"The Pilgrimage to Rome in May, 1975, led by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, is of such historic significance in so many respects that it appears almost impossible to present any of them adequately. There are four major basilicas in Rome at which pilgrims for the Holy Year of 1975 can gain their indulgence - St. Peter's, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, and St. Paul's Without-the-Walls. During the weekend of 24-26 May, Holy Year pilgrims from all over the world were astounded to see an event which took place at each of these basilicas in almost identical circumstances. A venerable prelate in full episcopal robes, a prelate whose very being radiated holiness, serenity, and Christian joy, entered each basilica followed by a procession of a nature sufficient to convince any spectator that far from being in a process of self-destruction or 'auto-demolition' as Pope Paul has expressed it, the Church must be entering upon a period of renewed vigor, the kind of second Spring which Cardinal Newman had promised. The prelate, Archbishop Lefebvre, was followed by what seemed an endless double file of priests and seminarians. There were, in fact, about 120, but they seemed to be far more. Behind the seminarians came a group of nuns in an unfamiliar habit, the postulants of the new order founded by the Archbishop. Then came the faithful in their thousands, faithful Catholics from countries as far apart as Australia and Argentina - and as they entered the basilicas, they sang.
Lauda Sion Salvatorem,
lauda ducem et pastorem,
in hymnis et canticis.
This sublime hymn of praise to Christ our God, present in the Blessed Sacrament, surged up to the bright blue sky above the basilicas as the pilgrims filed in, and then filled the basilicas with praise after they entered. Pilgrims with other groups and the Roman clergy as well were quite overwhelmed by the scale and fervor of this Pilgrimage. Nothing like it had been seen before during this Holy Year, nothing like it will be seen again. It had not been the largest pilgrimage to come - although it would seem blasphemous to describe the group which had taken over St. Peter's exactly one week before as a pilgrimage. Indeed, the appearance in St. Peter's Basilica of about 9,000 charismatics, some of whom danced and some of whom gibbered, brings immediately to mind St. Matthew's warning concerning the 'abomination of desolation which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place.' Indeed, if the Mass concelebrated by Cardinal Suenens and five hundred Pentecostal priests was valid, then the passing of Hosts from hand to hand, to be broken in pieces by the congregation and offered even to tourists of any belief or none, was in truth an abomination!
Here then is one aspect of great significance: the Pentecostals received special papal authorization to use the Main Altar of the Confession of St. Peter; Cardinal Suenens was warmly embraced by the Pope; and the Pope addressed the charismatics - certainly with some words of caution and admonition, but also with a great deal of warmth and praise. There was, on the other hand, no papal welcome for Archbishop Lefebvre; he would not have been given the High Altar to celebrate Mass for his Pilgrimage, because the Mass he would have celebrated would have been the Mass codified by Pope Saint Pius V, Mass as it was said in Rome during his pontificate, virtually the only form of Mass to be celebrated in St. Peter's Basilica from the time it had been built. But such is the state of the Church today that it is this form of Mass, arguably the supreme achievement of Western Christianity, which is now regarded, practically speaking, as an abomination. The Pentecostals with their guitars, their dancing, their gibberish, are acceptable. The age-old Mass is not.
Thus the presence of the Archbishop and his pilgrims in Rome so soon after the Pentecostals both symbolized and manifested the two-centuries-old struggle between Liberal and traditional Catholicism, which reached its climax on the ninth of May in this Holy Year of 1975, when canonical approval was withdrawn from his Society of St. Pius X and the Seminary at Ecône.
Here, then, is the next aspect of great significance with regard to this Pilgrimage: it was remarked above that anyone seeing the great procession led by the Archbishop entering one of the Roman basilicas would have concluded that the Church could not be undergoing a process of self-destruction or 'auto-demolition.' When it is realized that those in authority in the Church at present are intent upon destroying the Seminary which is forming such holy and such fervent young priests, then self-destruction is the only term applicable. It is no wonder that, as the great procession entered St. Peter's Basilica, it sang the Parce Domine.
Traditional Catholic devotions took place in all the basilicas visited by the Credo pilgrims - and, in addition to the four major basilicas mentioned, these included St. Sebastian, St. Lawrence, and the ruins of Maxentius. The traditional Roman Mass was sung for huge congregations in St. Mary Major, Maxentius, and St. Lawrence. At least one hundred more must have been said during the course of the Pilgrimage by the many priests who took part, from both the Ecône Seminary and the groups which came from different countries. Some of these Masses were offered at side altars in St. Peter's, including that of St. Pius X. L'Osservatore Romano had published an expression of 'pained surprise' at the fact that all the Masses for the Credo pilgrims were to be Tridentine Masses and thought this inappropriate in a year of 'reconciliation.'
The fact of the matter is that precisely in this year of 'reconciliation' the prime aim of the Church ought to be to reconcile herself with her own traditions - the abandoning of which has caused nothing but disaster. Veneration for her traditions was once the prime characteristic of the Church of Rome, yet today the official Vatican newspaper can express regret at the celebration of the Mass of St. Pius V - the greatest of these traditions. However, with or without the approval of the Vatican, the Mass which had been the only Mass for Roman-rite pilgrims in the Holy Year 1950, and for its predecessors for centuries before, was celebrated with due ceremony and due honor once again in this Holy Year of 1975. It was the fervent prayer of all present that it will be the only Mass permitted for Roman-rite pilgrims in the year 2000.
