We are pleased to present the text of an interview we recently conducted with Monsieur Christian Marquant of Paix Liturgique (“Liturgical Peace”). He belongs to the generation of extraordinary people who, as young men, acted decisively when their elders shrank from doing so: they resisted the imposition of liturgical novelty upon the people of God. Here, for the first time online, Christian recounts his adventures and misadventures from the mid-1960s to the present—above all, the establishment and work of Paix Liturgique, a multilingual, data-driven enterprise for the restoration of the usus antiquior all around the world. We are grateful for the many historic photos Mr. Marquant shared with us, most of which appear here for the first time. Dr. John Pepino kindly translated the interview from French into English.
|Christian Marquant, Summorum Pontificuм Conference, October 2020, Rome|
The “Long March” of Paix Liturgique
Rorate Caeli: Dear Christian, you are the man who orchestrates Oremus-Paix Liturgique. Could you tell us about this movements and its activities?
Christian Marquant: It would hard to tell you what we are today without telling you at least some of our history as Catholic activists. It all began in the mid-1960s.
RC: You go back to before the Flood!
|Where it began... The Christian Scouts' promise: 1962|
CM: No: during the Flood! The Catholic world completely changed in a few months, in 1964–1965, and a few of us boys, members of the Scouts de France, were deeply troubled at all this.
Take our chaplain, for example. We’d been very surprised, although not traumatized, to see him switch from his cassock to lay clothes. What did deeply trouble us, however, was to hear him now talking about Christian life and our faith in words that directly contradicted what he had been teaching us until then. For instance, regarding the Eucharist and the Real Presence of Jesus in the Host, he now presented it to us more as a symbol than as a reality. Or again, he questioned the historical reality of the Resurrection. And everywhere we looked, we’d see this change, which was no small shift: in our parishes, in our movements, in our schools.
RC: Please forgive me for asking, but how were you in a position to pass judgment on this evolution?
CM: That is a legitimate question that goes to the heart of the crisis we’ve been going through since those days: this crisis comes from the shepherds, many of whom have ceased performing their duty as teachers. The faithful, therefore, through what is called the sensus fidei, find themselves faced with an obligation to judge their shepherds. In the end it was simple Catholic common sense that put us on our guard: How was it possible that everything they taught us yesterday, for centuries, could all of a sudden be put into doubt, particularly by the very people whom we now considered to be unreliable? In a word, we belonged to that generation which, in its teen years, lost its trust in its “fathers.”
RC: Some people, of a more venerable “vintage” than yourselves, were clearly opposed to this revolution.
|Mr. Marquant with Cardinal Burke, Rome, October 2020|
CM: Only some, because the vast majority of Catholics did not know how to react and simply obeyed. These novelties were presented as coming from the Pope, the bishops, the priests, the whole People of God. . . .
Still, we were able to note that many laymen were deeply shocked by this change, not to mention many priests who were forced to submit to what they saw as a new religion. Some attempted to “moderate” the revolution, by adopting half measures. Others, who were unprepared to oppose what seemed to be coming from Rome, remained silent, and left the field open for the destroyers. Yet there were a few admirable priests (I am thinking of Fr. Coache or Fr. de Nantes) and certain intellectuals like Jean Madiran.
As for us, who were young and a little oblivious, we were not afraid of “going on a crusade” against persons and institutions that were unjustly persecuting old friends, priests and faithful alike, who did not know how to defend themselves.
RC: And yet… you were Catholic?
CM: What a question! We all came from Catholic families, as did, in those days, nearly all Frenchmen who had received First Communion, but we did not have—we were sixteen years old—any particular formation. So it was not as easy task, this “resistance”, but the circuмstances compelled us, and so in order to protest the troubling novelties coming our way from all sides we undertook our own formation on the job, in small increments. At first we drew our inspiration from The Catechism of the Council of Trent (which Jean Madiran had republished), then we discovered such masters as Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Louis-Marie de Montfort, and Saint Alphonsus Liguori, who helped us find out what prayer is. In fact, we were facing a veritable madness, as all revolutions are a form of madness. We came to understand that we had to study, study, always study. That is how we forged our convictions: first as a sort of reflex of the faith; then by a thoughtful faithfulness that we kept up through study.
