The Priesthood in the Society of Saint Pius X


3 future priests of the SSPX










For, 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.





“I’d 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.”

For 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.

The initial 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…

"How do I make up my mind?"

The Society 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 not;

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.



The 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.

A Sacrament, 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 Sacraments.

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 sins."

"It is 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 was complete."

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.

Many other 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.

Though human 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.

"The 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."

Father Benjamin F. Marcetteau, S.S.

"The great mission of the priest is to give Jesus Christ to the world."

Abbot Columba Marmion, O.S.B.

Moreover, the priest must limit himself to truly priestly functions:

“The priest 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.

"The 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 XI

Least of all is the priest from any point of view a 'revolutionary':

"Just 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.

"Remember 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.
"Truly 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

The holiness 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:

"For 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.

"As the shepherd, so the sheep; as the priest, so the people." Archbishop Fulton I. Sheen

Saint John Eudes gives a beautiful summary of the dignity and the duties of the priest:

"The 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…"

And finally, the oft-quoted words of the eloquent French Dominican, Lacordaire:

To live in the midst of the world with no desire for its pleasures;
to 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 Charity;
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?"

Without 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.

There 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 are lacking.

Sanctity alone 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…

St. Pius X (Haerent Animo)
August, 1908.


To 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.”

“Neither doth any man take the honor (of the priesthood) to himself,” says St. Paul, "but he that is called by God, as Aaron was." (Hebrews 5:4)

Unfortunately, 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.

The Council 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.

The repeated 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 of Trent.

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.

But 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 much havoc.

The young man's desire and intention to become a priest can result from one of the following causes:

1. A private revelation;

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."

After this 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.

"If 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?"

The Church 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.

In general 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:

1. He 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, to derision.

2. Furthermore, at least before receiving any Order, the candidate must have received both the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.

“I 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?"

READ. 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.

PRAY. 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.

CONSULT. 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.

"I 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?"



In former 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.

Unfortunately 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.

I am only a bishop of the Catholic Church who continues to
transmit its doctrine. I think, and this will certainly not be too far
off, that you will be able to engrave on my tombstone these
words of Saint Paul:


"I have handed on to you what I have received," quite simply.

(Sermon of the Episcopal Consecrations. June 30, 1988).




The 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.

Archbishop 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.

The Congregation 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).

Meanwhile, 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.

This project 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.

Meanwhile Archbishop 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.

Since then, 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.

Before considering 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.

The campaign 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 Church.

They attacked 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."

Finally on 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!

Because of 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.

After these 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.

(The numerous 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 confusing affair.)

The Society 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 Lord."



The spirit of the Society of Saint Pius X and the work of its members cannot be considered separately, since the former determines the latter.

The Society, 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.

Although the 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.

Priestly, in 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!"

Priestly, in 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.

Priestly, in 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.

From these 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.

Those whom 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.

"If 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?"



The 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 Universities.

But various 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.

The seminary 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.

His preparation 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.

What is daily life like at the seminary?

The seminarian's 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.           

The morning 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.

After this 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.

On Sundays 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.

The spirit 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.

"What sort of studies will I be doing during these years of formation in the seminary?"

The course 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 sanctification.

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.

PHILOSOPHY – 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

FUNDAMENTAL 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.

SACRED 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.

CHURCH 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.

SACRED 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.

MORAL 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.

DOGMATIC 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.

CANON 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.

This, 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 given:

Director of Vocations
Saint Bernard Seminary
Purok 7, Brgy. Daga,
Santa Barbara, Iloilo,

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