Special 3-Part series to the Catholic Virginian
A three-part series about the institutional dimension of the Catholic Church, considered in light of the opening of a seminary of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) in Buckingham, VA.
A Wound to Unity: Understanding the Society of Saint Pius X
This is the third in a series of three articles about the institutional dimension of the Catholic Church, considered in light of the opening of a seminary of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) in Buckingham, VA.
By Father Anthony Marques, Special to The Catholic Virginian
On November 4, Saint Thomas Aquinas Seminary will open in Buckingham, VA (near Farmville). But no seminarians from the Diocese of Richmond will be enrolled there. The reason is that the seminary is operated by the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), an organization that is not in full communion with the Catholic Church.
The history of the SSPX begins with Vatican Council II (1962–1965). Pope Saint John XXIII convened this assembly of bishops to renew the Church for the sake of proclaiming the Gospel in the modern world. During Vatican II and after it, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre of France vocally opposed some of the Council’s directives.
In 1970, Archbishop Lefebvre founded the Society of Saint Pius X as a community of priests and seminarians in Fribourg, Switzerland. The SSPX rejected the Council’s teaching on several issues: interreligious dialogue and Christian unity (ecumenism); religious freedom; the collegiality between the pope and bishops, particularly in regard to the teaching office of the Church (Magisterium); and the Church’s relationship to modernity. Furthermore, the Society opposed the revised liturgical rites promulgated by the Council’s authority, even questioning the validity of the sacraments administered in this form.
While the Society of Saint Pius X had initially received the approval of the bishop of Fribourg, this was later withdrawn. Owing to Lefebvre’s insubordination and doctrinal views, the Vatican eventually suspended him from priestly ministry.
These events led to a crisis in 1988, when Lefebvre, despite repeated entreaties from the Vatican not to do so, ordained four bishops without the pope’s permission. Consequently, he incurred excommunication for himself and those he ordained. By refusing to submit to the authority of the pope in such a grave matter, the Society’s action constituted a formal separation from the Catholic Church.
The Society continued to operate despite its leaders’ excommunication. After Marcel Lefebvre died in 1991, one of the bishops he ordained, Bernard Fellay, succeeded him as head of the SSPX (1994). In 2000, the association conducted a pilgrimage to Rome in support of the pope. In 2009, as a gesture of reconciliation and as an invitation for the Society to return fully to the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunications against the four living SSPX bishops.
Pope Benedict explained that whereas this action affected the individual bishops, the Society as a whole still lacked full communion with the Catholic Church. The reason was the SSPX’s doctrinal disagreement, particularly its refusal to acknowledge the teaching authority of the popes who have held office since Vatican II. Despite formal talks that took place between 2009 and 2012, the attempt at reconciliation failed, as the Society rejected, and continues to reject, a set of doctrinal principals enunciated by the pope.
Given the rift between the Society of Saint Pius X and the Catholic Church, the sacraments administered by the SSPX are problematic. According to Church law, the Society’s Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders are valid but illicit. Valid means that these sacraments confer grace; illicit means that the ministrations are not approved by the Church, and therefore undermine ecclesial unity.
Since Penance and Matrimony depend on the permission of the local bishop, these sacraments administered by the SSPX are both invalid and illicit. However, as a gesture of conciliation, Pope Francis has granted the faculty for the Society’s priests to hear confessions during the Year of Mercy; this permission is due to expire on November 20, 2016.
(UPDATE: On November 21, 2016, Pope Francis released a new Apostolic Letter entitled Misericordia et misera following the conclusion of the Year of Mercy. Within the letter, the Holy Father extended the faculties of the priests of the SSPX to continue to hear confessions beyond the Jubilee Year. For the full text of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter click here http://bit.ly/2gvguRA)
The Society’s celebration of Mass is valid but illicit. Therefore, a Catholic could fulfill the Sunday or Holy Day obligation by attending a SSPX Mass, if there were no Catholic one available. In this case, however, it would be improper for a Catholic to receive Holy Communion, since Eucharistic communion presupposes full communion; that is, unity with the Church in regard to doctrine and governance. (Catholics are obliged to attend Mass, but not to receive Holy Communion, on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation.)
