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"The Treasure of the Church must once again belong to everyone!"

A commentary on Bishop Fellay's Paris Conference

By Francesco Colafemmina

Mr. Colafemmina is a noted Italian journalist. His article first appeared in Italian on his blog, fidesetforma, titled:
"Il Tesoro della Chiesa deve Tornare ad essere di tutti!" Mons. Fellay Chiude il Congresso Di Parigi

Francesco Colafemmina

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The conference of the Society of St. Pius X organized in Paris by Le Courrier de Rome has just ended. And the last words pronounced were those of Bishop Fellay, General Superior of the Society. That is where I would like to begin to describe for you what happened during these past days. Bishop Fellay is a man with astounding oratorical gifts, but above all he is a man of authentic faith. What is the Priestly Society of St. Pius X? What is its charism? His Excellency, citing St. Paul’s expression, “fides ex auditu” [“faith comes from hearing,” Romans 10:17], explained the meaning of faith in the Incarnate Word transmitted through the presence of the Incarnate Word, His “epiphany” or manifestation in the world. Man returns to God through God. And the Society’s charism consists of “restoring” Catholicism, discovering the faith hidden by the incrustations and errors of modernity so as to lead souls back to God. A charism, therefore, that is concentrated on faith and the salvation of souls. But that means being authentically Catholic!

And here I would like to make the first point that struck me immediately during those three days in Paris: the life of the Society that is somewhat disdainfully called “Lefebvrite” does not depend on the memory of its charismatic founder or on devotion to him. Archbishop Lefebvre is remembered lovingly, passionately, but not with the obsessive and profuse veneration that is typical of various Catholic movements and organizations. And of course Bishop Fellay is not the object of a cult of personality either. One finds among the thousands of lay people and the many priests of the SSPX the filial respect that is due to one’s own Bishop, yet the Society is nothing but an authentic Catholic community. There is no need for other adjectives. Not even the adjective “traditionalist”, because the distinctive features of the Society are its ties to the Church and its identification with her, and the Church is essentially Tradition. The Council is a moment of the Church, an important moment, certainly, but a debatable one. And in the name of the debatable character of the Council, the Society of St. Pius X resolved to preserve in its entirety, even at the cost of very great sacrifices, the theology, liturgy, ecclesiology and morality that constitute the essence of Catholicism. In this sense it is worth noting a detail that came to light during the talk by Bishop Fellay: one important factor that prompted Archbishop Lefebvre to ordain four bishops in 1988 was the meeting in Assisi that had taken place two years earlier.

Consequently Bishop Fellay was not able to hide his concern about the event in Assisi scheduled for 2011, which Pope Benedict announced several days ago: “I felt a shiver run down my spine. Then they try to deny what happened the first time.” He went on to say that the first time Catholic churches were made available for the cultic practices of other religions, which went so far as the sacrilegious act of placing a Buddha on a tabernacle! This time it appears that there is a plan to make available several rooms in the Friary, after removing the crucifixes as a matter of principle! Bishop Fellay commented, “That is madness! In that way they are eliminating the means by which mankind was redeemed!” Bishop Fellay was struck in particular by one word in the talk that Pope Benedict XVI gave to announce the 2011 Meeting. It is the word “faith”. The word itself, of course, is not perplexing, but rather its context. Indeed, during his Angelus message on January 1, 2011, the Pope said that he will go to Assisi “to commemorate the historical action desired by my Predecessor and to solemnly renew the commitment of believers of every religion to live their own religious faith as a service to the cause of peace.”

Is it possible to speak about other “religious faiths”? Faith in fact is a theological virtue which a Catholic receives at baptism through the grace of God. But can “the same term be used for different circumstances”? Only a Catholic has faith. The non-Catholic believes in his own divinity but one cannot use the term faith to describe his adherence to his own religion: “One thereby runs the risk of confusing completely different things.” For Bishop Fellay, Assisi is “a symbol” and “even if one corrects it [this symbol], one does not eliminate it.” Its evocative force would therefore remain. How then could Assisi have a Catholic meaning? “The Vicar of Christ would have to say: ‘There is only one God, and that is Jesus Christ; convert!’ Then Assisi would go well!” And with a bemused smile, perhaps aware that that will never happen, Bishop Fellay went on to describe what the Society of St. Pius X can do for the Church today. And he did so with specific reference to Italy, a nation in which there has never been a strong presence of “traditionalists” but which today is remarkably interested in the revival of Tradition. Bishop Fellay sees the risk of an excessive concentration on ritual, on the ancient liturgy which—in my opinion—leads only to an empty aestheticism that damages “traditional Catholicism”, which is not just ritual observance but authentic Catholic life. Therefore he decided to tell about a meeting with around thirty Italian diocesan priests who have contacted the Society. Yes, thirty diocesan priests—the number itself is big news!

