Liturgical Counter-Revolution: The “Hushed” Case of Fr. Calmel
Cristiana De Magistris
Dominican religious and Thomist theologian of great importance, director of souls, esteemed and sought throughout the whole of France, Catholic writer of a convincing logic and unambiguous clarity, Fr. Roger-Thomas Calmel (1914-1975) in the difficult years of the Council and the post-council period, was characterized by his counter-revolutionary action, through his preaching, writings and above all by his example, both on a doctrinal as well as a liturgical level.
But on a particular point the resistance of this son of St. Dominic reached heroism: the Holy Mass. The Catholic Faith is founded upon the Mass because it is in the Mass that our Redemption was wrought by Christ upon Calvary and this is perpetuated in the holy Sacrifice offered day after day.
1969 was the fateful year of the liturgical revolution, prepared for at length and finally imposed with authority upon a people who neither asked for nor desired it.
The birth of the new Mass was not peaceful. Against the hymns of victory of the novatores, there were the voices of those who did not want to trample upon the past––of almost two millennia––of a Mass which dated back to the apostolic tradition. This opposition was sustained by two Cardinals of the Curia (Ottaviani and Bacci), but remained completely unheeded.
The date upon which the new Ordo Missae became effective was fixed for 30th November, the first Sunday of Advent, and the opposition was not going to be placated. Paul VI himself, in two general audiences (19th and 26th November 1969), intervened, presenting the new rite of the Mass as the will of the Council and as a help to Christian piety.
On 26th November he said: “The New rite of the Mass: it is a change in a venerable tradition that has gone on for centuries. This is something that affects our hereditary religious patrimony, which seemed to enjoy the privilege of being untouchable and settled. It seemed to bring the prayer of our forefathers and our Saints to our lips and to give us the comfort of feeling faithful to our spiritual past, which we kept alive to pass it on to the generations ahead. It is at such a moment as this that we get a better understanding of the value of historical tradition and the communion of the Saints. This change will affect the ceremonies of the Mass. We shall become aware, perhaps with some feeling of annoyance, that the ceremonies at the altar are no longer being carried out with the same words and gestures to which we were accustomed—perhaps so much accustomed that we no longer took any notice of them. This change also touches the Faithful. It is intended to interest each one of those present, to draw them out of their customary personal devotions or their usual torpor…”. And he continued by saying that it was necessary to understand the positive meaning of the reforms and to make of the Mass “a school of spiritual depth and a peaceful but demanding school of Christian sociology.”
“We shall do well––he said in the same audience––to take into account the motives for this grave change. The first is obedience to the Council. That obedience now implies obedience to the Bishops, who interpret the Council’s prescriptions and put them into practice…”. In order to repress the opposition to the Pope, there remained nothing but the argument of authority. And it is upon this argument that the whole game of the liturgical revolution was played.
Fr. Calmel, who by his articles was an assiduous collaborator of the magazine Itinéraires, had already faced the subject of obedience, which had become, after the council, the main argument of the novatores. But he affirmed that it is precisely in virtue of obedience that it is necessary to refuse every compromise with the liturgical revolution: “We are not treating here of causing a schism, but of conserving the tradition.” With Aristotelian logic, he noted: “The infallibility of the Pope is limited, therefore our obedience is limited,” indicating the principle of the subordination of obedience to the truth, of authority to the tradition. The history of the Church has cases of Saints who were opposed to the authority of popes who were not saints. We call to mind St. Athanasius who was excommunicated by Pope Liberius and St. Thomas à Becket, suspended by Pope Alexander III. And above all we think of St. Joan of Arc.
On 27th November 1969, three days before the fateful day on which the Novus Ordo Missae came into effect, Fr. Calmel expressed his refusal with a declaration of exceptional importance, made public in the magazine Itinéraires. The first and last, as far as we know, of such clarity and most praiseworthy courage.
I hold to the traditional Mass, that which was codified, but not fabricated, by St. Pius V, in the XVI Century, in conformity to a centuries old usage. I therefore refuse the Ordo missae of Paul VI.
Why? Because, in reality, this Ordo Missae does not exist. What exists is a universal and permanent liturgical revolution, permitted or desired by the reigning Pope, and which, for a quarter of an hour, puts on the mask of the Ordo Missae of 3rd April 1969. It is the right of every priest to refuse to wear the mask of this liturgical revolution. And I consider it my duty as a priest to refuse to celebrate the mass in an ambiguous rite.
