Echoes of Legacy: Honoring Msgr. Lefebvre

Source: District of Asia

On March 25, 2024, Monday of Holy Week, our Congregation, the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X, recalls with deep filial piety the figure of its founder, Monsignor Marcel Lefebvre, on the occasion of the 33rd anniversary of his death. We present here, in order to honor the memory of this man of the Church, the sermon preached by Father Franz Schmidberger, then Superior General of the Fraternity, at the funeral of the Prelate at the Ecône Seminary on April 2, 1991. This sermon highlights Monsignor Lefebvre's action in the three great ministries of the Incarnate Word, extended through the Catholic episcopate: the functions of teaching, sanctifying, and governing. In them, all the greatness of Monsignor Lefebvre is manifested.

This sermon in English was first printed in The Angelus, May-June 1991. A special thanks to the Angelus Press for granting permission to publish this in our site.

Dear Excellencies, dear family members, brothers and sisters of Archbishop Lefebvre, My dear brethren and friends,

Here we are gathered around the mortal remains of our beloved Father, of our Founder and, for many years, our Superior General, around this bishop who was faithful to his mission as teacher and pastor in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, around this indefatigable missionary, around this father of a new generation of priests, around this savior of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in its authentic and venerable Roman Rite, around this fighter for the Social Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ. "Behold the high priest who pleased God during his life and was found just. No one has been found like him in observing the law of the Most High."

Here we are gathered together in deep sorrow, as orphans in tears and weeping, but also in Christian hope and admiration before the life of such a Christian, priest and bishop.

My fellow priests and I thank you, dear faithful, for having come from the four corners of the world to render one last homage to this extraordinary man of our century. Before describing his life I will give you some details concerning our dear Archbishop's last weeks and days.

At Ecône on the evening of March 7, Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Archbishop celebrated the Mass for friends and benefactors of the Valais and then gave them a conference on the situation in the Church and on our duties in our combat and effort to maintain Christian ways of life. Overcome by abdominal pain, he could not participate in the evening meal. The following day he offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar one last time and, despite his pain, left immediately for Paris for a meeting with the leaders of an organization of traditional Catholic discussion groups. On the way his condition became quite alarming. After spending the first part of the night, from Friday to Saturday, in a hotel, he returned to Ecône at dawn with Mr. Borgeat, his chauffeur. At his own request he was hospitalized in Martigny Hospital. The doctors first thought that he had an intestinal infection and put him on a fast with intravenous feeding.

On the afternoon of Monday, March 11, I visited him one last time. He was in good spirits and the pains had diminished a little. "I find it quite unjust," he said to the nurse, "that I am given nothing to eat and that despite that I pay the same amount. You are making a good profit out of me." Then, turning towards me, he said with a smile: "I have asked Fr. Simoulin to get the crypt ready. I should very much like to die a holy death like my sister, Sister Jeanne." In this context he said to me: "I will call you," making allusion, without doubt, to his last moments. I gave him the most recent news of the Society, which he listened to with great interest. I especially explained to him the project of a new general headquarters, with the reasons favorable to this project. "May God bless this project," was his conclusion. It was on these words that I left him. The evening of the same day, Fr. Simoulin, at the request of the Archbishop himself, administered Extreme Unction to him.

On March 15, the doctors, with the help of a scanner, diagnosed a large tumor. An operation became necessary. On Passion Sunday, he was able one last time to unite himself sacramentally with the Eucharistic Victim of our altars. The operation took place on the morning of March 18 and was quite normal. Three large cysts were removed, whose cancerous nature was revealed by subsequent analyses. Some days later cardiac problems appeared. That is why our patient was kept in intensive care. The Saturday following Passion Sunday he reiterated, in the presence of Fr. Simoulin, that he was offering his sufferings for the Society and for the Church. These were practically his last words. On the morning of Palm Sunday his fever rose to 103°F. Only the strongest antibiotics could overcome it. The Archbishop remained conscious but lost, during that Sunday, the ability to express himself. That evening Fr. Simoulin visited him again around 7:00 p.m. His condition was very alarming. Around ll:00 p.m. the hospital informed Econe that the Archbishop had just suffered an attack, probably a pulmonary embolism. The entire seminary gathered together in the chapel. Fr. Simoulin returned to the hospital and recited the prayers for the dying beside the Archbishop's bed. He was in a coma. Around l:15 a.m. the telephone rang at general headquarters. Fr. Laroche informed us that the Archbishop was in his last moments. Whilst the community gathered in the chapel, I immediately left for Martigny, where I arrived at 3:15 a.m. The Archbishop had been artificially resuscitated but his bodily functions were dying little by little. Around 3:30 a.m. the doctors certified death. In a last service of love, I closed the eyes of our beloved Father.

