Concerning Bishop Richard Williamson and the Novus Ordo Missae
In the post “Question: May I Ever Assist at the Novus Ordo Missae? Answer: No!”, I wrote that there can never be any justification whatsoever for assisting at a Mass celebrated using the Novus Ordo Missae (i.e., New Mass) because the Novus Ordo Missae is instrinsically evil (i.e., in and of itself). No good end end or circumstance, therefore, can justify assisting at it. To put it simply, the Novus Ordo Missae is the product of the Conciliar Church, the man-centred religion founded upon the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. It is not the product of the Catholic Church, the one and only true Church founded by Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. As such, the Novus Ordo Missae cannot be pleasing to God. That the Novus Ordo Missae is intrinsically evil was the position of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) that he founded. His Excellency Bishop Richard Williamon admitted this in his December 1, 1996 Letter of the Rector of St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary (emphasis mine):
“Q: But does not Michael Davies say that attending the Novus Ordo Mass fulfills one’s Sunday duty? And that Archbishop Lefebvre said the same thing?
“A: When Michael Davies says it, it is because he claims that the officially promulgated Novus Ordo Mass cannot be intrinsically evil, otherwise the Catholic Church would be defectible. When Archbishop Lefebvre said it, he meant that the Novus Ordo Mass is objectively and intrinsically evil, but Catholics unaware of, or disbelieving in, that evil, because of the rite’s official promulgation, may subjectively fulfill their Sunday duty by attending the new Mass. The third Commandment says, thou shalt keep the Sabbath holy, not, thou shalt attend a semi-Protestant Mass.”
In Bishop Williamson’s Eleison Comments “Host’s Parasite – I” (Issue #445 dated January 23, 2016), he begins with the following statement (emphasis mine):
“The purpose of saying half a year ago that a priest is not obliged in every case to forbid a Catholic to attend the New Mass (NOM) was obviously not to say that the NOM is perfectly alright to attend.”
Of course, a priest is not obliged, for example, to go stand in front of a Novus Ordo church and forbid people from attending the New Mass. However, this is not the case Bishop Williamson was faced with during a conference he gave on June 28, 2015 in Mahopac, New York to which conference he alludes in the statement above. Rather, in this conference at the 1 hour, 1 minute, and 40 seconds mark, a lady tells her story that she attends the Latin Mass on Sunday and the Novus Ordo Missae during the week. She justifies her attendance by citing two objective circumstances:
1) The priest celebrates the Novus Ordo Mass in a reverent way.
2) She believes that the priest believes he is changing the bread and wine in to the Body and Blood of Our Lord. (Note: External action is how the priest’s intention to do what the Church does is manifested.)
The lady was seeking the counsel of Bishop Williamson on whether it would be morally acceptable for her to continue attending the Novus Ordo Mass under these good objective circumstances. Since Bishop Williamson knows what Archbishop Lefebvre taught regarding this matter (i.e., that the New Mass is intrinsically evil) and since he is a spiritual son of the Archbishop, here was a good opportunity for him to firmly, but gently, tell the lady that she ought not to attend the Novus Ordo Mass anymore. However, this is not what we heard from his lips. Rather, at the 1 hour, 3 minutes, and 5 seconds mark, Bishop Williamson realizes that what he is about to say is controversial and invites the audience to chop off his head nonetheless. He then proceeds to acknowledge those two circumstances the lady mentioned and then adds a third objective circumstance, that is, that it is important that she doesn’t scandalize anybody by her attendance. Shortly thereafter, he brings up attendance at neo-SSPX Masses and that one needs to watch for potentially negative changes in neo-SSPX Masses. If one starts to see such changes, then one must stay away. He then says that one must be in the same way on guard for potentially negative changes in the Novus Ordo Mass. Then at the 1 hour, 10 minutes, and 0 seconds mark, Bishop Williamson again states that one needs to watch and make decisions based on one’s own circumstances and that therefore there are cases where even the Novus Ordo mass can be attended with an effect of building one’s faith instead of losing it. Then he recognizes that this statement is almost heresy within Tradition, but nonetheless that is what he thinks.
It is clear that Bishop Williamson’s answer to the lady is not consistent with Archbishop Lefebvre’s position that the Novus Ordo Missae is intrinsically evil because Bishop Williamson admits that there are good objective circumstances that morally permit one to assist at it. This is unacceptable for a bishop consecrated as such by the Archbishop’s own hands!
