Frequently Asked Questions
The Society of St. Pius X is an international priestly society of common life without vows, whose purpose is to train, support, and encourage holy priests so that they may effectively spread the Catholic Faith throughout the world.
A brief chronology
A “retired” prelate, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, agrees to help a handful of young seminarians who are disconcerted by the direction being taken in post-Vatican II seminaries in their priestly formation. He does this, not only by undertaking their training, but also by founding a Society aiming at fostering a priestly life according to the wise norms and customs of the Church of previous days.
November 1, 1970
The Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) is officially recognized by the local ordinary of Lausanne, Geneva, and Fribourg, Bishop Charriere.
February 18, 1971
Cardinal Wright, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, issues a decree praising the wisdom of the Society’s statutes.
June 10, 1971
Archbishop Lefebvre announces, together with the staff of the International Seminary of St. Pius X at Econe (Switzerland), the refusal to adopt the Novus Ordo Missae.
Following on Cardinal Wright’s letter are other sure signs of Rome’s full acceptance of the SSPX:
- Allowing its houses to be erected canonically in one Italian and two Swiss dioceses.
- Allowing three outside priests to join the Society and to be incardinated directly into it.
During the same years the French Episcopal Conference was maneuvering to have the Society and its seminary suppressed (cf. question 3).
November 1, 1980
By its 10th anniversary, the SSPX has 40 houses on two continents.
November 1, 1995
By its 25th anniversary, the SSPX numbers 4 bishops, over 360 priests, 50 brothers, 120 sisters and 53 oblate sisters, all living in 140 houses in 27 countries. Together they seek the goal of the priesthood: the glorification of God, the continuation of Our Lord’s redemptive work, the salvation of souls. They accomplish this by fidelity to Christ’s testament, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Impressed by the SSPX's Pilgrimage of Tradition made in Rome for the Jubilee Year (2000), the Holy See invites the Society to discuss a possible regularization.
The SSPX's Superior General, Bishop Bernard Fellay, requests and obtains two signs of good will on the part of Rome: the liberalization of the traditional Roman Mass (July 7, 2007) and the withdrawal of the "excommunications" of the Society's bishops (January 29, 2009).
In October 2009, the Holy See also grants Bishop Fellay's request for a theological commission to enable the SSPX to present its position concerning the errors of the Second Vatican Council and the New Mass.
After the meetings of the theological commission, Pope Benedict XVI begins proceedings in an attempt to provide a canonical solution to the SSPX's situation. Throughout all of this, Bishop Fellay continually upheld Archbishop Lefevre's uncompromising position to the Modernist errors of the Second Vatican Council. Based upon this principle of the Faith, Bishop Fellay had to refuse signing a flawed Doctrinal Declaration that the Holy See placed before him in June 2012.
Since the election of Pope Francis in March 2013, the Holy See has not engaged in any official discussions with the SSPX.
Meanwhile, as indicated by the general statistics of the SSPX, the priestly society has continued to steadily grow throughout the world and in the United States.
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Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre was the founder of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX).
A brief history: 1905-1991
November 29, 1905
Birth of Marcel Lefebvre to Rene and Gabrielle Lefebvre.
September 21, 1929
Marcel Lefebvre is ordained a priest.
Having become a Holy Ghost Father, he becomes a missionary in Gabon, Africa.
September 18, 1947
He is consecrated a bishop and appointed Apostolic Vicar of Dakar, Senegal.
Bishop Lefebvre is Pope Pius XII’s Apostolic Delegate for 18 African countries.
September 14, 1955
He becomes the first Archbishop of Dakar.
Pope John XXIII appoints Archbishop Lefebvre to the Central Preparatory Commission for the Second Vatican Council; all of this commission's work though will be rejected by the liberals at the onset of the Council.
Lefebvre returns to France to be the Bishop of Tulle.
Archbishop Lefebvre is elected and acts as Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers. During the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), he helps to lead the resistance to the liberal hijacking of the council via the Coetus Internationalis Patrum, which consisted of nearly 200 bishops.
In the wake of Vatican II, liberals within the Holy Ghost Fathers attempt to force him to implement changes to the congregation. Knowing that this "updating" would destroy his missionary society, he decides to resign as superior general and go into “retirement.”
Approached by seminarians, parents, priests and bishops (and having received the encouraging sign that this was the will of God—the urging and permission of Bishop Francois Charriere), Archbishop Lefebvre founds the Priestly Society of St. Pius X.
The Society of St. Pius X having received its official approval on November 1, 1970 by the local bishop, Bishop Adam Nestor, and then by the Congregation of the Clergy of the Vatican, Archbishop Lefebvre acts as the priestly socieyt's first Superior General.
Until, in view of his imminent death, he consecrates successors, Archbishop Lefebvre does all he can to be faithful to the grace of his episcopacy, traveling the world to encourage Catholics to hold fast to the faith and traditions of their fathers, confirming their young and ordaining for them priests.
March 25, 1991
Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre passes before his Eternal Judge.
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The pope has never suppressed the SSPX: only the pope, not a local bishop, has the authority to suppress a religious order (1917 Code of Canon Law, canon 493 and 1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 616).
Timeline of the suppression
November 1, 1970
The SSPX is canonically founded.
Several French bishops attack the Society as "sauvage" (renegade). One of them, Pope Paul VI’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Villot, deceives the Holy Father into believing Archbishop Lefebvre had his priests sign a declaration against the pope (Archbishop Lefebvre, Fideliter, no. 59, pp. 68-70).
November 11-13, 1974
An apostolic visitation of the seminary at Econe takes place (this is in itself normal procedure; its conclusions, though never published, were “very favorable,” according to Cardinal Garonne, “except that you don’t use the new liturgy, and there’s a somewhat anti-conciliar spirit there.”) The visitors, however, disturb those at the seminary by their expression of highly unorthodox views, prompting Archbishop Lefebvre’s so-called Declaration.
February 13 and March 3, 1975
Archbishop Lefebvre meets with an improvised commission of three cardinals, allegedly to discuss the Apostolic Visitation, but ends defending his Declaration against the cardinals’ severe criticism. Having been given no warning as to the primary subject of these meetings, he has no lawyer, and is never allowed a copy of the recorded meetings, even though it was promised him.
May 6, 1975
The irregular commission writes Bishop Mamie at Fribourg telling him to withdraw his predecessor’s approval of the Society, which is beyond his canonical power (once the bishop has approved a religious congregation, only the pope can suppress it: 1917 Code of Canon Law, canon 493 and 1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 616).
June 5, 1975
Archbishop Lefebvre submits an appeal to the Apostolic Signature in Rome, in substance:
...it would be for the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to determine whether my Declaration were at fault. Please provide evidence that this commission of cardinals had been expressly mandated by the pope (who by his own authority can bypass the Congregations) to decide as has been done.* And if I be at fault, of course I can be censured, but not the Society which was founded in due canonical form."
*This evidence was never produced.
Cardinal Villot arranges that the appeal is not accepted. Cardinal Staffa is threatened with dismissal if he dare to accept an appeal from Archbishop Lefebvre. (Vatican Encounter, pp. 85 and 191)
June 29, 1975
Pope Paul VI is convinced to write to Archbishop Lefebvre that he approved of all the actions of the commission of cardinals. It is impossible, however that papal approbation in June could empower this commission which had met the previous February.
