Eyewitness account of struggle over post-Conciliar liturgical reform, which “reversed” centuries

Marcel-LefebvreI think that some day many more people will know about the life and work of the late French Archbp. Marcel Lefebvre.  He, a Holy Ghost Father, was a great missionary in Africa whose influence is still strongly felt there.  He was also a bishop at the Second Vatican Council, about which he writes in his memoirs.

Oh yes, he also founded the SSPX.

At One Peter Five there is a post about Lefebvre’s view of a powerful influence on Popes John XXIII and Paul VI.

Here is a bit of the post about the liturgical reform with my emphases and comments:


I had the occasion to see for myself what influence Fr. Bugnini had. [Annibale at the gate] One wonders how such a thing as this could have happened at Rome. At that time immediately after the Council, I was Superior General of the Congregation of the Fathers of the Holy Ghost and we had a meeting of the Superiors General at Rome. We had asked Fr. Bugnini [to] explain to us what his New Mass was, for this was not at all a small event. [litotes] Immediately after the Council was heard of the Normative Mass, the New Mass, the Novus Ordo. What did all this mean?

It had not been spoken of at the Council. [The Council Fathers had mandated a few points, but the Consilium (a committee entrusted with the reform) went waaaaay beyond the mandates.] What had happened? And so we asked Fr. Bugnini to come and explain himself to the 84 Superiors General who were united together, amongst whom I consequently was.

Fr. Bugnini, with much confidence, explained what the Normative Mass would be; this will be changed, that will be changed and we will put in place another Offertory. We will be able to reduce the communion prayers. We will be able to have several different formats for the beginning of Mass. We will be able to say the Mass in the vernacular tongue. We looked at one another saying to ourselves: “But it’s not possible!”

He spoke absolutely, as if there had never been a Mass in the Church before him. He spoke of his Normative Mass as of a new invention.  [Keep in mind that Bugnini had been given the heave-ho by the Sacred Congregation for Rites from his position at the Lateran University.  From that point onward, he had it out for just about everyone and everything.  And the 1955 changes to Holy Week was just the warm-up.  Who he was and what he was about was clear.]

Personally I was myself so stunned that I remained mute, although I generally speak freely when it is a question of opposing those with whom I am not in agreement. I could not utter a word. How could it be possible for this man before me to be entrusted with the entire reform of the Catholic Liturgy, the entire reform of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, of the sacraments, of the Breviary, and of all our prayers? Where are we going? Where is the Church going?

Two Superiors General had the courage to speak out. One of them asked Fr. Bugnini: “Is this an active participation, that is a bodily participation, that is to say with vocal prayers, or is it a spiritual participation? In any case you have so much spoken of the participation of the faithful that it seems you can no longer justify Mass celebrated without the faithful. Your entire Mass has been fabricated around the participation of the faithful. We Benedictines celebrate our Masses without the assistance of the faithful. Does this mean that we must discontinue our private Masses, since we do not have faithful to participate in them?”

I repeat to you exactly that which Fr. Bugnini said. I have it still in my ears, so much did it strike me: To speak truthfully we didn’t think of that,” he said! [I wonder.]

Afterwards another arose and said: “Reverend Father, you have said that we will suppress this and we will suppress that, that we will replace this thing by that and always by shorter prayers. I have the impression that your new Mass could be said in ten or twelve minutes or at the most a quarter of an hour. This is not reasonable. This is not respectful towards such an act of the Church.” Well, this is what he replied: “We can always add something.” Is this for real? I heard it myself. If somebody had told me the story I would perhaps have doubted it, now I heard it myself.  [Remember what Joseph Ratzinger said: an artificial creation.  No wonder such a shock slammed the Church and wounded her for these many decades.]

Afterwards, at the time at which this Normative Mass began to be put into practice, I was so disgusted that we met with some priests and theologians in a small meeting. From it came the “Brief Critical Study,” which was taken to Cardinal Ottaviani. I presided [at] that small meeting. We said to ourselves: “We must go and find the Cardinals. We cannot allow this to happen without reacting.”

So I myself went to find the Secretary of State, Cardinal Cicognani, and I said to him: “Your Eminence, you are not going to allow this to get through, are you? It’s not possible. What is this New Mass? It is a revolution in the Church, a revolution in the Liturgy.

