Soon after the publication of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, three priests of the Diocese of Novara (Piedmont, Italy) tried to celebrate the Traditional Mass exclusively (we reported on these developments here and here).
In an interview released a few days ago, Father Alberto Secci tells his story, and presents us with the wonderful account of his life after Summorum. Yes, there is a life for diocesan priests celebrating the Sacraments according to the ancient use exclusively. And it can be beautiful, and powerful, and glorious, despite the normal difficulties of life.
"Can you imagine what would happen if all diocesan priests chose to do this?" This is the kind of weak argument one would expect to hear - it is not one that holds water, not with us, being on the same level as, "There should not be monks, for mankind would cease to exist if all men became exemplary monks": yes it would, but no they wouldn't... What we hope to provide by this example is that there can be spiritual comfort and consolation for that extremely small number of priests who choose to make use of their right of celebrating in the "Extraordinary Form" in a radical way. And why should that choice shock us? Almost all choose to celebrate the "Ordinary Form" in a radical and exclusive way, and they are not vilified for this. There is tribulation in these priests's radical choice, and that is fine: the priests who choose this path must be completely aware that they will be removed, moved, transferred, demoted, despised, mocked and ridiculed, made an example; they will have to give up favors, ecclesiastical careers, sabbatical years, special appointments; but, thanks to Summorum, they may face all this in perfect peace of conscience, with a Mass, that, in the words of a great cardinal, provides "greater spiritual fruit". And, as for the tribulation, if you may modestly allow us to quote a great layman, "they therefore, I say, that are in tribulation, have on the other side a great cause to take in their grief great inward comfort and spiritual consolation." (St. Thomas More, "A dialogue of comfort against tribulation").
Summorum is the charter of manumission of traditional-minded priests; it is good that those who contemplate making the same radical choice of these Italian heroic priests know that they are not alone, that, when there is a will, there is a way. If at least one single diocesan priest is moved by this translation to at least consider the possibility of following this radical path, then all our work here in Rorate over all these years will have been worth every second. This is dedicated to you, dear diocesan priests: if they can do it, so can you.
[Interview granted by Don Alberto Secci to Marco Bongi]
[Source: Una Fides. Translation: contributor Francesca Romana.]
The discomfort, the spiritual sufferings, the battles and courage of an authentic Catholic priest, forced to live with an ecclesial reality that most often cannot understand him.
Don Alberto Secci and his two brother priests, Don Stefano Coggiola and Don Marco Pizzocchi, all part of the clergy of Novara, suddenly reached great notoriety to the media (much to their regret) when they decided to implement faithfully the Motu Proprio of Pope Benedict XVI Summorum Pontificum, of 2007.
Opposition to the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass, was resolute and violent on the part of the chancery of Novara, so much so that it placed the three priests in serious difficulty, above all, with regard to their parishioners. The logic was simple: the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass had to be an exception, therefore it was forbidden to them.
For some time afterwards the three priests were presented by both local and national press as stubborn “provokers.”
Even some strange would be “traditionalist” environments thought well to call them to moderation, reminding them that the traditional cause required exercising the virtue of obedience, even when faced with the disownment of Church laws, derision of the Holy Mass, and negligence in the care of souls. Obviously this (obedience) is asked of the weakest, that is, priests and the faithful, especially when they are confronted by bishops who do as they want as if they were “masters” of their own individual Church, while the Roman authorities are powerless to hold the reins on them and thus are unable to make them respect the rights of the priests and the faithful, even when these rights come from the present universal laws of the Church.
But the Lord sees and provides. Our three priests continue on their way- the way of faithfulness to Holy Tradition of The Holy Roman Church. As well as their churches in Vocogno and Domodossola, it is possible today to follow the apostolates of Don Alberto Secci and Don Stefano Coggiola at their internet page Radicati nella fede.
[Interview by Marco Bongi]
Don Alberto, Your role as a priest who returned to the Mass of Ages on the occasion of the Motu Proprio gained a lot of attention in the media during the years 2007 and 2008. Now that quite some time has passed since those unsettling events, we would like to ask you some questions that will consent the Italian faithful to become more acquainted with your story as well as your apostolate that is developing. Can you tell us briefly how and when your vocation to the priesthood began and how your formation in the seminary went?