On this whole process, Archbishop Lefebvre observes:
...we have been condemned, without trial, without opportunity to defend ourselves, without due warning or written process and without appeal. (Open Letter to Confused Catholics, p. 150)
Over and above the canonical question, there remains that of common sense: whether one must observe a censure when no crime can be pointed out, or when the identity or authority of the judge is unsure.
Read more: Legal existence of SSPX >
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Was Archbishop Lefebvre legitimately suspended from exercising his ministry as a bishop and superior general of the SSPX?
Rome has always, at least tacitly recognized the SSPX’s legitimate continuation and the nullity of these suspensions: for example, in December 1987, Cardinal Gagnon did not hesitate to attend as a prelate the Pontifical Mass of “suspended” Archbishop Lefebvre.
Timeline of the suspensions
November 11, 1974: An apostolic visitation is made to the Society's seminary in Econe, during which the visitors express several seriously problematic opinions (e.g., the evolution of truth and dogma).
November 21, 1974: Archbishop Lefebvre writes his Declaration declaring his adherence to Eternal Rome and rejecting the "the Rome of neo-Modernist and neo-Protestant tendencies"*.
February 13-March 3, 1975: The archbishop meets with an improvised commission of three cardinals, ostensibly to discuss the apostolic visitation. This meeting takes a hostile turn, and the cardinals condemn his Declaration as “unacceptable on all points.” Being unaware of the hostility towards his "Declaration" prior to this meeting, he does not have a lawyer present. Though promised, Lefebvre never receives a copy of the recorded meetings.
May 6, 1975: The aforementioned irregular commission writes Bishop Mamie at Fribourg telling him to withdraw his predecessor’s approval of the Society, which is beyond his canonical power (once a bishop has approved a religious congregation, only the pope can suppress it: 1917 Code of Canon Law, canon 493 and 1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 616).
Meanwhile, Cardinal Villot, the Secretary of State, forces Cardinal Staffa, Prefect of the Supreme Apostolic Signature (the highest ecclesiastical tribunal) to refuse the archbishop’s canonical appeal for an ecclesiastical trial of his case, under threat of dismissal.
October 27, 1975: Cardinal Villot writes to the hierarchies of the world informing them to no longer incardinate** any priests from the SSPX, as it has been suppressed.
June 12, 1976: Archbishop Benelli writes Archbishop Lefebvre, telling him not to ordain priests without their local bishops’ permission.
June 29, 1976: Archbishop Lefebvre goes ahead with foreseen ordinations.
July 1, 1976: The suspension of Archbishop Lefebvre and his newly ordained priests is declared.
The Church, by approving the SSPX, approved that it have all the ordinary means to lead its religious life and fulfill its aim. This is a fundamental consideration when taking into consideration the nullity of its suppression.
A brief examination into the legality of the actions (retracting the ability to incardinate members and the declared suspensions) taken against Archbishop Lefebvre and the Society will show that these proceedings were not canonical, and had no foundation. Rome has always tacitly recognized the SSPX’s legitimate continuation and the nullity of the suspensions: for example, in December 1987, Cardinal Gagnon did not hesitate to attend as a prelate the Pontifical Mass of “suspended” Archbishop Lefebvre, in May 1988. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, before his election to the pontificate, in talks with the Society also agreed to the principle of having a bishop consecrated from among the Society’s priests.
In the three weeks before the ordinations to be held on June 29, 1976, Archbishop Lefebvre was approached by Rome as many as six times with the request that he establish normal relations with the Vatican and that he give proof of this by saying a Mass according to the new rite. He was told that if the ordination Mass on the 29th would be with the Missal of Pope Paul VI, then all opposition would be smoothed over, despite the recent actions that had been taken by Cardinal Villot and Archbishop Benelli regarding the Society's right to incardinate.
Herein we see most clearly the one fundamental reason for the campaign against Archbishop Lefebvre and his Society: exclusive adhesion to the old Mass and refusal to say the new.
Further reading: The Hot Summer of 1976 and Archbishop Lefebvre
But even if these censures were unjust, shouldn't they be observed?
If only the one incurring them were to suffer, then yes, that is the more perfect way to act.
If however there is a question of depriving innumerable souls of the graces they need for salvation, then the greater good may demand that the unjust censures be disobeyed.
*By this, the archbishop meant the clergy in Rome who were demonstrating infidelity to the tradition of the Church, not the Church and papacy as an entity since Vatican II, a position taken by many in the sedevacantist and other movements, of which the Archbishop, and the Society since his death, have wholeheartedly disapproved.
**After Cardinal Wright wrote his letter of praise on February 18, 1971, giving Rome's permission to the foundation of the Society, the archbishop wrote to the Congregation for the Clergy seeking permission to directly incardinate religious priests into the Society. This was granted and furthermore, Bishop Adam (of Sion, Switzerland), considering that the Society was of international status, generalized this procedure (cf. The Angelus, April 1987, p. 3 and Fideliter, no. 55, p. 3ff.).
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The Second Vatican Council was a meeting of the world’s bishops for four sessions between October 11, 1962 and December 8, 1965.
Pope John XXIII, in his opening speech to the Council (November 11, 1962), declared its aims to be the following:
Second Vatican Council in session:
- that the Catholic Faith should be kept and taught,
- but taught in the language of modern man by a magisterium “which is predominantly pastoral in character,”
- and this without resorting to any condemnations,
- thus appealing to all peoples (this Council was to be ecumenical, not only in the sense of being a general council of the Church, but also in that of appealing to the religiosity of all people of whatever religion).
Pope Paul VI agreed with his predecessor:
[Vatican II] was the most important [event] because... above all it sought to meet pastoral needs and, nourishing the flame of charity, it has made a great effort to reach not only the Christians still separated from communion with the Holy See, but also the whole human family." (Closing Brief, December 8, 1965)
With such ideals, it is little wonder to find Catholic teaching presented:
- weakly (no definitions or condemnations),
- confusedly (no technical, scholastic terminology),
- and one-sidedly (so as to attract non-Catholics).
All such vague and ambiguous teaching, already liberal in its method, would be interpreted in a very liberal sense after the Council. For example:
How interpreted by Rome
|When discussing the Mass, the liturgy of the word is stressed (Sacrosanctum Concilium, §9), and the banquet aspect (§10), as well as active participation (§§11,14), and therefore the vernacular (§§36,54).||The New Mass (cf. question 5).|
|Catholics should pray with Protestants (Unitatis Redintegratio, §§4,8).||Eucharistic hospitality (cf. question 8).|
|The Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church (Lumen Gentium, §8),||It is also in “separated Churches” (Ut Unum Sint, §11)..|
|which has separated brethren in separated "Churches" (Unitatis Redintegratio, §3),||All the baptized are in Christ's Church (Ut Unum Sint, §42).|
|which ought to be as sisters (Unitatis Redintegratio, §14).||And so there is no need to convert, for example, the Orthodox.|
|Seminarians should take into account modern philosophy, progress in science (Optatam Totius, §15),||Abandonment of Thomism, adoption of secular studies.|
|psychology, and sociology (§20).||Open spirituality and subjective morality.|
|Marriage and married love equated (Gaudium et Spes, §§48,50).||Annulments fiasco (cf. question 8).|
The Church renounces privileges civil authorities grant her (§76).
|Catholic religion no longer to be the religion of any States.|
|Wish for a world authority (§82).||Full support for UN.|
|Rite and formula of penance are to be revised (Sacrosanctum Concilium §72).||Face to face confessions and general absolutions.|
|Extreme Unction should be an Anointing of the Sick (§§73,75).||New matter, form and subject (i.e.,the sick, not just those in danger of death).|
1 How Rome's guidelines are further interpreted as seen in the parishes is a whole other story.
2 The documents of Vatican II are referred to by their introductory Latin words, or by the initials of these.
3 Ut Unum Sint, Pope John Paul II, May 25, 1995.Cf., The Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, which forbade mutual "proselytizing." Balamand Treaty, Lebanon, June 17-24, 1993.4 Does this affect the "substance of the sacraments" over which the Church has no power? (Cf., Pius XII, quoted in principle 5)
More gravely, the Council was hijacked by the liberal elements within the Church, who from the very beginning schemed to have rejected the pre-conciliar preparatory schemas and replaced by progressive ones prepared by their own “experts.”
