Immediately after the Second Vatican Council a crisis occurred in the Catholic Church, which impacted the seminaries where future priests were being formed. The retired Archbishop Lefebvre was prevailed upon to found a house of studies for seminarians who wanted to remain faithful to the doctrine and traditions of the Church, especially the Roman Mass.
The Society of St. Pius X was founded by Archbishop Lefebvre in November 1970 with the full approval of the ecclesiastical authorities, and its traditional seminary in Econe, Switzerland attracted many seminarians from throughout the world.
By 1974 some bishops began to criticize the SSPX because it was not going along with the post-conciliar changes, such as the New Mass. Consequently two Apostolic Visitors were sent to the SSPX’s seminary in Econe, Switzerland to make a report. The seminary report was positive, but during their stay these Visitors made some remarks that questioned aspects of the Catholic Faith.
In reaction to the Visitors’ comments and the general situation in the Catholic Church, Archbishop Lefebvre composed his Declaration, a “Catholic Manifesto” firmly declaring:
“We hold fast, with all our heart and with all our soul, to Catholic Rome, Guardian of the Catholic Faith and of the traditions necessary to preserve this faith, to Eternal Rome, Mistress of wisdom and truth.
“We refuse, on the other hand, and have always refused to follow the Rome of neo-Modernist and neo-Protestant tendencies which were clearly evident in the Second Vatican Council and, after the Council, in all the reforms which issued from it.”
The Declaration outlined some of the causes of the Church crisis, and that no authority “can force us to abandon or diminish our Catholic faith” while stating:
“Without any spirit of rebellion, bitterness or resentment, we pursue our work of forming priests, with the timeless Magisterium as our guide. We are persuaded that we can render no greater service to the Holy Catholic Church, to the Sovereign Pontiff and to posterity.”
This firm stance taken by Archbishop Lefebvre for the priesthood and the salvation of souls bolstered the morale of traditionally-minded Catholics everywhere and gave them a fighting spirit to maintain the Faith.
Continuing this same fight for the Faith as stated in the 1974 Declaration, Bishop Bernard Fellay, the SSPX’s Superior General, has published a new letter.
The Superior General begins with reference to Cardinal Ratzinger’s “disastrous vision of the Church’s future” describing it as a “Mystical Body… so fragmented that it would be reduced to a collection of small groups that were still lively, though surround by general decadence…”
Bishop Fellay goes on to quote Cardinal Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI) and outlines the Church’s current situation and its causes. The SSPX’s Superior General concludes his analysis with this comment about the SSPX:
“In the midst of this disaster, which has been noted by many observers, no doubt our modest Society seems like “[a] small, seemingly insignificant group that nonetheless lives an intensive struggle against evil and brings the good into the world....” If on the one hand the sight of the disfigured Church deeply grieves us, on the other hand we sing every day the Magnificat for the marvels that the Almighty still enables us to accomplish.”
Bishop Fellay continues with:
“…an insight into the current development of the Society, which, despite the hits that it has received on all sides, ceaselessly spreads the Good Lord’s grace and fortifies souls on their difficult, perilous pilgrimage to Heaven.”
He spoke about the “very special attention that must be paid to the Christian family” and the importance of forming children in the home and in Catholic schools and thus “why one of our [SSPX’s] major efforts concerns schools”. As for graduates, the Superior General speaks about the importance of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius for “the perseverance of… young adults on the path of good and virtue”.
Bishop Fellay also reflects on the priesthood without with “the supernatural life would not be possible” particularly in the priest’s offering of the Mass, “the source of sanctification” and hence the “mystery… at the heart of our seminaries”.
A practical consequence of this focus on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the “approximately 200 seminarians” entering the SSPX’s six international seminaries this academic year, not counting another “40 or so pre-seminarians”. Here in the United States, the rising numbers “obliges us to build a new seminary in Virginia”, expected to be completed sometime next year.
In giving credit for this growth of Catholic Tradition, while thanking the continued generosity and zeal of the faithful, Bishop Fellay affirmed:
“Moreover many churches are being built almost everywhere in the world, which shows the dynamism of the Faith. Yes, indeed, faith can move mountains! I firmly believe that only faith can explain this phenomenon, which surpasses human abilities.”
The full text of the 1974 Declaration and Bishop Fellay's letter can be read at the SSPX-USA's website, http://www.sspx.org.
Louis Tofari, Society of St. Pius X, http://www.sspx.org, +1 816-733-2515, [email protected]