In 1988, despite having failed to secure papal authorization to consecrate new bishops for his priestly society, an aged Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre defied the the threat of excommunication and consecrated 5 bishops— 4 for the SSPX, and 1 for the Diocese of Campos, Brazil. As a result he and the other bishops were all excommunicated. Or not. The SSPX argued against the validity of the excommunication decree until Pope Benedict XVI declared them void (possibly ab initio) prior to issuing Summorum Pontificum. [As an aside, please note the way a truly humble pope brings peace to a contentious situation. The way Pope Bendict phrased the ‘lifting’ of the excommunication decree, he left room for the interpretation that it never really was valid at all, thus allowing all parties who acted in good faith in 1988 to save face.]

Though I have always understood the SSPX’s position on why they thought the Lefebvre excommunication was invalid, and while I believe their position was held in good faith, I admit that it sometimes wearied me whenever an SSPX attendee would go on about how Lefebvre saved the Traditional Mass by consecrating the bishops, ensuring the SSPX would continue to have priests. I recall many conversations where I simply posed the question, “What better good might not have come from obedience? We’ll never know.”

As it turns out, the claim that Lefebvre saved the traditional Mass (which retains its obvious merit) makes way more sense to me now. Not because of 1988. But because of 1976. Wait, 1976, you ask? Let me explain.

The issue involved the ability of a bishop of the Catholic Church being able to ordain priests in an approved Catholic rite of priestly ordination. The traditional Mass had not been abrogated, nor had the rite of priestly ordination. But Pope Paul VI forbade Lefebvre from ordaining the priests in the traditional rite. He didn’t forbid their ordinations, but just the use of the traditional rite of ordination.

Does this sound familiar?

Archbishop Lefebvre judged that he had the right to ordain these priests in the traditional manner. As Pope Benedict confirmed in Summorum Pontificum, he did indeed. But Pope Paul VI declared him and his priests suspended a divinis. Because he judged he was in the right legally and morally, Archbishop Lefebvre continued to ordain traditional priests and always maintained that the suspensions were illegitimate and invalid. It was this action, much more than in 1988, that one can claim that Lefebvre saved the Mass, in a manner of speaking (Our Lord is Sovereign and responsible for all good). He died without knowing whether his position would be vindicated.

You could say that it is 1976 again for traditional societies and institutes previously under the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. The Vatican has said traditional priestly ordinations are no longer possible. The FSSP, ICRSP and others have lots of vocations and of course have ordinations scheduled this year. And some bishops, like the odious Cardinal Cupich, have forbidden even traditional societies from celebrating the traditional Mass on the first Sunday of every month and on high holy days, beginning February 6. A watershed moment awaits.

One thing you could say for the Vatican’s position in 1976 was that there was an uncontestedly legitimate pope who ordered Lefebvre to refrain from the traditional ordination of priests. The same cannot be said for 2022.

Even if Bergoglio were pope, his orders to block the traditional Mass and sacraments are just as invalid, assuming for a moment they were drafted in accordance with the law. His censures are equally invalid should they be issued for a priest, prelate or layman making use of his right to the Mass and Sacraments. Lastly, Bergoglio’s motives are so more obvious in their hatred for the Mass, the Sacraments, the faithful, and Him of Whom he claims to be vicar.

Fr. Laguerie of the IBP stated it very well that we must simply persevere in our lawful adherence to the traditional Mass and sacraments. That there must be a continuation of everything the traditional societies have been doing already. Father notes what lots of us sense— he hears of none of his confreres who will cave into the unjust forcing of the novus ordo onto traditional priests. The traditional laity have their back and will not betray faithful priests. There is a large traditional community.

We are in the right.

This is 1976. But really it isn’t. A Lefebvre moment is being forced on us in 2022. it starts in Chicago on February 6. It will occur worldwide by Midsummer. Let us remain faithful to Christ and to His sacraments. Let us respond with at least as much courage as Lefebvre showed in 1976.

This is the reality, whether Bergoglio or Pope Benedict XVI is pope. That question need not divide us nor cause us to waver. The prohibition against the Mass is invalid either way. But I would add this could very well be the perfect time to bring that question to a head for the good of souls. The time has come to acknowledge, and come to the aid of Pope Benedict XVI. That would save the Mass, and so much more.