Cardinal: If Lefebvre Had Seen Proper Mass, He Might Not Have Split

After witnessing a Mass celebrated at an Italian abbey, SSPX leader Bishop Bernard Fellay reportedly made this comment about the SSPX founder.

Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre
Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (photo: Wikipedia)

ROME — According to a senior Vatican official, the superior general of the Society of St. Pius X once said that, if the traditionalist group's leader had seen the Mass celebrated properly, he might not have broken off from the Church.

Cardinal Antonio Canizares, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, made this statement on Jan. 15 in response to questions from reporters after he delivered an address on the Second Vatican Council at the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See.

“On one occasion,” the Spanish cardinal recalled, “Bishop [Bernard] Fellay, who is the leader of the Society of St. Pius X, came to see me and said, ‘We just came from an abbey that is near Florence. If Archbishop [Marcel] Lefebvre had seen how they celebrated there, he would not have taken the step that he did.’”  

“The missal used at that celebration was the Paul VI Missal in its strictest form,” the cardinal added.

The Paul VI Missal contains the ordinary form of the Mass promulgated after the Second Vatican Council and is one of the points of contention that led to the separation with the Society of St. Pius X, founded by Archbishop Lefebvre, who died in 1991, three years after incurring automatic excommunication for illicitly ordaining four SSPX bishops.  

The Lefebvrists have insisted on continuing to celebrate the Mass according to the missal promulgated by Pope John XXIII in 1962.

Cardinal Canizares later spoke with a reduced number of reporters and further amplified his remarks about the Lefebvrists and the Paul VI Missal.  

He elaborated on the idea that if the schismatic archbishop had seen the new Mass celebrated properly and reverently he might not have rejected it.

“Even the followers of the Society of St. Pius X, founded by Archbishop Lefebvre, when they participate in a Mass that is properly celebrated, say, ‘If things were this way everywhere, there would have been no need for what happened and for what really caused this separation,'” he said.


Liturgical Continuity

The cardinal went on to explain that Vatican II offered more than simply changes.  

“It offers a vision of the liturgy in continuity with the entire Tradition of the Church and the theological reflection it makes about the liturgy,” he said. “The changes are a consequence of this theological reflection within ecclesial Tradition.”

To show that the liturgy should not be a cause for division, Pope Benedict XVI published the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum in 2007 to establish universal use of the 1962 missal.  

The Holy Father has taken several other steps towards reconciliation with the Society of St. Pius X.  

On Jan. 21, 2009, he lifted the excommunications imposed on the four bishops ordained by Lefebvre in 1988, including Bernard Fellay.  

In doing so, however, he stressed that they should give “full recognition to the Second Vatican Council,” as well as to the magisteriums of the popes after Pius XII, as a condition for full communion.

In addition, Pope Benedict XVI gave the society the chance to end the separation in 2011 by accepting a "doctrinal preamble."

In 2012, the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei,” charged with the ongoing dialogue with the Society of St. Pius X, announced that the society had requested “addition time for reflection and study” of the proposed preamble.