Frequently Asked Questions
All of the Society's seminaries are international, and consequently not limited to one country, but are an image of the universality of the Catholic Church. Holy Cross Seminary is no exception to this, receiving candidates from a variety of countries. However, the Seminary is modeled on the Society's mother seminary in Ecône, Switzerland, in all its details, as well as in the principles of formation. Its purpose is to pass on to the seminarians the spirit given to the Society by its holy founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Holy Cross Seminary also has the advantage of having only a small enrollment of students, and of being in the country and in an out of the way place, making it very favourable for prayer and study.
The spirituality of the Society of Saint Pius X is centred on the Mass, only what concerns the Mass, and everything that concerns the Mass. It consequently focuses on what is most important, for it is the Mass that is the center of Catholic life and worship. Furthermore, the Society's spirituality cannot be understood in abstraction from the present crisis in the Church, which it is the Catholic teaching of the Council of Trent that the modernists have so viciously attacked. The Society is necessarily militant, and this combat for the Faith, and the continual effort to live the Faith in its entirety are inseparable from the spirituality of the Society of Saint Pius X. It is consequently a profoundly supernatural spirituality, and that only real answer to the widespread abandonment of the true notion of the Catholic priesthood which is at the root of the present crisis.
Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre was the founder of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX).
A brief history: 1905-1991
November 29, 1905
Birth of Marcel Lefebvre to Rene and Gabrielle Lefebvre.
September 21, 1929
Marcel Lefebvre is ordained a priest.
Having become a Holy Ghost Father, he becomes a missionary in Gabon, Africa.
September 18, 1947
He is consecrated a bishop and appointed Apostolic Vicar of Dakar, Senegal.
Bishop Lefebvre is Pope Pius XII’s Apostolic Delegate for 18 African countries.
September 14, 1955
He becomes the first Archbishop of Dakar.
Pope John XXIII appoints Archbishop Lefebvre to the Central Preparatory Commission for the Second Vatican Council; all of this commission's work though will be rejected by the liberals at the onset of the Council.
Lefebvre returns to France to be the Bishop of Tulle.
Archbishop Lefebvre is elected and acts as Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers. During the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), he helps to lead the resistance to the liberal hijacking of the council via the Coetus Internationalis Patrum, which consisted of nearly 200 bishops.
In the wake of Vatican II, liberals within the Holy Ghost Fathers attempt to force him to implement changes to the congregation. Knowing that this "updating" would destroy his missionary society, he decides to resign as superior general and go into “retirement.”
Approached by seminarians, parents, priests and bishops (and having received the encouraging sign that this was the will of God—the urging and permission of Bishop Francois Charriere), Archbishop Lefebvre founds the Priestly Society of St. Pius X.
The Society of St. Pius X having received its official approval on November 1, 1970 by the local bishop, Bishop Adam Nestor, and then by the Congregation of the Clergy of the Vatican, Archbishop Lefebvre acts as the priestly socieyt's first Superior General.
Until, in view of his imminent death, he consecrates successors, Archbishop Lefebvre does all he can to be faithful to the grace of his episcopacy, traveling the world to encourage Catholics to hold fast to the faith and traditions of their fathers, confirming their young and ordaining for them priests.
March 25, 1991
Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre passes before his Eternal Judge.
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The pope has never suppressed the SSPX: only the pope, not a local bishop, has the authority to suppress a religious order (1917 Code of Canon Law, canon 493 and 1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 616).
Timeline of the suppression
November 1, 1970
The SSPX is canonically founded.
Several French bishops attack the Society as "sauvage" (renegade). One of them, Pope Paul VI’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Villot, deceives the Holy Father into believing Archbishop Lefebvre had his priests sign a declaration against the pope (Archbishop Lefebvre, Fideliter, no. 59, pp. 68-70).
November 11-13, 1974
An apostolic visitation of the seminary at Econe takes place (this is in itself normal procedure; its conclusions, though never published, were “very favorable,” according to Cardinal Garonne, “except that you don’t use the new liturgy, and there’s a somewhat anti-conciliar spirit there.”) The visitors, however, disturb those at the seminary by their expression of highly unorthodox views, prompting Archbishop Lefebvre’s so-called Declaration.
February 13 and March 3, 1975
Archbishop Lefebvre meets with an improvised commission of three cardinals, allegedly to discuss the Apostolic Visitation, but ends defending his Declaration against the cardinals’ severe criticism. Having been given no warning as to the primary subject of these meetings, he has no lawyer, and is never allowed a copy of the recorded meetings, even though it was promised him.
May 6, 1975
The irregular commission writes Bishop Mamie at Fribourg telling him to withdraw his predecessor’s approval of the Society, which is beyond his canonical power (once the bishop has approved a religious congregation, only the pope can suppress it: 1917 Code of Canon Law, canon 493 and 1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 616).
