In this unprecedented period of crisis, faced with this new attack against the Tridentine Mass, it is helpful to look back on this sermon given by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, during the priestly ordinations on June 29, 1982 at the Ecône Seminary. The founder of the Society of Saint Pius X drew a parallel between the Passion of Christ and the Passion of His Church in our era. Only faith will allow us to remain standing during the ordeal, like the Blessed Virgin Mary at the foot of the Cross: stabat Mater.
Briefly, I would like to try to explain what I think our course of action should be in the face of these sad developments taking place in the Church. It seems to me that we can compare this agony the Church is suffering today to the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
You see how astonished the Apostles themselves were when Our Lord was taken and bound— after the kiss of Judas. He is taken away. He is clothed in a scarlet robe, mocked, beaten, weighed down with the Cross. And the Apostles run away; they are scandalized. It is not possible that He—to Whom Peter proclaimed: ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of God’—could be reduced to this plight, this humiliation, this destruction. It cannot be. They run away.
Only the Virgin Mary with St. John and some women remain with Our Lord and keep the faith. They will not abandon Him. They know that Our Lord is truly God, but they also know that He is man. It is precisely this union of the divinity with the humanity of Our Lord that poses extraordinary difficulties. Our Lord in fact did not want to be merely man; He wanted to be a man like us, with all the results of sin—yet without sin, apart from sin; but He wanted to accept all the consequences: sadness, fatigue, suffering, thirst, hunger, death.
The Scandal of the Cross
Our Lord embodied this extraordinary thing that so scandalized the Apostles, as it indeed scandalized many others who turned their backs on Our Lord and did not believe in the divinity of Our Lord. Throughout the history of the Church, we come across these people who are so surprised at the weakness of Our Lord that they cannot believe He is God.”
This was the case with Arius. Arius said “no, it won't do, that man cannot be God, because He said He was less than His Father, that His Father was greater than He. He is therefore less than His Father. He is therefore not God.”
And then Our Lord said these astonishing words, “My soul is sorrowful, even unto death.” How could He, with the Beatific Vision, seeing God in His human soul, and thus far more glorious than weak, far more eternal than temporal—His soul already in eternity and blessed—yet here He is, saying, “My soul is sorrowful, even unto death,” (Mt. 26:38); and he goes on to utter those astonishing words we could never imagine on the lips of Our Lord, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Ps. 21:2)
But how can Our Lord God Himself say: “Why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Hence the scandal, alas, which spreads among weak souls, and Arius takes practically the entire Church with him in saying, “This Man is not God.”
Others, to the contrary, go the other way and say that perhaps everything Our Lord endured, spilling blood, the wounds, the Cross, all that was imaginary. They were external phenomena but not real. Rather like the archangel Raphael, when he went with Tobias and later revealed to him, “I seemed indeed to eat and to drink with you: but I use an invisible meat and drink, which cannot be seen by men” (Tb. 12:19).
The Archangel Raphael did not have a body like that of Our Lord Jesus Christ. He was not born of an earthly mother, as our Lord was born of the Virgin Mary. Was Our Lord an illusion like that and only appeared to eat, but did not really eat, or appeared to suffer but did not really suffer? There were those who denied the human nature of Our Lord Jesus Christ: the Monophysites, the Monothelites, who denied the human nature and the human will of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Everything about Him was God (they claimed), and everything that seemed to happen was only an illusion. See the consequences of those who are scandalized by reality and truth.
So then, I will make a comparison with the Church of today. Today, we are scandalized—yes, truly scandalized—about the situation in the Church. We thought the Church was truly divine and that she could never deceive herself or deceive us.
The Divine and Human Church
Well, it is true, the Church is divine; the Church cannot lose the truth. The Church will always be the guardian of truth. But she is also human. The Church is human and indeed more human than Our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord could not sin. He is the Holy One, the Just One par excellence.
But the Church, if she is divine, and truly divine, transmits to us all the things of God especially the Holy Eucharist - eternal realities which can never change, and which will be the glory of our souls in heaven. Yes, the Church is divine, but she is human too. She is made up of men who may be sinners, indeed, who are sinners, and yet they participate somehow in the divinity of the Church,—to a certain extent like the pope, for example, who by the charism of infallibility participates in the divinity of the Church and yet remains human, he remains a sinner. Except in those instances where the pope makes use of his charism of infallibility, he can err, he can sin.
Why be scandalized and say, like some people following the example of Arius, that ‘he is not pope? This is not a pope,” as Arius said “this is not God. This is not true, Our Lord cannot be God.” In this way, we will be tempted also to say, “This is not possible, he cannot be pope and do what he is doing.”
