Who was Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre?

Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre was the founder of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX).

A brief history: 1905-1991


November 29, 1905
Birth of Marcel Lefebvre to Rene and Gabrielle Lefebvre.

September 21, 1929
Marcel Lefebvre is ordained a priest.

Having become a Holy Ghost Father, he becomes a missionary in Gabon, Africa.

September 18, 1947
He is consecrated a bishop and appointed Apostolic Vicar of Dakar, Senegal.

Bishop Lefebvre is Pope Pius XII’s Apostolic Delegate for 18 African countries.

September 14, 1955
He becomes the first Archbishop of Dakar.

Pope John XXIII appoints Archbishop Lefebvre to the Central Preparatory Commission for the Second Vatican Council; all of this commission’s work though will be rejected by the liberals at the onset of the Council.

Lefebvre returns to France to be the Bishop of Tulle.

Archbishop Lefebvre is elected and acts as Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers. During the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), he helps to lead the resistance to the liberal hijacking of the council via the Coetus Internationalis Patrum, which consisted of nearly 200 bishops.

In the wake of Vatican II, liberals within the Holy Ghost Fathers attempt to force him to implement changes to the congregation. Knowing that this “updating” would destroy his missionary society, he decides to resign as superior general and go into “retirement.”

Approached by seminarians, parents, priests and bishops (and having received the encouraging sign that this was the will of God—the urging and permission of Bishop Francois Charriere), Archbishop Lefebvre founds the Priestly Society of St. Pius X.

The Society of St. Pius X having received its official approval on November 1, 1970 by the local bishop, Bishop Adam Nestor, and then by the Congregation of the Clergy of the Vatican, Archbishop Lefebvre acts as the priestly society’s first Superior General.

Until, in view of his imminent death, he consecrates successors, Archbishop Lefebvre does all he can to be faithful to the grace of his episcopacy, traveling the world to encourage Catholics to hold fast to the faith and traditions of their fathers, confirming their young and ordaining for them priests.

March 25, 1991
Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre passes before his Eternal Judge.


After a life of exemplary service in the Church, this retiring archbishop still had his greatest work ahead of him. His generous spirit and clear-sighted vision are still the beating heart of the SSPX today.

Marcel Lefebvre, founder of the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X, was born November 29 1905 in the northern French town of Tourcoing. The third of eight children, Marcel grew up under the supervision of his devout Catholic parents, Rene and Gabrielle, who owned a local textile factory.

Seminary and Ordination

Marcel, drawn to the priesthood from his youth, followed his father’s advice and entered the French Seminary in Rome at the age of eighteen. Six years later he was ordained priest; shortly thereafter he completed his doctorate in theology and began pastoral work within the diocese of Lille.

Fr. Lefebvre’s older brother, a missionary associated with the Holy Ghost Fathers, urged the new priest to join him in Gabon, Africa. Fr. Lefebvre eventually acquiesced and temporarily joined the Holy Ghost Fathers in 1932; he was immediately sent to Gabon, first as a seminary professor, but was soon promoted to rector. After three years of difficult missionary work, he nevertheless decided to commit himself permanently to missionary work: he made perpetual vows with the Holy Ghost Fathers.

Apostolic Delegate to French Africa

Marcel Lefebvre, after these early years, was entrusted with increasingly important responsibilities. He was called back to France and made rector of a seminary in Mortain; later Pope Pius XII appointed him Vicar Apostolic of Dakar and he was thus consecrated a bishop; the following year, 1948, the pope further honored Bishop Lefebvre by naming him Apostolic Delegate to French Africa and granting him the title of archbishop.

Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers

Pope John XXIII, like his predecessor, believed that Archbishop Lefebvre’s theological expertise, missionary experience, and background in education were of an exceptionally rare quality; the pope thus appointed him to the Preparatory Committee of the Second Vatican Council, a body charged with setting the agenda of the upcoming and much anticipated ecumenical council.  The Holy Ghost Fathers were also quite impressed with the archbishop’s work and at their General Chapter of 1962, elected him superior general.

