Rorate Caeli

“Traditionalism: Fidelity, Resistance, Work of the Church”: Jean-Pierre Maugendre

On Saturday, September 24, 2022, a symposium on the future of the traditional Mass was held in Paris, bringing together nearly 500 participants. The great success of this event, co-organized in particular by the associations Oremus-Paix Liturgique and Renaissance Catholique, was due to the quality of the interventions and in particular that of Jean-Pierre Maugendre, President of Renaissance Catholique, a translation of which appears below.

Everything began well:

The Council that has just opened is like a resplendent dawn that is rising over the Church, and already the first rays of the rising sun are filling our hearts with sweetness. Everything here breathes holiness and brings joy. We see stars shining in the majesty of this temple, and these stars, as the Apostle John testifies (Rev 1:20), are you!

So said good Pope John in his opening address to the Council on 11 October 1962! The proposed program was biblically simple:

The Church has never ceased to oppose errors. She has even often condemned them, and very severely. But today, the Bride of Christ prefers to use the remedy of mercy, rather than brandishing the weapons of severity, she responds better to the needs of our time by emphasizing the riches of her doctrine.

The method proposed was perfectly clear:

It is necessary for [the Church] to turn to the present times, which bring with them new situations, new forms of life and open up new paths for the Catholic apostolate. It is for this reason that the Church has not remained indifferent before the admirable inventions of human genius and the progress of science, which we enjoy today, and that she has not failed to appreciate them at their true value.

These intentions, which were undoubtedly very praiseworthy in substance, led in reality to what Jacques Maritain—who was not very suspected of traditionalism, and even, if I may say so, was the “hidden imam” of the Vatican Council—called in the Peasant of the Garonne: “Kneeling before the world.”

In a few years, a heritage of many centuries was thrown down; thousand-year-old habits were forgotten, cursed, castigated, and condemned. Mrs. Michu [*the average homemaker], who had not read the Acts of the Council and had no intention of devoting ten seconds to it, observed with astonishment, in her parish:

 The abolition of the choir, that was all well and good but…
 The elimination of Latin; well, she didn’t understand anything of it, but the objective was for God to understand.
 The appearance of a table in front of the altar—it was her neighbor who had provided it!
 The celebration of the Mass facing the people, which made the celebrant turn his back to the tabernacle, which seemed incongruous to Mrs. Michu, but not to the celebrant.
 The distribution of Communion in the hand; Mrs. Michu had seen children put the host in their pocket.
 The upheaval of the calendar and the suppression of the patron saint of the parish. She learned that even St. Philomena, the favorite saint of the Curé d’Ars, had disappeared in the turmoil.
 The destruction of confessionals.
 The prohibition of kneeling.
 The suppression of Corpus Christi processions.
 The abandonment of the recitation of the Rosary.

And so on and so forth… Mrs. Michu did as another neighbor did; she decided not to go to church again, except for weddings and funerals. Her religion had been changed.

As Patrick Buisson reports in his important book La fin d’un monde, quoting a good mother, wife of a mechanic: “Religion should not change, since what we are looking for is to be sure of something.” For his part, Guillaume Cuchet notes, in conclusion of his valuable work How our world ceased to be Christian:

This rupture within Catholic preaching created a profound discontinuity in the preached and lived contents of religion on both sides of the 1960s. It is so manifest that an outside observer could legitimately wonder whether, beyond the continuity of a name and the theoretical apparatus of dogmas, it is still the same religion.

All this was imposed with an unheard-of brutality. This brutality was certainly in opposition to the official discourse on “listening, openness, dialogue, respect for others, and the acceptance of differences,” but it was necessary because all these upheavals did not in any way respond to the demands of the Catholic faithful themselves.

