November 2020 Print

Bishop Fellay Speaks: For the Love of the Church

By Bishop Bernard Fellay

Editor’s Note: The former Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X, Bishop Bernard Fellay, conversed with Robert Landers in a book that has just been published by Via Romana under the title Pour l’amour de l’Eglise (For the Love of the Church). The full book will be available from Angelus Press early next year. The following article is a summary of the book, along with excerpts.

It is clear simply from the title that the spirit of the book is the same as that of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s sermon for the 50th anniversary of his ordination on September 23, 1979, in Paris: “For the glory of the Most Blessed Trinity, for the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ, for the sake of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, for the love of the Church, for the love of the Pope, for the love of bishops, of priests, of all the faithful, for the salvation of the world, for the salvation of souls, keep this testament of Our Lord Jesus Christ! Keep the Sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Keep the Mass of all time! And you will see Christian civilization reflourish.”

For Our Lord and the Extension of His Reign

All of Bishop Fellay’s answers are indeed full of the same love for the Church that animated the Founder of the Society of St. Pius X. On page 80, for example:

“Some people get the impression that it is more important for you to convert people to the Society’s ‘Traditional Catholicism’ than to Jesus Christ. What do you think, how would you respond to this objection?”

Bishop Fellay: “This opposition between Jesus Christ and ‘Traditional Catholicism’ is a fallacy. If someone converts to Jesus Christ, he cannot refuse Tradition, the deposit of the Faith and the teachings of Revelation. In the Society, we are attached to Tradition precisely because we are working for Our Lord and the extension of His reign.”

And on page 147: “We now have to make the light of Tradition shine around us, taking advantage of any promising contacts we may have. I am convinced that we have something to offer to the entire Church: we have to help the bishops, priests and faithful recover these treasures of Tradition that have been abandoned. Everything that is Catholic is ours.”

This profession of the Catholic Faith was also shared by the new Superior General, Fr. Davide Pagliarani, in his interview with Nouvelles de Chrétienté, (n. 173, Sep.-Oct. 2018) just after his election: “The Society holds a treasure in its hands.…Tradition is a treasure. Our fondest wish is that the official Church will stop considering Tradition as a burden or a set of outmoded old things, but rather as the only possible way to regenerate herself.”

Relations with Rome

Regarding the relations with Rome, the book exposes a situation that has been ongoing for many years. There is no reason to hope for any new revelations, for the interview was conducted two years before the General Chapter in July 2018 that elected a new Superior General. In the meantime, on June 26, 2017, Bishop Fellay received a letter from Cardinal Ludwig Müller, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, presenting—with Pope Francis’ approval—the necessary conditions for a doctrinal declaration, the indispensable prerequisite for any canonical recognition of the Society.

There were three conditions: 1) “adherence to the new 1988 version of the Professio Fidei” 2) “acceptance of the teachings of Vatican Council II and those of the post-Conciliar period, granting these doctrinal affirmations the due degree of adherence” 3) recognition “not only of the validity but also of the legitimacy of the Rite of the Holy Mass and the Sacraments according to the liturgical books promulgated after Vatican Council II.”

On June 30, Bishop Fellay passed this letter on to all the priests of the Society with the following commentary: “We find ourselves once again in a situation similar to that of 2012.” And he recalled his declaration after the meeting of the major superiors of the Society in Anzère (Switzerland) on June 28, 2016: “The Priestly Society of St. Pius X does not seek primarily a canonical recognition—to which it has a right because it is Catholic. The solution is far from being a simply juridical one. It is primarily a doctrinal question which we have the grave duty to manifest. (…) Divine Providence does not abandon its Church, the head of which is the pope, the Vicar of Jesus Christ. This is why an indisputable sign of this restoration will be the express desire will of the Supreme Pontiff to grant the means with which to reestablish the order of the priesthood, of the faith, and of Tradition, a sign which will moreover be the guarantee of the necessary unity of the family of Tradition.”

Ever since the General Chapter in the summer of 2018, the relations with the Roman authorities have been in the hands of the new Superior General, as the Founder of the SSPX wished. Bishop Fellay has left them entirely to Fr. Pagliarani. And as he says at the end of his book, in a chapter most fittingly entitled “The Future Is in God’s Hands,” there are no deadlines or timelines for this crucial question.

Highlights From the Book

The quality of the interview conducted by Robert Landers and the intellectual and spiritual level of Bp. Fellay’s responses are remarkable. They offer the reader a clear and informative presentation of Tradition’s positions. It is a pleasant surprise to see how the questions evolve over the course of the interview. At the beginning, they echo the objections and criticisms often aimed at the SSPX (risk of schism, danger of withdrawing into itself), then, little by little, they show a real desire to understand union with God, holiness, and the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in these troubled times.

Here is a preview of the book with the kind permission of the editor.

The Role of the Traditional Mass

The Society is at the heart of the Church. Why? Because the Mass is the heart of the Church. It is the sacrifice of Calvary renewed in an unbloody manner, as the Council of Trent says. The Mass is the redeeming sacrifice through which the Church lives. Without the Mass, as Padre Pio said, the Church cannot survive. If there is no more Mass, the heart of the Church stops. In the Society of St. Pius X, we seek to live as closely as possible to this essential act of love that only the priest can accomplish. Archbishop Lefebvre liked to use the term transcendental to describe the connection between the Mass and the priest. It is important to understand this term well. A transcendental relation is a relation between two beings that is absolutely necessary for their existence. There can be no Mass without a priest, and a priest without the Mass no longer accomplishes the essential act of his priesthood. The priest is by definition a mediator. And the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the most fruitful act of this mediation, for the Church, for the world, and for the priest himself. What I say here sums up our position at the heart of the Church. But I do not mean to say that we are the only ones living this reality.

