25 March 1991: Archbp. Marcel Lefebvre – R.I.P.

Under another entry a reader reminded us that on this day in 1991 Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre died.

I learned of his death in an interesting way. I was that morning opening up our office (the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei“) because I was the first on in. There was a ring of the doorbell. It was then-Card. Ratzinger, who gave me the news that Lefebvre had died. He had just received a phone call about his death and stopped at our office on his way in to the Congregation.

Here are shots of his memorial card, which I have kept these years.  I have it in a plastic holder, usually also with a short list of names of bishops for whom I say a Memorare after every Mass I say.

Lefebvre needs prayers.  He died excommunicated, poor man.

In your charity, you might pray for him too.

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50 Responses to 25 March 1991: Archbp. Marcel Lefebvre – R.I.P.

  1. Anchorite says:

    Thank you, Father, for posting it.
    I forgot that was the date, but, strangely, I was thinking of you AND him as I drove to work.
    Archbp. Lefebvre was a holy man. One day the Church will acknowledge him among her many saints. Please, keep him in your prayers!

  2. Hank Igitur says:

    Can excommunication be revoked posthumously? The four living SSPX bishops have had theirs revoked.

  3. Michael says:

    Hank -

    My understanding of excommunication is that it is a medicinal penalty imposed for the duration of a person’s life. It ceases to operate at death, at which point the soul is left to the Judgment of the Almighty. Thus, revoking an excommunication would have no effect. Archbishop Lefebvre has already been judged by Him from whom no appeal can be taken (and whose mercy is boundless.)

    There is something particularly interesting about this. The Church was given the power both to bind and to loose by our Lord. Even the power to loose being in merely human hands is humbling. But the power to bind? Terrifying. And yet the Church – wisely – does not use the power to bind. In all things, it leaves the final judgment to the Almighty.

    Note that this reflects only my own modest understanding of the Church’s teachings. If I am wrong in any respect, I welcome fraternal correction.

  4. Liam says:

    Please remember that Bishop Antônio de Castro Mayer died also in 1991…on April 25, exactly one month after Msgr. Lefebvre.

    May the Terrible Judge whose Church they loved and served show them mercy and grant to them eternal happiness in spite of faults and failings.

  5. LaudemGloriae says:

    I was sure that I had read somewhere that Lefebvre confessed and was reconciled to the church shortly before death ?

  6. DCMArg says:

    For charity, I will.
    I don’t think, however, he was a holy man.

  7. jasoncpetty says:

    Stories like this prove why—love him, like him, or loathe him—Fr. Z is still cooler than most of us.

  8. netokor says:

    After reading Father Luis Coloma’s ¿Qué sería? and Van Den Aardweg’s Hungry Souls, I rarely forget to pray for the holy souls in Purgatory. We don’t know if a specific person we pray for is there, but our prayers are never wasted. They have seen the Lord face to face. I can’t imagine the pain of their purification and of their longing.

  9. R.I.P. indeed. I often pray that, given some more time and historical perspective, we as a Church can look much more kindly upon his life. He really was a fascinating man.

  10. netokor says:

    Btw, Fr. Z., have you visited the Museo del Purgatorio in Rome? If I ever have an opportunity to go to Rome, that is at the top of the list.

  11. discipulus says:

    LaudemGloriae

    Would you know where you read that Abp. Lefebvre had reconciled?

    Do you have a link?

    Thanks.

  12. Jack Hughes says:

    This Holy man had many faults but he was more loyal to the Catholic Faith than many Priests, Bishops and yes even Pope’s, it is my firm hope that one day his legacy will be treasured by ALL Catholics.

  13. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Michael,

    as to the power of binding, a theologian once said that among the Jews this (also) meant designating the sin by authoritatively declaring that it is such. I do not know whether that’s true; in fact there are some who’d doubt it on merely hearing the name of the said theologian (Fr Karl Rahner SJ; need I say that I have some quite actual points, on however other things, where I disagree with him?). But anyway, he provides this interesting thought-experiment.

    What if people would only confess if they had committed mortal sins – but this after the manner well known of today, by appearing in the Confessional on Saturday evening?

    The Church, thus, has a great effect (“binds”, if that interpretation is true), merely by declaring the sins sins.

  14. pledbet424 says:

    I was conditionally confirmed by Archbp. Lefebvre in 1976. He did seem to have an aura of holiness about him. I’m not really sure what to think of him now, perhaps time will tell.

