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

On this day in 1991 Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre died.

Lefebvre was a great churchman, an astoundingly effective missionary.

I learned of Lefebvre’s death in an interesting way. I was that morning opening up our office (the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei“) because I was the first to arrive.  As I was switching on lights and machines, there the doorbell rang.   Thinking it was our secretary, who might not have the key handy, I opened the door to find… then-Card. Ratzinger.  He 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.  I got on the phone to our own Cardinal right away.

Here are shots of Lefebvre’s 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.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. acardnal says:

    It was very nice of you to remember Archbishop Lefebvre today, Father. He was indeed a great churchman: an Archbishop, the apostolic delegate to French West Africa, the Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers, (a missionary order) and was selected by Pope John XXIII to be a member of the Central Preparatory Commission to help write the initial schemas for the Second Vatican Council (unfortunately they were rejected by the liberals). Yes, we should pray for him. I wish I had a prayer card. He was instrumental in saving the Traditional Latin Mass from disappearing and for that we should be grateful.

  2. HighMass says:

    I agree with ,ACARDNAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Yes Archb. Lefebvre was excommunicated, very unfortunate but paid the price to preserve the Trad. Latin Mass.
    Fr. Z, we pray you offer a Requiem Mass for His Soul.

    He was a good Man and the liberals got there way by shoving him out of the church.

  3. zama202 says:

    Thank you for the reminder Father.

    I will remember this outstanding churchman in my prayers and thank him for saving the Traditional Mass and his defense of the Holy Faith.


  4. JARay says:

    Somehow I rather think that his excommunication was not something which Our Lord, Jesus Christ, took into account when the good Archbishop was judged.

  5. Tony Phillips says:

    We owe a lot to Lefebvre.

  6. Brendan says:

    “Merci, Monseigneur” – Cardinal Oddi

  7. jameeka says:

    wow. You weren’t even Father Z yet.
    Good prayer card.

  8. Sword40 says:

    I was fortunate to meet him in 1980 when he came to Post Falls, ID. He confirmed 3 of my children and gave 1st communion to another son. I was impressed by his holiness. Rest in peace my good Archbishop.

  9. Geoffrey says:

    “Lefebvre was a great churchman”.

    That is not often what comes to mind when a bishop disobeys the Successor of Peter…

  10. Thomas Sweeney says:

    Remembering Archbishop Lefebvre was such a noble gesture on your part. Doing things like that makes your blog a necessity in today’s world.

  11. Tony Phillips says:

    Geoffrey, perhaps it should come to mind more often.
    I understand Fr Z’s anxiety about dying in a state of excommunication, but there are far worse things than being unjustly excommunicated. Lefebvre is one of a brave few who stood up for honesty and truth. He joins the ranks of Savonarola and George Tyrrell,[?!?] heroes of the faith.

  12. robtbrown says:

    Geoffrey says:

    “Lefebvre was a great churchman”.

    That is not often what comes to mind when a bishop disobeys the Successor of Peter…

    What if the pope is denying all priests their right (according to ordination) to say mass using the Roman Rite?

    What if he is permitting the propagation of the disinformation that the 1962 Missal was abrogated?

    What if the pope is denying priests their right to say mass in the litugical language of the Church?

    What if the pope is giving free reign to those who oppose the papacy and/or doctrine but punishing those who do not?

  13. Dundonianski says:

    “A bishop who disobeys the the Successor of Peter” indeed he (Lefebvre ) did sadly disobey, and whilst Wojty?a was undoubtedly a remarkable and courageous son of Polonia, he was prone to novelty and innovation which of course was contrary to Marcel Lefebvre’s fidelity to the eternal Doctrine and Liturgy of the Catholic Apostolic Faith. Both were great men, but it certainly comes to my mind that Lefebvre WAS a great Catholic churchman who I sincerely pray is finding solace with the great successors of Peter in heaven. Our prayers are also and manifestly needed for the present successor to Peter, who by his seeming ambivelance to the essence of Pope St John Paul’s “Familiaris Consortio” following recent Synods, may stimulate further angst from bishops-especially The Polish Bishops’ Conference who have made crystal clear that they as an episcopal body, are not particularly enamoured of the present Pontif’s fealty to his venerable predecessor(‘s Apostolic Exhortation. The Polish Bishop’s Conference website is particularly interesting at this time for those who read Polish-and with the expected Papal pronouncement following the deliberations of recent synods due shortly-well, let’s hold our collective breath.

  14. Rosary Rose says:

    Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace, amen.

    I pray that the Holy Spirit will fill our hearts and souls with It’s gifts -especially wisdom and fortitude. I’ve increased these prayers to include sacrifices.

    By their fruits you shall know them. Observing the worship and reverence of friends who attend SSPX chapels to solemnly adore the True Presence and who pray for Pope and the Holy Catholic church, compared to the NO Masses I attend, where many people don’t even nod their head at Christ Jesus before them, I wrestle with the term”disobedience”. Since 1964, we have reached the point where we have discussions about whether we should kneel in God’s presence.

