ASK FATHER: Can I give SSPX followers Holy Communion?

From a reader, a priest…


We offer the old mass every Sunday at midday. Missa cantata with very sound teaching.

There are individuals who choose to attend Sunday mass at an sspx chapel near to us (and no nearer or more convenient to these individuals) because the Sunday congregation there is small (15) and perfecti whereas our is larger (40) and messier (more crying babies, etc)

These individuals can’t get daily mass at sspx but come to us for the daily tlm.

I’m starting to think that these circumstances make their decision schismatic and that I should inform them that I will not give them holy communion.

What do you think?

Can. 912 establishes the basic principle that Catholics who are not forbidden by law may and must (potest et debet) be admitted to Holy Communion.

Can. 915 clarifies further, stating that those who have been excommunicated or interdicted are to be excluded, as are those “who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin.”

Can. 916 add that those who are conscious of grave sin should not receive Holy Communion without going to confession or at least (if confession is not possible) making a perfect act of contrition and resolving to go to confession as soon as possible.

Can. 1364 say that apostates, heretics, and schismatics incur latae sententiae excommunication (for which our wise friend Dr. Ed Peters will be quick to call an end, in that they create messy and cloudy situations) and therefore should be excluded from Holy Communion.

Can. 751 informs us that schism is the withdrawal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or from communion with the members of the Church subject to him.

The general principle is that, when dealing with penalties or restrictions of rights, the Church wants us to take a strict interpretation of the law (can. 18) lest someone’s rights be unjustly abridged.

Hence, I urge great caution before deciding that someone has committed the delict of schism and thus incurred the penalty of excommunication. 

The SSPX, as it has been affirmed by several authorities in the Church, is not schismatic, though it is also not in full communion (it’s in a sort of a tertium quid).

Further, the SSPX only consists of the clerical and seminarian members of the Society itself. Even if the SSPX were to be declared schismatic (quod Deus avertat), the faithful who merely attend their Masses would not fall under that same category.  The lay faithful do not belong to “priestly societies”.

In an ideal world, would it be better for the faithful to hear the Holy Mass at a Church in full and unimpaired communion with the rest of the Church? Yes.

Is their decision not to do so a schismatic act? Not according to the Church.

So, what’s to be done in this situation?

The work of a priest is often hard and difficult. While there are ample rewards for it in this life and the next, the answer in this life (for your sins) is more work. Ergo, befriend these parishioners.  Cajole them (warmly, tenderly, as a father, not as an imperious scold). Go to their houses, get to know them. Develop the sort of relationship that will allow you, on Monday morning, to call them up and ask if everything is alright because they were missed in their regular pew on Sunday. Preach regularly about the benefits of full communion.  Remin them of their responsibilities as Christians to cling close to the Church, even when the human flaws of the institution are all too real.

Perhaps getting to know the priest or priests at the SSPX chapel would also be advisable. While the “big” work of reintegrating the Society back into full communion is handled by committees and commissions in Rome and Econe, the real work of reconciliation is going to take place at the grass roots. Invite him over for a brandy and a cigar. Talk sports. Talk hunting. Talk politics. Compare seminary war stories.

Brick by brick.  That’s the process forward.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    “Mass at midday” might be an issue. As unfortunately happens at many parishes the Novus Ordo gets the prime time slots between 8 and 10 AM and the TLM gets to fit in whatever is left over. That may also be constrained by a priest having to travel to multiple parishes. Usually the SSPX chapel does not have such constraints. We used to attend a parish where the TLM was relegated to a 12:30 PM time which meant especially if we stayed for coffee afterward meant we weren’t out of there until 3 PM or so which made any afternoon family activities difficult. Especially difficult if you wish to follow the ancient custom of fasting from midnight on. Fortunately where we are now the TLM is at 8 AM although the priest then has to travel to another parish so that Mass isn’t until 12 Noon.

  2. Tony from Oz says:

    Father, I have wondered for quite some time over the repeated use of the term ‘partial communion’. I had always thought that one was either ‘in’ or ‘not in’ communion with the Church – and that perhaps this ‘partial communion’/third way is perhaps a novel, post-conciliar, invention.

