Letter 21 published 17 October 2011

VIVIERS: Portrait of a French Diocese Deprived of the Motu Proprio

Beginning early on this summer, the French version of our Letter has been publishing a series of investigations on the five French dioceses that are deprived of the application of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. The situation in one of them, the diocese of Viviers, is such a caricature that it is very revealing of the post-conciliar Catholicism in European countries.

The diocese of Viviers covers the Ardèche département, on the Rhone river south of Lyons. At one time this was the diocese where Father Houghton, about whom we offered you a few lines in our last letter, had sought refuge after quitting his parish the day after the Missal of Paul VI became official. Today it is one of the rare dioceses of continental France that is entirely deprived of the traditional liturgy, since even the Society of Saint Pius X is not established there. Yet there is a demand for the extraordinary form and Bishop Blondel, ordinary of Viviers since 2000, is aware of it.

I - A diocese where vocations have dried up

The Viviers diocese numbers 139 priests of whom 72 are still active, according to statistics made early this year. The age demographics, however, are critical since only seven of these priests are under the age of 50! And it's not getting any better since at present the diocese has no seminarian, which means no new priest for the next seven or eight years . . . .

A desert of priests is currently under way in this diocese under the aegis of Bishop Blondel, even though he did attempt to reverse the trend in 2006 with a pastoral letter "on priestly vocations and the mission of priests." Unfortunately this document, despite the 38,000 copies that were distributed, elicited no response. Perhaps because, unlike Cardinal Piacenza's efforts in Rome, the Viviers diocese chooses to ignore the singular identity of the priest?

Yet the vocations statistics we regularly report do show that there is an intimate connection between a strong affirmation of priestly identity and the number of vocations . . . .

II - The diocesan request

The backstory of the Viviers diocese request is that several families, having met with flat refusals in their own parishes, decided to band together for a single request.

The representatives of this request, after meeting with their parish priest Fr. Nougier, wrote to Bishop Blondel to ask that the benefits of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum be applied to them. This letter, written in October 2010, was answered by the bishop by November of the same year. This rapid response--a point in Bishop Blondel's favor--is available to you here below along with our commentaries. You will see to what extent it is emblematic of the state of mind among some of our prelates, for whom generosity is not only limited but can also be taken back!

III - The bishop's answer

Viviers, 19 November 2010


Fr. Henri Meissat, Episcopal Vicar, and Fr. Berbard Nougier, pastor
of St. Joseph's in the Pays de Ligne, communicated to me on
your behalf the request dated 14 October 2010 for the application
of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum.

They reported to me your frame of mind during the meeting they had
with you as well as the assurance you gave them that you are acting
in the name of a stable group.

I have therefore taken your request into account. Here is what I intend
to organize to fulfill it.

The celebrant I am designating is Fr. Henri Goin, former pastor of
the Cathedral, who is currently employed at the diocesan archives
and who is a very good latinist.

With the agreement of the pastor of the Charles de Foucauld
Le Teil/Viviers parish, the church will be that of Saint Laurent in Viviers.

On the first Saturday of every month Mass will be celebrated there
according to the 1962 ritual. The readings of the Word of God will be
those of the ordinary rite, for I insist that you be in communion with
all the communities in the diocese. These readings of the Word of God
shall be done in French.

This Mass, celebrated at, shall we say, 5:30pm, shall be considered
as a parish Mass. The announcements made there shall be those
of the parish and of the diocese. The collection shall go to the parish.

Fr. Meissat will organize a meeting between Fr. Goin and yourselves
during which the date of the first celebration shall be decided.

And we'll evaluate the situation in six months.

I believe I have fulfilled your request.

With the assurance of my best wishes and prayer,
Yours sincerely,

François BLONDEL
Bishop of Viviers

IV - Paix Liturgique's reflections

1) Just as in the case of the relatively short time within which Bishop Blondel gave his answer to the requesters, we can only appreciate his answer's form: in writing and with details spelled out. This, unfortunately, is not all that frequent: so many European pastors and bishops--when they bother to answer at all!--stop at a curt spoken refusal, or else submerge their answer in a torrent of catechetical/pastoral considerations.

2) Bishop Blondel ends his letter with the formula: "I believe I have fulfilled your request." Very well, but did this prelate seriously and honestly believe that he was fulfilling the request that had been presented to him?

On two points at least the requestors manifested their disappointment:
- the location:
to be sure, Viviers is the episcopal see, but the request had been made at Largentière . . . fifty km away, which on the local roads amounts to a fifty-minute drive;
- the liturgical "tinkering": by saying that the readings will be those of the ordinary lectionary, Bishop Blondel is imposing a condition that is so opposed to the spirit of the motu proprio that the instruction Universae Ecclesiae published on 13 May 2011 specifies precisely in article 24 that "the liturgical books of the forma extraordinaria are to be used as they are," and adds in article 26--as if this needed to be specified--that these readings shall be those "of the Holy Mass of the Missal of 1962." By the way please note Bishop Blondel's theological reason: common readings as a sign of communion with the diocesan communities...

We might add two more points: the once-a-month frequency and the fact that, according to the canon law attached to the 1962 Missal, Saturday is not the day of precept.

3) The diocese has been silent since the faithful expressed their disillusionment. As a result, eleven months after Bishop Blondel's letter, the first celebration never did take place. Yet the diocese doesn't need to do much to satisfy the faithful. Indeed, although on the one hand the question of location for the celebration can only be decided in a renewed discussion with the requesters, on the other hand the question of a "tinkered" celebration--a 1962 Mass framework with the 1970 readings--has been decisively settled by the instruction Universae Ecclesiae.

4) Can one hope that as the universal Church celebrates the motu proprio's fourth anniversary, Bishop Blondel will give the requesters in Ardèche the good surprise of finally granting them the celebration, albeit monthly, albeit Saturday afternoon, of the extraordinary form of the Roman rite and of the extraordinary rite alone?