The liberals were also able to get their members onto the Council Commissions. The new schemas, passed as the Council’s decrees, constitutions, and declarations, contain, more or less explicitly, some of the same doctrinal errors for which liberals in the past had been condemned. Let us take by way of example the following passages:
Vatican II teaching
|"Man is the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake" (Gaudium et Spes, §24),||"The Lord hath made all things for Himself" (Prov. 16),|
|and "all things on earth should be ordained to man" (§12).||...to help him save his soul.|
|Moreover, "by His incarnation the Son of God has in a certain way united Himself with each man" (§22),||God assumed an individual nature (e.g., Denzinger [Sources of Catholic Dogma], 114),|
|so "Human nature... has been raised in us also to a dignity beyond compare" (§22),||"...a little less than the angels..."(Ps. 8:6)|
|and because of "sublime dignity of the human person" (§26),||Only he who lives well is worthy (Apoc. 3:4).|
|his "rights and duties are universal and inviolate" (§26); including:||He who buries his talent will be stripped of it.|
|"The Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom..." (Dignitatis Humanae, §2),||Contrary condemned statement: "Liberty of conscience and of worship is the proper right of every man..." (Pius IX, Quanta Cura)|
|"...all men should be immune from coercion on the part of ...every human power so that, within due limits, nobody is forced to act against his convictions nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his convictions..." (§2),||Contrary condemned statement: "...the best condition of society is the one in which there is no acknowledgment by the government of the duty of restraining... offenders of the Catholic religion, except insofar as the public peace demands" (Pius IX, Quanta Cura).|
|"This right of the human person to religious freedom must be given such recognition in the constitutional order of society as will make it a civil right" (§2),||Contrary condemned statement: "Liberty of conscience and of worship... should be proclaimed and asserted by law in every correctly established society..." (Pius IX, Quanta Cura)|
|"...the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using (separated churches) as means of salvation" (Unitatis Redintegratio, §3), and so,||principle 2.|
|"ecumenical action should be encouraged so that ... Catholics might cooperate with their separated brethren ...by a common profession before the nations of faith in God and in Jesus Christ..." (Ad Gentes, §115).||principle 7.|
|Why, even concerning non-Christian religions: "The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is good and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct..." (Nostra Aetate, §2),||"All the gods of the Gentiles are devils." Ps. 95. "... beware lest thou have a mind to imitate the abominations of those nations" (Dt. 18:9).|
|"Now, episcopal consecration confers, together with the office of sanctifying, the duty also of teaching and ruling..." (§21).||"This (episcopal) dignity, in fact, depends immediately on God as to the power of orders, and on the Apostolic See as to the power of jurisdiction..." (Deesemus Nos, Pius VI).|
The Council itself both encouraged liberal trends (and its encouragement became post-conciliar Vatican policy) and departed from traditional Catholic teaching, but it has no authority for either (principle 5).
Our position must be:
...we refuse... to follow the Rome of neo-Modernist and neo-Protestant tendencies which became clearly manifest during the Second Vatican Council and, after the Council, in all the reforms which issued from it." (1974 Declaration of Archbishop Lefebvre)
And it is neo-modernist tendencies that the Council is all about ("...Pope John Paull II makes not Holy Scripture, but rather Assisi, the shibboleth for the current understanding of the Council." Pope John Paul II's Theological Journey to the Prayer Meeting of Religions in Assisi, Part I, p. 46 [appendix 2])
But wasn't the Council infallible?
- Not by reason of the extraordinary magisterium, for it refused to define anything. Pope Paul VI himself, in an audience on January 12, 1966, said that it “had avoided proclaiming in an extraordinary manner dogmas affected by the mark of infallibility.” (cf. the declaration of the Theological Commission of March 6, 1964, and repeated by the Council's General Secretary on November 16, 1964: "In view of conciliar practice and the pastoral purpose of the present Council, this sacred Synod defines matters of faith or morals as binding on the Church only when the Synod itself openly declares so." It never did.)
- Nor by reason of the ordinary universal magisterium, because this is not a defining power, but one of passing on what was always believed. The “universality” in question is not just one of place (all bishops) but also of time (always) (cf. Vatican I and principle 6).
- Nor even by reason of the simply authentic magisterium, because the object of all magisterium is the deposit of faith to be guarded sacredly and expounded faithfully (Vatican I, Denzinger 1836), and not to adopt as Catholic doctrine the “best expressed values of two centuries of ‘liberal culture,’” even if they are “purified” (Cardinal Ratzinger, Gesu, November 1984, p. 72; cf. Gaudium et Spes, §§11, 44).
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The question of our attitude towards the pope is a delicate one, especially since there is much confusion amongst Catholics concerning this question.
The last 50 years have made this question more important than usual since we have witnessed the introduction of various theories and practices, often by the popes themselves, that run counter to the perennial teaching of the Catholic Church.
It behooves us then to look at the principles involved in this case:
First, there is no doubt that we believe all the dogmas of the Church, especially those concerning the office of the papacy:
A) That it was divinely founded:
Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven." (Mt. 16:18-9)
B) That the Bishop of Rome has a primacy no other bishop has:
We point to the tradition of that very great and very ancient and universally known Church, which was founded and established at Rome, by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul: we point I say, to the tradition which this Church has from the Apostles, and to her faith proclaimed to men which comes down to our time through the succession of her bishops, and so we put to shame... all who assemble in unauthorized meetings. For with this Church, because of its superior authority, every Church must agree—that is the faithful everywhere—in communion with which Church the tradition of the Apostles has been always preserved by those who are everywhere." (St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, III, 3:2)
C) That the pope is infallible under certain conditions:
The Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra—that is, when in the exercise of his office as pastor and teacher of all Christians he defines, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, a doctrine of faith or morals to be held by the whole Church—is, by reason of the Divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, possessed of that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer wished His Church to be endowed in defining doctrines of faith and morals; and consequently that such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable of their own nature and not by reason of the Church’s consent." (First Vatican Council, Denzinger §1839)
There seem to be two errors common in these turbulent times. The first temptation is to presume to judge the Holy Father of being a formal heretic, a situation which would, according to them, cause the apparent pope to be an anti-pope, possessing no true jurisdiction. Although this has been put forward as a theoretical possibility by some theologians historically, such a theory cannot explain what happens to such doctrines as the visibility of the Church, or Christ’s promise to be with His Church until the end of time. Such a simplistic notion is actually based on the same premise as the opposite temptation: that the pope is actually protected by an extended infallibility which cannot account for any error.
The opposite error is far more common and assumes that whatever the pope does or teaches is correct. This is perhaps understandable since, in normal times, this is in actuality what happens. But one must distinguish: history is replete with examples of popes who taught or did things which were not proper. As an example, Pope Liberius signed some form of a semi-Arian document, and Pope John XXII temporarily taught that the souls of the saved do not see God until after the Final Judgment. Some Renaissance popes led lives of dubious morality. In all these cases, though wrong, papal infallibility was not involved.