    If indeed the problem of the SSPX is one pertaining to canonical regularity flowing from the 1976 suspension of SSPX because of Archbishop Lefebvre’s ordination of Society priests without the local Bishop’s fiat (based largely on the now long settled question of the abrogation or otherwise of the TLM – and SSPX quibbles with aspects of Vat II decrees, which, earlier this year, the Vatican admitted are non-dogmatic and open to quibbling) – how can one claim that the issues in contention concern or constitute, even remotely, any breach of communion by the SSPX?

    I should really appreciate advice on this matter.

  3. FarmerBrawn says:


    Seems like you have been having a lot of SSPX traffic here lately. It is unfortunate that us ‘fundamentalists’ find it so easy to turn cannons inward when we ought to be defending our common ground.

  4. Eliane says:

    How endlessly ironic that the only people seriously accused of “schism” in the Catholic Church are the only ones unflinchingly true to its beliefs? I wonder, for instance, if the priest writing here entertains similar misgivings about serving Holy Communion to those Catholics — and they are legion — who happily declare themselves “pro-choice.”

    Actually, I think the days of being able to continue with this nonsense are drawing to a close, thanks to the activities of some REAL schismatics who seem dedicated to eradicating Catholic belief from the face of the Earth. When the full force of their treachery sets it, I have no doubt that those who want to preserve the Catholic Church will be happy to have the SSPX working at their side.

  5. Orphrey says:

    Because SSPX priests have been given jurisdiction to hear confession by the Pope (if I can use that phraseology), that must mean they are both not schismatic, and also in full communion with the Church, right?

  6. Gerard Plourde says:

    Dear John Patrick,

    “[Mass times] may also be constrained by a priest having to travel to multiple parishes. Usually the SSPX chapel doe not have such constraints.” This is not the case. In my state (Pennsylvania) there are four SSPX chapels statewide. Of the four, one (Erie) has Mass at 3 pm on Sunday once a month, one (Pittston, which is near Scranton) has weekly Sunday Mass at 4:30 pm, one (Pittsburgh) has a Sunday Mass at 9 am (oddly it also has a Saturday Mass at 6 pm three weeks per month, which becomes a 9 am Mass on the first Saturday to accommodate the Fatima devotions), and one (Eddystone which is near Philadelphia) has two Sunday morning Masses, and a weekly Saturday evening Mass (not sure if this is a vigil Mass, which would certainly be odd). None of these chapels offer daily Mass.

    As to the question of fasting from Midnight – This actually was modified prior to the introduction of the 1962 Missal. The fast from solid food was reduced to three hours before Mass and to one hour from liquids (except water which does not break the fast) and was in effect when I made my First Communion in the Spring of 1961.

  7. jhayes says:

    Orphrey, in extending the practice, Francis made clear that the SSPX is not now in full communion with the Church but that he hopes they will recover that status sometime in the future.

    For the Jubilee Year I had also granted that those faithful who, for various reasons, attend churches officiated by the priests of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X, can validly and licitly receive the sacramental absolution of their sins.[15] For the pastoral benefit of these faithful, and trusting in the good will of their priests to strive with God’s help for the recovery of full communion in the Catholic Church, I have personally decided to extend this faculty beyond the Jubilee Year, until further provisions are made, lest anyone ever be deprived of the sacramental sign of reconciliation through the Church’s pardon.

  8. Peter Stuart says:

    “Develop the sort of relationship that will allow you, on Monday morning, to call them up and ask if everything is alright because they were missed in their regular pew on Sunday.”

    Never once in my life (the middle of which, granted, I spent outside the Church before reverting several years ago) has a priest done this. My mother talked of how priests would sometimes call or come to the house in the priest-rich years before V2. But I wouldn’t expect them to now, knowing how busy they are. And if one did, I’m not sure how I’d react–would I be absolutely grateful or a little bit cynical?

