By the servant of God, His Grace Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre
I wish to speak to you this evening about the evangelical Mass of Martin Luther, and of the striking resemblance between his Liturgical innovations of more than four centuries ago, and the recently promulgated new order of the Mass, the novus ordo missae.
Why are such considerations of significance? Because of the prominent role, according to the President of the Liturgical Commission himself, accorded to the concept of ecumenism in bringing about these reforms. Because, further, if we are able to ascertain that a close relationship does indeed exist between Luther's innovations and the Novus Ordo, then the theological question, that is the question of the faith, must be asked in terms of the well known adage, "lex orandi, lex credendi"; the law of prayer cannot be profoundly changed without changing the law of belief.
It is well, in order to assist our understanding of the present liturgical reforms, to examine carefully actual historical documents on Luther's reforms.
To grasp Luther's goal in bringing forward his reforms we must briefly recall the Church's doctrine with respect to the Priesthood and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
The 22nd session of the Council of Trent (1652) teaches that Our Lord Jesus Christ, wishing His Priesthood to continue after His death on the Cross, instituted at the Last Supper a visible Sacrifice destined to apply the salutary effect of His Redemption to the sins of mankind. Christ therefore, instituted Holy Orders, and choosing His Apostles and their successors to be the priests of the New Testament, marked them as such with a sacred and indelible character.
This Sacrifice instituted by Christ is performed on our altars by the sacrificial action of the Redeemer Himself, truly present under the species of bread and wine, offering Himself as a victim to His Father. And by partaking at Communion of this Victim, we unite ourselves to the Body and Blood of Our Lord, and offer ourselves also in union with Him.
Thus, the Church teaches, first, that the Priesthood of the priest is essentially different from that of the faithful, who do not have the Priesthood but who belong to a Church which essentially requires a Priesthood. It is deeply fitting that this Priesthood be celibate, and that its members be differentiated from the faithful by clerical dress.
Secondly, the essential liturgical act performed by this Priesthood is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, different from the Sacrifice of the Cross only in that the latter was a bloody sacrifice, and the former is an unbloody sacrifice. The Sacrifice of the Mass is accomplished by the sacrifical action of reciting the words of the Consecration, and not simply by reciting a narrative, or by a remembrance of the Passion or of the Last Supper.
Thirdly, it is by virtue of this sublime and mysterious act that the effects of the Redemption are applied to the souls of both the faithful on Earth and the souls in Purgatory. This doctrine is most admirably expressed at the Offertory of the Mass.
Fourthly, the Real Presence of the Victim is thus required, and comes to pass through the change of the substance of bread and wine into the substance of the Body and Blood of Our Lord. Accordingly, we are required to adore the Eucharist and reserve for it the very highest respect, whence comes the tradition that priests alone distribute the Holy Eucharist and see to Its custody.
It follows, finally, that although a priest celebrates the Mass and takes Communion alone, yet he performs a public act, a sacrifice equal in value to any other Mass, and of infinite value to both the celebrant and the entire Church. Privately celebrated Masses, accordingly, are highly encouraged by the Church.
The above principles are the basis of the prayers, the music and the ceremonies which have made the Latin Mass of the Council of Trent a veritable liturgical jewel. The Council of Trent's deeply moving doctrine on the Canon, the most precious element of the Mass, states:
"As it is becoming that holy things he administered in a holy manner and of all things this Sacrifice is the most holy, the Catholic Church, to the end that it might be worthily and reverently offered and received, instituted many centuries ago the Holy Canon, which is so free from error that it contains nothing that does not in the highest degree savour of a certain holiness and piety and raise up to God the minds of those who offer. For it consists partly of the very words of the Lord, partly of the traditions of the Apostles, and also of pious regulations of holy Pontiffs." (Acts of the Council of Trent, session 22, chapter IV).
Let us examine the manner in which Luther achieved his reform of the liturgy, that is implemented the "evangelical Mass", as he himself called it. Of particular interest in this effort are the actual words of Luther himself, or of his disciples, with respect to the reforms. It is enlightening to note the liberal tendencies which inspire Luther:
"In first place", he writes "I would kindly and for God's sake request all those who see this order of service or desire to follow it: do not make it a rigid law to bind or entangle anyone's conscience, but use it in Christian liberty as long, when, where, and how you find it to be practical and useful."(T,C. Tappert, ed., Selected Writings of Martin Luther, vol. 3,p. 397).
"The cult", he continues, "was formerly meant to render homage to God; henceforth it shall he directed to man in order to console him and enlighten him, Whereas the sacrifice formerly held pride of place, henceforth the most important will be the sermon". (from Léon Christiani, Du luthéranisme au protestantisme (1910), p. 312)