A. I was born in Domodossola, but my family moved to Biellese, my father being a carabiniere, and there I spent my childhood in a good parish, led by an old parish priest (born in 1890!), a patriarch, with the strongest devotion to Our Lady. There, most certainly, the first seeds of my vocation grew. Serving at the altar, the month of May, the Sanctuary of Oropa… these, alongside the faithfulness of my mother to her daily tasks and (attendance) at Mass, a sense of duty and order from my father and many other things, marked positively my Catholic childhood.
Then I returned to Domodossola with my family, and enrolled at the state high school [Liceo Scientifico]…fond memories there, even if, even in the provinces, in 1977 the climate was very secular. In that high school I experienced an intense Catholic militancy with Communion and Liberation. We were few, but well-trained for “battle.” I remember those years: prayer (we said lauds, terce, vespers and compline, rosary, daily Mass – and we were only 15 and 16 years old! We also studied different books from those adopted by the teachers, in order to defend the Church and Her History). Love for the Church grew more and more with increasing knowledge . We read the great spiritual writers, St. Benedict, St. Teresa of Avila… to me the idea of a vocation to the priesthood was a natural, urgent desire. Christ is everything, the Church is His Body: how can one not give one's life for this?
After high school graduation, at the age of 19, I entered the seminary. (I had) great help from a very orthodox Father Confessor, a little less from theology, even though I studied it with passion. The fault? In those years it was all a “work-yard” of personal opinions, anchored ideologically in Rahner’s theories. But I went through those years serenely, having been used to confidently “battling” for the faith since high school. I have no resentments and I remember with affection all of the teachers, but I had been already prepared in Catholic militancy beforehand, to keep an eye on the teaching. Everyday in the seminary I would keep watch on the horizons - expecting the "Catholic Restoration"…that never came!
Q. Which ministries did you carry out in the first years of ordination?
A. Once ordained, at 25, they sent me to a very large orthodox Catholic parish, with a large oratory; I was the assistant. It wasn’t easy: I taught religion at middle school and the rest of the day was taken up between the oratory and the parish church: difficult work, because I had to confront ecclesial lines very different from my own, already markedly traditional. I hope I did some good and little harm. After that, I went to France for about a year, attracted by the experience of Canons Regular, because I felt the need of greater support from other priests: Canons Regular, as well as monks, had built Christian Europe, so it seemed I had found a solution to serve God and souls in a better way. I came back, though, because I discovered the theological disputes and the weariness of the seminary had entered the house: the atmosphere of confusion did not stay out of convents, as it did not stay out of our hearts. Afterwards, I “docked in” at the Vigezzo Valley, where I am now, first as assistant in the Sanctuary and then as parish priest. In all these years, I have continued to teach religion in schools.
Q. How did you happen to encounter the Traditional Latin Mass and what brought you to embrace this rite exclusively, despite the difficulties?
A. This is difficult to answer. It seemed that it had always existed. I remember I could never stand a certain way of celebrating; I recall noticing ridiculous things in many liturgies, I was always aware. It was like knowing that it was a confused moment (in time), of a dramatic crossing, but that there would be a return home eventually. Everything in the Church spoke to you about the Old Rite, that only it was missing, and so... I waited. As parish vicar, and more so when I was parish priest, I did all that seemed possible to me: ad orientem altar, Gregorian chant with the faithful, communion on the tongue, always wore the cassock, doctrinal meetings with the adults, traditional catechism for the children.
But it was not enough, there was the heart of the question, the Mass, but how could I go about it? – I had already been under “investigation” for years because of the few things I had done! In 2005, I introduced first, the Offertory, then, the Canon of the Old Rite into the Mass of Paul VI. I patiently waited for some time for news of the Motu Proprio, which seemed would never come. And on the 11th of July, 2007, (I remember it) it was a Tuesday, I began to celebrate exclusively the Mass of all time. I have to say that it was my brother who gave me the last “push”: we were on a mountain trip together the day before and he said to me ”I don’t know what you are waiting for…” …it was the sign that I had to begin.
Q. Why have you refused the so called “biritualism” in contrast to other priests who have welcomed Summorum Pontificum?
A. I shall be brief. I find the obligation of biritualism absurd. If one has found that which is authentic, which is best, that which expresses the Catholic Faith more completely, without dangerous ambiguities, why would there be the need to celebrate something much less so? With biritualism, in actual fact, one rite dies and the other stays. With biritualism, the priest gets weary, with the sadness of a sort of schizophrenia, and the people are not edified, instructed, consoled in the beauty of God. I shall avoid discussing the theological liturgical aspects - an interview is not the place for that. I will say only that whoever stays with biritualism sooner or later abandons the Old Rite and manufactures reasons to stay in the world of the reform, lived perhaps in a conservative way, but with an interior sadness, like one who has betrayed the love of God since his youth. I have to add that it was very helpful for me to read “The Anglican Liturgical Reform” by Michael Davies – a fundamental text which is very clear: the ambiguity of the rite leads to heresy in fact. Is it not this that has happened?