A survey of August 13, 1976, in the heart of the “hot summer” (so named because of the heat wave of that year but also in reference to the traditional Mass celebrated by Archbishop Lefebvre, in front of thousands of faithful, in Lille), published by the IFOP and the Progrès de Lyon, revealed the extent of the malaise. While 40% of regular churchgoers felt that the reforms initiated by Vatican II should be continued, 48% felt that the Church had gone too far in its reforms. To this figure, we must undoubtedly add the vast majority of those who had simply stopped practicing between 1965 and 1976. Even today, all the surveys conducted by the association “Paix Liturgique” confirm these opinions. Overall, today 30% of regular churchgoers would attend the traditional Mass if it were celebrated in their parish.

While it is fashionable to denounce clericalism, the years following the Council were primarily those of unbridled clericalism in keeping with what Bishop Schneider analyzed in his indispensable work Christus Vincit: “The ‘Vatican II’ phenomenon appears to be an enormous spectacle of clerical triumphalism.” The departure of Madame Michu from her parish did not upset her parish priest; certainly it was upsetting for the collection basket, but he had well assimilated the postulate “a thousand times repeated, that the evangelization of those who were far away could be done only after the eviction of all those who were falsely close,” according to the luminous synopsis of Patrick Buisson. As a bishop quoted in Jean Madiran’s review Itinéraires wrote: “The Church is moving from a sociological Christianity to an authentic Christianity.”

Traditionalism is first of all that: a fidelity to beliefs, habits, behaviors on which the post-conciliar years claimed to sound the death-knell. For centuries, the life of the French countryside had been punctuated by the Church: think of the Angelus of Miletus, the processions of the Rogations, public prayers to attract God’s blessings to the earth. The world had changed. Let us quote Bishop Paul-Joseph Schmitt, then bishop of Metz: “The transformation of civilization through which we are living entails changes not only in our external behavior but in the very conception we have of creation as well as of the Salvation brought by Jesus Christ” (L’hérésie du XXème siècle, Jean Madiran, p. 130). This is manifested in the words of a 1969 episcopal report: “To the scandal or laughter of modern man, a part (actually more and more reduced) of our liturgy continues to ask of God what the peasant asks of fertilizer: a cosmic Salvation which makes God the substitute for our insufficiencies” (quoted by Rémi Fontaine in Présent 7726, November 10, 2012). Is this not confusing and opposing the first cause and the secondary causes?

The Church was no longer the unique ark of Salvation; it was only a means “for man to become fully man,” “an expert in humanity,” in the words of Paul VI. The “tragedy” was that this turn to man did not seem to arouse the enthusiasm of political decision-makers.

Quite logically, this revolution against tradition aroused resistance. Some priests refused to celebrate the new Ordo Missae, arguing that the bull Quo Primum of Saint Pius V and its perpetual permission were the basis for their theological doubts, in line with the Brief Critical Study of the New Ordo Missae by Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci. All over France, lay people gathered, supporting the priests who continued to celebrate Mass according to the “usus antiquior.” Let us mention, in my native Brittany, Doctor Pacreau in Brest, Professor Lozachmeur in Rennes. Salons, auditoriums, sports halls, the Wagram hall in Paris, welcomed a growing number of disoriented, bruised, wounded faithful, eager to remain faithful to the liturgy that had sanctified their fathers. Some priests remained faithful to the Mass of their ordination or returned to it after a few years of reformed practice. Let us mention Monseigneur Ducaud-Bourget, Father Reynaud, Father Calmel (O.P.), Father Marziac, Father Réveilhac, Father Montgomery, Father Sulmont, Canon Porta, Canon Roussel, etc.