Most of the pilgrims considered the Pontifical High Mass sung in the ruins of the ancient Basilica of Maxentius to have been the most memorable of the entire Pilgrimage. Loud speakers insured that the words and music of this ancient Mass echoed across Rome, the Mass whose origins reach back to the time of the martyrs with whom this basilica has such poignant associations, and so many of whom lie buried in its precincts. Many pilgrims and citizens who were not taking part in the Credo Pilgrimage were overjoyed to discover a celebration of the traditional Mass and swelled the ranks of a congregation which certainly exceeded three thousand in number. The Mass ended with the singing of the Te Deum, and all knelt on the stony ground while His Grace passed along giving his blessing.
The Mass which ended the 'official' Pilgrimage in the Basilica of St. Lawrence was equally impressive. The great basilica was literally packed to the doors and, despite the fact that a good number of priests helped to distribute Holy Communion, this still took almost twenty-five minutes, during which time the pilgrims waited with patience and sang with devotion. Archbishop Lefebvre preached very important sermons during Mass in the basilicas of Maxentius and St. Lawrence.
The all-night vigil for this Pilgrimage was held in the Church of San Girolamo della Carità. Some of those who had been on previous traditionalist pilgrimages regretted the fact that it was not held in St. Peter’s square, and indeed those who have had the grace to take part in these vigils had good reason for doing so. However, the fact that this Pilgrimage was led by the Archbishop made it necessary to make its essentially religious character clear throughout - anything which could give the appearance of a demonstration or a confrontation had to be avoided. It is likely that the timing for the withdrawal of canonical approbation from the Society of St. Pius X was designed to provoke some form of violent or intemperate reaction during the Pilgrimage. There was no such incident; the dignity and restraint shown by all present was as remarkable as their fervor. It would, of course, be argued by the Liberal establishment that the celebration of the traditional Mass was in itself an act of provocation, hence the admonition in L'Osservatore Romano. But any Catholic, whatever his position or rank, who would consider the celebration of the traditional Mass 'provocative' has reached a stage where we can only say, 'God help and forgive him', and breathe a prayer on his behalf.
During the all-night vigil, an unceasing stream of hymns and prayers was offered up to God, above all for the restoration to our altars of the traditional Mass, which was celebrated every two hours throughout the night by one of the priests present. One of the most impressive sights was the entry of the pilgrims into the indescribably beautiful Basilica of St. Paul's Without-the-Walls on Monday morning. The clergy of the Basilica gave their fullest cooperation and put every facility at the disposal of the pilgrims, including their loudspeaker equipment. As in all the basilicas, the three Paters, Aves, and Glorias necessary for gaining the indulgence were recited, and Credo was sung and the general atmosphere was such that it really did seem hard to believe that anything had changed since 1950 - that these fine young seminarians, who are the pride and joy of hundreds of thousands of the faithful, will never be ordained if the present 'parallel magisterium' has its way.
During the weekend innumerable prayers and acts of penitence were offered up by the pilgrims, in groups or as individuals. Some made the ascent of the Scala Santa on their knees on three or more occasions - not the least among them being the English-speaking pilgrims. It seems permissible to wonder whether, if the New Mass should be abolished and the old one restored, a single Catholic would ever get down on his knees and make the slow and painful journey up the Scala Santa in the interests of Archbishop Bugnini's Novus Ordo Missae.
The traditionalist Pilgrimage for the Holy Year of 1975 was, then, a great success in every way. It was a success for the honor and glory offered to Almighty God and the graces it brought down on the pilgrims; it was a success for the way in which the strength and resilience of the traditional Faith were made clear to the Vatican and, equally important, to the traditionalists themselves. There was not one who did not leave full of hope and encouragement."
The sermon which Mgr. Lefebvre preached in the Basilica of Maxentius on 25 May 1975 was published in The Remnant of 6 March 1976. It was entitled "The One True Religion."
The One True Religion
My dear brethren:
If there is one day on which the Church's liturgy affirms our Faith, that day is the Feast of the Blessed Trinity. This morning, in the breviary which the priest formerly had to recite, he had to add to the psalms of Prime the Creed of St. Athanasius. This is the creed which affirms clearly, serenely, but perfectly, what we are bound to believe concerning the Blessed Trinity, and also concerning the divinity and the humanity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, all our faith is summed up in our belief in the Most Holy Trinity and in Our Lord Jesus Christ, God made Man. The whole of our Creed, which we shall sing in a few minutes, is focused, as it were, on the very person of Our Lord Jesus Christ. He it is who is our God, He our Savior; it is through Him that we shall enter Heaven. He is the door of the sheep-fold, He is the Way, the Truth, the Life. There is no other name on earth by which we may be saved: the Gospels tell us all this.
