The Society of St Pius X, or SSPX, is an organization of clerics founded in 1970 by an archbishop named Marcel Lefebvre. It denies the authority of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and repudiates the reforms that followed it. In particular, it refuses to observe the reformed Missal and other liturgical rites. Lefebvre was excommunicated when he consecrated four bishops in 1988.
I was an SSPX priest in the Society. When I left in 1999 I happened to see a movie called The Truman Show. Those who have seen it will recall that Truman Burbank (played by Jim Carrey) lives in a world that has been designed in such a way that he only sees the things its creators want him to see. He thus acts in the way its creators want him to act.
Truman’s experience mirrored my life in the Society. I call it a cult, and the cult leader is Lefebvre, who died in 1990. He is revered as a saint. His every word and deed emanates from God Himself. His pronouncements are infallible as those of the haughtiest medieval pontiff. Its members isolate themselves from what they consider to be the corruption of everyone but themselves. Even within its ranks, there is infighting and persecution of those not considered pure enough.
It is important for me to share this observation. There are a few Catholics, amongst whom are bishops and cardinals, who seem to believe that the Society of St Pius X could be the solution to the Church’s woes. If only it were to reconcile with Rome it would be the vanguard of a great spiritual enlightenment. They are wrong.
The Society of St Pius X is, as all cults are, obsessed with the idea of purity, especially doctrinal and liturgical purity. But the pursuit of perfection in its exterior aspect is illusory and self-destructive. It is true that Our Blessed Lord counsels us to be ‘perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ Yet He speaks of the life of grace; the sharing in the nature of God, who, as John tells us, is love. The preoccupation with purity in the form of religion leads to pride, which narrows the mind and judges others. The Lord spoke of this danger often enough when chastising the Pharisees who insisted on the Law above charity. And besides, the Catholic Church has never experienced a golden age of doctrinal and liturgical rectitude. I repeat – never. To those who doubt this, I would counsel a reading of the history of the Church.
The Church on Earth is imperfect because it is human, as well as divine. Yet Christ is incarnate in His Mystical Body, composed of earthen vessels. He knows us and loves us wherever we are on our faith journey. The purism of ‘traditionalism’ holds that no-one is truly loved by God until they worship the ‘right’ way; until they believe the ‘right’ things, dress the ‘right’ way, etc. It is a mentality that Pope Francis condemns when he speaks of ‘dogmatism.’ It is what the Lord Himself repudiates, when, speaking through the prophet Hosea, he declares ‘for I desired mercy, and not sacrifice: and the knowledge of God more than holocausts.’
Don’t get me wrong. I want a good liturgy that expresses the faith simply and clearly. And I’m peeved when I don’t get it. However, I would rather worship with a priest who lived the Gospel heart and soul, even though he might be a little creative with the rubrics, than with one who was a stickler for the liturgical guidelines but was cold to their meaning.
Belief and liturgy are certainly important. But strict adherence to form should not become a stumbling block to faith. Pope Francis is quite right when he extols mercy as the essence of Christianity, as does Our Lord Himself (John 13:35). I saw little mercy in the Society of St Pius X. Priests who dared to question the Society were silenced and ostracized. Good people were tormented. Honest souls were excluded from the sacraments. Families were rent and marriages broken.
If we want to re-awaken souls to a sense of God we need to look no further than ourselves. If we become the Gospel of the living Christ ourselves then surely God will send forth his Spirit and renew the face of the Earth.
The Peace of Christ be with you.
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