QUAERITUR: Why are SSPX Masses valid, but not marriages or absolutions?

From a reader:

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.

Not all sacraments are juridic acts, and not all juridic acts are sacraments but, as in the classic Venn Diagram, some sacraments are juridic acts.

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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. fib09002 says:

    Father, it is not my intention to contradict what you are saying here, but I guess I am just confused at the fact that someone like Father Uni, a priest at St. Cecilia’s Church in Boston, near where I used to live, who apparently is outspoken in his support of sodomy, and who has even controversially said a mass in celebration of “gay rights month”, against the explicit demands of the Archdiocese of Boston that he not do so, validly and licitly absolve sins, marry men and women, etc, whereas an SSPX priest cannot. How is that fair? How can anyone believe that that is not going to confuse the faithful?

  2. VexillaRegis says:

    Very well explained, thank you Fr. Z!

  3. Inigo says:


    What you are saying sounds a lot like donatism.

  4. RJHighland says:

    fibo9002, your logic is clear I only wish our Holy Father spoke with such clarity and there would be less confusion. I have come to the same conclusions. By the Bishops and the Vatican not casting these false teachers out of the Church and letting them continue leading their flocks astray they are inflicting great damage to the Church. Yet there is no tolerance given to the Society, go figure. At least the Society is honest and up front in their disagreements with the Church but then again they are real men, with passion for the faith and truth and not snivelling little efeminates that seem to dominate the priesthood of the Church these days. I would rather have my children taught the faith by men and women who look and act like they have been called by God to a religious vocation and teach the faith clearly than by men and women who shed their cassocks and habits (if they even have them) as quickly as possible and teach a vague and often contradictory faith. Keep fighting the good fight Father because your one of the good ones, just have to disagree with ya on this point.

  5. Thank you Father … very useful.

    I am confused on two points:

    1. With an SSPX priest ministering to Catholics, SSPX-supporters or otherwise: Sacramental acts are valid. Juridical acts are not. Acts that are simultaneously sacramental and juridical are not because they lack the juridical component? What then of confirmation and holy orders, which you list with marriage and penance as “simultaneously juridic acts”?

    2. What of Eastern Orthodox priests ministering to Eastern Orthodox faithful? Are their marriages and confessions valid? If so, why? Does full-blown acknowledged schism make them validly marrying and confessing, while the SSPX claim to fall under the Pope leaves them invalidly marrying and confession? That’s really the only difference between the SSPX and the Orthodox, as far as I can tell, in a juridical sense.

  6. Johnsum says:

    People in countries where ideologies dominate will often submit to unjust juridical acts to survive for another day. Seeing no alternatives, and for the sake of securing necessities of daily life, betray conscience to survive. Are such people fanatics or martyrs? I guess, it depends on who is making the judgement. Bending the truth to accommodate the demands of the “culture of death” (JP II’s characterization), to secure acceptance and approval of the current culture – at the very least – leaves a bad taste. Who are the goats and who are the sheep?

  7. StWinefride says:

    Beautiful painting, Fr Z. I was going to ask who painted it, but managed to find it after all!

    Giuseppe Molteni, La Confessione(1838)

  8. guatadopt says:


    I hear you but what you are suggesting is Donatism. The holiness of the priest has no impact on the validity of the sacraments. Can you imagine the nightmare scenario that would cause? The faithful could never know with any certainty whether a sacrament is valid. What a mess.


    I will attempt to answer your questions. I come from an Orthodox background (my great grandfather was an Orthodox proto-presbyter). Confirmation and Holy Orders can a bit tricky from the juridical perspective. In the Eastern churches, a priest has the faculties to perform Confirmation (or Charismation in their church) as this is done at Baptism. This is also true in the Eastern Catholic Church. Thus, the Roman Catholic Church recognizes Confirmation as valid those performed in the Orthodox church. The same is true for Holy Orders and in fact, if performed by a validly ordained bishop, even those orders conferred by SSPX bishops are valid. This is because a bishop, having the fullness of the priesthood, does not required special jurisdiction to validly ordain, although doing so without permission is illicit. Thus we also accept as valid the Orthodox orders performed by a validly ordained Orthodox bishop.

    Confession is somewhat more complicated. Fr Z explained it well for SSPX. The validity of the sacrament is no different with Orthodox priests. A Catholic can receive the penance from an Orthodox priest in danger of death…same as an SSPX priest. All validly ordained priests have jurisdiction when death of the penitent is at hand.

  9. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    Well elaborated, Fr. Z. You make something confusing on the surface to be very clear in substance when broken down into its elements.

    As a mental exercise, I have never read of a couple asking permission from their local ordinary to be granted *permission* to have an SSPX priest witness their wedding in an SSPX chapel, but I am curious how that situation would go down. For some reason (and maybe it is just the hardening cynicism I think all traditionally minded people have to combat inside themselves every day…), I doubt that the local ordinary would be as “pastoral” in granting permission to this couple and SSPX priest as he would to a different couple who was religiously mixed and requested permission to have their marriage witnessed by the local lesbian episcopalian ministress in her spaceship instead of a diocesan priest.

  10. Fr AJ says:

    I assume that if the SSPX is ever regularized, all the weddings done over the years will have to be convalidated and all their adherents will need to get into the confessional for valid absolution as soon as possible.