June 5, 1975
Archbishop Lefebvre submits an appeal to the Apostolic Signature in Rome, in substance:
...it would be for the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to determine whether my Declaration were at fault. Please provide evidence that this commission of cardinals had been expressly mandated by the pope (who by his own authority can bypass the Congregations) to decide as has been done.* And if I be at fault, of course I can be censured, but not the Society which was founded in due canonical form."
*This evidence was never produced.
Cardinal Villot arranges that the appeal is not accepted. Cardinal Staffa is threatened with dismissal if he dare to accept an appeal from Archbishop Lefebvre. (Vatican Encounter, pp. 85 and 191)
June 29, 1975
Pope Paul VI is convinced to write to Archbishop Lefebvre that he approved of all the actions of the commission of cardinals. It is impossible, however that papal approbation in June could empower this commission which had met the previous February.
On this whole process, Archbishop Lefebvre observes:
...we have been condemned, without trial, without opportunity to defend ourselves, without due warning or written process and without appeal. (Open Letter to Confused Catholics, p. 150)
Over and above the canonical question, there remains that of common sense: whether one must observe a censure when no crime can be pointed out, or when the identity or authority of the judge is unsure.
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These are hours of the Divine Office. The Office is the daily prayer of priests and is sometimes referred to as "The Liturgy of the Hours." Lauds and Vespers are sung at the Seminary on Sundays; while Prime, Sext, and Compline are sung every day.
Put simply, the Tridentine Mass is the Latin Mass that was being said in every Catholic Church of the Roman Rite before Vatican II (1962-65). It is the Mass that has nourished the piety of countless saints throughout the ages. It was “canonized” or set in stone by Pope St. Pius V in 1571, but is not essentially different from the oldest recorded liturgies that history has left us.
The Society is a priestly fraternity founded in 1970 by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre for the preservation of the traditional Catholic priesthood. For more information, please see our section on the Society.
The question of our attitude towards the pope is a delicate one, especially since there is much confusion amongst Catholics concerning this question.
The last 50 years have made this question more important than usual since we have witnessed the introduction of various theories and practices, often by the popes themselves, that run counter to the perennial teaching of the Catholic Church.
It behooves us then to look at the principles involved in this case:
First, there is no doubt that we believe all the dogmas of the Church, especially those concerning the office of the papacy:
A) That it was divinely founded:
Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven." (Mt. 16:18-9)
B) That the Bishop of Rome has a primacy no other bishop has:
We point to the tradition of that very great and very ancient and universally known Church, which was founded and established at Rome, by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul: we point I say, to the tradition which this Church has from the Apostles, and to her faith proclaimed to men which comes down to our time through the succession of her bishops, and so we put to shame... all who assemble in unauthorized meetings. For with this Church, because of its superior authority, every Church must agree—that is the faithful everywhere—in communion with which Church the tradition of the Apostles has been always preserved by those who are everywhere." (St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, III, 3:2)
C) That the pope is infallible under certain conditions:
The Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra—that is, when in the exercise of his office as pastor and teacher of all Christians he defines, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, a doctrine of faith or morals to be held by the whole Church—is, by reason of the Divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, possessed of that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer wished His Church to be endowed in defining doctrines of faith and morals; and consequently that such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable of their own nature and not by reason of the Church’s consent." (First Vatican Council, Denzinger §1839)
There seem to be two errors common in these turbulent times. The first temptation is to presume to judge the Holy Father of being a formal heretic, a situation which would, according to them, cause the apparent pope to be an anti-pope, possessing no true jurisdiction. Although this has been put forward as a theoretical possibility by some theologians historically, such a theory cannot explain what happens to such doctrines as the visibility of the Church, or Christ’s promise to be with His Church until the end of time. Such a simplistic notion is actually based on the same premise as the opposite temptation: that the pope is actually protected by an extended infallibility which cannot account for any error.
The opposite error is far more common and assumes that whatever the pope does or teaches is correct. This is perhaps understandable since, in normal times, this is in actuality what happens. But one must distinguish: history is replete with examples of popes who taught or did things which were not proper. As an example, Pope Liberius signed some form of a semi-Arian document, and Pope John XXII temporarily taught that the souls of the saved do not see God until after the Final Judgment. Some Renaissance popes led lives of dubious morality. In all these cases, though wrong, papal infallibility was not involved.
The pope is infallible primarily in matters of faith and morals, and secondarily in matters of discipline (legislation for the Universal Church, canonizations, etc.) to the extent that these involve faith and morals (cf. principle 4), and then only when imposing for all time a definitive teaching. Indeed, if the pope had some form of personal infallibility with regard to his ordinary teaching, there would be no need for a definition of its limits.
"Infallible" means immutable and irreformable (principle 6), but, the hallmark of the conciliar popes, like the Modernists, is a spirit of evolution. To what extent can such minds want irreformably to define or absolutely to impose? (Cf. question 15, n. 3)
How then are we to judge him?
