Rorate Caeli

"As a Historian, I Believe That the Traditional Latin Liturgy Will Not Disappear" - Catholic Historian Yves Chiron presents his "History of the Traditionalists"

French journal La Nef published an interview with Yves Chiron on the occasion of the publication of his book dedicated to the Traditionalists (Histoire des traditionalistes, Tallandier). Below are the main excerpts published at Le Forum Catholique.

Where do traditionalists come from, who are they, and what do they defend?

Yves Chiron - The term "traditionalists" appears in the Magisterium with the Letter on the Sillon of Saint Pius X, in 1910 [Notre charge apostolique]. The Pope affirmed: "the true friends of the people are neither revolutionaries nor innovators but traditionalists. The term had already existed for several decades. Émile Poulat drew attention to a specific current: the Catholic counter-revolution, that is to say, Catholics (priests, bishops or laity) who, throughout the 19th century and into the 20th century, were hostile to the Revolution and its aftermath, not primarily out of nostalgia for the king, but out of a rejection of the principles of 1789. The Catholic counter-revolutionaries were hostile to intellectual and moral liberalism, so naturally they became anti-modernist, anti-progressive, etc. (...)

In what way does the Second Vatican Council really mark the development of the traditionalist trend?

Traditionalism predates the Second Vatican Council, whether we refer to Father Luc Lefèvre's Pensée catholique and Jean Ousset's Cité catholique, which were born in the post-war period, or to the struggles that Father Georges de Nantes began in the 1950s. But the Second Vatican Council was a catalyst. It was more what I have called the "peri-council" (what was said and written before, during and after the council) and certain applications of the council that were initially contested than the texts of the council themselves. From that time on, and even more so afterwards, and up to the present day, there is no united front of traditionalists against the Council. The Abbé de Nantes, through his criticism of MASDU [Rorate: the theory of the Church as defined by Paul VI as supposedly a Movement for the Spiritual Animation of Universal Democracy, abbreviated to MASDU in French], was probably the first, along with the sedevacantists (originated in Mexico), to reject the entire Council. On the other hand, from the time of the Council, some - La Pensée Catholique, for example - sought to defend the orthodoxy and legitimacy of the officially promulgated texts against the interpretation and application that was being made of them. (...)

Archbishop Lefebvre and the Society of St. Pius X (FSPX) will quickly polarize attention: why does he enter the battle and come to hold increasingly extreme statements and positions against the Mass, the Council, the Pope himself...?

During the Council, Archbishop Lefebvre was one of the leaders of what was called the "minority", that is, those who, mainly through the Coetus Internationalis Patrum (CIP), militated for doctrinal reaffirmations or the condemnation of various errors in the face of ambiguous texts or proposals that were too bold. But he did not publicly question the Council until several years later.

On the liturgical reform, too, he did not immediately take a hostile position. During the consultation of the episcopate before the Council, in 1959, he was in favor of "a widening of the possibility of celebrating Mass in the evening". Later, during the first implementations of the liturgical reform, he was not hostile to the introduction of the vernacular in certain parts of the Mass, but even in January 1964 he was alarmed by "the most improbable initiatives" and he was indignant that in many churches "the liturgical rules are being violated with impunity.

Didn't Archbishop Lefebvre's radical positions make the break with Rome in 1988 inevitable?

Between 1965 - the end of the Council - and 1988 - the date of his decision to consecrate bishops without the consent of Rome - more than twenty years had passed. The Second Vatican Council did not immediately bear the fruits that many had hoped for; Paul VI himself was saddened by this and publicly regretted it on several occasions. The crisis in the Church, which had begun before the Council, was at its height in the 1970s. There was, so to speak, a parallel radicalization of Archbishop Lefebvre. And he did not give credit to the restoration that Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger attempted afterwards (the "Ratzinger plan" in 1982, the conferences on the catechism in 1983, the Ratzinger Report in 1985, etc.). His opponents will say that in 1988 Archbishop Lefebvre had lost "the sense of the Church", one can say, at the very least, that he no longer had confidence in Rome. (...)

How do you analyze the motu proprio Traditionis custodes, does it mark a rupture on the traditionalist question?

This motu proprio was a thunderbolt in a calm sky, even if in the preceding months an inquiry had raised concerns. What was also surprising was that decisions were taken without prior consultation with the institutes, abbeys, and parish communities concerned. But has a new liturgical war been started? Much will depend on the bishops. We could already make a first assessment, country by country, if not diocese by diocese. Where have there been suppressions, where is there a status quo? On the other hand, the obligation (even if occasional) of concelebration is once again being requested. And another element of concern: priestly ordinations with the traditional ritual. The question will be posed in an acute way in the coming months.

Do you think that Traditionis custodes and the Responsa of last December could create a new "Lefebvre affair"?

The decisions contained in Traditionis custodes, aggravated by the Responsa, are confusing. I do not believe in the emergence of a new "Lefebvre affair" because traditionalism today does not have a single leader as it did in 1976-1988 (even though Archbishop Lefebvre denied that label). The different institutes and communities have different practices in liturgical matters. For example, three institutes (the Fraternity of St. Peter, the Fraternity of St. Vincent-Ferrier, and the Institute of the Good Shepherd) refuse any concelebration according to the new rite, while the other institutes and communities accept it in certain circumstances.

Nor is there a common front among the bishops against the traditional Mass. In Marseilles, for example, after the Pope's motu proprio and the Responsa of the Congregation for Divine Worship, the archbishop of the diocese, Mgr. Aveline, who certainly does not pass for a "Trad", came to celebrate the traditional Mass pontifically in the parish entrusted to the Missionaries of Divine Mercy, last February 9, on the solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord.

If you had to make a positive/negative assessment of the traditionalists, what would you put on each of the plates of the scale and which one would win?

It would be impossible, and even presumptuous, to make such a balance. A historian is not a judge or an arbitrator. At most, he can try to be rigorous in his search for information and in the picture he paints. In the History of the Traditionalists that I have reconstructed (also including a biographical dictionary that includes a hundred or so detailed entries), I was struck by the importance of the role of the laity, the diversity of the careers of priests or religious and the evolution of some. There was courage, heroism at times, also obstinacy, in some cases rigidity to the point of blindness. But, as a historian, I believe that the traditional Latin liturgy will not disappear and that the interpretations of Vatican II will remain divergent. I like very much this definition of Jean Madiran which sounded like a warning: "The 'traditionalist' is not, it cannot be, either a party, or an army, or a Church; it is a state of mind. And, of course, a behavior. A professio and a devotio."