QUAERITUR: Holy Communion at an SSPX chapel

I got a question from a reader. This comes up once in a while.  I guess I really need a better blog template with a search feature.

Dear Father,

First of all, I want to say that I love your blog.  It’s really informative and a great source of Latin Mass information!

However, I’ve been wondering about receiving Communion at SSPX Masses — I saw your blog post from a while back where you basically said you’d advise anyone attending an SSPX chapel for Mass not to receive Holy Communion.  I agree with this.  But you also seemed to say that ultimately, the choice to receive Holy Communion was up to the individual.  I apologize if I misunderstood, though.  At any rate, I know a lot of people who think that it’s ok to receive Holy Communion there (these individuals might go to SSPX chapels on very rare occasions).  But even so, since their Masses are illicit, that would make their sacraments sacrilegious (despite their validity), wouldn’t it?  And so wouldn’t anyone receiving Communion from an SSPX priest (unless in danger of death) objectively be committing sacrilege?  Why don’t people seem to be aware of that?  Would it reduce their culpability by not knowing?  And I guess the bottom line here is, why don’t things seem to be so cut-and-dry regarding this situation?

The choice to receive Communion is always an individual choice, even if a person is under censure or in the state of mortal sin.  Only in rare circumstances is it up to the minister of Communion not to administer It.

Under normal circumstances if people attend Mass at a chapel which not in explicit union with Rome, or which Rome has identified as okay for inter-Communion, I advise that they do not receive Communion.

Yes, even if the Mass is valid.  Manifest unity with the Bishop of Rome is very important.  The SSPX, if it is not a schismatic group – and we are told by high authority they are not – does not have manifest unity with Rome.

However, there may be those circumstances in which a person is impeded, physically or morally, from attending an approved Catholic church or chapel and from receiving Holy Communion. By a "moral" impediment I can envision that either there is a personal reason why a person can’t go to parish X, or that the Mass there is celebrated with so many abuses that one can’t overcome repugnance, etc.  By physical impediment I mean something like distance.   In any event the impediment must be real, not just an excuse.  God cannot be fooled.

In those cases, when a person has been without Holy Communion for a grave reason, and for a long time, and it is a burden, or there is the obligation to receive Communion according to the Church’s law (at least once a year), then a person could receive at such a chapel.  This would be similar to a person in a country where there are few or no Catholic churches, such as in Greece, where one would have a preponderance of Orthodox churches.  Optimal? No.  But the good of one’s soul requires some leeway.

I hope and pray for greater manifest unity between Rome and the SSPX.  These folks can do a great deal to accelerate the good changes which will occur as a result of Summorum Pontificum and the efforts of our Holy Father.  It is time to start effecting change from within.

Are their Masses "sacrilegious" because they are not celebrated in perfect union with the Roman Pontiff?

No, I don’t think they are.  They are certainly irregular.  But in most cases I think they want, they tend to unity with Pope even if they don’t manifest that desire through obedience.   If they were sacrilegious, I would say no one could ever go.  So, I think we have to set aside the category of "sacrilege".  Not everything done in disobedience is automatically sacrilegious.

It is far more likely that you could find a Mass celebrated in a sacrilegious manner, because of liturgical abuses, where the Novus Ordo is being twisted beyond recognition.  And there are such Masses, as that video from Call To Action demonstrated. 

There just aren’t easy answers to any of this.  Indeed, so much could be cleared up by a softening of hearts, an opening of minds, and clear, unequivocal submission to the Roman Pontiff.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Mark Jacobson says:

    Personally, I would have no problem receiving Communion at an SSPX Mass, because I know that I personally am in union with Rome, I know that the Pontiff is actively promoting the Traditional Mass, and I know that the TLM puts me in Communion with the hundreds of years of Saints who experienced the Holy Mass in the Traditional form. I do not often sense this communion with Rome at my parish, since the Pope or his teachings are rarely mentioned, and there is open hostility to the TLM and to most traditions that were swept aside in the years since Vatican II. For me, supporting the SSPX would be a way to contribute to their full Communion with the Church, because a strong adherence to tradition is what will eventually reunify the entire Church, including the Orthodox, the High Anglicans, and many others who may be confused by the current crisis in the Church. Sure, there are schismatic-leaning types in the SSPX, but there are far more in your average US parish, where abuses and rebellion abound.

  2. Angelo says:

    Silvio Cardinal Oddi Confirms that attendance
    at the Tridentine Mass fulfils the Sunday Mass Obligation
    Letter to Mrs Barbara Keenan

    “- Sacred Congregation for Clergy, Rome

    Jan. 11, 1984

    To His Eminence Cardinal Oddi:

    “(…) Could you kindly send my family and myself a letter with the information that you told me on the telephone that we are fulfilling our obligation for Sunday Mass by attending Holy Mass at the chapel of Saint Michael the Archangel which is under Archbishop Lefebvre.”

