whoever becomes a priest, is a priest, not for himself alone
but for others: “for every high priest, taken from among
men is appointed for men in the things pertaining to God”
(Heb. 5:1). This Christ indicated when, to show what should
be the priest’s conduct, He used to compare him to salt
and to light. The priest, then, is the salt of the earth
and the light of the world.
Pope St. Pius X.
love to be able to say Mass.” “I want to be a great preacher and
save souls.” “I just think I want to be a priest.”
these and many other reasons, almost every Catholic boy, at some
time in his youth, begins to wonder what it is like to be a priest
and whether perhaps he would like to become one. Sometimes the thought
strikes him suddenly and overpoweringly; in others it develops gradually
and almost imperceptibly until they realize that they no longer
want to be anything else.
inspiration may come from a book, in prayer, from a conversation
with a seminarian, from watching Father say Mass or listening to
him preach, while serving Mass, or from any number of other sources.
The desire maybe violent or it may vacillate. As the young man considers
the possibility of priesthood, he may realize that circumstances
would make it either very easy, or very difficult for him to reach
such a goal. Lengthy and intensive studies…simplicity of life and
separation from the world…celibacy…
do I make up my mind?"
of Saint Pius X has provided you with this small booklet, prepared
by a seminarian who once asked himself the very same questions,
to help you to do just that: to make up your mind about a vocation
to the Holy Priesthood.
In these pages,
we shall consider:
1. The nature
of the priesthood, and the dignity and duties of the priest;
2. The vocation,
or calling, to the priesthood, both what it is and what it is
3. The Society
of Saint Pius X, the fraternity of faithful Catholic priests founded
by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre; and finally,
4. The formation
program necessary to become a priest – in short, the seminary
and the life and studies there.
First of all,
we must consider what the priest is and does, in strict fidelity
to the solemn teaching of Our Lord Jesus Christ and of His Church.
priest is a Christian man who has been raised above the other members
of the Church to participate in Our Blessed Lord's own threefold
function of teaching, ruling, and sanctifying, and upon whom the
powers to do so have been conferred by the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
as the Catechism tells us, is “a sacred sign instituted by Our Lord
to give grace.” Holy Orders, however, not only bestows on the priest
the graces which he will require to perform his priestly functions
fittingly, but imprints upon his soul an indelible seal (the
character) by which he receives the power to accomplish sublime
acts of worship and of sanctification (the Mass and the Sacraments)
with a power almost divine. For the Church as a whole, then, Orders
is indeed a most important Sacrament, for by it chosen men receive
the power to administer to the faithful all the other life-giving
Our Lord Jesus
Christ Himself instituted the Holy Priesthood on the night of His
Last Supper, in the same moment as He instituted the "holy
and visible sacrifice of the Eucharist" which would become
the center of the priestly life. To the Apostles and their successors
in the priesthood, He transmitted, as the Council of Trent teaches,
"the power of consecrating, offering, and administering His
Body and Blood, and likewise the power of remitting and of retaining
of divine Faith," writes Cardinal Manning, "that Our Lord
ordained the Apostles to be priests when by the words hoc tacite
in meam commemorationem He thereby conferred on them the power
of sacrifice. It is also of divine Faith that when, three days later,
He breathed on them, saying, 'Receive ye the Holy Ghost,' He gave
them the power of absolution. In these two powers the priesthood
The lives of
saintly priests, such as the Curé of Ars, have always clearly exemplified
this doctrine of the Church: such priests loved above all things
their daily Mass, and the confessional, where they reconciled so
many sinners to God.
duties follow upon these principal functions of the priest. In the
Psalms and prayers of the Divine Office which he recites at different
hours of the day, he prays officially in the name of, and for the
needs of the whole church. He teaches the faithful in his sermons,
Catechism lessons, and writings what they must believe, and how
they must act in accordance with God's law, strengthened by the
graces received in the Sacraments. He counsels the doubtful, encourages
the weak, consoles the sick. In every way, by the sacred powers
and authority with which God has invested him through the hands
of the Bishop, he strives to prepare men for that life of eternal
beatitude to which God has destined them.
words barely suffice to expose the true nature and immense dignity
of the Order of the priesthood, the following excerpts from well-known
ecclesiastics and writers, themselves holy priests, may contribute
to a fuller picture of the life of the priest.
priest has rightly been called 'another Christ' – not that he
shares in Christ's divine nature and human perfection, but because
he has been appointed by God to continue Christ's mission in the
world, and must consequently, within the limits of his power,
try to live the life of Christ on earth. Like Jesus on the cross,
he stands at the altar as a mediator between God and man, lifting
up to heaven his hands filled with Christ's merits and prayers,
and offering the redeeming Blood of the Divine Victim, the price
of our salvation. Thus he sends up to God the infinite tribute
of adoration, thanks and reparation due to Him, which Christ alone
can pay for us; thus he brings down upon men a shower of divine
grace and precious blessings. He is the merciful Jesus who forgives
sinners, purifies their souls and directs them towards heaven,
through the Sacrament of Penance. He is the Good Shepherd who
pursues the lost sheep, brings them back to the fold and leads
them to the green pastures where Our Lord Himself feeds their
souls with His own Flesh and Blood. He is the compassionate Jesus
who consoles the afflicted, helps the poor, visits and aids the
sick, and prepares the dying for their journey into eternity.
