Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Return of the Rad Trad & the Takeover of St. Nicolas du Chardonnet

The Rad Trad has decided, after some rumination and reflection on personal matters, to resume activity on this blog and run it more or less as it was prior to sabbatical.

This blog has been something of a challenge for me in the last year, compelling me to explore less obvious facets of our faith and to share them in a refreshing manner, offering, hopefully, something different than the conventional Catholic blog fare. Currently I am preparing to move from New Hampshire to Dallas, TX, but will try to wrap up the series on the Parisian rite and to write an entry on St. Vincent of Lerins for the Lesser Known Fathers series.

Oddly, readership boomed after my resignation. December became the most viewed month in the history of this blog despite the dearth of posts after December 19th. My amalgamation of thoughts on sedevacantism is now the most viewed post among the 250 I have published here, possibly because there is so little discussion of the matter outside of sedevacantist communities (I myself have never met a sedevacantist, only former sedevacantists). My post quitting the blog is also the fourth most viewed entry ever here.

Currently on my desk is a much-neglected, historically interesting book essential to anyone who wants a first hand account of the mid-20th century fallout in Rome, From Rome Urgently by Mary Martinez. From Rome Urgently is certainly a rarity, self-published in 1979, just after the election of the second Pope John Paul. Its limited print means that acquiring a copy is an expensive enterprise. The cheapest copy for this short paperback on is $67; for Amazon quadruple that figure. The book is a compilation of articles Ms. Martinez wrote for various publications during the 1970s. Trained as a piano teacher in Ohio she somehow managed to find herself an accredited member of the Vatican press corps in 1973. She wrote for the Wanderer, the Remnant, the Angelus, and National Review (where her editor was the fantastical Malachi Martin, her dislike for his agenda is quite apparent in her writings). Chapter two of From Rome Urgently recounts, in great detail, the takeover of St. Nicolas du Chardonnet in Paris, the most famous traditional church in France.

In 1977 the Second Vatican Council was news twelve years old, Pope Paul had one year to live—as did Patriarch Luciani of Venice, the completely reformed liturgy had been in place for eight years, Marcel Lefebvre had declared himself publicly and incurred suspension, and a loner poet and prelate had been celebrating Mass in an older form for a large group of Parisians for the better part of the last decade. Enter Msgr. Francois Ducaud-Bourget, a priest who ran the chaplaincy at Laennec hospital in Paris and wrote small volumes of poetry, which he published in Matines out of his small apartment.

In 1970 Ducaud-Bourget continued to celebrate Mass in an older form (1962?) under the archdiocese of Paris' radar, given his minute assignment. A few weeks after the introduction of the Pauline Mass (in November 1969) the priest's hospital Masses drew 100 people. By summer over 500 assisted at his Mass. By 1975 over 1,500  attended his Masses. The hospital, understandably miffed at the overuse of space, compelled the monsignor to seek other venues. Ducaud-Bourget sought an assistant, Fr. Serralda of Spain, to take some of the crowd, but this solution was not satisfactory. Eventually the Ukrainian Catholic parish in Paris gave Ducaud-Bourget permission to hold Mass one Sunday per month within their facilities, the rest of the Masses being celebrated in rented venues. At Salle Wagram, also the setting for Last Tango in Paris, the crowd doubled to 3,000, thanks in no small part to Francois Cardinal Marty's warning to the faithful that they ought not attend Latin Masses in the diocesan bulletin (the Cardinal lamented a 26% decline in Mass attendance in the same missive).

Back in 1970 when Ducaud-Bourget witnessed an increase in attendance at his Masses the prelate asked Archbishop Lefebvre, who himself had recently obtained canonical permission to begin a seminary in Econe, what to do. Lefebvre responded, "Well, then take a church." On February 27th, 1977 he would.

Ducaud-Bourget and his company rented an auditorium from an insurance company located across the street from the parish of St. Nicolas du Chardonnet, a respectably sized 17th century baroque structure on the Left Bank. A concelebrated Sunday Mass in the Pauline rite, in the presence of forty parishioners, had reached its conclusion and the pastor, Fr. Pierre Bellego, was announcing a further reduction in the Mass schedule. Suddenly an enormous procession entered the rear of the church, headed by a gold crucifix and replete with a Gregorian chant choir. Ducaud-Bourget walked in the procession, ahead of three other clerics vested as subdeacon, deacon, and priest. A few men quickly moved the table altar out of the way and prepared the neglected main altar. Then, in front of a dazed congregation and a befuddled pastor solemn high Mass was celebrated. Fr. Bellego notified the authorities, who could not violate the sanctuary status of the church or interrupt the services (Mass was arranged to continue throughout the day). Laymen volunteered to eat and sleep within St. Nicolas in order to keep the building occupied. The power company turned off the juice, leaving the squatters in darkness for several days. The parishioners, a small collective of left-wing youth devoted to Fr. Bellego, attempted to expel Ducaud-Bourget's coterie to no avail. After three days the situation appeared to be at an impasse.