    Mrs. Barbara Keenan
    Holbrook, N.Y. 11741

    Mar. 17, 1984

    Dear Mrs. Keenan:

    I have your letter of January 11th and thank you for it. According to the new Code of Canon Law, “The obligation of assisting at Mass is satisfied wherever Mass is celebrated in a Catholic rite either on the day of obligation itself or in the evening of the previous day.” (Canon 1248:1)

    I hope that settles your doubts. In the meantime, I send you and your loved ones my blessing and wish you God’s choicest graces.

    Faithfully in Christ,

    Silvio Card. Oddi.

    Exchange of letters is cited in a pamphlet “Why the Traditional Latin Mass?”
    published by the Society of St Pius X at their seminary in Winona, Mn.

    Although Mrs Kennan in her letter to Cardinal Oddi speaks of her specific attachment to one chapel of the Society of St Pius X, it will be noted that the Cardinal in his reply makes no reference to the particular chapel nor indeed to the Society of St Pius X but rather states the canonical principle that assistance “at Mass is satisfied wherever Mass is celebrated in a Catholic rite” which applies equally to Our Lady of Fatima where the same Mass is celebrated according to the Missale Romanum that was used prior to the Second Vatican Council.

  3. Father Z, As usual, I find your comments well thought out and reasonable.

    I believe many Catholics still do not understand that in order to fulfill one’s Sunday obligation, one does not have to receive Holy Communion. Catechesis in this area is so faulty, it is hard to comprehend.

    We have gone from days of very few EVER receiving Holy Communion at Mass to EVERYONE always receiving it–even at Traditionalist locations.

    For the record, I have written the PCED twice on this matter requesting clarification on whether or not the reception of Holy Communion is a sin or a proximate occasion of sin at an SSPX chapel.

    In both instances, the PCED has refused to answer this explicit question. They say one may fulfill one’s Sunday obligation, as most all of us now know. But they then reiterate that they cannot recommend attendance there–which we all know as well.

    But just because they cannot recommend attendance there, does not mean that depending upon the circumstances, one should not go there.

    They then do not answer the question regarding whether or not it is sinful to receive Holy Communion. I have concluded that since I have done everything in my power to find out what the Church authoritatively teaches on this matter, and they refuse to answer, that indeed, it is not sinful. Otherwise, they would have been obligated to let me know since I have asked the specific question.

  4. Angelo: The question of whether Mass obligation is fulfilled at an SSPX Mass has long been settled. And that doesn’t have anything to do with the question.

  5. malta says:

    A once taboo book, Iota Unum, is now, apparently, being seriously discussed by the intelligentsia in Rome:


    Therefore, the “softening of hearts” might be coming from Rome as well. It would be wonderful in Pope Benedict XVI lifted the “excommunications,” (if Paul VI lifted the excommunication against an Eastern patriarch, why not SSPX?) and then it would be wonderful if the four Bishops of SSPX traveled to Rome to submit themselves in full fidelity to Benedict, leaving aside any agreement on Vatican II, since Vatican II is non-dogmatic and not doctrinal.

  6. Martinporr says:

    We’re talking reception of communion here though, not attendance at holy mass. Attendance at holy mass is require on all holy days including Sundays, but reception of communion is required only once per year.

  7. Michael says:


    Would you mind explaining your warning not to receive communion in a bit more detail? I really do not understand why you would recommend against receiving Holy Communion. Do you suppose receiving Communion is more of an outward sign of defiance that attendance and participation at Mass, or do you question the specific validity of the Sacrament? I know you agree with Rome that SSPX Masses, in general, are valid but are you concerned that due to their imperfect communion a Mass under specific circumstances could more likely be invalid?

  8. Larry says:

    It iseems to me that the matter of receiving Holy Communion at an SSPX Mass is quite similar to the matter of receiving Holy Communion at an Orthodox Mass. Their Sacraments are valid and the excommunications have been lifted but we do not receive the Holy Eucharist because we are not in full union with them nor they with us. In exceptional circumstances, s Sacramental Emergency then yes we can receive from them and they from us. Mark above notes that he has no problem because he is in union with Rome. But that is the point. You are bearing witness to a communion that does not exist. While you are in union with Rome you are disobeying the directives of Roman by doing what you want not what Rome asks.
    Fr. Z it seems to me has hit the anil on the head here and while there are some difficult quirks in the matter like he says you can’t fool God. Obedience, obedience, obedience will get us where we ultimately desire to be… with God for all eternity.

  9. Larry, not quite. The Orthodox do not allow communion by Catholics in their divine liturgies, and as such, we should respect that request.

    The SSPX priests forbid no Catholic in the state of grace from receiving Holy Communion AND the PCED has refused to give a definitive answer to the question.