He is the way, the truth, the life; for by his preaching and by
his conduct, he sets before his people the doctrine, the example
and the life of Jesus. He is a man who, like Jesus, must pass
through this world doing good. In a word, he is above all else
a savior of souls. He is not a priest for himself, for his own
temporal or even spiritual welfare; but he is a priest for others,
he 'is appointed for men,' as St. Paul says (Heb. 5: 1). He has
been chosen by God in order that, through the merits and power
of Jesus Christ and through his own prayer, labor, and self-sacrifice,
he may enable his fellow man to prepare for and deserve a life
of eternal glory and happiness in heaven."
Benjamin F. Marcetteau, S.S.
great mission of the priest is to give Jesus Christ to the world."
Columba Marmion, O.S.B.
priest must limit himself to truly priestly functions:
is alter Christus and, like his divine Master, he must
be a victim immolated to the glory of God, and delivered up for
the salvation of souls. He may be a scholar, a social reformer
or an organizer of genius, but if he is only that, he does not
correspond to God's expectation of him.” Abbot Marmion.
priest, according to the magnificent definition given by St. Paul,
is indeed a man ex hominibus assumptus, 'taken from amongst
men,' yet pro hominibus constituitur in his quae sunt ad Deum,
'ordained for men in the things that pertain to God'; his
office is not for human things, and things that pass away, however
lofty and valuable these may seem; but for things divine and enduring.
These eternal things may, perhaps, through ignorance, be scorned
and condemned, or even attacked with diabolical fury and malice,
as sad experience has often proved, and proves even today; but
they always continue to hold the first place." Pope Pius
Least of all
is the priest from any point of view a 'revolutionary':
because a priest is a 'sign of contradiction' he ought not to
go about stirring up controversy," "The unrest which
the priest must spread is the fear of God, that torment for the
infinite, which has brought forth such amazing outbursts from
the mystics and thinkers of all times. The revolt which the priest
must advocate is the insurrection of consciences, the order which
he comes to disturb is the apparent calm which covers up disorders
and hatreds… His own way of being a good citizen is to be, in
most sincere obedience to legitimate authority, eternally unsatisfied,
not so as to upset social peace but so as to foster continually
a higher goal for mankind." Emmanuel Cardinal Suhard.
Nor is the
priesthood a one-way operation. Certainly God communicates great
powers to the priest at his ordination; but the priest must employ
these sacred powers as God intends, striving at every moment to
conform himself more and more closely to Our Blessed Lord, in whose
priesthood he shares.
that even as priests are clothed with the power and authority
of God, so too they should be filled with His holiness, love,
Charity, and other divine perfections." Saint John Eudes.
the priest is another Christ living and walking on earth. Consequently
his life should be a perfect image of that of the Savior, or rather
a continuation of Our Lord's life." Saint John Eudes
of the priest, or in other words, the degree in which he cooperates
with God, whose instrument he is, will in many ways be the very
measure of the fruits which his apostolate will bear:
the promotion of the kingdom of Jesus Christ in the world, nothing
is more necessary than the holiness of ecclesiastics, that they
may give leadership to the faithful by example, by words, and
by teaching." Pope Saint Pius X.
the shepherd, so the sheep; as the priest, so the people."
Archbishop Fulton I. Sheen
Eudes gives a beautiful summary of the dignity and the duties of
worthy priest is an angel of purity in mind and body, a cherub
of light and knowledge, a seraph of love and Charity, an apostle
of zeal in work and sanctity, a little god on earth in power and
authority, in patience and benignity. He is the living image of
Christ in this world, of Christ watching, praying, preaching,
catechizing, working, weeping, going from town to town, from village
to village, suffering, agonizing, sacrificing Himself and dying
for the souls created to His image and likeness… He is the light
of those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He is
the destroyer of error, schisms and heresies, the converter of
sinners, the sanctifier of the just, the strength of the weak,
the consolation of the afflicted, the treasure of the poor. He
is the confusion of hell, the glory of heaven, the terror of demons,
the joy of angels, the ruin of Satan's kingdom, the establishment
of Christ's empire, the ornament of the Church…"
the oft-quoted words of the eloquent French Dominican, Lacordaire:
in the midst of the world with no desire for its pleasures;
be a member of every family, yet belong to none;
to share all sufferings;
to penetrate all secrets;
to heal all wounds;
to go daily from man to God to offer Him their homage and petition;
to return from God to man to bring them His pardon and His hope;
to have a heart of iron for chastity, and a heart of flesh for
to teach and instruct;
to pardon and console;
to bless and be blessed forever!