- First, it must be understood that it is a duty and necessity to pray for the Holy Father and his intentions As St. Clement Mary Hofbauer says: “A Christian who does not pray for the pope is like a child who does not pray for his father.”
- It is not for us to judge his culpability in the destruction of the Church. Only God can so judge him.
- Nor is it for us to judge him juridically—the pope has no superior on earth—or to declare unquestionably null all his acts.
- We must thus make a judgment of his words and actions inasmuch as they affect our eternal salvation, as our Savior said:
"Beware of false prophets who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. By their fruits you shall know them." (Mt. 7:15)
We are not to co-operate blindly in the destruction of the Church by tolerating the implementation of a new religion or by not doing what we can to defend the Catholic Faith. Archbishop Lefebvre was surely our model here:
No authority, not even the highest in the hierarchy, can compel us to abandon or to diminish our Catholic Faith, so clearly expressed and professed by the Church’s Magisterium for 19 centuries."
“Friends,” said St. Paul, “though it were we ourselves, though it were an angel from heaven that should preach to you a gospel other than the gospel we have preached to you, a curse upon him.” (Gal. 1:8)
That is why, without any rebellion, bitterness, or resentment, we pursue our work of priestly formation under the guidance of the never-changing Magisterium, convinced as we are that we cannot possibly render a greater service to the Holy Catholic Church, to the Sovereign Pontiff, and to posterity.
1 By such men as Cajetan, St. Robert Bellarmine, and John of St. Thomas. There are different levels of theological certainty. Among these levels we might count revealed dogmas, which all Catholics must believe; teachings proximate to the Faith, which, though not defined, are generally regarded as true, and theological opinions, which the Church has not definitively settled and about which theologians disagree.
2 It should be noted that we do not speak primarily of the pope’s personal, subjective intentions. The six objective intentions of the Holy Father, traditionally understood, are:
- the exaltation of the Church,
- the propagation of the Faith,
- the extirpation of heresy,
- the conversion of sinners,
- concord between Christian princes,
- and the further welfare of the Christian people.
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A code is a collection of laws, each one being an order of the competent authority: each canon in the 1917 Code of Canon Law was a law of Benedict XV, and each canon in the 1983 Code of Canon Law (commonly called the "New Code") is a law of Pope John Paul II.
For Pope John Paul II, the purpose of the 1983 Code of Canon Law is the expression of the Second Vatican Council’s new ecclesiology (i.e., the new understanding that the Church has of her nature and mission) in canonical language, and it must be understood always in the light of conciliar teaching (Sacra Disciplinae Leges, January 25, 1983).
We must, therefore, suspect the new legislation of codifying the same errors and so be ready not to accept all its “laws,” [principle 9] but only those which do not evidently compromise Catholic teaching on faith or morals. For the most part, we may regret the loss of clarity, precision and integrity the 1917 Code of Canon Law had, but that is insufficient reason to reject these canons.
There a few novelties that must be rejected:
Canon 844, §4 allows the administration of penance, anointing of the sick, and even holy communion to non-Catholics who manifest “Catholic faith” (vs. principle 7) in these sacraments.This used to be considered a mortal sin and was gravely forbidden (1917 Code of Canon Law, canon 731, §21) because it implicitly denies the dogma, “Outside the Church, no salvation” (principle 2).
Canon 1055, §1 no longer defines marriage by its primary end, the procreation of children, but mentions this only after a secondary end, the good of the spouses. And this latter, as we can see in the light of annulments now given, has become the essence of marriage [vs. principles 5 & 6]: the partners give each other their whole selves (and not just “the exclusive and perpetual right over the body of the partner as regards the acts capable in themselves of generating offspring,” 1917 Code of Canon Law, canon 1081, §2) for their self-fulfillment in wedlock (canon 1057, §2).
There is considered to be no marriage where one spouse cannot provide the other this help (canon 1095, 20 and 30, canon 1098, etc., cf. canon 1063, 40). Whence today’s annulments’ fiasco: in the United States, for example, there were 338 annulments granted in 1968; there were 59,030 in 1992.
Canon 336 codifies the collegiality of Vatican II. The “college of bishops,” a 20th century invention, is now made a permanent subject, together with the pope, of supreme and full power over the Universal Church. A bishop, moreover, participates in this universal jurisdiction by the mere fact of his consecration (cf. canon 375, §2).*
*This becomes all the more disconcerting when one considers the recognition now given by the Vatican to the Orthodox bishops. Cf., Pope Paul VI:
It is on the heads of the Churches, of their hierarchy, that the obligation rests to guide the Churches along the way that leads to full communion again. They ought to do this by recognizing and respecting each other as pastors of the flock of Christ entrusted to them..."
