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An Open Letter to Confused Catholics: The Mass of All Times versus the Mass of Our Time

By His Grace Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre

"I owe it to truth to say and affirm without fear of error that the Mass codified by St. Pius V--and not invented by him, as some often say--express clearly these three realities: sacrifice, Real Presence, and the priesthood of the clergy. It takes into account also, as the Council of Trent has pointed out, the nature of mankind which needs outside help to raise itself to meditation upon divine things. The established customs have not been made at random, they cannot be overthrown or abruptly abolished with impunity. How many of the faithful, how many young priests, how many bishops, have lost the faith since the introduction of these reforms!"

4. The Mass of All Times versus the Mass of Our Time.

In preparation for the 1981 Eucharistic Congress, a questionnaire was distributed, the first question of which was: “Of these two definitions: ‘The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass’ and ‘Eucharistic Meal’, which one do you adopt spontaneously?” There is a great deal that could be said about this way of questioning Catholics, giving them to some extent the choice and appealing to their private judgment on a subject where spontaneity has no place. The definition of the Mass is not chosen in the same way that one chooses a political party.

Alas! The insinuation does not result from a blunder on the part of the person who drew up the questionnaire. One has to accept that the liturgical reform tends to replace the idea and the reality of the Sacrifice by the reality of a meal. That is how one comes to speak of eucharistic celebration, or of a “Supper”; but the expression “Sacrifice” is much less used. It has almost totally disappeared from catechism handbooks just as it has from sermons. It is absent from Canon II, attributed to St. Hippolytus.

This tendency is connected with what we have discovered concerning the Real Presence: if there is no longer a sacrifice, there is no longer any need for a victim. The victim is present in view of the sacrifice. To make of the Mass a memorial or fraternal meal is the Protestant error. What happened in the sixteenth century? Precisely what is taking place today. Right from the start they replaced the altar by a table, removed the crucifix from it, and made the “president of the assembly” turn around to face the congregation. The setting of the Protestant Lord's Supper is found in Pierres Vivantes, the prayer book prepared by the bishops in France which all children attending catechism are obliged to use:

“Christians meet together to celebrate the Eucharist. It is the Mass... They proclaim the faith of the Church, they pray for the whole world, they offer the bread and the wine. The priest who presides at the assembly says the great prayer of thanksgiving.”

Now in the Catholic religion it is the priest who celebrates Mass; it is he who offers the bread and wine. The notion of president has been borrowed directly from Protestantism. The vocabulary follows the change of ideas. Formerly, we would say, “Cardinal Lustiger will celebrate a Pontifical Mass.” I am told that at Radio Notre Dame, the phrase used at present is, “Jean-Marie Lustiger will preside at a concelebration.” Here is how they speak about Mass in a brochure issued by the Conference of Swiss Bishops: “The Lord's Supper achieves firstly communion with Christ. It is the same communion that Jesus brought about during His life on earth when He sat at table with sinners, and has been continued in the Eucharistic meal since the day of the Resurrection. The Lord invites His friends to come together and He will be present among them.” To that every Catholic is obliged to reply in a categoric manner, “NO! the Mass is not that!” It is not the continuation of a meal similar to that which Our Lord invited Saint Peter and a few of his disciples one morning on the lakeside, after His Resurrection. “When they came to land they saw a charcoal fire there and a fish laid thereon and bread. Jesus said to them, come and dine. And none of them durst ask Him, ‘Who art thou?,’ knowing that it was the Lord. And Jesus cometh and taketh the bread and giveth them, and fish in like manner” (John 21: 9-13).

The communion of the priest and the faithful is a communion to the Victim Who has offered Himself up on the altar of sacrifice. This is of solid stone; if not it contains at least the altar stone which is a stone of sacrifice. Within are laid relics of the martyrs because they have offered their blood for their Master. This communion of the Blood of Our Lord with the blood of the martyrs encourages us also to offer up our lives.

If the Mass is a meal, I understand the priest turning towards the congregation. One does not preside at a meal with one's back to the guests. But a sacrifice is offered to God, not to the congregation. This is the reason why the priest as the head of the faithful turns toward God and the crucifix over the altar.