  10. Geoffrey says:

    I was once going to attend an SSPX Mass in my diocese, but the Bishop had it shut down (it was going to take place in the cemetery chapel). I had planned to go for devotion, and not receive Holy Communion since I am not in communion with the SSPX. Why? In their 2006 prayer book titled “Christian Warfare”, this item can be found under the examination of conscience before going to confession:

    “Have you attended and actively participated in the ‘New Mass’? Have you received Holy Communion in the hand?”

    My answer? “All the time” and “I used to”. Are these sins? No. Until they settle this, I don’t forsee any unity, which is indeed a shame.

  11. D. S. says:

    laudetur JS CHS!

    Thanks F. Z. for Your charitable/benevolent comment.

    Though I think the FSSPX is (fully) justified in their disobedience whilst You are of an other opinion (that they are not justified in their dissobedience), I recognice Your fair and/or complaisant style of discussion.


    in CHO per Mam

  12. D. S. says:

    Correction to my bad English: “their disobedience” must be correct “its disobedience”, needn´t it? (sorry, I am German…)

  13. Michael says:

    “It iseems to me that the matter of receiving Holy Communion at an SSPX Mass is quite similar to the matter of receiving Holy Communion at an Orthodox Mass”

    Except that we may not attend an orthodox mass. Despite the fact that some excommunications were lifted, the orthodox, as far as I know, remain in open schism.

  14. Larry says:

    Brian Mershon,

    My point was not that we can receive Choly Communion at Orthodox Liturgies. That is precisely what we cannot do. But I believe that contained in the bi-lateral aggreement that lifted the mutual excommunications it was agreed that in emergency (life threatening situations) we could receive not only the Eucharist; but, also absolution and anointing usnder their ritual, and they can have the same from our Church. If I am incorrect please show me where I am wrong. Of course we should respect their Liturgy and not present ourselves because we are not in full union.

  15. It is against the teaching of the Orthodox Church to admit non-Orthodox (what the call Catholic) to the sacraments.

    The Catholic Church allows Catholics to receive from any validly ordained priest (even a non-practicing one who has had his faculties removed) in danger of the death.

    If an Orthodox priest does this for a Catholic, he is violating Orthodox teaching.

  16. Larry says:


    I stand corrected at least in part. The link below to EWTN is a document speaking about Catholic/Orthodox meetings and agreements. The one sited is between Rome and the Syrian Orthodox Church whereby members of either faith may receive the Sacraments of Eucharist, Penance and Anointing of the Sick from the other Church when the person is not able to get to his own Church. I am certain taht other agreements are being discussed with other Orthodox Churches.


  17. Malta: I see it like this.
    Rome:“You say sorry and then we’ll lift the excommunication”
    SSPX:“You lift the excommunication, and then we’ll say sorry”


    Larry: “Fr. Z it seems to me has hit the anil on the head here..” Really? What does Fr. Z. have against the West Indian plant to do such a thing. :)

    I think that the NO would have to be really bad for me to attend a SSPX mass.

  18. Diane says:

    Fr. Z,

    I just wanted to pass along that many times I have tried to search for something using keywords for particular topics on your blog – posts I remember but want to revisit, and it does not go very well. Hopefully, a good search solution and/or template can be provided in your next gen blog.

    I have actually had the best luck by using “Fr. Z and [fill in the blank]” in google, but even that doesn’t work often times. I use this when I want to know if you have blogged on a topic as well, with occasional luck.

    In fact, the blogger search tool I have on my own blog is not as good as google. I google my own stuff sometimes!

  19. TNCath says:

    Larry wrote: “Fr. Z it seems to me has hit the nail on the head here and while there are some difficult quirks in the matter like he says you can’t fool God. Obedience, obedience, obedience will get us where we ultimately desire to be… with God for all eternity.”

    Indeed. People tend to interpret rules to suit their own selfish ends. The man arrested for speeding will claim the police officer who caught him was hiding illegally behind a bush.

  20. Trey says:

    Off topic I know, but can one fulfill the Sunday obligation by attending an Orthodox Church. Taking Communion is obv. a sep. issue – it would not be allowed by the Eastern Church’s discipline.

  21. Trey, if otherwise impeded by some good reason, one MAY attend an Orthodox Divine Liturgy to fulfill one’s Sunday obligation.

    Of course, according to TNCath, there is really never any reason to ever attend an SSPX chapel nor an Orthodox Divine Liturgy when there is a Novus Ordo available.

    Of course, that is only his own personal interpretation of canon law and not that of the Church.

  22. Brian: Not quite. If a person is that impeded, they are dispensed from their obligation.

  23. TNCath says:

    Brian Mershon: “Of course, that is only his own personal interpretation of canon law and not that of the Church.”

