Does Assisting at an SSPX Mass Fulfill One’s Sunday Obligation?

Does Assisting at an SSPX Mass
Fulfill One’s Sunday Obligation?

John F. Salza, Esq.
November 2021


    There has been much confusion concerning the question of whether assisting at Masses offered by the Society of St. Pius X on Sundays and Holy Days satisfies the obligation as defined in canon 1248 of the Code of Canon Law. Many efforts to answer this question have fallen short of a proper and thorough interpretation of the law. For example, in a recent podcast entitled “Am I Allowed to Attend an SSPX Mass?” (Episode 47, Crisis series[1]), Fr. Michael Goldade provided no analysis of canon 1248 (other than displaying the canon’s language on screen), which is the only canon directly relevant to the question. Notwithstanding the purpose of the podcast, Father Goldade explained neither the canonical requirements of canon 1248, nor how SSPX Masses satisfy the requirements. Instead, his primary argument was that Catholics can attend an SSPX Mass, and presumably fulfill the obligation, because Catholics have a right to do so (which is a logical fallacy). Father also claimed that because several prelates in the Church have called the SSPX “Catholic,” one can assist at their Masses (which also does not follow, especially with regard to the requirements of canon 1248). 

This article concludes by answering the question in the negative (that SSPX Masses do not fulfill the obligation), based on an in-depth analysis of canon law and the related commentaries, the Church’s canonical tradition and replies from the Holy See. Perhaps one day the Pope, the supreme legislator of the Church, will issue a definitive judgment on the question, as multiple bishops have done throughout the country.[2] In the meantime, the following analysis leads to the negative answer, and moral theology dictates that we must take the safer course, especially about grave matters such as the Sunday Mass obligation, to avoid mortal sin. [3] 

Canon 1247 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law provides, in part, that “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.” Canon 1248, §1 explains how one fulfills the obligation: 

A person who assists at a Mass celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the feast day itself or in the evening of the preceding day satisfies the obligation of participating in the Mass.[4]

 Those who have used this canon to conclude that an SSPX Masses fulfills one’s obligation, including the SSPX themselves,[5] have improperly interpreted “Catholic rite” to simply mean a valid Catholic “missal” (or “liturgical rite”). In other words, they have concluded that because the SSPX celebrates the Church-approved 1962 Missal (the Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite of the Latin Church), those who frequent their chapels are celebrating “in a Catholic rite.”

     However, this is not (and cannot be) the correct interpretation, since attending the Mass of one who, though validly ordained, left the Church to establish, without ecclesiastical approval, his own “church,” but still uses a Church-approved Missal for his Sunday services (e.g., either the Ordinary or Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite) would not satisfy the obligation, as most Catholics would understand. This conclusion would follow whether the validly ordained priest broke off from his bishop, or his religious superior, or was never properly incardinated in the first place, and went on to found an “independent” chapel to host his Sunday services (and whether he called his “church” Catholic, or Episcopalian, or non-denominational, or something else). This is an illustration of why “Catholic rite” in canon 1248 does not merely mean an approved Catholic Missal or Sacramentary or liturgical rite. More than a priest’s use of a valid Missal is required to fulfill one’s Sunday obligation.  

Canon 1248 Requires More
than a Valid Missal

 Indeed, the Commentary to the Code of Canon Law unequivocally confirms this conclusion. The commentary explicitly provides that a “Catholic rite” in canon 1248 does not merely refer to a valid Missal, but to a Mass celebrated in a “Catholic church sui iuris”: 

The Mass must be celebrated in a Catholic rite, i.e., in the liturgical rite of any Catholic church sui iuris, but not in a church which is not in full communion with the Catholic Church, although using a Catholic liturgical rite.[6] 

         The Catholic Church contains 24 “Catholic churches sui iuris” (“of its own law”) which exist within the six Rites (or Churches) that make up the one universal Catholic Church.[7] By way of background, the six Rites that make up the universal Catholic Church are, in the East, the Alexandrian, Armenian, Byzantine,[8] Eastern Syrian and Western Syrian[9]; and, in the West, the Latin Rite, [10] which is the only Rite or Church in the West.[11] 

          The 24 Catholic churches sui iuris are self-governing churches established by the supreme authority of the universal Church (the Pope). They are also known as autonomous particular churches, because they have distinct theological, liturgical, spiritual and canonical traditions (the largest church sui iuris is the Latin church, which is the only such church in the West; the 23 other churches sui iuris exist in the East). Finally, the 24 churches sui iuris are made up of local particular churches throughout the world, each of which is headed by a bishop, and called a diocese in the Latin Church and an eparchy in the Eastern Churches. 