The pope is infallible primarily in matters of faith and morals, and secondarily in matters of discipline (legislation for the Universal Church, canonizations, etc.) to the extent that these involve faith and morals (cf. principle 4), and then only when imposing for all time a definitive teaching. Indeed, if the pope had some form of personal infallibility with regard to his ordinary teaching, there would be no need for a definition of its limits.
"Infallible" means immutable and irreformable (principle 6), but, the hallmark of the conciliar popes, like the Modernists, is a spirit of evolution. To what extent can such minds want irreformably to define or absolutely to impose? (Cf. question 15, n. 3)
How then are we to judge him?
- First, it must be understood that it is a duty and necessity to pray for the Holy Father and his intentions As St. Clement Mary Hofbauer says: “A Christian who does not pray for the pope is like a child who does not pray for his father.”
- It is not for us to judge his culpability in the destruction of the Church. Only God can so judge him.
- Nor is it for us to judge him juridically—the pope has no superior on earth—or to declare unquestionably null all his acts.
- We must thus make a judgment of his words and actions inasmuch as they affect our eternal salvation, as our Savior said:
"Beware of false prophets who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. By their fruits you shall know them." (Mt. 7:15)
We are not to co-operate blindly in the destruction of the Church by tolerating the implementation of a new religion or by not doing what we can to defend the Catholic Faith. Archbishop Lefebvre was surely our model here:
No authority, not even the highest in the hierarchy, can compel us to abandon or to diminish our Catholic Faith, so clearly expressed and professed by the Church’s Magisterium for 19 centuries."
“Friends,” said St. Paul, “though it were we ourselves, though it were an angel from heaven that should preach to you a gospel other than the gospel we have preached to you, a curse upon him.” (Gal. 1:8)
That is why, without any rebellion, bitterness, or resentment, we pursue our work of priestly formation under the guidance of the never-changing Magisterium, convinced as we are that we cannot possibly render a greater service to the Holy Catholic Church, to the Sovereign Pontiff, and to posterity.
1 By such men as Cajetan, St. Robert Bellarmine, and John of St. Thomas. There are different levels of theological certainty. Among these levels we might count revealed dogmas, which all Catholics must believe; teachings proximate to the Faith, which, though not defined, are generally regarded as true, and theological opinions, which the Church has not definitively settled and about which theologians disagree.
2 It should be noted that we do not speak primarily of the pope’s personal, subjective intentions. The six objective intentions of the Holy Father, traditionally understood, are:
- the exaltation of the Church,
- the propagation of the Faith,
- the extirpation of heresy,
- the conversion of sinners,
- concord between Christian princes,
- and the further welfare of the Christian people.
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A code is a collection of laws, each one being an order of the competent authority: each canon in the 1917 Code of Canon Law was a law of Benedict XV, and each canon in the 1983 Code of Canon Law (commonly called the "New Code") is a law of Pope John Paul II.
For Pope John Paul II, the purpose of the 1983 Code of Canon Law is the expression of the Second Vatican Council’s new ecclesiology (i.e., the new understanding that the Church has of her nature and mission) in canonical language, and it must be understood always in the light of conciliar teaching (Sacra Disciplinae Leges, January 25, 1983).
We must, therefore, suspect the new legislation of codifying the same errors and so be ready not to accept all its “laws,” [principle 9] but only those which do not evidently compromise Catholic teaching on faith or morals. For the most part, we may regret the loss of clarity, precision and integrity the 1917 Code of Canon Law had, but that is insufficient reason to reject these canons.
There a few novelties that must be rejected:
Canon 844, §4 allows the administration of penance, anointing of the sick, and even holy communion to non-Catholics who manifest “Catholic faith” (vs. principle 7) in these sacraments.This used to be considered a mortal sin and was gravely forbidden (1917 Code of Canon Law, canon 731, §21) because it implicitly denies the dogma, “Outside the Church, no salvation” (principle 2).
Canon 1055, §1 no longer defines marriage by its primary end, the procreation of children, but mentions this only after a secondary end, the good of the spouses. And this latter, as we can see in the light of annulments now given, has become the essence of marriage [vs. principles 5 & 6]: the partners give each other their whole selves (and not just “the exclusive and perpetual right over the body of the partner as regards the acts capable in themselves of generating offspring,” 1917 Code of Canon Law, canon 1081, §2) for their self-fulfillment in wedlock (canon 1057, §2).
There is considered to be no marriage where one spouse cannot provide the other this help (canon 1095, 20 and 30, canon 1098, etc., cf. canon 1063, 40). Whence today’s annulments’ fiasco: in the United States, for example, there were 338 annulments granted in 1968; there were 59,030 in 1992.
Canon 336 codifies the collegiality of Vatican II. The “college of bishops,” a 20th century invention, is now made a permanent subject, together with the pope, of supreme and full power over the Universal Church. A bishop, moreover, participates in this universal jurisdiction by the mere fact of his consecration (cf. canon 375, §2).*
*This becomes all the more disconcerting when one considers the recognition now given by the Vatican to the Orthodox bishops. Cf., Pope Paul VI:
It is on the heads of the Churches, of their hierarchy, that the obligation rests to guide the Churches along the way that leads to full communion again. They ought to do this by recognizing and respecting each other as pastors of the flock of Christ entrusted to them..."
Quoted at Balamand, by the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, Final Statement §18 cf., §14; Ut Unum Sint §§50-63
These are but the most grave deficiencies; other defective points include the following:
- mixed marriages (canons 1125, 1127),
- diminution in censures (excommunication of freemasons, etc.),
- the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas is no longer strictly enjoined in seminaries (canons 251ff), and
- general absolutions are more readily available (canons 961-963, etc.).
In passing, it is interesting to note that for Pope John Paul II the 1983 Code of Canon Law had less weight than a conciliar constitution.
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Do the priests of the Society of St. Pius X possess faculties to validly and licitly administer the sacraments? How does supplied jurisdiction apply to them in the context of the post-conciliar crisis?
The question of jurisdiction
In virtue of his ordination, a priest can bless all things and even consecrate bread and wine in such wise that they become the very Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. But whenever in his ministry he has to deal authoritatively with people, he needs, over and above the power of Holy Orders, that of Jurisdiction, which empowers him to judge and rule his flock. Jurisdiction is, moreover, necessary for the validity itself of the sacraments of penance and matrimony.
The sacraments were given by Our Lord as the ordinary and principal means of salvation and sanctification. The Church, therefore, whose supreme law is the salvation of souls (1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 1752), wants the ready availability of these sacraments, and especially penance (canon 968). The Church wants priests (canon 1026) and empowers them liberally to hear confessions (canon 967, §2). This jurisdiction to hear confessions is to be revoked only for a grave reason (canon 974, §1).
Jurisdiction is ordinarily given by mandate from the pope or diocesan bishop, or perhaps delegated by the parish priest. The priests of the SSPX do not have jurisdiction in this way. Extraordinarily, however, the Church supplies jurisdiction without passing by the constituted authorities. This is foreseen in the 1983 Code of Canon Law:
- when the faithful think the priest has a jurisdiction which he does not have (canon 144) [common error],
- when there is a probable and positive doubt that the priest has jurisdiction (canon 144),
- when a priest inadvertently continues to hear confessions once his faculties have expired (canon 142, §2), and
- when the penitent is in danger of death (and then even if the priest is laicised or an apostate, even though a Catholic priest is at hand) (canons 976, 1335).
