An Open Letter to Confused Catholics

Whether or not one agrees with Abp. Lefebvre’s course of action – there is room, in my view, for a legitimate difference of opinion here – it cannot be denied that he was faced with an almost impossible dilemma. Those who argue against the 1988 consecrations and the continuing resistance of the SSPX, if they want to be credible, need to demonstrate an informed understanding of the scope and magnitude of the crisis. A good start might be Abp. Lefebvre’s “Open Letter to Confused Catholics” (the entire book can be read online here), published in 1985:

When I was a child the Church everywhere had the same faith, the same sacraments and the same Sacrifice of the Mass. If anyone had told me then that it would be changed, I would not have believed him. Throughout the breadth of Christendom we prayed to God in the same way. The new liberal and modernist religion has sown division.

Christians are divided within the same family because of this confusion which has established itself; they no longer go to the same Mass and they no longer read the same books. Priests no longer know what to do; either they obey blindly what their superiors impose on them, and lose to some degree the faith of their childhood and youth, renouncing the promises they made when they took the Anti-Modernist Oath at the moment of their ordination; or on the other
hand they resist, but with the feeling of separating themselves from the Pope, who is our father and the Vicar of Christ. In both cases, what a heartbreak! Many priests have died of sorrow before their time.

What a heartbreak, indeed. We face the same difficulties today. Something important has to “give” no matter the choice we make. It might seem that the archbishop sacrificed the principle of obedience to the Holy Father in order to preserve orthodox doctrine and liturgy. But did he really sacrifice obedience? Is the Holy Father truly served by obedience that so radically undermines the Catholic Faith? The “obedience” required of everyone at the time looked more like wild rebellion and infidelity. In most places it still does. It has been said that cloaking rebellion under the disguise of “obedience” was the devil’s masterstroke. Would-be critics of the archbishop and his actions first need to struggle with this reality before passing judgment.

5 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Confused Catholics

  1. One has only to look at the statistics and facts of Pre vs Post VII Catholicism to understand the why of Abp Lefebreve – he appears to have had some idea of the future of the Faith with the onset of all the VII changes coming down the freeway. Seminaries bursting at the seams, schools bursting at the seams, increase in baptisms, increase in marriages…the list goes on. The SSPX ( and the Traditional orders like them) presently have the New Evangelation that the post-VII Church only still dreams about – and is still trying to revive and/or keep alive by artificial means. Nothing will change with Rome, until the hopelessness of the success in/of VII has finally been laid to rest and its basis for any changes end. You can’t build on a foundation that remains fluid, mushy and gooey…


  2. I haven’t read the full letter. Maybe at some point. But the unqualified statement “Throughout the breadth of Christendom we prayed to God in the same way” is an amazingly naïve statement coming from someone ordained to the episcopate in the Catholic Church. Did Abp. Lefebvre forget all of the Eastern churches in union with “eternal Rome”? Did he forget the pre-Tridentine Roman liturgies of the religious orders (e.g., Carmelite, Carthusian, Dominican), which were permitted to continue offering their forms of the Mass after the Tridentine was promulgated? Or was he banking on the credulousness of followers who were not as well versed in the history of the liturgy, as we should be able to suppose that he was?


  3. Michelle, you really are straining for gnats here.

    1) Lefebvre is addressing Latin rite Catholics.

    2) Eastern Rite Catholics represent only a tiny minority of the Catholic population (16 million out of 1.2 BILLION) who were largely outside of the experience of his intended readers.

    3) Eastern rites were not affected by the post-conciliar reforms in any case (except that, oddly, they were encouraged to embrace their tradition!).

    4) The differences between the traditional rites of western religious orders (Carmelite, Dominincan, etc.) and the traditional Roman rite are negligible in terms of their doctrine, spirituality, and ethos.

    5) The liturgical chasm between the Novus Ordo and every Catholic liturgy that preceded it, whether western or Byzantine, is far greater than the differences between these older liturgies.


  4. Strictly speaking, the rites of the western religious orders are, for the most part, variants of the old Roman rite. Technically, they are not even “rites” in themselves. Whereas the Novus Ordo is indeed a different rite than the old Roman rite. So from both a historical and a spiritual perspective, there is a much greater difference between the Tridentine form and the other variants of the Roman Rite (Dominican, Carmelite, Benedictine, etc.) then there is between it and the Novus Ordo. The old Roman rite, in its essence, goes back about 1500 years, being much older than the Tridentine rite strictly so-called. The Novus Ordo substantially damaged this 1500-year-old liturgy. So Archbishop Lefebvre has a point when he says that “throughout the breadth of Christendom we prayed to God in the same way.” Even though there were variants of the Roman rite, of which the Tridentine is one example, the essence of that Roman rite was everywhere practically identical for the larger part of its existence. Tradition was no light matter back in the day, as it is now.


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