RC: It was a spontaneous resistance, then.
|From the first camp held by the MJCF, 1967|
CM: Yes, but not spontaneistic. Far from defeating us, this unheard-of situation stimulated us youngsters and led us to become, in our own small way, defenders of the Faith, of the Church, and also of Life since the social revolution, as it is called, was underway. Ultimately we founded a group of young people in the greater Paris area; we called it—we had no doubts or misgivings!—by the beautiful title of the “Catholic Youth Movement of France” (Mouvement de la Jeunesse Catholique de France—MJCF), even though there were barely more than twenty of us.
RC: But were you capable of carrying through with this undertaking?
CM: No, of course not, except for the fact that we have always been convinced that it was because we were the smallest, the most ignorant, and sometimes the least pious, that Providence was making use of us, as it so often has. It is Providence’s way of showing that it, not men, puts sand in the gears of the machinery of hell—for indeed, all this so-called renewal, and the apostasy to which it was leading, was a machine designed and built to lose souls.
RC: And that’s how the MJCF was born.
CM: Right, in September 1967. I was 18, and I was fully convinced that the most important fight was the fight for the Church. Very quickly, like wildfire, the Movement spread to every region in France and drew hundreds of youth in its wake; soon we found that we were also being joined by youngsters from outside the Church. That is how our missionary ideal revealed itself, when we saw that the presentation of the truth of the Faith was, in that last third of the twentieth century, as effective as in the past and that it produced an overabundance of graces of conversion.
|Camp MJCF in Ireland, 1968|
RC: Youth following youth?
CM: It’s what used to be called, in the last days of Catholic Action, the influence of “like upon like.” There were young people, everywhere and numerous, since—and this is worth emphasizing—the new religious ideas were attractive to neither young nor old, notwithstanding what the official media were saying. The adults, or at least part of them, expressed their disagreement with their feet and deserted the churches of France en masse. These emptied out spectacularly in under three years (and they continue to do so), and the young, or part of them, expressed their disagreement by following those who were proposing the traditional principles of the faith in Jesus Christ and His Church, as well as the principles of prayer.
RC: Did you have any contacts with bishops?
CM: You have to understand that we were a lay movement directly opposed to the dominant Church talk at the time. We were so to speak at war with our fathers: we were engaged in a “reactionary” May 1968. Yes, we did have contacts, especially at the grass roots with the pastors of the parishes we attended, since at the time there was nowhere else to go. These were the occasion of, shall we say, lively exchanges, which in fact helped us to deepen our convictions. As for them, they didn’t get it. A few years later, when I met with Cardinal François Marty, the archbishop of Paris, he nearly fell out of his chair: he never could have imagined witnessing young Catholics rise up against the “Springtime of the Church” . . . .
RC: What could he do, though?
CM: Nothing, and we weren’t asking anything of him. We had no mandate to obtain, such as the famous “mandate” of Catholic Action movements, or any candidate to ordain, or funds to solicit. Neither he nor his peers had any means to compel us to “obey,” particularly as we knew that the shepherd has no authority to destroy.
RC: But you soon discovered that there were “Silent Ones” in the Church?
|Camp MJCF in Istanbul, 1970|
CM: Yes, we suspected they existed. An Assembly of the Silent Ones of the Church, under the presidency of Pierre Debray, met on 7–8 November 1970. The conference took place in Versailles, with roughly 10,000 people coming from all over the social and cultural map. This was the first example of a massive and diverse opposition to the abuses stemming from the Council, particularly on the issue of the Catechism. Yet, despite the success of this assembly, whose aim was to propose “A Peace in the Church,” the bishops did not budge an inch. They even doubled down in their ingenuity to eradicate this budding resistance.
RC: These Silent Ones were against the new catechisms in the vein of the heretical Dutch catechism, but what was their position regarding the Mass that had been prohibited in 1969?
CM: Those who remember that era know what difficulty the question of the Mass presented for most of the faithful, especially the older ones: in private, many were hostile to the “New Mass,” but the rigor with which it had been imposed under the explicit and oft-repeated authority of the pope made it so that few, at the time, dared to refuse to say it or attend it. In France the publication by Louis Salleron of his work La Nouvelle Messe (1970) over at the Nouvelles Éditions Latines (“Itinéraires” Collection), went a long way to rally around to maintaining the traditional Mass many of those who were ill at ease with the novelties. I have the sense that it did more in this respect than the Brief Critical Examination of Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci (the “Ottaviani Intervention”) of 1969; that’s a crucial docuмent, too, but it did not speak to the faithful quite as explicitly.