Cardinal Cicognani, who was the Secretary of State of Pope Paul VI, placed his head between his hands and said to me: “Oh Monseigneur, I know well. I am in full agreement with you; but what can I do? Fr. Bugnini goes in to the office of the Holy Father and makes him sign what he wants.” It was the Cardinal Secretary of State who told me this! Therefore the Secretary of State, the number two person in the Church after the Pope himself, was placed in a position of inferiority with respect to Fr. Bugnini. He could enter into the Pope’s office when he wanted and make him sign what he wanted.

Does not such a professed sense of powerlessness (and paralysis) – as described here with reference to Cardinal Cicognani – remind us of our own current situation, where we are told my high-ranking prelates and even prefects of congregations that they cannot do anything about the revolutionary things that are happening in the Vatican? Here it might be worthwhile to add another example given by Archbishop Lefebvre:

A third fact, of which I was myself the witness, with respect to Fr. Bugnini is also astonishing. When permission was about to be given for Communion in the hand (what a horrible thing!), I said to myself that I could not sit by without saying anything. I must go and see Cardinal [Benno Walter] Gut – a Swiss – who was Prefect of the Congregation for Worship. I therefore went to Rome, where Cardinal Gut received me in a very friendly way and immediately said to me: “I’m going to make my second-in- charge, Archbishop Antonini, come that he also might hear what you have to say.”

As we spoke I said: “Listen, you who are responsible for the Congregation for Worship, are you going to approve this decree which authorizes Communion in the hand? Just think of all the sacrileges, which it is going to cause. Just think of the lack of respect for the Holy Eucharist, which is going to spread throughout the entire Church. You cannot possibly allow such a thing to happen. Already priests are beginning to give Communion in this manner. It must be stopped immediately. And with this New Mass they always take the shortest canon, that is the second one, which is very brief”

At this, Cardinal Gut said to Archbishop Antonini, “See, I told you this would happen and that priests would take the shortest canon so as to go more quickly and finish the Mass more quickly.”

Afterwards Cardinal Gut said to me: “Monseigneur, if one were to ask my opinion (when he said “one” he was speaking of the Pope, since nobody was over him except the Pope), but I’m not certain it is asked of me (don’t forget that he was Prefect for the Congregation for Worship and was responsible for everything which was related to Worship and to the Liturgy!), but if the Pope were to ask for it, I would place myself on my knees, Monseigneur, before the Pope and I would say to him: ‘Holy Father, do not do this; do not sign this decree.’ I would cast myself on my knees, Monseigneur. But I do not know that I will be asked. For it is not I who command here.”

This I heard with my own ears. He was making allusion to Bugnini, who was the third in the Congregation for Worship. There was first of all Cardinal Gut, then Archbishop Antonini and then Fr. Bugnini, President of the Liturgical Commission. You ought to have heard that! Alas, you can now understand my attitude when I am told: you are a dissident and [a] disobedient rebel.

Scripta manent.

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  1. It’s too bad you are so busy. An in-depth look ( errr… BOOK) on Annibale Bugnini from you would be epic. Just sayin’.

  2. BenH says:

    So what are we faithful supposed to do now in 2017? I would love to have a local diocesan parish celebrate the OF and EF, but our conservative bishop seems to run his own priests out of town if they show favoritism towards the EF. My frustration grows the more that is revealed about what happened and the more that I learn about the Sacredness of the Mass. What am I supposed to do as a father of a young family? The OF Mass I attend is better than those locally, but still has lay people entering the sanctuary (EMHC) and other minor abuses.

    Essentially, knowing what happened and what should be, what should we faithful do?

  3. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    It is still surprising that one man, Bugnini, could exercise such dramatic influence over so integral a thing as sacred worship, when the people around him, even within his own Congregation and his superiors, seemed to have disagreed with him on so many issues. It is unclear why Paul VI granted him so much power and influence.

  4. anilwang says:

    What a mess. It is really clear that there was something fundamentally wrong with the Church at the time of the Council for so many good Cardinals, Bishops, and Priests to be silent when they full well knew one man was leading the Church into sacrilege. It would have been better if they were just swept away of the times, since that can be repented of once the error is made clear. But being weak willed is nearly impossible to remedy, which is why the Lord has such a harsh words for Laodicea (Revelation 3:15-16).