Therefore, the Church, wanting the ready availability of penance, extraordinarily supplies jurisdiction in view of the needs of her children, and it is granted all the more liberally the greater their need.
The nature of the present crisis in the Church is such that the faithful can on good grounds feel it a moral impossibility to approach priests having ordinary jurisdiction. And so, whenever the faithful need the graces of penance and want to receive them from priests whose judgment and advice they can trust, they can do so, even if the priests do not ordinarily have jurisdiction. Even a suspended priest can do this for the faithful who ask: “for any just cause whatsoever” (canon 1335). This is even more the case if a faithful Catholic can foresee his being deprived of the true sacrament of penance from priests with ordinary jurisdiction until he dies. Only God knows when this crisis will end.
The extraordinary form for marriages is foreseen in canon 1116, §1. If the couple cannot approach their parish priest “without serious inconvenience”—and they may consider as such his insistence on having the Novus Ordo Missae for the wedding, or their apprehensions concerning his moral teaching in marriage instructions—and if they foresee these circumstances to last for at least a month, then they can marry before witnesses alone, and another priest (e.g., of the SSPX) if possible (canon 1116, §2).
Even if one were to consider the above arguments as only probable, then jurisdiction would still be certainly supplied by the Church (canon 144). Therefore, we answer that these traditional priests do have jurisdiction, that is neither territorial nor ordinary, but supplied in view of the needs of the faithful.
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Pope Benedict XVI's motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, has changed the juridical situation of the Mass. Until recently, the traditional Mass was presented as being prohibited and allowed only under an indult, that is, a special, exceptional permission joined with special conditions.
The conditions attached to the celebration of the traditional Mass under the Indult were two-fold: the recognition of the orthodoxy and legitimacy of the New Mass and the acceptance of the Second Vatican Council's decisions and reforms.
Pope Benedict XVI changed the juridical situation of the Mass stating that the traditional Mass has never been abrogated. Thanks to this statement, the Mass has been reestablished as a universal law of the Church and can no longer be considered as prohibited or even as an exception: unfortunately, the expression "extraordinary form" used in the motu propio is misleading.
Nevertheless, the practical situation of the Mass, due to the attitude of the majority of the bishops has hardly changed from the previous state. Practically speaking, the bishops continue to limit the celebration of the traditional Mass by seeking to grant a permission which is no longer necessary, oftentimes in addition to other arbitrary conditions.
In other words, for the time being, there is in general hardly a difference from the previous situation with the Indult Mass, though in certain particular places there might be a better treatment for the Mass, the priests and the faithful. This obliges us to invite the faithful to the same prudence as before about attending the Indult Mass.
We hope that this situation will gradually change and that the reasons which oblige us today to be very restrictive will little by little disappear, in a process of gradually recovering the reality of the sacrifice, the reality of the priesthood and the whole Christian spirit. But for now this is only a wish and a dream, apart from some exceptions.
Here is a summary of the dangers to which the faithful might easily be exposed by imprudently attending the traditional Mass celebrated today under said circumstances:
- the teaching of the Faith can still be defective,
- the priest might be ill-prepared for the pre-conciliar liturgy,
- the risk of a mixing of the new and old rite remains,
- and there is the danger of a confusion which could be very misleading.
In doubt, the faithful should ask their pastors for advice.
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Confusion often arises about Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre's 1988 consecration of four bishops without papal permission, which action Pope John Paul II pointed out carried with it the latae sententiae (automatic) penalty of excommunication.
However, according to canon law, a person who believes, like Archbishop Lefebvre did, that there is a moral necessity to break a law (i.e., for the salvation of souls) would not incur any automatic penalties, even if that person were to be incorrect in that assessment.
June 29, 1987
Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, experiencing failing health, aware of his episcopal duty to pass on the Catholic Faith and seeing no other way of assuring the continued ordination of truly Catholic priests, decided to consecrate bishops and announced that, if necessary, he will do so even without the pope’s permission.
June 30, 1988, "Operation Survival".
Cardinal Gantin, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, officially warned the archbishop that, in virtue of canon 1382 (1983 Code of Canon Law), he and the bishops consecrated by him would be excommunicated for proceeding without pontifical mandate and thereby infringing the laws of sacred discipline.
June 30, 1988
Archbishop Lefebvre, together with Bishop de Castro Mayer, consecrated four bishops.
July 1, 1988
Cardinal Gantin declared the threatened excommunication (according to canon 1382) to have been incurred. He also called the consecrations a schismatic act and declared the corresponding excommunication (canon 1364 §1), as well as threatening anyone supporting the consecrations with excommunication because of “schism".
In Ecclesia Dei Afflicta, the pope repeated Cardinal Gantin’s accusation of schismatic mentality and threatened generalized excommunications (cf. question 12).
However, the excommunication warned of on June 17 for abuse of episcopal powers (canon 1382) was not incurred because:
- person who violates a law out of necessity* is not subject to a penalty (1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 1323, §4), even if there is no state of necessity:
- if one inculpably thought there was a necessity, he would not incur the penalty (canon 1323, 70),
- and if one culpably thought there was a necessity, he would still incur no automatic penalties (canon 1324, §3; §1, 80).
*The state of necessity, as it is explained by jurists, is a state in which the necessary goods for natural or supernatural life are so threatened that one is morally compelled to break the law in order to save them. (Is Tradition Excommunicated?, p. 26)
No penalty is ever incurred without committing a subjective mortal sin (canons 1321 §1, 1323 70). Archbishop Lefebvre made it clear that he felt bound in conscience to do what he could do to continue the Catholic priesthood and that he was obeying God in going ahead with the consecrations (Cf. the Sermon of June 30, 1988, and Archbishop Lefebvre and the Vatican, p. 136). Hence, even if he had been wrong, there would be no subjective sin.
Most importantly, positive law is at the service of the natural and eternal law and ecclesiastical law is at that of the divine law (principle 8) No “authority,” [principle 9] can force a bishop to compromise in his teaching of Catholic faith or administering of Catholic sacraments. No “law,” can force him to cooperate in the destruction of the Church. With Rome giving no guarantee of preserving Catholic Tradition, Archbishop Lefebvre had to do what he could with his God-given episcopal powers to guarantee its preservation. This was his duty as a bishop.
Finally, the Church’s approval of the SSPX (question 2) allows it what it needs for its own preservation. This includes the service of bishops who will guarantee to maintain Catholic Tradition.
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The Society of St. Pius X has always recognized and adhered to the authority of the pope, and, as noted by prominent Roman authorities (e.g., Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos), the SSPX is not schismatic.
Was Archbishop Lefebvre (along with his co-consecrator and the four bishops whom he consecrated) excommunicated also for having done a “schismatic act”?
A first argument to this is given under the heading: Wasn't Archbishop Lefebvre Excommunicated?
What, moreover, constitutes a schismatic act? Not the mere deed of consecrating bishops without pontifical mandate. The 1983 Code of Canon Law itself lists this offense under Title 3 (abuse of ecclesiastical powers) and not under Title 1 (offenses against religion and the unity of the Church) of its penal section (Book 6).
Nor would it be a “schismatic act” to consecrate against the express wish of the Holy Father. That could amount to disobedience at most.* But disobedience does not amount to schism; schism requires that one not recognize the authority of the pope to command; disobedience consists in not obeying a command, whilst still acknowledging the authority of the one commanding. “The child who says ‘I won’t!’ to his mother does not deny that she is his mother” (Fr. Glover, in Is Tradition Excommunicated? p. 99 [appendix 2]).