Therefore, when our Faith is being attacked from all sides we must hold steadfastly and firmly to it. We must never accept that there can be any compromise in the affirmation of our Faith. Herein, I think, lies the drama through which we have lived for the last ten, perhaps fifteen years. This drama, this tragic situation we are going through, lies in seeing that our Faith is no longer affirmed with certainty: that through a false ecumenism we have, as it were, reached the point of putting all religions on the same footing, of granting what is called "equal rights" to all religions. This is a tragedy because it is all entirely contrary to the truth of the Church. We believe that Our Lord Jesus Christ is our God, our Savior, our Redeemer; we believe that the Catholic Church alone has the Truth, thus we draw the proper conclusions, by respecting in our personal lives the Religion which Our Lord Jesus Christ founded. For, if other religions are quite prepared to admit that there can be other beliefs and other religious groups, we cannot do so. Why do other religions admit this? Because their religions are religions which have been founded by men and not by God. Our holy and beloved Religion has been founded by God Himself, by Our Lord Jesus Christ.
He it is who has given us the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, He who died upon the Cross. Already on the day of the Last Supper He wished, in a certain manner, to enact in advance what was to take place on the Cross, commanding us to do likewise continually to the end of time, thus making priests of those to whom He gave the power to consecrate the Eucharist. He did this by His own Will, His Will as God, because Jesus Christ is God; He has, thus, given us the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which we love so much, which is our life, our hope, and our salvation. This Sacrifice of Calvary cannot be transformed, the Sacrifice of the Last Supper cannot be transformed - for there was a Sacrifice at the Last Supper - we cannot transform this Sacrifice into a simple commemorative meal, a simple repast at which a memory is recalled, this is not possible. To do such a thing would be to destroy the whole of our Religion, to destroy the most precious thing which Our Lord has given us here on earth, the immaculate and divine treasure which He put into the hands of His Church, which He made a priestly Church. The Church is essentially priestly because she offers the redemptive Sacrifice which Our Lord made on Calvary, and which she renews upon our altars. For a true Catholic, one who is truly faithful to Our Lord Jesus Christ, anything which touches what He Himself established moves him to the very depths of his heart, for he loves it as the apple of his eye. So, if it comes, in any way, to the point of destroying from within what Our Lord Jesus Christ gave to us as the source of life, as the source of grace, then we suffer, we suffer dreadfully, and we demand absolutely that this spring, this fountain of life, this fountain of eternal life, this fountain of Grace be preserved for us whole and entire.
And if such is true of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, it is also true of the Sacraments. It is not possible to make any considerable changes in the Sacraments without destroying them, without running the risk of rendering them invalid, and consequently without running the risk of drying up the grace, the supernatural and eternal life which they bring to us. It is again Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself who established the Sacraments; it is not for us, we are not the masters of the Sacraments: even the Sovereign Pontiff cannot change them. Without doubt he can make changes in the rites, in what is accidental in any Sacrament; but no Sovereign Pontiff can change the substance of a Sacrament, for that was established by Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself who took such care in the founding of our holy Religion, Who left us directions as to what we must do, Who gave Himself to us in the Holy Eucharist through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. What more could we ask? What other religion can lay claim to possess such a thing? And why? Because the only true religion is that of the Catholic Church.
This is a matter of fundamental importance, fundamental for our behavior, fundamental for our religion, and fundamental also for the way we should behave towards those people who do not believe in our holy Religion. This is extremely important, because it is precisely towards those who do not believe, those who do not have our Faith, that we must have immense charity, the true charity. We must not deceive them by telling them that their religion is as good as ours - that is a lie, that is selfishness, that is not true charity. If we consider what profound riches have been given to us in this Religion of ours, then we should have the desire to make it known to others, and share these riches and not say to them: "But you already have all you need! There is no point in your joining us, your religion is as good as ours." See how this matter is one of paramount importance, for it is precisely such false ecumenism which makes the adherents of all the other religions believe that they have certain means of salvation. Now this is false. Only the Catholic Religion, and only the Mystical Body of Christ, possesses the means of salvation. We cannot be saved without Jesus, and we cannot be saved without grace. "He who does not believe," said Our Lord, "will be condemned." We must believe in Our Lord Jesus Christ in order to be saved. "He who believes shall be saved; he who obeys My commandments shall have eternal life; he who eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood shall have eternal life." Here is what Our Lord taught us. Therefore, we should have a tremendous desire, a really tremendous desire, to communicate our Faith to others. And this is exactly what made the missionary spirit of the Church. If the strength, the certainty, of our faith is weakened, then the missionary spirit of the Church also diminishes, since it is no longer necessary to cross the seas, to cross the oceans, to go and preach the Gospel, for what is the good of it? Let us leave each man to his own religion, if that religion is going to save him.
