Thirtieth Anniversary of His Consecration as a Bishop
My dear brothers, my dear friends:
It is kind of Providence that this day of return to the seminary should coincide with the anniversary of my episcopal consecration which took place on September 18, 1947, in my native city. At the request of friends we are celebrating this anniversary in a special way.
In the breviary this morning we read the lesson of Tobias. It was said that the young Tobias, finding himself surrounded by the men of his race, the Jews, adoring a golden calf which had been set up by the King of Israel himself, went faithfully to the temple to offer the sacrifices God had demanded. He was thus faithful to the law of God.
Well, we hope that we too have been faithful to God, faithful to Our Lord Jesus Christ. Later on, Tobias was among the prisoners sent to Ninive and there, the Scripture says, while all his compatriots did homage to the pagan cult, he continued to hold to the truth, retinuit omnem veritatem. He held to the whole truth. I believe this is the lesson Holy Scripture has for us and I hope that we, too, remain faithful as Tobias did, both in his youth and in his captivity Is it not true that we today are in a certain sense in captivity, restraint surrounding us on all sides, imposed on us by those who bow to error both in the world and inside the Church itself? By those who juggle with the truth and who keep truth hidden instead of proclaiming it; we are in a world enslaved by the devil, enslaved by error.
But it is our wish to hold to truth. We want to continue to proclaim it. What then, is this truth? Do we have a monopoly on it? Are we so presumptuous as to say we have the truth, others do not? No, truth does not belong to us. It does not come from us, it was not invented by us. This truth was transmitted to us, it was given to us. It is written. It is living in the Church and in the whole history of the Church. This truth is known. It is in the books, in the catechisms, in all the acts of the councils, in all the acts of the sovereign pontiffs. It is in our Creed, in our Ten Commandments, in the gifts that God has made to us, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacraments. It is not we who invented this truth. We have only to persevere in it.
Because truth has an eternal character. The truth we profess is God, Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is God and God does not change. God remains immutable. It was St. Paul who said “vicissitudinis obumbratio.” There is not a shadow of vicissitude in Him, not the shadow of changeability. God is unalterable, semper idem, always the same. Certainly He is the source of everything that changes but He, Himself, is unalterable, unchangeable. And by the fact that we profess God as truth we will enter in some way into eternity through truth. We have no right to change that truth. Indeed it cannot be changed. It will never change.
Men have been put on earth to receive a little of that light of eternity as it descends on them. They become in some way eternal themselves, immortal; but according to the extent to which they attach themselves to the things that change, to moving things, they move away from God. And here it is that we feel a need. All men feel this need. They have in them an immortal soul which is already now in eternity, a soul which will be happy or unhappy, but it is a soul that exists. It will not die.
Every man who is born, who has a soul has entered into eternity. That is why we have need of eternal things, of the true eternity, which is God. We cannot do without it. It is part of our lives. It is what is most essential to us. That is why men seek the truth, seek the eternal, because they have an essential need of eternity.
And what are the means by which Our Lord has given us eternity, communicated it to us, made eternity enter into our lives even here below? Often when I was going through the African countries on my diocesan visits I chose a theme that was dear to me and very simple, too. You have heard it many times but for the simple people I spoke to it summed up the truth. Asking what are the gifts the Good God has given us which make us participants in the divine life, eternal life, I would answer: there are three great gifts which God has made us and they are the Pope, the Blessed Virgin and the Eucharistic Sacrifice.
In reality it is an extraordinary gift that God has made us in giving us the Pope, in giving us the Successors of Peter, giving us precisely this perpetuity in truth, communicated to us through the Successors of Peter, that must be communicated to us through them. And it seems inconceivable that a Successor of Peter could fail in any way to transmit the truth that he is obliged to transmit. Indeed, without virtually disappearing from the line of succession he cannot fail to communicate that which the popes have always communicated, the Deposit of Faith which does not belong to him alone.
The Deposit of Faith does not belong to the Pope. It is the treasure of truth which has been taught during twenty centuries. He must transmit it faithfully and exactly to all those under him who are charged in turn to communicate the truth of the Gospel. He is not free.
But should it happen because of mysterious circumstances which we cannot understand, which baffle our imagination, which go beyond our conception, if it should happen that a pope, he who is seated on the throne of Peter, comes to obscure in some way the truth which it is his duty to transmit or if he does not transmit it faithfully or allows error to darken truth or hide it in any way, then we must pray to God with all our hearts, with all our soul, that light continues to be thrown on that which he is charged to transmit.
And we cannot follow error, change truth, just because the one who is charged with transmitting it is weak and allows error to spread around him. We don’t want the darkness to encroach on us. We want to live in the light of truth. We remain faithful to that which has been taught for two thousand years. That what has been taught for two thousand years and which is part of eternity could change is inconceivable.