Francois Cardinal Marty
On March 1st the archbishop of Paris, Francois Cardinal Marty, decided to stand by his priest, who although a pastor actually lived at another parish in his cluster. Marty accused the occupiers of "[attempting] to suffocate the Gospel" in his denunciation of the takeover. Still, Marty did not press the matter too hard with the French civil authorities. 

Such a strange series of events really could only transpire in France. In 1905 the French state decided that it, and not the Church, owned Church property, including parishes, schools, and hospitals. The state became irate when, after passing these aggressively anti-Catholic laws, the Church refused to staff—at her own expensive—schools and hospitals she did not own. Over 40% of the schools and hospitals in France closed. More relevant to this bit of history is the ownership of churches. The Catholic Church only owns churches built after 1905 and resides in churches built prior to that year. The Church basically owns the sanctuary, but nothing more. Most older French churches have two organs, an enormous one in the rear and a small one in the sanctuary. The small one is used for most Masses because use of the large one means a fee (as an aside, I was disgusted to find the chairs at Notre Dame cathedral turned away from the altar and towards the organ for the evening's concert three years back).

Because the state owns the churches and the Church merely resides in the edifices she built and maintained, the state saw the occupation of St. Nicolas du Chardonnet as an internal Church squabble rather than as a property dispute. Msgr. Lefebvre's inability to grasp the difference costed his Society dearly when the sedevacantists swiped his American holdings in 1983. Finally, Cardinal Marty filed a court order which would obtain the assistance of a policeman in escorting the invaders from the premises. Should the occupants not leave armed assistance would have come. Somehow the court order came to the desk of Interior Minister Michel Poniatowski, who never released the document for enforcement. 

This curious and fascinating story came to an end in 1984 when Msgr. Ducaud-Bourget died and possession of St. Nicolas du Chardonnet passed onto Lefebvre and his Society of St. Pius X, who still occupy the building. St. Nicolas is one of the more liturgically competent churches following an older form of the Roman rite. Their Corpus Christi processions are positively stunning. In Paris, where cavernous medieval and baroque churches are each frequented by a hundred or so Catholics on Sunday and rot in squalid physical decline, St. Nicolas is somehow full to the brim, getting far better attendance than the other Masses celebrated under the auspices of Summorum Pontificum. Perhaps the church's association with the Integrist (French monarchism) cause sways attendance in its favor. Irrespective of one's opinion concerning French politics or the Society of St. Pius X, the remarkable religious and legal story of what happened at St. Nicolas du Chardonnet in 1977 will remain worthy of retelling for quite some time.


  1. Hooray, you've returned!

    But I'm curious, other than the proximity of odious Massacrats, why would anyone leave the mountainous coolness and splendor of New Hampshire for the stomped flat prairie, brick-oven heat, and oil stink of Dallas?

  2. All is right with the (blog) world again, except your leaving the Northeast. About what month will you be making your move? Fascinating story by the way re S. Nicolas; I hadn't known the whole story til now.

  3. Delighted that you're back, The Rad Trad.

    All is well with Blogland, again.

    Wonderful story, reference Saint Nicolas du Chardonnet. It makes one happy to read it and Thank God for devoted Catholics.

    in Domino

  4. Thank you for coming back, Rad Trad. I hope we won't make you go away again! ;)

    Kyrie eleison

  5. Glad that you are back and I look forward to more of the Paris Missal.

  6. That you are back is great news. I am not sure how it was that I ended-up coming here in the first place but I am delighted that I did and this post is simply smashing.

    I imagine your readership will continue to grow.

  7. Glad to see you back!

    A friend of mine had dinner with Mgr. Ducaud-Bourget and his nephews shortly after the 'takeover'. Mgr. D-B was firmly 'old rite' and 1962 didn't make an appearance until after his death.

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  9. "the church's association with the Integrist (French monarchism) cause sways attendance in its favor"

    'Domine, salvum fac regem nostrum Ludovicem' ?