  15. Choirgirl says:

    @ netokor:

    Hungry Souls is one of the best and most riveting books I’ve ever read. I find myself going back to it again every so often. After my family and friends who may be in Purgatory, I make a point of remembering those who are most forgotten, those who are in the most abandoned place in Purgatory, and those who are sentenced to stay in Purgatory until the end of time. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It sure does rev up one’s compassion for and sense of solidarity with the Church Suffering.

    And may God have mercy on Archbishop Lefebvre.

  16. Mike Morrow says:

    Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre – R.I.P.

    Rest in peace, indeed…held ever in highest honor by all honorable men!

    He is the person most responsible for the survival of the true traditional Latin Mass and its attendant 1500-year culture. Without him, the papacy would never have made any concessions (John Paul II) to, nor full recognition (Benedict XVI) of the Roman Missal of 1962.

  17. Geoffrey says:

    “For charity, I will. I don’t think, however, he was a holy man.”

    Amen. I shall pray for him also.

    Regarding the “holy man” thing… How can a bishop be considered holy when he disobeys the Vicar of Christ?

  18. Captain Peabody says:

    Eternal rest grant to him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.

  19. Laudem, Discipulus, after having read Bishop Lefebvre’s official biography by Bishop Tissier de Mallerais, I do not believe that any kind of deathbed reconciliation occurred. I suppose it is possible that such a thing happened and Bishop Tissier de Mallerais chose to suppress it, but I think that highly unlikely.

  20. Charles E Flynn says:

    From: “The Best Books I Read in 2012…” (Part 1 of 3), by various contributors, for the Catholic World Report:

    “Hungry Souls: Supernatural Visits, Messages and Warnings from Purgatory, by Gerard J M Van Den Aardweg. This might appear a curious entry on my list of books for 2012, but it made perfect sense to read Van Den Aardweg’s book on miracles related to the Holy Souls after my wife and I visited the Museum of Holy Souls in Purgatory in Rome this year. Holy Souls, purgatory, miracles: we don’t hear about these Catholic beliefs enough (if ever!) in Mass. Priests, read this book, visit the small museum in Rome, and remind the faithful to pray for the Holy Souls.”

    The souls, as it turns out, are hungry for love.

  21. Long-Skirts says:

    RIGHTEOUS
    THUNDER

    Five times banished
    Exiled seventeen
    Excommunicated champions
    God puts at each scene.

    Saint Athanasius,
    Feast day of worth
    On the second of May
    The month of great mirth.

    Out in the deserts –
    As history has charted –
    You preserved the true Mass
    Great lion-hearted.

    Now Lefebvre
    And the sixties egalitarians
    Like Athanasius,
    His time his Arians.

    For He who abolished
    Death by death
    Sent him to absolve
    Sin width and breadth.

    And yes the same moon
    The same sun we’re all under…
    We venal rain – but Lefebvre

    Righteous thunder!!

  22. wecahill says:

    Archbishop Lefebvre, pray for us.

  23. robtbrown says:

    Imrahil says:
    as to the power of binding, a theologian once said that among the Jews this (also) meant designating the sin by authoritatively declaring that it is such.

    The position of St Thomas is that the power to bind and loose refers to human, which of course includes sin. This is the foundation for potestas iurisdictionis.

    BTW, I arrived in Chartres yesterday.

  24. avalon-rose says:

    It cannot be thought insignificant that he died on such a significant feast day, that of the Annunciation of Our Lord. That itself, I would think, is a grace. May God in His infinite Mercy have mercy on his soul, and bring him to everlasting life in Heaven. Amen.

  25. VexillaRegis says:

    robtbrown: Easter in Chartres! You are a lucky catholic!

  26. robtbrown says:

    Geoffrey says:
    “For charity, I will. I don’t think, however, he was a holy man.”

    Amen. I shall pray for him also.

    Regarding the “holy man” thing… How can a bishop be considered holy when he disobeys the Vicar of Christ?

    And Paul VI? How can a pope be holy who wrecked the Church?

  27. robtbrown says:

    VexillaRegis says:
    robtbrown: Easter in Chartres!

    Leave tomorrow. Easter at Fontgombault

  28. robtbrown says:

    Re LeFebvre and the SSPX: I just spent 5 weeks in Switzerland, and the Church there is all but dead, with the exception of the SSPX. There has been almost no change from 15 years ago. The great monasteries have only a few monks, with no new vocations. And General Absolution is still the norm. In fact, a friend who was a pastor there said the parish council complained that he had mentioned Confession in a homily. The Church in Germany is in a similar funk. The FSSP has a seminary at Wiegratzbad, but very few houses. The presence of the SSPX, however, is considerable.

    The Church in both places seems hamstrung by a close relationship with the state. Sad that so many beautiful churches and chapels are empty.