Therefore, we must hold fast to our Faith, we must adhere strictly to its affirmation, and we must not accept this false ecumenism which makes all religions into sister-religions of Christianity, for they are nothing of the kind. It is very important to state this nowadays, because it is precisely this false ecumenism which had too much influence after the Council. False ecumenism is the reason why the seminaries are empty. Why is this so? Why are there no more vocations for the missionary orders? Precisely because young men no longer feel the need to make the Truth known to the whole world. They no longer feel the need to give themselves completely to Our Lord Jesus Christ simply because Our Lord Jesus Christ is the only Truth, the only Way, the only Life. What attracts the young to preach the Gospel is that they know they have the Truth. If vocations are withering away, it is due to this false ecumenism. How we suffer at the thought that, in certain countries, people speak of "eucharistic hospitality," of "inter-communion" - as if one could give the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ to those who do not believe in the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, consequently to those who do not adore the Holy Eucharist, because they do not believe in it! Without sacrilege, without blasphemy, the Body and Blood of Our Savior cannot be given to a person who denies His Real Presence in the Eucharist. On this point, therefore, we must have a firm and solid faith, a faith which does not compromise. This is entirely in keeping with the tradition of the Church.
Thus the martyrs believed who lie buried everywhere in this basilica, and in all the churches of Rome, who suffered here in this forum of Augustus, who lived among pagans for three centuries and were persecuted as soon as they were known to be Christians. They were thrown into prison...our thoughts turn to the Mamertine prison, so close to us here, where Peter and Paul were put in chains because of their faith: And shall we be afraid to affirm our faith? We would not in that case be the true descendants of the martyrs, the true descendants of those Christians who shed their blood for Our Lord Jesus Christ in affirmation of their faith in Him. They, too, could indeed have said, "But, since all religions are of equal value, if I burn a little incense before an idol, what does that matter? My life will be saved." But they preferred to die, they preferred to be thrown to the beasts in the Colosseum, quite close to us here. So many, many martyrs were thrown to the beasts, rather than offer incense to pagan gods!
So, may our presence here in Rome be an occasion for us to strengthen our faith, to have, if necessary, the souls of martyrs, the souls of witnesses (for a martyr is a witness), the souls of witnesses of Our Lord Jesus Christ, witnesses of the Church. Here is what I wish you, my most dear brethren, and in this we must be unflinching, whatever happens. We must never agree to diminish our faith; and if by misfortune it were to happen that those who ought to defend our Faith came to tell us to lessen or diminish it, then we must say: "NO." Saint Paul put this very well: "Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema." Well, that, I think, sums up clearly what I wanted to say to you, so that when you return to your homes you may have the courage, the strength, despite difficulties, despite trials, to remain true to your Faith, come what may, to uphold it for yourselves, your children and future generations, the Faith which Our Lord Jesus Christ gave to us; so that the pathway to heaven may still have many pilgrims, that it may still be crowded with people on their journey upwards, that it may not be a deserted byway, while on the other hand, the road leading to hell is filled with those who did not believe in Our Lord Jesus Christ, or who rejected Him. We must think on these things, because it is what Our Lord told us: "If we do not believe, we shall be condemned."A Visit to Ecône
After the Credo Holy Year Pilgrimage I returned to Ecône with the seminarians, travelling on the all-night train from Rome and arriving on the morning of Tuesday, 27 May. The account which follows is my personal impression of Ecône. It will, I hope, convey however inadequately something of the spirit of the Seminary. The train in which we were travelling continued on to France with large numbers of French pilgrims on board.
Tuesday, 27 May.
The train stops at about 10:00 a. m. The whole platform is soon full of seminarians in their long black soutanes. Their fellow pilgrims lean from every window in the train laughing, talking, shouting, gesticulating - some are weeping and smiling at the same time. Everyone seems in the best of good humor - and what a lot of young girls there are! One might imagine that there was a pop-group on the platform! The train begins to move. The passengers lean even further out. "Adieu! Au revoir!" They wave. They smile. They weep. "Merci pour tout - Thank you for everything!" cries one of the girls. "Merci pour tout!" Her farewell is echoed from other windows. Some of the seminarians watch the train as it vanishes from sight; others begin stacking the luggage. I have the feeling I am back in the army again and have just piled out of a troop train; the atmosphere is almost identical. There is a great deal of laughter, and a tremendous atmosphere of comradeship; but, unlike the army, there is no one giving orders. In fact, no one ever appears to give any orders. The seminarians and their professors seem to form a corporate entity - an impression that will be strengthened throughout my stay at the Seminary. Everyone knows what he should be doing, how he should be doing it, and when.
"Come along, we've been invited for a beer." We all troop out of the station to a local restaurant. The seminarians are tremendously popular wherever they go. We can't all fit inside. There are more than a hundred seminarians, about twenty priests, myself, and a young American who will be entering the Seminary in September. Some of us sit at the tables on the pavement. Everything is "on the house."
