From a reader:
I have a question about becoming a 3rd Order member with the SSPX. Would it put me into mortal sin to become a member? I have not attended their Mass on general orders from Pope Benedict XVI though I pray for full communion for them. They are also not in my area but I’d still be able to become part of the 3rd Order.
Would you commit a mortal sin by joining? I think that would depend in part on why you wanted to join. If you are doing so as a protest against the Holy Father Pope Benedict, against “Rome”, then I think you might be on shaky ground.
Also, if there should be a problem down the line with members of the SSPX (which is clerical) incurring the excommunication that comes from being formally in schism (they seem not to be now and I hope they never are), that might make the situation of lay people in an associated third order a bit less secure. We know that priests of the SSPX belong to the group, because they are ordained in their ranks, take pay checks and assignments, etc . We don’t know right now what it means, canonically, for lay people to follow such priests. If the SSPX eventually is determined to be in schism and that is declared by the Holy See clearly, then would laypeople following them be adhering to schism too? That is less clear. Lay people fulfill their Sunday Mass obligation if they go to an SSPX chapel for Mass. They can even give some money when they go for the upkeep of the chapel. While I don’t recommend receiving Communion at their Masses, there are conditions under which it would be okay to do so. So, we have a harder time determining how the status of a layperson might change, than we do with those who accept Holy Orders. We could use the help of a canonist.
I can see why a traditionally-minded person might want to be associated with a group of manifestly traditional priests such as the SSPX. Most of the SSPX priests I have met or had dealings with have been upstanding guys.
However, you would not have the benefit of indulgences and so forth which members of approved groups can gain. The SSPX can do great things for the intellectual formation of laypeople, but they have no authority whatsoever to grant indulgences. This is one of the principle reasons why people join confraternities and third orders: spiritual benefits.
The Confraternity of St. Peter, associated with the FSSP, Fraternity of St. Peter, has the grant of indulgences for its members:
The Apostolic Penitentiary, by virtue of the faculties granted to it by Pope Benedict XVI, has kindly willed to grant (by decree of June 7, 2008, for 7 years ad experimentum as is customary) to the members of the Confraternity of Saint Peter at the usual conditions (sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer at the intentions of the Sovereign Pontiff):
1. A plenary indulgence:
a) On the day of their admission into the Confraternity;
b) On February 22nd, Feast of the Chair of St Peter and anniversary of the foundation of the Confraternity;
c) On June 29th, Feast of Saints Peter and Paul;
2. A partial indulgence:
Whenever they partake in pious or charitable activities as members of the Confraternity.
This group in in manifest union with Rome and provides the possibility of spiritual benefits such as indulgences.
Something to consider.
I look forward to the day when this is all resolved and these questions never have to be raised again!