  11. Panterina says:

    This topic was also covered by Cathy Caridi, J.C.L., in her excellent blog Canon Law Made Easy. See http://canonlawmadeeasy.com/2013/08/15/are-sspx-sacraments-valid-part-ii/

  12. NoraLee9 says:


    In reference to the comment left by Fr AJ: please correct me if I am wrong, but when Campos left the SSPX, and became “regularized,” I do not believe that anything was done in reference to either marriages nor confessions….

  13. Bosco says:

    @Fr AJ,
    An interesting and logical assumption.
    I often wonder about those Baptisms performed by some of the validly ordained priests (priests ‘in good standing’ as opposed to SSPX priests) over the past few decades who substituted the words of Baptism for their own formula (as occasionally with the words of the Eucharistic Prayer and Consecration).
    Would these poor children have been baptised or no? What is the remedy there and how would anyone ever know if they were validly baptised? Baptism of desire, maybe.

  14. FranzJosf says:


    There was a case, several years ago in Australia, I believe, where a priest was baptizing in the name of the “Creator, Liberator, and Sustainer” instead of “Father, Sons, and Holy Spirit”. And either the local bishop or the Holy See ruled them invalid, or both.


  15. inexcels says:

    Very informative Fr. Z, thanks.

  16. The whole thing is related to authority and attachment to a bishop who reports to Rome.

    Most Catholics do not really understand the nature of apostolic succession and they way WAY underestimate value, the need, and the reason for bishops. No matter what side, progressive or trad, apparition-chaser or apathetic languisher – if you aren’t attached to a bishop, or disobey – you are all in the same busted boat.

    I have friends in the SSPX and I value their understanding of the Faith and their influence in holding on to Church tradition. I get news and opinions not available from the mainstream. The bishop-thing is the area that they cannot discuss without indignant emotion and I believe is the source of the I-know-better-blindness.

    Without a bishop attached to Rome [are these chapels on the Diocesan list of parishes? no. do these groups send a representative when bishops are called to Rome? no] one cannot benefit from all the graces the Church offers. Obedience confounds the devil every time [and I don’t mean sinful blind obedience – I mean submission to authority].

    Remain obedient, attached to the bishop, and God takes care of you. Its a mystery.
    [Saying a daily rosary is the most powerful weapon for knowing what to do, second only to Mass, especially said in the spirit of reparation to the Immaculate Heart].

    Some say Lefebvre was illicitly restrained from the right practices of continuing what the Church had always done. This kind of mistreatment and trial can be illustrated throughout the history of the Church in the lives of many saints. So what? Some saints were imprisoned by their own bishops, or denied faculties of confession or Mass, etc. They were saints because the obeyed the terrible restrictions in spite of the injustice – and this is where Lefebvre and his followers fail. When not attached to the Church, no matter how horrible a progressive priest can get these rotten men are still part of the Church. Obedience to the authority of a bishop confounds the devil every time because he cannot get you to follow your own path, where off to yourself you become his prey. Creating disdain and hatred for the “idiots” in authority over you is the oldest trick of the Malignant One, effective since the Fall in Paradise. Stick to the bishop no matter what.

  17. fib09002 says:

    My understanding is that a priest’s sacraments, even if he is in a state of mortal sin, are still valid. It was never my intention to contradict that in what I wrote above. But at the same time, when you have a priest who believes, for instance, that the sacrament of matrimony can be validly performed for two homosexual men who “love each other”, rather than exclusively for one man and one woman, it really makes you wonder. Basically, what I am saying is that it is probably permissible for us to believe–although, of course, if there is a good reason for us NOT to believe this, I would appreciate hearing about it from someone more knowledgeable than I am–that if a priest has serious personal doubts about, say, the Real Presence, he cannot consecrate the Eucharist. To put it simply, whether a priest is in a state of mortal sin or not should not matter as far as the validity of his sacraments goes, so long as he has the Catholic Faith; but if he does not have the Faith, than how can his sacraments possibly be valid?

  18. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Would these poor children have been baptised or no? What is the remedy there and how would anyone ever know if they were validly baptised? Baptism of desire, maybe.”

    If it could be proven (video recording?) that the words were invalid, then the child would have to be re-baptized. It it is strongly suspected, the conditional baptism is possible. Baptism of desire is for emergencies, only, and not the regular means. If regular means are possible, they should be used.

    The Chicken

  19. Bosco says:

    @The Masked Chicken,
    Thanks for your insights. The point is, I suppose, that few of the assembled parents, godparents, etc. seem to hang on the words used by the priest when he is performing a baptism.
    Perhaps it would be too Pelagian to pay close attention to what ‘words’ are pronounced while little Betsy or Bobby squirms and squeals.
    So is the child really validly baptised if Father recites mumbo jumbo and no one catches it?
    Just wondering really.

  20. The Masked Chicken says:

    If the mumbling is so confusing that there is strong doubt about the validity of the baptism, then Father has a duty, in justice, it seems to me to either re-assure the parents or re-do the baptism (conditionally, if necessary). Now, if the priest actually intended to say the correct words of baptism, but messed up, in that case, I suspect the baptism is valid.

    The Chicken

  21. Fr AJ says:

    fib09002, as someone else said, study the heresy of Donatism and reasons why the effectiveness of the Sacraments are not dependent on one’s opinion of the worthiness or holiness of the minister of the Sacrament. The Church certainly does not base the validity of a Sacrament on subjective criteria such as if one thinks the minister is orthodox enough. It is based on objective criteria, namely, if the minister has jurisdiction or not to hear confessions and witness marriages.