RC: The pro-traditional-Mass movement won out among these dissatisfied faithful, then . . . .
CM: Well, slowly, because most of the conservative movements that had first worked for the influence of Catholicism in the political sphere and then had fought against conciliar abuses and the Dutch catechism, were precisely that: conservative. Psychologically, they had the greatest trouble calling themselves “more Catholic than the pope,” as had been the case of those who, under Leo XIII, had refused to recognize the anticlerical French Republic. It wasn’t until Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s appearance on the scene and all the abuses in the new liturgy that more and more of those dissatisfied laymen came over to the Tridentine liturgy.
RC: And what was the MJCF doing in the meantime?
|Marquant and Jean-François Chassagne, MJCF, 1973 |
|Marquant in 1975|
CM: It fulfilled its mission for about ten years and became one of the spearheads of the resistance to this veritable apostasy, be it a soft or hard apostasy, depending on the case. It participated in all the battles, for example the fight against the modernist press and in the defense of life. The movement was also prolific in priestly and religious vocations, which associated it to nearly all the new traditional communities or even to older communities, not to mention the dioceses that were able to attract young men attached to the faith and to the Church.
RC: And after these “dark years,” what became of the MJCF?
CM: It had served its time as a providential auxiliary, as a spearhead, because the situation had evolved. By the end of the 1970s and the early 1980s, many Mass centers had arisen throughout the world in connection with Archbishop Lefebvre and his friends; these became veritable emergency parishes. A multitude of organizations, schools, scout movements, and so forth had arisen; the Chartres pilgrimage had been launched. In that context, the MJCF fit into this new world and played an active role in it.
RC: Yet you continued your frontline combat?
CM: Catholic resistance had not been completely asphyxiated—but that was no reason for its opponents to stop their persecutions. Everywhere, by calumny or even by force, they did all in their power to prevent Masses, catechisms, schools. Paradoxically, and contrary to every Vatican II principle of promoting the laity, this will to eradicate came from the clergy and attacked the people. Indeed, historians and sociologists have noted that the refusal of conciliar novelties was an essentially lay and popular phenomenon. The Catholic people was not taking it lying down.
RC: These were church occupations!
CM: One is reminded of those faithful who were deprived of worship during the French Revolution. On Sundays they would occupy their churches and sing “dry” Masses, without the Canon or the Consecration. For about ten years after the liturgical reform, the faithful tried to resist enemy attacks. But these two events, at Saint Nicolas du Chardonnet and at Port Marly, show that these same faithful were now taking their fate in their own hands, including through the legitimate use of force (it was legitimate defense in a matter of faith).
It is to this paradigm shift that one can trace the beginning of slow changes in Rome: first in 1984 came the publication of the letter Quattuor abhinc annos, then in 1988 came the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei. Let’s be clear: under pressure from traditional laymen, the authorities granted what they had once refused. Piety and fortitude are not opposed.
|Events at Port-Marly, 1987|
RC: But aren’t the episcopal consecrations that Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre performed at Ecône the reason for the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei?
CM: Not only. The Roman authorities—especially Cardinal Ratzinger, in charge of the matter since 1982—had delegated Cardinal Gagnon to the SSPX and the traditional world allied to it. These authorities, based on the Canadian cardinal’s report, were deeply impressed by the vitality and dynamism of the French traditional network. So, they liberalized the traditional rite to ease tensions.
RC: How did the bishops of France react?
CM: Very negatively, embittered as they were by an increasingly difficult situation. These were hardly halcyon days for them: the decadence that had begun in 1965 was getting worse—and continues to do so today.
The crisis was first felt in the hemorrhage of the faithful (over 90% of those who had practiced their faith no longer did—today, less than 2% of French people go to Mass), of registrations for catechism, of vocations. This crisis also brought about a painful loss of financial means. Although they had not yet reached the situation of bankruptcy they’re in today, dioceses were in great difficulty because gifts and bequests were drying up. On the other hand, the faithful were diverting their generosity towards select groups, new communities, and traditional groups. Vocations in this last category were growing. Here is an example: while French abbeys were losing numbers, the only monastery that had remained traditional, the Benedictine abbey of Fontgombault, has founded five new abbeys since 1968. A paradoxical “fruit of the Council”!
