Sunday, December 3, 2017

Finally Got My Christmas Present Read!

The Biography
Marcel Lefebvre
Bernard Tissier de Mallerais
Angelus Press, Kansas City, MO, 2014

A year ago after the summer holidays, I got a package in the mail from Angelus Press, including a year's subscription to their great magazine and an autographed copy of The Biography. It was my first Christmas gift of 2016 and over the year I have enjoyed the magazine immensely. The big book took more courage to face. Normally by my reading with Kindle, big books are not all that intimidating, partly because you don't see nor do you have 600+ pages in a hard cover in your hands. Anyway, I finally started and almost couldn't put the book down until I had finished. Bishop Tissier de Mallerais has written a terribly interesting account of the life of Marcel Lefebvre and I have no objections to its English translation.

Part I, The Heir, taking us through family history, schooling, vocation and seminary, along with his Spiritan novitiate, is beautiful and truly inspiring. It makes a very ordinary boy of the people, like me, marvel at grace in action through family and the choice encounters in the life of a young man obviously destined for great things. The Archbishop's parents did an extraordinary job with all of their children.

Part II, The Missionary, almost by way of understatement illustrates the role that Archbishop Lefebvre played in the evangelization of a goodly part of Africa. Taken together with Part I, we see his homogeneous world, where he together with family and friends or proteges did a credible job of facing the social and intellectual challenges which were rushing in on the Church already in those years, paving the way for the rapid dissolution of our well-ordered Catholic universe.

Part III, The Combatant, recounts Archbishop Lefebvre's Council experience, moving from Dakar, to the small diocese of Tulle in France, to being Spiritan General and Council Father. Perforce we move from the serenity of his early life to an apology for his resistance to the forces of change which ran roughshod over the Council. Up until just recently, no doubt, this part of the book would have been the toughest for many of us to read.

Part IV, The Restorer, continues the apology of a ministry and life given totally to the defense and promotion of Catholic Priesthood in the sense of the Tradition. It clarifies well the nature of his adamant refusal to compromise for the sake of a false peace. The iter from Fribourg to Ecône, in particular, as well as the opening of other houses of priestly formation and the association of religious men and women in support of the primary work, The Priestly Society of Saint Pius X, is documented here as well. This section of 200 pages amounts to a good third of the entire book and explains the drama of his decision to proceed to the ordination of four auxiliary bishops. It concludes with the last illness and death of the Archbishop.

In the clerical world of which I am a part, for many, especially for hierarchs, just the name of Marcel Lefebvre is a provocation, a red flag. Among traditionalist lay Catholics, especially for those under fifty years of age, there do not seem to be battle lines or trenches which separate the good priests on one side from those on the other. A priest friend advised me not to review this book for fears of repercussions. I don't think my many lay friends would necessarily understand that counsel.

In the name of progress, then, and in hopes for the future, let me recommend this book to everyone who loves the genre biography and wants to learn more about the ins and outs of the 20th Century in the Catholic Church, especially in France, but very much so in Italy and Switzerland, as well as in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa.

The original French edition was published in 2002. Supplementary material was added to the English translation which has had both a first edition in 2004 and this second one in 2014.

No doubt it would take some courage for a Catholic bishop or priest to read this volume, but I think we urgently need to move forward by looking closely at what is certainly a crucial if not the most crucial chapter for understanding the life of the Church in our times. As we edge closer, hopefully, to finding the courage and the means for facing our "ghosts" in matters of the vocations crisis, the dramatic falloff in participation at Sunday Mass and the overall hemorrhage affecting Catholic practice and faith, we need to come to know Marcel Lefebvre better. 




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