Quoted at Balamand, by the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, Final Statement §18 cf., §14; Ut Unum Sint §§50-63
These are but the most grave deficiencies; other defective points include the following:
- mixed marriages (canons 1125, 1127),
- diminution in censures (excommunication of freemasons, etc.),
- the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas is no longer strictly enjoined in seminaries (canons 251ff), and
- general absolutions are more readily available (canons 961-963, etc.).
In passing, it is interesting to note that for Pope John Paul II the 1983 Code of Canon Law had less weight than a conciliar constitution.
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Do the priests of the Society of St. Pius X possess faculties to validly and licitly administer the sacraments? How does supplied jurisdiction apply to them in the context of the post-conciliar crisis?
The question of jurisdiction
In virtue of his ordination, a priest can bless all things and even consecrate bread and wine in such wise that they become the very Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. But whenever in his ministry he has to deal authoritatively with people, he needs, over and above the power of Holy Orders, that of Jurisdiction, which empowers him to judge and rule his flock. Jurisdiction is, moreover, necessary for the validity itself of the sacraments of penance and matrimony.
The sacraments were given by Our Lord as the ordinary and principal means of salvation and sanctification. The Church, therefore, whose supreme law is the salvation of souls (1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 1752), wants the ready availability of these sacraments, and especially penance (canon 968). The Church wants priests (canon 1026) and empowers them liberally to hear confessions (canon 967, §2). This jurisdiction to hear confessions is to be revoked only for a grave reason (canon 974, §1).
Jurisdiction is ordinarily given by mandate from the pope or diocesan bishop, or perhaps delegated by the parish priest. The priests of the SSPX do not have jurisdiction in this way. Extraordinarily, however, the Church supplies jurisdiction without passing by the constituted authorities. This is foreseen in the 1983 Code of Canon Law:
- when the faithful think the priest has a jurisdiction which he does not have (canon 144) [common error],
- when there is a probable and positive doubt that the priest has jurisdiction (canon 144),
- when a priest inadvertently continues to hear confessions once his faculties have expired (canon 142, §2), and
- when the penitent is in danger of death (and then even if the priest is laicised or an apostate, even though a Catholic priest is at hand) (canons 976, 1335).
Therefore, the Church, wanting the ready availability of penance, extraordinarily supplies jurisdiction in view of the needs of her children, and it is granted all the more liberally the greater their need.
The nature of the present crisis in the Church is such that the faithful can on good grounds feel it a moral impossibility to approach priests having ordinary jurisdiction. And so, whenever the faithful need the graces of penance and want to receive them from priests whose judgment and advice they can trust, they can do so, even if the priests do not ordinarily have jurisdiction. Even a suspended priest can do this for the faithful who ask: “for any just cause whatsoever” (canon 1335). This is even more the case if a faithful Catholic can foresee his being deprived of the true sacrament of penance from priests with ordinary jurisdiction until he dies. Only God knows when this crisis will end.
The extraordinary form for marriages is foreseen in canon 1116, §1. If the couple cannot approach their parish priest “without serious inconvenience”—and they may consider as such his insistence on having the Novus Ordo Missae for the wedding, or their apprehensions concerning his moral teaching in marriage instructions—and if they foresee these circumstances to last for at least a month, then they can marry before witnesses alone, and another priest (e.g., of the SSPX) if possible (canon 1116, §2).
Even if one were to consider the above arguments as only probable, then jurisdiction would still be certainly supplied by the Church (canon 144). Therefore, we answer that these traditional priests do have jurisdiction, that is neither territorial nor ordinary, but supplied in view of the needs of the faithful.
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No, even if one knows all about the Catholic Faith and knows all the prayers of the Mass. The course of life at the Seminary is far more than the classes and the Mass. The whole body of liturgy, courses, work, and prayer, all in a sacred environment and under the watchful eye of experienced spiritual directors, contributes to form the heart and mind of the candidate for priesthood. Whether or not he is aware of it, the Seminary changes a man and forms Christ in him, as long as he maintains a docile, humble attitude. The formation process has developed over millennia in the Church; bypassing these normal channels would be gravely imprudent.
In addition, the ordaining bishop is responsible before God for the priests he ordains, so he wisely refuses to ordain everyone who asks for orders willy-nilly. He needs to make certain, by the testimony of the Seminary professors and especially the Rector, that these men are worthy of the grace they are about to receive. The long Seminary formation gives them a chance to evaluate the seminarians.
Confusion often arises about Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre's 1988 consecration of four bishops without papal permission, which action Pope John Paul II pointed out carried with it the latae sententiae (automatic) penalty of excommunication.
However, according to canon law, a person who believes, like Archbishop Lefebvre did, that there is a moral necessity to break a law (i.e., for the salvation of souls) would not incur any automatic penalties, even if that person were to be incorrect in that assessment.