If we accept this new rite, which fosters the confusion between the Catholic Mass and the protestant supper––as the two cardinals (Bacci and Ottaviani) sustain and as a solid theological analysis demonstrates––then we will pass over, without delay, to an interchangeable mass (as recognized, moreover, by a protestant pastor) to a mass which is completely heretical and therefore nothing. Initiated by the Pope, then diffused by him to the national Churches, the revolutionary reform of the mass leads to hell. How can we accept to become accomplices of this?
You will ask me: by keeping the Mass of ages at all costs, have you reflected upon what you have exposed yourself to? Certainly. I risk, so to say, persevering in the way of fidelity to my priesthood, thus rendering to the High Priest, Who is our supreme Judge, the humble witness of my office as a priest. I also risk being able to reassure the faithful who have lost their way, those who are tempted to scepticism or desperation. Every priest, in fact, who remains faithful to the rite of the Mass which was codified by St. Pius V, the great Dominican Pope of the counter reform, permits the faithful to participate in the holy Sacrifice without any possible ambiguity,, to receive, without risk of being deceived, the incarnate and immolated Word of God, rendered truly present under the sacred Species. On the contrary, the priest who conforms to the new rite, composed of various pieces by Paul VI, collaborates on his part in progressively establishing a false mass where the Presence of Christ will no longer be authentic, but will be transformed into an empty memorial; therefore, the Sacrifice of the Cross will be nothing other than a religious meal where one eats a bit of bread and drinks a little wine, nothing else: just like the protestants. In not consenting to collaborate in the revolutionary establishment of an ambiguous mass, directed to the destruction of the Mass, to what temporal misfortune, to what difficulties in this world will this lead (those who will remain faithful to the Traditional Mass)? The Lord knows: therefore His grace is sufficient. In truth, the grace of the Heart of Jesus, coming to us from the holy Sacrifice and from the sacraments, is always sufficient. That is why the Lord tells us so calmly: “He that hateth his life in this world, keepeth it unto life eternal.”
I recognise unhesitatingly the authority of the Holy Father. I affirm, however, that every Pope, in the exercise of his authority, may commit abuses of authority. I retain that Pope Paul VI committed an abuse of authority of an exceptional gravity when he constructed a new rite of the mass upon a definition of the mass which has ceased to be Catholic. “The mass––he wrote in his Ordo Missae––is the gathering of the people of God, presided by a priest, to celebrate the memorial of the Lord.” This insidious definition omits a priori what makes the mass Catholic, which has never been nor ever will be reduced to the protestant supper. And that is because the Catholic Mass does not treat of any memorial whatsoever; the memorial is of such a nature that it truly contains the sacrifice of the cross, because the Body and Blood of Christ are rendered truly present in virtue of the twofold consecration. Now, whilst that appears to be so clear in the rite which was codified by St. Pius V so that one can not be deceived, in that which has been fabricated by Paul V1, it remains inconstant and ambiguous. Likewise, in the Catholic Mass the priest does not exercise any presidency whatsoever: signed by a divine character which introduces him into eternity, he is the minister of Christ who celebrates the mass by means of him; it is a completely different thing to liken the priest to any pastor whatsoever, delegated by the faithful to keep their assemblies in good order. Well, whilst that is certainly evident in the rite of the Mass prescribed by St. Pius V, it is dissimulated, if not completely eliminated, in the new rite.
Simple honesty, therefore, but infinitely more the priestly honour, does not permit me to have the impudence to barter with the Catholic Mass, received on the day of my ordination. Since we are treating here of being loyal, and above all of a matter of divine gravity, there is no authority in the world, even a pontifical authority, which can stop me. On the other hand, the first proof of fidelity and love which the priest must give to God and to men is that of guarding intact the infinitely precious deposit which was entrusted to him when the Bishop imposed his hands upon him. It is above all on this proof of fidelity and love that I will be judged by the supreme Judge. I trust that the Virgin Mary, Mother of the High Priest, will obtain for me the grace to remain faithful to death to the Catholic Mass, true and without ambiguity. Tuus sum ego, salvum me fac (I am all Thine, save me).”
In the face of a text of such importance, and the taking up of a position which is so categorical, all the friends and supporters of Fr. Calmel trembled, awaiting the toughest sanctions from Rome. All, except for him, the son of St. Dominic, who continued to repeat: “Rome will do nothing, it will do nothing…”. And in fact Rome did nothing. The sanctions did not arrive. Rome remained silent before this Dominican friar who did not fear anything but the supreme Judge to Whom he would have to give an account of his priesthood.
