The Church has been in a crisis since Vatican II because the priesthood has been slighted. This is one of the fundamental elements of this crisis. One of the most decisive points for the Church’s restoration is and will be the priesthood. Of all the churchmen of the 20th century, Archbishop Lefebvre was probably the one who understood this most clearly.
“By celebrating the old Mass, I discovered what the priest is.”
Several times lately we have received this moving testimony from priests who are getting to know us. This short sentence sums up the essence of the profound mystery that has struck the Church:
The Church has been in a crisis since Vatican II because the priesthood has been slighted. This is one of the fundamental elements of this crisis.
One of the most decisive points for the Church’s restoration is and will be the priesthood. Of all the churchmen of the 20th century, Archbishop Lefebvre was probably the one who understood this most clearly.I
n founding the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X, he sought nothing but the restoration of the priesthood for the sake of restoring the entire Church, and to do this by re-establishing the intimate, unimaginably profound link that exists between the priest and the Mass.
The priest was the forgotten man of Vatican II, as Fathers of the Council have frankly admitted. In the Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, while entire chapters were dedicated to the bishops and especially to the laity, one of the great “discoveries” of Vatican II, only a few paragraphs refer to the priest, and when they do it is to subordinate him to the bishops or to the universal priesthood of the baptized.
As early as 1971, the International Theological Commission would say: “Vatican II modified the image of the priest in two regards. The Council treated of the common priesthood of all the faithful before treating of the ministerial priesthood…. Moreover, it highlighted the place of the bishop, the center of each particular Church and member of the universal college of bishops. The place of the priest in the Church became blurred.”
Loss of identity, an uncertain place in the Church…and yet the decree Presbyterorum Ordinis gives the same definition of the priesthood as the Council of Trent! But the context is such that another idea is put forward, that of the priest as preacher, as Martin Luther would have it, and not the priest as the one who offers the Sacrifice. This would lead Fr. Olivier, a recognized expert on the subject, to say about the crisis that befell the priesthood after the Council: “The real problem is so unusual in Catholicism that one can easily understand the instinctive blindness that has allowed a perception of the cause to be avoided: the will to be faithful to two Councils that completely diverge from each other is simply impossible.”
To this new presentation of the priesthood, a new Mass with an intentionally Protestant savor corresponds perfectly… The conjunction of these two elements, the definition of the priesthood and the new Mass, have sufficed to provoke the most severe crisis touching the priesthood in the Church’s entire history.
Let us say it quite simply: the priesthood has been cleverly denatured. The “president” (præesse), the “preacher” (prædicare) are indeed sacerdotal roles, but they are not the essential: this belongs to the “sacrificare” (the “sacrificer”).
Insofar as the priest has not understood that his reason for being is sacrifice, that his ordination ordains him for the offering of sacrifice, the sacrifice of Our Lord on the cross, the priest will not truly know what he is or who he is. The priest without the Mass, without sacrifice, is an eye that sees not, an ear that hears not, feet that do not walk.
The Church’s enemy will never better succeed in striking her heart; for the heart of the Church, that which communicates supernatural life to the entire Mystical Body, that which diffuses life throughout the whole organism, is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. For a Mass protestantized in the name of ecumenism, according to Bugnini’s very words, a corresponding priesthood was required…
The priests we quoted at the beginning of this letter have understood this in a lightening flash when they came in contact with the traditional Mass. And then, they tell me, they are both frustrated and happy. Frustrated, because “they” hid from them this treasure, they deprived them of it. Happy, inundated with happiness, at understanding the extraordinary grandeur of their vocation, the thrilling reality of their participation in the priesthood of Our Lord Jesus Christ “in persona Christi.” The priest is associated, immersed even, in the sacrificial act of Our Lord, Sovereign Priest, and he thus participates with his whole being, which he surrenders to Jesus, priest and victim, for the salvation of souls, for the redemptive act. All of this was made away with in the New Mass.
Poor priests who know not what they are!
Very dear faithful, we do not doubt that you rejoice with us when priests discover what they are. These are beautiful victories over the crisis in the Church, strongholds and citadels reconquered for the Church Militant, joining ranks with the new priests Divine Providence gives us every year. This year there will be seventeen, ten in this month of June, and seven in December. In such occurrences, we see accomplished in a tangible way one of the goals of our Society, whose end is the priesthood and everything related to it.
It should be the constant concern of the superiors to maintain among the members a lively will to accomplish and to reach this end. As in every society, from time to time it is necessary to stop and examine the road traveled, to verify if and how the end of the society is being pursued, and to consider the state of its members. This work is done particularly during the course of the “Chapter,” an assembly which for us, the SSPX, meets every twelve years. It is also on this occasion that the capitulants, numbering forty, elect the Superior General, who will lead the Society, assisted by his council, for the next twelve years.
We have no need to insist upon the importance of such an event for our Society. During the six months preceding the Chapter, our Statutes command us to offer prayers to obtain from Divine Mercy His grace, His light, and the help of the Holy Ghost.
We invite you to join our prayers and sacrifices by a novena, and if you can, by a day of fasting. The novena will commence on July 2. It consists of the prayer of the Veni Sancti Spiritus three invocations to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and one to St. Pius X. The day of fasting has been set for Friday, July 7.
Please receive our warmest thanks for your most touching and faithful generosity, without which the Society would not have the means to develop and to grow, a growth that is somewhat miraculous… We count on your prayers, and ask Our Lady to obtain for you by her intercession all the graces and spiritual support you need.
May God bless you abundantly.
† Bernard Fellay
The Feast of Pentecost
4 June 2006
 The Priestly Ministry [French] (Paris: Cerf, 1971).
 Daniel Olivier, The Two Faces of the Priest [French] (Paris: Fayard, 1971), p. 106.