O God, what a life, and it is thine,
O priest of Jesus Christ!
So now you
have a general idea of the priesthood and of the life of the priest:
his dignity, his duties, the zeal which he ought to have.
The next question
is, of course, "How do I know if the holy priesthood is
for me? How do I know if this is what Almighty God intends for me?"
sanctity, the priest can never be the salt of the earth, for what
is corrupt and contaminated is by no means fit to confer health,
and where there is no sanctity, there corruption must dwell.
is one quality which indisputably links man with God and makes
him the pleasing and not unworthy “dispenser” of His mercy, namely,
sanctity of life and morals. If this, which is but the supereminent
knowledge of Jesus Christ, be lacking in a priest, all things
makes us what our divine vocation demands, namely, men crucified
to the world and to whom the world is crucified; men walking in
the newness of life, who, as Paul tells us, show themselves to
be ministers of God…
Pius X (Haerent Animo)
teach, to rule, and to sanctify the members of His Church, Our Blessed
Lord never ceases to summon young men to join the ranks of the priesthood.
This call of Christ, Who said: “You have not chosen Me, but I have
chosen you" (Jn. 15:16), has received the name of 'vocation',
from the latin verb 'vocare', to call. And indeed, no man should
dare to present himself for this sacred office unless God has called
him to it…unless he “has a vocation.”
any man take the honor (of the priesthood) to himself,” says St.
Paul, "but he that is called by God, as Aaron was." (Hebrews
certain erroneous theological tendencies, such as Quietism, have
led in the last century or so to specious distortions of the notion
of the vocation to the priesthood. Well-intentioned but misguided
authors have erected certain merely accidental elements, rarely
found, into the primary criteria for the discernment of vocations,
with the result that their conclusions, and the resultant practical
attitude, have without doubt discouraged numerous eligible young
men from undertaking or continuing ecclesiastical studies.
To avoid these
misconceptions and their regrettable consequences, let us examine
the true notion of the vocation to the priesthood.
of Trent declares: “Vocari a Deo dicuntur qui a legitimis Ecclesiae
ministris vocantur.” "Those men are said to be called by
God who are called by the legitimate ministers of the Church."
The only genuine
vocation to the priesthood, the vocation in the strict sense, is
the summons by the Bishop or by his delegate to receive the Sacrament
of Holy Orders, in other words, it is the acceptance of a candidate
for the priesthood by the Bishop or his delegate, acting in the
name of God. This important truth has equally important implications.
solemn proclamations of Popes and Councils exhort all Bishops to
a meticulous effort to choose the most suitable candidates for the
Holy Priesthood. In expectation of this summons of the Bishop to
Holy Orders (the true "vocation") the role of the candidate
is to prepare himself conscientiously by pursuing the several-year
program for the intellectual and spiritual formation of future priests
which the Church has gradually perfected, especially since the Council
This long work
of formation to render oneself suitable (idoneus) for the
call to the priesthood, should be in all its elements the work of
divine grace, and have as its soul the persevering intention on
the candidate's part to become a priest, and a good priest.
how am I to know whether I should undertake this lengthy program
of formation, whether I should try to prepare myself for the summons
by the Bishop which constitutes the true vocation?"
It is in this
domain that an unbalanced emphasis on accidental elements has wrought
The young man's
desire and intention to become a priest can result from one of the
1. A private
2. The sensible
attraction of the Holy Ghost; or,
3. A prudent
choice made with the aid of divine grace.
The error of
many authors of a certain period, the influences of which still
persist, consisted in seeking, to justify every vocation, the sensible
attraction of the Holy Ghost, something actually experienced by
a few young men, and which, in fact, the Bishop does not even consider
in examining the suitability of candidates for the priesthood. A
vocation requires no overpowering "feeling" that one is
"called". Unfortunately, for several decades this misconception
probably frightened many otherwise qualified young men (who "felt"
nothing extraordinary) away from the seminary and from the priesthood.