Vatican II

Archbishop Lefebvre was now at the height of his career. Vatican II however, would prove for him a bitter disappointment. Most of the texts he helped prepare for the council were rejected outright and new, more liberal and modern versions were substituted in their place. In response, the archbishop along with other confused prelates formed a conservative, reactionary group called the Coetus Internationalis Patrum in which he served as chairman. This group primarily opposed the introduction of modernist tendencies into the council texts.

The Coetus was ultimately unsuccessful in countering these modernist reforms, and Archbishop Lefebvre left the council heartbroken. Additionally, the Holy Ghost Fathers, chaffing under the archbishop’s conservative leadership, essentially forced his resignation as their superior general at the General Chapter of 1968. Marcel Lefebvre was now sixty-three years old and, after a lifetime of service to the Church, planned to retire.


Foundation of the SSPX

Here the archbishop’s life dovetails with that of the SSPX. Following the repeated requests of several young men seeking a traditional priestly formation, Archbishop Lefebvre opened a new seminary in Econe, Switzerland. The local Ordinary, Bishop Francois Charriere, gave his blessing for this work, and on November 1, 1970 the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X was born.

A brief account of the history of the SSPX can be found above, and that information will not be repeated here. One detail, however, should be added to that general account, as it pertains primarily to Archbishop Lefebvre’s involvement in the Coetus Internationalis Patrum. During the Second Vatican Council, an important friendship developed between Marcel Lefebvre and Antonio de Castro Mayer, bishop of Campos (Brazil). These two shared ideas at the various Coetus functions and kept in contact long after the close of the council. They both refused to implement the modernist teachings of Vatican II and in 1983 jointly authored an open letter to the pope lamenting the numerous errors which seemed to infect Rome. When Archbishop Lefebvre consecrated four new bishops in 1988, Bishop de Castro Mayer assisted as co-consecrator.

Tradidi quod et accepi

Archbishop Lefebvre, after guiding the SSPX for over twenty years, died on March 25, 1991. He is buried in a crypt beneath his beloved seminary at Econe where his remains can be visited today. On his tomb are marked the words of the apostle St. Paul: “Tradidi quod et accepi” (I have transmitted what I have received – 1 Cor. 15:3). 


What is the Society of St. Pius X?


The Society of St. Pius X is an international priestly society of common life without vows, whose purpose is to train, support, and encourage holy priests so that they may effectively spread the Catholic faith throughout the world.

A brief chronology


A “retired” prelate, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, agrees to help a handful of young seminarians who are disconcerted by the direction being taken in post-Vatican II seminaries in their priestly formation. He does this, not only by undertaking their training, but also by founding a Society aiming at fostering a priestly life according to the wise norms and customs of the Church of previous days.

November 1, 1970
The Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) is officially recognized by the local ordinary of Lausanne, Geneva, and Fribourg, Bishop Charriere.

February 18, 1971

Cardinal Wright, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, issues a decree praising the wisdom of the Society’s statutes.

June 10, 1971

Archbishop Lefebvre announces, together with the staff of the International Seminary of St. Pius X at Econe (Switzerland), the refusal to adopt the Novus Ordo Missae.

1971 – 1974

Following on Cardinal Wright’s letter are other sure signs of Rome’s full acceptance of the SSPX:

During the same years the French Episcopal Conference was maneuvering to have the Society and its seminary suppressed (cfquestion 3).

November 1, 1980
By its 10th anniversary, the SSPX has 40 houses on two continents.

November 1, 1995
By its 25th anniversary, the SSPX numbers 4 bishops, over 360 priests, 50 brothers, 120 sisters and 53 oblate sisters, all living in 140 houses in 27 countries. Together they seek the goal of the priesthood: the glorification of God, the continuation of Our Lord’s redemptive work, the salvation of souls. They accomplish this by fidelity to Christ’s testament, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

2000 – Today
Impressed by the SSPX’s Pilgrimage of Tradition made in Rome for the Jubilee Year (2000), the Holy See invites the Society to discuss a possible regularization.

The SSPX’s Superior General, Bishop Bernard Fellay, requests and obtains two signs of good will on the part of Rome: the liberalization of the traditional Roman Mass (July 7, 2007) and the withdrawal of the “excommunications” of the Society’s bishops (January 29, 2009).

