ASK FATHER: Can I really fulfill my Mass obligation at an SSPX chapel?

UPDATE 24 June

I had a note from Peter Vere which, with his permission, I should add to the post.

A number of folks have sent me the following link, in which you mention my name directly, regarding the SSPX.

A few points:

The individual cites my previous position, back when a clear schism existed between the SSPX and Rome. In light of Pope Benedict’s subsequent lifting of the excommunications, the SSPX’s expulsion of Bishop Williamson and those within the SSPX loyal to him, and subsequent rapprochement under Pope Francis, I’m now on record publicly as stating my previous position on this issue is now moot since the SSPX are no longer in a state of schism or display a schismatic mentality.

Likewise, in response to your reader in the comments section, the SSPX are back in communion with Rome. They have even re-established limited canonical ties with Rome in the practice of canon law like any other Catholic diocese or major institute of consecrated life.

Thus the SSPX remain in an irregular canonical situation, but it is slowly being regularized. As such, they can no longer be considered schismatic, or outside of communion with Rome.

Please note my canonical opinion expressed above applies to the main SSPX only. It does not extend to the so-called SSPX Resistance and other groups that broke away under Bishop Williamson from communion with the SSPX.

Thanks to Peter Vere for sending this in!

___ Originally Published on: Jun 23, 2019

From a reader…


I’ve always had the impression that Cardinal Hoyos and Msgr. Perl have affirmed that so long as a person is not developing a schismatic mentality, that he/she may fulfill their sunday (and assumedly holyday?) obligation at an sspx mass, regardless of whether there’s a novus ordo mass nearby or even a licit tridentine mass (fssp, etc) nearby.

However, I’ve recently come across arguments made by Peter Vere and others to the contrary, i.e., that attendance at an sspx chapel can only be justified if there’s no other catholic mass nearby at all, and even then, one’s duty towards a sunday obligation is waived anyways.
What do you think? This has left me confused.

Mr. Vere and others are confused and have drawn incorrect conclusions.

I worked at the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” for a long time.   It was always the position of the PCED that people could attend Masses at the chapels of the SSPX, that people would on a vigil of or day of a holyday of obligation (e.g., all Sundays – can. 1248 §1) fulfill their obligation, and that they could also contribute, out of justice, to the collection.   The letters often hedged saying that the PCED wouldn’t recommend Communion at the chapel, but that language doesn’t forbid Communion either!

Yes, you can fulfill your obligation at an SSPX chapel.  No, you don’t need to be in a situation where you can’t get to another Mass at a recognized church or chapel.  Wanting to go is reason enough.

Of course God cannot be deceived.

People shouldn’t go to these or any other chapel if their Faith and their unity with their proper pastors is being undermined.   It seems to me that thinking, “I really dislike Card. C__, so I won’t go to a parish Mass.  I’ll go to the SSPX instead”, would be a deficient motive.   It seems to me that if you attend the SSPX chapel and all you hear is harangues against Francis and the “modernist Church” blah blah blah and you are sensing that that scandalous preaching is affecting your unity with the local church, then that would be a reason to reflect on why you were going to the SSPX chapel.

You can go to confession and be validly absolved by SSPX priests, just as with regular priests.

It is now in most places possible validly to marry at an SSPX chapel, so long as they are working in harmony with the local diocese in the matter of marriages.  I don’t know of a US diocese where this is not the case.

In 99% of cases, lay people want reverent worship and solid, trustworthy preaching.  And in 99% of cases, that’s what they will get at chapels of the SSPX.  There are rotten lay apples and rotten clerical apples in our big barrel.  They are rare.   But a rotten apple can do a lot of harm to the rest of the barrel.

Be prudent.

And remember that God cannot be deceived when it comes to motives.

I suppose now that some will jump in with all sorts of notions and assertions that you can’t fulfill your obligation.  They are all wrong and I am right.

And, as my old pastor used to say, “When you’re right, you can’t be wrong.”

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Just waiting for someone to erroneously assert that you can’t fulfill your obligation by attending an Ordinary Form Mass offered by a priest ordained since the Council.


  2. Greg Hlatky says:

    I attend an SSPX chapel in Dickinson, TX on Holy Days of Obligation. To get to my own parish on a weekday would mean fighting through horrible traffic on the west side of Houston.

    I’m aware that the SSPX is not currently in communion with Rome but I’m not sticking my finger in the eye of the hierarchy, I just want to hear a reverent Mass, one reflecting His awesome sacrifice. I could go to the “Catholic community” 15 minutes from my house, but I have a great deal of difficulty getting myself in a reverent state of mind during “The Father Frank Show, with Special Guest, Jesus Christ” or the glad-handing before and during Mass or worrying about how to take Communion.

