Fr Z, can you help me out with the why here and right terms.. I’m missing a piece of the puzzle?
A priest was asking me a question, regarding another person who is coming from the SSPX back to normative situation… My wife is asking about the question of licit, validity and faculties and jurisdiction.
Here’s the deal.
The priests of the SSPX are validly ordained. They celebrate Mass illicitly but validly. In normal situations they do not validly absolve, because they lack faculties to absolve (because faculties are necessary – in addition to valid ordination – to absolve validly). They cannot act as proper witnesses to marriages, because they are not recognized as such by the Church. A proper witness is require by the Church for the form of marriage.
How to sort this out? Let’s try it this way.
A juridic act (canons 124-128) is a human act by which a person, capable in law, observing the requisite formalities, manifests his intention to bring about a certain juridic effect.
For example, baptism is both a juridic act, and a sacrament. A juridic effect is intended (incorporation into the Church). Formalities are observed. The person, capable in law, manifests his intention to baptize (he uses the proper matter and form). The Church, in her clemency and her desire that no one be denied baptism, extends jurisdiction to confer baptism to “any person who has the requisite intention” (can. 861§2). So, while bishops, priests, and deacons are the ordinary ministers of baptism, anyone – even an unbaptized person – is capable in law of baptizing validly.
Confirmation, Marriage, Penance, and Holy Orders are the other sacraments which are simultaneously juridic acts. Reception of these sacraments changes a person’s juridic status in the Church. The Church is more restrictive about who can administer these four sacraments. Anointing of the Sick and Holy Communion/Eucharist are not juridic acts. Reception of these sacraments does not change a person’s juridic status in the Church.
Absolution of sins after Confession is a juridic act. The priest, the confessor, acts in persona Christi and judges the penitent. Remember that the confessional has the aspect of a tribunal. The confessor/judge absolves and lifts the sin from the penitent. Confessors also at times lift censures. As a juridic act, it can only be done by someone capable in law. The Church has restricted this, not because the Church wants to make penance less available to people, but rather in order to ensure that the faithful are getting the best possible pastoral care and that they remain within the fold of the Church. Thus, the Church gives faculties, permission, jurisdiction, to act in this way, to use his priestly abilities in a performing a sacramental act which is also a juridical act.
With marriage, there’s an added wrinkle. The ministers of the sacrament of marriage are the parties who get married. The spouses are the ministers of the sacrament of matrimony. Therefore, for a valid marriage to be effected, they are required to be “capable in law”. For example, a couple of thirteen year-olds are not capable of marriage. Someone already married is not capable of marriage. Other capabilities are more relational. For example, Sempronius may be capable of marriage, but he is not capable of marrying his sister, Caia. Neither is Sempronius capable of marrying Titus). For Catholics, an additional burden must be met. For a Catholic to marry validly, he or she must marry before an authorized witness, usually a bishop, priest, or deacon.
The priest or deacon or bishop who officiates at a Catholic wedding is there, necessarily, as the Church’s official witness to ensure that the proper form is followed, etc. The Church tightly restricts the ability of clergy to officiate at weddings. Priests who have the ordinary faculty, the jurisdiction, the permission from the Church, to witness marriages, are limited to doing so within the territory of the parish where they are the pastor, the parish priest. If they go outside their territory, they need the express permission of the pastor in whose territory they are witnessing a marriage. If they don’t have that permission, the marriage would be invalid because it would lack one of the essential requirements for marriage. The pastor of the parish (or the bishop, the vicar general, or an episcopal vicar with jurisdiction in the area) can delegate to another priest the jurisdiction, the faculty, to witness the marriage. He should do so in writing. If the delegation cannot be proven, the marriage might well be invalid!
Let’s track back to the question.
The priests of the Society of Pius X, may be holy, generous, stalwart, good men and priests. I have met some. I have been favorably impressed. However, they lack the jurisdiction to hear confessions or officiate at weddings. No proper authority has given them the faculties to act for the Church. When it comes to certain sacraments that are also juridic acts, that makes all the difference.
Celebration of Mass, recall, is a sacramental act but not also simultaneously a juridic act. That is one reason why when a priest without faculties says Mass, the Mass is illicit – illegal – but it is still sacramentally valid.
Although some separated or independent priests may have cobbled together a way, in the depths of their own conscience, to justify their continued practice of hearing invalid confessions and officiating invalidly at weddings, nevertheless – objectively – they lack the necessary faculties to do so for validity.
How important it is that we continue to pray for and work for unity in our Church.