On the other hand, others would divinize the Church to the point that everything in it becomes perfect. So everything in the Church being perfect, there is no question of our doing anything whatsoever to oppose anything coming out of Rome. Or even, since everything is divine in Rome, we must accept everything coming out of Rome. They are like those who say that Our Lord was God to such an extent that He could not suffer, that He gave only the illusion of suffering, but in reality did not suffer; in reality it was not His blood that flowed. Those around Him had seen only illusions, not reality.
There are some like these today who go on saying, “No, there can be nothing human in the Church, nothing imperfect in the Church.” They too are mistaken. They do not see the reality of things. How far can imperfection in the Church go? How high can sin go—I would say—sin in the Church, sin in the intellect, sin in the soul, sin in the heart and in the will?”
These are the facts of the matter. As I said a moment ago, we would never have dared to put on the lips of Our Lord the words, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Never would we have dared to put such words on His lips. So too, we would never have thought that evil and error could penetrate so deeply into the Church.
But we are living in this age! We cannot shut our eyes. Things are there before us; they are not merely subjective impressions. We are witnesses of what is happening in the Church, of the terrible things that have happened since the Council, the ruins piling up day after day, year after year in the Holy Church. And the further we go, the more errors spread and the more the faithful lose the Catholic Faith.
A recent study in France shows that hardly more than two million French Catholics are still really Catholic.
We are nearing the end. Everyone will fall into heresy. Everyone will fall into error because clerics, as St. Pius X predicted, have found their way into the Church and occupied it. They have spread errors from the positions of authority they occupy in the Church.
Are we then required to follow error because it comes from someone in authority? No more than we should obey parents who are disgraceful and ask us to do disgraceful things, no more should we obey those who ask us to abandon our Faith and to abandon all Tradition. This is out of the question!
Oh, of course, all this is a great mystery. A great mystery of this union of the divinity with humanity. The Church is divine, and the Church is human. And I ask, how far can human weakness overshadow the divinity of the Church? Only God knows. It is a great mystery.
For Love of the Church
But we see the facts. We must stand before these facts and never abandon the Church. The Catholic and Roman Church, never abandon her! Never abandon the successor of Peter, because through him we are united to Our Lord Jesus Christ, through the Bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter.
But if, by some misfortune, under the influence of some spirit or other, or some weakness or pressure, or through neglect, he leaves us and leads us in ways that make us lose faith, we must not follow him, all while recognizing that he is Peter, and if he speaks with the charism of infallibility, we must accept his teaching. But when he does not speak with the charism of infallibility, he may very well be mistaken. Alas! It is not the first time that something like this has happened in history.
It may be that, at this level and to this degree, this is the first time that we have seen such a thing in history. So we are truly deeply troubled, deeply mortified, we who love the Holy Church so much, who have venerated and will always venerate her. This is why this seminary [at Ecône] exists, for love of the Church—Catholic and Roman—and why all seminaries exist! We are deeply wounded in our love for our Mother, to think that her servants, alas, no longer serve her and even do a disservice to her.
We must pray, we must sacrifice and, we must remain, like Mary, at the foot of the Cross and not abandon Our Lord Jesus Christ, even if He appears, as the Scriptures say, “as it were a leper” on the Cross (cf. Is. 53:3 et al). The Virgin Mary had the faith and saw beyond the wounds, beyond the pierced heart, she saw God, her Divine Son.
We too, in spite of the wounds of the Church, in spite of the difficulties that we suffer, the persecution that we are subject to even from those in authority in the Church, let us not abandon the Church.
Let us love our mother the Holy Church, let us serve her always despite the authorities, if necessary, if they persecute us. Yes, in spite of these authorities who wrongly persecute us, let us stay on the same road, let us keep to the same path. We want to support the Holy Roman Catholic Church, we want to keep it going and we will keep it going by means of the priesthood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by the true sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by the true sacraments of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by His true catechism.
This is why, my dear friends, today, see how I was myself ordained, and how here these confreres who are of a certain age have been ordained, all ordained in the immemorial traditional Holy Mass. They have received the power of celebrating the Holy Mass and the Holy Sacrifice in the immemorial Roman rite. Remember this: I was ordained in this rite and I do not want to quit it; I do not want to abandon it. This is the Mass for which I was ordained and for which I must continue to live. This is truly the Mass of the Roman Catholic Church.
Be faithful to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which will give you so many consolations, so much joy, so much support in your difficulties, in your trials, in the persecutions you may well undergo. You will find the strength to endure with Our Lord Jesus Christ all these insults; you will find this strength in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
In giving what is truly Our Lord Jesus Christ—His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity—to the faithful, you will also give them the courage to stay with the Church in her tradition and to conform themselves to all the examples of the saints who have preceded them, who have preceded us. All those who have been canonized, beatified, held up as examples of holiness in the Holy Church. They will continue to be our models.