    It hasn’t been an easy ride in (or out of) this man’s Church. Maybe that’s why people retreat to the SSPX. All priests are in my prayers.

  9. Orphrey says:

    jhayes, thanks for the information. If SSPX priests are not in “full communion” with the Church, does that mean they are excommunicated? [No. They are “suspended”. They don’t have permission from the Church to exercise Holy Orders.] I don’t think so — as I understand it, even the excommunications of the SSPX bishops have been lifted, but the priests of the society themselves were never excommunicated. Or am I wrong about that? Another related question: if an SSPX priest were to present himself for Communion at a regular diocesan Mass, could the diocesan priest deny him Communion by claiming the SSPX priest is excommunicated? [Other questions can be submitted to the ASK FATHER Question Box.]

  10. pseudomodo says:


    To see if the SSPX priests and faithful had ever been excommunicated we have to refer to the letter from Cdl. Gantin in 1988.

    From the Office of the Congregation for Bishops, 1 July 1988.

    Monsignor Marcel Lefebvre, Archbishop-Bishop Emeritus of Tulle, notwithstanding the formal canonical warning of 17 June last and the repeated appeals to desist from his intention, has performed a schismatical act by the episcopal consecration of four priests, without pontifical mandate and contrary to the will of the Supreme Pontiff, and has therefore incurred the penalty envisaged by Canon 1364, paragraph 1, and canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law.
    Having taken account of all the juridical effects, I declare that the above-mentioned Monsignor Marcel Lefebvre, and Bernard Pellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta have incurred excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.

    Moreover, I declare that Monsignor Antonio de Castro Mayer, Bishop emeritus of Campos, since he took part directly in the liturgical celebration as co-consecrator and adhered publicly to the schismatical act, has incurred excommunication as envisaged by canon 1364, paragraph 1.

    The priests and faithful are warned not to support the schism of Monsignor Lefebvre, otherwise they shall incur the very grave penalty of excommunication.

    From the Office of the Congregation for Bishops, 1 July 1988.

    Bernardinus Card. Gantin Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops

    Sooooooo……This is the question: If the priest and faithful supported the schism then they would have been ipso facto excommunicated. [What does “support” mean?] If the bishops excommunication was lifted, what became of the priests and faithful of the SSPX? Can it be demonstrated that the presumed excommunication of the priests and faithful of the SSPX was also lifted? [They were not and are not, in fact, excommunicated.]

    According to +Gantin the only way to have NOT have incurred automatic excommunication is for it to be demonstrated that the priests and faithful never supported Lefebvre and his Bishops. [The lay people who would “support” the SSPX (whatever that means) would not incur an automatic excommunication. It would have to be declared. It hasn’t been declared.]

    [Lot’s of people are in over their heads in this pool.]

  11. Gerard Plourde says:

    Dear Orphrey,

    The status of SSPX priests is a little complex as I understand it. Bear with me.

    First, the only members of the SSPX who were actually excommunicated were Abp. Lefebvre and the four Bishops he consecrated. [No. There was another bishop who assisted.] Their excommunication was on the ground that they had directly disobeyed the Pope (Pope St. John Paul) by acting without authority or license. [They consecrated without Pontifical mandate.] Abp. Lefebrve died an excommicate. The excommunications of the four bishops he consecrated were lifted by Pope Benedict. The consecration of the bishops was valid, however, since Abp. Lefebvre as a bishop had the power to consecrate.

    Priests of the Society are in a somewhat nebulous state. They have been ordained validly because the bishops of the society are valid bishops but this is not the whole story. In order for a priest to exercise his ministry, the must be subject to a bishop who is in communion with the Holy See and who has been appointed jurisdiction over a diocese. This is known as incardination. It is on this level that the priests of the Society are hindered. [Close.]

    SSPX priests can validity (and licitly) baptize, since even a lay person (or anyone even an atheist in an emergency) can baptize.