In October 2009, the Holy See also grants Bishop Fellay’s request for a theological commission to enable the SSPX to present its position concerning the errors of the Second Vatican Council and the New Mass.

After the meetings of the theological commission, Pope Benedict XVI began proceedings in an attempt to provide a canonical solution to the SSPX’s situation. 

Meanwhile, the SSPX has continued to steadily grow throughout the world, as indicated by the statistics below.











(Switzerland – USA – France
Argentina – Australia)


Religious brothers




Religious sisters




Third Order members




 Faithful associated



USA District presence

Affiliated non-SSPX entitles



Isn’t the SSPX schismatic?


The Society of St. Pius X has always recognized and adhered to the authority of the pope, and, as noted by prominent Roman authorities (e.g., Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos), the SSPX is not schismatic.

Was Archbishop Lefebvre (along with his co-consecrator and the four bishops whom he consecrated) excommunicated also for having done a “schismatic act”?


What constitutes a schismatic act?  Not the mere deed of consecrating bishops without pontifical mandate. The 1983 Code of Canon Law itself lists this offense under Title 3 (abuse of ecclesiastical powers) and not under Title 1 (offenses against religion and the unity of the Church) of its penal section (Book 6).

Nor would it be a “schismatic act” to consecrate against the express wish of the Holy Father. That could amount to disobedience at most.* But disobedience does not amount to schism; schism requires that one not recognize the authority of the pope to command; disobedience consists in not obeying a command, whilst still acknowledging the authority of the one commanding. “The child who says ‘I won’t!’ to his mother does not deny that she is his mother” (Fr. Glover, in Is Tradition Excommunicated? p. 99 [appendix 2]).

*(But there is no disobedience, cfAn Open Letter to Confused Catholics, pp. 129-136. Cf. “The act of consecrating a bishop (without the pope’s permission)is not itself a schismatic act,” Cardinal Lara, President of the Pontifical Commission for the Authentic Interpretation of Canon Law, in La Repubblica, October 7, 1988)

Archbishop Lefebvre always recognized the pope’s authority (proved by his consultations with Rome for a solution to the current problems) and so does the SSPX. (See for example, its support for Pope John Paul II’s Ordinatio Sacerdotalis against women priests.)

Consecrating a bishop without pontifical mandate would be a schismatic act if one pretended to confer not just the fullness of the priesthood but also jurisdiction, a governing power over a particular flock. Only the pope, who has universal jurisdiction over the whole Church, can appoint a pastor to a flock and empower him to govern it. But Archbishop Lefebvre never presumed to confer anything but the full priestly powers of holy orders, and in no way did he grant any jurisdiction (which he himself did not have personally to give).

Do the faithful, threatened by Pope John Paul II himself with excommunication if they adhere formally to the schism (Ecclesia Dei Afflicta, July 2, 1988), indeed incur any excommunication for going to SSPX priests for the sacraments?

Not at all. The priests of the Society are neither excommunicated nor schismatics (as figures such has cardinal Hoyos have made clear) that the Society is not schismatic (Is Tradition Excommunicated? pp. 1-39). This being so, how could any of the faithful who approach them incur these penalties?

Weren’t several laypeople excommunicated in Hawaii for attending an SSPX mass?

On May 1, 1991, Bishop Ferrario of Hawaii “excommunicated” certain Catholics of his diocese for attending Masses celebrated by priests of the SSPX, and receiving a bishop of the Society to confer the sacrament of Confirmation. Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, overturned this decision:

From the examination of the case… it did not result that the facts referred to in the above-mentioned decree, are formal schismatic acts in the strict sense, as they do not constitute the offense of schism; and therefore the Congregation holds that the decree of May 1, 1991, lacks foundation and hence validity. (June 28, 1993)


Wasn’t Archbishop Lefebvre excommunicated?

Confusion often arises about Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s 1988 consecration of four bishops without papal permission, which action Pope John Paul II pointed out carried with it the latae sententiae (automatic) penalty of excommunication. However, according to canon law, a person who believes, like Archbishop Lefebvre did, that there is a moral necessity to break a law (i.e., for the salvation of souls) would not incur any automatic penalties, even if that person were to be incorrect in that assessment.