  22. Supertradmum says:

    The question of the validity of sacraments and priests has been defined concerning the Donatists, here http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05121a.htm

    And on my blog, about ten days ago, I wrote that many Catholics are thinking like Donatists.

    Also, Pope Leo XIII dealt with validity of orders concerning the Anglicans-which basically means that if a priest intended to separate from Rome, the orders are not valid. One can read about this here. http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Leo13/l13curae.htm

    Most liberal priests do not intend to separate Rome, as they want to change Rome.

    I suggest that all Catholics take time to read the history of the Church and encyclicals in order to know the Faith. With so many things on line, there really is no excuse for ignorance

    The question of the SSPX, of course, has not been detailed by Rome in such a document, but Father Z. has done a superb job on explaining the ins and outs of the legality of the issue.

    Thank you, Father Z., and I have put your link on my blog for others to take note.

  23. Bosco says:

    @The Masked Chicken,

    Thanks for your patience with me.

    So in the end it’s a crapshoot eh? Or more like a Limbo?

  24. demigh says:

    Thanks for this post Father Z. It has helped me understand what has been a confusing muddle in my head.

  25. Thanks, guatadopt.

    Does that then mean that Orthodox priests give invalid absolution to Orthodox penitents, in the same way that SSPX priests give invalid absolution to Catholic penitents?

  26. vandalia says:

    No. To put it in the simplest terms, Orthodox Bishops both have “apostolic succession” and they have valid jurisdiction over their own diocese. SSPX Bishops have the former, but not the latter. Thus they cannot provide a necessary element needed for those Sacraments that have juridic effect.

  27. fib09002 says:

    Fr AJ:
    Your response is welcome, and I am sure that what you say is true, so I will withdrawal what I wrote before as far as the validity of the sacraments administered by heretics is concerned. But I guess the point I was trying to emphasize is that, if certain priests, who are clearly heretics, and who defiantly and vociferously preach doctrines contrary to those held by the Church, are allowed to go on doing what they are doing without being disciplined by their Bishops, how can we possibly believe that the laity will not be confused and led into error? In other words, what are the Bishops even there for, if not to correct and, when necessary, discipline priests who preach heresy? When a priest like the one I mentioned above is allowed to continue to do what he is doing, while certain traditional priests, like those from the Society, are told that they cannot validly hear confessions, what kind of message do you think that conveys? It is difficult enough in today’s world for many of us to hold onto any kind of faith at all, and I, like presumably many other Catholics, would appreciate it if we could at least depend upon on our Bishops to support us.

  28. The Masked Chicken says:

    “So in the end it’s a crapshoot eh? Or more like a Limbo?”

    Not really. When in doubt, conditional baptism is allowed.

    The Chicken

  29. Thanks, vandalia … what exactly gives the Orthodox valid jurisdiction but SSPX bishops invalid jurisdiction? Both sets have bishops with apostolic succession. Rome has supplied neither with a written letter stating that they have jurisdiction. Both are outside of communion with Rome in some way – the Orthodox completely and the SSPX, well, debatably. Is it the SSPX claim to submit to Rome that makes them subject to the requirement of Rome’s issuing of jurisdiction? So full schism would put them in the position of the Orthodox bishops/priests?

    Or could it be that Orthodox priests have valid jurisdiction over their faithful, but cannot validly absolve/marry Catholic faithful, except absolution near death? Likewise the SSPX would have valid jurisdiction over their faithful, absolving their faithful validly, but since the SSPX does not have their own faithful, because they are a religious order and not a Church sui iuris, they have nobody to absolve validly, and their followers, as members of the Catholic Church, are not within their jurisdiction?

    Would a statement from the SSPX bishops saying “We hereby leave the Catholic Church and become our own Church along the lines of the Western Orthodox” allow them to obtain members, ex-Catholic ones, they could validly absolve?

  30. vandalia says:

    Cutting through a lot of ancient canonical and ecclesiological issues in the interest of brevity, the difference is that the Orthodox Bishops are in most cases the heads of ancient diocese, some of which go back to Apostolic times. The line of succession of the heads of those diocese has never really been disputed by the Catholic Church (a gross overstatement, but again keeping things simple.) In contrast, no SSPX bishop has a valid claim to be the head of any diocese, and a diocese cannot be validly created out of thin air.

    The difference in your last paragraph is that when the Orthodox entered into schism, those Bishops were unquestionably the valid heads of their diocese, and at that time the clergy of those diocese had the right to select a successor. Thus they have what might be called a valid “episcopal succession.”

    (A vast number of doctroal dissertations have been written on this issue. Everything I wrote is a gross simplification of a number of complex issues, but hopefully it is good enough for two paragraphs.)

  31. Thanks … that has helped a lot … much appreciated :-)

  32. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    I am not sure that the argument from ancient geographical diocese is a solid one upon which to guarantee the validity of schismatic Eastern sacraments and to deny the validity of possibly schismatic SSPX sacraments. Dioceses can be created out of thin air. I am not arguing that any SSPX leader has the authority to do so, but new geographical and even non-geographical dioceses (think of the Archdiocese for the US Military) are validly created out of thin air all the time when legitimate authority determines a need.

    Am I way off on this?

  33. JabbaPapa says:

    Your article, Father, is truly excellent — it does have one flaw, nevertheless.

    It fails to mention that, here and there, some SSPX priests located in these or those dioceses do sometimes receive from the Ordinaries of those dioceses the faculties to provide the Sacraments or Witness in question. [I hope that is true, but I have not heard of one substantiated case of that yet. I have not yet seen an SSPX priest demonstrate that he has faculties to hear confessions, etc., from a diocesan bishop. Again, I hope it is true, but I fear that this is just urban legend.]