Thus, a “Catholic rite” in canon 1248 means a Mass offered in one of the 24 churches sui iuris (including their local particular churches) throughout the world, in union with the Pope, and not a mere liturgical rite without regard to the Church in which it is celebrated. Because there is only one Rite (Church) in the West, it is common for “Latin Rite” Catholics to understand and use the word “rite” to refer exclusively to the liturgical rite or expression of any church. This is what leads them to wrongly interpret the meaning of “rite” in canon 1248. 

As with canon 1248, the 1983 Code uses the word “rite” elsewhere to describe the Eastern Churches, and not mere liturgical rites (see canons 450, §1 and 1015, §2). In fact, canon 28 of the Eastern Code of Canon Law defines rite as follows: “A rite is the liturgical, theological, spiritual and disciplinary patrimony, culture and circumstances of history of a distinct people, by which its own manner of living the faith is manifested in each church sui iuris.” This usage of “Rite” to refer to the six Churches is based on Pope Paul VI’s teaching in the Second Vatican Council’s Orientalium Ecclesiarum which refers to “Churches or Rites.”[12] 

           Following is a helpful summary of the structure of the universal Catholic Church, which is composed of: 

·        Six (6) Rites or Churches (one in the West; five in the East)

·        Twenty-four (24) churches sui iuris or autonomous particular churches (one in the West; the rest in the East)

·        Local particular churches (dioceses in the West; eparchies in the East) 

          As applied here, it goes without saying that the SSPX is not one of the 24 Catholic churches sui iuris, nor even a particular church (a diocese) headed by a bishop with ordinary jurisdiction (nor does it claim to be). Hence, the SSPX does not offer Mass in a “Catholic rite.” As Fr. John Lessard-Thibodeau explained in his recent canonical study of the SSPX, “the erection of a Church sui iuris is an executive act of the Holy Father. It does not happen as a mere matter of the passage of time, self-declaration or by any means ipso facto or ipso iure.”[13] As canon 373 provides: “It is within the competence of the supreme authority alone to establish particular Churches; once they are lawfully established, the law itself gives them juridical personality.” 

             Fr. Lessard-Thibodeaux goes on to state the obvious, which the SSPX also concedes: “There is no evidence that the SSPX has been erected, defined or even described by competent authority as a Church sui iuris by competent authority (CCEO c. 27). The SSPX is comprised entirely of clergy of the Latin Church and lacks any externally verifiable marks that would refute this. Similarly, there is no evidence that the SSPX has been erected by competent authority (c. 373) or defined as a Particular Church in any form recognized by the Holy See (c. 368). Such erection or recognition does not appear plausible under current ecclesiastical law.”[14] Therefore, Masses offered by the SSPX are not “celebrated in a Catholic rite, i.e., in the liturgical rite of any Catholic church sui iuris.” 

Further, while the SSPX claims to be part of the Latin church sui iuris, this cannot be the case, because Pope Paul VI suppressed the SSPX in 1975, at which time it was legally extinguished (lost its “juridic personality” according to canon law).[15] In other words, upon its suppression, the SSPX “disappeared” off the map of the Latin Rite. Hence, by losing its canonical status, the SSPX is not legally part of the Roman Catholic Church, and hence is not recognized to be within the Latin church sui iuris, since the law does not recognize its existence. This is why Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 stated that “the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers – even though they have been freed of the ecclesiastical penalty – do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church.”[16] This is also why Cardinal Burke recently (May 2021) stated: “At the present moment, they [the SSPX] are not part of the one Roman Catholic Church throughout the world.”[17] This is further why the SSPX is not a church “in full communion with the Catholic Church,” and another reason why their Masses do not fulfill the obligation. Because the SSPX has no canonical status or mission in the Church, their Masses are considered illicit (illegal),[18] and one cannot fulfill a legal requirement through an illegal act. 