June 29, 1987

Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, experiencing failing health, aware of his episcopal duty to pass on the Catholic Faith and seeing no other way of assuring the continued ordination of truly Catholic priests, decided to consecrate bishops and announced that, if necessary, he will do so even without the pope’s permission. 

June 30, 1988, “Operation Survival”.

Cardinal Gantin, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, officially warned the archbishop that, in virtue of canon 1382 (1983 Code of Canon Law), he and the bishops consecrated by him would be excommunicated for proceeding without pontifical mandate and thereby infringing the laws of sacred discipline.

June 30, 1988

Archbishop Lefebvre, together with Bishop de Castro Mayer, consecrated four bishops.


July 1, 1988

Cardinal Gantin declared the threatened excommunication (according to canon 1382) to have been incurred. He also called the consecrations a schismatic act and declared the corresponding excommunication (canon 1364 §1), as well as threatening anyone supporting the consecrations with excommunication because of “schism”.

In Ecclesia Dei Afflicta, the pope repeated Cardinal Gantin’s accusation of schismatic mentality and threatened generalized excommunications (cf.question 12).

However, the excommunication warned of on June 17 for abuse of episcopal powers (canon 1382) was not incurred because:

  1. person who violates a law out of necessity* is not subject to a penalty (1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 1323, §4), even if there is no state of necessity:[1]
  2. if one inculpably thought there was a necessity, he would not incur the penalty (canon 1323, 70),
  3. and if one culpably thought there was a necessity, he would still incur no automatic penalties[2] (canon 1324, §3; §1, 80).

*The state of necessity, as it is explained by jurists, is a state in which the necessary goods for natural or supernatural life are so threatened that one is morally compelled to break the law in order to save them. (Is Tradition Excommunicated?, p. 26) 

No penalty is ever incurred without committing a subjective mortal sin (canons 1321 §1, 1323 70). Archbishop Lefebvre made it clear that he felt bound in conscience to do what he could do to continue the Catholic priesthood and that he was obeying God in going ahead with the consecrations (Cf. the Sermon of June 30, 1988, andArchbishop Lefebvre and the Vatican, p. 136). Hence, even if he had been wrong, there would be no subjective sin.

Most importantly, positive law is at the service of the natural and eternal law and ecclesiastical law is at that of the divine law (principle 8)  No “authority,” [principle 9]  can force a bishop to compromise in his teaching of Catholic faith or administering of Catholic sacraments. No “law,” can force him to cooperate in the destruction of the Church. With Rome giving no guarantee of preserving Catholic Tradition, Archbishop Lefebvre had to do what he could with his God-given episcopal powers to guarantee its preservation. This was his duty as a bishop.

Finally, the Church’s approval of the SSPX (question 2)  allows it what it needs for its own preservation. This includes the service of bishops who will guarantee to maintain Catholic Tradition.


January 21, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI withdraws the decree of excommunication.


Bishop Fellay on the withdrawal of the 1988 excommunications


Dear faithful,

As I announce in the attached press release,

the excommunication of the bishops consecrated by His Grace Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, on June 30, 1988, which had been declared by the Congregation for Bishops in a decree dated July 1, 1988, and which we had always contested, has been withdrawn by another decree mandated by Benedict XVI and issued by the same Congregation on January 21, 2009.

It was the prayer intention I had entrusted to you in Lourdes, on the feast of Christ the King 2008. Your response exceeded our expectations, since one million seven hundred and three thousand rosaries were said to obtain through the intercession of Our Lady that an end be put to the opprobrium which, beyond the persons of the bishops of the Society, rested upon all those who were more or less attached to Tradition. Let us not forget to thank the Most Blessed Virgin who has inspired the Holy Father with this unilateral, benevolent, and courageous act to. Let us assure him of our fervent prayers.

Thanks to this gesture, Catholics attached to Tradition throughout the world will no longer be unjustly stigmatized and condemned for having kept the Faith of their fathers. Catholic Tradition is no longer excommunicated. Though it never was in itself, it was often excommunicated and cruelly so in day to day events. It is just as the Tridentine Mass had never been abrogated in itself, as the Holy Father has happily recalled in the motu proprioSummorum Pontificum of July 7, 2007.