    SSPX priests say valid (but illicit) Masses because they have been validly ordained. The Mass is not licit (legal) because they lack incardination. [No. They lack faculties.] (This would also be the case of a priest saying Mass outside of the diocese within which he is incardinated without the permission of the local bishop, by the way. [No. It is more complicated. Priests don’t need, for example, local faculties to say Mass privately.] Also note that the Mass’s validity ensures that a communicant is receiving the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord.)

    Things get more serious in the matter of the Sacraments of Penance (Reconciliation) and Matrimony. In order for these to be valid, a priest must be both validly ordained and acting licitly (incardinated and acting within one’s diocese or with the permission of the local bishop). [No. He must have faculties.] Confessions heard by SSPX priests prior to the Year of Mercy were invalid. (Whether they were ineffective is not for us to say, since it is God who ultimately forgives and remits.) What Pope Francis has done is to remove (temporarily) the requirement that validly ordained priests of the SSPX be acting licitly.

    The validity of a marriage performed at an SSPX chapel would have to be ascertained by a Marriage Tribunal since Catholics are required to adhere to the laws of the Church concerning marriage when contracting a marriage. (Ironically, marriage between two Protestants in a Protestant ceremony would be rebuttably presumed valid since they are not required to meet this requirement.)

    Turning directly to the question of whether a priest who is actively serving in the SSPX could be denied communion may actually depend on whether the Church deems his actions constitute a “grave sin” rather than a question of excommunication which we know from the preceding is not the case. For example, does his activity within the SSPX or ideas he has expressed concerning church doctrine promote scandal. One area of concern in this regard is the Society’s discomfort with aspects of the Second Vatican Council’s document Nostra aetate.

    Whether a priest of the SSPX would actually attend a non-SSPX Mass and seek to receive Communion is a different matter.

    [These are “ASK FATHER” Question Box questions. Just sayin’]

  12. jflare says:

    For all that Rome has not formally declared the SSPX to be schismatic, I am hard pressed to explain why they are not inherently so. I am aware that SSPX honors the Pope, prays for him, and has the trappings of Tradition wrapped around. [“trappings”… by which you imply… what?] Sadly, they do not hold themselves accountable to the Pope’s authority in the Church. Well, I notice that many Protestant groups also honor the Pope, sometimes pray for him, and some even offer services quite similar to the Novus Ordo. Even so, they do not hold themselves accountable to the Pope’s authority in the Church, nor do they or we refer themselves as Catholic. Acting in a manner that presents itself as Catholic, yet rejects the rightful authority of the leader of the Catholic Church strikes me as being inherently schismatic. I have long had the impression that they have not been declared so mostly because Rome refuses to admit to reality. [Could it be that the people in Rome who are concerned with this matter, such as the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” (where I worked for years) have a different view than yours?]
    It’s one thing to wish for the Society to be reconciled to the Church. It’s quite another for the Society to be willing to be accountable to higher authority. I am inclined to think them quasi-schismatic, mostly because they look Catholic and sound very alike to Tradition, but have separated themselves from the Church by their own free will. Rome simply doesn’t seem to have the nerve to admit it.

    [There is no such thing as “quasi-schismatic”.]

  13. frmh says:

    It is certainly key to befriend the sspx clergy I can see that, there is definitely an apostolate there to make them realise that everything in NO land is not evil and that priests within the canonical structures hold the same doctrines as them and the only difference is, we have normal jurisdiction and ordinary faculties.

    In my meetings with sspx priests they have been able to appreciate and admire the opportunities that we have to reach a much wider audience than them and to be on the front lines.

    I haven’t preached on the importance of full communion before but it probably needs to be addressed….I certainly, as the poster of the question, can confirm that I have preached quite clearly that those who support abortion or use artificial contraception need to change and get into the confessional before approaching for Holy Communion….. The biggest thing here, as in most places is much more basic though…. getting people to appreciate that confession is always necessary for Holy Communion if you have deliberately missed Sunday Mass.

  14. Huber says:

    O tempora! O mores!

    We’ve got a pope getting queued up for a formal correction for wanting to give Holy Communion to folks living in a perpetual state of sin.

