Status of Society of St. Pius X Masses

Author: Commission Ecclesia Dei


Commission Ecclesia Dei

The following letter was received from the Pontifical Commission established to oversee the granting of celebrets (right to celebrate) to those priests desiring to offer the Holy Mass according to the Missal of 1962. The authorizing decree of the Supreme Pontiff, Ecclesia Dei, was issued in 1988 on the occasion of the schism of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and the Society of St. Pius X, and encourages the generous granting of permission for the Tridentine Mass by bishops, in order to facilitate communion with the Holy See of those who have a particular love for the older Rites.

Not all bishops have been generous, despite the continuing pastoral concern of the Holy Father, causing many traditionalist Catholics to attend the chapels of the Society of St. Pius X or of priests operating independant of their bishop. In a famous case the Bishop of Honolulu excommunicated specific Catholics who frequented such chapels, only to have the excommunication overturned by Rome. This action has encouraged traditionalist Catholics to believe that it is not schismatic, and therefore not excommunicable, to attend such chapels. This response from the Commission was precipated by a letter to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and has been generously shared with EWTN. The letter to the Cardinal had expressed concern for the status of such attendance and asked two specific questions:

1)  Is it schismatic in attending the Society of St. Pius X chapels?

2)  What does the Hawaiian Case mean to someone attending such chapels?

N. 117/95

29 September 1995

Dear ...

Thank you for your letter of 4 September 1995 addressed to His Eminence Cardinal Ratzinger. It has been transmitted to this Pontifical Commission as dealing with matters related to our particular competence.

We are aware of the lack of authorized celebrations of the Mass according to the 1962 Roman Missal in [dioceses] and we can appreciate your desire to assist at the traditional Mass. We also recognize your earnest desire to remain in full communion with the Successor of Peter and the members of the Church subject to him, a desire which obviously prompted you to write this letter. In order to answer your questions we must explain the Church's present evaluation of the situation of the Society of St. Pius X.

1. There is no doubt about the validity of the ordination of the priests of the Society of St. Pius X. They are, however, suspended a divinis, that is prohibited by the Church from exercising their orders because of their illicit ordination.

2. The Masses they celebrate are also valid, but it is considered morally illicit for the faithful to participate in these Masses unless they are physically or morally impeded from participating in a Mass celebrated by a Catholic priest in good standing (cf. Code of Canon Law, canon 844.2). The fact of not being able to assist at the celebration of the so-called "Tridentine" Mass is not considered a sufficient motive for attending such Masses.

3. While it is true that the participation in the Mass and sacraments at the chapels of the Society of St. Pius X does not of itself constitute "formal adherence to the schism", such adherence can come about over a period of time as one slowly imbibes a mentality which separates itself from the magisterium of the Supreme Pontiff. Father Peter R. Scott, District Superior of the Society in the United States, has publicaly stated that he deplores the "liberalism" of "those who refuse to condemn the New Mass as absolutely offensive to God, or the religious liberty and ecumenism of the postconcilliar church." With such an attitude the society of St. Pius X is effectively tending to establish its own canons of orthodoxy and hence to separate itself from the magisterium of the Supreme Pontiff. According to canon 751 such "refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or the communion of the members of the Church subject to him" constitute schism. Hence we cannot encourage your participation in the Masses, the sacraments or other services conducted under the aegis of the Society of St. Pius X.

4.  The situation of at least one of the "independent" priests . . .   to whom you allude is somewhat different. He and the community which he serves have declared their desire to regularize their situation and have taken some initial steps to do so. Let us pray that this may soon be accomplished.

5. Finally, we may say that "the Hawaiian case" resulted in a judgment that the former Bishop of Honolulu did not have grounds to excommunicate the persons involved, but this judgment does not confer the Church's approbation upon the Society of St. Pius X or those who frequent their chapels.

With prayerful best wishes, I remain
Sincerely yours in Christ,

Msgr. Camille Perl