The decree of January 21 quotes the letter dated December 15, 2008 to Cardinal Castrillon-Hoyos in which I expressed our attachment “to the Church of Our Lord Jesus-Christ which is the Catholic Church,” re-affirming there our acceptation of its two thousand year old teaching and our faith in the Primacy of Peter. I reminded him that we were suffering much from the present situation of the Church in which this teaching and this primacy were being held to scorn. And I added: “We are ready to write the Creed with our own blood, to sign the anti-modernist oath, the profession of faith of Pius IV, we accept and make our own all the councils up to the First Vatican Council. Yet we can but express reservations concerning the Second Vatican Council, which intended to be council “different from the others (cf. Addresses by Popes John XXIII and Paul VI).” In all this, we are convinced that we remain faithful to the line of conduct indicated by our founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, whose reputation we hope to soon see restored.

Consequently, we wish to begin these “talks” – which the decree acknowledges to be

necessary – about the doctrinal issues which are opposed to the Magisterium of all time. We cannot help noticing the unprecedented crisis which is shaking the Church today: crisis of vocations, crisis of religious practice, of catechism, of the reception of the sacraments… Before us, Paul VI went so far as to say that “from some fissure the smoke of Satan had entered the Church”, and he spoke of the “self-destruction of the Church”. John Paul II did not hesitate to say that Catholicism in Europe was, as it were, in a state of “silent apostasy.”

Shortly before his election to the Throne of Peter, Benedict XVI compared the Church to a “boat taking in water on every side.” Thus, during these discussions with the Roman authorities we want to examine the deep causes of the present situation, and by bringing the appropriate remedy, achieve a lasting restoration of the Church.

Dear faithful, the Church is in the hands of her Mother, the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. In Her we place our confidence. We have asked from her the freedom of the Mass of all time everywhere and for all. We have asked from her the withdrawal of the decree of excommunications. In our prayers, we now ask from her the necessary doctrinal clarifications which confused souls so much need.

Menzingen, January 24, 2009

+Bernard Fellay

Wasn’t the SSPX suppressed?


The pope has never suppressed the SSPX: only the pope, not a local bishop, has the authority to suppress a religious order (1917 Code of Canon Law, canon 493 and 1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 616).

Timeline of the Suppression

November 1, 1970

The SSPX is canonically founded

1971 – 1974

Several French bishops attack the Society as “sauvage” (renegade). One of them, Pope Paul VI’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Villot, deceives the Holy Father into believing Archbishop Lefebvre had his priests sign a declaration against the pope (Archbishop Lefebvre, Fideliter, no. 59, pp. 68-70).


November 11 – 13, 1974

An apostolic visitation of the seminary at Econe takes place (this is in itself normal procedure; its conclusions, though never published, were “very favorable,” according to Cardinal Garonne, “except that you don’t use the new liturgy, and there’s a somewhat anti-conciliar spirit there.”) The visitors, however, disturb those at the seminary by their expression of highly unorthodox views, prompting Archbishop Lefebvre’s so-called Declaration.


February 13 and March 3, 1975

Archbishop Lefebvre meets with an improvised commission of three cardinals, allegedly to discuss the Apostolic Visitation, but ends defending his Declaration against the Cardinals’ severe criticism. Having been given no warning as to the primary subject of these meetings, he has no lawyer, and is never allowed a copy of the recorded meetings, even though it was promised him.

May 6, 1975

The irregular commission writes Bishop Mamie at Fribourg telling him to withdraw his predecessor’s approval of the Society, which is beyond his canonical power (once a bishop has approved a religious congregation, only the pope can suppress it: 1917 Code of Canon Law, canon 493 and 1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 616).

June 5, 1975

Archbishop Lefebvre submits an appeal to the Apostolic Signature in Rome, in substance:

…it would be for the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to determine whether my Declaration were at fault. Please provide evidence that this commission of cardinals had been expressly mandated by the pope (who by his own authority can bypass the Congregations) to decide as has been done.* And if I be at fault, of course I can be censured, but not the Society which was founded in due canonical form.

