Cardinal Gagnon has died: God rest his soul. During those long years when a desire for the traditional rite of Mass was considered almost a mortal sin, he was one of the just who was prepared to stick his neck out for reconciliation. He visited Ecône and Archbishop Lefebvre more than once, and was viewed by them as a friend. Once the Episcopal consecrations had taken place and the Fraternity of St Peter been formed, he was naturally one of the first to be involved there. I remember my first visit to Wigratzbad, for the first (or possibly second) set of priestly ordinations, at which Cardinal Gagnon presided. As a guest, I was seated at the top table, I remember, with His Eminence and with Dom Gérard from Le Barroux and some other dignitaries whose names I have forgotten and who never knew mine, of course. Cardinal Gagnon was nervous at breakfast (breakfast before an ordination!—not very traditional!) and replied in grunts and monosyllables. Later on, after the ceremony, he was effusively friendly. Clearly he had learnt the rite carefully: I remember that he remembered that the Canon should be silent at the old Mass, and was determined to do it, without remembering that an ordination is the one occasion when the canon needed to be said out loud enough for the concelebrating ordinati to participate from their prie-dieux.
Another memory from that ordination was the nervous appearance of birettas and lace albs and cottas. All were rigorously eschewed at Ecône (I suppose to avoid the charge of poofiness) and, presumably, at the SPX seminary at Zaitzkofen too. But one or two bits and pieces were worn then — Bavarian priests have various traditional frilly bits they add to choir dress — you may remember those pics of Pope Benedict and his brother after his ordination. A year or two later I was back again for another set of ordinations, this time of a University contemporary of mine, and there was no embarrassment at all about birettas and lace.
Sorry, I can't stop the reminiscences flowing now. On my first visit, there was still something, well, furtive, about the new seminary. A whiff of the ghetto, perhaps. A stiffness, an unease, an over-anxiety to please, almost. I was only a newly-ordained diocesan priest and my welcome was very warm and kind indeed. The new FSSP were very, very anxious to find their place in the Church, fearing abrupt rejection, I suppose, from embittered modernists, and were touched by any gestures of support. On my second visit, all this had gone, too. There was a real feeling of normality about the place. Everyone was more relaxed: seminarians felt more able to moan about the food, the rigorism, without feeling that they were giving a hostage to fortune. The staff were less guarded and greeted one simply as a colleague, which was nice.
That's a long way from Cardinal Gagnon, but it's nice to also record the other stuff. In any event, may he rest in peace.