In actual fact,
the intention to become a priest most often takes the form of a
decision calmly and prudently made by the candidate himself, usually
after prayer, reading, reflection, discussion with his parents and
with a priest, etc. This is indeed the very way in which the young
man customarily formulates his developing desire within himself:
"1 think I want to become a priest." And finally: "I
do want to become a priest."
decision, the candidate normally enters the seminary to begin his
formal training for the priesthood. These years of formation seek
to prepare him intellectually and spiritually for the demanding
office of the priest, and will permit him one day, if he takes advantage
of them and acquires the necessary learning and sanctity, humbly
to solicit of the Bishop the summons to Holy Orders.
the decision to enter the priesthood is not a question of sensible
attraction, but a decision that I must prudently make myself what
basic qualifications should I begin to look for in myself?"
principally requires of the future priest the learning sufficient
to accomplish fittingly his task as preacher, teacher, confessor,
etc. (debita scientia) and a moral life as elevated as the
sublime dignity which he desires (mores congruentes). Since
the seminary exists specifically to develop these essential qualities
in the candidate, we shall discuss them later when treating in greater
detail of the future priest's education.
the candidate must have or develop the strength to bear the manifold
and demanding responsibilities of a priest, “responsibilities,”
adds Pope Pius XI, "which have made fearful even the stoutest
champions of the Christian priesthood."
Let us consider
momentarily the fundamental qualities required of the future priest:
must not have any physical handicap, or disease such as epilepsy,
which would render difficult his celebration of Mass or the accomplishment
of other rites of the Church or priestly duties; nor may he have
any physical deformity which would subject him, and his priesthood,
at least before receiving any Order, the candidate must have received
both the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.
think I want to become a priest, and I think I would be able to
acquire the necessary intellectual and moral qualities. What should
I do for the time being?"
We cannot reasonably desire something which we do not truly
know, and the decision to enter the priesthood must, obviously,
be made in all possible seriousness. Study first of all the basic
teaching of the Church on the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Re-read
that part of our Catechism; read the decree of the Council of
Trent, and the relevant section of that Council's authoritative
Catechism. Then do some reading on the life of a priest.
You can still
purchase, new, several traditional Catholic books on the priesthood,
such as those of Dom Columba Marmion (Christ, the Ideal of
the Priest), Saint Joseph Cafasso (The Priest, Man of God),
and Saint Alphonsus Ligori (Selva, or the Dignity and Duties
of the Priest); and you can still obtain the invaluable Papal
encyclicals on the priesthood without undue difficulty, separately
or in collected form. Other excellent books, such as that of Cardinal
Manning (The Eternal Priesthood), may be discovered in
Catholic libraries or obtained from certain used book dealers.
You may also profit from a reading of the life of a saintly priest
such as the Curé of Ars, Saint John Vianney.
Needless to say, no one should make the solemn decision to
enter the service of God without the guidance of God Himself.
Be regular in your daily prayers and in your efforts to conquer
the sinful tendencies of our fallen nature; and offer special
prayers to implore the guidance of the Holy Ghost and the intercession
of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of the Clergy; of the holy
Curé of Ars, and of all the holy priests who surround the
throne of God.
Speak with a faithful Catholic priest about the priesthood.
Who could be more familiar with it? He will also be able to help
you to determine whether you have the necessary aptitudes for
this high calling.
think I do want to become a priest. But in this crisis of the Church,
where can a young man who wants to be a true priest go?"
SOCIETY OF SAINT PIUS X
years, before the present crisis in the Catholic Church, the young
man who desired to enter the Holy Priesthood had a great choice
of fields in which he might exercise his priestly apostolate. He
could enter the service of his diocesan bishop as a parish priest;
or join a foreign missionary congregation, or one of the Religious
Orders which leads an active life of preaching and teaching; or
he could enter a monastic community and spend his life in quiet
study and constant prayer.
the disintegration of the Church since Vatican II has caused all
of these possibilities to disappear : no diocesan bishop will accept
a candidate who shows that he is faithful to the unchanging Catholic
Faith, to the traditional Mass, etc.; nor will the Religious Orders.
Only very few traditional religious communities remain. Outside
these communities, the International Society of Saint Pius X, founded
in 1970 by His Grace, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, offers the young
man the only feasible choice, in a flourishing work obviously favored
by Almighty God.
am only a bishop of the Catholic Church who continues to
transmit its doctrine. I think, and this will certainly not be too
off, that you will be able to engrave on my tombstone these
words of Saint Paul:
VOBIS QUOD ET ACCEPI
have handed on to you what I have received," quite simply.
of the Episcopal Consecrations. June 30, 1988).
history of the Society of Saint Pius X cannot be separated from
the life story of its venerated founder, His Grace, the Most Reverend
Marcel Lefebvre, Archbishop – Bishop Emeritus of Tulle in France,
and former Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers.