    Brian, it is not my personal interpretation of canon law, but what I believe the Church would expect from me. If there were a Novus Ordo available, I would certainly choose it over a SSPX chapel or Orthodox Divine Liturgy. If I’m wrong on this, Fr. Z., please correct me.

  24. Patrick says:

    How does this square with Archbishop Burke’s statement:

    “The faithful who approach a schismatic priest for the reception of the sacraments, except in the case of danger of death, commit a mortal sin. All of the faithful of the archdiocese should guard against any participation in the attempt to celebrate the sacraments or sacramentals at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church. Also, they should caution visitors and others who are unaware of the status of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, lest they unknowingly participate in the schismatic acts.”

    Granted he is addressing a specific situation, but if the circumstances are the same…for instance, we know the bishops of SSPX are excommunicated and schismatic…then doesn’t this apply to them as well? Arch Burke even warns against people “unknowingly” particpating in the Mass. This would eliminate the moral possibility of attending a Mass by any of the SSPX bishops even if one did not personally adhere to the schism. According to this, it doesn’t seem possible to morally attend such a Mass.

  25. Michael says:

    Patrick wrote: \”for instance, we know the bishops of SSPX are excommunicated and schismatic…then doesn’t this apply to them as well\”

    Not according to the Church. The Bishops of the SSPX have theoretically incurred the penalty of a latae sententiae excommunication but are not schismatic. The priests have not been excommunicated, latae sententiae or otherwise.

  26. Patrick: How does this square with Archbishop Burke’s statement:

    “The faithful who approach a schismatic priest for the reception of the sacraments, except in the case of danger of death, commit a mortal sin.”

    I wonder whether you might be confusing being excommunicated with being schismatic. The four SSPX bishops were excommunicated, but statements by some high authorities (e.g., Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos) appear to raise doubt that they are schismatic.

    But even if the four SSPX bishops are schismatic, there appears to be even more doubt that “mere” priests of the SSPX are schismatic. If they are not, then Archbishop Burke’s statement might prohibit reception of communion from an SSPX bishop, but not from another SSPX priest.

  27. Patrick says:


    Thank you…that’s what I thought. As far as schismatic, we have both the PCILT declaration and the motu proprio ED that indicate they are schismatic.

    I realize there might be some ambiguity with the SSPX clergy (although the document from the PCILT claims the priests are most likely adhering to the schism and therefore excommunicated), but the SSPX bishops seem to be in the same situation as the priest Arch. Burke is addressing here. So, I guess it would be a mortal sin for a Catholic to assist at a Mass said by an SSPX bishop. I would imagine receiving Communion at that Mass would only add to the sin.

  28. chiara says:

    If Pope Paul VI had not disobeyed by rupturing the Sacred Tradition of the Church(read what Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in ‘Milestones’ and his preface to Mons Gamber’s book. And what Gamber himself wrote about even a Pope not having the the authority to make up a new Liturgy…..the most sacred part of the Tradition of the Church) there would be no need for this discussion as we would not have a NO Mass

    If SSPX Masses are valid, Our Lord is present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity…and we are meant to refuse Him?????

    Surely Mons Perle would have included such an important instruction in his statement on the attendance Of SSPX Masses if we were not to receive Holy Communion?

  29. Gabriel says:


    I absolutely agree. SSPX Masses are valid. The Holy Communion is the Body and Blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ and to refuse to receive Him when we are in a state of Grace is very sad. Receiving Holy Communion at a SSPX Mass is as valid as receiving it at any Traditional Mass and, while I respect the good Father Z, I cannot agree with him on this.

  30. Michael says:

    Patrick said: “So, I guess it would be a mortal sin for a Catholic to assist at a Mass said by an SSPX bishop. I would imagine receiving Communion at that Mass would only add to the sin.”

    Then you would guess wrong. While the documents you refer to may “indicate” something, Rome has definitively stated something contrary to your interpretation. She has also definitively stated that attendance at an SSPX mass (making no distinction as to the celebrant) fulfills ones Sunday obligation so cannot be a mortal sin.

    I find it a bit odd that an individual who accuses others of schism whould have the temerity to attempt to bind under pain of mortal sin what Rome has loosed.

  31. Fr. Marie-Paul says:

    This issue is a thorny one, because it must balance between full communion with Rome and the good for the individual soul in this time of apostasy and massive liturgical abuse, many times of which lead to invalid Novus Ordo Masses. Ecclesia Dei (ED) excommunicated the SSPX Bishops. One clarification found here [http://www.unavoce.org/articles/2003/perl-011803.htm] from Rev. Msgr. Camille Perl says “1.) The priests of the Society of St. Pius X are validly ordained, but they are suspended from exercising their priestly functions. To the extent that they adhere to the schism of the late Archbishop Lefebvre, they are also excommunicated.” While specific priests were not named in ED, it would behoove any attendee to learn the belief of the specific priest to see if they, by belief, include themselves in the excommunication. Bishop Bruskewitz also excommunicated the SSPX folks in his diocese in 2006. See some references: pro [http://www.ewtn.com/library/CANONLAW/BOTHWAYS.HTM] and con [http://www.sspx.org/diocesan_dialogues.htm#lincoln].