It is soon time to take another train along the branch line to Riddes; then follows a walk of several kilometers to the Seminary at Ecône. Fortunately a Volkswagen bus is available to take the luggage. We approach the Seminary through extensive vineyards which belong to it and are tended by the students. Manual work forms an important item in their training. Ecône is situated among scenes of breath-taking natural beauty. Great snow-capped mountains rise up on every side. A gigantic waterfall tumbles down the mountainside behind the Seminary. The buildings themselves consist, firstly, of a large and very Swiss-looking house - formerly belonging to the Canons of St. Bernard and about three hundred years old. Archbishop Lefebvre had begun his work of priestly formation with a few students in Fribourg. The numbers expanded immediately and this building with the surrounding land was put at his disposal. The influx of new seminarians was soon so great that it was inadequate almost at once. New wings stretch off in all directions and their effect upon the visitor, the British visitor at least, is staggering. I would not have believed that any Catholic institution could be so ultra-modern. Truly, where the buildings are concerned, it is the space-age seminary. But there is no time to look around; lunch is being served immediately. I am taken to the bursar together with my American friend and we are shown to guest rooms in the old house. The rooms are furnished comfortably but simply; nothing useful is missing and everything works perfectly - and what a view from the window! We are asked to come down for lunch at once. The refectory is a huge room, clean, cheerful, and full of light; for there are large windows looking out onto the mountains on one side, and the other wall, alongside which there is a corridor, is made entirely of great glass bricks. I am astonished to find a case for my table-napkin with my name typed on a card inserted into a plastic socket - and I can scarcely have been in the building for five minutes! When I return to my room after lunch there is an identical card on the door. I had heard of Swiss efficiency - but really!
Every meal begins with a short grace (in Latin, naturally). There is reading from the Bible (which is always in French) and this is heard throughout the refectory by means of a superb amplification system which functions faultlessly. The same is true of a loudspeaker system which reaches every part of the building and the grounds. This is all operated by nuns in the most traditional habits who sit in a room surrounded by the most sophisticated electronic equipment, from which they summon "Monsieur the Abbé This" to answer a telephone call from Germany or "Monsieur the Abbé That" to come to Parlor Number Two where a visitor awaits him. The same system is used to rouse the community each morning in a very gentle manner with a series of soothing chimes. Similar chimes indicate the beginning or end of a lecture, a service in the chapel, or a mealtime.
The meals are simple but nourishing. The food is cooked by brothers of the order in a kitchen that looks like something out of the twenty-first century. It is served by the seminarians, who take it in turns to wait at table. Almost all the work in the Seminary is carried out by the seminarians, including such tasks as cleaning the corridors and stairs; but as these are all covered in thick hard - wearing carpet it is easily done.
When lunch is over it is announced that the community Mass will be at 17:00. In view of the exacting pilgrimage they have just completed, the afternoon will be free. During this time I am shown around the Seminary. My stock of superlatives is inadequate to express the impression it makes on me. The light and airy lecture rooms, the large and comfortable study-bedrooms for the students (the professors have a study, a separate bedroom, and a private bathroom). The library in the newest wing is already well stocked but with row after row of new and empty shelves to allow for expansion. There is a music room with the latest stereo equipment and an extensive collection of religious and classical music: I am pleased to see that someone has been playing Byrd's Mass for Five Voices. There is no television and the students are not allowed radios; nor is smoking permitted in the Seminary.
There are a good number of chapels and oratories but the main chapel is a recently converted barn - a massive structure with walls at least three feet thick. It is divided into two sections, one for the community and one for visitors. The number of visitors wishing to attend the Seminary Masses had grown so much that this new chapel was necessary - the previous one could hardly accommodate the seminarians. At least one hundred and fifty visitors had been attending the community Mass each Sunday. On 9 May, the Swiss bishops had withdrawn their canonical authorization from the Seminary. Canonically it had ceased to exist - in the language of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four it could now be described as an "unseminary." The announcement had appeared in the Swiss press on Saturday, 10 May. The bishops had said that, as a result of their decision, no faithful Catholic could continue to support the Seminary ("aucun fidèle n 'a plus le droit de lui accorder son appui"). There was some speculation in the Seminary as to how many, if any, visitors would come for the Mass on Sunday, 11 May. Over three hundred crammed themselves into the chapel - double the normal number and this figure increased the next week.
Just before 17:00 the seminarians file in for their community Mass. I have already referred to my impression of their forming a corporate entity: it is during the liturgy that this impression becomes most manifest. All stand as the celebrant and servers enter. As the Mass begins a sharp tap is heard. All kneel as if one person. Introibo ad altare Dei - Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam - it is as if one person is responding, half speaking, half chanting. I soon discover that Ecône has a liturgical style of its own. Judica me Deus, et discerne causam meam de gente non sancta...It is impossible not to apply these words to those who are persecuting the Seminary; to those who will allow practically any abomination to take place during the celebration of Mass, but who are adamant that to begin it with Psalm 42 is a crime crying out to heaven for vengeance! (As the celebrant is now encouraged to add some words of his own at the beginning of Mass, why should he not choose Psalm 42? and if the congregation wishes to say some of the verses, is this not a dialogue? and surely nothing is more praiseworthy than a dialogue in the renewed Church?)