Lefebvre was born at Tourcoing in Northern France of deeply Christian
parents on November 29, 1905. After completing his studies at the
excellent French Seminary at Rome, where he obtained doctoral degrees
in philosophy and theology, he was ordained to the Holy Priesthood
in 1929, and entered the missionary Fathers of the Holy Ghost on
the insistence of his priest-brother the following year.
sent him to Africa in 1932, and Archbishop Lefebvre spent thirteen
happy years there, during at least half of which he devoted his
energies to the formation of priests. Then he returned to France
to direct one of the Congregation's seminaries for two years, until
Pope Pius XII, who had the greatest respect for this holy priest
and zealous missionary, began to confer posts of ever greater dignity
and responsibility upon him in the flourishing missionary Church
in Africa. In 1947, His Grace became the first Vicar Apostolic of
Dakar in Senegal; in 1948, Apostolic Delegate for all of French-speaking
Africa; in 1955, first Archbishop of Dakar, which post he held until
1962, at which time he surrendered his episcopal throne to a native
priest whom he himself had ordained (Cardinal Thiandoum).
Archbishop Lefebvre had already undertaken other work as a member
of the Central Preparatory Commission of the Second Vatican Council;
but the Council Fathers in 1962 promptly rejected this Commission's
orthodox and painstaking efforts of several years. During the Council
Archbishop Lefebvre battled vigorously alongside others, though
with little success, in the defense of traditional Catholic teaching.
Pope John XXIII
soon named the Archbishop to the Diocese of Tulle in France, but
he passed only a few months there when in 1962 his Congregation
elected him Superior General for a period of twelve years. In 1968,
as the spirit of the rebellion inspired by Vatican II swept through
the Church, his religious gathered in General Chapter. More and
more insistently they clamored for reforms…reforms which His Grace
knew would lead to the disintegration of the Congregation which
he so loved. Rather than pass into history as the superior responsible
for such a disaster, he resigned his office.
At this time,
Archbishop Lefebvre had no other intention than to live peacefully
in retirement in Rome. "But," he told his seminarians,
"I think that God decided that my work was not yet finished.
I had to continue." The work which His Grace was soon to undertake,
and which Providence was to favor in such a singular manner represents,
no doubt, by far, the most important in his long life in the service
of the one true Church of Christ.
As the situation
in seminaries throughout the Catholic world deteriorated rapidly
in those years following Vatican II, as erroneous teachings flourished
and discipline disappeared, many young men began to approach Archbishop
Lefebvre to beg his advice as to where they might go to receive
an authentic priestly formation. Ultimately His Grace realized that
no existing seminary in Europe retained the form of intellectual
and spiritual life necessary to prepare young men for the awesome
responsibility of the Holy Priesthood, and 'he courageously decided
to undertake such a project himself.
began on a small scale in the Swiss university city of Fribourg.
On June 6, 1969, the Most Reverend Francois Charriere, Bishop of
Lausanne, Geneva, and Fribourg, gave his authorization to Archbishop
Lefebvre to open a small residence for seminarians who would attend
classes at the University, less affected than others by the rampant
new teachings. As the number of young men who gathered around the
Archbishop continued to grow, His Grace purchased a second house
at Ecône in the Swiss canton of Valais, where he expected to send
the students for a portion of their studies. However, as the situation
at the University of Fribourg changed for the worse, he decided
to establish a full seminary program at Ecône. In 1971 he blessed
the cornerstone of the new buildings to be constructed adjacent
to the house formerly belonging to the Canons of St. Bernard.
Lefebvre realized that it would be wise to unite his seminarians
canonically in an officially recognized religious society. Thus
on November 1,1970, Bishop Charriere signed and sealed the Decree
of Approbation for the founding of the Society of Saint Pius X,
officially in French the “Fraternite sacerdotale Saint Pie X."
Cardinal Wright, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy,
wrote to Archbishop Lefebvre on February 18, 1971, to congratulate
His Grace for his undertaking, and express the high hopes which
he held for the already flourishing new society.
of course, the Vatican has ceased to look with favor upon the work
of priestly formation of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, although the
seminary of Ecône continues to flourish and remains a Catholic seminary
such as seminaries always were. The ever increasing number of vocations
has even permitted the Society to open comparable seminaries: another
one for the French speaking seminarians, in Flavigny, France; for
the German speaking seminarians, at Zaitzkofen in Bavaria; two for
the English speaking seminarians, one in Winona, Minnesota U.S.A.,
the other in Goulburn NSW Australia; and one for the Spanish speaking
seminarians, outside Buenos Aires, Argentina.
in greater detail the nature of the Society, and the particular
spirit and work of its members, we must give a few moments' attention
to the measures taken against the Society of Saint Pius X and its
seminaries by the Roman authorities.
against Archbishop Lefebvre and his seminary began in 1974 with
the establishment of a commission of three Cardinals to examine
the “Ecône affair.” In November this Commission sent two Apostolic
Visitors to Ecône to inspect the seminary and question its professors
and seminarians. In February and March of 1975, the same Cardinals
summoned Archbishop Lefebvre to Rome for “conversations,” and there
argued violently with him about his position on the crisis in the
with particular violence his masterly “Declaration” of November
21, 1974, in which His Grace had summarized the attitude which ought
to be that of every faithful Catholic in the present situation:
an attitude of absolute submission to “Catholic Rome, guardian of
the Catholic Faith,” but a complete refusal "to follow the
Rome of neo-modernist and neo-Protestant tendency which has manifested
itself clearly in the Second Vatican Council, and since the Council
in all of the reforms which have issued from it."