    Picture this: In 1964, the Church started off on a Grand Adventure to make the liturgy more meaningful. With felt banners flying, tambourines and guitars playing, casting chapel veils to the wind, they danced (and later, hover boarded) off to a great road of discovering themselves, meeting their needs, finding meaning as a people. Archbishop LeFebrve, meanwhile, stood on the steps of St. Peter’s, with a small group of manly men and women in chapel veils and children well versed in the Baltimore catechism, and he watched his Church go. He tried to point out some perils along this path they were going, he tried very hard, but holding hands and luving each other, and affirming weaknesses as rights to be honored and celebrated, the Church went anyway. We are still going down that path. I know, I teach PRE in my NO Parrish. My children attended Catholic schools. Archbishop Lebrvre did not travel that road. He stayed at the door of St. Peter’s. He was told to travel the path, come on the Grand Adventure, and he said “No.” His little, but growing, group is still there, acting like it’s before 1964, outside the door, on their knees, heads bowed, praying rosaries, begging for the Church to come home. More and more great leaders in the Church today are waking up on the road, coming forward, recognizing what was lost. They are starting to hack at the briers and move boulders to find the path back to reverence. More laity are beginning to see this path has no meaning that truly satisfies; the real meaning in the Liturgy is The Presence of Christ. They are beginning to help the Leaders build a path back to the sacred. I see the path starting to bend back towards St. Peter’s. There are very few on it now, but like every path travelled long enough, it will become a road, and more people will travel it. I pray for our Leaders, for the entire Catholic Church. I think when there is reunion with the SSPX, the road will have returned so close to the steps of St. Peter’s, it will not be a giant leap, but a small step for the two to unite. Yes, we might bring in some of the items collected on the path, like flowers that decorate a side altar, but God willing, we will leave our hover boards outside, and the main altar with a communion rail, will have Christ Jesus front and center, and every head will bow and every knee will bend.

    Thanks to Archbishop LeFebvre not leaving the steps of St. Peter’s.

    God have mercy on us. You made us, you know we are just human, doing the best we can. Help us adore You in the way most pleasing to You. Bless our our Pope, all our Priests, all our leaders.

  15. Emilio says:

    Tony Phillips: We want to work with facts here. The Archbishop was NOT unjustly excommunicated. He was excommunicated for illicitly ordaining four priests as bishops without apostolic mandate. This was an eleventh-hour decision of the Archbishop’s, after giving his word to Cardinal Ratzinger that he would NOT do so. This after a bishop was promised by Rome for the SSPX, which would have healed the rupture. It was no small wonder that Benedict XVI bent over BACKWARDS in order to do everything he could to reconcile the SSPX, and they still rejected the outstretched hand. So Father is absolutely right in requesting prayers for the Archbishop, as he died excommunicated. This after decades of defying Paul VI and John Paul II. That does not prevent us from remembering the immense good that he did during his long life, and from lamenting how things ended.

  16. Mariana2 says:

    Very interesting, all of the above. Could anyone point me in the direction of (reasoned, non-apoplectic) web sites with more information on the good Archbishop?

  17. kat says:

    Mariana2, if you want to learn about Archbishop Lefebvre’s life, there is a complete biography in book form: http://angeluspress.org/Marcel-Lefebvre-Biography. There is also a biographical video you can get on DVD: http://angeluspress.org/lefebvre-documentary

  18. Mariana2 says:

    Many thanks!

  19. Geoffrey says:

    I am sorry, but I have never seen very much difference between Luther and Lefebvre, other than the latter unlawfully consecrated bishops… a very serious issue, regardless of his reasons. Holy Orders involves obedience.

    [They are not to be compared. And we don’t forget the huge contribution Lefebvre gave to the Church, especially in Africa. So, that’s enough now.]

  20. robtbrown says:

    Geoffrey says:

    I am sorry, but I have never seen very much difference between Luther and Lefebvre, other than the latter unlawfully consecrated bishops… a very serious issue, regardless of his reasons. Holy Orders involves obedience.

    Well, for one thing Luther didn’t think the Sacraments cause grace (cf. ex opere operato). For another, even with his heretical concept of a Sacrament, he didn’t even think that Holy Orders was one.

    You, however, are right that Holy Orders involves obedience. Please explain how Paul VI’s liturgical innovations were obedient to his predecessors.

  21. Maynardus says:

    @Mariana2 (et al):

    There is also the late Michael Davies’s ‘Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre’ which gives an excellent chronology and analysis of the events of ~1970-1988 and also provides appropriate context. My recollection is that it is available online, on the SSPX Asia website, but I believe Angelus Press still sells it in (softcover) hardcopy as well – fortunately, since you are unlikely to find it in your local library(!)… well worth reading! Blessed Resurrection to all!