Q. How did your parishioners react when they learned of your decision to return to the Old Rite?
A.: No one was surprised. The supporters said: “…at last!” The ones against it said: “..we told you so!” But I would say that most of the people went to work with great zeal: they took the leaflets, they wanted to understand…there was fervor… Afterwards, I have been always helped by a group of the faithful, strong and simple people, who were always ready to work with me: I am thinking specially of those who have had choir practice together since 1995. Then they started to say that we were disobeying the Bishop and the Pope and as a result everything became more complicated, but initially it was not so.
Q. We all know of the misunderstandings with the Bishop and the subsequent solution of entrusting you to a sort of chaplaincy at Vocogno. How were the relations with your brother parish priests at the time, apart from the variances with the Curia of Novara?
A. They all disappeared. Some disapproved, the majority kept silent, someone at night told us they were not against it, it rarely happened, but anyway, publically they could not do anything about it. It was fear of official disobedience. Don Stefano, the priest who has embarked on the same road as I have and with whom I work, (even if we have different types of apostolate)...well, he and I have never missed the vicariate priests's meetings… we have always participated there with enthusiasm.
Q. How are your relations today with the Bishop and other priests?
A. They seem to be serene, even if I see that there is much that is unresolved, because an in-depth discussion about the reasons for our choice has always been avoided. It’s as if they wanted it to remain on the surface at a purely juridical level. Let’s hope that, in time, something here changes for the better.
Q. From your observation-post, how do you view the situation in the Church and what do you think the FSSPX’s role in the future will be?
A. The Church belongs to God, so I have to hope. Even if I see that this crisis which is deep and very sad, will be very long. There is a non-Christian thought that has entered Christianity. Paul VI said it! It is commonly accepted. A great many think they are Catholics, but they aren’t anymore. It’s terrible. This is abandoning Jesus Christ while remaining inside His Church - there can be nothing more ambiguous than this! The Fraternity has to continue Mons. Lefebvre’s work, i.e., guarding the priesthood, the faith, the Mass of Ages…one day, the providential role of the Society will be evident to everyone. Loving the Church means preserving the treasures of faith and grace that Our Lord Jesus Christ has consigned to it and which establish it. The Fraternity has always done this, for this I thank God.
Q. The Ossolana region has great religious traditions. Do you think that the Traditional Latin Mass could spread in this zone and those nearby?
A. I don’t know. I only know that life in our mountains took form from the Old Catholic Mass. The lives of the people up here were educated by the Tridentine liturgy, it was there for them, so that they could remain radically in front of God, that is to say, with a confidence that molds life. But the “Americanized” world has arrived up here too, thanks also to the Church, unfortunately. Humanly speaking, it has been a disaster.
Q. How is your apostolate going at present, and how many faithful habitually attend the church at Vocogno?
A. Daily Mass, 2 Masses on Sunday, confessions everyday for half an hour before Mass, school at Domodossola, this year 13 classes, meetings on Catholic doctrine every Friday, catechism for children, weekly choir practice- and then if I am able, a little of the monastic life – withdrawing a bit- because if a priest wants to do some good, he mustn’t stay too long in the midst of things. Don Stefano and I share a great priestly brotherhood – and he too has returned to the Traditional Mass, which he celebrates for the faithful in the hospital chapel at Domodossola: it’s also an effective brotherhood, seeing that our faithful share many moments together. All of this gave birth to a Newsletter and a website which gives an account of our life.
How many faithful attend? I don’t know. The number varies. There could be up to 120 on Sundays during the summer, in winter the number drops, given the distance and the place. But I have learned not to count: the kings of Israel were punished when they took a census!
Q. How do you view the recent instruction “Universae Ecclesiae” on the use of the Old Missal?
A. It has reaffirmed that the Mass of all time has never been forbidden and that it cannot be prohibited. But those who don’t want to acknowledge it will continue “to muddle up all the cards.”
[Video: Assumption Mass at Vocogno, celebrated by Father Secci:]