May 6, 1975, the Commission of Cardinals condemned the position
of Archbishop Lefebvre, and conceded to Bishop Mamie, the successor
of Bishop Charriere of Fribourg, the right to withdraw the approbation
of the Society of Saint Pius X, by which all the houses of the Society,
and particularly the Seminary of Ecône, would "lose their right
to existence." The same day however – thus before receiving
this letter from Rome – Bishop Mamie himself wrote to Archbishop
Lefebvre informing him of the suppression of the Society Saint Pius
X. And all this in the middle of the much vaunted Year of Reconciliation!
the invalidity of these measures, the Society of Saint Pius X continues
to exist in complete legality. In accordance with the traditional
Code of Canon Law (canon 493), a society of diocesan right can only
be suppressed by the Holy See, whereas Bishop Mamie had acted on
his own authority. There existed, furthermore, no justifying cause
for this action. The traditional Catholic principles summarized
in Archbishop Lefebvre's "Declaration" of November 1974,
on which both the Cardinals and Bishop Mamie based their condemnations,
had never been judged and condemned, and indeed never could be.
events, Archbishop Lefebvre attempted to bring his case up for public
trial and examination before the Church's highest court of appeal,
the Apostolic Signatura, but the tribunal unjustly rejected the
appeal. An open hearing of the case of loyal Catholics against the
"new Church" would obviously have constituted too grave
an embarrassment for its leaders.
letters and documents of Archbishop Lefebvre, Pope Paul VI, and
the various Cardinals and Bishops involved, have all been published
in collected form, and provide a more complete history of this somewhat
of Saint Pius X, then, continues to exist legally, to incardinate
its own priests as three Roman documents from past years show that
it has the right to do, and to carry on its important work for the
preservation of the Catholic Faith. In absence of true seminaries
throughout the Catholic world, it continues to form true priests
according to the principles on which every seminary once operated,
in traditional Catholic doctrine and piety.
Here a principle
more important than any canonical argument enters in: Salus animarum
suprema lex, the salvation of souls is the supreme law. Archbishop
Lefebvre knows that stopping his work would be contributing to the
destruction of the priesthood, and thus of the Church, and to the
loss of countless souls. He, and the Society of Saint Pius X, have
the duty to continue. Indeed, the work of Archbishop Lefebvre and
of his priests is not only continuing, but it is flourishing – "for
the Church and for the Pope, for the honor of God and of Our Blessed
SPIRIT AND WORK
spirit of the Society of Saint Pius X and the work of its members
cannot be considered separately, since the former determines the
first of all, is a "society of common life without vows,"
that is, its members live in communities (of at least two or three,
in the smaller houses) as do members of other Religious Orders and
Congregations, but they do not take public vows of poverty, chastity,
and obedience as, for example, monks and friars do. Each country,
grouping several houses, has a District Superior, and the whole
Society has a Superior General with a council of advisors.
Society also has Brothers and Sisters who aid its priest-members,
it is above all a society of priests, and the spirit which Archbishop
Lefebvre wishes the Society to have is above all a priestly spirit.
its wholehearted fidelity to the Holy Catholic Church. Archbishop
Lefebvre declared in 1973: "My collaborators and myself are
not working against anyone, against other persons, against institutions.
We are working to construct, to continue what the Church has always
done, and nothing else. We are not linked with any movement, with
any party, or with any organization in particular. We are united
only to the Roman Catholic Church, and we wish to continue the priesthood
of the Roman Catholic Church. Nothing else!"
its emphasis on the essential dignity and duties of the priest.
"The concern of the Society," according to its Statutes,
"is the priesthood and all that has a relation with it, and
nothing which does not; that is, as Our Lord wished the priesthood
to be when He said: 'Do this in commemoration of Me.'" The
Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, instituted at the same moment as the
Holy Priesthood, holds the central place in the life of every priest
and member of the Society, along with the Sacraments and the Divine
Office which are as a halo surrounding the principal act of the
Sacred Liturgy. Archbishop Lefebvre insistently reminds his spiritual
sons that the Holy Mass is indeed the raison d'etre of the
priest, from which source alone his apostolate will draw its efficacy.
its missionary spirit. The members of the Society normally exercise
an active apostolate, nourished, of course, by a fervent life of
prayer. In every field of action and in every place, they seek to
continue in every possible manner the mission of teaching, sanctifying,
and guiding for which Our Blessed Lord – Himself Prophet, Priest,
and King – instituted the priesthood, each of whose members should
strive to be an alter Christus – another Christ.
principles, let us pass to the consideration of the actual work
of the Society of Saint Pius X.