We thus see that the purpose of canon 1248 is to affirm that a Latin Rite Catholic may fulfill his Sunday obligation by also assisting at a Mass offered in any one of the 23 Eastern churches sui iuris, which are in communion with the Catholic Church, but not at a church which is not full communion with the Catholic Church (not even a separated Eastern Church), even if it uses an approved Catholic liturgical rite (of course, there would be little need for a law regulating where Catholics could attend Mass to satisfy the obligation if they could assist at Masses offered by any priest who used a valid Missal). Nota bene: The ability to legally satisfy the Sunday obligation is tied to the Church in which the Mass is celebrated, and not merely to the validity of the minister’s ordination or the Missal he uses. Those who have used canon 1248 to conclude that SSPX Masses fulfill the Sunday obligation have not understood this important distinction.


The Misapplication of Canon 844, §2


    Some who claim that SSPX Masses fulfill the Sunday obligation also appeal to canon 844, §2 in support of their position. While canon 844, §1 provides the general rule that “Catholic ministers may lawfully administer the sacraments only to Catholic members of Christ’s faithful, who equally may lawfully receive them only from Catholic ministers,” canon 844, §2 provides an exception: 

Whenever necessity requires or a genuine spiritual advantage commends it, and provided the danger of error or indifferentism is avoided, Christ’s faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister, may lawfully receive the sacraments of penance, the Eucharist and anointing of the sick from non-Catholic ministers in whose Churches these sacraments are valid. 

    Canon 844, §2 does not support the position that SSPX Masses fulfill the Sunday obligation. Why? Most obviously, the canon has nothing to do with the obligation for Sundays and Holy Days (which is imposed by canon 1247 and governed by canon 1248). The canon simply addresses when it is permissible for a Catholic to receive three sacraments (Penance, Eucharist, Extreme Unction) from non-Catholic ministers. Even if one were to interpret 844, §2 to mean that a Catholic could receive the Eucharist from an SSPX priest because he is a “non-Catholic minister in whose Churches these sacraments are valid,” this would not mean that assisting at an SSPX Mass would satisfy the obligation under canon 1247, since those requirements are addressed in canon 1248, not canon 844. 

Now, because canon 844, §2 does not concern the Sunday obligation (and hence cannot be used to show SSPX Masses fulfill the obligation), we could stop here. But let’s briefly look at a couple other elements of the canon which also render it inapplicable to the SSPX. First, outside of danger of death, there is not a “necessity” which would “require” a Catholic to approach an SSPX priest when the Catholic has recourse to priests, even traditional priests, who have the proper faculties to administer the sacraments. As we learned from the podcast of SSPX priest Fr. Robinson,[19] there are no doctrinal or canonical impediments to approaching a priest, for example, of the Fraternity of St. Peter or the Institute of Christ the King, and no “necessity” that would require one to approach a priest with no canonical mission (outside danger of death). Moreover, with respect to canon 844, §2, the Church has ruled that a Catholic’s desire to attend the Traditional Mass “is not considered a sufficient motive for attending such [SSPX] Masses.”[20] In other words, the inability to assist at a Tridentine Mass does not meet the “necessity” or “physical or moral impossibility” elements required by canon 844, §2.[21] Indeed, in the Latin Rite, Catholics have recourse to legitimate pastors who administer licit sacraments. 

Finally, note that canon 844, §2 requires the sacraments to come from non-Catholic ministers “in whose Churches” (“in quorum Ecclesia”) the (three) sacraments are valid. Because the Code capitalizes the “E” in “Ecclesia” suggests that it is referring to “Church” in the more universal and “official” sense: either one that was formerly identified as within one of the lawfully established Rites (Churches) of the East or, more specifically, one of the former churches sui iuris of the East, which was lawfully established but now usurped by non-Catholic ministers (and, hence, no longer Catholic). Such a “Church” would be distinguished from a “church” (small c) which was never established by the proper ecclesiastical authority in the first place. The Pontifical Commission for the Promotion of Christian Unity confirms this conclusion with an authentic interpretation of canon 844, §2 in its 1993 Directory on Ecumenism by quoting the canon but replacing “Churches” with “Eastern Church” (referring to the separated Churches in the East).[22] The norms do not say that “Churches” would also include the illicit churches or chapels of non-Catholic ministers within the Latin Rite, because they do not.