An intellectual resistance arose: let us mention the articles of Father Bruckberger (O.P.) in L’Aurore, those of Louis Salleron in Carrefour and his book La Nouvelle Messe. Overlooking everything, the review Itinéraires, founded in 1956, recalls, in the sparkling and precise style of Jean Madiran, the reasons for this resistance:

Christian children are no longer educated but degraded by the methods, practices, and ideologies that now prevail most often in ecclesiastical society. The innovations which are imposed in this society, rightly or wrongly claiming to be based on the last Council, and which consist in delaying and diminishing the instruction of revealed truths, and in advancing and increasing the revelation of sexuality and its spells, are creating a generation of apostates and savages throughout the world, each day better prepared to kill each other blindly. (“Fundamental Declaration of the Magazine Itinéraires”)

These lines have not aged a bit. They underlie a reclaiming that is still relevant today, as it was written in the book of the same name:

It is clear that the Christian people as a whole and the Catholic clergy can hardly spontaneously have the courage or the discernment to keep Sacred Scripture, the Roman Catechism, and the Catholic Mass; they cannot have the courage or the discernment to keep them at all costs at the center of the education of children. For them to have this discernment and courage, they must be positively and sufficiently encouraged by the spiritual authority that God has established for this purpose. That is why, turning to the leaders of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, we make an uninterrupted complaint: Give us back the Scriptures, the Catechism, and the Mass! We are on our knees before the Successors of the Apostles, kneeling as free men (as Péguy said), begging them and calling on them for the salvation of their souls and for the salvation of their people. Let them give back to the Christian people the Word of God, the Roman Catechism and the Catholic Mass. Until they do so, they are as good as dead. We ask them for our daily bread and they keep throwing stones at us. But these very stones cry out against them to heaven: Give us back the Holy Scriptures, the Roman Catechism, and the Catholic Mass! When the men of the Church do not want to hear it, we cry out our reclamation to earth and heaven, to the angels and to God!

While this claim, first made in 1972, was not fully acted upon, it is undeniable that little by little what must be called the ban on the celebration of the Mass was lifted—until the publication of the ill-fated motu proprio Traditionis Custodes on July 16, 2021.

However, traditionalist resistance quickly crystallized around a prestigious prelate, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, former Archbishop of Dakar, Apostolic Delegate for French Africa, Superior General of the Fathers of the Holy Spirit, founder in 1970 of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X, and of the International Seminary of Ecône. At a time when no priest was being trained to celebrate the traditional Mass, except for the seminary of Monsignor de Castro Mayer in Campos, Brazil, Monsignor Lefebvre carried the hopes and expectations of the traditional world. He was thus, for years, the only bishop to train and ordain priests for the traditional Mass, which quickly got him in trouble with the Roman authorities, from the declaration of November 21, 1974, to the consecrations without a pontifical mandate of 1988, passing through the “suspens a divinis” of 1976.

This declaration of 1974 is one of the founding acts of the traditionalist resistance:

We adhere with all our heart and soul to Catholic Rome, guardian of the Catholic faith and of the traditions necessary for the maintenance of this faith, to eternal Rome, teacher of wisdom and truth. On the other hand, we refuse and have always refused to follow the Rome of neo-modernist and neo-Protestant tendencies, which was clearly manifested in the Second Vatican Council and after the Council in all the reforms that followed. All these reforms, in fact, have contributed and still contribute to the demolition of the Church, to the ruin of the priesthood, to the annihilation of the sacrifice and the sacraments, to the disappearance of religious life, to a naturalist and Teilhardian teaching in universities, seminaries, catechesis, teachings stemming from liberalism and Protestantism, condemned many times by the solemn magisterium of the Church. No authority, not even the highest in the hierarchy, can compel us to abandon or diminish our Catholic faith, clearly expressed and professed by the Church’s magisterium for nineteen centuries.