    This is one reason for the great confusion surrounding these questions, of course, because not every SSPX priest enjoys the same faculties as his neighbour.

  34. Paul M. says:

    Atra, that’s not a comparable situation. It is unquestionable that the Roman Pontiff can create new dioceses such as the Archdiocese for the Military Services. In addition, the Eastern Churches had (and still do have, both Catholic and Orthodox) considerable autonomy in the creation and suppression of eparchies in their territory.

    In contrast, a Latin-rite bishop of no diocese has no authority whatsoever to create new dioceses.

  35. Transportsjoie says:

    Tina in Ashburn – thanks – stay attached to the bishop – a very crucial and important point..well said.

  36. Matt R says:

    It is interesting though what the Remnant, no fan of the SSPX in many cases (and banned from their chapels), had to say on the subject. Included was a quotation from Bp. Fellay, in which he stated that when the Society priests write to Rome for the faculty to absolve sins where absolution is reserved to the Apostolic See, the response is “all is good and licit.” I have also heard from someone who spent time near St. Marys, KS that the SSPX doesn’t marry just anybody. Time is spent on the whole supplied jurisdiction/state of emergency issue. And, when these couples return to a regular (in both a canonical and descriptive sense) Roman Rite parish, their paperwork is moved through the appropriate offices in the diocese and/or Rome faster than those couples married with priests who actually had faculties.

  37. MAMcMG says:

    Thank you so much for this explanation.

  38. theophilus says:

    What of Eastern Orthodox priests ministering to Eastern Orthodox faithful?

    I don’t think they are bound by the west’s canon law. There’s is not an “irregular” situation as it came about by schism.

    Someone can correct me if they know better.

  39. Suburbanbanshee says:

    If SSPX-married couples have their paperwork processed fast when returning to a normal status with the Church, the logical reason is that the chanceries have somebody assigned to take care of any people coming back from the SSPX. If the bishops or the Vatican bureaucracy are working hard to be gracious, it’s not a sign that the SSPX is particularly righteous and good. It’s a sign that the shepherds are trying their best to get the lost sheep back.

    Entitlement ain’t pretty. But people should at least recognize someone doing them a big favor, instead of thinking that they’re such perfect unicorns that people have to do nice things for them.

  40. Matt R says:

    Suburbanbanshee, there is no funny-business going on as far as the liturgical text, the intentions of the couple, etc. which are otherwise present in the canonical processes to regularize a marriage sacramentally (forgive my ignorance of the canonical vocabulary…). The only issue is that the priest did not have the jurisdiction to witness the marriage. A study of ecclesiology and the sacraments would reveal a more concrete answer, but in my limited understanding I have come to believe that the supplied jurisdiction argument holds a little weight, either at the initial celebration or when a couple or person returns to a regular participation in the life of the Church.

  41. Bosco says:

    @The Masked Chicken,
    Speak of the devil! Apropos our exchange (above) about valid baptisms this article appeared in this morning’s Irish Independent: “Parents’ ire as priest targeted over baptism”


    Someone complained to ‘Rome’ and the baby has to be baptised properly. Amen.

  42. LA says:

    As it says in the Gospel of St. Mark, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”. As the Pope says, the Church is a hospital for the wounded. When the letter of the law conflicts with the spirit of the law, what takes precedence? The salvation of souls is the purpose of all Church laws. In situations where there is a conflict between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law, Jesus Christ himself said that the letter can kill, but the spirit gives life. I KNOW that God gives Sacramental grace through the Confessions administered by SSPX priests. The Church dispenses with many laws in unusual circumstances, because she knows that the laws were made for man, not man for the laws. For example, while the Council of Trent requires that, for valid confession, all mortal sins must be confessed in kind and number, in cases where that is impossible, absolution can still be validly given. Deo gratias for our merciful God, whose Mercy is above Justice, who desires our reconciliation with Him above all. Is this not the message Pope Francis is trying (albeit sometimes poorly) to express?

  43. Jack Regan says:

    I have a question, Perhaps somebody can answer it.

    I was always told that in a hypothetical situation where no priest was available at all (Desert Island, persecuted country etc) two people could validly marry one another simply by stating their intentions to do so before one another and before God and making the necessary vows and promises, and that the Church would consider that valid.

    Is this correct?

  44. LA says:

    Jack Regan,
    Yes, that is correct.

  45. Jack: Yes, we basically marry each other, the priest witnesses and this gives the sacramental nature to a union. So after marrying on desert island, once the couple is saved by the cruise ship that happens to notice the attention-getting bonfire and flares, the couple must get married sacramentally as soon as possible.
    An emergency is not the rule but the exception.

  46. In reference to this discussion on baptism, rebaptisizng is not the same as conditional baptising.
    I know its hard for the young’uns here to believe, but back in the day, every convert would be conditionally baptized, no matter by whom or from what ‘belief’ they came. Its not that baptism outside the Church isn’t often valid – its the mere chance that some baptisms outside the Church might not be effective. So the Church in her love and desire that all men be saved, She used to conditionally baptise everyone just in case for the most important sacrament of all. For all I know this may still be ‘on the books’ but ignored like many of Her loving disciplines.

    There are THREE conditions – yes, 3, for baptism: form, matter, and to intend what the Church intends.