*(But there is no disobedience, cf. An Open Letter to Confused Catholics, pp. 129-136. Cf. "The act of consecrating a bishop (without the pope's permission)is not itself a schismatic act," Cardinal Lara, President of the Pontifical Commission for the Authentic Interpretation of Canon Law, in La Repubblica, October 7, 1988)
Archbishop Lefebvre always recognized the pope’s authority (proved by his consultations with Rome for a solution to the current problems) and so does the SSPX. (See for example, its support for Pope John Paul II’s Ordinatio Sacerdotalis against women priests.)
Consecrating a bishop without pontifical mandate would be a schismatic act if one pretended to confer not just the fullness of the priesthood but also jurisdiction, a governing power over a particular flock. Only the pope, who has universal jurisdiction over the whole Church, can appoint a pastor to a flock and empower him to govern it. But Archbishop Lefebvre never presumed to confer anything but the full priestly powers of holy orders, and in no way did he grant any jurisdiction (which he himself did not have personally to give).
Do the faithful, threatened by Pope John Paul II himself with excommunication if they adhere formally to the schism (Ecclesia Dei Afflicta, July 2, 1988), indeed incur any excommunication for going to SSPX priests for the sacraments?
Not at all. The priests of the Society are neither excommunicated nor schismatics (as figures such as Cardinal Hoyos have made clear) that the Society is not schismatic (Is Tradition Excommunicated? pp. 1-39). This being so, how could any of the faithful who approach them incur these penalties?
Weren't several laypeople excommunicated in Hawaii for attending an SSPX mass?
On May 1, 1991, Bishop Ferrario of Hawaii “excommunicated” certain Catholics of his diocese for attending Masses celebrated by priests of the SSPX, and receiving a bishop of the Society to confer the sacrament of Confirmation. Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, overturned this decision:
From the examination of the case... it did not result that the facts referred to in the above-mentioned decree, are formal schismatic acts in the strict sense, as they do not constitute the offense of schism; and therefore the Congregation holds that the decree of May 1, 1991, lacks foundation and hence validity." (June 28, 1993)
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Since the introduction of the new sacramental rites, Rome had allowed no religious society or congregation exclusive use of the older rites. Then on June 30, 1988, Archbishop Lefebvre consecrated four bishops to ensure the survival of the traditional priesthood and sacraments, and especially of the traditional Roman Mass.
Within two days of the consecrations however, Pope John Paul II recognized (Ecclesia Dei Afflicta, July 2, 1988) the “rightful aspirations” (for these things) of those who wouldn’t support Archbishop Lefebvre’s stance, and offered to give to them what was being refused the archbishop. A dozen or so priests of the SSPX accepted this “token of good will” and broke away to found the Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP).
The Fraternity of St. Peter is founded upon more than questionable principles, for the following reasons:
1. It accepts that the Conciliar Church has the power:
- to take away the Mass of All Time (for the Novus Ordo Missae is not another form of this),
- to grant it to those only who accept the same Conciliar Church’s novel orientations (in life, belief, structures),
- to declare non-Catholic those who deny this by word or deed (An interpretation of "Everyone should be aware that formal adherence to the schism [of Archbishop Lefebvre] is a grave offense against God and carries the penalty of excommunication." Ecclesia Dei Afflicata), and,
- to profess itself in a certain way in communion with anyone calling himself “Christian”, and yet to declare itself out of communion with Catholics whose sole crime is wanting to remain Catholic (Vatican II, e.g., Lumen Gentium, §15; Unitatis Redintegratio §3).
2. In practice, the priests of the Fraternity must have recourse to a Novus Ordo bishop willing to permit the traditional rites and willing to ordain their candidates. They reject the Novus Ordo Missae only because it is not their “spirituality” and claim the traditional Roman Mass only in virtue of their “charism” acknowledged to them by the pope. Note, for example, the Fraternity’s whole-hearted acceptance of the (New) Catechism of the Catholic Church (question 14), acceptance of Novus Ordo professors in their seminaries, and blanket acceptance of Vatican II’s orthodoxy (question 6).
This being so, attending their Mass demonstrates acceptance of:
- the compromise on which they are based,
- the direction taken by the Conciliar Church and the consequent destruction of the Catholic Faith and practices, and
- in particular, the lawfulness and doctrinal soundness of the Novus Ordo Missae and Vatican II.
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This question illustrates the fundamental differences between the SSPX and the Conciliar “traditionalists” or conservatives. These latter are often seen defending both the traditional Roman Mass and the “new” Catechism but not openly attacking either the Novus Ordo Missae or Vatican II.
The SSPX on the other hand defends the traditional catechisms and therefore the traditional Mass, and so attacks the Novus Ordo Missae, Vatican II and the “new” Catechism, all of which more or less undermine our unchangeable Catholic faith.
Conservatives defend the Catechism of the Catholic Church for its re-affirmation of teachings silenced or denied by out rightly modernist catechisms; the Society rejects it though because it is an attempt to formalize and propagate the teachings of Vatican II. Pope John Paul II agrees with this:
The Catechism was also indispensable (i.e., as well as the 1983 Code of Canon Law), in order that all the richness of the teaching of the Church following the Second Vatican Council could be preserved in a new synthesis and be given a new direction." (Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, London, Jonathen Cape, 1994, p. 164)
One need but consider the 806 citations from Vatican II, a number which amounts on average to one citation every three-and-a-half paragraphs throughout the 2,865 paragraphs of the Catechism.
In particular, the novelties of Vatican II appear in the following paragraphs:
- an infatuation with the dignity of man (§§225; 369; 1700; 1929...),
- such that we may hope for the salvation of all the baptized (§§1682ff),
- even non-Catholics (§818),
- or those who commit suicide (§2283),
- and of all the unbaptised, whether adults (§847),
- or infants (§1261);
- which is the basis of all rights (§§1738; 1930; 1935) including that of religious liberty (§§2106ff),
- and the motive of all morality (§1706; 1881; 2354; 2402; 2407, etc.),
- a commitment to ecumenism (§820f; 1399; 1401) because all religions are instruments of salvation (§§819; 838-843; 2104),
- collegiality (§§879-885),
- over-emphasis on the priesthood of the faithful (§§873; 1547; 1140ff, etc.).
Now, just as he who denies but one article of Faith loses the Faith [principle 7], so a teacher who errs on one point alone proves himself fallible, and, renders all he teaches questionable.
Just as the Second Vatican Council is not an authority to quote even where it propounds Catholic teaching (it does not do so infallibly and clearly), so this Catechism is not an authority of Catholic belief because of the modern deviations which it encompasses. Hence, those who defend this Catechism are supporting the innovations of Vatican II.
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Due to the unorthodox actions and statements of several recent popes, some have been led to believe that these popes have separated themselves from the Church by heresy, ipso facto vacating the seat of the papacy (sedes vacans, literally, empty seat). However, the fact is that formal (obstinate, or willful) heresy, the only heresy bearing with it the effect of excommunication, cannot be claimed, much less proven in the case of the pope, as there is no higher ecclesiastical authority which may censure or reprimand him.
In the face of the scandal of a pope who can radically change the liturgy of the Mass, codify a new ecclesiology, or make himself the protagonist for an aberrant ecumenism, etc., some have concluded that the last popes cannot have been true popes, or else that they have lost the pontificate because of such scandals. They refer to the discussions of the great counter-Reformation theologians on the loss of the pontificate (through abdication, insanity, heresy, etc.) and argue thus:
- he who is not a member of the Church can’t be its head.