    If this had happened in the early Church, then the response St Nicholas gave to Arius would be mild in comparison. Granted St Nicholas was sanctioned for punching Arius since that is behaviour unbecoming a bishop, but he and a host of other bishops refused to be silent.

  5. pjmpjm says:

    This is a stupendous account,and heart-breaking.

    May I seek a precision: that Card. Ratzinger quote about a fabricated liturgy, etc. Is it clear that he is talking about the Ordinary Form as such, or is he talking about the work of parochial and other local community liturgy committees?

  6. Eric says:

    Thanks Father, it is incredible how analogous it is to our current situation and the feeling of “what do I do now as a Catholic in the pews who is trying to be faithful?” It is downright scary how the current crisis is so familiar to the crisis following Vatican II. It may just be part of the same crisis? The fruits of the council manifesting what was always there. I highly recommend the archbishop’s biography. Much, much more similar to the above story.

  7. Eric says:

    Michael Davies, Liturgical Revolution, Vol. 3: Pope Paul’s New Mass. Volumes 1 and 2 are also outstanding, and set up the reader for the whole history of where this all came from.

  8. Papal Fan says:

    “’Is this an active participation, that is a bodily participation, that is to say with vocal prayers, or is it a spiritual participation? In any case you have so much spoken of the participation of the faithful that it seems you can no longer justify Mass celebrated without the faithful. Your entire Mass has been fabricated around the participation of the faithful. We Benedictines celebrate our Masses without the assistance of the faithful. Does this mean that we must discontinue our private Masses, since we do not have faithful to participate in them?’”

    This entire quote from one of the Superior Generals is another reason why I cringe every time I see the ever-present laity constantly trying to “assist” the priest when they aren’t even needed in the Novus Ordo.

    Here are a few examples, albeit slightly exaggerated examples:

    Less than 50 people at Mass? “We need ‘eucharistic’ ministers (around 5, maybe) for mass!”

    Can’t a deacon or a priest give the readings? “No! We need the laity to be part of this, especially for women!”

    Won’t the priest clean the chalice and paten? “We need the laity do that and let them grab the rest of the consecrated hosts into the tabernacle!”

    Laity, laity, everywhere. Is it any surprise that many Catholics and non-Catholics don’t really see any significance difference between a priest and a layperson performing mass?

  9. Sonshine135 says:

    This is much inline with what I understood took place during the fabrication of the newer form of the Mass. Were I not to understand that God is in control, I would shutter over the utter cowardice shown by prelates so high up in the Vatican. I simply have no other words for it. Meek is not synonymous with weak.

  10. chantgirl says:

    Cardinal Ottaviani was treated shamefully by his confreres. The anecdote of his microphone being turned off amid the jeers and boos of the council fathers makes the whole proceeding sound like a kangaroo court staffed by hyenas.

    I have never assisted at an SSPX Mass but I have no doubt that they simply want to be Catholics, and that they simply want the Church to be Catholic. Must it really take a miracle for those two things to occur ?!

  11. Kathleen10 says:

    Thank you for this. It is really illuminating to know how we ended up here.
    I don’t know much about the SSPX, but have come to think of them as the guardians of the faith. I have been critical of them, unfair, that may be, but I have felt disappointment over their silence on this papacy. But now I have come around to believe they are doing a more valuable service by continuing on as the guardians. As long as no deals are struck, they are probably better where they are, and so are we.

  12. RichR says:

    Laws and sausage are two things we should never see being made. Laws of the Church are no different. The inner workings of Ecclesial politics just get me depressed. I honestly don’t see the point of such posts as this (with all due respect to you, O Captain, my Captain). If the Pope promulgated the New Mass, then is it not my place as a layman to fall in line? Are we to infer from such accounts that the new Mass is suspect, that we should fight against Rome in allowing this change to occur, and that we should burn all misdials and breviaries printed after 1965 so as to preserve the Faith?

    I don’t know what Bugnini was able to do all by himself, but I know that Pope Paul VI gave the reforms his full authority. What good comes from casting a shadow over the form of Mass (and sacraments) that 95% of the Latin Rite Catholics rely on for salvation?

    I guess I’m just tired of things I have no control over.

