QUAERITUR: parish priest objects to child’s 1st Communion at SSPX chapel

From a reader comes an interesting question. 

Given that – as I believe – we will be having more and more to do with followers of SSPX chapels, especially as Summorum Pontificum gets better traction, this person’s question deserves some attention:

We attend an SSPX parish every other week and our local OF every other week – we are very attached to the traditional rites of the church but are not comfortable missing mass when there is no EF available

Our oldest child (7) received her 1st communion and confession with the SSPX this spring and has received both sacraments since then in our local OF parish and at other OF and EF masses since her 1st. 

This weekend our local priest confronted me, asked where my daughter had received the sacraments, and responded that she had received the sacraments invalidly, he shouldn’t be giving her communion and would have to stop unless we remedied the problem

The problems he stated were: 1) the eucharist is invalid with the SSPX [He is wrong about that.  It is valid but illicit.] (he said they were "protestant") and 2) she was unable to receive (1st time???) out of his jurisdiction without his permission.  [Wellll….]  He had spoken to the bishop about the situation specifically and Bishop had agreed. [?]  His only suggestion was that we go through the parish training materials

As far as I can tell the parents are the primary teachers of the faith (so the training materials cannot be an impediment the the eucharist) – we homeschool and have used the St Joseph’s and Baltimore Catechisms.  She also has received at least several valid communions and confessions by now by anyone’s account.  Obviously I could add a lot more detail and history, but my questions are:

1) can my daughter be denied communion?
2) can you recall or point me to something written from the Vatican that clarifies that SSPX masses/communions (if not confessions) are at least valid (although not preferred), and
3) is it true that without permission 1st communion and confession cannot be received outside of one’s hometown parish – if not true can you please point out why not.  

Considering what I have learned the SSPX masses and holy eucharist are valid and the priest is asking us to 1) deny that validity or 2) stop receiving the sacraments at the OF because he would refuse our daughter.  I don’t really like either option.  

I am glad you take your responsibility as a parent seriously. 

I consulted a canonist whom I trust on this.  Here is the answer sent back, which I have only slightly edited.

Once a Catholic has been admitted to the Eucharist, he (or in this case, she) cannot be refused (c. 912) without the application of a canonical penalty, (and according to c. 1323, a child under the age of 16 cannot be subject to a canonical penalty), unless there is a determination that the person is "obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin. (c. 915). I don’t think the pastor would want to go there.
Reception of First Communion is not a juridic act – there is no obligation to receive the Eucharist the first time, or any time, from the pastor, nor does he have any specific authority to forbid his parishioners from receiving their First Communion outside of his parish. The pastor does have the right, under canon 914, to "exercise vigilance so that children who have not attained the use of reason or whom he judges are not sufficiently disposed do not approach holy communion." Yet the correspondent is correct that the obligation of preparing children for the Eucharist falls primarily on the shoulders of the parents.
While it is true that priests of the SSPX do not have the faculty to validly hear confessions, there is no obligation for anyone to make their First Confession – or any confession – to their pastor, or in their own parish. The young lady’s first attempted confession was invalid, but it seems that she has subsequently confessed to a priest with faculties, so I would not have scruples about the status of her soul.
The pastor does seem to be taking his job seriously – and is warning and cautioning his subjects (perhaps a bit too zealously) about the danger of approaching priests in a state of impaired communion for the Mass and the sacraments. It was imprudent of the parents to encourage their child to receive the sacraments (invalidly insofar as the confession is concerns, and illicitly insofar as the Eucharist is concerned) at the SSPX chapel. The pastor has the obligation of protecting the faithful from error and correcting them when they stray (c. 529). The faithful have the obligation of maintaining communion with the Church (c. 209), and while the desire to worship according to the traditional form of the liturgy is commendable, attending biweekly would seem to be imprudent – and receiving the Eucharist there even more so.
The pastor’s suggestion that the child go through the parish sacramental preparation program is not an undue burden for him to place on the parents – provided that the child not be denied the Eucharist to which she has already been admitted during the time it takes for her to go through the program. 

I think this is a measured and correct response.

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  1. Maybe I’m just dense, but I’m still confused about the SSPX. I gather that the priests and the bishops are under suspension; so does that mean that it would be a sin to receive Communion at an SSPX church? What about to attend the Mass without receiving Communion? Also, does an SSPX priest invalidly hear the confession of a person who is in danger of death, and cannot have recourse to a priest with proper faculties?

  2. dcs says:

    Also, does an SSPX priest invalidly hear the confession of a person who is in danger of death, and cannot have recourse to a priest with proper faculties?

    No, such a confession would be valid.

    Someone else with more knowledge will correct me, but I believe that someone in danger of death may validly confess to an SSPX priest (or other priest without faculties) even if there is priest with faculties available.

