QUAERITUR: Mass obligation at an SSPX chapel and receiving Communion

From a reader:

I would love to attend the TLM, and there is an SSPX Chapel less than 15 miles from my home; but everytime I try to get information regarding the SSPX, I’ve received contradictory information. One “expert” claims that attendance at an SSPX chapel fulfills the Sunday Obligation, another says it doesn’t; one says that I may receive Holy Communion there, another says that I may not receive their sacraments.

I’ve also been told that I’m welcome to attend, so long as I’m only there for the love of the TLM. Are there “official rules” somewhere?

Canon 1248 § 1 of the Code of Canon Law states:

The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day.

Unless you are for a serious reason prevented from attending Mass at a recognized chapel or church, I will not recommend that you attend regularly a chapel of a group that is not in clear union with the Roman Pontiff.  If you do attend occasionally, from the motive of experiencing the TLM (and not, for example, because you reject the Church’s teaching in some way), I will not recommend receiving Holy Communion, unless there is serious reason why you cannot receive in a normal place clearly in union with the Holy Father and local bishop.  That said, it would be permissible to make a small donation when the collection is taken up.

Furthermore, if that chapel is truly a chapel staffed by an actual priest of the SSPX, then you do fulfill your obligation on days of precept by attending Mass there on the day itself or on the evening before.  However, there was a recent letter from the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” clarifying that attending Mass at some independent chapel associated with the SSPX but not actually under its aegis does not fulfill the obligation.  More on that HERE.

Pray for an end of the division and the full reconciliation of the SSPX with the Roman Pontiff.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Your answer here intrigues me and provokes reflection. I’ve been once to an SSPX chapel for Mass on an occasion when my regular TLM was bumped for a hootenanny. I did receive communion. In my research it seemed to me this was permissible and even proper. I understood not to go to Confession and that the other Sacraments should not be performed …. But Mass with Communion and a small donation I thought good-to-go.

  2. Imrahil says:

    In my research also, it seemed also quite permissible [“quite” permissible?] to receive Holy Communion for a just reason (suspensus toleratus is the catchword here), and it is fairly clear [“fairly” clear?] that the fact you happen to attend Mass there is a just reason. [It is?]

    (To attend Mass needs, nothing but, another just reason: love of the TLM is one, at least if no other would be available; personal sympathy for the specific persons actually assembled to the congregation is also one. Indeed the only unjust reasons I can think of are along the lines: “I reject the Church’s teaching”, “I always wanted to go to a Mass of a suspended priest”, etc.)

    However, Fr Z has any right to recommend not to receive Holy Communion. This, I see, would be a pious custom to remind us of the inherent problems of the status quo, even though not in itself obligatory.

    I, on my turn, recommend to always fulfill one’s duty with a perfectly legal Mass. You can go to Mass twice on a Sunday, after all; and there are enough Evening Masses, regularly, that there is no problem with the times. Duty is duty and liquor is liquor, as the Germans say. [LOL!]

    That, however, is also recommendation only.

  3. Alan Aversa says:

    The SSPX is not sedevacantist, so I’m not sure why you say, Fr. Z, that it is “a group that is not in clear union with the Roman Pontiff.” What’s unclear is the SSPX’s canonical status in the Church. [Puh-leeze! The canonical structure will follow when they accept with the Roman Pontiff offers and when they submit to him in obedience. Until then, it is not clear that they are in union with him. Maybe they are, and maybe they aren’t. We all want clarity.]

  4. Attending Mass at an SSPX chapel is admittedly not the issue here, never mind receiving Communion at the same. It is, rather, whether such attendance fulfills one’s obligation. [It does.] People will, in the course of this thread point to this letter or that statement, but NONE of them will deny this:

    One cannot use an unlawful means to accomplish a lawful end.

    The most one might be able to do, is cite an example where a valid Mass of a place in communion with Rome is unavailable at the time. Such situations are the exception, not the norm. Let it please God that one day the Society will be reconciled with Rome, and we can all find other things to complain about (repeatedly).