- but a heretic is not a member of the Church,
- now, Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis are heretics,
- therefore, they are neither members nor head of the Church,
- and so all their acts are to be completely ignored.
But then again, the argument continues, the same scandals are true of all the world’s diocesan bishops, who are also consequently non-members without authority; and the Catholic Church must be identified only with those who have not compromised the Faith and who refuse communion with these “popes” or “bishops.” A minority of these will elect their own “pope” (e.g., the communities at Palmar de Troya, Spain, or St. Jovite, Canada).
The argument’s strength is in the real scandal of the Conciliar authorities’ impetus given to the Church’s “new direction”; its weakness is in not being able to prove that any of these authorities are formal heretics.
- You are a “material” heretic without knowing it if you objectively contradict what God has said but through no fault of your own;
- You are a “formal” heretic if you do pertinaciously contradict what God has said, i.e., knowing that you’re denying what God has said and wanting to do this anyway.
Now, the ordinary way for the Church to ascertain pertinacity and enforce the consequences of one’s heresy by either excommunication and/or loss of office, is through authoritative monitions* to the delinquent which he spurns (1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 2314, §1). But nobody can authoritatively admonish the pope (canon 1556), and the bishops can only be admonished by their superior, the pope (canon 1557), who has not done so.
Therefore, pertinacity, and following upon that, formal heresy, cannot be proven.
*To have canonical force, they must come from one's superior (cf., canon 2233). The point is not only the crime but also its imputability must be notorious (canon 2195; 2197).
But could pertinacity not be presumed from the insistence of these popes on the new ways in the face of all tradition?
Perhaps; but not socially (i.e., as regards loss of office, etc.), which must not be presumed but proven, otherwise societies would collapse.
The argument does not prove its point, and becomes less probable when you consider that there are other explanations for the “material heretic” pope [see section a below], and it becomes quite improbable when you consider its dangers [b] or consequences [c].
a. The liberal mindset of a Pope Paul VI or a Pope John Paul II can be an explanation of their wanting to be Catholics and their simultaneous betrayal in practice of Catholicism. They accept contradictions; with a subjective and evolutive mentality, this is to be expected.* But such a frame of mind can be convinced of heresy only by way of authority.
*A little example: "At the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church committed herself irrevocably to following the path of the ecumenical venture, thus heeding the Spirit of the Lord, who teaches people to interpret carefully the 'signs of the times'" (Ut Unum Sint, §3). If it is because of the "signs of the times" that the Conciliar Church has launched herself into ecumenism, how are we to know that the venture will be irrevocable? What does a Pope John Paul II mean by such absolute terms?
b. The Church is indefectible (principle 3) not only in her faith and means of sanctification, but also in her monarchical constitution (principle 4), comprising governing power (i.e., jurisdiction), hence Vatican I’s profession that Peter will have perpetual successors. A break in the line of popes from the death of one to the election of the next may be understandable, but is indefectibility preserved if there is no pope since 1962 or if there is no one with ordinary jurisdiction whom the sedevacantists can point out as such? The Church is visible (principle 3) and not just a society composed of those who are joined by interior bonds (state of grace, same faith,...). A society is recognized and maintained as such by its authority (its efficient cause).
c. If the Church has not had a pope since the days of Vatican II, then there are no more cardinals legitimately created. But then how is the Church to get a pope again, as the current discipline grants only to cardinals the power to elect a pope?
A few sedevacantists hold that he has been or will be directly designated by private revelation from heaven.
There are spiritual consequences of sedevacantism:
- sedevacantism is a theological opinion, and not a certitude. To treat it as a certitude leads to condemning with temerity traditional Catholics who disagree;
- and invariably it leads to one’s recognizing no spiritual superiors on earth. Each becomes, in practice, his own little “pope,” the rule of faith and orthodoxy, the judge of the validity of sacraments.* This being so, we ought not to associate with, or, receive the sacraments from them, most especially if they set up sedevacantism as a certitude which all have to accept.
*Consider the arguments from "Bishop" Vezelis, the Schuckardt movement, etc.: It is said that Cardinal Lienart, who ordained Archbishop Lefebvre a priest and consecrated him a bishop, was Freemason, and so all his ordinations were invalid; and so we must consider invalid all the sacraments of those he ordained, and of those they ordained... In fact, whereas that Lienart was a Freemason is only an unproven allegation of one writer; and Church teaching is that we must accept as valid his sacraments anyway, if he used the correct external rite (unless he revealed a contrary internal intention, which he did not). Moreover, Archbishop Lefebvre was consecrated by three bishops in 1947, which sacrament was surely therefore valid. Cf. On rumors and their source for more information on this matter.
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The Novus Ordo Missae was introduced in April 1969 by Pope Paul VI. From the start, this new rite was intended to have an ecumenical nature as declared by its chief architect, Fr. Annibale Bugnini in 1965:
We must strip from our Catholic prayers and from the Catholic liturgy everything which can be the shadow of a stumbling block for our separated brethren—that is, for the Protestants.”
A. Preliminary remarks
- A criticism of the New Rite cannot be a criticism of the Mass in itself, for this is the very sacrifice of Our Lord bequeathed to His Church, but it is an examination, whether it is a fit rite for embodying and enacting this august Sacrifice.
- It is difficult for those who have known nothing other than the Novus Ordo Missae to understand of what they have been deprived, and attending a “Latin Mass” often just seems alien. To see clearly what it is all about, it is necessary to have a clear understanding of the defined truths of our Faith on the Mass (principles 11-18 are some of them). Only in the light of these can the “new rite” of Mass be evaluated.
B. What is the Novus Ordo Missae?
Let us first examine the elements of the Novus Ordo Missae. Some are Catholic:
- a priest,
- bread and wine,
- signs of the Cross, etc.,
but some are Protestant:
- a table,
- common-place utensils,
- communion under both kinds and in the hand, etc.
The Novus Ordo Missae assumes these heterodox elements alongside the Catholic ones to form a liturgy for a modernist religion which would marry the Church and the world, Catholicism and Protestantism, light and darkness. Indeed, the Novus Ordo Missae presents itself as:
- a meal (vs. principle 11). This is shown by its use of a table around which the people of God gather to offer bread and wine (vs. principle 18) and to communicate from rather common-place utensils, often under both kinds (vs. principle 15), and usually in the hand (vs. principle 16). (Note too the almost complete deletion of references to sacrifice).
- a narrative of a past event (vs. principle 12). This told out loud by the one presiding (vs. principle 14), who recounts Our Lord’s words as read in Scripture (rather than pronouncing a sacramental formula) and who makes no pause until he has shown the Host to the people.
- a community gathering, (vs. principle 13). Christ is perhaps considered to be morally present but ignored in his Sacramental Presence (vs. principles 16 & 17).
Notice also the numerous rubrical changes:
- the celebrant facing the people from where the tabernacle was formerly kept.
- just after the consecration, all acclaim He “will come again.”
- sacred vessels are no longer gilt.
- Sacred Particles are ignored (vs. principle 15)
- the priest no longer joins thumb and forefinger after the consecration.
- the vessels are not purified as they used to be.
- Communion is most frequently given in the hand.
- genuflections on the part of the priest and kneeling on the part of the faithful are much reduced.