As we have
seen, the work of forming true priests represents the principal
concern of the Society. Thus a certain number of its members, once
ordained, will be called to give their energies to this noble task,
as professors and spiritual directors in the several seminaries
which the Society has already founded or will found in different
countries of the world.
their superiors do not designate for seminary work will find a place
in one of the other houses, or priories, of the Society, where they
will lead a common life of prayer and work together with another
or several other members of the Society. At the priory they will
provide the true Mass and Sacraments, and religious instruction
for the faithful of the area, and preach retreats of the sort which
bear great fruits of conversion and sanctification. From there,
their apostolate will also radiate over surrounding areas as they
travel to administer the Sacraments, and encourage and instruct
Catholics distressed by the present condition of the Church. Thus
they will dedicate themselves only to those activities which truly
belong to the priest, seeking only the good of souls.
this is the life which I desire – that of a priest, and as a member
of the Society of Saint Pius X
– what sort of program of formation must I expect?"
institution in which a future priest receives his intellectual and
spiritual formation is known as a seminary. The Church has not always
formed her priests in exactly the same manner, and it appears that
the English Cardinal Reginald Pole first used the word 'seminary'
in 1556 in its present sense of an institution exclusively devoted
to the formation of the clergy.
In the first
centuries of the Church, scanty documentation leads us to believe
that the young men desiring to enter the priesthood received their
training privately, living with, learning from, and helping out
the local Bishop and his priests. Gradually a more formal training
developed in the cathedral schools, under the Bishop's supervision,
and in the monasteries; then in the Middle Ages around the great
circumstances led to abuses and a gradual degeneration of studies
and discipline, until the Council of Trent. This holy Council, which
gave such meticulous attention to the improvement of Church discipline
in every domain, considered with particular concern the question
of priestly formation. Finally in 1563, in its 23rd session, the
Council issued its decree on seminaries, which remains to this day
the fundamental law on the formation of the clergy.
exists, then, to form priests. What does this formation entail?
The very nature of the priesthood gives us the simple answer: the
priest will receive extremely great spiritual powers over both the
Body and Blood of Christ, which he consecrates in the Mass and distributes
in Holy Communion, and over the Mystical Body of Christ, that is,
the members of the Church, whose sins he absolves; furthermore he
must instruct the faithful in the teaching and in the law of God.
in the seminary corresponds to these future duties: he studies in
great detail the many aspects of that doctrine which he will one
day have to transmit to others, and to defend in the name of the
Church; and he sanctifies himself so that he will truly be another
Christ by his life, as he is by the powers which he receives.
Every detail of the life and studies at the seminary seeks to prepare
the young man in this way.
is daily life like at the seminary?
day begins normally at 6:00 am when a bell awakens him and lets
him know that he has half an hour to wash and dress. The community
prays together at 6:30 am the hour of Prime from the Breviary, consecrating
the day's actions to God and begging of Him the graces needed. Then
follows half an hour of silent meditation. At 7:15 am Holy Mass
is celebrated and the seminarians receive Holy Communion, and remain
for some time after Mass in thanksgiving and intimacy with Our Divine
Lord. Thus prepared for the day, they go to breakfast around 8:00
and have some time afterwards to do household chores and to prepare
for the day's classes.
classes are at 9:00, 10:00 and 11:00, with ten-minute breaks between
them. The hour of Sext is prayed at 12:15. Dinner follows, and then
an hour of recreation during which the seminarians walk and talk
together or join in informal sports and games.
At 2:00 pm
the bell rings again, and all return to silence, which is the general
rule for the day. The next class begins at 2:15 followed by another
at 3:15; after this there is a study period. Thrice a week the seminarians
in the year of Spirituality spend the afternoon in manual labor.
A spiritual conference is given by one of the priests at 5:00 pm.
At 5:30 all return to the chapel to say the rosary. On Thursdays
there is Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
half hour of evening prayer, the seminarians eat supper, then have
about 45 minutes of recreation, usually devoted to friendly conversations
outdoors or to listening to music or playing table tennis. At 7:15
the bell rings and again the seminarians devote their time to study
in silence. At 9:00 pm they return to the Chapel to sing Compline,
the official night prayer of the Church. The seminarians then are
required to retire to their rooms before 10:00 pm.
and feast days, the schedule varies somewhat because of the more
solemn liturgical ceremonies. There are no classes on such days,
and there are extended periods of recreation; the seminarians also
have Friday afternoons off to devote to recreation or (with permission)
to go to town in order to do their necessary shopping and errands.