    And there are forces at work (read: bishops) in France and Germany trying to stop reconciliation with the SSPX. The former because of the repulsion toward Monarchists, the latter because of fear of anti-Semitism.

    There seems not to be anything close to the progress made in the US, where there are many good bishops. And Clear Clear and the FSSP are both getting lots of vocations.

  29. robtbrown says:

    Should be Clear Creek not Clear Clear

  30. Imrahil says:

    Dear @robtbrown,

    the latter because of fear of anti-Semitism

    Is something as unsubstantiated really the reason?

    I used to be thinking that it is a song to the tune of “you cannot turn the clock back” (see Chesterton’s quote on this), with the charge against the SSPX (besides that real problem of religious liberty) that it wishes the glorious old times of Chancellor Adenauer back. A charge rather more substantiated than that they’d be anti-semitic. (Only… you know… it is allowed to wish old times back if you do so for good reasons.)

  31. fizzwizz says:

    can anyone suggest some good reading material on Marcel Lefebvre. All I can remember at the time is him being scoffed at by most people I knew……. but now that I am older and I would like to think wiser I feel some sadness for him. If my childhood experience of changes after vat 2 are anything to go by–mass in the gym hall with my teacher playing the guitar and singinging Michael row the boat ashore- no wonder some people were in a state of schock!!! I think I am even yet.

  32. kat says:

    Fizzwizz, I think the best stuff you can read to learn about him are A) his own writings and B) the writings of those who personally knew him. Both can be found at angelus press.

  33. Imrahil says:

    Michael Davies, Apologia.

    Which is in tone highly sympathetic (and rightly so), but do not expect whitewashing. (For myself I saw there some instances where I’d in all respect and with abashed voice would say, “sorry, Your Excellency, you are holier than me, but still here imho you got carried way”.)

    Very good read. And available for free, as it is. Here: http://www.sspxasia.com/Documents/Archbishop-Lefebvre/Apologia/index.htm

  34. DCMArg says:

    @robtbrown
    The fact that I don’t think of Lefebvre as a holy man doesn’t implies that I consider Paul VI to be a holy man. I DO consider, however, that ubi petrus ibi ecclesia.
    I have a traditionalist bias in my catholic life. I admire the love of Lefebvre for the treasure of Tradition and TLM, and I respect his missionary work in Africa, but I don’t care too much for SSPX. The door was open many years ago, and they are still outside. Actually, I think they love to be there, so enough with them.
    Maybe what we need , as catholics in full communion with Rome (my kind of catholics), is to support FSSP seminars and monastic life. Maybe this is the “good” lesson of Lefebvre episodes, the proper way of learning history. Sadly, there is none of these seminars in my country Argentina (mmmmh but we have an SSPX seminar which was guided by Bp Williamson… ouch! not the best player of SSPX).
    Ironically, nobody knows we have in Argentina an Ordo Cartusiensis monastery, which is also another treasure chest of the Curch (one of many).

  35. robtbrown says:

    DCMArg says:

    The fact that I don’t think of Lefebvre as a holy man doesn’t implies that I consider Paul VI to be a holy man. I DO consider, however, that ubi petrus ibi ecclesia.

    The decree was promulgated recognizing the heroic virtues of Paul VI.

    I have a traditionalist bias in my catholic life. I admire the love of Lefebvre for the treasure of Tradition and TLM, and I respect his missionary work in Africa, but I don’t care too much for SSPX. The door was open many years ago, and they are still outside. Actually, I think they love to be there, so enough with them.
    Maybe what we need , as catholics in full communion with Rome (my kind of catholics), is to support FSSP seminars and monastic life. Maybe this is the “good” lesson of Lefebvre episodes, the proper way of learning history. Sadly, there is none of these seminars in my country Argentina (mmmmh but we have an SSPX Sadly, there is none of these seminars in my country Argentina player of SSPX).

    IMHO, Full Communion with Rome includes implementation of Summorum Pontificum, about which I understand the hierarchy in Argentina was less than enthusiastic. And Veterum Sapientia indicates that an important means of FC with Rome is Latin.

    BTW, I had an Argentinian student at the FSSP seminary. He is working in the US apostolate of the FSSP.

  36. gretta says:

    @DCMArg
    You bring up something that I have wondered about but have not seen anyone address. I wonder what effect of having Bishop Williamson and the SSPX seminary practically in his back yard, has had on the Holy Father. Given Bishop Williamson’s troubles within SSPX, I’ve wondered what kind of relationship, if any, Bishop Williamson might have personally had with the local Cardinal. I have to think that “relationship” would color the Holy Father’s view of the SSPX, and not in a good or positive light, I would think.