  5. mamajen says:

    Unlike Anglican “priests”, SSPX priests do have valid holy orders…but you have to stop and think that by receiving communion you are also publicly endorsing what they stand for (ie. their defection from Rome). This is not okay. [Perhaps. I am not so sure. By the same argument you might say that simply going there would do the same. I think many people may chose to go to their Masses not because they endorse what the SSPX is doing but rather because they simply want a reverently celebrated Mass or Mass in the Extraordinary Form and they have limited options.]

  6. Sixupman says:

    Of course it would be entirely proper, if not efficacious, to hear Mass Celebrated and Confess at a church by some cleric, say one in e.g. Linz, which would be devoid of Catholic belief, but who, nonetheless, is possessed of ‘Faculties’. The bishop, from who was facilitated ‘Faculties’, also probably of the same ilk.

    The situation is almost beyond parody!

  7. frere wilfrid says:

    Thanks for this, Fr Z. A very useful (and convincing) answer to a question I too am often asked. I will use it. But, hopefully, not for long.

  8. mamajen says:

    Yes, you have a good point Father. Personally I would not feel comfortable with attending an SSPX mass (to fulfill an obligation) if I had other options available to me. Then again, it really doesn’t create scandal or an apparent “endorsement” if nobody there knows who I am and that I normally go to a Roman Catholic church. I greatly respect their traditionalism, and I hope they will come back on board with Rome so we can all enjoy that without question.

  9. lucy says:

    There’s also an issue here with how our children are affected. We currently have a traditional Mass once a week. If for some reason that ceases to exist (and it may), then we have to think long and hard where to go. Our children are as attached to the traditional as we are. They dislike the noise and the silliness that goes on even at the best Masses in our area….even though some things are “legal” within the church, the fact remains that our children believe that girls should be not on the altar, etc. It gives our youngest scandal and prevents them from understanding why we’re suddenly going to the new Mass. What are people to do? We may be placed in this situation very soon. Do we drive two and a half hours to the nearest FSSP every Sunday? I don’t know that we can afford that. Or do we drive to the local SSPX chapel? We don’t want to do that, but we may be forced because of our traditional leanings. And though some reading may assume we’re whacko traditionalists, we’re not. We simply want a reverent, well prayed Mass.

  10. Sissy says:

    Thank you for this clarification, Father. There is an SSPX chapel fairly near me, and I’ve been tempted to attend. But I think I’ll wait until there is an official reconciliation before I visit.

  11. Dismas says:

    The Encyclical Letter, ECCLESIA DE EUCHARISTIA, gives me pause about attending an SSPX Mass. I certainly wouldn’t receive Holy Communion if I did. Here’s an excerpt:



    The Eucharist, as the supreme sacramental manifestation of communion in the Church, demands to be celebrated in a context where the outward bonds of communion are also intact. In a special way, since the Eucharist is “as it were the summit of the spiritual life and the goal of all the sacraments”,78 it requires that the bonds of communion in the sacraments, particularly in Baptism and in priestly Orders, be real. It is not possible to give communion to a person who is not baptized or to one who rejects the full truth of the faith regarding the Eucharistic mystery. Christ is the truth and he bears witness to the truth (cf. Jn 14:6; 18:37); the sacrament of his body and blood does not permit duplicity.

    39. Furthermore, given the very nature of ecclesial communion and its relation to the sacrament of the Eucharist, it must be recalled that “the Eucharistic Sacrifice, while always offered in a particular community, is never a celebration of that community alone. In fact, the community, in receiving the Eucharistic presence of the Lord, receives the entire gift of salvation and shows, even in its lasting visible particular form, that it is the image and true presence of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church”.79 From this it follows that a truly Eucharistic community cannot be closed in upon itself, as though it were somehow self-sufficient; rather it must persevere in harmony with every other Catholic community.