The Society of Saint Pius X includes 600 priests and 500,000 lay supporters. It runs parishes, schools, and retreat centers on five continents. Within the territory of the Diocese of Richmond, the SSPX operates three communities: Immaculate Conception Mission in Virginia Beach, Our Lady of Fatima Chapel in Richmond, and Saint Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Buckingham.
As Pope Benedict XVI noted, because the SSPX has so many followers, the group’s separation from the Church is significant, and merits efforts at healing and reconciliation. Until that unity has been restored, Catholics should receive the sacraments only from those who are in full communion with the Church. In the meantime, we pray, as Jesus prayed, that the Church would be unified in giving witness to the Gospel: “that they may all be one…that the world may believe that you sent me” (John 17:21).
The Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter: Serving Tradition, Preserving Unity
This is the second in a series of three articles about the institutional dimension of the Catholic Church, considered in light of the opening of a seminary of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) in Buckingham, VA.
By Father Anthony Marques, Special to The Catholic Virginian
In 2011, Saint Benedict parish in Chesapeake dedicated a new church. The building was notable for being one of a handful of churches specifically built, since Vatican Council II (1962–1965), for the celebration of Mass according to the pre-conciliar norms.
The liturgy of the Mass in use before the Council goes by various names: the Traditional Latin Mass; the Tridentine Mass, after the Council of Trent (1545–1563) that mandated its use for most of the Church; the Mass according to the Missal of John XXIII, after the last pope to revise it before Vatican II (1962); the usus antiquior or “older use”; and the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.
Vatican Council II decreed that the worship of the Church should be updated to better meet the needs of modern life. Specifically, the liturgical rites should express more clearly the meaning of the sacraments, so that people could participate in the rites “fully, consciously, and actively.”
In the case of the Mass, the result was the Novus Ordo Missae or “New Order of Mass,” which appeared in 1970. This is the liturgy of Mass familiar to most Catholics. It is also known as the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI (named after the pope by whose authority it was promulgated), and the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.
While the revised liturgy became normative for the Church, the older use, to which some people were devoted, was never abrogated. Among those inclined to the pre-conciliar liturgy, a small group—the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX)—went so far as to question the validity of the new rites, and to reject some teachings of Vatican Council II. (The SSPX will be the subject of the next article in this series.) In 1988, the Society’s leader incurred excommunication by ordaining four bishops without the approval of the pope. This action resulted in a formal separation of the SSPX from the Catholic Church.
That same year, in an effort to bring members of the SSPX into full communion with the Catholic Church, Pope Saint John Paul II encouraged bishops to generously allow the celebration of the Mass in the usus antiquior (a practice that had already been expressly permitted since 1984).
In another effort to preserve unity, John Paul II established the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (in Latin: Fraternitas Sacerdotalis Sancti Petri or FSSP) in 1988. This association was designed for SSPX priests who were attached to the older liturgical rites, but who wished to remain loyal to the pope. The FSSP, whose mission is to administer the sacraments in the Extraordinary Form, acknowledges the legitimacy of the Ordinary Form, as well as the teachings of Vatican II.
Today, with the permission of the pope and bishops, the 250 priests of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter serve parishes in Europe, North America, and Africa. The Fraternity is active in the Diocese of Richmond.
Locally, the FSSP serves two parishes: Saint Joseph in Richmond and Saint Benedict in Chesapeake. Bishop Walter Sullivan established these communities (Saint Joseph in 1991, Saint Benedict in 1992) to serve those devoted to the usus antiquior. Later, Bishop Francis DiLorenzo asked the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter to assume the leadership of Saint Benedict and Saint Joseph parishes under his authority. Unlike most parishes, these are based on liturgical devotion rather than on geographic boundaries.
In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI, following the example of his predecessor, John Paul II, further eased restrictions on the celebration of the Tridentine Mass. Benedict explained that he was doing so to strengthen the unity of the Church.