If we cast a glance over his very rich life, we can only see it as a profound and authentic imitation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the different stages of His life, especially in His sovereign priesthood and in His Sacrifice on Calvary. The three functions of God made man can be summed up in the three mottos which shone as lamps on the road of his life: "Credidimus caritati–We have believed in Charity"; "Instaurare omnia in Christo–To restore all things in Christ"; "Accepi quod et tradidi vobis–I have handed down to you that which I have received."

Accept quod et tradidi vobis–
I have handed down to you that which I have received.
The munus docendi-
function of teaching.

The Archbishop lived completely penetrated by the light of the Faith, from which he drew the doctrine of his innumerable conferences, spiritual talks and sermons. He was full of the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity and of the action of the Holy Ghost in the Church and in souls. His entire life was oriented toward the mystery of Jesus Christ, toward the mysteries of the Incarnate Word, of the Crucified and Risen Lord and Savior, of the Sovereign High Priest of the New Testament, and of the Victim of our Altars. The Most Blessed Virgin Mary, with the dogmas of her divine motherhood, her Immaculate Conception, her perpetual virginity and preservation from all sin, her Assumption body and soul into heaven, was for him the only way toward the mystery of Our Lord. The Mystical Spouse of Christ, Holy Church with the Roman Pontiff, was worth more in his eyes than anything else in the world. It was in the light of the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas that he prayed on the truths of Faith, that he loved and explained during his entire priestly and episcopal life. It was following the guidance of the Church's great doctor that he composed his last work: his Spiritual Journey.

He considered faithfulness his greatest duty, according to the words of the Gospel: "Whoever does away with one of these least commandments [of the Faith], and so teaches men, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven" (Mt. 5:19). He saw himself simply as the echo, the reflection, the mouthpiece of the Church and the Councils, as well as of the teachings of the Popes. It was by his mouth that Pius VI again condemned the French Revolution and the so-called Rights of Man. It was through him that Pius IX again in our time lifted up his voice to condemn religious freedom as iniquitous, as he did in his encyclical Quanta Cura. It was through him that the Syllabus came back to life in our own time to oppose the aggiornamento of the Church, its adaptation to contemporary errors and the spirit of the world. The great encyclicals of Leo XIII were on his lips as if this Pope had spoken to us himself. But it was especially St. Pius X who by him, in the 1970's and 1980's, anathematized a Modernism and a new Sillon movement whose ravages today are much greater than under the pontificate of St. Pius X himself. Since 1960 no other bishop has insisted, as he did, on the doctrine of the encyclical Quas Primas of Pope Pius XI on the Social Kingship of Jesus Christ. Nobody else has fought the Communists with an energy comparable to his, according to the request of the encyclical Divini Redemptoris, where Pius XI designates them as the chief enemies of Christendom and rejects as impossible any collaboration with them. The same thing could be said for Freemasonry. He listened carefully to the warnings of Pius XII in Humani Generis against the new philosophy and theology, and, again, he passed these warnings on.

If the Church is the oracle of the living God in the documents of the Popes and the Councils–and she is!–we must see Archbishop Lefebvre as faithfully bearing her testimony to the revelation of the Triune God in the twentieth century. It was to bear this testimony that he lived, to bear this testimony that he suffered, to bear this testimony that he died. The Greek term for one who bears testimony is "martyr."