Other priests, thanks to the declaration of Fr. Calmel, had the courage to come out into the open and to resist the abuses of power of an unjust and illegal law. Against those who recommended blind obedience to the authorities, he showed the duty of the insurrection; “The whole conduct of St. Joan of Arc showed that she had thought in this way: For certain, it is God Who permits it; but what God wants, at least whilst an army remains to me, is Christian justice and that I fight a good battle. Then she was burned….
To abandon ourselves to the grace of God does not mean to do nothing. Instead it means, remaining in love, to do all that is within our power…. He who has not meditated upon the just insurrections of history, such as the war of the Maccabees, the riding into battle of St. Joan of Arc, the expeditions of John of Austria, the revolt of Budapest, to he who has not entered into sympathy with the noble resistances of history… I refuse the right to speak of Christian abandonment…abandonment does not consist in saying: God does not want the crusade, let the Moors go free. This is the voice of laziness.”
We cannot confuse supernatural abandonment with a servile obedience. “The dilemma which is placed before all––Fr. Calmel points out––is not to choose between obedience and the faith, but between the obedience of the faith and the collaboration in the destruction of the faith.” We are all invited to do “within the limits which the revolution places upon us, the maximum possible to live the tradition with intelligence and fervour. Watch and pray.”
Fr. Calmel had understood perfectly that the form of violence exercised in the “post-conciliar Church” is an abuse of authority, exercised by demanding unconditional obedience, before which the clergy and many laypersons submit themselves, without attempting any form of resistance. “This absence of reaction––said Louis Salleron––seems to me to be tragic, because God will not save Christians without themselves, nor His Church without Her.”
“Modernism makes its victims walk under the banner of obedience––writes Fr. Calmel––, placing under the suspicion of pride any criticism whatsoever of the reforms, in the name of the respect which one owes to the pope, in the name of missionary zeal, of charity and of unity.” “To force one to remain silent out of fear,” wrote Cardinal Wyzynsky on 5th October 1954. It was necessary to paralyze or anesthetize under the pretext of the virtue of obedience, the holy Catholic resistance, to the point of accusing he who obeys the eternal tradition of disobedience. “But there are circumstances––Professor G. Chabot pointed out–– in which disobedience to an abusive use of authority is not only licit, but rather obligatory. In such circumstances it is a virtue to disobey.”
When they said to St. Athanasius: “You have all the bishops against you,” he replied: “This shows that they are all against the Church.” “The Catholics faithful to the Tradition, even if reduced to a handful of people, are the true Church of Jesus Christ.”
With regard to the problem of obedience in liturgical matters, Fr. Calmel stated: “The question of the new rites consists in the fact that they are ambivalent: therefore they do not express in an explicit manner the intention of Christ and of the Church. The proof is in the fact that also the heretics use it with a tranquil conscience, whilst they reject and have always rejected the Missal of St. Pius V.” “It is necessary to be either stupid or fearful (or both of these at the same time) to consider oneself bound in conscience by liturgical laws which change more often than the ladies’ fashions and which are even more uncertain.”
In 1974 at a conference he said: “The Mass belongs to the Church. The new Mass belongs only to modernism. I hold to the Mass which is Catholic, traditional, Gregorian, because it does not belong to Modernism…. Modernism is a virus. It is contagious and one must flee from it. The witness is complete. If I give witness to the Catholic Mass, it is necessary that I abstain from celebrating any other Mass. It is like the burnt incense before the idols: either one grain or nothing. Therefore, nothing.”
Notwithstanding the open resistance of Fr. Calmel against the liturgical innovations, no sanction whatsoever arrived from Rome. The logic of the Dominican father is too forceful, his doctrine too orthodox, his love for the Church and for the perennial tradition too sincere, for him to be attacked. Nobody did anything against him because it was not possible. Then they wrapped the case up in the most conspiratorial silence, to the point that Fr. Calmel––known, in part, to the traditional French world––is almost unknown to the rest of the Catholic world.
In 1975, Fr. Calmel died prematurely, crowning his desire of faithfulness and resistance. In his Declaration of 1969 he asked the Most Holy Virgin that he may “remain faithful to death to the Catholic Mass, true and without ambiguity.” The Mother of God granted the desire of this beloved son who died without ever having celebrated the new Mass, in order to remain faithful to the supreme Judge to Whom he would have to given an account of his priesthood.