Article on our Fraternity in the "Latin Mass Magazine"

The Fraternity of St Vincent Ferrer

byPaul McGregor

Reproduced with kind permission of the Editor of Latin Mass Magazine, published in the USA.

 

 

Tradition returned to the Church of St Vincent Ferrer in New York, last November 21st, the Feast of the Presentation of Mary, with the celebration of Mass according to the Solemn Dominican Rite, a liturgy that dates back to the mid-thirteenth century.

 

The celebrant was Fr Louis-Marie de Blignières, founder of the Fraternity of St Vincent Ferrer, a religious community in France that, as its website (www.chemere.org) says, draws its spiritual strength from regular adoration using the traditional Dominican liturgy. Indeed, it is the only community in the world, in communion with the Hoy See, that preserves that liturgy.

 

Fr de Blignières and Fathers Reginald-Marie Rivoire and Ambrose-Marie Pellaumail had arrived from France via Canada where they had given training as part of their pastoral vocation. Their mission in New York included raising funds to complete the construction of the mother-house of the Fraternity at Chémeré-le-Roi, 170 miles south-west of Paris.

 

Fr de Blignières is a remarkable, but also very modest, man. Like St Vincent Ferrer, he was born in Spain. Ordained in 1977, he single-handedly founded the Fraternity in 1979. One of the goals was to ensure continuing, regular observance of the traditional, Dominican liturgy, which he celebrated in a chapel inside a barn. The main pillars of the Fraternity’s rule are the liturgical tradition, the study of St Thomas Aquinas and the regular life – daily Mass, the Divine Office, four to five hours of study per day etc.

 

He, and the current Prior, Fr de Saint Laumer, received much encouragement and support from the then-Cardinal Ratzinger, who was particularly struck by their studies on religious freedom. In 1988 the Pontifical Commission, Ecclesia Dei established the Fraternity as an institute of pontifical right. It has since become more international with Americans and Germans, a Swiss, Austrian, Brazilian, and an Irishman amongst the friars.

 

Speaking of his success in building the Fraternity, Fr. de Blignières says, self-deprecatingly, that he was blessed with two graces: the grace of strength and the grace of blindness. By that he meant that he didn’t see all the ways in which his enterprise could fail, so he marched doggedly on!

 

Asked why he chose to name the Fraternity after St Vincent Ferrer, he said, with an engaging smile, because St Vincent Ferrer also made a big mistake! He originally backed the wrong Pope (Pope Bendeict XIII in Avignon) during Great Western Schism (1378-1418).

 

In his sermon during the Mass, Fr de Blignières also spoke of the similarity between St Vincent Ferrer’s age and our own. Major crises characterize them both. Back then, the body of Christendom was disintegrating, but rather than bemoaning the calamities of his age, St Vincent Ferrer announced the eternal Gospel.

 

The Fraternity seeks to do the same, and Fr de Blignières feels strongly that, to face up to the modern challenges, we must be firmly rooted in tradition, both culturally and intellectually. He says he is moved at the thought that, in celebrating the Mass, he is making the same gestures as St Thomas Aquinas over 700 years ago. The Traditional Liturgy, he says, leads men to the mystery of the sacrament.

 

Fr Reginald-Marie Rivoire agrees: “It was the traditional liturgy that converted me,” he said. He was introduced to it by his university friends, in Paris, in the 1990s. He admits he did not understand everything to begin with, but he did, for the first time, understand the role of the priest. “The priest is facing God,” says Fr Reginald-Marie. “He is alone at the altar and the mediator between God and man. He really is ‘in persona Christi.’”

 

Fr Rivoire recounted how one young French Catholic, after recently attending the Traditional Latin Mass for the first time, enthousiastically told all his friends about ‘la nouvelle Messe’  he had just discovered. New to him perhaps, but actually just hidden from view for the past 60 years by priests who ad-lib an insipid, improvised liturgy that cannot bear the weight of the great truths the Mass is intended to transmit.

 

Bringing young people to the Faith is something that particularly motivates Fr de Blignières. Between the ages of 16 and 21 he was an atheist, but an atheist that continued to admire the Catholic Church. (“And there are more atheists and agnostics than you think who admire the Catholic Church,” he says.) He studied Judaism, Buddhism and Protestantism and reached the conclusion that, if God exists, then Roman Catholicism holds the Truth. At the age of 21 he re-discovered the vocation he had had as a young boy, thanks, he says, to the Virgin Mary. One of Fr de Blignières aims now is to ensure that young people find priests who can answer the questions he had as a teenager.

 

To reach the youth he began ‘Café Caté’ in the Latin Quarter of Paris near the Sorbonne. It means the ‘Catechism Café’ and operates along the lines New York’s ‘Theology on Tap’ where young people meet in a regular bar to discuss the Faith. It sought to reach the spiritual and intellectual orphans of the 60’s-generation parents, living in the void caused by the absence of God and ignorant of the very reason for their own existence – living the ‘misery of error’ as St Thomas Aquinas calls it.