Moreover, the Novus Ordo Missae defined itself this way:
The Lord’s Supper, or Mass, is a sacred synaxis, or assembly of the people of God gathered together under the presidency of the priest to celebrate the memorial of the Lord. (Pope Paul VI, Institutio Generalis, §7, 1969 version)
What is the aim of the Novus Ordo Missae as a rite?
...the intention of Pope Paul VI with regard to what is commonly called the Mass, was to reform the Catholic liturgy in such a way that it should almost coincide with the Protestant liturgy... there was with Pope Paul VI an ecumenical intention to remove, or at least to correct, or at least to relax, what was too Catholic, in the traditional sense, in the Mass and, I repeat, to get the Catholic Mass closer to the Calvinist service...*
*Jean Guitton on December 19, 1993 in Apropos (17), p. 8ff, also in Christian Order, October 1994. Jean Guitton was an intimate friend of Pope Paul VI. Paul VI had 116 of his books and had made marginal study notes in 17 of these.
That Paul VI's intention was accomplished is made clear by Michael Davies:
When I began work on this trilogy I was concerned at the extent to which the Catholic liturgy was being Protestantized. The more detailed my study of the Revolution, the more evident it has become that it has by-passed Protestantism and its final goal is humanism. (Pope Paul's New Mass, pp. 137 and 149)
This latter is a fair evaluation when one considers the changes implemented, the results achieved, and the tendency of modern theology, even papal theology (cf. question 7).
Who made up the Novus Ordo Missae?
It is the invention of a liturgical commission, the Consilium, whose guiding light was Fr. Annibale Bugnini (made an archbishop in 1972 for his services), and which also included six Protestant experts. Fr. Bugnini (principal author of Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium) had his own ideas on popular involvement in the liturgy (La Riforma Liturgia, A. Bugnini, Centro Liturgico Vincenziano, 1983), while the Protestant advisors had their own heretical ideas on the essence of the Mass.
However, the one on whose authority the Novus Ordo Missae was enforced was Pope Paul VI, who “promulgated” it by his apostolic constitution, Missale Romanum (April 3, 1969). However, his proscription was highly unclear.
- In the original version of Missale Romanum, signed by Pope Paul VI, no mention was made either of anyone’s being obliged to use the Novus Ordo Missae or when such an obligation might begin.
- Translators of the constitution mistranslated cogere et efficere (i.e., to sum up and draw a conclusion) as to give force of law.
- The version in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis (which records all official texts of the papacy) has an added paragraph “enjoining” the new missal, but it is in the wrong tense, the past, and reads praescripsimus (i.e., which we have ordered) thereby referring to a past obligation, and nothing, moreover, in Missale Romanum prescribes, but at most permits the use of the “New Rite" (The Angelus, March 1997, p. 35).
- Can it be true that Pope Paul VI wanted this missal but that it was not properly imposed (it is known moreover, that Pope Paul VI signed the Institutio Generalis without reading it and without ensuring that it had been previously confirmed by the Holy Office).
Judgment on the Novus Ordo Missae
Judging the Novus Ordo Missae in itself and in its official Latin form (printed in 1969)*, Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci wrote to Pope Paul VI:
...the Novus Ordo represents, both as a whole and in its details, a striking departure from the Catholic theology of the Mass as it was formulated in Session XXIII of the Council of Trent." (A Brief Critical Study of the Novus Ordo Missae, September 25, 1969)
*A Novus Ordo Missae celebrated according to the 1969 typical edition would look very similar to the traditional Roman Rite, with the celebrant saying most (if not all) the prayers in Latin, facing the tabernacle and wearing the traditional Mass vestments, with a male altar server, and Gregorian chant, etc. None of the current abuses, e.g., Communion in the hand, Eucharistic Ministers, liturgical dancing, guitar-masses, etc., have part with this official form. Hence, the aforementioned cardinals' (as well as the SSPX's) critique of the Novus Ordo Missae is not of its abuses or misapplication, but rather of its essential and official form.
Archbishop Lefebvre definitely agreed when he wrote:
The Novus Ordo Missae, even when said with piety and respect for the liturgical rules ...is impregnated with the spirit of Protestantism. It bears within it a poison harmful to the faith." (An Open Letter to Confused Catholics, p. 29)
The dissimulation of Catholic elements and the pandering to Protestants which are evident in the Novus Ordo Missae render it a danger to our faith, and, as such, evil, given that it lacks the good which the sacred rite of Mass ought to have. The Church was promised the Novus Ordo Missae would renew Catholic fervor, inspire the young, draw back the lapsed and attract non-Catholics. Who today can pretend that these things are its fruits? Together with the Novus Ordo Missae did there not instead come a dramatic decline in Mass attendance and vocations, an “identity crisis” among priests, a slowing in the rate of conversions, and an acceleration of apostasies? So, from the point of view of its fruits, the Novus Ordo Missae does not seem to be a rite conducive to the flourishing of the Church’s mission.
Does it follow from the apparent promulgation by the popes that the Novus Ordo Missae is truly Catholic?
No, for the indefectibility of the Church does not prevent the pope personally from promoting defective and modernist rites in the Latin Rite of the Church. Moreover, the Novus Ordo Missae:
- was not properly promulgated (and therefore does not have force of law; cf. above),
- the old Roman Mass (aka, the Tridentine or traditional Latin Mass) was not abolished or superseded in the constitution Missale Romanum, hence in virtue of the of Quo Primum (which de jure [by law] is still the liturgical law and therefore the official Mass of the Roman Rite), it can always be said (principle 19),
- and lastly, the constitution Missale Romanum does not engage the Church's infallibility.*
*Let us remember that a pope engages his infallibility not only when teaching on faith or morals (or legislating on what is necessarily connected with them) but when so doing with full pontifical authority and definitively (cf. Vatican I [Denzinger §1839]. But as regards the Novus Ordo Missae, Pope Paul VI has stated (November 19, 1969) that:
...the rite and its related rubric are not in themselves a dogmatic definition. They are capable of various theological qualifications, depending on the liturgical context to which they relate. They are gestures and terms relating to a lived and living religious action which involves the ineffable mystery of God's presence; it is an action that is not always carried out in the exact same form, an action that only theological analysis can examine and express in doctrinal formulas that are logically satisfying."
It should be also be understood that the papal bull, Quo Primum is neither an infallible document, but rather only a disciplinary document regarding the liturgical law that governs the Tridentine Rite.
Is the Novus Ordo Missae invalid?
This does not necessarily follow from the above defects, as serious as they might be, for only three things are required for validity (presupposing a validly ordained priest), proper:
- and intention.
However, the celebrant must intend to do what the Church does. The Novus Ordo Missae will no longer in and of itself guarantee that the celebrant has this intention. That will depend on his personal faith (generally unknown to those assisting).
Therefore, these Masses can be of doubtful validity.
The words of consecration, especially of the wine, have been tampered with. Has the “substance of the sacrament” (cf. Pope Pius XII quoted in principle 5) been respected? While we should assume that despite this change the consecration is still valid, nevertheless this does add to the doubt.
Are we obliged in conscience to attend the Novus Ordo Missae?
If the Novus Ordo Missae is not truly Catholic, then it cannot oblige for one’s Sunday obligation. Many Catholics who do assist at it are unaware of its all pervasive degree of serious innovation and are exempt from guilt. However, any Catholic who is aware of its harm, does not have the right to participate. He could only then assist at it by a mere physical presence without positively taking part in it, and then and for major family reasons (weddings, funerals, etc).
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