Guest Submission: The End of an Era: How Summorum Pontificum Fulfilled the “Experiment in Tradition”

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By Aaron Borgerding

The “Hot Summer” of 1976 in Europe was marked by record setting temperatures and little rain. Ironically, it was also a “Hot Summer” in the Church which dealt with rising tensions between Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and his Society of St. Pius X and the “Conciliar” Church headed by Paul VI. The “Lefebvreists”, staunch in their attachment to the Tridentine Mass and uncompromising in their fidelity to pre-Conciliar doctrine, were a thorn in the side of Paul VI. With the gaining popularity of the Traditional movement, the Holy Father had to deal with, on the one hand, this witness against the revolution introduced through Vatican Council II and on the other, liberties taken by bishops and clerics with the New Mass and Church doctrine.

This was the setting for one of the most famous (or infamous) meetings between Paul VI and Archbishop Lefebvre in September 1976. Paul VI had summoned the “renegade” archbishop to Rome. It was in this meeting wherein Archbishop Lefebvre offered a potential solution to the current conflict between his SSPX and Rome. Allow an “experiment of tradition” by which accommodations would be made for those attached to the Tridentine Rite and adverse to the ambiguity of the teachings of Vatican II. Archbishop Lefebvre would retire to his seminary giving “no more conferences.” This move would liberate the Tridentine rite and give Tradition a “fair shake” against the Modernist and progressive elements in the Church.

This solution was rejected out of hand. In the subsequent 31 years before Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio “Summorum Pontificum” the SSPX grew and became an unrelenting prick of conscience to the pope and Church authorities who were fully “bought in” to the application of Vatican II. In response to the ever-growing attraction of the faithful to the Tridentine Mass, we saw the allowance of an indult on a highly restrictive basis in 1984 and the creation of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter after the controversial consecrations of four bishops for the SSPX in 1988.

Leading up to 2007 the SSPX laid down three conditions for continued doctrinal discussions to pose their objections to Vatican II and, hopefully, iron out a solution to the “Lefebvreist problem.” In response to this request, Benedict XVI issued “Summorum Pontificum” which recognized that the Tridentine Mass had never been abrogated (vindicating Lefebvre) and granting the freedom to any and all priests to celebrate Mass according to that rite.
The growth and expansion of the Traditional Mass and the doctrines it secures spread and grew in spite of resistance from bishops. On July 26 Crisis Magazine published the results of a survey which they conducted in June. They sent inquiries to all parishes offering the Traditional Latin Mass according to Latin Mass Directory ( Of the 658 U.S. parishes which were listed as offering at least one TLM a month, 82 responded representing 33 states. The results were impressive. From January of 2019 to June of 2021 the number of Latin Masses offered increased by 27%. The average number of parishioners at those TLM’s increased by 34%. Most impressive is the 71% increase of attendance across all TLM venues in that timeframe. These numbers don’t account for independent chapels or SSPX chapels.

Consider also the results of the now famous Pew Research study which revealed that only one-third of Catholics believe in the Real Presence. In contrast, those who attend the TLM are far more orthodox and in line with traditional Church teachings.

In the TLM we see growth; the Novus Ordo, decline. Where Traditional Catholics embrace the perennial truths of their Faith, most Novus Ordo Catholics are abandoning it. While Traditional Parishes are young and thriving, Novus Ordo Masses are emptying and dying.

At the end of the “Hot Summer” of 1976, Paul VI thwarted Archbishop Lefebvre’s “experiment of Tradition”. However, the Holy Ghost deigned that in the “Summorum Pontificum” era this experiment would be realized. It not only vindicated the position of the good Archbishop, but more importantly it vindicated the Traditional movement.
As we enter a new era of intolerance ushered in by Pope Francis, we must continue the fight for Traditional doctrine enshrined in the Tridentine Mass. As Fr. Pagliarani, Superior General of the SSPX, stated in his official response to “Traditionis Custodes”, “He who is not prepared to shed his blood for this Mass is not worthy to celebrate it! He who is not prepared to give up everything to protect it is not worthy to attend it!”
Deus Vult!

 Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and the 1976 Audience with Pope Paul VI
The Growth of the Latin Mass: A Survey
Just one-third of U.S. Catholics agree with their church that Eucharist is body, blood of Christ
National Survey Results: What We Learned About Latin Mass Attendees
Letter from Father Pagliarani about the motu proprio “Traditionis custodes”

© 2021, Anthony Stine. All rights reserved. You may reuse or copy this post by giving credit and providing a link.

One thought on “Guest Submission: The End of an Era: How Summorum Pontificum Fulfilled the “Experiment in Tradition”

  1. The TLM probably will never reach majority status in the Catholic Church but if we could get to 20% we will be able to swing the trajectory against some of the more serious deficiencies of Vatican II


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