At every opportunity emphasis is laid on what the New Sunday Missal calls the “Narrative of the Institution.” The Jean-Bart Centre, the official centre for the Archdiocese of Paris, states, “At the center of the Mass, there is a narrative.” Again, no! The Mass is not a narrative, it is an action.

Three indispensable conditions are needed for it to be the continuation of the Sacrifice of the Cross: the oblation of the victim, the transubstantiation which renders the victim present effectively and not symbolically, and the celebration by a priest, consecrated by his priesthood, in place of the High Priest Who is Our Lord.

Likewise the Mass can obtain the remission of sins. A simple memorial, a narrative of the institution accompanied by a meal, would be far from sufficient for this. All the supernatural virtue of the Mass comes from its relationship to the Sacrifice of the Cross. If we no longer believe that, then we no longer believe anything about Holy Church, the Church would no longer have any reason for existing, we would no longer claim to be Catholics. Luther understood very clearly that the Mass is the heart and soul of the Church. He said: “Let us destroy the Mass and we shall destroy the Church.”

Now we can see that the Novus Ordo Missae, that is to say, the New Order adopted after the Council, has been drawn up on Protestant lines, or at any rate dangerously close to them. For Luther, the Mass was a sacrifice of praise, that is to say, an act of praise, an act of thanksgiving, but certainly not an expiatory sacrifice which renews and applies the Sacrifice of the Cross. For him, the Sacrifice of the Cross took place at a given moment of history, it is the prisoner of that history; we can only apply to ourselves Christ's merits by our faith in His death and resurrection. Contrarily, the Church maintains that this Sacrifice is realized mystically upon our altars at each Mass, in an unbloody manner by the separation of the Body and the Blood under the species of bread and wine. This renewal allows the merits of the Cross to be applied to the faithful there present, perpetuating this source of grace in time and in space. The Gospel of St. Matthew ends with these words: “And behold, I am with you all days, even until the end of the world.”

The difference in conception is not slender. Efforts are being made to reduce it, however, by the alteration of Catholic doctrine of which we can see numerous signs in the liturgy.

Luther said, “Worship used to be addressed to God as a homage. Henceforth it will be addressed to man to console and enlighten him. The sacrifice used to have pride of place but the sermon will supplant it.” That signified the introduction of the Cult of Man, and, in the Church, the importance accorded to the “Liturgy of the Word.” If we open the new missals, this revolution has been accomplished in them too. A reading has been added to the two which existed, together with a “universal prayer” often utilized for propagating political or social ideas; taking the homily into account, we often end up with a shift of balance towards the “word.” Once the sermon is ended, the Mass is very close to its end.

Within the Church, the priest is marked with an indelible character which makes of him an alter Christus: he alone can offer the Holy Sacrifice. Luther considered the distinction between clergy and laity to the “first wall raised up by the Romanists”; all Christians are priests, the pastor is only exercising a function in presiding at the Evangelical Mass. In the Novus Ordo, the “I” of the celebrant has been replaced by “we”; it is written everywhere that the faithful “celebrate,” they are associated with the acts of worship, they read the epistle and occasionally the Gospel, give out Communion, sometimes preach the homily, which may be replaced by “a dialogue by small groups upon the Word of God,” meeting together beforehand to “construct” the Sunday celebration. But this is only a first step; for several years we have heard of those responsible for diocesan organizations who have been putting forward propositions of this nature: “It is not the ministers but the assembly who celebrate” (handouts by the National Center for Pastoral Liturgy), or “The assembly is the prime subject of the liturgy”; what matters is not the “functioning of the rites but the image the assembly gives to itself and the relationship the cocelebrants create between themselves” (P. Gelineau, architect of the liturgical reform and professor at the Paris Catholic Institute). If it is the assembly which matters then it is understandable that private Masses should be discredited, which means that priests no longer say them because it is less and less easy to find an assembly, above all during the week. It is a breach with the unchanging doctrine: that the Church needs a multiplicity of Sacrifices of the Mass, both for the application of the Sacrifice of the Cross and for all the objects assigned to it, adoration, thanksgiving, propitiation,5 and impetration.6