    [I think that to say that “the SSPX is not in Communion with Rome” isn’t the best way to put it. They’ve never been declared to be heretics, or schismatic, or apostates. They’ve always said the name of the current Pope in the Canon. They are out of step in many ways, juridically, but it seems to me that “not in Communion with Rome” as if they were Orthodox, isn’t right.]

  3. dbf223 says:

    “I really dislike Card. C__, so I won’t go to a parish mass.” Ha! I wonder who Card. C__ could possibly be?

  4. NB says:

    Is your regular parish Regina Caeli?

  5. Steven says:

    I attend at an SSPX chapel not out of a desire for schism, but because it’s simply the best church in the area. The sermons are not only orthodox but meaty, the liturgy is reverently performed, and there’s a huge community. It’s literally standing room only on feasts like today, and most of the parishioners are active and engaged. It is, honestly, everything I’ve ever wanted out of a parish. There are some schismatics there – you can tell from how they talk about The Church – but they’re outliers, and there are no sedes or other misc crazies.

    I recently decided, though, to attend the daily weekday TLM at a slightly more distant church that’s not of The Society. We don’t have a weekday Mass, usually, being a mission, and it’s a nice way to keep the sin of schism from worming its way into my soul. But I can’t imagine abandoning this parish in its current form – it’s a real gem.

    In my experience, those of us that attend Society Masses have pretty diverse reasons for arriving there, but it’s almost never “The Church is invalid” or “I hate The modern Church” but some variation on “The Church abandoned/betrayed/hurt me,” “The Church is denying itself/teaching false doctrine,” or, in my case, “The mainstream Church is a risk to my soul.” I hope the wound can be healed soon.

  6. Dinocrates says:

    I definitely think it’s a case by case situation. I live near a vibrant FSSP parish and there doesn’t seem to me any logical reason to go to the SSPX chapel nearby. The people that still go there either are their because they have always gone there or because they think the FSSP is some sort of conspiracy to destroy the traditional movement….yup… That’s a thing.

    However, my sister lives in an area where the bishop is so opposed to tradition that he insisted the kids go to the local novus ordo first communion classes where they were being taught things like “confession is only for adults because kids don’t sin.” The local traditional community was willing to have they own classes. She decided she would go to SSPX at least until her children have received communion. I can’t blame her. I suggested she travel to another diocese for confirmation.

  7. TonyO says:

    However, my sister lives in an area where the bishop is so opposed to tradition that he insisted the kids go to the local novus ordo first communion classes where they were being taught things like “confession is only for adults because kids don’t sin.”

    In my former diocese, the diocese undertook to create an official policy for parishes on how to deal with homeschool kids (and parents), especially but not solely for sacraments. When they got into the meat of it, they discovered that they could not insist on the kids attending the parish’s special sacramental prep classes, just as they could not insist on the kids attending CCD – at least, not while keeping within canon law and all the norms of the Church: Parents are the primary educators, and if they are doing the job of teaching the faith to their kids, the parish cannot insist otherwise. This was the point parents made quite firmly in the development process for the guidelines. Along with making a distinction between the sacramental prep classes, and mere rehearsals for the ceremony, which obviously need the attendance of the kids. And making a distinction between the parish TEACHING the material the kids need to know, and the parish (in the form of pastor or religious ed director) determining whether the kid knows the material he needs to know. The basic point is that if a kid is of suitable age, properly disposed, and knows what the sacrament is and why he is receiving it, he cannot canonically be denied reception of it.

    While your sister can go to the SSPX chapel for First Communion, I have heard of pastors (of NO parishes) refusing to “recognize” the fact for people who live in their geographical boundaries but go somewhere else for a sacrament, (whatever that should mean) or otherwise making it heavy weather to be all squared up with the records and such. She should talk to others who have faced the same issue with the pastor to see how he is likely to deal with her presenting him with a fait-accompli of her child receiving First Communion somewhere else.

  8. Ejohnson says:

    So Sunday mass obligation can be fulfilled at the SSPX parish? Funny I was just having this conversation with a friend this past weekend. Unbeknown to me I erroneously said that the Sspx was in schism or irregular and that if there is an Fssp parish available one should do their best to attend the Fssp instead. I kind of insinuated that the Sspx should just join or combine with the Fssp since there is technically no reason for them to continue to exist in the state that they’re in. The church is no longer in a “state of emergency” like it was in the past. Colorado has a large Fssp parish and a large SSPX parish in Watkins CO which a lot of parishioners go back and forth from. There is also a rather large sedevacantis church there as well. Father has preached homilies on traditional parishes not succumbing to sedevacantism as that is always lurking around the corner with traditionalist groups. The sede parish would “permit” their parishioners to attend the Sspx in Watins but not the Fssp. Not trying to argue with anyone just giving an opinion to the situation. I have attended the Sspx service in Watins once and it was a beautiful church out in literally the middle of no where. I’ll show my friend this article.

