The Society of St. Pius X is part of the Church Militant
Bishop Bernard Fellay’s sermon at the Seminary of Ecône on November 1, 2010, for the 40th anniversary of the Priestly Society of St. Pius X
Dear members of the Society,
On this day we have a double joy. First of all the joy of the liturgical feast that we celebrate today, All Saints’ Day. The Church wishes to gather together in one feast all her children who already enjoy eternal beatitude, the Beatific Vision. An extraordinary feast, for it is the accomplishment, the fulfillment of the Church! In it we see her reason for being, and her mission, realized. And we hope that this will be our end as well. It is indeed a great joy for us to think of heaven, and truly today the Church asks us to think of heaven, of that for which God has created us. Throughout the year we celebrate a certain number of saints, those saints that the Church wished to give us as models, since in each one of them there is something extraordinary that surpasses the habitual, ordinary human. They are sublime, perfect models, and to be imitated, although some of their exploits remain on the level of admiration: we contemplate their miracles that remain for us objects of admiration and not of imitation. But today the Church tells us: yes, there are all those models, but that is not all! There are 365 days in the martyrology, and we find a few thousand saints mentioned, but there are many more in heaven! And for us this is a source of great hope, for heaven is our homeland.
At the same time, this feast of All Saints’ Day procures for us another joy: we celebrate an anniversary, that of the foundation of our dear Priestly Society of St. Pius X 40 years ago. On this day, and it is certainly not by chance for we know well that for Divine Providence there is no such thing as chance – even if it is not always easy to see what are the intentions of the Good God, what links we can make between events, and what links we must make only from a distance. But certainly for the Good God, under His gaze, everything has its place. And there is a reason that it was on this feast of All Saints’ Day that the Society was founded. Let us try at least to catch a glimpse of it.
The Church Militant on earth is Triumphant in heaven
When one speaks of the feast of All Saints, when one speaks about the saints, one of course thinks of each of them individually, but also of the assembly to which they belong. As soon as one says “all the saints,” one thinks of a body. This company has a name: it is the Church Triumphant. The Church Triumphant, as we know, is a part of the Church. One could say that it is the definitive part, that part which is the completion of the Church here below, her culmination in heaven, her definitive perfection. There is a link between the two, we call the same Church “militant” on earth and “triumphant” in heaven. This is exactly the same Church, but that which we find here below is under another mode because she is situated in time, she operates in a different mode of conduct. Every aspect of the fight against sin and the devil, which is our condition on earth, disappears in the vision of the Good Lord who is outside of time. The saints devoted themselves entirely to the adoration of God, to joy in the perfections of God found in the vision He has of Himself, in the light of glory. But here below the Church really struggles. Her end will be found in heaven.
If there is a Church on earth, if our Lord has indeed founded His Church, it is in order to save souls, to pull them out of their pathetic state, out of their miserable state of sin. We know, and it is a teaching of the faith, that every person who enters into this world is conceived in original sin. He is deprived of the friendship of God that is grace. He is not in a natural state, but in a fallen state, in a state that makes it such that he is not able to achieve by his own efforts the end offered to him by the Good Lord. If he counts only on himself, he is lost, and his life here below will be a succession of short-lived joys, pleasures, tears, sadness, and suffering coming to an unhappy end. Therefore he must look for that method given by God to take man out of this state of misery, that is continually aggravated by the succession of personal sins, and which, if one does nothing, ends in hell, in the deprivation of God—the deprivation of that for which God has made man, namely the eternal joy of the beatific vision. This deprivation that is the sorrow of damnation is difficult to understand. It is easier to understand the sensible suffering of fire and all the other physical sufferings of hell. . . . This appalling state is one into which man rushes if he does not take the only way given by God to be saved, which is the Church He Himself founded, the Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church. To take souls out of this state of misery is not just a work of charity, it is a battle.
Man has not fallen single handedly. Demons, the fallen spirits, are there. God allows them to perform certain actions. Thus they try to hinder the work of the Church which consists of bringing souls out from sin. This mission is a real combat, essentially a spiritual battle, but which can very easily extend out into the physical world. Not only does the Church have a spiritual warfare to conduct, but also she must undergo actual physical persecution. The devil’s endeavors to gain followers on earth are what we call simple “the world.” And this world, despite its charms and smiles, is an enemy, an enemy against the good of men and their salvation. This is why the Church on earth, realizing what is her end by bringing men to God, by sanctifying them, by communicating to them this grace which makes them saints, the Church must effectively devote the greatest part of her energy and her time to this battle.