June 29, 1987
Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, experiencing failing health, aware of his episcopal duty to pass on the Catholic Faith and seeing no other way of assuring the continued ordination of truly Catholic priests, decided to consecrate bishops and announced that, if necessary, he will do so even without the pope’s permission.
June 30, 1988, "Operation Survival".
Cardinal Gantin, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, officially warned the archbishop that, in virtue of canon 1382 (1983 Code of Canon Law), he and the bishops consecrated by him would be excommunicated for proceeding without pontifical mandate and thereby infringing the laws of sacred discipline.
June 30, 1988
Archbishop Lefebvre, together with Bishop de Castro Mayer, consecrated four bishops.
July 1, 1988
Cardinal Gantin declared the threatened excommunication (according to canon 1382) to have been incurred. He also called the consecrations a schismatic act and declared the corresponding excommunication (canon 1364 §1), as well as threatening anyone supporting the consecrations with excommunication because of “schism".
In Ecclesia Dei Afflicta, the pope repeated Cardinal Gantin’s accusation of schismatic mentality and threatened generalized excommunications (cf. question 12).
However, the excommunication warned of on June 17 for abuse of episcopal powers (canon 1382) was not incurred because:
- person who violates a law out of necessity* is not subject to a penalty (1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 1323, §4), even if there is no state of necessity:
- if one inculpably thought there was a necessity, he would not incur the penalty (canon 1323, 70),
- and if one culpably thought there was a necessity, he would still incur no automatic penalties (canon 1324, §3; §1, 80).
*The state of necessity, as it is explained by jurists, is a state in which the necessary goods for natural or supernatural life are so threatened that one is morally compelled to break the law in order to save them. (Is Tradition Excommunicated?, p. 26)
No penalty is ever incurred without committing a subjective mortal sin (canons 1321 §1, 1323 70). Archbishop Lefebvre made it clear that he felt bound in conscience to do what he could do to continue the Catholic priesthood and that he was obeying God in going ahead with the consecrations (Cf. the Sermon of June 30, 1988, and Archbishop Lefebvre and the Vatican, p. 136). Hence, even if he had been wrong, there would be no subjective sin.
Most importantly, positive law is at the service of the natural and eternal law and ecclesiastical law is at that of the divine law (principle 8) No “authority,” [principle 9] can force a bishop to compromise in his teaching of Catholic faith or administering of Catholic sacraments. No “law,” can force him to cooperate in the destruction of the Church. With Rome giving no guarantee of preserving Catholic Tradition, Archbishop Lefebvre had to do what he could with his God-given episcopal powers to guarantee its preservation. This was his duty as a bishop.
Finally, the Church’s approval of the SSPX (question 2) allows it what it needs for its own preservation. This includes the service of bishops who will guarantee to maintain Catholic Tradition.
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The first year, the year of Humanities, gives the seminarian a natural foundation for the supernatural formation ahead, through courses in Catholic Doctrine, Latin, Literature, English, and Music. The year of Spirituality follows, wherein seminarians learn about the spiritual life in Ascetical and Mystical Theology, and take introductory courses on Scripture, Liturgy, and the Acts of the Magisterium (major Church documents setting forth important points of doctrine). Next come two years of Philosophy, which cover the History of Philosophy, Logic, Cosmology, Psychology, Ethics, and Metaphysics. The seminarian completes his formation with three years of Theology, following St. Thomas' Summa Theologica in Dogmatic and Moral Theology, along with Canon Law and Pastoral Theology. Each of the last five years also contains courses in Scripture and Church History.
Due to the unorthodox actions and statements of several recent popes, some have been led to believe that these popes have separated themselves from the Church by heresy, ipso facto vacating the seat of the papacy (sedes vacans, literally, empty seat). However, the fact is that formal (obstinate, or willful) heresy, the only heresy bearing with it the effect of excommunication, cannot be claimed, much less proven in the case of the pope, as there is no higher ecclesiastical authority which may censure or reprimand him.
In the face of the scandal of a pope who can radically change the liturgy of the Mass, codify a new ecclesiology, or make himself the protagonist for an aberrant ecumenism, etc., some have concluded that the last popes cannot have been true popes, or else that they have lost the pontificate because of such scandals. They refer to the discussions of the great counter-Reformation theologians on the loss of the pontificate (through abdication, insanity, heresy, etc.) and argue thus:
- he who is not a member of the Church can’t be its head.
- but a heretic is not a member of the Church,
- now, Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis are heretics,
- therefore, they are neither members nor head of the Church,
- and so all their acts are to be completely ignored.
But then again, the argument continues, the same scandals are true of all the world’s diocesan bishops, who are also consequently non-members without authority; and the Catholic Church must be identified only with those who have not compromised the Faith and who refuse communion with these “popes” or “bishops.” A minority of these will elect their own “pope” (e.g., the communities at Palmar de Troya, Spain, or St. Jovite, Canada).