    Because of this necessary intention, the mind of the Church is ‘the Church wasn’t present at your baptism – though you may have witnesses and paperwork – so just in case, to leave nothing to chance, the Church will conditionally baptise you and then we can be sure’.

    I was perusing an old book from the late 1800s on the Miraculous Medal. In the back of the book were astonishing examples of the medal’s mere presence on the bed of the dying converting hardened men at the last minute. In each and every example a priest was called in to baptize the new convert – whether they were Protestant, atheists, or whatever.

    Another point, Our Lady of Good Success [Quito, Ecuador, supported by every single bishop there since the 1600s], whose many predictions have proven true, said that after the mid-20th century that baptism would be hard to obtain and rare.

  47. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Re: the Irish re-baptism case, there’s nothing like a priest keeping his parishioners so low on information and catechism that they’ll support him when he messes up The World’s Simplest Sacrament.

    I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be all that amused if their baby had been undergoing lifesaving surgery, and the surgeon had been telling the nurses and the paramedics to stick their fingers into the cuts and have a go at the scalpel for themselves. But nope, it’s the appalled person who reports shenanigans who’s being mean and ultra-conservative, and it’s the duped parents and godparents, and the priest who can’t just do his flipping job, who are oh so oppressed.

    I’m pretty sure that back in the Middle Ages, when Erik the Picky and Gandalf Longshipface reported Fr. Wiglaf Looseygoosey to Rome for “baptizing” babies in beer and thus letting their little souls be in danger, Fr. Wiggy and the proud beermaking parents felt very hard done by also. But I’m also pretty sure that Herlindis Alemansdottir was pretty glad to be baptized the right way, in water, seeing as not being baptized is a pretty bad thing. If we were in a medieval legend, the kid would have been attacked by demons and illnesses to make the point clear, and Erik the Picky would have been the hero. But because our time’s kids tend to survive childhood, our time’s parents tend to be less grateful to Erik the Picky.

  48. Imrahil says:

    I was not going to comment, and I am not… really…

    only, dear @Supertradmum,

    Also, Pope Leo XIII dealt with validity of orders concerning the Anglicans-which basically means that if a priest intended to separate from Rome, the orders are not valid.

    Forgive me to correct you, but you are wrong there. (Nor do I think that this is, as I remember another discussion of the two of us, a matter of myself somewhat deliberately looking for benevolent explanations. With all certainly due respect for everything, I cannot deny I think you just misunderstood the Anglican Orders question.)

    Here, whether a priest intends to separate for Rome has just about nothing to do with the validity of his orders, as is already proved by the Eastern Orthodox example.

    The Anglican orders question was not about schism; schism taken by itself would not have effected invalidity. It was about the different (read: heretical) nature concerning the Church and explicitly the priesthood, being reflected in a significant change of the words for the ordination, which resulted in an invalidity. (And even so, the dogmatic stand is that the 1550-1650 formula was invalid and thus the CoE lost its orders, but about the form that followed and Old-Catholic lines, nothing is known for certain. But that aside.)

    But it was not about schism.

  49. A Sinner 2 says:

    Sacraments administered by even the most egregious of sinners are valid no question.

    However, our present situation could better be analogized to a hypothetical in which Catholic priests in the Roman Empire, validly ordained, not excommunicated, and not repentant, openly advocated paganism and promoted emperor worship, sometimes from the pulpit. Would questioning the validity of sacraments administered by such priests be Donatism?

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  51. North says:

    Just a couple of inconvenient truths:

    (1) Bishop Rifan has confirmed that when the PAASJV was being finalized, a request was made for sanations of all the marriages that had taken place before the healing with Rome. He was explicitly told it was not necessary. It was only at the insistence of Bishop Rangel that the sanations be made that the Holy See complied. [The situation of the PAASJV and that of the SSPX are not analogous.]

    (2) As Bishop Fellay has explained, submission of sins reserved to the Holy See have been accepted and responded to by the Sacred Penitentiary. [That is a freely asserted claim, which I don’t believe. There must be some sort of proof for this. Do you happen to have it? Furthermore, there are, now, no sins reserved to the Holy See. The CENSURES resulting from the sins are reserved. The Sacra Penitenzieria can deal with those. But when it comes to the VALIDITY of concrete instances of celebration of sacraments the dicastery that has competence is the CDF.]

  52. Imrahil says:

    Dear @A Sinner 2,

    yes it certainly would. Which is why the SSPX does not do it.

    The only thing that is questioned is the validity of confessions, marriages, and (theoretically) simple-priest confirmations by the SSPX. The latter would certainly be invalid, which is why they do not do them. On the former two, they claim necessity for grounds such as you describe, and a supplied but not original jurisdiction from some canonical loophole. (This is what I wrote that I will not comment upon.)

  53. Fr AJ says:

    LA, this is an issue I find with SSPXers, some of the arguments they advance to justify their position of defiance of the Church are the same one’s advanced by liberals. Your “spirit of the law” argument can be used to justify almost anything.

  54. Fr AJ says:

    Sinner 2, are you seriously trying to say that state in the Church today would like a hypothetical situation in early times where priests would abandon Christ and advocate paganism and Emperor worship? That’s absurd. Are things perfect? Certainly not. But it’s absolutely not an “emergency situation” as though the Church as a whole has abandoned Christ which some promote to justify not being in complete communion with the Church. Again, these arguments that SSPXers promote are similar sounding one’s used by liberals and Protestant reformers. Is it any wonder that Pope Francis has little time for this? It’s just not based in reality.