    In fact, the meaning of “Church” in canon 844, §2 as the separated Eastern Churches comes directly from the teaching of Pope Paul VI in Orientalium Ecclesiarum, in which the Pope permits Catholics to receive the three sacraments in “separated Eastern Churches” in cases of “necessity” and when “access to a Catholic priest is physically or morally impossible.”[23] Paul VI’s teaching was codified in canon 844, §2 which is why we know “Church” in that canon refers to the separated Eastern Churches, and not independent churches in the West.[24] 

As applied here, the SSPX is not a “Church” within the meaning of canon 844, §2, as it was never established as a Church by competent ecclesiastical authority (either in the universal sense of a church sui iuris, for example, or a local particular church headed by a bishop with ordinary jurisdiction). The SSPX is also not an “Eastern Church.” Thus, similar to canon 1248, the ability to legally satisfy the permission for sacramental sharing under canon 844, §2 is tied to the Church in which the sacrament is given, and not merely to the validity of the minister’s ordination or the Missal he uses. This is yet another reason why canon 844, §2 does not apply to the SSPX, and which is irrelevant to the question of whether their Masses fulfill the obligation for Sundays and Holy Days.


Guidance from the Holy See


    Finally, let’s look at some of the more pertinent guidance that has come out from Rome on the question. While some of the guidance has caused confusion among the faithful (due to the lack of detailed analysis and even seemingly contradictory statements), none of the official statements authentically interpret canon 1248 to permit assisting at SSPX Masses to fulfill the Sunday obligation. To the contrary, the statements consistently maintain that SSPX Masses do not fulfill the obligation. 

On March 17, 1984, Cardinal Silvio Oddi, President for the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, issued a reply to a family asking whether an SSPX Mass fulfilled the Sunday obligation. The Cardinal replied by simply stating: “According to the New Code of Canon Law, ‘The obligation of assisting at Mass is satisfied wherever Mass is celebrated in a Catholic rite....’ I hope that settles your doubts.” Unfortunately, the Cardinal didn’t explain the technical requirements of canon 1248 and the meaning of “Catholic rite” under the canon. However, given that the SSPX had already been suppressed and had no canonical status (even before the 1988 excommunications) and its priests were prohibited from saying Mass (in short, that the SSPX did not offer Mass in a Catholic rite in full communion with the Church), the reply cannot be used to support the position that SSPX Masses satisfy canon 1248. Quite the contrary.   

Following Archbishop Lefebvre’s unlawful consecration of bishops on June 30, 1988, Pope John Paul II created the Ecclesia Dei Pontifical Commission (July 2, 1988) which responded to numerous inquiries over the years about whether Catholics could attend SSPX Masses. On October 27, 1988, Msgr. Perl of the Ecclesia Dei Commission issued a response to statements and allegations that were made by some Australian members of the SSPX. Although Perl’s response did not directly address canon 1248, he stated: “While the priests of the Society of St. Pius X are validly ordained, they are also suspended a divinis, that is, they are forbidden by the Church from celebrating the Mass and the sacraments because of their illicit (or illegal) ordination to the diaconate and the priesthood without proper incardination (cf. canon 265).” While this statement was issued before the excommunications were lifted, the SSPX clergy remain suspended a divinis because they exercise a ministry without canonical mission or incardination,[25] and hence it follows that assisting at their “illegal” and “forbidden” Masses would not satisfy the legal requirement to assist at Mass on Sundays and Holy Days. 