Archbishop Lefebvre was not a party man: he responded to requests for priests made to him by the laity; he supported religious communities whose founders or foundresses refused, in conscience, the new liturgy, the new catechism, and the “refoundation” of the constitutions of their community in the conciliar sense desired by the decree Perfectae Caritatis. Let us mention here Dom Gérard Calvet, founder of the Benedictine abbey of Le Barroux; Father Eugène de Villeurbanne, founder of the Capuchins of Strict Observance, whose mother house is today in Morgon; Mother Hélène Jamet, who with the help of Father Calmel maintains the traditions of the Dominican Sisters of the Holy Name of Jesus in Brignoles; Mother Anne-Marie Simoulin, who came from the same congregation and settled in Fanjeaux; Mother Elisabeth de La Londe, founder of the Benedictine abbey of Le Barroux; Mother Gertrude de Maissin, founder of the Benedictine abbey located today in Perdechat, and so forth.

In this context, an apostolic movement emerged, the MJCF (Mouvement de la Jeunesse Catholique de France), a true nursery of leaders and a school for the executives of the Tradition from which were born multiple Christian homes, a bishop, several abbots or superiors of religious communities (Le Barroux, Lagrasse, Morgon, the Missionaries of Divine Mercy), several Mother Abbesses or superiors of female religious communities (Le Barroux, Perdechat...). New religious communities emerged: the Fraternity of the Transfiguration in Mérigny, under the aegis of Father Bernard Lecareux; two Dominican communities: the Fraternity of Saint Dominique in Avrillé, originally made up of members of the MJCF, and the Fraternity of Saint Vincent Ferrier in Chéméré-Le-Roi with Father de Blignières and Father Guérard des Lauriers (O.P.).

From 1983, on the initiative of the Henri and André Charlier Center, a pilgrimage drew ever larger crowds at Pentecost from Notre-Dame de Paris to Notre-Dame de Chartres, in the footsteps of Charles Péguy. The message around which all are united could be summarized as follows: “Let us practice the religion of our fathers. Let us experience Tradition. Moreover, wherever it is allowed to flourish, this experience proves conclusive.”

Guillaume Cuchet, who is not to be suspected of traditionalism since he is a member of the editorial board of the Jesuit review Etudes, honestly observes:

This departure from the culture of duty and obligation—a path on which the Church has preceded, in many respects, the civil world, especially the school and educational world—is a fundamental event on which it would be appropriate to ponder. In families and environments where this culture has been both maintained and modernized, transmission rates [of the Faith] have often been better.

Today, traditional communities represent 12–15% of priestly ordinations in France, well beyond the numerical weight of “trads” in the Catholic demographics in France. The traditional world as a whole is young and missionary. Young because of the large families that are formed there—“these Catholic families with their blond children,” nicely mocked by Fabrice Luchini in the film Alceste à bicyclette. Young, because conversions are numerous, attracted by the triptych: “Transcendence, excellence, coherence.”

Why does the ecclesiastical hierarchy persist in such a blatant denial of reality in the face of such facts? A mystery! A mystery that we can, however, force ourselves to illuminate in the light of two particularly penetrating analyses. As Paul Vigneron wrote in Les crises du clergé français contemporain, as early as 1976:

It is not a question of being content to say, like an emperor appalled by four years of atrocious war: “We did not want this!” We must have the courage to ask ourselves the inevitable question: Here are 30 years during which we have been making “experiments,” apostolic or otherwise; in which we have gone, without ever managing to find them, in search of new methods of prayer and discipline. After so many attempts, will we dare, at last, to risk one last one? Simply and loyally to try those methods of apostolate and spirituality that we had rejected, perhaps with temerity, some thirty years before? And if, by chance, these methods, which have proved their worth, were to succeed—who knows!—in giving us back the joy of heart that we have lost, if they filled our seminaries again, which have become almost deserted, if they gave back to our preaching and to our life that strength that only consecrated witnesses possess—would we dare to admit at last that we were mistaken?
          But here, precisely, is the hardest word to pronounce! After Christ’s arrest, some of the apostles denied Him because they feared for their own lives. Today, it is much more than their lives that are at risk for those who have adhered—sometimes enthusiastically and without necessarily seeing the pernicious character thereof—to the innovative tendencies that appeared around 1945. They have now reached the age of influence and, sometimes, of high responsibility. It is their self-esteem that should be sacrificed by saying humbly: “Yes, perhaps we have been wrong for a long time!” Courageous men can, like the first apostles after their falling-away, finally sacrifice their lives to God… but can self-love?

