29 June 2023

'An Open Letter to Confused Catholics', by Msgr Marcel Lefebvre - 2. "They Are Changing Our Religion!"

Firstly, I must dispel a misunderstanding so as not to have to return to it. I am not the head of a movement, even less the head of a particular church. I am not, as they never stop writing, “the leader of the traditionalists.” They have come to describe certain persons as “Lefebvrists,” as though it were a case of a party or a school.  This is an abuse of language.

I have no personal doctrine in the matter of religion.  All my life I have held to what I was taught at the French Seminary in Rome, namely Catholic doctrine according to the interpretation given it by the teaching authority of the Church from century to century, since the death of the last Apostle which marked the end of Revelation.

There should be nothing in that to feed the appetite for sensationalist journalists and, through them, current public opinion. Yet, on August 29, 1976, the whole of France was excited on hearing that I was going to say Mass at Lille.  What was so extraordinary about a bishop celebrating the Holy Sacrifice? I had to preach before a panoply of microphones and each of my remarks was greeted as if it were a striking declaration. Yet what did I say beyond what any other bishop could have said?

There lies the key to the enigma: the other bishops had been for a number of years no longer saying the same things. How often, for example have you heard them speaking of the social reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ?

My personal experience never ceases to amaze me.  These bishops for the most part were fellow students with me in Rome, trained in the same manner.  And then, all of a sudden, I found myself alone.  But I have invented nothing new; I was carrying on.  Cardinal Garrone even said to me one day: “They deceived us at the French Seminary in Rome.” Deceived us in what? Had he not himself taught the children of his catechism class thousands of times, before the Council,  the Act of Faith: “My God, I firmly believe all the truths Thou hast revealed and that Thy Church doth teach, because Thou canst neither deceive nor be deceived.”?

How have all these bishops been able to metamorphose themselves in this manner? I can see only one explanation: they were always in France and they let themselves become gradually infected. In Africa I was protected.  I came back the year of the Council, when the harm had already been done. Vatican II only opened the gates which were holding back the devastating flood. In no time at all, even before the end of the fourth session, it was catastrophic. Everything, almost, was to be swept away; prayer first of all.

Any Christian who has an instinct for God, a respect for Him, must be shocked by the manner in which prayers are said now. Learning prayers by heart, as we did, is now denigrated as “parrot-fashion.” Children are no longer taught the words nor do they appear now in the catechisms, except for the Our Father. And even that is in a new version, of Protestant inspiration, which makes the child address God as “tu”.2 To do this systematically is not a sign of great reverence, and is foreign to the spirit of our language, which offers us a choice of styles according to whether we are addressing a superior or a parent or a friend. And in the same post-conciliar Our Father, one asks God not to “lead us into temptation,”3 an expression that is equivocal, at least; while our traditional French version is an improvement upon the Latin, which is rather clumsily based on the Hebrew.  What progress is there in this? The familiar style of speech has also invaded the whole body of vernacular liturgy: the new Sunday Missal makes it exclusive and obligatory, though one can see no reason for a  change so contrary to French style and custom.

Tests have been made in Catholic schools with children of twelve or thirteen. Only a few knew the Our Father by heart (in French, naturally), and a few knew their Hail Mary.  With one or two exceptions these children did not know the Apostles’ Creed, the I Confess, the Acts of Faith, Hope, Charity and Contrition, or the Angelus or the Memorare. How could they know them, when most of them had never even heard them said? Prayer must be “spontaneous,” we must speak to God out of the abundance of the heart, so they tell us now; and they scorn the marvellous educational system of the Church which has produced and perfected all these prayers, which have been the support of the greatest saints.

How many still practice and encourage morning and evening prayers together in the family, or the saying of the prayers of blessing and thanksgiving at meals? I have learned that in many Catholic schools they no longer want the prayer at the start of the lesson, on the pretext that some of the pupils are unbelievers or belong to other religions, and that it would not do to affront their consciences or display a triumphalist spirit. They congratulate themselves on receiving in these schools a large majority of non-Catholics and even non-Christians, and doing nothing to lead them to God.  The young Catholics, meanwhile, must conceal their faith: this on the pretext of respecting the opinions of their schoolmates.

The genuflection is now practised only by a small number of the faithful; it has been replaced by a nod of the head, or more often by nothing at all. One enters a church and sits down. The furniture has been changed, the prie-dieus broken up for firewood. Often seats have been installed similiar to those in cinemas, thereby allowing the public to be more comfortably seated when the church is used for a concert. I have been told of the case of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in a big parish church in Paris, which used to be visited by a number of people working nearby during their Iunch hour. One day it was closed for work to be carried out. When the doors were opened again the prie-dieus had disappeared. On a comfortable pile carpet were deep upholstered seats, evidently expensive and of the sort found in the reception foyers of big companies or airlines.  The comportment of the faithful changed at once: some knelt on the carpet, but most made themselves comfortable and meditated before the tabernacle cross-legged. The parish clergy certainly had some intention in their minds; one does not embark on expensive changes or alterations without thinking of what one is doing. What we are seeing here is the desire to modify the relationship of man to God in the direction of familiarity and casualness, as if we were dealing with Him as equals. How can one acquire a conviction that one is in the presence of the Creator and Sovereign Lord of all things, if one suppresses the gestures that embody the “virtue of Religion”? Does one not also run the risk of diminishing the sense of the Real Presence in the tabernacle?