    [You jumped to some conclusions in your comment. It seems to me that, all things being equal concerning worship and preaching and activities, if you are equidistant from an SSPX chapel and a FSSP parish, your choice would naturally be for the FSSP parish because of its formal ties. As far as the SSPX giving up and merging is concerned because there is no “state of emergency”… well, I suspect they won’t see things that way. Also, you, in Watkins, might be happy to have both FSSP and SSPX available. Most people don’t. Lastly, the SSPX doesn’t have parishes. A parish is a formal ecclesial proscription established by the diocesan bishop. So, they can’t have parishes, any more than they can have tribunals, etc. The FSSP can, however, have parishes granted by the local bishop.]

  9. Gabriel Syme says:

    A great post Father Z, with wise advice on the need for prudence too – which Catholics of today need everywhere these days!

    Of course, the irregular canonical situation of the Society should not be satisfactory to any Catholic, but it may well be that the SSPX is the best option for some people for various circumstances.

    I gladly support any priest / Order which offers the traditional faith, full and unabashed. I fulfill my Sunday obligation at an SSPX Chapel and think our locale is lucky to have such a Chapel, as otherwise – beyond the efforts of 1 or 2 priests – there is little scope for tradition.

    Going to the SSPX has been a revelation to me, not only in terms of authentic liturgy and practices, but in learning about Fatima, learning to pray the Rosary, learning how to pray.

    I find the sermons are pitched to teach us about the gospel and to challenge us personally. The latter, in terms of: Go to Confession! Pray the Rosary! Go to extra masses! Do good works! Ask for Grace!
    Come to Benediction! Don’t just do the bare minimum – do more! Be more!

    I think its brilliant, and worlds away from the insipid novus ordo sermons I grew up with.

    Sometimes the priests may turn their guns on the protestants and modernists, (same difference), but only where in ties in with a theme, not just for the sake of being negative. I remember a great sermon about the Wedding at Canna, and the priest wondering aloud how puritanical protestants must regard the notion of Our Lord creating more wine for a party which had already drank the place dry. “They must be terribly embarrassed” lamented Father.

    I find there is no tolerance whatsoever for schismatic / sedevacantist mindsets whatsoever at the SSPX and neither there should be.

    The only negative thing about going to the SSPX is that I am now often – of course, not always – appalled at the standards of novus ordo parishes when I have cause to visit. Across the board – standards of dress, of conduct, of liturgy, of preaching, of music etc, – many such places are the pits.

    In particular the noise level, due to chit-chat, amazes me – I had grown up with this and so was not even really aware of it before. It was ‘normal’. Modern Catholic Church are the only buildings I know of where the noise level actually *increases*, when you come in off the street. Whereas, to enter the House of God, we should be entering an oasis of peace and calm, leaving behind traffic noise etc.

    The Church authorities never formally declared the SSPX to be in schism and Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos (RIP) repeatedly confirmed there had never been any formal separation between the SSPX and mainstream Church.

    Really, by now, the SSPX is de facto regualrised, [For the sake of accuracy, and lest the readers here take that for the truth, no, there is still a distance to be crossed. Great progress has been made, but there are still a few things to solve.] but of course we just continue to hope and pray for the day of formal regulation to occur. [Indeed, we do! I can hardly wait. And it could be so easily resolved.]

  10. ctek says:

    An interesting take by Cardinal Burke a couple years ago, which I cannot find evidence that he has changed his position since then:

  11. Ejohnson says:

    Ok Father I do believe I said erroneous opinion

  12. Ejohnson says:

    Also what is the correct terminology of the laity that attend the Sspx?


  13. fmsb78 says:

    I am a SSPX attendee because of circumstances in the Church. Maybe in the US you can find a TLM around the corner anywhere but for those living in latin countries, under 99% of Liberation Theology bishops, getting to a TLM is like finding a needle in a haystack.

    In my city we have lots of doctrinal and liturgical abuses, from the very Bishop celebrating “pride” masses to the “little angels”. Before any of you ask, some enlightened people had the idea to put little girls to do liturgical dancing during mass. Long story short, I am father of four and I cannot let them go along with this nonsense.

    Finally, I think that TLM will only fully return when parish priests have the freedom to say it. [EXACTLY! When they are free from bullying by their bishops and have, instead, the backing against the whining nags of “Susan of the Parish Council”.] SSPX, FSSP are all fine but they are not mainstream and will never have the reach out power of the regular parishes. If you have a courageous parish priest trying to say the TLM, that’s the guy you have to support. We used to have a converted priest from Liberation Theology to Catholicism here, and he said the TLM along with ST Pius X catechism for 3 years until the Bishop removed him. The providence is strange sometimes because he’s forbid to say the TLM publicly but he is now the rector of the seminary and he’s really cleaning it out and the good Lord knows how many tradition minded priests he’ll be able to form, I mean before the Bishop realizes his move was actually a shoot in the foot.

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