Bishop Fellay asked them the question: What do you expect from the Society of St. Pius X? Aside from a few who asked “to learn to celebrate the old rite”, the majority replied, “We are looking for DOCTRINE.” That brought him to the representative case of an Italian Vicar General who said to one of the members of the SSPX, “I began to read the catechism of St. Pius X; well, I admit that I would not be able to answer those questions … because no one ever taught me to do so!” Bishop Fellay added that these admissions by the priests are sad: “They didn’t teach us anything!” It is as though many of them, despite their university degrees and years of study, had been equipped with useless doctrinal tools, with containers but not with Catholic content. That is why all of them, almost instinctively, crave the teaching of St. Thomas!

And at that point Fellay added a comment that he had already made to me personally the previous day as we were chatting about sacred art. I told His Excellency that the faithful immediately recognize something beautiful and Catholic and love it right away, even after decades during which they became accustomed to what is ugly and shapeless. And he said to me, “But that comes from Baptism. It is in Baptism that our Lord gives us the Faith; we become Catholics, and even years later, without ever having seen the old Mass, even after having seen ugly works of art, when we see beautiful ones that are in keeping with Tradition, when we attend that old Mass, it is as though a light suddenly goes on and we recognize it: now this is Catholic.” So it is with the Mass. Priests who learn to celebrate the Mass of all ages undergo a spiritual renewal. Through the rite the doubts of their souls begin to be cleared up, and they begin “to put their lives in order again and to put in order also their relations with the faithful” Bishop Fellay describes this as “the work of Grace on the priest through the Mass”. Thus the liturgy leads to doctrine and doctrine to morality, because “faith without works is dead.” And thereby the priest discovers a new yet ancient way of being faithful to his own ministry. And he does so above all by rediscovering “objectivity and realism”. The most serious problem of our era, which is also the problem of the crisis of the Church, is the loss of realism, which Fellay traces back to the revolution of German rationalist thought beginning with Kant: “The world of thought is what has evicted reality.” That is why “there is no longer any coherence between being and appearing,” and “such great importance is ascribed to the subject that the object is no longer important.” But everything “falls into place again thanks to objectivity”. We must therefore “adapt our minds to what is real”. In that way the priest who has regained objectivity will be capable of working in truth for the salvation of souls; he will not waste his efforts in empty activism, in that cycle of events, initiatives and deliberations that never cease and always need something external. The priest returns to the center. This happens through the recovery of a traditional Catholicism, through the Mass and doctrine: “This is the treasure of the Church, and the important thing is not that it is ours, but that it belongs to everyone!”

Finally Bishop Fellay spoke about the faithful. “The faithful represent not the living tradition, but livable tradition.” The error of the “spirit of the Council” was to try to run after the world: “You see that the world is going away, and so we have to have an aggiornamento (updating).” Now “this method extolled by the Council was too human.” However it is only “by putting into practice the eternal methods which the Church has always extolled that the faithful realize that Christian life is possible today.” “The world of today does all that it can to make us believe that it is too difficult, indeed impossible” to live as Catholics. Yet “it is feasible!” And this is because “you, the faithful, are the ones who build up the Mystical Body!” Then with a prayer to Our Lady of Fatima the Tenth Theological Congress of Le Courrier de Rome concluded.

No doubt after this article of mine is published I will be branded for life as a “Lefebvrite”. So I hasten to send, to all those who are indignant, offended or scandalized, whatever their background may be (neo-conservative, theo-conservative, progressive, two-faced, etc.), a solemn raspberry! If all of you had been in the Church of St. Nicolas du Chardonnet this morning, with around five thousand persons of all ages, you would have seen that Tradition is not made up of aristocratic snobs, nor of four excommunicated fanatics. Tradition is something moving that makes you weep, that brings the joy of hope and the sorrow of loss. Tradition is pulsating life: hundreds of eyes, hearts, and heads that hand on their own faith and live it out uncompromisingly, even at the cost of marginalization by the progressive, updated Church. Tradition also includes the sincere smiles of Bishop Fellay, his calm, his prudence, his love for the Church. And it includes the fraternity of his priests, the familial way in which they carry out their own priestly ministry, the way in which they are embraced by the faithful who love and care about how the Church has always taught them to act, with consistency and conviction.

Therefore allow me to say: Long live the Society of St. Pius X!

Translated from Italian and French by Michael J. Miller
Texts translated from fidesetform and LaPorteLatine

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