 

A growing number of young people are indeed turning to the Fraternity for spiritual guidance. (Hence the building project, to make more room for them.) One of the first secular myths they have to abandon in this encounter is that faith and reason are incompatible, for the Fraternity includes an astro-physicist, a PhD in Physics and another with a PhD in Philosophy from the Sorbonne. Fr de Blignières’ own grand-father studied under the French theoretical physicist Jules Henri Poincaré (1854-1912).

 

There is a further aspect of Fr de Blignières’ family that has had an impact on his work. He comes from a line of military men who served mainly in the French colonies in North Africa. The military heritage can be heard when he describes the mother-house back home in Chémeré as the ‘air-craft carrier’ from which he sends out pilots to attack pagan strongholds. But what is more fascinating are his privileged contacts with Muslims from North Africa.

 

Along with two other priests in the Fraternity he has studied Arabic and the Coran, and works with several organizations that help receive Muslim converts into the Church.  His analysis is that, as Islam becomes more extremist and turns to terrorism to impose its doctrine’s, there is actually, amongst Muslims, a growing disenchantment with Islam as a religion, as a source of spiritual succour.

 

Fr de Blignières says that, of the 4,000 or so adults being baptised into the Catholic Church in France each year, about 10% are Muslims. He says that in North Africa he finds a great desire for change and for Christ, but Muslims are terrified to speak up. On more than one occasion, in the Paris metro, he has been approached by Muslims who, on seeing his Dominican garb, express their admiration for openly proclaiming his Faith and some want to learn more about the Faith.

 

Based on his close familiarity with it, Fr de Blignières says forthrightly, “L’Islam est insupportable.” Islam is unbearable. It is suffocating. This is what he hears from many of those Muslims who come to the Fraternity for instruction in the Faith. Instruction has to be given on an individual basis, for Muslim candidates for baptism fear that other Muslims would denounce them.

 

He spoke of one Algerian woman, Aisha, who came across the satellite TV broadcasts of the brave Egyptian Coptic priest, Fr Zakaria Botros. She was able to listen to his sermons in Arabic and was converted as a result.  Another convert was a Berber woman from Morocco. Her elder brother actually taught Islamic studies. When she converted to Catholicism (a crime in Morocco carrying a 3-year prison sentence) she asked her brother why he taught Islam but did not practice his religion. He freely admitted that, “Islam is a sect.”

 

As I write, Fox News has a report entitled, ‘The Underground Church Grows in Iran Despite Regime’s Efforts.’[1] It speaks of the “astronomical increase” in baptisms, particularly amongst young Iranians. There would be many more if potential converts did not live under the threat of death from Muslims. (Joseph Fadelle’s book, ‘The Price to Pay’ vividly recounts the brutal treatment meted out to one Iraqi Muslim who converted to Catholicism. It should be read by anyone who is ever called upon to explain their ‘islamophobia’!)

 

Fr de Blignières would like to do more. But with a Pope who has announced that, ‘Proselytism is solemn nonsense,’[2] the Catholic hierarchy is not making things easy. However, the Auxiliary Bishop of Paris did recently allow for the opening of a center for the reception of converts from Islam. It took the associations working with converted Muslims over thirty years to gain this concession.

 

While saying that France, the ‘eldest daughter of the Church,’ has, to a large extent, abandoned the treasures she has received and there are many abandoned churches lying in ruin, and that the modern world actively prevents people from finding the Truth, he nevertheless finds, amongst people at all social levels, a great desire for clear truths. His task, he says, is, in the words of St Catherine of Sienna, “To save souls through the light.”

 

GK Chesterton wrote, in his book, ‘St Thomas Aquinas – The Dumb Ox’: “There is something that lies all over the work of St Thomas Aquinas like a great light…. Optimism.” Listening to Fr de Blignières one feels that the same can be said of him.

 

It is reflected, for example, in the major building project now underway. It will include a larger nave to accommodate the growing numbers attending Sunday Mass. The choir will be enlarged, since the number of friars is also growing, and it will allow for completion of the cloister and a guest house for the many visitors. Around $370,000 are still required to complete it. Since St Vincent Ferrer is also the patron saint of builders, the success of their project is guaranteed. But financial assistance is also needed, hence the fund-raising visit to Canada and the USA.

 

To the casual onlooker, the Catholic landscape today must appear quite desolate: one of deforestation and dried-up river-beds, where sheep roam aimlessly and a dwindling number of shepherds are often indistinguishable from the wolves. But, make no mistake, things are astir in the Catholic Church. The Fraternity of St Vincent Ferrer, its spiritual life deeply rooted in the traditional liturgy, is part of those stirrings.

 

[1] Perry Chiaramonte, Fox News, 28th November 2009.

[2] Interview with Eugenio Scalfari, 13 October 2013, published in La Republicca.

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