  55. dans0622 says:

    Interesting analysis, Father. The remission of censures is certainly a juridic act with juridic effect. However, I wonder…. Must all juridic acts have a juridic effect? And, are all juridic effects part of the external forum? I think the answer to both questions is “yes.” If so, what is the juridic effect of absolution? Let’s say a person confesses a typical list of venial sins and is absolved. What is the juridic effect of that absolution? Even if there are mortal sins, what is the juridic effect? The effect, it seems to me, is completely part of the internal forum and so I question whether the law would see any juridic effect. If there is no juridic effect, there is no juridic act. The old law spoke of the priest needing “jurisdiction” in order to absolve since he was acting as a judge in the confessional. While the “new” law uses the term “faculty,” the priest is still said to be acting as a judge (cf. canon 978). So, I think using the term “jurisdiction” for this faculty is not a problem and might help explain why not all priests can normally absolve sins–they don’t have jurisdiction. SSPX priests (and bishops, I guess) don’t have any jurisdiction of any kind. They can’t act as a judge.

  56. A Sinner 2 says:

    “Sinner 2, are you seriously trying to say that state in the Church today would like a hypothetical situation in early times where priests would abandon Christ and advocate paganism and Emperor worship? That’s absurd. Are things perfect? Certainly not. But it’s absolutely not an “emergency situation” as though the Church as a whole has abandoned Christ which some promote to justify not being in complete communion with the Church.”

    Fr. AJ,
    I attend an OF parish, with holy, orthodox priests and probably a fairly average liturgy, not SSPX, EF, or or even a Latin or ad orientum OF, and do not claim that pagans and emperor worshipers constitute the Church as a whole.


    Do I equate those who promote government-imposed “social justice” as the solution to any problem and who generally repudiate Church teaching to emperor worshipers? Yes. Do I equate those who dismiss Jesus and hold pagan-like ceremonies to pagans? Absolutely!

    And, in my opinion, it is the failure of the Church hierarchy to recognize and deal with this situation that has contributed in large part to the problems the Church faces today.

  57. MarkG says:

    What about the cases where a Catholic marries a Protestant, and the wedding takes place in the bride’s church, which happens to be a Protestant Church? All of this with the Catholic Church’s permission and with a Catholic priest con-celebrating with the Protestant minister as celebrant? Are these are valid sacramental marriages, but SSPX marriages aren’t?

    What about cases of Catholics marrying Catholics in a Catholic Church with a permanent Deacon presiding where the permanent Deacon writes his own marriage service? Or used a modified pagan service? or reads from the Koran instead of the Gospel (the latest craze like there isn’t a suitable Gospel for a wedding) ? Are these valid sacramental marriages and the SSPX marriages aren’t?

    The SSPX Church bulletins always seem to have some “banns of Marriage published for the Nth time” I never see these anytime in regular parish bulletins. If banns aren’t published 3 times is the marriage still valid? In my earlier case of a marriage in a Protestant Church, what if the Protestant Church doesn’t publish the banns or would they even know what they were?

    What about a Cathedral Church that has allowed an ecumenical service where Muslim, Hari Krishna, Buddhist, etc ministers have lead prayers with the permission of the Bishop? Would weddings in the Church still be valid?

    Just asking as these situations seem very incongruent to me.

  58. Cordelio says:

    Succinctly put, I understand the SSPX position on jurisdiction for marriages and confessions to be this:

    The canonical censures incurred by the SSPX were the result of justified (indeed morally obligatory, once properly understood) resistance to the Church hierarchy, which hierarchy sought inter alia to impose a new liturgy founded on dangerous, non-Catholic principles. The SSPX, accordingly – and unlike the Ecclesia Dei groups, at least officially – refuses to compromise with respect to the Novus Ordo liturgy, as a matter of principle.

    Clearly, this crisis (as the SSPX saw and sees it) was not going to resolve itself in a matter of weeks. The SSPX was already serving many Catholics who also refused, in principle, the same compromise, and was being called upon to serve many more. Being right is no guarantee of sanctity, alas, and those Catholics were likely to keep committing sins and wanting to reproduce – sometimes simultaneously. The SSPX could have said, well we aren’t going to compromise personally, but our hands are tied – we’re going into retirement to bear our wrongs quietly and you folks are on your own.

    Instead, the SSPX asserts that Canon Law, ordained for the salvation of souls, cannot legitimately be used to force the faithful into an unprincipled compromise that would endanger their souls. Thus, the Church will supply the necessary jurisdiction to provide Catholics with an integral, uncompromising Catholic sacramental life for as long as the crisis continues.

    It would help if those who disagree with this position would clarify which part they disagree with. For example, do the Society’s critics argue that there is no possibility for “supplied jurisdiction,” such that the ecclesiastical authorities can – with the force of law – withhold the sacraments from Catholics to coerce them into compromising on a matter of principle? Or do they argue that this is a merely academic question, since it would be morally impossible for the hierarchy to behave in this manner? Alternately, do they concede the possibility of supplied jurisdiction and that the hierarchy might possibly behave in a way that supplied jurisdiction could come into play, but simply disagree with the SSPX’s appraisal of the situation in the Church?

  59. The Masked Chicken says:


    You wrote,

    “What about the cases where a Catholic marries a Protestant, and the wedding takes place in the bride’s church, which happens to be a Protestant Church? All of this with the Catholic Church’s permission and with a Catholic priest con-celebrating with the Protestant minister as celebrant? Are these are valid sacramental marriages, but SSPX marriages aren’t?”