  13. Eric says:

    I would suggest starting with An Open Letter to Confused Catholics by the archbishop. You can find it on Amazon, Angelus Press, or even on the internet for free. Recognize and resist.

  14. Maineman1 says:

    Pardon me as I nerd out for a moment and incorporate Lord of the Rings (hereinafter, ‘LOTR’) into my comment.

    When I read these shocking commentaries of the radically successful liturgical Revolution, the insights of those who opposed the spiritual madness, I often think of an eerie scene from LOTR: Fellowship of the Ring. The Company of the Ring, forced by sinister forces to divert their transit through the Misty Mountains, made their way through the harrowing Mines of Moria. Eventually, the Company is trapped and faces doom in the Chamber of Records, or Balian’s Tomb; there they find, and read, an account in a musty book about the final terrifying days of Dwarves who were entrenched, cut off, and eventually massacred by Orcs.

    Naturally, the words of Ori, the one committing the Dwarves’ fate to parchment, are tragic and futile. And that is how I feel about the insights of Archbishop Lefebvre and his spiritual kin. Their words are seemingly futile. They were beaten by stronger, nefarious forces.

  15. A priest who changes parts of the Mass to be “friendlier”, refuses to hear confessions, and do not obey to his bishop will not be stopped… On the other hand, priests trying to incorporate Gregorian chants & Latin, say Mass Ad Orientem and promote reverence will encounter much difficulties, and by the same ecclesiastical authorities.

    Evil is so easy, and good is so hard to attain. It reminds me in some way of the Church during the Arian heresy.


  17. Pingback: The “Lefebvrist Drift” Going Mainstream… | The Deus Ex Machina Blog

  18. moon1234 says:

    The more you know, then more you wish you did not know for knowing then brings with it a choice. [As the song goes: “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.”] For those that live in a diocese where the traditional Mass is welcome, the choice is easy. For those that do not, it makes life very much more difficult.

    I have felt for some time that MUCH of what happened and how it came about would smell very rotten if it were publically known. The more I learn the more I realize that an active suppression of information has been occurring for MANY years. It is only recently that much of what happened is becoming more publically known. Many of the players that had the ability to ruin a prelates, or Priest’s, life have passed on to their eternal reward.

    Much of this has been known for a long time, but it is only recently that the common layman is able to have a good chronological history put together. With those involved identified, their position and actions (or inactions) listed and how these changes came about and the motivations of those involved.

    I really feel one day ArchBishop Lefevbre will be named a saint.

  19. “If the Pope promulgated the New Mass, then is it not my place as a layman to fall in line?”

    I would recommend an essay from vonHildebrand to help with a clear answer to this question: http://anonisnowhere.blogspot.com/2012/04/belief-and-obedience-critical.html

  20. catholictrad says:

    Father Z, thank you. This helps explain why the SSPX, and from them the FSSP, exists.

    I’m so sorry to report from my diocese that a very devout and holy many is being run out from the seminary because he can’t stomach irreverence to Holy Eucharist. Our young TLM-only parish has produced two sisters and two priests (more to come), but it appears none of the priests will remain in the diocese if the seminary continues to chase them into FSSP, et. al.

    It is as if they proudly cry, “Give me Liberalism, or give me death!”

  21. Rosary Rose says:

    BenH asks “so what are we faithful supposed to do in 2017?”
    The same thing we were supposed to be doing all along (which for some reason was also suppressed) – Pray the rosary daily,
    – Make a five First Saturday devotion,
    – Pray for the Pope, priests and souls in Purgatory,
    – Be enrolled in the brown scapular devotion
    ……as per Our Lady of Fatima.

    Pray a family rosary with your children! It seems like a small thing, but it is a powerful weapon.

    Our Lady of Fatima said it will take the prayers of many faithful. We will witness terrible things, and the Pope will be late in consecrating Russia to her Immaculate Heart. In the end, it will happen when enough faithful are praying the rosary.

    Be strong and courageous. My entire life I have attended Novus Ordo Mass while my Dad was a solid SSPX’r. I have prayed for unity. I have followed our Lady of Fatima and none of this surprises me. God’s got this. The gates of hell will not prevail against Christ’s church.

    As Father says, we must go to confession. Our prayers are more efficacious when we are in a state of Grace.