These bishops of France, who had been among the first to initiate liturgical and theological novelties, for the most part became rigidly entrenched in their ideologies and kept hunting down anything traditional. That is why, besides a few exceptional cases, the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei got very little traction in France.
RC: They saw it as a “merciful interlude.”
CM: Quite right. They especially did not want the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei to allow for a rebirth of the traditional current in the Church; they only wanted it to be a parenthesis during which those traditional Catholics who shrank from following Archbishop Lefebvre, the consecrator without a mandate, would be allowed—for a time and only sparingly—to continue to practice the preconciliar liturgy. They were being granted time to evolve towards the radiant liturgical reform . . . The bishops were using the gentle method to achieve what they had failed to achieve by force between 1964 and 1972. Their aim, though, was strictly identical: to cause the disappearance of an outdated lex orandi that no longer jibed with a transmuted lex credendi.
RC: As far as you are concerned, is that not how you understood the text of the motu proprio?
CM: I think that apart from a few naïve persons, none of the faithful and of course none of the priests who benefitted from Ecclesia Dei had any intention of giving up the traditional liturgy or the faith it corresponds to. What had been granted was not granted as a contingency, but rather to give consideration to the Catholic world attached to the traditional faith of the Church. That, however, is not how the bishops saw it, and for nineteen years they did all in their power to resist tooth and nail against a rebirth of anything they had been trying to eradicate for decades.
RC: Is that context in which Oremus was born?
|The Palm Sunday reconquest, 1987|
|The church regained|
CM: In concrete terms, Oremus was born out of the conflict I mentioned, which pitted the parishioners at Port Marly against the successive bishops of Versailles at the time, from 1986 to 1990. It wasn’t just a matter of bursting doors open with a battering ram, which we did do, but we also had to organize, communicate, and coordinate this resistance, and not only in the diocese of Versailles: in all of France too. That is the context in which was established this association, which aims to help laymen and priests resist what ultimately has to be called a subversion.
RC: So you went beyond Port Marly?
CM: Based on the terms of the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei, which was published shortly after these events and seemed to present some perspectives of peace in the Church, many French laymen turned to their shepherds for a few crumbs of worship. In most cases, they were sent away empty-handed.
That is why Oremus developed a national strategy. It put itself at the service of the little people, those isolated folks who lacked the means to make their voices heard and kept getting crushed. Specifically, in cooperation with Dom Gérard Calvet, the founder of what was to become the Abbey of Le Barroux, we sent a supplication to the Holy Father; it garnered signatures in the tens of thousands . . . and became the first Oremus docuмent. This was also the time when we decided to begin a scientific discussion on liturgical questions by creating the CIEL (Centre International d’Études Liturgiques, “International Center of Liturgical Studies”), in order to reintegrate traditional thinking within the Church.
RC: Was the CIEL a success?
CM: Not as much as we had wanted, but it was nevertheless an enterprise that found its niche. The proof is that several bishops, even cardinals, have honored us with their presence, and that one of the most active members of the Consilium for the reform of the liturgy, Fr. Louis-Marie Gy, OP, took the trouble of attending several of our conferences.
RC: Is the CIEL still active?
CM: We organized eleven conferences in France, Rome, and England between 1995 and 2006. Then, after a lull, the CIEL held its twelfth conference in 2019 at the Patristic Pontifical Institute Augustinianum in Rome on the theme “The traditional liturgy under various conditions.” The thirteenth conference, which is currently in preparation, will take place in February 2021 at the Institut Société Görres, again in Rome.
RC: You’ve established contacts with ecclesiastical authorities, then?