As if that were not enough, the objective of some is to eliminate the priest entirely, which has given rise to the notorious SAAP (Sunday Assemblies in the Absence of the Priest). We can imagine the faithful gathering to pray together in order to honor the Lord's Day; but these SAAP are in reality a sort of “dry Mass,” lacking only the consecration; and the lack, as one can read in a document of the Regional Center for Social and Religious Studies at Lille, is only because “until further instructions lay people do not have the power to carry out this act.” The absence of the priest may even be intentional “so that the faithful can learn to manage for themselves.” Father Gelineau in Demain la Liturgie writes that the SAAP are only an “educational transition until such time as mentalities have changed,” and he concludes with disconcerting logic that there are still too many priests in the Church, “too many doubtless for things to evolve quickly.”

Luther suppressed the Offertory; Why offer the pure and Immaculate Host if there is no more sacrifice? In the French Novus Ordo the Offertory is practically non-existent; besides which it no longer has this name. The New Sunday Missal speaks of the “prayers of presentation.” The formula used reminds one more of a thanksgiving, a thank-you, for the fruits of the earth. To realize this fully, it is sufficient to compare it with the formulas traditionally used by the Church in which clearly appears the propitiatory and expiatory nature of the Sacrifice “which I offer Thee for my innumerable sins, offenses and negligences, for all those here present and for all Christians living and dead, that it may avail for my salvation and theirs for eternal life.” Raising the chalice, the priest then says, “We offer Thee, Lord, the chalice of Thy redemption, imploring Thy goodness to accept it like a sweet perfume into the presence of Thy divine Majesty for our salvation and that of the whole world.”

What remains of that in the New Mass? This: “Blessed are You, Lord, God of the universe, You who give us this bread, fruit of the earth and work of human hands. We offer it to You; it will become the bread of life,” and the same for the wine which will become “our spiritual drink.” What purpose is served by adding, a little further on: “Wash me of my faults, Lord. Purify me of my sin,” and “may our sacrifice today find grace before You”? Which sin? Which sacrifice? What connection can the faithful make between this vague presentation of the offerings and the redemption that he is looking forward to? I will ask another question: Why substitute for a text that is clear and whose meaning is complete, a series of enigmatic and loosely bound phrases? If a need is found for change, it should be for something better. These incidental phrases which seem to make up for the insufficiency of the “prayers of presentation” remind us of Luther, who was at pains to arrange the changes with caution. He retained as much as possible of the old ceremonies, limiting himself to changing their meaning. The Mass, to a great extent, kept its external appearance, the people found in the churches nearly the same setting, nearly the same rites, with slight changes made to please them, because from then on people were consulted much more than before; they were much more aware of their importance in matters of worship, taking a more active part by means of chant and praying aloud. Little by little Latin gave way to German.

Doesn't all this remind you of something? Luther was also anxious to ceate new hymns to replace “all the mumblings of popery”. Reforms always adopt the appearance of a cultural revolution.

In the Novus Ordo the most ancient parts of the Roman Canon which goes back to apostolic times has been reshaped to bring it closer to the Lutheran formula of consecration, with both an addition and a suppression. The translation in French has gone even further by altering the meaning of the words pro multis. Instead of “My blood which shall be shed for you and for many,” we read “which shall be shed for you and for the multitude.” This does not mean the same thing and theologically is not without significance.

You may have noticed that most priests nowadays recite as one continuous passage the principal part of the Canon which begins, “the night before the Passion He took bread in His holy hands,” without observing the pause implied by the rubric of the Roman Missal: “Holding with both hands the host between the index finger and the thumb, he pronounces the words of the Consecration in a low but distinct voice and attentively over the host.” The tone changes, becomes intimatory, the five words “Hoc est enim Corpus Meum,” operate the miracle of transubstantiation, as do those that are said for the consecration of the wine. The new Missal asks the celebrant to keep to the narrative tone of voice as if he were indeed proceeding with a memorial. Creativity being now the rule, we see some celebrants who recite the text while showing the Host all around or even breaking it in an ostentatious manner so as to add the gesture to their words and better illustrate their text. The two genuflections out of the four having been suppressed, those which remain being sometimes omitted, we have to ask ourselves if the priest in fact has the feeling of consecrating, even supposing that he really does have the intention to do so.