    So the SSPX Masses are valid but illicit. As the same ref above mentions “1. In the strict sense you may fulfill your Sunday obligation by attending a Mass celebrated by a priest of the Society of St. Pius X.” So the personal risk is being around those who do not remain in full communion with Rome – that is their beliefs may pollute your soul. Basically this is avoiding the near occasion of sin. Therefore the same Msgr. Camille Perl says “2. We have already told you that we cannot recommend your attendance at such a Mass and have explained the reason why.” My personal experience with SSPX’ers is well on the side of their schismatic thinking, rejecting Vatican II and saying there is no need to follow the bad Pope because he promotes novelties while Archbishop Lefebvre (and SSPX successors) are the ones interpreting Tradition correctly.

    Taking Holy Communion is a sign of unity, and therefore taking Holy Communion at an SSPX Mass implies one’s agreement with the SSPX position against Rome.

    My pastoral recommendation is that SSPX is the choice of desperate last resort only when N.O. Masses are invalid (not just irreverent). The suffering you may have to endure in an irreverent N.O. Mass while remaining in full communion with Rome will bring you extra Graces from suffering well. Offer it up! If you want the Tridentine Mass, find an FSSP or ICK chapel instead for a good TLM from an Order which is in full communion with Rome. If you have to drive farther, then do so. Or find a reverent N.O. parish out there – they do exist, even if a bit of a drive is needed there too.

  32. Piers-the-Ploughman says:

    If there are children involved, it is very problematic to “offer it up.”
    Even for adults, this is not advice that would fit all circumstances.

  33. rljfp says:

    I agree with Piers. In our NO parish we have so much irreverence that offering it up is useless. Walking up and down the aisle during the homily making jokes with the parishioners and telling folks how they are the church and that no man in Rome can tell people what to do since he is just the bishop of Rome with no more authority than our own bishop; The peace sign takes about 5 minutes while folks get out of the pews and find who ever; during the Our Father everyone grabs onto each others’ hands and sway as their arms are reaching up to heaven in imitation of the celebrant; Father tries to say the communion prayer by memory and then usually forgets a good part of it and when asked about it he smugly replies that 1-you can use the missalette and 2-go to another parish. Father allows the lay minister to go to the tabernacle and retrieve the ciborium and afterwards while Father is seated the lay minister returns it to the tabernacle without a single genuflection; scantily clothed eucharist ministers with their navels showing in short shorts, the casual approach to receiving Holy Communion while the piano is playing contemporary music. No member in my family receives Holy Communion during his services. Many of the parishioners think Father is the hottest thing alive and are so brainwashed that whatever he says is gospel. When it comes to the point that you are so angry at what has happened, and you feel like snapping at your family because of the irreverence; no way should anyone leave the church like that! You should not leave Holy Mass ANGRY AND FRUSTRATED. You should leave Mass feeling at peace and united with Christ. I stopped taking my clan there when the youngest and the oldest started imitating what they saw. I thank God for the SSPX chapel that we assisted at because the Mass was reverent; every homily included something from the Pope’s teaching (JPII and BXVI) that was tied in with the gospel. Receiving Holy Communion without worrying if it were consecrated was so satisfying for us that for most people just wouldn’t understand. The pastor at the chapel knew our situation and welcomed us and the congregation did likewise. We explained to Father that we wouldn’t be able to assist any longer when we got an indult Mass. As the good shepherd he is he gave us his blessing and promised to pray for us. How many NO priests would do that on their own?

  34. RC says:

    Cdl. Oddi’s letter is the usual point of reference in the question of SSPX Masses and the Sunday obligation, but things might have been different.

    After all, the letter was written before the illicit consecrations by Abp. Lefebvre. If Church authorities had wished, they could well have declared, post “Ecclesia Dei Adflicta”, that the status of the SSPX had changed and that Cdl. Oddi’s guidance in January 1984 would need to be revised. That this guidance has not been reversed by Rome is an act of forbearance.

  35. Sorry, Father Z., but this is pure hogwash.

    You cite no canonical sources, only your personal convictions, opinions etc. which are worth as much as the SSPX Roman Catholic priests’ personal opinions on certain matters.

    A Roman Catholic priest under (non-declared) censure of suspension can be approached by any of the faithful for the Holy Sacraments and they can legitimately receive them from them. This is CIC 1983. Not what you allege.

    Sorry, but you should not put yourself up as an authority with capacities you do not have, with all due respect.