Cardinal Villot arranges that the appeal is not accepted. Cardinal Staffa is threatened with dismissal if he dare to accept an appeal from Archbishop Lefebvre. (Vatican Encounter, pp. 85 and 191)

*This evidence was never produced.

June 29, 1975

Pope Paul VI is convinced to write to Archbishop Lefebvre that he approved of all the actions of the commission of cardinals. It is impossible, however that papal approbation in June could empower this commission which had met the previous February.

On this whole process, Archbishop Lefebvre observes:

…we have been condemned, without trial, without opportunity to defend ourselves, without due warning or written process and without appeal. (Open Letter to Confused Catholics, p. 150)

Over and above the canonical question, there remains that of common sense: whether one must observe a censure when no crime can be pointed out, or when the identity or authority of the judge is unsure.



What is wrong with the Novus Ordo Missae?



A. Preliminary remarks


  1. A criticism of the New Rite cannot be a criticism of the Mass in itself, for this is the very sacrifice of Our Lord bequeathed to His Church, but it is an examination, whether it is a fit rite for embodying and enacting this august Sacrifice. 
  2. It is difficult for those who have known nothing other than the Novus Ordo Missae to understand of what they have been deprived, and attending a “Latin Mass” often just seems alien. To see clearly what it is all about, it is necessary to have a clear understanding of the defined truths of our Faith on the Mass (principles 11-18 are some of them). Only in the light of these can the “new rite” of Mass be evaluated.


B. What is the Novus Ordo Missae?

Let us first examine the elements of the Novus Ordo Missae. Some are Catholic:

but some are Protestant:

The Novus Ordo Missae assumes these heterodox elements alongside the Catholic ones to form a liturgy for a modernist religion which would marry the Church and the world, Catholicism and Protestantism, light and darkness. Indeed, the Novus Ordo Missae presents itself as:

Notice also the numerous rubrical changes:

Moreover, the Novus Ordo Missae defined itself this way:

The Lord’s Supper, or Mass, is a sacred synaxis, or assembly of the people of God gathered together under the presidency of the priest to celebrate the memorial of the Lord. (Pope Paul VI, Institutio Generalis, §7, 1969 version)


What is the aim of the Novus Ordo Missae as a rite?


 …the intention of Pope Paul VI with regard to what is commonly called the Mass, was to reform the Catholic liturgy in such a way that it should almost coincide with the Protestant liturgy… there was with Pope Paul VI an ecumenical intention to remove, or at least to correct, or at least to relax, what was too Catholic, in the traditional sense, in the Mass and, I repeat, to get the Catholic Mass closer to the Calvinist service…*

*Jean Guitton on December 19, 1993 in Apropos (17), p. 8ff [also in Christian Order, October 1994]. Jean Guitton was an intimate friend of Pope Paul VI. Paul VI had 116 of his books and had made marginal study notes in 17 of these:

When I began work on this trilogy I was concerned at the extent to which the Catholic liturgy was being Protestantized. The more detailed my study of the Revolution, the more evident it has become that it has by-passed Protestantism and its final goal is humanism. (Pope Paul’s New Mass, pp. 137 and 149. This latter is a fair evaluation when one considers the changes implemented, the results achieved, and the tendency of modern theology, even papal theology (cfquestion 7).


Who made up the Novus Ordo Missae?

It is the invention of a liturgical commission, the Consilium, whose guiding light was Fr. Annibale Bugnini (made an archbishop in 1972 for his services), and which also included six Protestant experts. Fr. Bugnini (principal author of Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium) had his own ideas on popular involvement in the liturgy (La Riforma Liturgia, A. Bugnini, Centro Liturgico Vincenziano, 1983), while the Protestant advisors had their own heretical ideas on the essence of the Mass. 

However, the one on whose authority the Novus Ordo Missae was enforced was Pope Paul VI, who “promulgated” it by his apostolic constitution, Missale Romanum (April 3, 1969). However, his proscription was highly unclear.