CM: We’ve always had many contacts and friends in Rome. On the other hand, our relationships with the bishops of France were generally very strained. And yet, we have constantly sought to establish relations to defuse situations that were glaring with injustice. For instance, I’ll mention an “historic” meeting we had in 1995 with Bishop Michel Moutel, at the time bishop of Nevers, who was in charge of liturgical questions within the French Bishops’ Conference. We went to visit him in that capacity to try to convince him that the faithful attached to Tradition deserved to be heard. He received us affably enough but ended up telling us straight: “As a matter of fact, you don’t exist! If I count up the faithful who are active in your chapels, even including the priories of the SSPX, I don’t even reach a number of 50,000 faithful, and if I compare them to the millions of practicing Catholics in our parishes, I am compelled to conclude that you don’t even represent 1% of French Catholics. That is why I can state that you make a lot of noise, but you don’t exist!”
RC: Was he right?
CM: Of course not! But I have to tell you that this meeting revealed the strategic line of what might be called the “episcopal party,” a negationist line. Bishop Moutel’s claim was false on three counts:
First, supposing that there had been only 50,000 laymen in the traditional chapels of France in the early 90s, there only were barely 200 such chapels (and some of them didn’t even offer Sunday Masses) for a France that at the time numbered over 10,000 parishes . . ..
Secondly, countless laymen attached in their hearts to the traditional liturgy continued, for reasons I outlined earlier, to practice in their parishes just as we had done for years, since there were no alternatives. But our bishops ignored them.
Lastly, don’t forget that in the mid-1990s the number of practicing Catholics in France was not in the tens of millions. They were barely a million and a half, probably fewer, since the method used in counting them was manipulated by reckoning that a Catholic who attended Mass only once a month was a regularly practicing Catholic. The 50,000 amounted to far more than the “fewer than 1% of practicing Catholics” that Bishop Moutel granted (the truth is that they must have already come close to 5%).RC: What about those dissatisfied Catholics who stayed in their parishes anyway—how could they be counted?
CM: Well exactly, a veritable thunderclap struck in the summer of 1976. On 12 June 1976, Paul VI forbade Archbishop Lefebvre to carry out ordinations in his seminary in Ecône. He disregarded the injunction and, on 22 July, he was suspended a divinis (i.e., he was forbidden to celebrate Mass and perform sacraments). He responded by letting his friends organize a Mass in Lille at the trade fairgrounds on 29 August, with 6,000 faithful attending.
In this climate, shortly before the Mass in Lille, the Lyon daily Le Progrès published on 13 August a survey that showed what would be verified time and again: a deep rift between a hierarchy given over to Modernists on the one hand, and the Catholic people on the other. Here are the responses that practicing Catholics gave when asked about the ongoing changes in the Church:
* 48% thought that the Church had taken its reforms and changes too far;
* 28% approved of the “illicit” ordinations Archbishop Lefebvre was conferring;
* 35% remained favorable to the “old-style” Mass. This, seven years after the new Mass had been forcibly imposed!
The results of such a survey ought to have allowed for the beginning of a dialogue, or at least for some reflection on the subject. Nothing of the sort. Its only effect was that the Conference of Bishops decided never again to broach these subjects in public, as though the truth the survey revealed did not exist. And this institutional “omertà” is still more or less the rule 45 years later.
RC: So you were at an impasse?
CM: Yes, particularly since Church authorities controlled the near-totality of communications media (this was before the age of the Internet), and could therefore impose their views. Even many of our friends, victims to a sort of Stockholm syndrome, did not believe that the number of Frenchmen attached to the traditional liturgy could really be important and worthy of attention. You know, those who fight are quite alone and they are not always very lucid. And they are tempted to sin against Hope. I may be harsh, but there is a form of pessimistic cowardice in that attitude.
RC: And you had surveys made.
CM: Yes, we thought we might commission a survey poll from a professional and independent institute. It was an adventure, as we were not familiar with that world and its techniques, and it was costly, too. But we dived into the deep end and, in March 2001, we commissioned a survey from Ipsos, one of the top French companies in the field.
RC: And . . . what were the results?
CM: They were incredible, even for us! I’ll summarize them in two figures:
* 43% of practicing Catholics were favorable to what we’d call today biformalism, meaning the existence of traditional celebrations alongside the new ones at the parish level.
* More than 25% of practicing Catholics, a fourth, declared their desire to attend the traditional liturgy if it were celebrated in their parish.
If it were celebrated in their parish . . .. This presupposes the advent of liturgical peace in the dioceses. That was a lon