  37. robtbrown says:

    Imrahil says:

    “the latter because of fear of anti-Semitism”

    Is something as unsubstantiated really the reason?

    My understanding is that’s the line they’ve been handing to Rome.

    You know of course that when BXVI went to Germany after he was elected, he met with German and French bishops, who told him they didn’t want any Latin mass or the FSSP.

  38. Imrahil says:

    I did not specifically know this (thanks for the info), yet it, very well, “fits in”.

    Thanks for the answer, also.

  39. DCMArg says:

    @robtbrown
    “IMHO, Full Communion with Rome includes implementation of Summorum Pontificum”
    I agree. Full communion includes Summorum Pontificum. But also the whole nine yards. Otherwise we get closer to a non-liberal definition of cafeteria catholics. Benedict XVI said “In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture”.

  40. Imrahil says:

    Dear @DCMArg,

    And there are three pillars… Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium… not just the latter, to be silent of the distinction of infallible from fallible statements.

    Am I right to detect, besides true concerns about the duty of obedience, a little background sound of “after all, what is it that would otherwise make us Catholic? that would be what the liberals do?” To which (other than to the mentioned true concerns) it has to be said: Catholicism is not defined as opposing the liberals, either political, societal or inner-Church.

  41. DCMArg says:

    @gretta
    Good point. I am not aware of any contact between Card. Bergoglio and Williamson or any other SSPX member.

  42. Allan S. says:

    Who the Church burns as a heretic, she can later canonize; St. Joan of Arc, pray for us.

    ABL will, one day, be recognized as the saint who saved the Mass, for without him, no SSPX. No SSPX, no FSSP etc., no ED, no SP…it all follows as dominos; cause and effect.

    God has judged him, true…but for God “all times are present as one” and He judged knowing the future, and how the Church ultimately uses the keys.

    R.I.P.

  43. Imrahil says:

    Other than St. Joan of Arc, Abp Lefebvre was actually validly excommunicated.

    Because, whether or not the Congregation for Bishops had the authority to do so (I’ve been wondering about that a bit, but it is only technical after all), the excommunication was approved explicitly by Pope Bl. John Paul II.

    St. Joan of Arc, on the other hand, was subjected to a mock trial by a foreign bishop one who never had jurisdiction in the first place.

    By which I don’t mean to say anything against Abp Lefebvre… only that the Joan of Arc comparison is walking with a limp (as the phrase goes around here). You may, of course, say (which is a proverb around here) that so does every other comparison as well.

  44. The Masked Chicken says:

    Allan S.

    While zi am not taking sides in the disvussion, I might point out that St. Joan was a poor example, since her excommunication was invalid and was overturned by the Pope. A better example for your case might be Savonarola.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Girolamo_Savonarola

    The Chicken

  45. FranzJosf says:

    Soon, a documentary/movie about the Archbishop will be released. You can see the trailer here:

    http://www.lefebvrethemovie.org/

  46. DCMArg says:

    ABL will, one day, be recognized as the saint who saved the Mass

    Maybe, but only if “doctrinal questions are clarified”.
    Until then, I respectfully challenge the use of the word “saved”.

  47. ocalatrad says:

    Archbishop Lefebvre was a modern day Athanasius and truly a courageous bishop. “By their fruits ye shall know them” and in his wake there have been steady vocations, the preservation of the Faith and of the Mass of All Time, in faithfulness to Eternal Rome.

  48. tecumseh says:

    poor man . . .Poor Man . . .!!!

    if only i were as poor . .not many fit to tie his bootlaces . ..

    The GREAT hero of the Faith in recent decades

  49. JMody says:

    It would be interesting to hear a discussion of the true state of his excommunication. It was lataea sententiae, automatic as a result of his action, and yet, the 1983 code says that if the “perpetrator” is committing his act due to a perceived extreme circumstance, he is not guilty. So, is that an ironclad defense? How would the prosecutor prove he didn’t perceive it to be REALLY extreme, only partially extreme, and so he should have obeyed instead?

    I have never been to an SSPX chapel, but I have seen enough of life to appreciate that the Lord works in mysterious ways. I believe that history will be far more favorable to the Archbishop than we know. One thing he said with which I agree FULLY, and which most of his “bashers” completely ignore to my great curiosity, is that the greatest scandal of Vatican II might have been its complete silence on Communism — and I think we are still paying that price today.

  50. torch621 says:

    @ocalatrad

    “Eternal Rome” and not the Roman Pontiff eh? And you wonder why many think SSPX was setting up a counter-Church?