    The whole resistance of the SSPX against the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar changes and “newer” teachings is already justified by the poster above who admits that there are Novus Ordos which are invalid celebrated and that faithful are confronted with them.

    Everybody can receive Holy Communion from an SSPX Priest. Whoever claims one cannot, is nothing more but a politician trying to demonize or ostracize the Society of St. Pius X, which has flaws and is not thé Roman Catholic Church (though certainly a large part of the remnant Roman Catholic Church).

    The Vatican under the new Code of Canon Law explicitly – in the wake of ecumenist mania – encourages Eastern Catholics to receive Holy Communion from Eastern dissident schismatics and heretics manifestly nót in communion with the Most Holy Roman Church (something the SSPX is not, it is neither heretic nor schismatic), all for the sake of “ecumenism” and the “unity of Christians”. I know also of modern-day Rome and local archdioceses explicitly encouraging Syriac miaphysites (monophysites) to come and receive Holy Communion at (whatever rite) Catholic Eucharistic celebrations.

    So, please, Father, give me a break, and provide some references from Church Law, Church Teaching and Canonical Manuals, next time you allege things as these. If you want to criticize the SSPX, do so on contents of their resistance activities. Not on this issue, please.

    God bless,

  36. PAT says:

    Fr. Marie-Paul: My pastoral recommendation is that SSPX is the choice of desperate last resort only when N.O. Masses are invalid (not just irreverent). …

    A question: What is it that would make a Novus Ordo (or for that matter, any other) Mass invalid? For example, are the Mr.-Potato-Head-style Masses valid?

    By the way, there is another of them, Potato Head redux and the smoke of Satan, linked through The Hermeneutic of Continuity.

    Thank you!

  37. Patrick says:


    It is not my assertion that one cannot attend Mass said by an excommunicated and schismatic priest (which would include all 4 SSPX bishops, and probably nearly all of their priests per the authoritative declaration from the PCILT), it is Archbishop Burke’s. Since he is one of the foremost canonists in the world and a member of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, I am inclined to agree with his assessment. I stand by my assertion that receiving Holy Communion while in the act of committing a mortal sin is not at all a good thing.

    And just to be clear, the official documents of the Church indicate that the Lefebvrists are in schism. The PCILT stated in 1996, “the entire Lefebvrist movement is held to be schismatic.” That is an authoritative declaration.

    When evaluating one’s attendance at a Mass said by an excommunicated and schismatic priest either Arch. Burke is correct that it is immoral, or Msgr. Perl is correct and it is not immoral. They cannot both be correct. Given the carefully documented legal style with which Archbishop writes as well as his deep knowledge of Church law, I side with Archbishop Burke here. It is seriously sinful to attend a Mass celebrated by an excommunicated and schismatic priest.

  38. RBrown says:

    Taking Holy Communion is a sign of unity, and therefore taking Holy Communion at an SSPX Mass implies one’s agreement with the SSPX position against Rome.
    Comment by Fr. Marie-Paul

    But it can also be said that attending a vernacular Novus Ordo (whose foundation is the Eucharist as Meal) versus populum also implies agreement with the Protestant position against Rome.

    The SSPX situation is a very complex problem, and I think it best not to reduce it to selected legal categories or oversimplified concepts of obedience. It must be remembered that Salus Animarum est Suprema Lex in Ecclesia (c 1752).

  39. Michael says:


    There is no disagreement with your statement that “It is seriously sinful to attend a Mass celebrated by an excommunicated and schismatic priest.”

    The disagreement is whether the SSPX Priests are schismatic or excommunicated. Interpret to your hearts content, and extrapolate from unrelated issues all you want. The fact remains that Rome has spoken very clearly about this and you choose to ignore what she clearly says.

    Even more outrageous is your insistence that attendance at an SSPX Mass constitutes a mortal sin. As Father Marie-Paul pointed out Rome has stated:
    ” In the strict sense you may fulfill your Sunday obligation by attending a Mass celebrated by a priest of the Society of St. Pius X.”

    Granted there are caveats and warnings, but this is very clear. If your opinion is correct, it means that Rome has granted permission for the laity to commit a mortal sin.

  40. Dave says:

    I am the person who submitted the above question to Fr. Z. Thanks for your response, Father. However, I asked you if SSPX Masses were sacrilegious because they weren’t fully in union with Rome, and you said you didn’t think so. I don’t think I was clear enough there, and I apologize for that. Anyway, SSPX priests are suspended, and I thought Masses celebrated by suspended priests, regardless of the reason for suspension, were sacrilegious.

  41. Patrick says:


    Sorry if I was not clear. As I have mentioned several times: I am speaking here of the BISHOPS of the SSPX. Because we know that they are excommunicated AND schismatic, by virtue of the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei and the subsequent declaration from the PCILT. That said, it would be seriously sinful (as you agree) to attend Mass said by an SSPX bishop.