    A vast majority of “c”atholics don’t go to Mass weekly. Those that do rarely go to confession. Most priests don’t even sit in a confessional long enough every week for even their extraordinary ministers of communion to be in a state of grace.

    And here we have a priest that is contemplating denying Holy Communion to traditional folks that are actually going to Mass daily, and are very likely in a state of grace!

    I’d ask the good reverend if he’s advertising the several hours of confession at his parish before and during the Christmas eve vigil and Christmas day Masses to accommodate all of the lapsed Christmas and Easter Catholics that are going with their families to be packed like sardines in the pews (and will likely be in the Holy Communion line).

  15. spock says:

    Would think a question like this would be directed to the Ordinary. Perhaps that was done and the response was ambiguous or otherwise unsatisfactory. Perhaps we here have an example of a very good priest trying to good things and is frustrated by the fact of having an SSPX chapel local to his parish. He should not think of his good efforts as a kind of “Raid” or “Black Flag” for the SSPX. He should be more upset that his diocesan brethren (who could replace him at any moment if his bishop chooses) aren’t doing the same thing he’s doing.

    I rather appreciate Father Z’s suggestion. Take them out for a beer or cigar etc. Talk hunting, fishing, sports, needlepoint; whatever these good men like to do… Get to know them.

  16. asburyfox says:

    For a priest who says the TLM weekly, that is an uncharitable way to think of faithful lay Catholics who are daily communicants who choose to attend Sunday SSPX Masses. These are lay Catholics in good standing. They have their reasons for attending SSPX Masses and it is most likely not about size. They are perfectly within their rights to attend these Masses and are following Church law. Church law stating a Catholic fulfills his Sunday obligation by assisting at a Catholic rite Mass.

  17. Orphrey says:

    Father Z, thank you very much for explaining some of the nuances of the situation. It is confusing. I know faithful Catholics who believe the SPPX is in schism, and who therefore express fear and loathing of the SPPX.

  18. jflare says:

    I am well aware that at least one office in Rome has a different view of the situation regarding SSPX. I am also aware that various supporters of SSPX routinely insist they are Catholics in good standing. Various offices in Rome [?] do not appear willing to give a straight answer. [“Various offices” don’t count.] Sadly, if “quasi-schismatic” does not actually exist, neither does “irregular canonical status”. [Wrong. Irregular canonical status does.]

    If nuances are involved,fine, but such nuances should not leave matters as muddy as they are. We cannot expect to solve a problem if we refuse to state the problem clearly. [In this case the lack of clarity is probably helpful.] I am every bit as irritated with the various functionaries [?] in Rome as I am with the leadership of SSPX. If we ask “are they in communion with the Pope?”, an answer of “sort of” or “maybe” does not tell us anything useful.
    We cannot “sort of” go to Mass or “maybe” receive communion validly. Either we do or we don’t. All this “nuance” does not enable virtuously lived lives. [Sure it does. What difference does this make for your personal pursuit of holiness? Your vocation?]

  19. Tony Phillips says:

    Getting back to the original question posed by a parish priest…
    It’s lovely that you offer the TLM daily (if I understood the situation correctly). I wish our parish did so even weekly.
    I happen to live very close to an SSPX parish in the UK, and within driving distance to a couple parishes that offer the TLM. I can tell you there are definitely some people who frequent both (which I know because I’ve done so!). It would appear that, even if the bishops (include the pope in there) can’t sort things out, the people are already doing so. Why get in their way?

    Question: have you visited the SSPX Mass centre or tried to make any contact with them? I have urged my own parish priest to pay a call on the SSPX, though I don’t believe that’s happened. It strikes me as absurd that there are ‘Churches Together’ in which Catholic priests and Protestant ministers have prayer breakfasts and walks of witness, but no one speaks to the SSPX. I’m don’t know if the SSPX would be that receptive–maybe they wouldn’t–but to me it’s just courtesy and good manners. I understand priests are afraid of their bishops, but trust me, as a single man you’ve got very little to lose. Try supporting a wife and X kids–then you’ll lie awake at night worrying.

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