Pierre Chaunu, the famous Protestant historian, wrote, for his part, in the conclusion of his work, published in 1975, De l’histoire à la prospective:

Before the quantitative drying up of recruitment, it is an intellectual and spiritual drying up of vocations that has affected the Church in France since roughly 1930. The intellectual and spiritual mediocrity of the leaders in place in the Western churches at the beginning of the 1970s is distressing. An important part of the clergy of France constitutes today a social, intellectual, moral, and spiritual sub-proletariat; of the great tradition of the Church this fraction has often kept only its clericalism, intolerance, and fanaticism. These men reject a heritage that crushes them, because they are intellectually incapable of understanding it and spiritually incapable of living it.

This reference to the ecclesiastical hierarchy is one of the major characteristics of the traditionalist movement. The consecrations of 1988 divided this world into two components united by the same faith, the practice of the same sacraments, the same will not to break from the hierarchical structure of divine right of the Church, the same concern for the social Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

A traditionalist “ecosystem” has been built, with its places of worship, its publications, its gatherings, its schools, its pilgrimages, etc. The risk would then be to sink into a communitarianism turned in on itself, oblivious to the issues of the universal Church. To make Tradition a dead star, similar to what Russian Orthodoxy has become, of which Father Martin Jugie wrote in his work on Joseph de Maistre and the Greek-Russian Church: “For many centuries, the East has become accustomed to considering revealed doctrine as a treasure to be guarded, not as a treasure to be exploited; as a collection of immutable formulas, not as a living and infinitely rich truth that the spirit of the believer seeks to understand and assimilate ever better.” Joseph de Maistre, in his work On the Pope, observed: “All these churches separated from the Holy See, at the time of the twelfth century, can be compared to frozen corpses whose forms the cold has preserved.”

A fertile warning for those who might forget that the fight for Tradition is first and foremost a work of the Church. If the Church does not begin with Vatican II, neither does it take refuge, from Vatican II onwards, in structures that would be foreign to the visible and God-willed organization of the Church: the pope and the bishops. It is a great mystery, with sometimes terrible dilemmas! It is a call to allow ourselves to be guided by St. Gregory of Nyssa: “The right way is the way of the mountains.” Reminder that according to Emile Poulat: “The history of the Church is not a resting place of Corpus Christi.” If churchmen today appear occupied by a worldliness that is foreign to the Church, there is nevertheless only one Church whose seat is in Rome and whose head is the pope. The major drama of our time is that the same Church distributes to us, through the same channels and sometimes at the same time, not only the means and the words of Salvation but also insipid and insignificant words, sentimental and philanthropic, without vigor for good nor vigor against evil. Disfigured, sometimes too human or worldly, neither frankly Catholic and anti-modernist nor frankly modernist and anti-Catholic, the Church remains the Church, the only Ark of Salvation.

The difficulties of the present time should not be a reason for discouragement, quite the contrary. If our elders might once have feared that the thread of our liturgical and doctrinal tradition would be broken altogether, our situation is no longer that one. We know that the future belongs to us because, through Tradition, we are linked to the Apostles themselves and thus to Christ. Fashions come and go. The Cross of Christ continues to protect us and enlighten us with its outstretched arms.

Finally, in this struggle, for it is a struggle—indeed, all of Christian life is a struggle—we will keep in mind the precious advice of Father Calmel, intrepid defender of the traditional Mass: “Let us be witnesses to the faith, as were our brothers, the martyrs of the first centuries in the midst of violent persecution. They showed themselves to be not only strong and courageous, but also gentle and patient, and this because their souls were ardent with charity.”

Translated from Paix Liturgique, letter 889, October 11, 2022.