One can see this combat in the defense of the faith, in the protection of the treasure of the faith. This will require the Church to issue condemnations, defenses, punishments, and excommunications. This is normal and it cannot be otherwise. We are in a real war, much more serious, much more decisive than all the human wars. It is, again, about the salvation of souls! This battle can be seen also on the moral level. We must have faith, but we also must live a life that corresponds to the commandments of God. The Church has to instruct men in the ways of the Good Lord. Daily experience shows us how reminding men of Catholic morals can start a war. Fundamentally, the battle for the faith is much more profound. However, at the level of man the battle will unfold almost always over morals. Even the suggestion of a reminder of the moral order to today’s man provokes a public outburst! The fight for the faith and the fight for morals are interrelated, but as evidence and everyday experience show, the most visible battle is being played out on the moral plane. This is why the Church on earth is called “militant.” This daily struggle can make us somewhat forgetful of the beautiful side of the Church. Or let us say more exactly that those who would like to think only of the beautiful side of the Church may well forget that which is perhaps not essential to her, but which is absolutely necessary for the battle here on earth, namely, asceticism. Our Lord aptly said: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9: 23). And so it is! But today, on this feast of All Saints, the Church asks us to raise our hearts. Without necessarily forgetting this combat, she invites us to look at this reward that the Good Lord gives to those who devote themselves to this battle, those who are dedicated to the salvation of their souls and of their neighbors: eternal beatitude.
Without Archbishop Lefebvre, no Society of Saint Pius X
How can we establish a relation between this truth and the Society? It is not so difficult really, my dear brethren. When we speak of the Society, when we look around us, what is our Society for the people of the world? It is a bunch of trouble-makers, rebels, excommunicate schismatics… in short, terrible sons of the Church… or something close to it. They are always grumbling, groaning, attacking, criticizing. That is how they see the Society. And we can say that during these 40 years of existence, we can find a good number of battles and elements of this war. That is where we see to what extent the Society is part of the Church militant, at a time when it is precisely this combative aspect of the Church that people want to forget. It is striking to note that in this age that is our own, and especially since the council, they are trying to eliminate this militant aspect. They do not want to talk about it any more, they want to present a very pleasant Church, nice to everyone, to all religions, to all men, to all sinners, as if there were only one devil who remained, the Society of Saint Pius X! Yes, with them we will stay at war! It is fairly impressive to see this contrast.
As for the cross, they do not want to talk about it any more. Or if they still talk about it, they have taken down the Christ Crucified. They leave a cross with a band in the middle, the cross of the Risen Christ, the one that serves no purpose any longer because Christ is risen. Alleluia! Everything is fine. And no one wants to talk about the value of suffering, the necessity of this struggle. Sin? Think, there are no more sinners! In any case everyone goes to heaven. It is quick. It is simple. Everyone is nice, everyone is saved. Be good protestants, be good pagans, you will go to heaven. That is approximately the message that is going around everywhere. It is hard to see what the Church militant is. When we look at the Church today, we can well wonder why it is still called militant. Because it fights for, I don’t know, the rights of women or for the poor? Is that the Church militant?
On our side, certainly the idea of the “battle for the Mass” and the “defense of the Faith” is very visible, even just in our vocabulary, for if we make a list of our sermons, very often we find these ideas of combatting, battling, warring. But we are almost the only ones to speak of that. With us, one can easily see this aspect of the Church militant. And at the same time, we know that we are not only fighting for the pleasure of fighting. We do not give the impression – I say, the impression – of disobeying for the pleasure of stating our personal opinion. We are in search for something else. We are in search for salvation. We are in search of God. If we engage in this battle, it is because we want to please God, it is because we want the glory of God and thereby our salvation.
Without Archbishop Lefebvre, no Society of Saint Pius X
Let us take a closer look at our Society. One thing is obvious: to speak of the Society, speak of what it does, speak of its intentions, is necessarily to speak of a person, our dear and venerated founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. If he was not there, there would be no Society, and we would not be here. This work of the Church exists because he is its founder, but not only that, all our fighting for the Church is directed by the guidelines, by a spirit that we have received from Archbishop Lefebvre. Obviously, it is so clear for us that he is a man raised up by Divine Providence for this time. The Good God gave him a striking number of talents and gifts for our time. He permitted him to, firstly, understand that there was a problem in the Church, that there was a crisis, but also to find where the problem was, what the cause of this crisis was. The Good God also allowed him to make people see what means must be applied to get out of it, what the antidote for this crisis was. And the Society, for 40 years, lives by these directions that the Archbishop gave us. And what is more extraordinary, is that those lines that he left us, either to explain what was happening in the Church, or to show us what means we had to use to get out of it, well, this vision of the Church is so profound that 40 years later you can read what he was saying 40 years ago, and you can apply it as if he was saying it today. That means that this vision was so high up that it went beyond time, in a way. Of course, it is for our time, but nevertheless it is high enough above particular and contingent elements of a certain time, to be able to show us what must be done. There is the problem and there is the solution!
