Friday, 25 November 2011

The man who has done more to keep the Latin Mass alive in England and Wales...

...more, in fact, than any single person over the past 40 plus years.

Not a Pope, not a Bishop, not, even a Monsignor, he is, a humble priest. The most humble of priests who asks to be described as being "Nothing really, totally unimportant except as a servant of God"

He was given the accolade in the headline when attending a wedding at the London Oratory some two years ago. After the Nuptial Mass this priest stood quietly to one side as the guests spilled out and photographs were duly taken, when an Oratory Father approached him and said:

"Father I just want to thank you for the wonderful work you have done over the years in keeping the Mass alive in this country. You have done more than anyone and we all owe you an enormous debt of gratitude".

The man he was addressing was none other than Father Peter Lessiter, once of Southwark Diocese and well known to many hundreds, if not thousands of Catholics around England and Wales.

God's humble servant- Father Peter Lessiter

In many respects, Father Lessiter is another St Jean Vianney - he mirrors this French patron of priests so very closely. He works among those most in need of the Latin Mass, he catechises the young, teaches the potential convert, baptises the infants, offers the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony to couples and yes, finally celebrates a Requiem Mass for them when they die.

And, like, the Cure of Ars, he takes the Sacrament of Penance to the needy and, at times, the Sacrament of Extreme Unction; travelling many hundreds of miles, often late at night in the process.

He is especially in demand from priests who are nearing death and who, in extremis, desire the traditional last rites despite having apparently accepted all the changes of modernism in the church during their priesthood.

How did this priest come to serve the Lord in such a manner?

We must go back to those confused and ugly days following the interventions of the 'periti' after Vatican II.

Fr Lessiter was a young priest, fresh from the seminary and going about his duties as a curate (we had them in those days) with vigour and integrity.

I remember those times and, in fact, was even a willing particpant in some of those changes, many were duped and fell under the spell of obedience to the Bishop at any cost.

But Fr Lessiter had made his vows to Almighty God, not to a Bishop and after eight years of attempting to reconcile his inherent belief in the teachings of Holy Mother Church he made the momentous decision to 'go it alone'.

There was never any element of wishing to abandon his vocation; Fr L is a man made of sterner stuff.
He resolved to place his trust in God and His Divine Son and to continue his mission in life, that of saving souls - surely the ambition of every priest.

He had spent eight years as curate at St Osmund's, Barnes and when he left in 1973 it must have been like stepping off a cliff. He launched himself out into a void and he knew not what would become of him. Whether he would starve or whether he would be abandoned by those who had professed support for him.

Those early years could not have been easy and Father chortles today when he recounts how so many people reviled him back then but are now saying to him: "Father, you were right after all"

He commenced his mission by travelling the country, taking the "outlawed" Latin Mass to the few faithful remaining. He travelled a circuit that would have exhausted many a lesser man. from London to Leicester, to Derby, Nottingham, Birmingham, Somerset, South Wales and beyond and then, the next week the same circuit again.

The 'Recusant' priest, celebrating the EF Mass
in homes, church halls, and makeshift chapels
Wherever he went he took his good humour and his love of Christ and His Church with him.
"We must pray for the priests and their Bishop's" he would say. "They are the innocent ones in need of our prayers".

And when things got rough as they so often did and his parishioners became bitter and twisted over the actions of a Bishop or priest he would tell them:
 "Don't get involved in the politics of the changes; go to Mass, receive Holy Communion and do your best to bring your children up in the Faith. That is all you can do as a good Catholic in these times. It will only drag you down if you become embroiled in the controversy".

He was called upon, on several occasions, to present himself before a Bishop and to give an account of his activities. Invariably, he would face not only the Bishop but a couple of his Monsignors also and then the interview would turn into an inquisition.

But Father L always remained cool and calm and answered all calumnies against him equably.

For a brief period he worked with the Society of St Pius X but soon withdrew because they had no concept of pastoral care; their priests would celebrate Mass and then take off for the next venue (they still tend to do this today). There is merit in this approach but they left a great many people cold behind them, 'no time for Confession, must dash!'

For the past ten years or so, Father Lessiter has lived in Axminster, one of the first bases for the Latin Mass post Vatican 2.

There he has built up an embryo order and  a small community around him, two nuns, a sizeable congregation and many lay workers scattered around England. The constitution for the order is a work in progress and, one day will be presented to the Bishop of Plymouth but, until then, he still tours the country albeit on a reduced circuit.