It was because he faithfully bore testimony that he had necessarily to be exposed to the spirit of the Council as well as to those conciliar texts which contradict the constant teaching of the Church. He had, then, to make a choice between: either being faithful to the Church's teaching in its glorious development and in its fertility in Christian institutions during 2,000 years, or abandoning this fidelity and aligning himself with the Council and the post-conciliar errors.

It was the grace of God which made him choose, without hesitation, the first solution, along with Bishop de Castro Mayer, another faithful witness. Deo gratias!

If, today, everywhere around the world, on every continent, a new generation of apostles is springing up, and the Faith is testified to in true seminaries, priories, retreat houses, schools, convents and monasteries, if we see groups of young Catholics and families with many children gathered around the Altar of the Sacrifice of the Immolated Lamb, it is largely the fruit of the Faith of this man–a Faith capable of moving mountains. The little mustard seed has become a great tree in the branches of which the birds of heaven come to dwell.

Credidimus Caritati 
We have believed in Charity.
This is the munus sanctificandi –
the function of sanctifying.

In what love have we believed? In the immolated and crucified Love of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim of the Sacrifice. Let us allow the Archbishop himself to speak. On June 4, 1981, he wrote the following words to the members of the Society:

All of Scripture is directed towards the Cross, towards the redeeming and gloriously shining Victim. Likewise, the whole life of the Church is directed towards the Altar of Sacrifice. Consequently, its principal concern is the holiness of the priesthood.

The mind of the Church concentrates on sacred and divine things. She has therefore to form him who gives sacred things, the sacerdos or priest, which is to say sacra dans, or giving sacred things. He it is who accomplishes the sacred and holy actions, the sacrificium, the sacrifice, which is to say sacrum faciens, accomplishing the sacred. The Church gives into his "consecrated" hands divine and sacred gifts, the sacramenta, the sacraments.

The Church consecrates, that is she gives a sacred character, to the baptized, to the confirmed, to kings, virgins, knights, churches, chalices and altar stones, and all these consecrations are accomplished as an extension of the Sacrifice of Our Lord and in the person of Jesus Himself.

In his sermon for his Golden Jubilee at Paris, on September 23,1979, he developed this:

The notion of sacrifice is a profoundly Christian and Catholic one. The whole mystery of Christian civilization is that we cannot live without sacrifice, and that we cannot live without sacrifice on account of the very fact that Our Lord Jesus Christ, God Himself, chose to take a body as our own and say to us: "Follow Me; take up your cross and follow Me if you want to be saved," on account of the fact that He gave us the example of dying on the cross, of pouring forth His blood.

He who comprehends the mystery of sacrifice in his life, in his daily life, he who understands Christian suffering, can no longer consider suffering as an evil, as an unbearable pain, but shares his sufferings and his illness with Our Lord Jesus Christ suffering, and this he does by contemplating the Cross, by assisting at Holy Mass, which is the continuation of the passion of Our Lord on Calvary.

To understand suffering is to have it become a joy... united to all the sufferings of all the martyrs, of all the saints, of all Catholics, of all the faithful who suffer in the becomes a treasure beyond all expression...for the conversion of souls and for the salvation of our own soul. Many holy and Christian souls have even desired to suffer. They desired suffering so as to unite themselves more with the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

These are the men that the grace of the Mass has produced, men who assist at Mass every day, who receive Communion fervently and who become models and examples to those around them. This is without counting the many Christians transformed by grace.

[In Africa] I was privileged to see villages of pagans who had become Christian transformed not only spiritually and supernaturally, but even physically, socially, economically, politically. For these people who had been pagan had become aware of the necessity of accomplishing one's duty despite the difficulties and sacrifices, and this especially with respect to keeping their promises and marriage vows. Then the village changed little by little under the influence of the grace of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass....

Then men and women also consecrated themselves to God. Religious, nuns, and priests gave themselves to God...these are the fruits of the Mass.