Catholics are likewise bewildered by the obstinate partiality to banality and even vulgarity, in the manner in which places of worship are treated. Everything that contributed to the beauty of the buildings and the splendor of the ceremonies is decried as “triumphalism”.  The décor must now be nearer to that of everyday life. But in the ages of faith they offered to God the most precious things they had.  It was only in the village church that were to be seen just those things that do not belong to the everyday world: pieces of gold work, paintings, silks, lace, embroidery, and the statues of the Blessed Virgin crowned with jewels. Christians made financial sacrifices to honor Almighty God in the best way they could.  All this was conducive to prayer and lifted up the soul.  This is a natural proceeding for mankind: when the Three Magi went to visit the poor crib at Bethlehem they brought with them gold, frankincense and myrrh. Catholics are degraded by being made to pray in commonplace surroundings, multi-purpose halls that have nothing to distinguish them from any other public place, sometimes not even coming up to that. Here and there one finds a magnificent gothic or romanesque church abandoned and a sort of bare and dreary barn built to one side. Or else they organize “domestic eucharists” in dining rooms or even in kitchens.  I have been told of one of these, celebrated in the home of a deceased person in the presence of his family and friends.  After the ceremony the chalice was removed and then, on the same table covered with the same table cloth, they set up a buffet meal.  At the same time, only a few hundred yards away, only the birds were singing to the Lord around the thirteenth-century church decorated with magnificent stained glass windows.

Those readers who remember the years before the war will certainly recall the fervor of the Corpus Christi processions with their numerous stations, the chants, the thuribles, the monstrance gleaming in the sun, carried by the priest under the gold-embroidered canopy; the banners, the flowers, the bells.  The sense of adoration was born into the children's souls and ingrained there for life. This primordial aspect of prayer seems greatly neglected. Do I hear somebody still talking about necessary evolution and new habits of life? But traffic problems do not prevent street demonstrations, and the demonstrators are not inhibited about expressing their political opinions or their demands, whether just or not. Why should God alone be thrust aside, and why must only Christians refrain from rendering Him the public worship which is His due?

The almost total disappearance in France of processions is not caused by a lack of interest on the part of the faithful. It is proscribed by the new pastoral theory which, however, is ceaselessly urging the “active participation of the People of God.” In 1969 a parish priest in the Oise Department of France was expelled by his bishop who had forbidden the organizing of the traditional procession of Corpus Christi.  The procession took place nevertheless and drew ten times more people than the village had inhabitants. Can one then say that the new pastoral style which is, in any case, in contradiction on this point with the conciliar Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, is in accordance with the deep longings of those Christians who remain attached to such forms of piety?

And what are they offered in exchange? Very little, because services have been greatly reduced. Priests no longer offer the Holy Sacrifice each day; and when they do, they concelebrate, and the number of Masses has diminished accordingly. In country districts, it is practically impossible to attend Mass during the week; on Sundays a car is needed to travel out to the locality whose turn it is to receive the “sector priest.” Many churches in France are permanently closed, others only opened a few times a year. Add to that the crisis in vocations, or rather the crisis in responding to vocations, and the practice of religion becomes yearly more difficult. The large towns are in general better served; but most of the time it is impossible to receive Communion on First Fridays and First Saturdays of the month, for example. Naturally there is no longer any question of daily Mass; in many urban parishes Masses only take place by prior order,  for a specific group at a pre-arranged time, and in such a manner that the passer-by coming in by chance feels himself to be a stranger at a celebration studded with allusions to the activities and life of the group. Discredit has been thrown upon what are called individual celebrations in opposition to community celebrations, but in reality the community has split into small cells. It is quite common for a priest to say Mass in the home of someone engaged in Catholic Action or other activities, in the presence of a group of activists. Or else one discovers the time-table for Sunday split up between different language groups; a Portuguese Mass, French Mass, Spanish Mass. In these times when foreign travel is commonplace Catholics find themselves attending Masses where they do not understand a single word, in spite of being told that it is not possible to pray without “participating.” How could they? No more Masses, or very few; no more processions, no more Benedictions of the Blessed Sacrament, no more Vespers. Public prayer is reduced to its most simple expression. Even when the faithful have overcome the difficulties of times and travelling, what will they find to slake their spiritual thirst? I will speak further on about the liturgy and the serious alterations it has undergone. For the moment, let us consider only the obvious outward appearances of public prayer.  All too frequently, the atmosphere of the “celebration” offends Catholic religious feelings.  There is the intrusion of secular rhythms with all kinds of percussion instruments, guitars and saxophones. A musician responsible for sacred music in a diocese of northern France, supported by a number of leading personalities in the world of music wrote:

