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Dom Gaspar Lefebvre, OSB:
A biography

Dom Gaspar was born Pierre Lefebvre on June 17, 1880 in the Belgium city of Lille. His first interest in the sacred liturgy was probably the consequence of his father reading to the family from The Liturgical Year of Dom Prosper Gueranger (1805-1875), considered by many as the “Father of the Liturgical Movement.”


Pierre would make his studies at the Benedictine Abbey of Maredsous in Anhee, Belgium, where he became a novice and received his name in religion, Frère Gaspar. In 1900, he made his monastic profession into the Order of St. Benedict. On August 10, 1904, he was ordained to the priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ, receiving the monastic sacerdotal title of Dom Gaspar.


After ordination, the young priest went to Mont-Cesar Abbey in Louvain to complete his theological studies, fortuitously under the care of Dom Columba Marmion (1858-1923). Here under the guidance of this saintly prior—later abbot and author of Christ: The Ideal of the Priest—Dom Gaspar’s appreciation and devotion to the priesthood would certainly have been deepened. As attested by a fellow religious:


…Dom Gaspar was essentially the priest. His whole life was dedicated to the service of the liturgy, especially the Mass, which is its center.[1]


His sacerdotal mindset was exemplified in the motto he choose for his golden jubilee ordination card of 1964: “Priest, God, the Church”, that is to say: “A priest in order to love and serve the Church.”[2]


A monk to the core, Dom Gaspar was also renown for his exercise of the Benedictine vow of poverty. He executed an incredible amount of work in a tiny cell overwhelmed with papers and books, while utilizing any scrap of paper at hand (including the backs of envelopes) to jot down notes or even compose articles. Only later in life—and due to the perforce of his co-religious—did he obtain a proper workspace. Dom Gaspar was also conspicuous for answering every letter he received, no matter how trivial the inquiry might be.[3]


Upon a brief return to Maredsous, Dom Gaspar was recruited by Dom Gerard van Caloen to join his new foundation of St. André Abbey at Bruges (in French, Abbaye de Saint-André-lez-Bruges or in Dutch, Sint-Andriesabdij Brugge). In 1906, Dom van Caloen had been given the task of reforming the Benedictine communities in Brazil, and so in July, the young Dom Gaspar accompanied him to South America. There Dom Gaspar would exercise the offices of sub-prior and prior in several abbeys which performed a missionary role.


In May 1914, Dom Gaspar was sent to Europe to raise funds for the Brazilian missions, but the outbreak of World War I prevented his return to South America. While confined to his home city of Lille, he undertook pastoral work and initiated his first of many liturgical projects—some simple commentaries and a review.


Providentially, this forced absence from Brazil resulted in his rejoining St. André Abbey. Here over the next five decades, his work in liturgical matters would greatly flourish, ranging from numerous scholarly articles and a variety of publications (such as his Bulletin Paroissial Liturgique—Parish Liturgical Bulletin—and the book, How to Understand the Mass). Of the latter, his most well-known and enduring contribution was the Saint Andrew’s Daily Missal. First printed in 1921, this lay missal would be reproduced in several languages and multiple editions, resulting perhaps in millions of copies circulating throughout the Catholic world.


Of his books though, his recognized masterpiece was Catholic Liturgy: Its Fundamental Principles, published originally in French in 1920, then English in 1924. In this significant work, Dom Gaspar clearly explains the theological foundations of the sacred liturgy, and then examines its various facets, such as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Sacraments, Divine Office, and the Liturgical Year.


After 62 years of a dedicated life in the service of the Church and the Benedictine Order, Dom Gaspar passed away on April 16, 1966.



1 This quote was taken from the Winter 1966 (Vol. XVII:4) issue of The American Benedictine Review, “In Memoriam: Dom Gaspar Lefebvre”, p 507.


2 Ibid.


3 These facts were related in the article cited above.

Books by
Dom Gaspar Lefebvre
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