  22. taffymycat says:

    march 25—Lady Day and Good Friday, also —- God bless this brave man. our confraternity which has only old latin mass old liturgical calendar, etc…had dealings with this holy man and he said regardless of the conflicts, that he was very holy, devoted to God

  23. Mike says:

    In an era accursed with the discontinuity and anarchy wrought by the specious and damnable “Spirit of Vatican II” — as evidenced by, for example, the bizarre sacramental theology lately proclaimed by at least one American hierarch — to compare the late Archbishop with Luther bespeaks pathetic ignorance.

  24. Ben Kenobi says:

    I see Lefebvre as a cautionary tale. Lefebvre, was a paragon a strong man of the faith, and the temptation to disobey when one clearly sees dangers in the faith that are not being taken seriously. I sympathise with his actions – up to and including the moment when he decided that it was time to ordain priests without the permission of the Vatican. Yes, I can see him being upset – but as soon as he stated that he believed that the health of his order was at stake- he had crossed that Rubicon. Why was it so important for Lefebvre to preserve SSPX? If the Church continued – why did it matter that SSPX stick it out? He clearly believed that he was preserving a remnant, apart from the unity of the Church, and that the Church no longer had the authority of Christ.

    These are both crucial components of what Luther himself taught. We diagnose sicknesses with their common conditions… in the same way we can diagnose spiritual sicknesses by their common cause. Why – if Lefebvre were so close with God – did he choose not to repent? [We don’t know that he didn’t.]

  25. Imrahil says:

    He clearly believed that he was preserving a remnant, apart from the unity of the Church, and that the Church no longer had the authority of Christ.

    There are, alas, statements from his surroundings that lead into such a direction, even one, if I remember correctly what I heard, from Bp de Castro Meyer… but Mgr Lefebvre never held that (certainly not “clearly”), and, as in the case of the later SSPV, made sure that such people were expelled from the SSPX.

    – Oh and by the way, the point of Martin Luther OSA is not simply disobedience to the Pope. He would have, and said he would have, kissed the feet of the Pope if only the Pope had agreed to his teaching. So, of course, would Mgr Lefebvre: so maybe we had better look at their respective teachings; but even apart from that we are forced, by the facts, to say that Mgr Lefebvre did uphold the authority of the Pope, even the Pope not agreeing to him, “in all things not against the Conscience”* while Martin Luther had only swearwords left for the Papacy, as long as it did not become Lutheran.

    [* And to obey the Pope even in cases against the Conscience is not Catholic. So far Mgr Lefebvre is certainly right. The point of dispute can only be the, systematically, minor technical question whether what he held to be against the conscience actually was.]

  26. jflare says:

    I’m sorry, but I cannot readily agree that Abp Lefebvre was a great churchman. If anything, I am inclined to argue that much of the discord within the Church today came about because of his actions and attitudes. I have heard that the traditional Mass exists today because of Lefebvre; I have heard that the SSPX has been and remains an innocent victim of evil conspiracy within the Church to eject Catholic faith. Sadly, such views do not well reflect what I have seen before and continue to see in the Church today.
    If the churchmen who opposed Lefebvre can be said to have been abusive, intolerant, malicious, or in other ways unCatholic or uncharitable, I think we can make the same case for Lefebvre and the SSPX. If Lefebvre and the SSPX had been less obstinate, we might have avoided some of the liturgical madness that has struck within the Church. Sadly, because Lefebvre and the SSPX effectively removed themselves from the activities of the wider Church, they were not able to provide a credible source of reason, a reliable source of understanding why the newer ideas weren’t so great. I have long wondered if St John Paul II might have wept because of the damage that came about from this.
    Many will declare that the SSPX needed to consecrate bishops in 1988, thus to protect traditional practice. In a way, that might be true. For all that though, I consider that such a view is not truthfully consistent with the whole of the Church’s teaching. If we believe that God will protect His Church from teaching error, it makes sense to me that He will also act to ensure that worthy, virtuous practice will not die out.
    I know many traditional voices will be thoroughly enraged by these ideas, but I think this is a debate we need to have. We cannot expect to reconcile the varying factions within the Church if each faction refuses to discuss the human errors and foibles of their chosen heroes.
    (In this case, those two might arguably be Abp Lefebvre and St Pope John Paul II. For some reason, these two tend to be held up as effective arch-enemies within the Church, though I’ve never seen a good reason for why. John Paul II was not the liturgical arch-conservative that Lefebvre seems to have been, but he was nowhere near the progressive liberal that many seem to think either.)

    [As soon as you accomplish in Africa as a missionary what Lefevbre did, get back to me.]

  27. JuliB says:

    Holy Ghost Fathers?

    According to ‘God or Nothing’, they were VERY important to a young child in Guinea. That young child grew up to be the holy and courageous Robert Cardinal Sarah.

  28. LA says:

    St. Joan of Arc died “excommunicated”, and yet now she is a canonized Saint. I think it best we let future Church officials (who will have some distance from Vatican 2 and the implementation of the Novus Ordo liturgy) to eventually decide the Saint versus Sinner battle. For me, I’m definitely on the side of considering him saintly, despite the censure.

  29. robtbrown says:


    I wonder whether you at all familiar with the history of Abp Lefebvre during the early 1970s.

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