ASK FATHER: Can a bishop forbid people from attending Masses of the SSPX?

From a reader…


I was wondering if the diocesan ordinary has the authority to forbid the faithful from attending a particular mass. A common example of this would be the masses celebrated by the SSPX. Though the canonical status of the society has been clarified much in recent years, many bishops still say that the faithful cannot attend their masses at all. Thanks in advance.

Bishops have very few checks on them, very little oversight.  Rome nearly always rubber-stamps unjust decisions of liberal-minded bishops.  Thus, they can get away with a lot.  A bishop can try to get people to believe that he has the authority to forbid things through letters that make it seem like he has that authority.  A close reading of some restrictive episcopal edicts quickly reveals that bishops are really expressing their personal preferences rather than anything based in law.  They sound really official, but in the end, they are suggestions, not legitimate commands.

We have to read “decrees” carefully to find what they really say and don’t say, and then interpret laws that place restrictions as favorably for people as possible.

Let us also remember that bishops can hurt priests in a thousand ways.  Priests often don’t want to deal with the fallout that will come from a harsh bishop so they keep their heads down.

Rome has provided that the faithful can to go priests of the SSPX for sacramental confession and be validly absolved.  Rome has provided that priests of the SSPX can receive faculties to witness marriages.  Rome also explicitly said that the priest can celebrate the Nuptial Mass!

It doesn’t make any sense at all that people can go to these priests for confession and to be married, but then they would have to leave before Mass began.    If people can be at a Nuptial Mass, how can it bef wrong for them to be at a regular Mass?

Yes, people can attend Masses at SSPX chapels.  They can fulfill their Sunday obligation with such Masses.  They can, and should (out of justice – because they’ve received a service), give something in the collection.

If the SSPX priest says stupid things in the pulpit or displays an improper attitude about the Faith or towards people, they should be treated as at any other place, canonically without question or not: people should go elsewhere.

However, in the main, yes, people can go to Masses of the SSPX, especially if the local bishop has been harsh in restricting use the the pre-Conciliar Missal, thus diminishing the opportunties to attend Mass in the Vetus Ordo.

I wouldn’t say that about “independent” chapels or about true sedevacantists.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I love the wonderful service from canon lawyer Cathy Caridi, Canon Law Made Easy, BUT: but I think she fell prey to forgetting that, as Fr. Z says, restrictive laws must “place restrictions as favorably for people as possible.” She also appears to question whether SSPX priests are “Catholic ministers.”

  2. Jim Dorchak says:

    Our God is a mighty GOD INDEED!
    Where doors are closed! God opens new ones!
    Go find a door.
    Go to Christs side.
    Go to adore the Lord Jesus.
    Go with joy and pray for those of us who can not.
    Praise our Lord Jesus.

  3. Pingback: ASK FATHER: Can a bishop forbid people from attending Masses of the SSPX? | Fr. Z’s Blog – The Old Roman

  4. redneckpride4ever says:

    How interesting to see this pop up tonight since earlier today I saw for the first time an updated FAQ on the website for my Diocese.

    Their statement concerning the lone SSPX chapel in the state was not their when I last looked a couple months ago:

    Of course this blog long ago presented me clear truth on the subject. Hence my wife and I had no intention of postponing our trip to aforementioned Society chapel for Mass tomorrow.

  5. redneckpride4ever says:


  6. HvonBlumenthal says:

    Rome has also acknowledged that the “faithful” go to SSPX for “various reasons” without passing judgment on those reasons (Misericordia et Miseria). So you can go to SSPX Masses and still be considered faithful by Pope Francis

  7. It seems to me that Lefebvre built, or tried to build, that wall of tradition Fr. Z always refers to. However, in his slightly discombobulated hurry to build that wall, he ended up erecting an irregular wall of confusion. But for the last fifty years, that wall is being patiently torn down, brick by brick, by true lovers of the Church’s heritage within the SSPX. There can be no doubt that there are SSPX communities like that.

    [“true lovers of the Church’s heritage within the SSPX” – This needs some explanation.]

  8. Pingback: MONDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  9. TonyO says:

    There is a quote, apparently from Benedict XVI, that the SSPX “has no canonical status” in the Church. I am puzzled about this, and find it nearly impossible to credit as meaning what it would seem to mean.

    First: Pope Francis granted to the priests of SSPX the faculty to hear confessions. I don’t understand how it would be even POSSIBLE to do this if there wasn’t a canonical meaning of “priests of SSPX”. Who would be the proper recipients of that granted faculty if there is no entity SSPX that the Church recognizes?

  10. redneckpride4ever says:


    The entire situation of the SSPX has a long and confusing history. There’s much debate no doubt. My opinion basically mirrors Fr. Z’s.

    I don’t attend the NH chapel to act as a protester or be holier than thou. I attend because, strangely enough, the medium but consistent turnout has a certain “kinfolkery”, almost like praying the Mass with family.

    I was actually employed as a Facilities Manager for the Diocese when I started going and nobody gave me grief. In fact it was a running gag for awhile.

    That said, I do also attend Masses of the FSSP (who had a beautiful pre-55 Vigil this past Easter). When at the Society I don’t mention the Fraternity and vice versa. After all, I’m there for a reverent Mass, not to pit Catholics against one another.

  11. My bad… “true lovers of the Church’s heritage within the SSPX” as meaning, those adherents of the SSPX who are adherents not for the sake of the SSPX by itself, but because they truly love the Mass of the Ages and the traditions of the Church.

    I apologize if that was at all taken to mean something like “those who love the traditions of the SSPX”

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