  3. dcs: In danger of death, any validly ordained priest automatically has faculties to absolve. Even a priest who was “laicized” would have faculties validly to absolve. Even if there was present a priest with regular faculties, the inactive priest or suspended or even excommunicated priest would have faculties to absolve.

  4. May I add a couple of considerations? I would suggest that forcing the child through the parish preparation programme is not necessarily reasonable. The child is either prepared or not.

    The parish priest’s job is “to exercise vigilance so that children … whom he judges are not sufficiently disposed do not approach holy communion.” (Can. 914) The pastor could judge that, even though the child had received first holy communion, he/she was not sufficiently prepared. The SSPX priests did not have the right to make this judgement for they are not pastors. If he has genuine reasons for judging that the child is not sufficiently prepared, I would suggest that he has the right/duty to ask that the child not come forward for communion.

    However, if the parents are happy with the priest’s compromise proposal, that’s fine too.

  5. moon1234 says:

    Fr. John Boyle.

    I would suggest that you read what Ecclesia Dei commission has stated about the SSPX. They ARE pastors and do validly consecreate. Ecclesia Dei has also stated a Catholic CAN validly fulfill their Sunday obligation at a SSPX parish.

    The little girl DID validly receive her first communion from the SSPX. As for her first confession, I don’t think YOU have the authority to know whether her confession was valid or not. It would depend on the little girl knowing that the SSPX priest did not have faculties and continued to receive the sacrament of penance. Since the little girl most likely did NOT know this, her first confession would still be valid.

    The Sacraments of Penance and Matrimony, however, require that the priest enjoys the faculties of the diocese or has proper delegation. Since that is not the case with these priests, these sacraments are invalid. It remains true, however, that, if the faithful are genuinely ignorant that the priests of the Society of St. Pius X do not have proper faculty to absolve, the Church supplies these faculties so that the sacrament is valid (cf. Code of Canon Law, canon 144).

    Now that the parents know, they are obliged to follow the law. If they allow their child to persist in error, then the parents would be culpable, but the child would not.

    I pray this is all resolved soon so that these problems go away and ordinary Catholics don’t need to worry about whether the sacraments from usually very holy and devout priests are valid.

  6. moon1234 says:

    One more comment about the article. Step back for a moment and look how the little girl and her parents were treated.

    The local parish priest wants to refuse them communion. Why would a priest react like this? Would not have been better to sit with the little girl and make sure she know what communion means and is? How do you think the parents felt about being approaced this way.

    Now look at the SSPX side. They willingly helped the little girl and her parents prepare for first communion. From the SSPX priests I have met, I would highly doubt she was unprepared. They tend to be MUCH more thourough in knowing if a person is “ready” for first communion.

    It is disheartening to see how this whole situation was handled. There was so much opportunity for all sides to grow from this.

  7. Greg Smisek says:

    “Pastor” is being used here in its technical, juridical sense. The Latin word is parochus, and Catholics across the Pond call the same person the “parish priest”:

    Can. 519 The pastor (parochus) is the proper pastor (pastor) of the parish entrusted to him, exercising the pastoral care of the community committed to him under the authority of the diocesan bishop in whose ministry of Christ he has been called to share, so that for that same community he carries out the functions of teaching, sanctifying, and governing, also with the cooperation of other presbyters or deacons and with the assistance of lay members of the Christian faithful, according to the norm of law.

  8. Jack Hughes says:

    This reminds me of a story about St Pius the Tenth, an English women and her son had a private audiance with the Pope, the boy was 4yrs old and told His Holiness that he looked foward to recieving the Eucharist, the Pope then asked him if he knew what the Eucharist was ,the boy answered “Jesus Christ”, the Pope then asked him who Jesus was and the boy replied God. The Holy Father then said to the mother “bring him to me tommorow and I will give him communion myself”.

  9. “Ecclesia Dei has also stated a Catholic CAN validly fulfill their Sunday obligation at a SSPX parish.”

    The response from the Commission, as I remember, basically said two things. One was that there are circumstances where the faithful MAY fulfill their obligation at an SSPX chapel. The other (which is usually left out of such defenses) is that they don’t recommend it.

    Probably because, as a rule, one cannot use an unlawful means to serve a lawful end, a caveat that has the advantage of common sense. In the case of localities where the Faith in parishes has been truly lost — we’re not talking about mere liturgical silliness, but downright errors against the Faith and invalid Sacraments — one may have no choice. That said, it seems to me that such a predicament requires one to be completely honest with oneself as to the motivations. Is there a genuine danger to the Faith present, or simply an offense to one’s sensibilities?

    If there is ever a reconciliation between the Society and Rome — may it please God — this dilemma might be avoided more easily. Personally, if I were a husband and father who was faced with the aforementioned predicament, I would be obliged to consider relocating my family to where the Faith was preserved in communion with Rome. (I recommend my own Diocese of Arlington.) “Ubi Petrus ibi Ecclesia.”

    But hey, that’s just me.

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