Rorate Caeli

A man worthy of remembrance

Exactly 15 years ago today, Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer died in Campos, Brazil, one month after the death of his greatest ally. Regardless of one's opinion of some events of his life, especially the dramatic events which led to his position of co-consecrator in the Consecrations of 1988, it is a duty of justice to acknowledge his life and deeds.

Very few bishops were as faithful as he was in the implementation of the encyclicals of Pope Pius XII and of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, which he attended. His pastoral letters on the liturgy and on the problems of the modern apostolate (based on Mediator Dei and Humani Generis), on the correct interpretation of the documents of Vatican II (to which he dedicated true masterpieces of what could be currently called "the hermeneutics of continuity"), and on all great matters of his age* are texts of great clarity and doctrinal purity.

He could not, though, in good conscience, accept the new Mass as binding. In September 1969, he sent a heartfelt letter to Pope Paul:

Most Holy Father,

After close examination of the Novus Ordo Missae, which will enter into use on November 30 next, and after having prayed and reflected considerably, I consider that it is my duty, as a Catholic priest and bishop, to lay before Your Holiness my anguish of conscience, and to formulate, with the piety and confidence that a son owes to the Vicar of Christ, the following request.

The Novus Ordo Missae shows, by its omissions, and by the changes that it has brought to the Ordinary of the Mass, as well as by a good number of the general rules that describe the understanding and nature of the new Missal in its essential points, that it does not express, as it ought to do the theology of the Holy Sacrifice as established by the Holy Council of Trent in its XXII session. The teaching of the simple catechism cannot overcome this fact. ...

The pastoral reasons that could, perhaps, be invoked, initially, in favor of the new structure of the Mass, cannot make us forget the doctrinal arguments that point in the opposite direction. Furthermore, they do not seem to be reasonable. The changes that prepared the Novus Ordo have not helped to bring about an increase in the Faith and the piety of the faithful. On the contrary, they remain very disturbed, with a confusion that the Novus Ordo has increased, for it has encouraged the idea that nothing is unchangeable in the Holy Church, not even the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Moreover, ... the Novus Ordo not only fails to inspire fervor, but to the contrary, diminishes the Faith in central truths of the Catholic life, such as the Real Presence of Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament, the reality of the propitiatory Sacrifice, the hierarchical Priesthood.

I hereby accomplish an imperious duty of conscience by demanding, humbly and respectfully, that Your Holiness might deign, by a positive act that eliminates every doubt, to authorize us to continue using the Ordo Missae of Saint Pius V, whose effectiveness in bringing about the propagation of Holy Church and an increase in the fervor of priests and faithful has been proven, as Your Holiness reminded us with so much unction.

I am convinced that Your Holiness’ fatherly kindness will bring to an end the perplexities that have risen in my heart of a priest and bishop.

Prostrate at Your Holiness’ feet, in humble obedience and filial piety, I implore your Apostolic Benediction.

+ Antonio de Castro Mayer
Bishop of Campos, Brazil

It is touching to read words of such filial obedience! The letter was never answered, and the Holy See never took any action against him until he reached the age limit, in 1981, and so Dom Antonio, as he was called by his priests and faithful (in the Portuguese tradition), together with his priests, continued to celebrate the Mass and Sacraments according to the Traditional Rites -- though he never forced any of his priests to celebrate the Traditional Mass; they could freely celebrate the new Mass if they wished to do so.

The tragic events and episodes of persecution of Traditionalist priests and faithful in Campos which would follow the resignation of Castro Mayer from the episcopate, upon having reached the age limit, in 1981, are well known.

In 2001-2002, the justice of his efforts would be recognized by the Holy See, which acknowledged the strength of the movement in Campos, as well as the fact that a parallel "church" had never been the intention of those Traditionalists, and established the Apostolic Administration of Saint John Mary Vianney. Though many disagree with the decision of Bishop Licinio Rangel (successor to Castro Mayer in the leadership of the movement and consecrated after the latter's death by one of those co-consecrated by him in 1988) and the priests of Campos, in 2001, to reach a reconciliation with Rome, the Campos situation was peculiar and demanded a peculiar solution, as Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos explained in 2005. This peculiar situation, however, established a precious precedent (God moves in mysterious ways!).

He died in 1991, but his struggle was eventually recognized as just. He lived and died for the faith he received.
*Those who understand Portuguese or Spanish may read some of his writings in the website of the Apostolic Administration (here). Several of his texts are also available in English, including his "Pastoral Letter on the Problems of the Modern Apostolate", first published in the 1950s.


  1. I don't see how Rome eventually saw his struggle as just.Defending and continuing to celebrate Mass in the ancient rite (as did St.Jose Maria Escriva) is one thing disobedience to the Sovereign Pontiff is another.

  2. The Apostolic Administration of Saint John Mary Vianney is, in my modest opinion, a very clear sign of such recognition. If it had been offered in the ten years which followed his resignation, it would probably never have forced him to participate in the events of 1988.

    Without the consecrations of 1988, there would have been no bishop to consecrate Licinio Rangel, who would sign the 2001-2002 agreements. Without a local bishop, there would never have been an Apostolic Administration. This is a mere historical assessment.

    It certainly does not mean that Rome regarded the 1988 consecrations as just in themselves, but that Castro Mayer's life struggle was vindicated (this is historically and logically undeniable).

  3. Let us not forget that the Laity and Clergy and Religous of Campos were persecuted openly under Pope John Paul II, who appointed a Bishop to suceed this saintly Father of the Council, for this precise purpose: to marginalize and vilify Tradition. He did and said nothing to defend him before his death in 1991. Both were council fathers; but they were two very different kinds of men.

  4. It is a beautiful letter, indeed.

  5. Thank you Bishop Mayer for your fight to preserve the Catholic Faith.


Comment boxes are debate forums for readers and contributors of RORATE CÆLI.

Please, DO NOT assume that RORATE CÆLI contributors or moderators necessarily agree with or otherwise endorse any particular comment just because they let it stand.


(1) This is our living room, in a deeply Catholic house, and you are our guest. Please, behave accordingly. Any comment may be blocked or deleted, at any time, whenever we perceive anything that is not up to our standards, not conducive to a healthy conversation or a healthy Catholic environment, or simply not to our liking.

(2) By clicking on the "publish your comment" button, please remain aware that you are choosing to make your comment public - that is, the comment box is not to be used for private and confidential correspondence with contributors and moderators.

(3) Any name/ pseudonym/ denomination may be freely used simply by choosing the third option, "Name/URL" (the URL box may be left empty), when posting your comment - therefore, there is no reason whatsoever to simply post as "Anonymous", making debate unnecessarily harder to follow. Any comment signed simply as "Anonymous" will be blocked.

Thank you!