    Now, regarding the priests of the SSPX: IF they are in schism, then they are excommunicated. The PCILT says that they probably are: “6. In the case of the Lefebvrian deacons and priests there seems no doubt that their ministerial activity in the ambit of the schismatic movement is a more than evident sign of the fact that the two requirements mentioned above (n.5) are met, and thus that there is a formal adherence.” This seems to me to indicate that it is “likely” that SSPX priests are schismatic and excommunicated, in which case, Arch. Burke’s point (with which you agree) would hold and attending such a Mass would be seriously sinful. SINCE, there is a doubt, though, I suppose one could morally attend, although that is not a risk that I would take.

    I suppose the ED commission ought to revise their statement to one may attend an SSPX mass, but never a Mass said by one of the 4 SSPX bishops.

    I hope that explains my position more clearly.


  42. LAS says:

    Ok………how can you be an active Priest in the “Lefebvrist Movement” and at the same time not adhere to the “schismatic act” of the 4 Bishops?

  43. Michael says:

    Ok Patrick, one more time. While your visceral reaction to the SSPX is understandable, it seems to be affecting your ability to understand what I am saying. Ironically, I have never attended an SSPX Mass and I have no immediate plans to do so.

    That being said, I do not disagree with Rome. I disagree with you. I’m not deliberately trying to bust your chops, but you are simply wrong. Lest there be any misunderstanding, I explicitly deny your assertion that the Bishops of the SSPX are schismatic.

    According to the Catholic Encyclopedia(http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13529a.htm) with my emphasis

    “However, not every disobedience is a schism; in order to possess this character it must include besides the transgression of the commands of superiors, denial of their Divine right to command.


    “Now through the centralizing evolution which emphasizes the preponderant rôle of the sovereign pontiff in the constitution of ecclesiastical unity, the mere fact of rebelling against the bishop of the diocese is often a step toward schism; it is not a schism in him who remains, or claims to remain, subject to the Holy See.

    So, despite what you are very certain lies in the hearts of the SSPX Bishops, for a charge of schism to stand there must be an explicit and public declaration by the Bishops themselves. They must openly deny His Holiness’ Divine right to command and they cannot claim to be subject to the Holy See. To my best understanding, the Bishops publicly and openly state the opposite.

    I agree that consecration of a Bishop without an explicit Papal mandate is a “schismatic act” and is “a step toward schism”, to borrow the words from the encyclopedia, but in and of itself this single act is wholly inadequate to determine if a schism exists. I also agree with Cardinal Castillo-Lara who stated to the press that the episcopal consecrations of 1988 were not in themselves a schismatic act since the Code of Canon Law does not treat illicit episcopal consecrations as per se schismatic.

    This means, that the best one can determine is that there is some doubt as to whether the Bishops are schismatic. What I do not understand is why you refuse to believe Msgr. Perl, Cardinal Cassidy and Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos who rather explicitly state that no schism exists. Instead you rely on a document from the PCILT (who does not have competence in this area, the PCED does) that states what “seems to be

  44. Patrick says:


    Press conferences and magazine interviews do not overrule the official declaration by The Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts (who DOES have competency to interpret legislative texts like Ecclesia Dei NOT the Ecclesia Dei Commission) which stated very clearly in 1996:

    “As long as there are no changes which may lead to the re-establishment of this necessary communion, the WHOLE LEFEBVRIAN MOVEMENT IS HELD TO BE SCHISMATIC, in view of the existence of a formal declaration by the Supreme Authority on this matter.” – Declaration on the Excommunication of the Followers of Archbishop Lefebvre

    That says they are in schism. Period. You can create doubt in regard to the priests of the SSPX, but there is no doubt regarding the bishops unless you ignore the authoritative declarations of the Holy See. Until another authoritative statement is issued, they remain officially schismatic.

  45. D. S. says:


    Also an authoritative decleration is not infallible. It can be wrong – and this is.

    Like Michael I can quote Castillo-Lara and other Canonists (like the German Prof. G. May) who stress, that such an illicit consecration does not constitute a schism itselfe. See also the CIC: such a consecration is not under the rubric/title “de delictis contra religionem et eccl. unitatem”, so evidently NOT seen as a schismatic/schism-constituting act itselfe.

    Same does say the source quoted by Michael – and I can give you more sources.

    According to “…it is not a schism in him who remains, or claims to remain, subject to the Holy See.” (see above) as long as the bishops and priests of the FSSPX claim to remain subject to the Holy See they are undoubtly not schismatic. (And even if you would insist that there remains some doubt you can, at least, not say that they are obviously schismatic. Honestly that´s not possible [anymore now]!).