Then, from being puzzled Catholics you become worried Catholics: is the Mass at which you have assisted valid? Is the Host you have received truly the Body of Christ?

It is a grave problem. How can the ordinary faithful decide? For the validity of a Mass there exists essential conditions: matter, form, intention and the validly ordained priest. If these conditions are filled one cannot see how to conclude invalidity. The prayers of the Offertory, the Canon and the Priest's Communion are necessary for the integrity of the Sacrifice and the Sacrament, but no, for its validity. Cardinal Mindzenty pronouncing in secret in his prison the words of Consecration over a little bread and wine, so as to nourish himself with the Body and Blood of Our Lord without being seen by his guards, was certainly accomplishing the Sacrifice and the Sacrament.

A Mass celebrated with the American bishop's honeycakes of which I have spoken is certainly, invalid, like those where the words of the Consecration are seriously altered or even omitted. I am not inventing anything, a case has been recorded where a celebrant went to such an extent of creativity that he quite simply forgot the Consecration! But how can we assess the intention of the priest? It is obvious that there are fewer and fewer valid Masses as the faith of priests becomes corrupted and they no longer have the intention to do what the Church--which cannot change her intention--has always done. The present-day training of those who are called seminarians does not prepare them to accomplish valid Masses. They are no longer taught to consider the Holy Sacrifice as the essential action of their priestly life.

Furthermore it can be said without any exaggeration whatsoever, that the majority of Masses celebrated without altar stones, with common vessels, leavened bread, with the introduction of profane words into the very body of the Canon, etc., are sacrilegious, and they prevent faith by diminishing it. The desacralization is such that these Masses can come to lose their supernatural character, “the mystery of faith,” and become no more than acts of natural religion.

Your perplexity takes perhaps the following form: may I assist at a sacrilegious Mass which is nevertheless valid, in the absence of any other, in order to satisfy my Sunday obligation? The answer is simple: these Masses cannot be the object of an obligation; we must moreover apply to them the rules of moral theology and canon law as regards the participation or the attendance at an action which endan- gers the faith or may be sacrilegious.

The New Mass, even when said with piety and respect for the liturgical rules, is subject to the same reservations since it is impregnated with the spirit of Protestantism. It bears within it a poison harmful to the faith. That being the case the French Catholic7 of today finds himself in the conditions of religious practice which prevail in missionary countries. There, the inhabitants in some regions are able to attend Mass only three or four times a year. The faithful of our country should make the effort to attend once each month at the Mass of All Time, the true source of grace and sanctification, in one of those places where it continues to be held in honor.

I owe it to truth to say and affirm without fear of error that the Mass codified by St. Pius V--and not invented by him, as some often say--express clearly these three realities: sacrifice, Real Presence, and the priesthood of the clergy. It takes into account also, as the Council of Trent has pointed out, the nature of mankind which needs outside help to raise itself to meditation upon divine things. The established customs have not been made at random, they cannot be overthrown or abruptly abolished with impunity. How many of the faithful, how many young priests, how many bishops, have lost the faith since the introduction of these reforms! One cannot thwart nature and faith without their taking their revenge.

But as it happens, we are told, man is no longer what he was a century ago; his nature has been changed by the technical civilization in which he is immersed. How absurd! The innovators take good care not to reveal to the faithful their desire to fall into line with Protestantism. They invoke another argument: change. Here is how they explain it at the theological evening school in Strasbourg: “We must recognize that today we are confronted with a veritable cultural mutation. One particular manner of celebrating the memorial of the Lord was bound up with a religious universe which is no longer ours.” It is quickly said, and everything disappears. We must start again from scratch. Such are the sophisms they use to make us change our faith. What is a “religious universe?” It would be better to be frank and say: “a religion which is no longer ours.”



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