Because it is eternity which has been taught to us. It is the eternal God, Jesus Christ eternal God, and everything which is centered on God is centered on eternity. Never can the Trinity be changed. Never can the redemptive work of Christ through the Cross and the Sacrifice of the Mass be changed. These things are eternal; they belong to God. How can someone here below change those things? Who is the priest who feels he has the right to change those things, to modify them? Impossible!
When we possess the past we possess the present and we possess the future. Because it is impossible, I say, metaphysically impossible, to separate the past from the present and the future. Impossible! Then God would no longer be God! God would no longer be eternal! God would no longer be immutable! And there would be nothing more to believe in. We would be completely in error.
This is why, without worrying about all that is happening around us in these times, we ought to close our eyes to the horror of this drama we are living through, close our eyes and affirm our Creed, our Ten Commandments, meditate on the Sermon on the Mount, which is also our law. We must attach ourselves to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, to the Sacraments awaiting the light that will shine around us again. That is all. We must do this without becoming bitter or violent in a spirit that is unfaithful to Our Lord. Let us stay charitable. Let us pray, suffer, accept all the trials, everything that happens, everything that God sends us. Let us do as Tobias did. Abandoned by everyone as they went to adore the golden calf of the gods of the pagans, he remained faithful. Still, he too could have thought that, since only he remained faithful it might be that he was mistaken. But, no, he knew that whatever God had taught to his forebears could not change. The truth of God existed and could not change. And so it is with us. We too have to rely upon the truth that is God yesterday, today and tomorrow. Jesus Christus heri, hodie, et in saecula.
And that is why I say we must retain our confidence in the papacy. We must retain confidence in the Successor of Peter insofar as he is the successor of Peter. But if it should happen that he were not perfectly faithful in his duties, then we must remain faithful to those who were the successors of Peter and not to him who is not the successor of Peter. That is all. His duty is to transmit the Deposit of Faith.
The second gift is that of the Blessed Virgin Mary .She has never changed. Is it possible to imagine that the Blessed Virgin Mary could change in her attitude to the divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, her divine Son, toward the Sacrifice of the Cross, toward the work of our redemption? Is it possible to imagine that the Blessed Virgin Mary could change one iota of her faith, that she could have had doubts at some period of her life, that she could have thought herself mistaken? That she could have doubted the divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, doubted the Blessed Trinity, she who was filled with the Holy Ghost? Impossible! Inconceivable!
Here below she was already in eternity. The Blessed Virgin Mary, through her faith, an unchangeable, profound faith, could not be disturbed in any way. That is evident. Do not let us be disturbed by the noises around us but keep faithful, faithful like the Blessed Virgin Mary. And I want to add to this subject of the Blessed Virgin Mary something which seems to me to be important for us at this time in which we live. Continuously we are told the Virgin says this or says that. The Virgin has appeared here, the Virgin has communicated this message to that person. Of course, we do not rule out the possibility that a word of the Blessed Virgin could be addressed to persons of her choice. That is evident. But considering the kind of period we are living through, we must be suspicious. We must mistrust.
The place of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the theology of the Church is, in my estimation, infinitely sufficient to make us love her above everyone after Our Lord Jesus Christ, and that we should have toward her a devotion which is profound and continuous day after day. It is not necessary that we have constant recourse to messages about which we cannot be absolutely certain whether they come from the Blessed Virgin or not: I am not speaking of the apparitions which have been recognized by the Church. But we must be very careful when it comes to rumors that circulate everywhere today. All the time I am receiving people or communications which are said to be addressed to me from the Blessed Virgin or from Our Lord – a message received here, another there. Whereas in fact we should hope the Blessed Virgin is with us every day.
And she is. We know that. She is with us. She is present at every Sacrifice of the Mass. She cannot separate herself from the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Our devotion to the Blessed Virgin ought to be profound, perfect. But it should not have to depend on private messages.
God, Jesus Christ, has given us Himself in the Eucharist. What more beautiful thing could He do? I often say to the seminarians: if the Priestly Society of St. Pius X has a particular spirituality – and I do not really want it to have one, although I do not criticize the founders of Orders like St. Ignatius, Sts. Dominic and Vincent de Paul, who I know wanted to give particular characters to their societies, characters without doubt willed by Providence at the moment they were founded – I think that if there is a particular mark to our Society, it is devotion to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
How our spirits, our hearts, our bodies are as if captivated by the great mystery of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass! And it is in proportion to how we deepen our understanding of the great mystery of the Sacrifice of the Mass that we understand the priesthood, the grandeur of the priesthood. Because it is intimately, I say metaphysically, bound up with the Sacrifice of the Mass. And this is of the greatest importance in these times.
We have need of this, my dear friends. You have need of being captured by this spirituality of the Mass. Not only the priests, but also our religious, our brothers, our nuns, and all of the laity, all of you faithful here present. We must have for the Sacrifice of the Mass a devotion greater than ever before because it is the very foundation stone of our faith.