    Yes, because there are explicit directions for this in Canon Law (cf. Cans. 1115, 1118, 1125), but marriages attempted in an SSPX church are still attempted marriages between two Catholics bound by Canon Law and require proper Canonical form to be valid. SSPX priests do not have jurisdiction (faculties), simply put.

    I will, however, have to defer to either Fr. Z or Dr. Ed Peters about a more subtle case of Canon Law. The emergency marriage Canon 1116 no.2 says:

    “Can. 1116 §1. If a person competent to assist according to the norm of law cannot be present or approached without grave inconvenience, those who intend to enter into a true marriage can contract it validly and licitly before witnesses only:

    1/ in danger of death;

    2/ outside the danger of death provided that it is prudently foreseen that the situation will continue for a month.

    §2. In either case, if some other priest or deacon who can be present is available, he must be called and be present at the celebration of the marriage together with the witnesses, without prejudice to the validity of the marriage before witnesses only.

    From this, it seems to me that IF the only priest on the island is an SSPX priest, then, by virtue of his valid ordination, he would fit the requirements of Can 1116 no. 2 and can be present. I know of no place where there are only SSPX priests, so the situation does not, in fact, exist, however.

    Still, it would help to have the comments of someone more knowledgeable on this, admittedly, hypothetical point.

    The Chicken

  60. ssoldie says:

    These cosecrated hands of the FSSPX priest can with the exact words of the 1962 Missal,can take bread and wine, and turn them into the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, but these same concecrated hands cannot absolve our sins in the confessional, and not stand in witness at the Sacrament of Marriage, This is laughable, redundant and stupid. A woman I know quite well, had her own father officiate and witness at her wedding to a divorced protestant, it was not in her parish where her father is a ‘married deacon’, but in a church close by where the parish priest left. I am beginning to see more and more why so many are leaving the ‘progressive catholic church’ and embracing the SSPX, or leaving the ‘pcc’ altogether. The crisis and confusion grows stronger. God help us.

  61. TheAcolyte says:

    In reply to Tina in Ashburn: “Yes, we basically marry each other, the priest witnesses and this gives the sacramental nature to a union. So after marrying on desert island, once the couple is saved by the cruise ship… the couple must get married sacramentally as soon as possible. An emergency is not the rule but the exception.”

    The couple is already sacramentally married (albeit it in an extraordinary manner) – because they are the ministers of the sacrament – the priest would merely give them the nuptial blessing (which they cannot give themselves), hence regularize the marriage.

    This was also the case for nearly 100 years in Japan – before being expelled, the Jesuits taught the catechists how to ensure a valid baptism and witnessing a valid marriage (without a priest).

  62. Imrahil says:

    Thanks, dear @Cordelio.

    It might be added that this argumentation is discussed by the SSPX (by which I do not mean all their members, adherents or defensors in anything they say, but only when they go for actual precision) under the premise “even this would grant us faculties if we did not have them already, if, for instance, the Legislator enacted a law ‘Pius-brothers cannot derive jurisdiction from supplet ecclesia outside danger of death'”.

    That they suppose a great necessity, and the like, is their moral justification for doing what they do, but canonistically, it is a mere support.

    Their main canonistic statements are that they actual jurisdiction (though not originary but supplied) by the Code of Canon Law (of 1983), roughly speaking for reason of a variety of reasons that could make it possible, and a general rule that jurisdiction is supplied wherever doubt exists. Among the reasons that could make it possible is that they are priests at all, that they enter confessionals, that they stand themselves there for marriages, etc.; according to them, it cannot be assumed that people know that a priest must have faculties; people do not actually need to err to produce what is canonistically called an error (they give quotes for that), and in such an error there is supplied jurisdiction, and so on and so on.

  63. Cordelio says:

    Dear Imrahil:

    I am not sure what you mean by “a mere support.” It seems like you may be drawing a false dichotomy between the SSPX’s moral justification for doing what they do and the canonical support for it. Are you proposing that canon law could operate to prevent the SSPX from doing something that was, in objective truth, morally justifiable?

    If the SSPX were truly morally justified in doing what they do, what further justification would they need? Canon law is the servant of the moral law, not its master.

    The more specific canonical arguments advanced by the SSPX have always been presented in this sense: Even if the SSPX were mistaken (and moreover, even if culpably mistaken) in the moral justification for what they do, then its confessions and marriages would still be valid because….

  64. spock says:

    I admit I’ve had a really hard time with this. The issue is compounded for me because I am invited to attend a nuptial Mass at an SSPX chapel in the future. The couple, as far as I can tell, are VERY good Catholic people. If the Church had people like these in their pews, the Church would be far better off.

    When I asked about this before, the issue was (to encapsulate)

    The SSPX are Catholics
    Catholics are bound by Canon Law
    Canon Law requires jurisdiction for marriage which the SSPX does not have
    Therefore SSPX marriages are not valid

    But, Orthodox marriages are valid. Also Protestant marriages are valid. the reason cited was that they are not Catholics and therefore not bound by Canon Law, therefore these marriages are valid. It almost sounds like an issue of name. So, if the SSPX called themselves “UberCatholics” :), the issue would be resolved and they’re marriages would be valid ? It can’t be that petty, but it sure seems like that’s what we’re saying.

    It doesn’t make sense to me that organizations that are much more clearly in some level of schism with the Church can validly marry people but the SSPX cannot. No comprende via reason. Only comprende via an “I said so”, which is not really comprehension.