The argument’s strength is in the real scandal of the Conciliar authorities’ impetus given to the Church’s “new direction”; its weakness is in not being able to prove that any of these authorities are formal heretics.
- You are a “material” heretic without knowing it if you objectively contradict what God has said but through no fault of your own;
- You are a “formal” heretic if you do pertinaciously contradict what God has said, i.e., knowing that you’re denying what God has said and wanting to do this anyway.
Now, the ordinary way for the Church to ascertain pertinacity and enforce the consequences of one’s heresy by either excommunication and/or loss of office, is through authoritative monitions* to the delinquent which he spurns (1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 2314, §1). But nobody can authoritatively admonish the pope (canon 1556), and the bishops can only be admonished by their superior, the pope (canon 1557), who has not done so.
Therefore, pertinacity, and following upon that, formal heresy, cannot be proven.
*To have canonical force, they must come from one's superior (cf., canon 2233). The point is not only the crime but also its imputability must be notorious (canon 2195; 2197).
But could pertinacity not be presumed from the insistence of these popes on the new ways in the face of all tradition?
Perhaps; but not socially (i.e., as regards loss of office, etc.), which must not be presumed but proven, otherwise societies would collapse.
The argument does not prove its point, and becomes less probable when you consider that there are other explanations for the “material heretic” pope [see section a below], and it becomes quite improbable when you consider its dangers [b] or consequences [c].
a. The liberal mindset of a Pope Paul VI or a Pope John Paul II can be an explanation of their wanting to be Catholics and their simultaneous betrayal in practice of Catholicism. They accept contradictions; with a subjective and evolutive mentality, this is to be expected.* But such a frame of mind can be convinced of heresy only by way of authority.
*A little example: "At the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church committed herself irrevocably to following the path of the ecumenical venture, thus heeding the Spirit of the Lord, who teaches people to interpret carefully the 'signs of the times'" (Ut Unum Sint, §3). If it is because of the "signs of the times" that the Conciliar Church has launched herself into ecumenism, how are we to know that the venture will be irrevocable? What does a Pope John Paul II mean by such absolute terms?
b. The Church is indefectible (principle 3) not only in her faith and means of sanctification, but also in her monarchical constitution (principle 4), comprising governing power (i.e., jurisdiction), hence Vatican I’s profession that Peter will have perpetual successors. A break in the line of popes from the death of one to the election of the next may be understandable, but is indefectibility preserved if there is no pope since 1962 or if there is no one with ordinary jurisdiction whom the sedevacantists can point out as such? The Church is visible (principle 3) and not just a society composed of those who are joined by interior bonds (state of grace, same faith,...). A society is recognized and maintained as such by its authority (its efficient cause).
c. If the Church has not had a pope since the days of Vatican II, then there are no more cardinals legitimately created. But then how is the Church to get a pope again, as the current discipline grants only to cardinals the power to elect a pope?
A few sedevacantists hold that he has been or will be directly designated by private revelation from heaven.
There are spiritual consequences of sedevacantism:
- sedevacantism is a theological opinion, and not a certitude. To treat it as a certitude leads to condemning with temerity traditional Catholics who disagree;
- and invariably it leads to one’s recognizing no spiritual superiors on earth. Each becomes, in practice, his own little “pope,” the rule of faith and orthodoxy, the judge of the validity of sacraments.* This being so, we ought not to associate with, or, receive the sacraments from them, most especially if they set up sedevacantism as a certitude which all have to accept.
*Consider the arguments from "Bishop" Vezelis, the Schuckardt movement, etc.: It is said that Cardinal Lienart, who ordained Archbishop Lefebvre a priest and consecrated him a bishop, was Freemason, and so all his ordinations were invalid; and so we must consider invalid all the sacraments of those he ordained, and of those they ordained... In fact, whereas that Lienart was a Freemason is only an unproven allegation of one writer; and Church teaching is that we must accept as valid his sacraments anyway, if he used the correct external rite (unless he revealed a contrary internal intention, which he did not). Moreover, Archbishop Lefebvre was consecrated by three bishops in 1947, which sacrament was surely therefore valid. Cf. On rumors and their source for more information on this matter.
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It lasts seven years. The Seminary formation is designed to develop in the seminarian a love for souls and an ardent thirst for holiness, along with sufficient knowledge to guide the faithful entrusted to him and feed their souls. To reach such a lofty goal, seven years is a very short time.
The Novus Ordo Missae was introduced in April 1969 by Pope Paul VI. From the start, this new rite was intended to have an ecumenical nature as declared by its chief architect, Fr. Annibale Bugnini in 1965:
We must strip from our Catholic prayers and from the Catholic liturgy everything which can be the shadow of a stumbling block for our separated brethren—that is, for the Protestants.”
A. Preliminary remarks
- A criticism of the New Rite cannot be a criticism of the Mass in itself, for this is the very sacrifice of Our Lord bequeathed to His Church, but it is an examination, whether it is a fit rite for embodying and enacting this august Sacrifice.