I hardly dare cite for you an example, something that happened in Chile during the three days I spent there. Still, because the idea occurs to me, I will indeed tell you, if only to show the point of degradation the concept of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass has reached in the minds of some of the highest members of the hierarchy. During my stay in Chile a concelebration was televised. It was presided over by the Auxiliary Bishop of Santiago. I myself did not see the screening but it was described to me by many people who saw it. There were some fifteen to twenty priests concelebrating with him. During the ceremony the Auxiliary Bishop explained to the faithful, that is, everyone who was looking at the television, that it was a meal and he saw no reason why one should not smoke during a meal. And he himself smoked during that concelebration!
That is how far things have reached. This is the sad state of degradation, of sacrilege a bishop can attain. It is unheard of, inconceivable! Penance must be done for years in reparation for such offenses, for such unimaginable scandal! It serves to show how far one can go when one no longer believes.
We must be attached to the Sacrifice of the Mass as to the apple of our eye; as we are attached to that which is dearest to us, that which is the most respected, the most holy, the most sacred, the most divine. That is the meaning of this seminary.
They may criticize the seminary in any way they like; and they do! The seminary is this way, that way. They have decided this about it, that about it. But, in fact, they decide nothing, change nothing. The seminary stays as it is. It continues to be what it is because that was why it was founded. The seminary remains a Catholic seminary. And if God gives me life, the seminary will not change. I would rather die than change any part of the Catholic doctrine which must be taught in the seminary. With the grace of God, come what may, we will not change. So let them say what they will. Let them say that the seminary has a new direction, the seminary is this way or that. It is the devil who says such things in order to destroy the seminary. Obviously he cannot tolerate Catholic priests who have the Faith.
And then, one cannot avoid speaking about it, all around us here and there in every country, but particularly in France, there are divisions among those who are trying to hold to the faith, a mixture of calumny, slander, exaggerated words, foolish expressions, unjustified suppositions. Let us ignore it all. Let us instead work well, doing the will of God, according to the teachings of the Catholic Church, continuing like our predecessors and our ancestors, doing what the Council of Trent asked of us, bishops, who must continue the formation which has always been given to priests. If we do this we will be certain that we are remaining faithful.
That is enough. Let us remain calm. Let us remain faithful. And if it should ever come to be that the faith is not taught here, then leave me. If, my dear seminarians, I do not teach you Catholic truth, then leave! Do not stay here. That is your duty. But, if I teach the Catholic Faith-and you have the whole library at your disposal to find out whether or not what was handed to us is being handed down to you-then, be confident. And we will do everything so that the Catholic Faith continues to be taught here, taught in its entirety so that you too can carry on that truth that is so full of grace and life. Truth is the source of life. We have need of that life. The faithful are hungry for it. Why is it we have request for priests from all sides? Because the faithful are thirsty for truth, thirsty for the grace of God, for the supernatural life, thirsty for that eternity toward which we are heading.
Therefore, have confidence in what the Church has always done – not confidence in Mgr. Lefebvre. I am a poor man like the others. I have no pretension to be better than others. On the contrary, I do not know why .God has permitted me to have thirty years in the episcopate. I think that if I were to judge things on a human plane, I would have preferred to remain a missionary in the jungles of Gabon; in isolation. I would not have had all the problems I have had in my thirty years in the episcopate. But God has wanted it this way. He continues to try us. Very well, if that is His will it must be and we must continue to carry the Cross. It is not because He imposes crosses that we may abandon Him. On the contrary, we may not abandon Our Lord. We must follow Him.
And so, my dear friends, be faithful – faithful to the Pope, successor of Peter, when he shows himself to be truly the successor of Peter. Because that is what a pope is and it is in this sense we have need of him. We are not the people who want to break with the authority of the church, with the successor of Peter. But neither are we people who want to break with twenty centuries of tradition in the Church, with twenty centuries of successors of Peter!
We have made our choice. We have chosen to be obedient in the real sense, obedient to what all the Popes have taught for twenty centuries and we cannot imagine that he who sits on Peter’s throne does not want to teach these things. Well, if that is the case, then God will judge him. But we cannot go into error because there is a kind of rupture in the chain of the successors of Peter. We want to remain faithful to the successors of Peter who transmitted to us the Deposit of the Faith. It is in this sense that we are faithful to the Catholic Church, that we remain within it and can never go into schism. Since we are attached to twenty centuries of Faith we cannot make a schism. That is what guarantees for us the past, the present and the future. It is impossible to separate the past from the present and the future. Sustaining ourselves with the past, we are sure of the present and the future.
So have confidence ! Ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to help us under all circumstances. She is as strong as an army arrayed for battle. She who suffered as Queen of Martyrs at the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ. And will we not follow Our Blessed Mother and with her be ready to suffer martyrdom so that the work of redemption can continue?