It is not simply the seminarians who seem to be an entity - everything in the chapel blends into an organic whole: the dignified and beautiful altar; the priest with his quiet words, his slow and deliberate gestures; the acolytes whose movements must surely be synchronized, the words of the Mass, the seminarians who have been absorbed into the liturgy, who are simply part of what is happening. And what is happening? The Sacrifice of Calvary is being rendered present in our midst. There is indeed but one entity here - and that entity is Christ. Hoc est enim Corpus Meum. Christ is present upon the altar, present physically, present in person. The priest raises Christ's true Body for our adoration - the same Body Which was born of the Virgin, Which hung on the Cross as an offering for the salvation of the world, and Which is seated at the right hand of the Father. The priest who elevates the Host is also Christ, and how easy it is to believe this at Mass at Ecône. And the Congregation is Christ too, His Body on earth to build up His kingdom and, when they receive Holy Communion, they are united with Him and with each other as fully and perfectly as it is possible to be. This then is the secret of Ecône, this is the aim and the effect of the formation given there, the complete incorporation into Christ of these young men whose vocation it is to bring Christ to others.
In the pew in front of me there is a young couple with three children. The older girls use their missals with complete facility and make the responses with scarcely a glance at the page. The youngest child, about six years old, has a little book with a simple text and pictures of the action of the Mass. From time to time her sister checks to see that the picture corresponds with what the priest is doing at the altar.
Ite Missa Est says the priest. Deo Gratias comes the response; and what grace and blessings those who have been present at the Mass have to thank God for. Yet this is the Seminary which the French bishops, the Swiss bishops, and now the Vatican are trying to suppress. In principio erat Verbum....Once again the reason why is clear. We are in the midst of a "renewal" - which forbids the reading of the Last Gospel of St. John. Et tux in tenebris lucet, et tenebrae eam non comprehenderunt. Ecône is a light, a light shining in the darkness that is now enveloping the Church, a light which reveals the hollowness of a renewal about which much is spoken but of which nothing is seen, a light which must be extinguished if the shallowness of this renewal is to remain hidden.
Wednesday, 28 May.
Today I am to follow the seminarians throughout their normal program. They rise at 6:00. At 6:30 there is Prime followed by meditation. The Community Mass takes place at 7:15 and breakfast is at 8:00. Lectures begin at 9:00. The next is at 10:00 and the third at 11:00. Each lasts about forty-five minutes. They begin and end with prayer, they are very intensive and demand a high degree of attention. A large proportion of the students are graduates of secular universities and are able to cope with the demanding curriculum without great difficulty. Some of the younger seminarians find it requires an enormous effort - particularly those whose French is not too good when they arrive, as the teaching is conducted through this medium. There are several dozen students whose mother tongue is not French - Germans, Italians, Spaniards, English, Scottish, Australian, and above all American. There are also students from Africa and Asia. The title "International Seminary of St. Pius X" is well merited. I notice that an English student sitting next to me, now in his second year, makes his notes in French. In the Canon Law lecture the subject is that of the Oath. There is a great deal to condense into one lecture and the professor expounds the subject at great speed. The students open their Latin Codes of Canon Law at Canon 316. The difference between an oath and a vow is explained. We soon learn the difference between a iuramentum assertorium and a iuramentum promissorium. Canon follows canon as information is given on witnesses worthy of confidence, when oaths are binding on heirs, licitness, validity, obligation, annulment, dispensation, commutation, complications arising from possible conflicts with civil law. From time to time my eyes wander to the window through which I can see the great waterfall gleaming and shimmering in the bright sun. Soon the sun becomes too bright and the curtains are drawn. The loud-speaker summons an Abbé with a German name to the telephone. The professor is explaining how two apparently contradictory canons are not contradictory at all. Then chimes are heard over the loudspeaker announcing the end of the lecture. After the lecture the students crowd round the professor in friendly and animated conversation. During the lecture the atmosphere was formal and businesslike - afterwards it is all friendliness and informality.
At 12:10 there is Sext and the Angelus followed by lunch. Lunch is followed by recreation and the manual work - which can be synonymous if necessary. All students are asked to report to the vigneron, who has some urgent tasks to be done in the vineyard. There must have been some who when they answered a call to become laborers in the vineyard of the Lord had not expected to do so in quite such a literal manner. But the work is done with a great deal of gusto and a great deal of laughter, and the vigneron seems well pleased as he reappears with wine for those who want it.
Manual work is followed by two hours private study by the students in their rooms or the library - and study they do and study they must. If there is any feeling of anxiety among the seminarians during my visit it concerns their forthcoming examinations rather than the campaign to have the Seminary closed.
At 16:00 Goûter is available for those who want it - a cup of tea or coffee and a piece of bread and jam. Every weekday there is a plainchant practice at 18:00 - which explains the exceptionally high standard of chant in the Seminary. This is followed at 18:30 by a spiritual conference and at 19:00 by one of a variety of spiritual exercises, the Rosary, Benediction, Way of the Cross. Dinner is at 19:30, after which a period of recreation follows until Compline at 20:45. At 22:00 hours lights must be put out and strict silence observed.