On September 29, 1995, Msgr. Perl issued another reply through the Ecclesia Dei Commission in which he reiterated the SSPX clergy are “suspended a divinis, that is prohibited by the Church from exercising their orders because of their illicit ordination.” He also (improperly) referred to canon 844, §2 (but not canon 1248) in concluding that “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.”[26] While Perl uses the “physical and moral impossibility” elements in canon 844, §2 to prohibit Catholics from assisting at SSPX Masses, as we’ve learned in this article, canon 844 does not apply to the SSPX (hence, these elements don’t apply), and also is not relevant to the Sunday and Holy Days obligation under canons 1247 and 1248, which Perl does not address. Hence, this reply, which calls SSPX Masses illicit, cannot be used to assert that SSPX Masses fulfill the obligation. 

On April 15, 2002, Msgr. Perl expressly stated that the SSPX Mass does not fulfill the Sunday obligation, and canon 844 cannot be used to justify any SSPX Mass attendance. Specifically, he issued a negative reply to the question of whether a Catholic “could attend a Mass celebrated by an SSPX priest or a priest from a community close to this Society and receive Holy Communion on a Sunday?” Perl’s reply: “No. Holy Mass must be offered in communion with the Church, the Pope and the local Bishop. The questioner also asked: “May we lean upon canon 844 to justify participation in the sacraments in the chapels and houses of the Society St. Pius X,” since there was no Indult Mass in their vicinity. Perl’s reply: “No. The canon referred to speaks of ‘the physical and moral impossibility to have recourse to a Catholic minister’ and not of the absence of a Mass in one rite rather than in another.” (Note: although Perl failed to recognize that canon 844 does not apply to the SSPX because it is not a “Church,” he held that the “impossibility” elements of canon 844 do not apply to the SSPX.) Perl also stated if one must attend an SSPX Mass, he “must abstain from receiving Holy Communion” and “it is a sin to depart from the discipline of the Church regarding the Sunday obligation.” 

On September 27, 2002, Perl issued a private reply (not intended to be published) to an individual in which he stated: “In the strict sense you may fulfill your Sunday obligation by attending a Mass celebrated by a priest of the Society of St. Pius X.”[27] This reply is inconsistent with his April 15, 2002 reply. However, in his follow-up explanation (on January 18, 2003), Perl clarified that the September 27, 2002 letter “was intended as a private communication dealing with the specific circumstances of the person who wrote to us,” and thus was intended for one person and not the entire Church. Perl reiterates that “the Masses offered by these [SSPX] priests are valid, but illicit, i.e., contrary to the law of the Church.” 

The problem with the April 15 and September 27, 2002 letters is that, not only do they appear contradictory, but also do not provide an authentic interpretation of canon 1248, which is the only canon that is directly relevant to the question. Nevertheless, it seems clear that Perl’s April 15, 2002 letter stating SSPX Masses do not fulfill the Sunday obligation was intended for the entire Church, whereas the September 27, 2002 permission was intended for one individual based on unusual circumstances (and presumably based on Perl’s erroneous interpretation of canon 844, §2), which Perl felt the need to clarify in his follow-up letter. In his podcast, Fr. Goldade predictably referred to Perl’s private letter of September, but not his public letter of April 15, nor any of the other replies issuing negative judgments. 

On March 28, 2012, the Ecclesia Dei Commission issued another reply to a letter (dated February 19, 2012) that presented two dubia concerning the Masses of a “Friends of the Society of St. Pius X,” which was most certainly another “independent” chapel (not under the ordinary jurisdiction of a bishop) and hence in the same canonical condition as the Society of St. Pius X. Signed by Msgr. Guido Pozzo, the responses were consistent with the April 15, 2002 letter and, more importantly, judged that the Masses in question do not fulfill the Sunday obligation under canon 1248 and which results in sin (at a minimum, when such Masses are attended for Sundays and Holy Days): 

Strictly considering the aforementioned canon [1248§1], would a Catholic be able to fulfill his Mass obligation by assisting at Holy Mass at this ‘Friends of the Society of St. Pius X’ chapel, called…Roman Catholic Church in…?


Response: Negative.


Upon the condition that the answer to the first question is in the negative, does a Catholic sin by assisting at Holy Mass at the aforementioned chapel?


Response: Negative, unless the Catholic substitutes it for his Sunday obligation.


Note well: This is an official statement from the Church that “independent” Masses (offered by priests with no canonical mission) do not fulfill the Sunday obligation under canon 1248, since an illegal Mass cannot fulfill the legal requirement to assist at Mass (and failing to assist at obligatory Masses is a mortal sin).