The “State of Necessity” in Today’s Church

The Society really is not attached to any particular spiritual school?

No … We draw on all the schools of spirituality. We turn to the contemplative orders to learn to pray, to the Benedictines to acquire a true liturgical spirit, to the preaching or missionary orders to develop our apostolic zeal… We take everything, while avoiding distinctive identities. Anyone can feel at home in our midst. We have all the facets of Catholic spirituality.

Somewhat like St. Therese of the Child Jesus, who said, “In the heart of the Church, my mother, I shall be love”? Deep down she had a missionary soul, a contemplative soul, a priestly soul…

Yes! The historical circumstances and the spiritual distress of the faithful have imposed upon us this spirituality that is universal, so to speak. We have taken on an apostolate that we did not invent. After the Council, when many Catholics felt abandoned and were unable to find their footing, many came to us, saying, “Feed us!” It is this spiritual famine that we call “the state of necessity.” We seek to give souls the food they need to get to Heaven.

Virtue is a Summit

How can a priest be a man of doctrine and at the same time have “a heart of flesh”?

The two are perfectly compatible. The priest needs to acquire not only a speculative, but also a practical science that considers man’s way of acting and the application of principles to specific situations. Rigid priests often do not pay enough attention to the circumstances. Besides, priests are sometimes inflexible out of fear, because they are seeking a false security. A serene priest who counts on God has no reason to be afraid, so he is not rigid. Virtue is the only thing that makes it possible to avoid rigidity and its opposite, laxism. The path of virtue is a balance, a summit between two abysses. It is not easy to find. Each person has to ask God to enlighten him so that he may see clearly, but also take the time to think. How should he act in a given case? Should he be more clement? To what extent should mercy temper justice? It is the order of action and practical applications. It cannot all be learned in books…

Do you refuse on principle any educational, practical, or even verbal adaptation that would make it possible to touch hearts in the world as it is today? It has been said that in the Society nothing can be changed because otherwise everything would collapse…

There has to be a balance. I think that some adaptations are possible. It is obvious that one should not speak to little children preparing for their First Communion the same way one speaks to adults. The same truth can be transmitted with different words and examples. It is important to distinguish between the essential and the form of what one is saying. The truth must never be deformed, hidden or distorted. It must be transmitted entirely. However, the form is not immutable. A good teacher knows how to find the right and appropriate words for his audience, while remaining perfectly faithful to the truth he wishes to transmit.

Happiness Consists in Union with God

When it comes down to it, what is your definition of happiness?

True happiness, I would say, is possessing God, being united to Him, having one’s soul at peace. Even here below, we can enjoy this happiness which surpasses all understanding. A soul in the state of grace already tastes it. The tribulations, difficulties and sufferings that are part of life on earth do not destroy this happiness, for they do not hinder union with God. That is the key to happiness. If someone truly lives with God, he finds happiness.

The Path of Ordinary Sanctity

What would you say to those who feel incapable or who consider holiness as something that is not for them or impossible for them?

They are wrong. They have a false idea of what holiness is. And I regret that certain lives of saints attribute too much importance to miracles and extraordinary things, for in doing so, they suggest that that is the essence of holiness. No! Miracles are not what make saints. It is true that heroic virtue is necessary for a saint to be canonized. However, the path of ordinary sanctity to which all men are called is simpler: it is the state of grace. One has to possess “sanctifying grace,” the grace that makes saints. This treasure is a real participation in the divine nature, as the Epistle of St. Peter says so well—divinae consortes naturae—the offertory of the Mass as well—ejus divinitatis esse consortes. It is extraordinary! We are walking along the path of sanctity if, by living with God and possessing His grace, we place our existence in harmony with this grace. To put it more simply, sanctity consists in charity. This supernatural virtue infused by God transforms all our actions. If we do something for the love of God, in the name of this love, the amplitude of our act surpasses all human events. Is this not magnificent?

The Social Reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ

The word “secularism” has evolved and now illustrates a rupture between the temporal and the spiritual. Originally, secular meant that which was in the care of laymen.

This evolution is tragic, for human society is being transformed little by little into a living hell! How can we return to the order willed by God? We have to repeat in season and out of season the words of St. Michael, “Who is like unto God?” and turn to Our Lord. The world is constantly speaking of human rights, but it forgets man’s duties. And yet rights imply duties. One of these duties is obedience to the natural law, submission to the law of God, adoration of God. This is true for Christians, but also for every man who is a creature of God and therefore subject to God’s laws. We should reflect upon God’s position in society and in our lives. Who do we think we are when we tear away His scepter? We are members of the Church, but also members of a society, members of a country. We cannot live in one way in the Church and in another way in society. That sort of two-faced behavior would make us schizophrenic. There has to be a unity between our personal life and our social life. And for this reason, man must build society around Our Lord. Besides, He alone gives true freedom and an accurate understanding of what human rights are. Christian society is not a theocracy. It is simply a society that lives according to the principles taught by Scripture and Tradition.

Take and Read

At the end of these 150 pages that are easily read in one sitting, the reader will find himself regretting that we often speak of Tradition but too rarely let Tradition speak for itself, deeply, beyond the dialectics kept up by journalists with a perfunctory religious culture. We can only be grateful to Robert Landers and Via Romana for offering Bishop Fellay the opportunity to do so.

A reader who discovers Tradition through this book will feel the urge to go further and seek to learn more. A reader who is attached to Tradition will feel a legitimate pride in having served this cause for 10, 20, 30, 40 years…and it will not fail to give him a keener sense of the duties this service demands.