- It is difficult for those who have known nothing other than the Novus Ordo Missae to understand of what they have been deprived, and attending a “Latin Mass” often just seems alien. To see clearly what it is all about, it is necessary to have a clear understanding of the defined truths of our Faith on the Mass (principles 11-18 are some of them). Only in the light of these can the “new rite” of Mass be evaluated.
B. What is the Novus Ordo Missae?
Let us first examine the elements of the Novus Ordo Missae. Some are Catholic:
- a priest,
- bread and wine,
- signs of the Cross, etc.,
but some are Protestant:
- a table,
- common-place utensils,
- communion under both kinds and in the hand, etc.
The Novus Ordo Missae assumes these heterodox elements alongside the Catholic ones to form a liturgy for a modernist religion which would marry the Church and the world, Catholicism and Protestantism, light and darkness. Indeed, the Novus Ordo Missae presents itself as:
- a meal (vs. principle 11). This is shown by its use of a table around which the people of God gather to offer bread and wine (vs. principle 18) and to communicate from rather common-place utensils, often under both kinds (vs. principle 15), and usually in the hand (vs. principle 16). (Note too the almost complete deletion of references to sacrifice).
- a narrative of a past event (vs. principle 12). This told out loud by the one presiding (vs. principle 14), who recounts Our Lord’s words as read in Scripture (rather than pronouncing a sacramental formula) and who makes no pause until he has shown the Host to the people.
- a community gathering, (vs. principle 13). Christ is perhaps considered to be morally present but ignored in his Sacramental Presence (vs. principles 16 & 17).
Notice also the numerous rubrical changes:
- the celebrant facing the people from where the tabernacle was formerly kept.
- just after the consecration, all acclaim He “will come again.”
- sacred vessels are no longer gilt.
- Sacred Particles are ignored (vs. principle 15)
- the priest no longer joins thumb and forefinger after the consecration.
- the vessels are not purified as they used to be.
- Communion is most frequently given in the hand.
- genuflections on the part of the priest and kneeling on the part of the faithful are much reduced.
Moreover, the Novus Ordo Missae defined itself this way:
The Lord’s Supper, or Mass, is a sacred synaxis, or assembly of the people of God gathered together under the presidency of the priest to celebrate the memorial of the Lord. (Pope Paul VI, Institutio Generalis, §7, 1969 version)
What is the aim of the Novus Ordo Missae as a rite?
...the intention of Pope Paul VI with regard to what is commonly called the Mass, was to reform the Catholic liturgy in such a way that it should almost coincide with the Protestant liturgy... there was with Pope Paul VI an ecumenical intention to remove, or at least to correct, or at least to relax, what was too Catholic, in the traditional sense, in the Mass and, I repeat, to get the Catholic Mass closer to the Calvinist service...*
*Jean Guitton on December 19, 1993 in Apropos (17), p. 8ff, also in Christian Order, October 1994. Jean Guitton was an intimate friend of Pope Paul VI. Paul VI had 116 of his books and had made marginal study notes in 17 of these.
That Paul VI's intention was accomplished is made clear by Michael Davies:
When I began work on this trilogy I was concerned at the extent to which the Catholic liturgy was being Protestantized. The more detailed my study of the Revolution, the more evident it has become that it has by-passed Protestantism and its final goal is humanism. (Pope Paul's New Mass, pp. 137 and 149)
This latter is a fair evaluation when one considers the changes implemented, the results achieved, and the tendency of modern theology, even papal theology (cf. question 7).
Who made up the Novus Ordo Missae?
It is the invention of a liturgical commission, the Consilium, whose guiding light was Fr. Annibale Bugnini (made an archbishop in 1972 for his services), and which also included six Protestant experts. Fr. Bugnini (principal author of Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium) had his own ideas on popular involvement in the liturgy (La Riforma Liturgia, A. Bugnini, Centro Liturgico Vincenziano, 1983), while the Protestant advisors had their own heretical ideas on the essence of the Mass.
However, the one on whose authority the Novus Ordo Missae was enforced was Pope Paul VI, who “promulgated” it by his apostolic constitution, Missale Romanum (April 3, 1969). However, his proscription was highly unclear.
- In the original version of Missale Romanum, signed by Pope Paul VI, no mention was made either of anyone’s being obliged to use the Novus Ordo Missae or when such an obligation might begin.
- Translators of the constitution mistranslated cogere et efficere (i.e., to sum up and draw a conclusion) as to give force of law.
- The version in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis (which records all official texts of the papacy) has an added paragraph “enjoining” the new missal, but it is in the wrong tense, the past, and reads praescripsimus (i.e., which we have ordered) thereby referring to a past obligation, and nothing, moreover, in Missale Romanum prescribes, but at most permits the use of the “New Rite" (The Angelus, March 1997, p. 35).