In spite of what it is currently called, the music of these songs is not modem:  this musical style is not new,  but has been played in the most profane places and surroundings (cabarets, music halls, often for more or less lascivious dances with foreign names). The people are led on to rock or swing.  They all feel an urge to dance about.  That sort of “body language” is certainly alien to our Western culture, unfavorable to contemplation and its origins are rather suspect.  Most of the time our congregations, which already find it hard not to confuse the crochets and the quavers in a 6/8 bar,  do not respect the rhythm; then one no longer feels like dancing, but with the rhythm gone to pieces, the habitual poorness of the melodic line becomes all the more noticeable.

What has happened to prayer in all of that? Happily it appears that in more than one place people have returned to less barbaric customs. People have then submitted, those who wish to sing, to the productions of official organizations specializing in Church music. For them, there is no question of making use of the marvellous heritage of past centuries.  The usual melodies, always the same, are of a very different inspiration.  The more elaborate pieces, executed by choirs, show a secular influence, and excite the feelings rather than penetrate the soul as plainchant does. The words are all new, using a new vocabulary, as if a flood twenty years ago had destroyed all the antiphonaries from which, even if they had wanted to make something new, they could have drawn inspiration; they adopt a style of the moment and are quickly outmoded, in a very short time being no longer comprehensible. Large numbers of recordings purposely designed for the animation of parishes give out paraphrases of the psalms and are frankly presented as such, thereby supplanting the sacred text of divine inspiration.  Why not sing the psalms themselves.

A novelty appeared a little while ago: posters placed in church porches reading “to praise God, clap your hands.” So during the celebration, at a sign from the leader, the congregation raised their hands above their heads and clapped rhythmically and loudly, producing an unfamiliar din within the sanctuary. This kind of innovation, unconnected even with our secular habits, which attempts to put an artificial action into the liturgy, will no doubt be gone tomorrow: it contributes however to discourage Catholics and to increase their confusion. Nobody is obliged to attend “Gospel Nights” but what can one do when the few Sunday Masses are infected with these lamentable practices?

The pastorale d'ensemble (ministry to the assembly) as they call it, constrains the faithful to adopt these new gestures in which they see no benefit and which go against  their nature.  Above all, everything must be done in a collective manner,  with échanges or sharing of speech, of views, on the Gospel, and of handshakes, too. People go along  with this half-heartedly, as statistics show. The very latest  figures indicate a further falling off, from 1977 to 1983, in attendance at the Eucharist, whereas personal prayer shows a slight increase.4 The pastorale d'ensemble has not, therefore won the people over. Here is what I read in a parish magazine in the Paris area:

From time to time during the last two years the 9:30 a.m. Mass has been in a rather special style, inasmuch as the proclaiming of the Gospel was followed by an échange for which those present formed groups of about ten persons. The first time this kind of celebration was tried, 69 people joined in sharing groups and 138 remained outside. One would have thought that with the help of time there would have been an improvement. This has not been the case. The parish team then organized a meeting to see whether or not to continue with the “Masses with Sharing.”

One can understand how the two-thirds of the parishioners who had so far resisted the post-conciliar innovations were not enthusiastic about these improvised chatterings in the middle of Mass. How difficult it is to be a Catholic nowadays! The liturgy in French, even without “sharings,” deafens the congregation with a flood of words so that many complain that they can no longer pray during Mass. When, then, will they pray?

The confused faithful are offered recipes which are always accepted by their bishops provided that they detach them from Christian spirituality. Yoga and Zen are the strangest, a disastrous orientalism which, claiming to lead to a “hygiene of the soul,” directs devotion in false ways. Again, what about the abuses of “body language” which degrade the personality by exalting the body at the expense of elevation towards God? These new fashions, along with many others, have been introduced even into contemplative monasteries; and they are extremely dangerous. They show how right are those we hear say, “They are changing our religion.”

2 Traditionally, in French, God is addressed using the majestic plural “Vous” (Thee, Thou, etc.) and not the familiar “tu” (you).--ed.

3 French traditional version: “Ne nous laissez pas succomber à la tentation.” New version : “Ne nous soumets pas à la tentation.”--ed.

4 Poll Madame Figaro--Sofres, Sept. 1983. The first question was: "Do you go to communion once a week or more, or about once a month?" This corresponds more or less to attendance at Mass, since everybody now communicates. Replies in the affirmative had dropped from 16% to 9%.

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