He is a little infirm these days but his spirit is still strong.

After a series of strokes, two years ago, he was found lying semi conscious, having collapsed in his cottage one evening and lying for 12 hours overnight with one side of his body against a blisteringly hot radiator.
Lying in hospital, semi delirious, he insisted, when visited by the two sisters, on saying Mass, albeit a 'dry' Mass.

He lay on his bed, eyes closed and word for word, went through the Latin of the Holy Mass and, at the Hanc igitur he brusquely told the sisters to "Kneel down the King of Kings is coming!".
Even unconscious, he knew his duty in life - to say the Mass and to lead his flock.

Over the years, he has taken great joy in counselling seminarians especially and many of the clergy still seek his good counsel today, including one or two of the hierarchy.

He has been chaplain to my family ever since we 'jumped off the cliff' and became followers of the 'Mass of all Time'.
In 1989 he paid us an initial visit in remote West Wales and he kept on coming as our children grew in the faith.
Every month or so, the house would be readied for Father's visit and, in time we converted a room in our old schoolhouse to become a dedicated chapel. It was the least we could do for the sake of Our Lord and His good servant Father Peter Lessiter.

In 2012 Fr Lessiter will celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination.

Fr Lessiter and his community live totally on the charity of those whom he has loved and served over the years. He has not asked me to make this appeal but, if anyone would like to contribute to his good works please send a cheque payable to Father Peter Lessiter.

The Community of Our Lady of Victories,
Mount Carmel,
Lodge Lane,
Axminster, EX13 5RT


  1. Oh my goodness i'm a little bit teary.
    I'm such a big girls blouse.
    That was a beautiful tribute to a faithful priest. I cannot imagine how lonely it must have been for him.
    He looks adorable too.
    Sadly i have become a little wary of many "traddy" types as I have found among them a tendancy towards dry-as-dust phariseeism.
    His advice to go to mass, recieve Holy Communion and do all we can to raise our children in the faith is solid gold.
    I find that when my prayer life is lagging, my tendancy towards judgementalism and criticism asserts itself. I assume that other people experience the same thing.
    Although a great back and forth argument is terrific sometimes, and also quite helpful in it's own way, personal holiness is most winsome and effective in bringing souls to the Truth.
    Thank you for this lovely post.
    I will try to remember to pop something in the post to Fr Lessiter's community this Christmas.

  2. Thank you so much, Richard, for this beautiful post on this wonderful priest.

    Your description of Father Lessiter's dry Mass in the hospital reminded me of one of the final scenes in Graham Greene's "Monsignor Quixote" - which is surely one of the most beautiful pieces of modern Catholic literature, which was made into an equally beautiful film starring Alec Guinness.

    Ad multos annos, Fr Lessiter!

  3. I had never heard of this wonderful Priest. A really edifying post. Thank you. I hope people will keep The Diocese of Paisley in your prayers as we edge close to having, even an occasional EF Mass here. With, unfortunately, the Bishop fighting against it every step of the way.

  4. A clear case of 'white martyrdom'.

    Thanks, Richard. God bless.

  5. Does Father Lessiter have faculties in a diocese? Where is he incardinated? Who is his bishop?

  6. That is my question also, does this dear priest have faculties? It is not really charity when priests without faculties dedicate themselves to the confessional. But it is really sad that men like this got peeled off from the life of their diocese and unity with their bishop. How great if, in the end, some would have the grace and the humility to do so. How Charity must long for these priests to be reconciled!

  7. Did Fr Lessiter used to live in Leicester? Or am I thinking of another priest?

  8. You are correct Gareth.

    Kiwi and Elizabeth - I have never asked a priest those questions but I do know that Bishop Budd of Plymouth is in contact with Fr L - hence the preparation of the constitution. ought to be remembered that we had a very, very bad situation as orthodox Catholics, from 1970 onwards. Today it is just bad!

  9. Thanks.

    Trying to remain faithful to Catholic tradition while at the same time, not incurring the wrath of one's bishop, is an extremely difficult tightrope act but it's one which must be performed.

    I know, I know......many bishops were and still are, enemies of the faith but we have to work within that framework.

  10. Kiwi - I don't think that, if one's Bishop is an enemy of the faith you are obliged to obey him, quite the opposite.
    The Holy Father and Almighty God we obey unflinchingly but not disobedient Bishops.

  11. Many thanks to all.
    Dylan....thank you for reminding me of this book. I read it ages ago and can't remember much of it. time for a re-read.