It is impossible in any written account even to begin to convey any adequate impression of the atmosphere of Ecône. Serenity is perhaps the best word to describe it. This serenity derives in part from order and from discipline, but it is a discipline which comes from within, a discipline that is freely and consciously accepted, but which is practiced unconsciously and naturally. Above all, the atmosphere comes from the spirit of prayer which pervades the community. If asked to describe Ecône in one phrase there could be no other answer but "a community of prayer." This prayer springs from and is fostered by the deep spirituality evoked by the sublime liturgical worship which permeates the life of the Seminary. Whenever there are no lectures, there are students praying in the chapel or one of the many oratories. Look from any window in the Seminary and you will see soutane-clad figures walking in the vineyards and along the mountain paths saying the rosary. In the long corridors of the Seminary there are some very fine examples of baroque statuary - Our Lady, St. Joseph, the Sacred Heart. Strangely enough they appear in complete harmony with their very modern setting. Votive lights burn before them continually and in the evening there is almost invariably one young man kneeling in prayer before each statue. There is a particularly strong devotion to St. Pius X - the patron of the Seminary - before whose picture, beneath which there is a relic in the wall, a stream of prayers is offered for his intercession. However, although the atmosphere of Ecône is one of sanctity it is certainly not sanctimonious; there is no affectation, no conscious attempt to appear pious. The spirituality is natural and spontaneous and certainly accounts for the cheerfulness, the feeling of joy, which is equally evident and a real indication of true holiness.
Thursday, 29 May.
Thursday, 29 May, is the Feast of Corpus Christi which is prepared for by solemn Vespers on the Wednesday evening. I will not even attempt to describe the beauty, the dignity, the perfection of this service. There is all-night exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and, during the night, I have the good fortune to make a visit to the chapel just before Matins are sung. I am not normally at my most receptive at 3:00 a. m., but I can state in all honesty that the only question I ask myself is not, "When will it end?" but, "Why must it end?" At about 4:00 a. m. I go outside for a few minutes to see the dawn appearing. The mountains are clearly visible, their snow-capped peaks turning red with the first rays of the sun. A chorus of innumerable birds has burst into its own version of Matins, almost drowning the rush of the great waterfall and blending with the sound of the eternal chant which filters through the windows of the chapel. At that moment, the brave new Church of Vatican II seems quite remote, quite unreal, and quite irrelevant with its dialogues and discussions, its committees and commissions, its political priests and emancipated nuns, its smiles and goodwill to all who are not of the Household of the Faith, its harshness and vindictiveness towards any Catholic who is less than enthusiastic about being updated. The great renewal with all its works and pomps seems no more than a memory now of a distant and unpleasant dream. Here is the eternal and unchanging Church. I turn to the ancient house of the Canons of St. Bernard. I would not be surprised to see one or more of them come down the steps at any moment; and should any do so and enter the chapel, then, no matter whether they had returned from fifty, a hundred, two hundred or three hundred years before, they could take their places beside the seminarians and begin singing Matins just as they had done when they lived at the foot of these same mountains.
At about 8:30 on the Feast of Corpus Christi we all leave for the parish church at Riddes. The parish priest has invited all the seminarians to take part in his Corpus Christi procession - a courageous gesture as the Swiss bishops have said there can no longer be any support for the Society of St. Pius X. Fr. Épiney, the Curé, is a very dynamic young priest. He has just built a very large and very modern church constructed of grey concrete. I must confess that I do not much like it, either the exterior or the interior. The church is packed to the doors for Mass with one empty section of seats reserved for the seminarians and their professors. Outside there is an atmosphere of great excitement and anticipation. Two bands are waiting - the Socialist band in blue uniforms and the Fanfare independante in crimson: this, I am told, is the "Radical" band and has Masonic ties. Both are anti-clerical and the Fanfaristes manifest this by remaining outside the church. But virtually everyone in Riddes is devoted to the Curé - and the bandsmen will manifest this devotion by playing in his procession. My friends at the Seminary told me I was in for a surprise. They were correct. The young Curé celebrates a Solemn High Tridentine Mass. The deacon and sub-deacon are seminarians who will be ordained on June 29th. The seminarians sing the Proper - many of the congregation join in. I notice that a good number of the young people present have very new missals - the Daily Missal which is on sale at the Seminary. The Curé gives a passionate sermon on devotion to the Blessed Sacrament which is listened to with rapt attention. He deplores the fact that there are even those who call themselves Catholics but do not kneel to receive their Lord and some who have the temerity to hold out their hands for the Host. The Blessed Sacrament is God; there is no honor, no devotion, no praise too great to offer to Him. We must be prepared to endure any humiliation, persecution even, rather than diminish our reverence for the Blessed Sacrament by one iota. In this sermon and in another when the procession halts for Benediction in the Town Square, he expresses his complete solidarity with the Seminary. He and the people of Riddes know what value to put on the calumnies used against it, no matter from what level they come. Our religion is a religion of love, and in the service of love malice and calumny have no part. There are reporters present. Cameras flash. I learn later that informed opinion is certain that the revenge of the bishops will be swift and severe. The Curé may not even last a week - he will certainly be out within a month. It is a humbling experience to see a young man prepared to make any sacrifice for a matter of principle, a young man who considers that truth takes priority over expediency. My mind immediately turns to another young man who took such a stand nearly 2,000 years ago; and it is this very Man, God the Son made Man, whom the Curé elevates in the Monstrance for our adoration at the start of the procession. Truly, here is Christ carried in the arms of an alter Christus.