    The ecclesial communion of the Eucharistic assembly is a communion with its own Bishop and with the Roman Pontiff. The Bishop, in effect, is the visible principle and the foundation of unity within his particular Church.80 It would therefore be a great contradiction if the sacrament par excellence of the Church’s unity were celebrated without true communion with the Bishop. As Saint Ignatius of Antioch wrote: “That Eucharist which is celebrated under the Bishop, or under one to whom the Bishop has given this charge, may be considered certain”.81 Likewise, since “the Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity of the Bishops and of the multitude of the faithful”,82 communion with him is intrinsically required for the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Hence the great truth expressed which the Liturgy expresses in a variety of ways: “Every celebration of the Eucharist is performed in union not only with the proper Bishop, but also with the Pope, with the episcopal order, with all the clergy, and with the entire people. Every valid celebration of the Eucharist expresses this universal communion with Peter and with the whole Church, or objectively calls for it, as in the case of the Christian Churches separated from Rome”.83

  12. BaedaBenedictus says:

    “Until then, it is not clear that they are in union with him. Maybe they are, and maybe they aren’t. We all want clarity.”

    Don’t we all! There are so many parishes around me that have their paperwork in order in Rome yet are unrecognizable as Catholic. The local Paulist church with its “LGBT” liturgies is “in full communion” yet the SSPX church is not. We certainly live in interesting times. [Sad.. and weird… isn’t it? The SSPX priests and chapels are such a huge point of controversy, but “regular” priests and parishes far and wide on the progressivist side of things have gotten away with nearly everything for decades to the point where they at times seem like churches of another religion.]

  13. “[It does.]”

    In light of the maxim I have highlighted, pray tell, how? The definition of “Catholic” as found in Canon 1248 would have to involve more than which set of books is used.

  14. acardnal says:

    Well said BaedaBenedictus.

  15. Gretchen says:

    Okay. But my heart aches for a reverential Mass.


    A Catholic in the Diocese of Rochester

  16. AnnAsher says:

    “duty is duty and liquor is liquor” I’m going to remember that !

  17. Marcin says:

    How about visiting on Sunday let’s say a Syriac Orthodox church for Holy Qurbono?
    I did it once to acquaint myself with this ancient rite that I had never experienced as a living worship and to know better persecuted brethren who fled partibus infidelium in the past and who nowadays flee for their lives even faster.

    It goes without saying that I didn’t partake in Communion, however after Qurbono, the priest said that as a Catholic I would have been admitted. He justified it with an intercommunion agreement with Rome. I’m guessing any such agreement would be licit only in their native lands, not in a major metropolitan area in the US.

  18. 1987 says:

    Although I myself have never been at a SSPX chapel ON SUNDAY, I’ll drop by with my quite an informed opinion, since it comes not from my reasoning, but directly from the lips of a priest of our Lord who works for several dicasteries in the Vatican and whom many of you here at Fr. Z’s blog should have heard of.

    When I asked him if it is licit AND normal for a Catholic to attend Masses at a SSPX chapel he answered to me that IT IS NORMAL AND LICIT, indeed. No “but’s”, no “although’s”. I didn’t ask him if it is licit and normal to receive the Holy Communion, but after the first clear answer such a question simply didn’t come to my mind, the issue seemed just to clear and obvious.

  19. Mary Jane says:

    @ 1987, I don’t know what it means for it to be “normal” for one to attend mass at an SSPX chapel.

  20. “When I asked him if it is licit AND normal for a Catholic to attend Masses at a SSPX chapel he answered to me that IT IS NORMAL AND LICIT, indeed. No “but’s”, no “although’s”. “

    … which begs the question as to why we’re going to all this trouble to reconcile.

    Personally, if I had to live in some diocese where things were totally out of control, AND if I were convinced that attending an SSPX chapel (which operates outside the law of the Church) would fulfill my obligation (which operates inside the law of the Church), I would more likely than not join one myself. Then I wouldn’t have to wait for a reconciliation. And I could also convince myself that I’d never develop a “schismatic mentality” as long as I keep telling myself, “It’s not in schism …. it’s not in schism …”

  21. 1987 says:

    Mary Jane,

    the canonical situation of the Society is not normal, I think, we all agree with this, even the overwhelming part of its members do. So under normal circumstances it would not be “normal” to attend their Masses. But, as I understood from that conversation, at least some people in the Vatican understand and agree with the supplied-jurisdiction thesis of the SSPX. They admit that the situation in the Church herself is not “normal”, so the SSPX has a right to operate in a way that is not foreseen in the Code of Canon Law.