    Elizabeth - Fr Lessiter gave up everything, his home, his income, his reputation - all for love of Christ. I am sure he would love to be reconciled to a Bishop but, his work and his faith and his achievements would put all but one of the E & W Bishops to shame.

  12. A priest requires faculties from a bishop. It's enshrined in Canon Law. That's how the Catholic Church is structured. Once you step outside that framework, you've stepped outside the Church. Episcopal oversight is a non negotiable tenet of Catholicism.

  13. Kiwi - How did priests in the 70s and 80s survive under Bishops who literally ran them out of the church?
    The answer is that most of them didn't - in this country we lost many hundreds, possibly even thousands of good men just because their Bishops did not approve of their traditional faith.
    I think Our Lord would say to Canon Law - the spirit rather than the letter!

  14. I do not believe a priest without faculties can absolve me of anything. It is not a matter of what is fair (might be entirely unfair and harmful) but of the power of the keys. Padre Pio's faculties were removed for a while and he refrained from hearing confessions.

  15. You "think Our Lord would say........."?? You think......? Really? Good luck with that. You're going with your gut feeling against the tradition of the Church and the explicit teaching of Canon Law?

    That's Protestantism. Once you remove episcopal oversight, on whatever pretext, you open the door to freelance priests teaching whatever, wherever and whenever they please.

    Don't go there. It's a recipe for chaos.

    The bishop may not be a saint. He may even be a scoundrel. However that does not and never will negate the fact that he is the successor of the Apostles and holds absolute primacy in his diocese and priests require faculties from him. If a priest considers that he has been wronged, Canon Law makes provision for him to find an accepting bishop in another diocese but he must be incardinated somewhere.

    That's Catholicism, I'm afraid.

  16. Kiwi and Elizabeth, let me say now that this is an academic debate. I have no knowledge of any priest operating without faculties.
    However,in the light of priests dressing as clowns for the celebration of a "valid" Mass and all the other terrible abuses that are going on, I would opt anyday to receive the sacraments from a priest knowing that he was without faculties, provided that he was a good and holy man.
    When Christ said: "For the letter killeth but the spirit quickeneth" He was not speaking just for the moment but for all time.
    That is why "I think" that He would say the same about one of His own who was acting as an Alter Christus. I do not think He would say it regarding a Clown priest.

  17. BTW A Bishop does not, repeat not, have absolute primacy in his diocese. That is where it partly all went wrong after VAT II. They thought that they did.
    They don't. The Pope does.

  18. A priest's personal holiness does not have bearing on validity of sacraments, nor whether he is in a cassock or a clown suit. A very well educated, morally upright and liturgically correct SSPX priest sadly cannot absolve me and I would not confess to him (although in certain matters I might ask his advice and guidance and his instruction on doctrine). If my sins are only venial there are other ways they can be forgiven and if my sins are mortal than his invalid absolution won't help me, and if I know he is without faculties I may have culpability in attempting to receive the Sacrament of Penance from him knowing it is invalid (an exception of course would be in danger of death, in which specific case canon law says he has faculties for that purpose). A priest with faculties dressed like a clown can actually absolve me, even if he is not in the state of grace himself (and I might want absolutely nothing to do with his advice). It is not the priest himself who absolves, it is Jesus who speaks the absolution through the priest. Every sinnner on this earth is extremely unworthy of the priesthood of Jesus Christ, but those who are priests with faculties can absolve (and they only).

  19. Elizabeth you are absolutely right. My first thought on reading it was "that is really nice, I really hope he had faculties from...somewhere."

    The reality is that a priest without faculties can not give absolution.

    We may not like it but I would rather be in confession with the clown then with this man. Not because the clown is Holy, but because the church is Holy and to step outside of Her is to step outside of Christ.

  20. Deepthinker and Elizabeth - please do not fall into the presumption trap, there is more than a whiff of Pharasaical hypocrisy creeping in.
    No further comments will be published.

  21. That is a beautiful tribute to Fr Lessiter, He is/was a truely wonderful priest. He assisted me through my conversion to catholicism , and performed my marriage. He was always very caring and always had time for everyone.
    Now living in Australia we attend an SSPX mass, but I think your remark about SSPX preists is a little unfair, our priest spends much time in the confessional and also a lot of time on pastoral care. Maybe the priests in England are different now, but we only have one priest for the whole of WA. I hope Fr Lessiter is fondly remembered by everyone and that his health is not deteriorated too much now, as I see the posts are from a couple of years ago.