On November 6, 2012, the Ecclesia Dei Commission affirmed its position that SSPX Masses do not fulfill the Sunday obligation, but did so in an unnecessarily indirect way. In response to a letter dated October 1, 2012 asking whether it is possible to fulfill the Sunday obligation at an SSPX Mass, so long as the participant is not against the validity or legitimacy of the Ordinary Form of Mass or the Roman Pontiff, and there is no other opportunity to assist at the Traditional Mass, the Secretary responded by simply quoting Pope Benedict’s March 10, 2009 letter to the Bishops, in which he stated that “the Society does not have a canonical status in the Church” or “exercise legitimate ministries in the Church.”[28] While the Commission could have replied in a more direct way, it is clear that highlighting the SSPX’s lack of canonical status (much less mission) and illegitimate ministry (which consequently renders their Masses illegal) is a negative response to the question of whether their Masses fulfill the obligation (and even if the participant accepts the legitimacy of the Novus Ordo, which most among the SSPX do not).  

On June 18, 2015, Ecclesia Dei responded to another private inquiry on whether the SSPX Masses fulfill the Sunday obligation. The Commission first noted that “it should be clear that those who adhere to the Society of St. Pius X are to be considered as not in full communion with the Catholic Church.” This is another way of saying the SSPX Masses do not fulfill the Sunday obligation because canon 1248 requires a “Catholic rite” (Church) to be in full communion with the Catholic Church, and the SSPX priests and those who “adhere” to them are not in full communion with the Church.  

The Commission also stated: “In relation to the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, its fulfillment at Masses celebrated by priests of the SSPX is justified only in the case of physical impediment, there being no other reasonable way of fulfilling the obligation.” Unfortunately, the Commission erroneously adds a “physical impediment” exception to the ban on SSPX Masses which, as we have seen, is erroneous because the exception comes from canon 844, §2 which does not apply to the SSPX (and, moreover, has nothing to do with satisfying the obligation imposed by canon 1247). One can also not conceive of physical impediments to attending lawful celebrations of the Mass where SSPX chapels have been set up. It is also interesting to note that the Commission did not include the “moral impediment” element of canon 844, §2, which is the primary way SSPX adherents justify their Mass attendance (they say it is morally impossible to approach a “non-traditional” priest or one that “accepts Vatican II”). Thus, according to this latest statement on the question, there is no moral impediment to justify attending an SSPX Mass (in addition to the general prohibition under canon 1248). 

To summarize this section, in addition to the fact that Masses offered by the SSPX are not offered in a “Catholic rite” within the meaning of canon 1248, the Holy See has also made it clear in the foregoing replies that SSPX Masses do not fulfill the Sunday and Holy Days obligation for the following additional reasons:


·        SSPX priests were illegally ordained;

·        SSPX priests are not incardinated (as required under canon 265);

·        SSPX priests are suspended a divinis (with faculties only to hear confessions and, with the approval of the local ordinary, witness marriages);

·        The SSPX has “no canonical status in the Church”;

·        The SSPX is not in “full communion” with the Catholic Church;

·        The SSPX has no canonical mission in the Church, which makes their Masses “illegal” and “forbidden”;

·        Catholics satisfy the obligation only by assisting at Masses “offered in communion with the Church, the Pope and the local bishop”;

·        The absence of another Traditional Mass does not give rise to “physical or moral impossibility” (elements of canon 844, §2 which do not apply to the SSPX);

·        Substituting an SSPX Mass for a lawful Mass on Sundays and Holy Days is a “sin”; and,

·        Whether one accepts the legitimacy of the New Mass is irrelevant to the question of whether he can lawfully attend an SSPX Mass.




         Based on the foregoing analysis, assisting at SSPX Masses does not fulfill the Mass obligation for Sundays and Holy Days under canon 1248. And that conclusion is clearer than some have made it out to be. Many Latin Rite Catholics have not been aware of this prohibition because they have erroneously interpreted “Catholic rite” in canon 1248 to mean “liturgical rite” or “Missal.” Even some who have opposed the SSPX have mistakenly concluded that their illicit Masses technically satisfy the Sunday obligation. 