First, the wider use of the Extraordinary Form was meant to emphasize the continuity of the Church’s liturgical tradition: What was once sacred remains so, even as it has also developed into a more accessible Ordinary Form. Second, the pope’s action sought to heal divisions within the Church, by bringing more firmly into the fold those who remained devoted to the older form of worship.
As Pope Benedict exhorted, “Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.”
Belonging to the Catholic Church: the Diocese of Richmond and beyond
This is the first in a series of three articles about the institutional dimension of the Catholic Church, considered in light of the opening of a seminary of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) in Buckingham, VA.
By Father Anthony Marques, Special to The Catholic Virginian
We profess each Sunday in the Creed: “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” These four interrelated marks come from God, and they describe the Church that Jesus Christ founded.
The Church is unified (“one”) across many languages, cultures, and places because God himself is one in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Significantly, Christ prayed at the Last Supper that the Church would reflect this unity of God: “that they may all be one, as you, Father are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us.” (John 17:21)
The term “catholic” means “universal.” The Church is catholic because Christ has endowed her with the elements necessary for salvation, for the sake of evangelizing the world: the correct faith; the seven sacraments (“holy”); and a leadership based on the Apostles and their successors, who are the pope and bishops (“apostolic”). Together, these elements constitute the visible bonds of the Church’s unity.
According to the technical usage, institutions that manifest unity with the Church are said to have “full communion” with the Catholic Church. The word “communion” is a biblical term signifying mutual sharing and fellowship.
All parishes belonging to the Diocese of Richmond exhibit the characteristics of unity. In addition, there are other institutions within the geographic boundaries of the diocese that are fully Catholic because they also possess unity. For example, Catholic chaplaincies at military installations fall under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese for the Military Services.
The Diocese of Richmond and the Archdiocese for the Military Services belong to a larger body that is the Latin or Western Church. This is one of 23 autonomous Churches that together comprise the Catholic Church; the other autonomous Churches are Eastern.
There are several Eastern Catholic Churches within the territory of the Richmond Diocese. These Churches have their own bishops, laws, and liturgical rites, but each accepts the authority of the pope and so possesses full communion. The Eastern Catholic Churches include the Maronite (Lebanese) Church with parishes in Roanoke (Saint Elias) and Glen Allen (Saint Anthony); the Byzantine (Ruthenian: Eastern European) Church with a parish (Ascension) in Williamsburg; and the Syro-Malabar (Indian) Church with a parish (Saint Alphonsa) in Richmond.
Returning to the bonds of unity—doctrine, sacraments, and governance—if one or more of these is lacking, then an ecclesial institution is imperfectly joined to the Catholic Church. Such an institution is said to have “partial communion” with the Catholic Church.
Protestant denominations have partial communion with the Catholic Church because they do not validly celebrate all of the sacraments (only Baptism and Matrimony), and because they do not accept the authority of the pope. The Orthodox Churches have valid sacraments but do not acknowledge the unique role of the pope as the head of the Church.
Another organization that has partial communion with the Catholic Church is the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX). This group, which will be the subject of the third article in this series, rejects some teachings of Vatican Council II (1962–1965) and the revised liturgical rites promulgated by its authority. Because the Society opposes some Church teaching and operates independently of the pope, it is not fully Catholic.
Within the geographic boundaries of the Diocese of Richmond, the SSPX operates a mission (Immaculate Conception in Virginia Beach) and a chapel (Our Lady of Fatima in Richmond), and will soon open a seminary (Saint Thomas Aquinas in Buckingham).
The Society of Saint Pius X should not be confused with the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (known by its initials in Latin: FSSP). The latter is a community of priests, similar to a religious order, which celebrates the sacraments according to the older liturgical rites. Unlike the SSPX, the FSSP is loyal to Rome.
The Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter serves two parishes belonging to the Richmond Diocese: Saint Joseph in Richmond and Saint Benedict in Chesapeake. The work of the FSSP will be the subject of the next article in this series.
At each Eucharistic Celebration, after we have professed the Creed and as we prepare to receive Holy Communion, Catholics pray for the pope by name. By means of this petition, we ask for God’s blessing upon the visible leader of our Church, and we recognize his authority as the successor of Saint Peter: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build by church.” (Matthew 16:18)