    Nevertheless, we need the reconciliation in order to normalize the situation, to help people avoid developing schismatic mentality (I think, for some people, it is already too late) and to ensure (and then to show) that this abnormal situation in the Church finishes. Therefore I hardly pray for it.

  22. FrJLP says:

    @1987: A private “attestation” by a “secret” Vatican source (whom we all would presumably know) means very little and holds absolutely no weight unless said source is willing to speak publicly on the matter as delegated authority on the matter, or is willing to produce documents and/or directives sanctioned by a competent body of the Holy See that attest to such. To borrow an image from the blogosphere: “whispers in the loggia” amount to little more than rumors and hearsay.

    And to all of you, I am sorry for the idiocy of some of my brother-priests and their liturgical and catechetical antics. Such things are shameful, really; and, they are most shameful when they cause scandal to the faithful. But…I would give the STRONGEST discernment to the matter before I started attending a body that finds union with and obedience to the Supreme Pontiff so difficult. I would rather be where Peter is then attempt an ecclesial way without him.

  23. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Fr Z,

    you caught me using inexplicit terms. Please forgive.

    As to your question: Presuming I am mortally certain to be in a state of grace, fulfil the canonicial (New Code!) requirements to be able to recieve, and am allowed in itself to attend this specific Holy Mass offered by an SSPX priest (which in itself needs a just cause, of course), then, yes, I’m allowed (on the same grounds) to enjoy what in a Christian able to do so belongs to the normal form of participation, i. e. Communion.

    Allowed, that is. You do have grounds for your recommendation, as a recommendation.

  24. silicasandra says:

    I normally attend the OF, so my opinion on this matter is probably not as significant as someone who really wants the EF, but whenever this question comes up I wonder why not just attend Mass twice (provided they aren’t offered at the same time) if you’re not sure if the one at the SSPX chapel satisfies the obligation? I don’t think there is a limit on how many Masses you attend in a day, even if there is a limit on how many times you may receive Communion.

    One time on vacation I attended a Mass that was of questionable validity, even to me who didn’t/doesn’t know much about these things. I decided to attend another Mass later that day at a different parish since I had the option. If I wouldn’t have had the option, I wouldn’t have scrupled about it, but it wasn’t a big deal to me to be in church for another hour on Sunday.

  25. Mary Jane says:

    @ 1987, ahh, the supplied jurisdiction argument. Fr Z has had more than one post on the SSPX and their sacraments with respect to supplied jurisdiction. Canon law is very clear on when jurisdiction is and when it is not provided.

    As an aside, I’ve never heard the supplied jurisdiction argument applied to SSPX masses. That’s a new one for me.

  26. “I would give the STRONGEST discernment to the matter before I started attending a body that finds union with and obedience to the Supreme Pontiff so difficult. I would rather be where Peter is then attempt an ecclesial way without him.”

    What he said.

  27. Central Valley says:

    Great post Fr. Z. We were recently put in a postion of the diocese TLM being moved and the drive and time conflicted with work obligations. SSPX in my city is growing.

  28. St. Rafael says:

    I have never understood all this modern terminology clerics have been using all these decades.

    What does “union with the Pope” even mean? Union with Pope/no union with Pope = Schism?
    Does not being in union with the Pope mean schism from the Pope? You are in either in a state of schism or you are not. I would really like to see what you mean by being in union or not in union with the Pope. Does “not in union” = schism?

  29. BaedaBenedictus says:

    “But…I would give the STRONGEST discernment to the matter before I started attending a body that finds union with and obedience to the Supreme Pontiff so difficult. I would rather be where Peter is then attempt an ecclesial way without him.”