of prayer, nourished so many times during the day in the chapel,
and in each one's personal devotions, permeates the seminarian's
entire existence, as he strives to conform himself wholly to the
example of Our Blessed Lord, whose minister he hopes to be. All
furthermore live together in a spirit of fraternal charity, such
as the Church has always considered ideal both for her priests and
future priests, aiding one another by friendship, help, encouragement.
sort of studies will I be doing during these years of formation
in the seminary?"
of studies which prepares young members of the Society of St. Pius
X for the holy priesthood covers six years. During the first year
or the Year of Spirituality, somewhat comparable to the novitiate
in a Religious Order, the seminarians lead a less intensive life
of study and give their attention particularly to their personal
A certain number
of classes provide them with an introduction to Ascetical and Mystical
Theology, Sacred Scripture, Sacred Liturgy, Gregorian Chant, Latin,
and to the teachings of the Church's Magisterium. They also perform
the majority of the daily tasks necessary to the upkeep of the seminary,
although students in the upper years share the work as well.
In the five
years of intensive and demanding study which follow, the seminarian
will study each of the following general subjects over a period
of two, three, or four years, carefully adhering to the teaching
of the glorious Angelic Doctor, Saint Thomas Aquinas, whose works
the Church has officially adopted as the basis of priestly education.
– Here the seminarian applies himself to the meticulous study
of all the different realms of being, beginning with Logic, the
study of the laws of orderly thought and reasoning, and culminating
in Metaphysics, a study of the most elevated general laws and
principles of all being, and Theodicy, the study of God by the
light of human reason. What he learns in this series of courses,
the seminarian will later apply constantly in the questions which
the study of Theology proposes
THEOLOGY – The initial years of study also include
these important introductory chapters of theology, including Apologetics,
which seeks, not to prove the truths of our Faith, but to show
that they are perfectly in harmony with reason, and suitable to
be believed. The course demonstrates, for example, the possibility
of the Divine Revelation by which we possess the articles of Faith.
Later portions of the course prove that Our Lord founded a visible
Church which is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, and which
is none other than the present Catholic Church.
SCRlPTURE – Throughout his years of formation, the
seminarian never puts down, as it were, the sacred books through
which, along with Tradition, God teaches us all that we must believe
and do. General courses offer an introduction to the Old and New
Testaments; other courses take a single book, or a series of books,
and examine them more closely, preparing the future priest to
do the same for those which he will not study in class.
HISTORY – A several-year cycle familiarizes the seminarian
with the twenty centuries of the glorious history of the true
Church, providing him with invaluable examples and lessons, and
fortifying him to refute the historical falsehoods of contemporary
heretics and enemies of the Faith.
LITURGY – Since the Mass, the Sacraments, and the Divine
Office form the center, not only of the priest's life, but of
that of the Church itself, a certain amount of attention is given
to them as well, from many points of view: their history and development,
the signification of the prayers and ceremonies, the rules for
their proper and fitting celebration, etc.
THEOLOGY – In the later years, the seminarian begins
to study in careful detail the law of God which he will one day
be obliged to preach, and which will be the foundation of his
ministry in the confessional. He learns the general principles
of morality, then studies each of the virtues and the sins and
faults opposed to them, with constant attention to particular
cases which he may encounter.
THEOLOGY – At the same time, he begins to study the
divine revelation contained in Scripture and Tradition from another
point of view: what we must believe, and what it will one day
be his duty to explain to others. Here he considers God, One and
Triune; Creation; grace and sin; Christ and the Redemption; the
Sacraments; and the Last Things.
LAW – Finally, the seminarian studies, as well, the
code of laws which govern all aspects of life and discipline in
the Church, such as its nature as a visible society requires.
As the years
progress, the seminarian advances towards the Holy Priesthood through
the preparatory stages in which the Church gradually gives her future
ministers ever-increasing responsibilities over sacred things. First
by Tonsure, the seminarian becomes a cleric and officially enters
the service of the Church. Later he receives the minor Orders of
Porter, Lector, Exorcist, and Acolyte. In the final years of his
training, he is ordained a sub-deacon, and thereafter is bound to
chastity and to the recitation of the Divine Office; then a Deacon,
who has the signal privileges of preaching and of carrying the Blessed
Sacrament. Finally, at the end of his studies, the solemn and joyful
day arrives: the day of ordination, in a majestic, mystical, and
moving ceremony, to the sublime dignity of the Holy Priesthood.
then, is the holy priesthood; the vocation by which one is called
to it; the Society of Saint Pius X, whose central concern is the
priest and the formation of good priests; and the program of formation
which its members receive.
We hope that
many of your questions have been answered. For those which remain,
and particularly for more practical questions regarding the possibility
of entering the seminary, we cordially invite you to contact the
Vocation Director of our Seminary in the Philippines at the address
Saint Bernard Seminary
Purok 7, Brgy. Daga,
Santa Barbara, Iloilo,