         A Catholic who assists at illicit Masses not only commits an objective mortal sin by participating in the Mass, but commits another mortal sin if the Mass were attended to satisfy the Sunday or Holy Day obligation. In addition, the Catholic also participates in the grave sin of the priest who offers the illicit Mass and, if he receives Communion, commits the mortal sin of sacrilege. Finally, Catholics who participate in prohibited Masses subject themselves to canonical penalties (cf. canon 1365). What Catholic would want to risk committing these sins when they could attend traditional Masses offered by those in communion with the Church (the Fraternity of St. Peter, the Institute of Christ the King, etc.)? 

         As Cardinal Billot said: 

This introduction shows, first, that legitimate dispensation of the sacraments can only come from the Catholic Church, so that anyone who does not have a mission from her, by that very fact administers illicitly, and anyone who by receiving the sacrament communicates with the sin of the minister receives sacrilegiously.”[29] 

         The good people who attend Society chapels have a right and duty to know this information. The fact that Pope Francis has delegated the faculties to hear confessions to Society priests has certainly complicated the matter, for these confessions are being heard in the very chapels where the Society is celebrating their illicit Masses. But is that really inconsistent with the stated intention of Pope Francis, which was to “make a mess” during his pontificate? Indeed, giving Catholics the impression that the SSPX Masses fulfill the Sunday obligation because their confessions are now licit and valid creates a terrible spiritual mess. But would we put it past Pope Francis the First to intend such an evil consequence, which is so deceitful and harmful to souls? In the meantime, moral theology requires one to take the safest course, and that means avoiding SSPX Masses until we receive a definitive judgment from the Church on the question.







[2] For example, in 1996, Bishop Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska, excommunicated those who contumaciously persisted in assisting at SSPX’s Masses after his canonical warning (the excommunications were upheld by the Vatican). In 2013, the diocese of Richmond, Virginia ruled that “The faithful do not properly fulfill their Sunday Mass obligation in chapels of the Society, as the celebration of the Eucharist presupposes not only communion with the Lord, but also communion with the Church He founded, and the hierarchy who govern the Church by divine mandate.” This author’s archbishop, who is also a canon lawyer, also gave him a definitive judgment in writing that SSPX Masses do not fulfill the obligation under canons 1247 and 1248.

[3] This is not a judgment that Catholics should attend the Novus Ordo Mass (this author does not attend the New Mass); it is only a judgment that Masses offered by the SSPX do not meet the requirements of canon 1248.

[4] 1983 Code of Canon Law; Latin “… ubicumque celebrator ritu catholico…” (emphasis added).

[5] “What is the Canonical Status of the SSPX?,” The SSPX refers to Cardinal Silvio Oddi’s March 17, 1984 reply to the question of whether SSPX Masses satisfy the Sunday obligation. In the reply, Cardinal Oddi simply referenced the requirements of canon 1248, and the SSPX concluded that the reply affirmed their Masses satisfy the obligation (while also describing canon 1248 as “ambiguous”). Of course, as this article demonstrates, the opposite conclusion can and must be drawn (and more easily) from Cardinal Oddi’s reply.

[6] John Beal, James Coriden, and Thomas Green, A New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law (New York: Paulist Press, 2000), p. 1445.

[7] The modern Catechism (para. 1203) lists them as seven rites: Latin, Byzantine, Alexandrian (Coptic), Syriac, Armenian (West Syria), Maronite (West Syria) and Chaldean (East Syria).

[8] Also known as Constantinopolitan.

[9] Also known as Antiochene.

[10] While the Latin Church refers to the Eastern Churches as “Rites” (cf. 450, §1; 1015, §2), it also calls them “Ritual Churches” (cf. canons 111 and 112).

[11] While the Latin Rite is the only Rite (or Church) in the West, the Latin Rite has a number of liturgical rites including the Roman rite, the Ambrosian rite, the Mozarabic rite, the Dominican rite, etc. (underscoring the distinction between “Rite” as Church and “rite” as liturgical expression).