- Can it be true that Pope Paul VI wanted this missal but that it was not properly imposed (it is known moreover, that Pope Paul VI signed the Institutio Generalis without reading it and without ensuring that it had been previously confirmed by the Holy Office).
Judgment on the Novus Ordo Missae
Judging the Novus Ordo Missae in itself and in its official Latin form (printed in 1969)*, Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci wrote to Pope Paul VI:
...the Novus Ordo represents, both as a whole and in its details, a striking departure from the Catholic theology of the Mass as it was formulated in Session XXIII of the Council of Trent." (A Brief Critical Study of the Novus Ordo Missae, September 25, 1969)
*A Novus Ordo Missae celebrated according to the 1969 typical edition would look very similar to the traditional Roman Rite, with the celebrant saying most (if not all) the prayers in Latin, facing the tabernacle and wearing the traditional Mass vestments, with a male altar server, and Gregorian chant, etc. None of the current abuses, e.g., Communion in the hand, Eucharistic Ministers, liturgical dancing, guitar-masses, etc., have part with this official form. Hence, the aforementioned cardinals' (as well as the SSPX's) critique of the Novus Ordo Missae is not of its abuses or misapplication, but rather of its essential and official form.
Archbishop Lefebvre definitely agreed when he wrote:
The Novus Ordo Missae, even when said with piety and respect for the liturgical rules ...is impregnated with the spirit of Protestantism. It bears within it a poison harmful to the faith." (An Open Letter to Confused Catholics, p. 29)
The dissimulation of Catholic elements and the pandering to Protestants which are evident in the Novus Ordo Missae render it a danger to our faith, and, as such, evil, given that it lacks the good which the sacred rite of Mass ought to have. The Church was promised the Novus Ordo Missae would renew Catholic fervor, inspire the young, draw back the lapsed and attract non-Catholics. Who today can pretend that these things are its fruits? Together with the Novus Ordo Missae did there not instead come a dramatic decline in Mass attendance and vocations, an “identity crisis” among priests, a slowing in the rate of conversions, and an acceleration of apostasies? So, from the point of view of its fruits, the Novus Ordo Missae does not seem to be a rite conducive to the flourishing of the Church’s mission.
Does it follow from the apparent promulgation by the popes that the Novus Ordo Missae is truly Catholic?
No, for the indefectibility of the Church does not prevent the pope personally from promoting defective and modernist rites in the Latin Rite of the Church. Moreover, the Novus Ordo Missae:
- was not properly promulgated (and therefore does not have force of law; cf. above),
- the old Roman Mass (aka, the Tridentine or traditional Latin Mass) was not abolished or superseded in the constitution Missale Romanum, hence in virtue of the of Quo Primum (which de jure [by law] is still the liturgical law and therefore the official Mass of the Roman Rite), it can always be said (principle 19),
- and lastly, the constitution Missale Romanum does not engage the Church's infallibility.*
*Let us remember that a pope engages his infallibility not only when teaching on faith or morals (or legislating on what is necessarily connected with them) but when so doing with full pontifical authority and definitively (cf. Vatican I [Denzinger §1839]. But as regards the Novus Ordo Missae, Pope Paul VI has stated (November 19, 1969) that:
...the rite and its related rubric are not in themselves a dogmatic definition. They are capable of various theological qualifications, depending on the liturgical context to which they relate. They are gestures and terms relating to a lived and living religious action which involves the ineffable mystery of God's presence; it is an action that is not always carried out in the exact same form, an action that only theological analysis can examine and express in doctrinal formulas that are logically satisfying."
It should be also be understood that the papal bull, Quo Primum is neither an infallible document, but rather only a disciplinary document regarding the liturgical law that governs the Tridentine Rite.
Is the Novus Ordo Missae invalid?
This does not necessarily follow from the above defects, as serious as they might be, for only three things are required for validity (presupposing a validly ordained priest), proper:
- and intention.
However, the celebrant must intend to do what the Church does. The Novus Ordo Missae will no longer in and of itself guarantee that the celebrant has this intention. That will depend on his personal faith (generally unknown to those assisting).
Therefore, these Masses can be of doubtful validity.
The words of consecration, especially of the wine, have been tampered with. Has the “substance of the sacrament” (cf. Pope Pius XII quoted in principle 5) been respected? While we should assume that despite this change the consecration is still valid, nevertheless this does add to the doubt.
Are we obliged in conscience to attend the Novus Ordo Missae?
If the Novus Ordo Missae is not truly Catholic, then it cannot oblige for one’s Sunday obligation. Many Catholics who do assist at it are unaware of its all pervasive degree of serious innovation and are exempt from guilt. However, any Catholic who is aware of its harm, does not have the right to participate. He could only then assist at it by a mere physical presence without positively taking part in it, and then and for major family reasons (weddings, funerals, etc).
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