Unfortunately, however, the story does not end here. In addition to acknowledging objective circumstances that would morally permit one to assist at the Novus Ordo Missae, Bishop Williamson seems to go even further in the same conference in that one’s subjective view or circumstances also morally permit one to assist at the Novus Ordo Missae. For example, at the 1 hour, 4 minutes, and 40 seconds mark, he states, “The golden rule is this…..the absolute rule of rules seems to me to be this: do whatever you need to nourish your faith.” Then at the 1 hour, 9 minutes, and 15 seconds mark, he states, “The essential principle is do whatever you need to keep the Faith.” These statements are disturbing because they seem to be based on the perceived truth of the subject rather than on objective truth, which Bishop Williamson has always heralded. Within the context of the conference, this means that if I believe that I need to go to a Resistance Mass to nourish my faith, so be it; if I believe I need to go to a neo-SSPX Mass to nourish my faith, so be it; if I believe I need to go to an Ecclesia Dei Mass to nourish my faith, so be it; if I believe I need to go to a Novus Ordo Mass to nourish my faith, so be it. Why then have we, Archbishop Lefebvre and his followers, been fighting for the last 50 years against the Conciliar Church, its rites, and those that defend them if now we can do “whatever we need to nourish our faith”? Has objective truth given way to subjective perception? It was the goal of the Archbishop and the SSPX he founded (and now that part of the Resistance that faithfully maintains the Archbishop’s position) to lead people out of their errors and not pander to them. If Bishop Williamson wants to continue to claim that he is indeed a faithful son of the Archbishop, he must do the same by clearly acknowledging that the Novus Ordo Missae is intrinsically evil. This means that his counsel must be that no good end or circumstance (objective or subjective) can ever justify assisting at it. Period.
One may naturally inquire, “Why is Bishop Williamson opening up an old wound? The question of the moral liceity of assisting at the Novus Ordo Missae has already been settled, at least among the followers of Archbishop Lefebvre. What then are Bishop Williamon’s reasons for bringing this matter onto the front page Traditional Catholic news, so to speak, in the last several months?” Well, according to His Excellency’s Eleison Comments “Host’s Parasite – I” referenced above, there are at least two reasons:
“Firstly, to ward off what is coming to be called ‘ecclesiavacantism’, namely the idea that the Newchurch has nothing Catholic left in it whatsoever.”¹
It is not a matter of the Newchurch (i.e., Conciliar Church) having nothing Catholic left in it whatsoever. The Anglican Church has Catholic elements in it as well. However, the Archbishop and his followers hold that these Catholic elements do not make the Conciliar Church any more Catholic than the Catholic elements in the Anglican Church make it any more Catholic. Rather, the Conciliar Church is a distinct entity from the Catholic Church because it, the Conciliar Church, is founded upon the man-centred religion of the schismatic Second Vatican Council just as the Anglican Church is a distinct entity from the Catholic Church because it, the Anglican Church, is founded upon the man-centred religion of the English schism. The analogy is not perfect, of course, because the same man who occupies the Chair of St. Peter, and is hence the head of the Catholic Church, is also the head of the Conciliar Church, whereas this is not the case with the Anglican Church. Nevertheless, to reject the analogy outright is to deny the distinction that the Archbishop made between the Catholic Church and the Conciliar Church, which is essential to understand if one is to come out of the Conciliar Church without adopting Sedevacantism or if one is to avoid going into the Conciliar Church from the Catholic Church. I do not believe that denying the distinction is the intention of Bishop Williamson, but in effect the distinction between the two Churches becomes somewhat blurred in his first reason.
“Secondly, to ward off potentially pharisaical scorn of any believers outside of the Traditional movement.”
I agree with His Excellency that there are those considering themselves to be part of the Traditionalist movement who in their pride think themselves holier than those outside the movement. However, this is not a problem with those who have a proper understanding of Archbishop Lefebvre’s position and have seen or heard about the love he had for those within the Conciliar Church. His “Open Letter to Confused Catholics” is one beautiful manifestation of his love for them.
Let us pray and hope that His Excellency Bishop Williamson publicly changes his position regarding assistance at the Novus Ordo Missae to be fully in line with the one of his spiritual father.
1. This point of Bishop Williamson reminds me of Paragraph 8 of “Lumen Gentium” where it states that “these elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling (Protestant sects, as such) towards catholic unity”. This statement tries to give the impression that Protestant sects, as such, take legitimate part in the salvific work of the Catholic Church, the one and only true Church of Christ. However, the Protestant sects, as such, do not take legitimate part in the salvific work of the Catholic Church. In a similar manner, the Conciliar Church, as such, takes no legitimate part in the salvific work of the Catholic Church because it, the Conciliar Church, itself is a sect. I do not imply here that Bishop Williamson adheres to this false idea of the Second Vatican Council and/or deliberately applies it to the Conciliar Church. I am only trying to make the point that one could, as I do, see an interlacing of the Catholic Church and the Conciliar Church in His Excellency’s first reason, thereby blurring the distinction between the two.