    Father, it seems to me that it may be the Holy See that finds it difficult to have official union with the SSPX. Rejecting novel propositions from Vatican II on religious liberty and ecumenism shouldn’t be a church-dividing issue, should it? But it is precisely the political difficulties surrounding these issues (both ecclesial and secular politics) that prevents Rome from regularizing the SSPX’s paperwork without demanding some form of assent to these novel propositions.

    It truly is a sad situation, for there isn’t really anything doctrinally that should reasonably keep them out. I mentioned the Paulists in my previous post, a priestly fraternity that is in many ways post-Catholic or even post-Christian. If there is nothing keeping them out, what is there to keep the SSPX out?

    I hope and pray that in the near future the ecclesial (especially episcopal) climate will become amenable to welcoming these Catholic priests into the official fold without requiring them to violate their consciences about traditional Church teachings on religious liberty and ecumenism because of some ambiguous statements from the Council.

    Is what they believe about these non-dogmatic issues so beyond the pale that they should be kept out? Recall that several decades ago, adherence to the traditional Roman rite was also considered beyond the pale by many higher-ups, and in the early 80s Blessed John Paul II was prevented from liberating it SP-style because of the fierce hostility from so much of the episcopate, the same episcopate that moved originally to suppress Lefebvre’s fraternity in the chaotic years of the mid-70s.

    The Williamsons are like dogs that were kicked too much back in those days and are now mean and hostile. But the Fellays are open, as long as they can sign this preamble Rome requires of them with a clear conscience.

    “Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity. One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden.  This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to enable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew. . . .  Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.”

    Benedict XVI, 7 July 2007

    Is there room for Catholics like the SSPX in the modern Church? I dare say yes, and I pray that hearts are open to unity on both sides so that a canonical unification takes place to cement a communion already existing in spirit and truth.

  30. Roguejim says:

    My home parish, St. Anne’s in southern Oregon, is the home of the internationally vaunted “Poodle Mass”. My pastor, on occasion, has seen fit to remove his vestments just prior to the homily, don a ski jacket and Oregon Ducks ski cap to deliver his homily from atop an 8-ft step ladder. But we are in UNION with Rome, or so I assume…certainly with the Archbishop of Portland, Oregon who is lauded for his “Mariachi Masses”, and other teen-directed Masses. So, what does “in union” mean again? And also, who decides who is in union/not in union with Rome?

  31. BaedaBenedictus says:

    “I would really like to see what you mean by being in union or not in union with the Pope. Does “not in union” = schism?”

    Well, one could say that being “not in union” without being in schism means “canonically irregular”. Before the development of global communications and the ultramontane era of papal history (with its centralized Curial bureaucracy), this kind of state was more common.

    Since time immemorial, one of the signifiers of schism is whether the Supreme Pontiff and the canonical bishop are commemorated in the Canon at Mass. That’s the difference, of course, between the SSPX or schismatic groups like the SSPV or the Orthodox churches. If a priest recognizes papal jurisdiction, he will offer the Sacrifice in union with the pope during the Canon.

    Even today, when Orthodox churches break communion with each other (which happens from time to time), they are described as “striking [bishop or patriarch] from the diptychs” that are read in the Divine Liturgy. In 1054, for example, Patriarch Michael Cerularius removed the Bishop of Rome’s name from the diptychs on the altar in the cathedral of Constantinople, signifying with that act that the Church of Rome was in schism with the Church of Constantinople.

  32. FrJLP says:

    @BaedaBenedictus: Perhaps there is room for their disagreements about religious liberty, ecumenism, et. al. But what, then, of unlawfully celebrating sacraments? What of the confessions they have no jurisdiction to hear, the weddings they have no delegation to witness, the ordinations they celebrate without dimissorial authority??? If they want to taut Tradition and claim to be the champions of the same, perhaps taking seriously Pastor Aeternus from Vatican I would be a good start…. Who is the Supreme Shepherd of Christ’s flock on earth? Who is the Supreme Legislator? Who holds the plenitude of ordinary and extraordinary jurisdiction?

    Every morning when I pray Psalm 95 at the beginning of the Divine Office, at vv. 7-9 I ask the Lord to soften hearts and heal divisions and crucify the pride that keeps Christ’s body wrent asunder…

  33. jacobianflaherty says:


    Thank you for your prayers for this situation.