    So as long as you do not give some counter-sources, promoting the opinion that such a illicit consecration is intrinsec schismatic , Michaels (and my) argument and quotation is convincing.
    (Counter-sources means theological sources about the quaestio iuris, not, like your cited source, just a decleration and handeling only with the quaestio facti – that´s not a source to argue with concerning the quaestio iuris!)

    In CHo per Mam

  46. Michael says:


    To clear the table, this discussion is not limited to the status of the SSPX Bishops, contrary to what you seemed to say earlier. I think we can agree that if the Bishops of the SSPS are schismatic, the entire society is a schismatic sect.

    Now, where were we. Oh yes. Two different Church officials, each with at least theoretical authority and competence in a specific area have made not only different but polar opposite statements regarding the same issue. One point in your favor is that the PCILT made a formal and “official” declaration while the PCED contradicted it with informal and unofficial declarations. On the other hand, if Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos is the “competent authority” I would think that his answers to a specific question would be at least definitive if not binding.

    Is it a valid point though? Can we as Catholics safely disregard clear and unambiguous statements if they are not “officially” issued by the competent authority? You are saying “I will ignore what the Cardinal says because I have a ‘document from the competent authority'” By what logic then, do you accept (or do you?) the revised Good Friday prayer? It certainly was not “officially” released and was not issued by the “competent authority”. Does not this attitude of disregarding advice, instruction and teaching unless it is in a “document from the competent authority” reduce the Priesthood to that of dispenser of the Sacraments? I am sure that Father Z would be less than pleased to know that all of his efforts here are in vain.

    This all brings us back to what I stated earlier. Until there is explicit confirmation from Rome, the best (or worst, depending on your perspective) that can be said is that there is some doubt about the status of the SSPX. While I may think that your opinion is unreasonable, it is at least understandable especially given the confusion surrounding this issue. Where I draw the line though is when you, on the basis of your opinion, accuse others of mortal sin. This is where you cross into schism usurping the authority to bind and loose.

  47. Patrick says:


    Thanks for the response.

    For the record, I did not claim that they are in mortal sin. I claimed that Archbishop Burke’s statement would seem to indicate such a fact. I guess I am looking for a distinction between the SSPX bishops (I realize there is a case for doubt with the priests) and Fr. Bozek in St. Louis. Both have been proclaimed excommunicated. Both have been declared schismatic. Both continue to claim that they are not in schism and are fully Catholic. What is the difference between the two? The seem identical.

    Another note, Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos is not the competent authority to provide interpretations to legislative documents. However, he is far more knowledgable than I am. This is why I agree that we need clarification. There is a tension between Archbishop Burke’s treatment of excommunicated and schismatic priests and the treatment by the Ecclesia Dei Commission.

    The reason we need clarification is that, as Archbishop Burke points out, the stakes are so high. Indeed they are high enough that Arch. Burke warns that Catholics have an obligation to “should caution visitors and others who are unaware of the status of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, lest they unknowingly participate in the schismatic acts.” This indicates that even the unknowing participation in a schismatic Mass is a danger to the soul. For this reason, because the stakes are so high and the danger so great, I believe the most prudent action is to avoid attendance at such Masses until such time as there is clear direction from Rome. To NOT avoid such Masses is to risk “unknowingly” participating in a schismatic act.

  48. Michael says:

    Your statement that “Another note, Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos is not the competent authority to provide interpretations to legislative documents.” is perhaps the only other area in which we disagree. You seem quite sure, where I am not so sure. According to the Vatican
    See here:
    and here:

    It seems that if the society were a schismatic sect, the competent authority would be the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, but neither of us is suggesting that.

    The Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts on the other hand appears to be limited to “…particular laws and general decrees issued by legislators below the level of the supreme authority…” (see Art. 158 for the full text). Their interpretive authority also seems to be further limited to universal laws of the Church(Art. 155). You would be hard pressed to convince me that Pope John Paul II’s Apostilic Letter Ecclesia Dei constitutes a “universal law”. I’m not even sure if it could rightfully be considered a legislative document at all. In any case, the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei was established by that same apostolic letter and specifically charged with its oversight so I do not see how their authority is limited or negated by another council who perhaps has overlapping authority.

  49. Michael says:

    One final note and then I’ll stop commenting on this thread. The information may be outdated, and I could only find it in italian, but Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos is a member of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts.


  50. Patrick says:


    Thank you for the good and charitable discussion.

    The reason Ecclesia Dei comes under the competence of the PCILT is because ED was issued motu proprio, and as such carries the force of law equivalent to canon law.

    I think we are agreed that some clearer definition from the Holy See on the status of the SSPX would be helpful. That said, I do not think we’ll see that because of the current hopes of reconciliation. If the Holy See authoritatively confirms that the priests and bishops of the SSPX are excommunicated and in schism, that will NOT help in reaching any agreement.

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