    All this being said, my personal preference would have been to be married in a Catholic church that lacks the difficulties the SSPX currently faces. The same would be true for confessions as well. But this is because (at least for myself) I assume that there is something I don’t understand. But I can’t reason that way for someone else.

  65. muckemdanno says:

    “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. ” To make the assertion that the SSPX priests cannot witness a marriage is the worst form of legalistic nitpicking imaginable.

    Of all priests, it is well known that those of the SSPX will most reliably assure that the proper form is followed. And of all couples who wish to get married in a Catholic Church, those who go to SSPX are most likely to accept the purpose of the sacrament of matrimony. Rome, all the local ordinaries, and Father Z know this as well. To deny the power of witnessing to those who are perfectly capable is an intentional injustice committed against these couples. (Which is perfectly consistent with the last 40 years, of course.)

  66. RJHighland says:

    All this talk of the law has made me reflect of some of Jesus and Paul’s writing about Jewish Law some of what Paul and Jesus said. Like healing on the Sabath, picking wheat on the Sabath. As one that attends an SSPX Chapel not only because it is the only TLM in town but because the Priest and brothers in the Society are men, real men, called by God to serve him and his flock. These men are more solid in their teaching of the catechism and theology than any priest in my dioceses that I have spoken with especially the head of the diocecian training center. The penance and guidance I recieve in their confessionals have lead me back on to the path of life and truth. They are solid examples of the faith, men my sons and daughters can and do look up to. There is unity and reverance in the chapel I attend it is a wonderful family of faith. For all those that have recently come to appreciate the TLM and traditional Catholisism consider all the things you love about the TLM and all those things that did not seem right in the Novus Ordo masses you attended. The things that bothered me were the removal of the tabernacle for center high altar, removal of altar rails, the relocation of altars , the change in postures for reception of communion, and after recieving communion, the lack of appropriate dress and less genuflections, less reverance in general during mass. All these things did not come from Rome but came from the priests, bishops and the laity, and then approved/accepted by Rome. Our bishops conferences instituted most of these changes. As a member of an Eastern Orthodox told me recently, Rome no longer runs the Church the people run the Church, that is not the way God intended it. The Orthodox look at the Novus Ordo and laugh, shoot even the Anglicans coming in don’t want anything to do with the Novus Ordo. Yet the SSPX has maintaned the TLM and the Novus Ordo Church wants them to change. Once the the TLM grows in the Roman Rite and more traditional priests trained then elevated to Bishoprics, which will happen, and the Society is back in “regular communion”then it will be interesting how history looks back at the actions of Archbishop Lefebvre and the Society of St. Pius X. It will also be interesting to see those in the Church that have been so critical of the SSPX and see how history looks at them. It is just not time yet. As Fr. Z says brick by brick. You will know them by their fruits, our seminarys are full and we are building a new one at the edge of “Babylon” in Virginia and the local bishop is not happy. I know the FSSP are full and the more traditional seminaries are growing but guess where the founders of the FSSP were trained in the faith? For me and my family we will serve the Lord from our SSPX chapel which is a solid ship manned by a solid crew in a dioceses in very bad seas. Or another analogy would be I dare a wolf to try to get by our shepherd, no “lavander mafia” or Masons slipping into to this sheep fold. Vivat rex Christe! Vivat Traditionem!

  67. ibookworm says:

    When my wife and I were married this past summer, we wanted to get married at the local SSPX parish. However, we also believed that we had other options (the Institute of Christ the King, a little further away). The priest told us that, since we believed that we had other options, he did not have the faculties to marry us. Apparently their Canon Law justification for faculties applies only if the ones seeking the marriage from the SSPX believe they have no other choice (as I would have had the SSPX offered the only traditional Latin mass and wedding in the area).

    I was impressed by the carefulness and the humility displayed. There was no rancor, just a deep and thoughtful examination of our situation, including correspondence with the district superior, ending in the regretful conclusion that the faculties would not exist in our case. The priest then gave us two options: we could ask the local bishop to give him the faculties to marry us (which he very much doubted would be granted), or we could go to another church. We ended up having an absolutely beautiful wedding at a church of the Institute of Christ the King (though that did mean we had to go through a diocesan pre-Cana conference that was almost enough to throw me back into the arms of the SSPX).

    I’m distrustful of any reasoning that says that the law can be bypassed for a greater good, since that is EXACTLY the same reasoning that the liberals and “social justice Catholics” use to ignore official Church teaching. But in my experience the SSPX is doing their best to work within the law, even up to and including their justification for the validity of their sacraments. I don’t know whether their claims are true or not, but their attitude is not that they have the right to bypass the law because of their own virtue, but rather that the situation is such that the law grants them the faculties. If their interpretation of the law does not grant that faculty, as in our case, they do not believe that they can override the law.

  68. Hi TheAcolyte – thanks for the clarification. The Sacrament suffices when there is no other recourse, in an emergency. Once there is a priest to administer the Sacrament, we must submit to that. The absence of priests for 100 years left the people no other recourse for marriage – again, an exception is not the rule.
    If we could marry one another without the Church, well, then…why do we? why dispensations? why Church weddings?

    Jesus gave us bishops and priests as part of the Church He founded. So many here give me the impression that if some errant bishop or priest really loves the Church, is really nice, does all the rites correctly, but is disobedient and not attached to Rome, its really okay?
    How is this different from any ‘sincere’ denomination or those that chase unapproved apparitions in Eastern Europe? Gosh they are so nice and say prayers so well! Why obey a bishop?

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