    I once had a very difficult time when this family member told me that he was joining this chapel. I disagree, and still do with the politics of the whole affair. I hope and pray that relations are normalized. But I know him – he is one of the most Christ-like, Christ-desiring people I know. He argues with another Evangelical relative in defense of the Church and the truths she teaches, etc… He instructs and leads his young and growing family and guides what movies they watch, what they wear, and prays rosaries with them regularly every night. And you know what led him to this? Refuge. He grew up not uber-interested in the Faith, but still attending Mass weekly. When he went away to go get his Master’s Degree, he could not find a Catholic Church anywhere near him that felt or seemed, well, Catholic. It was clown Masses, and football joke Masses, and funny-egocentric priest Masses. There was absolutely no sense of the sacred and his own spiritual life was in jeopardy, along with the occasions of sin that come as a result. He searched over 11 Catholic Churches in the area, and could not find one that “seemed right”. He wasn’t even educated well-enough to know all the subtleties of the Faith or to have a sort of “liturgical elitism”- only that what he was seeing “didn’t seem right”.

    I may not agree with his politics, but I am not going to burden myself, as I once did, with this. There is little stomach to fight these guys when so much garbage is allowed to happen in the every-day parish with nothing getting done about it. (That’s why I like reading this blog – somebody pointing the right direction!) I will pray, and I will continue, in my capacity, to try to make Christ more known and loved in the N.O. Masses I assist at. But I will not condemn the man who, simply because He needs Christ, not a self-worshipping assembly love-fest, attends an SSPX chapel on occasion.

    Please fight the good fight in your parish! To be saintly is to preach the truth fully and to love fully. Some of us think that in order to preach the truth we must be stern all the time. Some of us think that in order to love, we must be tolerant of everything. But what if a priest was absolutely “rock solid” at Mass, totally committed to his duty, and then, on the outside, was jovial, loved the children, talked to the elderly, played ball with the families on occasion, etc…? Why does he have to confuse and intertwine these roles? If you are committed to the Truth, and then show us genuine Christian love, you have then truly been “another Christ”. That is what I want, what my family member wants, and what I suspect many want. Prayers are essential. But also is a little courage from the episcopacy to be a father to the priests and a little courage from the priests, to fraternally correct their brother priests when they just need a swift kick in the pants “in Jesus’ name.”

  34. Rachel K says:

    Dear Readers…..

    “The Masses they (SSPX) celebrate are also valid, but it is considered morally illicit to participate in these Masses unless they are physically or morally impeded from participating in a Mass celebrated by a Catholic priest in good standing (cf. Code of Canon Law, canon 844.2).”

    NOW- the really important bit!

    “The fact of not being able to assist at the celebration of the so-called “Tridentine” Mass is NOT considered a sufficient motive for attending such Masses.” (my emphasis)

    These quotes are from the Ecclesia Dei Commision in a letter to Mr Windsor of Arizona, addressing the issue of there being few indult Masses in his area (this is in 1995, when the Universal Indult was not yet in effect.

    You can find the letter at http://www.cpats.org/CPATSAnswerDirectory/Answers_to_Questions/2000_08August

    Please, dear friends, this is the written direction from the relevant Commision telling us where we stand. Yes, we need to pray very much for the sad situation which we are all hopeful will be resolved soon. In the meantime we can further this end by showing our obedience and giving good example in this even when we may prefer to be attending a TLM in an SSPX chapel.
    Perhaps offering up the suffering of a assisting at a less-than -well-done Mass will speed up the reconciliation….

  35. Andrew_81 says:

    Dear Father,

    The PCED letter mentioned does reference a “Friends of the SSPX Chapel”, but in fact the chapel in question is not associated with the SSPX.

    The only connection is that the priest at the chapel in question was at one point an SSPX priest, but left the Society.

    Given that the priest in question has no standing in any congregation, diocese or otherwise, this might be why the PCED made the distinction in this case from their former communications regarding SSPX Masses, which is in agreement with your recommendations.

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