines are from a 1952 edition of a book entitled This Is the Mass: "The Mass became set much as we now know it, insofar as concerns its broad structure, at about the close of the third century. Although this or that part may show some growth or diminution in importance, the general plan of the ceremony is even now just as it was then."

Those lines—that book was written by two experts on the Mass; their names: Henri Daniel-Rops and Fulton J. Sheen.

You chide us for turning to the Society of St. Pius X for our Immemorial Mass because only these priests of Archbishop Lefebvre have the courage to bring to us what you and the nation's bishops should be providing.

You know better than I that this Novus Ordo which you defend is shockingly similar to the heretical rite devised by the heretic Thomas Cranmer during Henry VIII's time. You know that Cramer successfully devised a three-pronged attack to destroy the Mass and the Faith in England. First, he replaced the altars with tables, "Altars for that odious sacrifice, tables for memorial meals." Second, he replaced "abominable Latin" with vernacular so that later he could gradually mutilate the prayers. Third, came communion in the hand; thus in time the idea of the Real Presence, which he hated would be diluted.

In exactly twenty years Cranmer crushed the Faith in England. In the last ten years you and the Bishops of America have reduced Mass attendance by one half!

Is the pattern similar?

Who is leading whom into "schism and even heresy"?

A few years ago an American Bishop wrote these lines in the preface to his Sunday Missal of the Tridentine Mass. These words sum up the case made by Archbishop Lefebvre and his men:

"There is no communion rail without an altar, For only a Sacrifice leads to a Sacrament."

by Fulton J. Sheen

Be careful great, great Bishop of the television screen, that your sharp pen does not become your scourge, for you may learn one day, like Paul of Tarsus, that in pummeling the elderly French Archbishop you had, in fact, struck the naked body of the Saviour.

Dr. Eugene F. McKenzie

October 10, 1978

UPDATE: I have just learned that the author of this letter, Dr. McKenzie, passed away in 2013. Please remember to say a prayer for the repose of his soul before you leave this page. Thank you.

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Last modified on Tuesday, October 6, 2015