[12] Pope Paul VI, Second Vatican Council, Orientalium Ecclesiarum, November 21, 1964, No. 2. Paul VI distinguishes between liturgical “rite” and “rite” as a Church in a single sentence when he describes “the veneration of the rites, discipline, doctrine, history and character of the members of the Eastern rites” (No. 6; emphasis added).

[13] Lessard-Thibodeau, “Arriving at the Juridic Status of the Priestly Society of St. Pius X,” Faculty of Canon Law, St. Paul University, Ottawa, 2018, p. 40 (emphasis added).

[14] Ibid., pp. 40-41.

[15] See, for example, canons 120 §1; 373; 584. Archbishop Lefebvre claimed the suppression, which was unanimously authorized and directed by a commission of Cardinals appointed by Pope Paul VI and implemented by the local bishop (Bishop Pierre Mamie), was unlawful because his subsequent appeal to the Apostolic Signatura was denied. However, Pope Paul VI approved the suppression in forma specifica, making the suppression his own by express approbation, and thus Lefebvre’s appeal was inadmissible. On June 29, 1975, Paul VI confirmed the same to Lefebvre by writing: “We made all and each of them Ours, and We personally ordered that they be immediately put into force.” Davies, Apologia, Part I pp. 112-113.

[16] Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church concerning the remission of the excommunication of the four Bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre (March 10, 2009) | Benedict XVI ( By “no canonical status,” Pope Benedict was referring to this fact that the SSPX was lawfully suppressed by Pope Paul VI in 1975, at which time it was legally extinguished. See, for example, canons 120 §1; 373; 584. Lefebvre then went into schism, by contumaciously refusing, for the next 15 years, to submit to the Pope’s authority and refusal of communion with members of the Church subject to him (his contumacy included refusing the Pope’s suppression of the SSPX, the decisions of the prohibition on ordaining priests without dimissorial letters, etc.). For more details, see, for example, Fr. John Lessard-Thibodeau’s 2018 canonical study “Arriving at the Juridic Status of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X.”


[18] See canon 900, §2.

[19] John Salza, “The SSPX Says Sedevacantist Masses are Less Dangerous than Resistance Masses, John Salza Responds to Fr. Robinson, SSPX,” September 2021,

[20] the_Society_of_St._Pius_X. See Msgr. Perl’s letter issued by the Ecclesia Dei Commission, September 29, 1995, No. 2.

[21] Again, this is not a judgment that one should attend the Novus Ordo Mass. It is simply an affirmation that the lack of a Traditional Mass does not satisfy the “necessity” or “impossibility” requirements of canon 844 §2 to justify assisting at an SSPX Mass.

[22] 1993 Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, Norm 123, at

[23] Pope Paul VI, Second Vatican Council, Orientalium Ecclesiarum, No. 27.

[24] Because the purpose of canon 844 is to address sacramental sharing, canon 844, §3 addresses the corollary of Catholic ministers providing the three sacraments to members of separated “Eastern Churches,” again confirming that “Churches” in this canon refers to the separated Eastern Churches. And, further, the canon allows the same permission to members of “other Churches” which in the judgment of the Apostolic See are in the same condition in regard to the sacraments as these Eastern Churches.” Hence, canon 844, §2 limits the Catholic’s sacramental sharing to the separated Eastern Churches (thereby excluding independent churches in the West), while under canon 844, §3 the non-Catholic’s sacramental sharing (those who can approach Catholic ministers) is limited to members of separated Eastern Churches as well as those separated Churches the Holy See judges to be in the same condition (i.e., Polish National Catholic Church in U.S. and Canada; Beal, New Commentary, p. 1026). The point of all of this is to underscore that the SSPX is not a “Church” under canon 844. 

[25] As we mentioned, Pope Francis did delegate to the Society’s priests the faculties to hear confessions and, with the approval of the local ordinary, witness marriages (which Cardinal Burke has rightly called an “anomaly”). But these delegated faculties do not give the SSPX canonical mission to perform any acts beyond those permitted by said faculties (for example, SSPX clergy do not have permission to baptize, or preach, or offer Mass).  

[26] N.117/95, No. 2.


[28] Prot. N. 39/2011L 

[29] Billot on Sacraments and Mission, /DeMembris Ecclesiae.