The procession is a never to be forgotten event. There were clouds in the sky before Mass; these have vanished now and the sun is blazing down. The Pange Lingua surges upwards. The procession seems to go on for ever. There are the two bands. There are this year's first communicants - the little boys in their long white robes looking as charming as the girls. There is another group of children with baskets of rose petals which they scatter on the road along which God the Son will pass. The children of the village are present in their different age groups. A Marian group carries a statue of Our Lady of Fatima. The seminarians file past together with their professors; their number seems almost endless. An elderly and very poor lady is overcome with emotion. She begins to ask me something. I explain that I am only a visitor. She is delighted to learn that Ecône is known in Britain and that there are five British seminarians there now; and even more delighted to know that this number will be increased in the autumn. "Monsieur," she says, "Monsieur, the seminarians. How they sang at Mass. It was heaven come down to earth." "Heaven come down to earth" - this is it precisely. That is what Ecône is.
Behind the Blessed Sacrament walk the civic dignitaries - they are all there including the Socialist mayor whose devotion to the Curé equals that of any of the Catholic parishioners. Then come the ordinary Faithful - first the men and then the women; thousand upon thousand of them. Many must have come from outside this little town. All ages and all social classes walk together reciting the Rosary as they pass along the streets between houses decorated in honor of the Feast while the bands play and the sun shines. There are practically no spectators - almost everyone is walking in the procession. My American friend and I decide that it is about time we do so too and we join the men. He is a young convert who, after graduating at an American University, has been working for a doctorate in Spain. He must return that night to defend his thesis. He will be entering the Seminary in September. He has only one regret and that is that he cannot enter now.
Eventually the procession returns to the church. There is Benediction yet again. The service ends with the Te Deum during which the seminarians file out. The great hymn of praise continues with almost undiminished vigor. I have to follow it from my missal (to my shame). I notice that most of the congregation know it by heart and sing it from their hearts. Salvum fac populum tuum Domine, et benedic baereditati tuae....We all go out to where the bands are playing and an unlimited supply of wine is available to all. The Curé moves among his people, a true father in God, laughing, smiling, joking, listening. The seminarians are surrounded by admirers and well-wishers. This has been a revelation of what Catholicism can be - how Belloc would have approved! And not least of the laughter and the wine.
I must leave the Seminary after Compline that night to take the train for London. The thought of leaving is painful. My own spiritual life has not simply been deepened and strengthened; it seems to have only just begun. I am just beginning to learn the true meaning of prayer and worship. Compline draws to an end. The lights are extinguished for the Salve Regina. The chant rises effortlessly up to the Blessed Lady who will certainly act as the gracious advocate for the hundred and more young men who are placing their hope in her - exsules filii Evae. Exiles indeed, exiles because their hopes and their beliefs are anathema to the forces holding effective power in the Church today. If they belonged to any of a thousand and one heretical sects they would be smiled upon; if they professed Judaism, the Islamic or the Hindu faith they would be welcomed with open arms; if they were Marxist politicians, then red carpets would be laid before their feet. But they are young men who believe in the traditional and unchanging Catholic Faith; they are young men filled with a burning love for Our Lord and Our Lady; they are young men who have no other desire in life than to bring Christ upon the altar in the sublime setting of the Mass codified by St. Pius V and which has nourished the Faith of so many saints and countless millions of faithful Catholics throughout the centuries. But this rite of Mass is inimical to Protestants. It enshrines and proclaims so clearly the doctrines of the Real Presence and the Real Sacrifice which they do not believe in and will not accept. The Tridentine Mass is an obstacle to Ecumenism. Ecumenism is the new god of the new Church and Ecumenism is a jealous god. The young men who kneel in the shadows before me, pouring out their prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary, evoke the memory of St. Ignatius and his tiny band of followers, who eventually grew into a great army of soldiers of Christ who not only halted the progress of the Protestant heresy but won back millions of souls to God. The forces of Modernism realize too clearly that unless something can be done to prevent these young men from being ordained and going out into the world then the victory of Modernism, which had seemed so secure for a time, will be in serious doubt. The Faithful will rally to these young men, the young in particular, and there will indeed be a renewal; but a Catholic renewal built on the sound basis of the traditional liturgy, traditional teaching, and traditional spirituality of the Church.
Calumny is the weapon which will be used in an attempt to destroy it. More often than not the Society of St. Pius X will be unable to refute these calumnies, but truth is great and must prevail. For those who might be tempted to believe the calumnies I know that every member of this Society, from Archbishop Lefebvre to the youngest seminarians, would have only one answer: "Come and see." Ecône has no secrets, as any visitor will soon find out. If there is anything to be discovered there it is the secret of holiness. I would be surprised to learn of any man of good will who could visit the Seminary and think otherwise.