The Society is a heritage. Here as well, there is a link with the Church. The Church is a tradition in the sense that, from generation to generation, what Our Lord Jesus Christ entrusted to the Apostles is handed down to future generations. It is really a tradition, the passing down of a deposit, of a treasure that we call the “revealed deposit”, which God entrusted to men for their salvation. And exactly the same thing is repeated to us in our Society, as a faithful echo, and nothing different since we are in the Church. The Archbishop told us – and this is what he wished to see written on his tombstone – “I have handed down what I have received” (I Corinthians, 11, 23). So have we received this treasure and we still live by it today. And if you are here, it is because you yourselves have received it in turn. And if we are celebrating today the 40th anniversary of the Society, it is because this transmission has continued. For what we do – the Archbishop insisted so much on this – what we do must not be anything else but what the Church does. He stressed this point when he was speaking to us about the spirit of the Society. What is the Society’s spirit? He told us, “There is none.” There is no spirit specific to the Society. The spirit specific to the Society is the Church’s spirit. Look at the Church; what governs, what moves the Church? That is the spirit that must be what animates the Society. Indeed, we do have to fight, we do have to defend the Faith. But that is not enough. That is not all. You yourselves understand well that the people who see us from the outside see the negative aspects like “defense”, “battle”, or “war”…, and often they stop there. They should look a little closer, and then they would see that those negative aspects are indeed real, but are not the purpose or the completion of things. Their completion is sanctity. It is the very purpose of the Church. It is so beautiful, so extraordinary to consider this purpose in our time, when sanctity is scorned everywhere, when all the protection that the laws offerred has been taken away in the countries that still provided a little protection for the morals and behaviour of men according to the natural law. Everything has been blown away, everything has been plunged into rot, into manure, excuse me… Well then, in this environment, in this shipwreck, it is truly extraordinary to see that this little Society in this battle where it is attacked from all sides, nevertheless manages to make the Good God’s light shine forth, the light of the faith, and succeeds in giving to men the courage to resist in the midst of all that, to live a life pleasing to God, a life of grace. Yes, it is something absolutely extraordinary coming close to a miracle. We really have something to give thanks to God for today, that is, give thanks to God for having given us an Archbishop Lefebvre.
The purpose of the Church is to make saints
In that little book which he called his last will and testament, his Spiritual Journey, the preface informs us that all his life he was haunted by the desire to transmit the principles of priestly sanctification, of Christian sanctification. That means the desire to make saints. And that is precisely the purpose of the Church: to make saints, to make holy priests so that there may be holy faithful. It is really necessary that the whole Church be sanctified. And to attain this end he did not propose his own invention off the top of his head. He simply went back to what the Church gives us, what we should all be centered on: the Mass. It is the foundation; it is the source of all grace, of all sanctification. And it is really the remedy, the remedy for this crisis. We can see it already, just beginning, something that is not very strong, a little something that is starting and that we can easily see in the Church. It is around the Mass that everything turns; it is from this starting point that, little by little, Christendom is being rebuilt, in the midst of all sorts of miseries, sorrows, and tears. But nevertheless it is germinating, it is growing slowly. It is still imperceptible, but nevertheless, we can see that there is something happening. We just see the hand of God. I remember – and we did not ask for this praise -, during the first visit of three of the Society’s bishops to Cardinal Castrillon, just after the pilgrimage in the year 2000, he declared while speaking of the Society: “The fruit is good, so the Holy Ghost is there.” What more do we want? The Holy Ghost, the Spirit that sanctifies, the Spirit that is only to be found in the Church and that sanctifies souls.
Let us ask Our Lady today, Our Lady and all the saints, and our dear Archbishop Lefebvre, the grace of fidelity to this deposit which is given to us by the Church, fidelity to the Faith, fidelity to grace. Let us ask to live ever more according to the fire of true charity that loves God above everything, and that loves one’s neighbour for the love of God. Let us ask for this grace of fidelity so that our beautiful history may not stop at our 40th anniversary, but that it may continue, for it is not difficult to understand, when we see the state of the Church, that we have not yet finished our work. Even if we have hopes on one hand, on the other there is also the clear understanding that our struggle in and for the Church is not yet finished. Therefore let us really ask the Good God for that fire, the fire of His Love that wants to see everywhere His Name hallowed, that His Kingdom has come, that His Will is done on earth as it is in Heaven. Let us ask all the saints of Heaven, and the angels to assist us, to help us, and to guide us in this battle for the glory of God, for our salvation, and the glory of the Church. Amen.
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