Obedience in a Church in crisis

Ever since his seminary years, Marcel Lefebvre’s constant concern was to be right in line with the constant judgments of the popes and not to have any personal idea; he simply wanted to be faithful to “the truth of the Church and what she had always taught”.

Though long obedient to Rome, could Archbishop Lefebvre consider himself bound by guidelines and laws that came from the legitimate authority but were destroying the Church? Hence the Faith could not help but win out over a false obedience.

Opposing the subversion

He attended all the sessions of the Second Vatican Council, and throughout the proceedings he witnessed magisterial helping hands that redirected the course of that assembly toward a veritable revolution in the Church. He reacted as an authentic Roman: in order to oppose the subversion of the Council, he founded a group of bishops, the Coetus International Patrum, which corrected or rejected the schemas that were marred by errors.

After the Council, when Paul VI (backed by Fr. Annibale Bugnini) produced a new rite of the Mass, the Novus Ordo Missae, in 1969, Archbishop Lefebvre presided over a group of theologians that composed A Short Critical Study on the New Order of Mass. This work was approved by Cardinals Alfredo Ottaviani and Antonio Bacci and shows the Protestant spirit that imbues the New Mass. Published in several languages, the “Ottaviani Intervention” enlightened many priests and encouraged their fidelity to the Mass of All Time.

True romanitas: continuity of doctrine

True romanitas is not blind submission to absolute decisions by the highest authority,[1] it is fidelity to its constant teaching, which is apostolic because it is linked to the teaching of the Apostles. The Magisterium of today has genuine authority insofar as it is in line with that perennial teaching. Of course, normally this continuity must be presupposed, but in times of crisis, such as in the days of the Arian heresy, continuity of doctrine is itself the criterion for the truth thereof.

Choose between two Romes

This is why, confronted by the compelling need to choose, he composed on November 21, 1974, a declaration that he made public, stating his adherence to “Eternal Rome, guardian of the Catholic Faith, the mistress of wisdom and truth”. On the other hand, he refused to follow

the Rome of neo-Modernist and neo-Protestant tendencies which were clearly evident in the Second Vatican Council and, after the Council, in all the reforms which issued from it.[2]

An unfaithful teaching authority is not a Magisterium

No one is more attached to the Magisterium of the popes, the council and the bishops than we are! And that is why we cannot accept a magisterium that is not faithful to the Magisterium of all time. This Magisterium is essentially continuous, traditional. This is the aim of the Magisterium: to transmit the Deposit of the Faith. That can never be in opposition to what had been taught before. St. Paul himself says it: ‘[If] we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema!' (Gal. 1:8). What was taught to you originally is the standard. Now Vatican II says things that are contrary. An unfaithful teaching authority is not a Magisterium.”

  • 1. Open letter to Pope John Paul II, cosigned by Bishop de Castro Mayer, November 21, 1983, summarized in Tissier de Mallerais, op. cit., p. 531.
  • 2. Declaration dated November 21, 1974