  22. Y2Y says:

    “It is as if they proudly cry, “Give me Liberalism, or give me death!” ”

    To which I would respond: “OK, your choice” while chambering a round.

  23. iPadre says:

    And this they said would renew the Church and fill Her pews. Were not the pews (of all the churches that have been closed since) filled in 1970? Are they (the few churches remaining) filled today?

  24. Jack Orlando says:

    Did Bugnini et al. really care much about the Liturgy of the Hours?

    As far as I can tell, they disobeyed the Council with the Mass, and obeyed it about the Office.

  25. WVC says:

    To Maineman1 – you missed a critical component in your LOTR analogy.

    Bugnini = Grima Wormtongue.

  26. KAS says:

    I find myself reading this man’s words and wondering, will the Church in the future view him as a Saint for having stood his ground for the fullness of truth even if condemned by the Pope? His words do not read as the words of someone desiring to be out of communion with Rome. Was he not, it seems, in a position similar to that of St. Athanasius? I am certain this is so complex that only God can fully judge him. But I will no longer think anything but highly of this man.

  27. KAS says:

    Sent too soon, to add, I will continue my support, small as it is, for this seminary, Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary: http://www.fsspolgs.org

  28. Pingback: The “Lefebvrist Drift” Going Mainstream… - Telzilla

  29. Mary F says:

    Thank you for posting this Father. I agree with a friend that this would be a good note to have our children read. Rosary Rose – Excellent answer! Same for Eric. Open Letter to Confused Catholics is a book we should all read every two to five years. It can help us avoid Modernist creep with the sweetest authorship possible. Archbishop Lefebvre ends the book answers with “What we can do.” It’s online free here: http://www.sspxasia.com/Documents/Archbishop-Lefebvre/OpenLetterToConfusedCatholics/

  30. Gabriel Syme says:

    Whenever I think of the great Archbishop Lefebvre, his phrase (included above) – “Is this for real?” –
    always pops into my head.

  31. Gabriel Syme says:


    I don’t know much about the SSPX, but have come to think of them as the guardians of the faith. I have been critical of them, unfair, that may be, but I have felt disappointment over their silence on this papacy.

    The Society has criticised Francis and his antics on many occasions. The mainstream Catholic media don’t often cover SSPX matters however.

    Bishop Fellay has denounced Francis as a ‘genuine modernist’ and stated he is making the already disastrous state of the Church ‘10,000 times worse’.

    Those specific quotes are from the early days of Francis but +Fellay and his priests regularly pan Francis and/or what he has said or done.

    I have found my experience of the SSPX to be very educational, not only with regard to the fullness of the Catholic faith, but also how poor the post-Conciliar Popes have been at articulating it – from championing condemned ideas, to undermining the faith via various stunts etc.

    Far be it from me to “rate” the Popes, but even Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI, whom I was very fond of, look very much second rate in comparison with their predecessors, even very recent predecessors. I guess, like politicians, we get the Popes we deserve.

    One think I particularly enjoy about the SSPX is how the priests routinely quote from great Saints and Doctors of the Church in their sermons. Aquinas, Bellarmine, Liguori, Teresa Avilla etc – people I had never even heard of, from the novus ordo Church, which prefers to praise the protestants and talk about Bar Mitzvahs etc.

    One SSPX priest I know often says protestants are miserable, because they have no confessional to go to – and so we should be thankful and grateful that God made us Catholics and gave us recourse to confession. How very lucky are we?

    What a deep and rich tradition Catholics have to draw upon. In contrast, my experience of the modern mainstream Church could have convinced someone that the Church was only founded in the 1960s.

  32. Mary Ann Spade says:

    The problems that I am aware of, my children and others I know haven’t followed the Faith. Reverence for the Eucharist, gone. Reverence…? Are the Graces absent in the Novus Ordo?

  33. Mary Ann Spade says: Are the Graces absent in the Novus Ordo?

    Hardly. I don’t think that any reasonable person would make such a claim. The NO may be lacking in many of those difficult elements which foster an encounter with Mystery, and it may often celebrated in a way consistent with the virtue of religion, but it certainly can be the occasion of graces, including those which come from reception of Holy Communion in the state of grace.

  34. Semper Gumby says:

    Most interesting. Thanks to 1P5 and Fr. Z for these additional details.

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