Rorate Caeli

The Freshmen Seminarians of Fall 2022 in France: They're Choosing the Traditional Mass

The Freshmen Seminarians of Fall 2022: The Seminarians are Choosing the Traditional Mass

Jean-Pierre Maugendre
Rennaissance catholique
September 15, 2022

For the past year three Roman documents have led to converging and complementary attacks on the freedom to celebrate the traditional Roman Mass. These included, on July 16, 2021, Pope Francis' motu proprio Traditionis custodes; the August 4 response of Archbishop Roche, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, to questions posed by Cardinal Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster; and, finally, on June 29, 2022, the apostolic letter Desidero desideravi on the liturgical formation of the people of God. 

A developing traditional world

In France, these documents have had an important media impact but a modest influence on the number of traditional Masses celebrated with the approval of the bishop. The Ad majorem dei gloriam website notes, however, the suppression of 14 places of worship out of an initial total of 241, a decrease of 6%. 

While this is not a large number, it is the first time that a decrease in the number of traditional Masses celebrated under Summorum Pontificum has been observed. What is the impact of these documents on the number of priests entering seminaries, and thus, in the long run, on the evolution of the number of priests in France and their liturgical practices? Let us first note that, in 2022, according to the website of the French Bishops' Conference, 77 French secular priests were ordained, i.e., destined to be diocesan priests, to which must be added 12 other French priests: 3 for the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest (ICRSP), 3 for the Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), and 6 for the Fraternity of St. Pius X (FSSPX). These 12 French priests ordained for the traditional Mass thus represent 14% of the total number of ordinations of French secular priests. Without taking into account the 4 ordinations planned for the diocese of Toulon and postponed sine die, it should be noted that these ordinations are essentially concentrated in a few dioceses and communities: Saint Martin community: 14, Paris: 10, Vannes: 5, Versailles: 3. These figures are to be compared with a median age of priests of 75 years and an yearly death toll of between 600 and 800. 

Reality versus ideology

In this month of September 2022, what has been the impact of the Roman decisions on entries into the seminaries? The numbers speak for themselves. The communities where the traditional Mass is celebrated (ICRSP, FSSP, FSSPX, IBP - Institute of the Good Shepherd- and MMD - Missionaries of Divine Mercy) have benefited from 95 entries compared to 69 in 2021, including 38 Frenchmen. This progression is general and important for all the communities. A double movement, which could be described politically as rightward-leaning, seems to be taking place, starting from the fact that many seminarians, even diocesan ones, have in fact been more or less familiar with the traditional Mass in their families or during their personal itinerary for years (cf. the testimony of Dom Geoffroy Kemlin, the new abbot of Solesmes in La Nef No. 350).

With the motu proprio Traditionis custodes, Pope Francis has made it almost impossible for a new diocesan priest to celebrate the traditional liturgy. It is necessary to ask permission from Rome, which is always refused! Faced with this situation, a certain number of young people aspiring to the priesthood, who hoped to be able to live a form of spirituality in the dioceses, seem to have chosen the former Ecclesia Dei communities to prepare themselves for the priesthood. On the other hand, it is certain that the former Ecclesia Dei communities are under the threat of canonical visitations whose purpose would be to impose on them the "benefits" of the liturgical reform and "all that goes with it". Joining the SSPX seminaries is a radical way to protect oneself from such threats. Finally, vocations being a mystery, perhaps this is simply the divine response to the pontifical will to cut the Roman Church off from its liturgical tradition. 

In view of this encouraging situation in communities attached to the traditional Mass, the situation of the Church that Cardinal Benelli described as "conciliar" appears pathetic. In 2019 the seminaries of Bordeaux and Lille closed for lack of personnel. The French Bishops' Conference has not yet officially made public the number of students entering the first year program in 2022, but the figures will certainly not be good, with one bishop declaring modestly a few days ago: "The number of students entering the seminary is stagnating. Only the most traditional communities are doing well, even if they have adopted the conciliar reforms. Let us mention the Saint Martin community with 24 ordinations in 2021 and 14 in 2022, 24 entries in propaedeutics in 2022 and 19 in 2021. The Thomist and conservative Dominicans of Toulouse, who are religious, have 11 entrants in 2022, while there is only one, in first year, at the seminary of the rose city [Toulouse] where Abp. de Kérimel made himself conspicuous by castigating the seminarians who wore cassocks. As for the diocese of Toulon, renowned for the number of its ordinations, the only candidate in first year is sent to Aix and this year the seminary of La Castille is closed. Moreover, it is not enough to enter, one must persevere. Of the 6 students entering the first year program at the Paris seminary in 2021, only 2 will go on to the first year of philosophy, the others having taken another path, tired of having “communion” imposed on them.

Asking the right questions 

Faced with this situation, very few bishops seem to be asking themselves the question, "Perhaps we have been on the wrong track for a long time" and its corollary, "Why don't we try these traditional methods that seem to have proven themselves and that always prove effective?" On the contrary, the solution, for many, would be the advent of a Church without priests, with married deacons more or less acting as such, waiting the ordination of married men, or even women. A few months ago, a bishop recently appointed to head a diocese in the south of France announced to his presbyterate: "There are still 50% too many priests in this diocese.” But would a Church without priests still be the Catholic Church? 

[Source, en français]