And in his Spiritual Journey of 1989 he tells of a dream one day in Dakar Cathedral in which God made him see the following vocation:

To transmit, in the midst of the progressive degradation of the priestly ideal, the Catholic priesthood of Our Lord Jesus Christ in all its doctrinal purity, in all its missionary charity, just as it had been transmitted from Our Lord until the middle of the twentieth century.

By His choice of the day of death, God has placed His seal of authenticity on such a sacrificial life for the safekeeping of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the renewal of the Catholic Priesthood. Archbishop Lefebvre died in the early hours of March 25, Feast of the Annunciation, on the day on which Our Lord Jesus Christ was made flesh in the womb of His most holy and pure mother, on the day on which His human nature is anointed to be the Eternal High Priest of the New Testament. From the very moment of this entry into the world, His entire attention is turned towards the sacrificial Altar of the Cross and the nourishing of our souls by the fruit of this sacrifice. The Archbishop departed on the first day of Holy Week, at the time when Our Lord was preparing for His sacrifice, and when He preached in the temple the magnificent sermons which opposed Him to the Pharisees concerning His mission. Just like Our Lord, our beloved father was dragged before ecclesiastical and civil tribunals, before Annas and Caiphas, as before Pilate and Herod, and it was again while he was on his death bed that he was condemned for so-called "racism"–he who for nearly 30 years worked as a missionary among the blacks in Africa. "By his death the just man was clutched away from the face of iniquity."

Night still covered the earth when he died at 3:30 a.m. at the hospital. But soon afterwards the light of the new day transpierced the morning haze. His sacrifice was consummated and his death became a triumph and a victory. Today's mourning and funeral are overwhelmed by the brightness of the Resurrection.

Does not the Church offer the votive Mass of the Holy Trinity every Monday when there is no feast? It begins with these words: "Blessed be the Most Holy Trinity and His undivided Unity; let us thank Him, for He has shown His mercy to us."

Instaurare omnia in Christo – To restore all things in Christ. This is the munus regendi –  the function of governing.

Along with the entire Church, Archbishop Lefebvre confessed that God is Creator, Redeemer, Lord and Final End of all things. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity was made man. Everything, therefore, must be ordered towards Our Lord Jesus Christ. Everything must be summed up in Him; everything has its meaning in Him and must be restored in Him. May the light of the Faith illuminate the minds of many, that the light and grace of Christ may fortify their will; that marriages, families, schools and states might submit themselves to His law. But Christ has very specially placed this law of Charity in His Church, with its priesthood and its religious life. That is why the life and teaching of Archbishop Lefebvre are Christocentric. It is because his warnings have been ignored (warnings which, to repeat it once more, are nothing other than the warnings of the Popes), that everything is falling apart, that everything is collapsing, that the smoke of Satan has entered into the Church, and that anti-Christian forces destroy Christian institutions.

Let us allow the Archbishop to speak once more:

The result of this Council was much worse than that of the revolution. The executions and the martyrdoms are silent ones. Tens of thousands of priests, brothers and nuns abandon their promises. Others are laicized; cloisters disappear; vandalism occurs everywhere in the churches. Altars are destroyed, crosses disappear... seminaries and novitiates are emptied.

Civil societies which are still Catholic become laicized under the pressure of Roman authorities. Our Lord no longer has the right to rule here below! Catholic teaching has become ecumenical and Liberal. Catechisms are changed so as to be no longer Catholic. The Gregorian at Rome has become mixed, and St. Thomas is no longer the foundation of its teaching. (Spiritual Journey)

There is only one solution to the problems of mankind and especially for our time: to bring all back to Christ in Whom alone there is peace, tranquility in order, in the order of creation and in the order of the Redemption. It is "Pax Christi in regno Christi–The peace of Christ in the kingdom of Christ."

The Archbishop suffered personal injustices, humiliations of his honor trodden underfoot. He suffered from some of his priest sons saying to him: "This teaching is hard. Who can listen to it?" (Jn. 6:61), and who withdrew and no longer went with him. He suffered a thousand times more on account of the Church. He suffered for the Church. Christ suffered in him so as to accomplish in His mystical body the work of the Redemption (cf. Col. 1:24).