Judgment on the Novus Ordo Missae

Judging the Novus Ordo Missae in itself and in its official Latin form (printed in 1969)*, Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci wrote to Pope Paul VI:

…the Novus Ordo represents, both as a whole and in its details, a striking departure from the Catholic theology of the Mass as it was formulated in Session XXIII of the Council of Trent. (A Brief Critical Study of the Novus Ordo Missae, September 25, 1969)

*A Novus Ordo Missae celebrated according to the 1969 typical edition would look very similar to the traditional Roman Rite, with the celebrant saying most (if not all) the prayers in Latin, facing the tabernacle and wearing the traditional Mass vestments, with a male altar server, and Gregorian chant, etc. None of the current abuses, e.g., Communion in the hand, Eucharistic Ministers, liturgical dancing, guitar-masses, etc., have part with this official form. Hence, the aforementioned cardinals’ (as well as the SSPX’s) critique of the Novus Ordo Missae is not of its abuses or misapplication, but rather of its essential and official form.

Archbishop Lefebvre definitely agreed when he wrote:

The Novus Ordo Missae, even when said with piety and respect for the liturgical rules, …is impregnated with the spirit of  Protestantism. It bears within it a poison harmful to the faith  (An Open Letter to Confused Catholics, p. 29) 

The dissimulation of Catholic elements and the pandering to Protestants which are evident in the Novus Ordo Missae render it a danger to our faith, and, as such, evil, given that it lacks the good which the sacred rite of Mass ought to have. The Church was promised the Novus Ordo Missae would renew Catholic fervor, inspire the young, draw back the lapsed and attract non-Catholics. Who today can pretend that these things are its fruits? Together with the Novus Ordo Missae did there not instead come a dramatic decline in Mass attendance and vocations, an “identity crisis” among priests, a slowing in the rate of conversions, and an acceleration of apostasies? So, from the point of view of its fruits, the Novus Ordo Missae does not seem to be a rite conducive to the flourishing of the Church’s mission.

Does it follow from the apparent promulgation by the popes that the Novus Ordo Missae is truly Catholic? 

No, for the indefectibility of the Church does not prevent the pope personally from promoting defective and modernist rites in the Latin rite of the Church. Moreover, the Novus Ordo Missae:

*Let us remember that a pope engages his infallibility not only when teaching on faith or morals (or legislating on what is necessarily connected with them) but when so doing with full pontifical authority and definitively (cf. Vatican I [Denzinger §1839]. But as regards the Novus Ordo Missae, Pope Paul VI has stated (November 19, 1969) that:

…the rite and its related rubric are not in themselves a dogmatic definition. They are capable of various theological qualifications, depending on the liturgical context to which they relate. They are gestures and terms relating to a lived and living religious action which involves the ineffable mystery of God’s presence; it is an action that is not always carried out in the exact same form, an action that only theological analysis can examine and express in doctrinal formulas that are logically satisfying.

NB: It should be also be understood that the papal bull, Quo Primum is neither an infallible document, but rather only a disciplinary document regarding the liturgical law that governs the Tridentine Rite (cf. this Catholic FAQ  for details).


Is the Novus Ordo Missae invalid?


This does not necessarily follow from the above defects, as serious as they might be, for only three things are required for validity (presupposing a validly ordained priest), proper:

However, the celebrant must intend to do what the Church does. The Novus Ordo Missae will no longer in and of itself guarantee that the celebrant has this intention. That will depend on his personal faith (generally unknown to those assisting).

Therefore, these Masses can be of doubtful validity.

The words of consecration, especially of the wine, have been tampered with. Has the “substance of the sacrament” (cf., Pope Pius XII quoted in principle 5) been respected? While we should assume that despite this change the consecration is still valid, nevertheless this does add to the doubt.

Are we obliged in conscience to attend the Novus Ordo Missae?

If the Novus Ordo Missae is not truly Catholic, then it cannot oblige for one’s Sunday obligation. Many Catholics who do assist at it are unaware of its all pervasive degree of serious innovation and are exempt from guilt. However, any Catholic who is aware of its harm, does not have the right to participate. He could only then assist at it by a mere physical presence without positively taking part in it, and then and for major family reasons (weddings, funerals, etc).