Two conclusions ought to be drawn from this life and this death. The first is for us, fellow priests, seminarians, brothers, sisters and faithful. The best homage we could render to our dear Archbishop is to continue his work with courage and confidence, without deviating either to the right or to the left from the path he traced for us. May our Lady, whom the Archbishop used to invoke at every sermon or conference, obtain from her divine Son in this critical time the spirit of faithfulness so that we might be able to transmit in our turn that which the Archbishop transmitted to us. May our honor consist in this. Read, consequently, his Declaration of November 21, 1974, which defines exactly the spirit of the Society in today's crisis of Faith. Read the letter the Archbishop addressed to the four bishops he consecrated. From this letter appears exactly their place with respect to the hierarchy of the Priestly Society of St. Pius X. Our jurisdiction with respect to the laity is an exceptional and supplied jurisdiction for the salvation of souls, on account of the weakness or failure of authority.

A second conclusion follows for the heads of the Church. During his entire life Archbishop Lefebvre showed his love for the Holy See. He simply wanted to serve the Pope and the bishops and he did this in three ways:

1) Where would the Church be if the Paul of our time had not resisted Peter–resistance which avoided many other evils? Moreover, Archbishop Lefebvre, by his exemplary action, saved the honor of the Church, which is by essence the image of the immutable God.

2) In the midst of opposition and hostility he succeeded in maintaining and awakening again, in a small circle of priests and faithful, the genuine spirit of Jesus Christ. Thus he showed us the path which can alone draw the Church to its healing and renewal. This path is the spirit of sanctity which flows from the Cross of Christ.

3) He, in fact, formed a small elite to be at the disposition of the Holy See and the bishops. It must be added, nevertheless, that this elite is to be at their disposition while at the same time is to be excluded every compromise and concession with respect to the errors of Vatican Council II and the reforms which have come from them. For as long as the spirit of destruction blows through the chanceries and Roman Congregations no harmonization or agreement will be possible. We want to work for the construction of the Church and not for its demolition. The newspapers say that Rome was waiting for the Archbishop's repentance right till the end. But for what can a man be repentant who did his duty right to the end by preserving and giving to the Church the means which are absolutely necessary for holiness? Was it not a good work to give her Catholic pastors, when she is occupied by mercenaries, thieves and criminals? "For which of these good works do you stone me?" (Jn. 10:32).

At this time we beseech Rome and the bishops: abandon this deadly ecumenism, the laicization of society and the protestantization of divine worship. Return to the healthy tradition of the Church. Even if you seal with a thousand decrees and excommunications the tomb you have dug for the true Holy Mass, for the Catechism of the Council of Trent, and for Jesus Christ's title of Universal King, life will arise even from the closed tomb. "Jerusalem, convert to the Lord your God." An essential sign of such a conversion and such a turnabout would be that once Archbishop Lefebvre's tomb has been closed, the official opening of a process to investigate the heroicity of his virtues. We, his sons, are the privileged witnesses of his merits, of the force of his faith, of his burning love for God and for his neighbor, of his resignation to the will of God, of his humility and his meekness, of his life of prayer, of his hatred for sin and his horror for error. Nobody drew near to him without leaving improved. His holiness shone and he was the instrument in creating it around him. One day an old priest, a critical observer of today's events, said to me: "Archbishop Lefebvre is charity."

At this time let us turn to the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy, Mother of the High Priest, that she might pray to her Divine Son for the soul of her faithful servant and present it to Him.

Archbishop Lefebvre's work on this earth is finished. Now he begins his ministry as intercessor in eternity. He gave everything which he had to give: his doctrine as bishop, his action as untiring missionary, the miracle of a new generation of priests, an example in suffering, and four auxiliary bishops, dispensers of the Holy Ghost on the Church and souls. God asked of him one final thing: his life.

Since he loved his own, he loved them all the way to the end–usque in finem.

Ecce Sacerdos magnus,
qui in diebus suis placuit Deo,
et inventus est Justus.
Non est inventus similis illi,
qui conservavit legem Excelsi.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.