John Salza Responds to Fr. Zuhlsdorf on SSPX Masses


John Salza Responds to Fr. Zuhlsdorf
on SSPX Masses

January A.D. 2022

       On December 23, 2021, Fr. Zuhlsdorf posted the following question, which he received concerning John Salza’s article on whether Masses offered by the SSPX fulfill the Sunday and holy days obligation under canon 1248 (Salza’s article demonstrates that SSPX Masses do not fulfill the obligation):


Does attending an SSPX Mass fulfill one’s Sunday obligation? I’m asking because I ran across the linked article below written by John Salza in November of this year arguing that attending an SSPX Mass does NOT fulfill the Sunday obligation to assist at Mass. The article threw me for a loop, as I’ve heard about the 9/27/2002 letter from Msgr. Perl, but not his 4/15/2002 letter; nor had I heard about the 2012 and 2015 letters from Ecclesia Dei, which seem to cast doubt on such attendance fulfilling the Sunday obligation.

Fr. Zuhlsdorf posted the following reply on his blog in which he casually reassured everyone that Masses offered by SSPX priests satisfy the Sunday obligation, but without addressing any of Mr. Salza’s arguments that Salza set forth in the article in question (the most important being that, in order for a “Catholic rite” to satisfy canon 1248, it must be a liturgical rite offered in a Catholic church sui iuris, and also a church that is in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church).

Of course, the question of whether certain Masses fulfill the Sunday obligation is of grave importance, especially now when some Catholics are being tempted to assist at illicit Masses, in light of the Traditional Mass being unjustly taken away by their Modernist bishops. Unfortunately, it does not appear that Fr. Zuhlsdorf even read Mr. Salza’s article before posting his alleged reply to the article, and telling us all to “get over this and relax.”

Here is Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s reply with brief commentary, followed by the email Salza sent Zuhlsdorf:

This keeps coming up.  Some people who ought to know better simply want to rehash it and rehash it, and they get it wrong.

TOFP: As we will see, it is Fr. Zuhlsdorf who has (thus far) failed to properly address the Church’s law on the question, and thus, gets it wrong (and we are surprised that seems so confident in his position, when it appears that he has not done his homework on the question).

When I worked for the Holy See’s dicastery which had competence in the matter, the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei”, it was the position that, yes, you could fulfill your obligation on a day of precept at a Mass celebrated with the 1962 Missale Romanum by a priest of the SSPX. 


TOFP: As one can see from Mr. Salza’s original article (which Fr. Zuhlsdorf apparently did not read before posting is reply), it was never the Ecclesia Dei’s position that one could fulfill the obligation by assisting at SSPX Masses. On the contrary, the Commission’s position, based on replies issued from 1988 to 2015, has always been that SSPX Masses do not fulfill the obligation.


 By 2002 some new dynamics entered into question, creating some doubts and contradictions.  However, when there doubts about laws, in the absence of anything absolutely authoritative, the more benign way of interpreting law should prevail.  People’s freedoms are to be expanded and their obligations restricted.


TOFP: As one can see from Mr. Salza’s original article, the “new dynamic” that entered in 2002 was a private reply by Msgr. Perl, not intended for the universal Church, to an individual who could not fulfill the obligation due to lack of recourse to priests with faculties to say Mass. As Perl himself clarified in 2003, the 2002 letter was a private reply that did not intend to overrule the Commission’s public communications intended for the entire Church (from 1988, 1995, and an earlier letter from 2002) which hold that SSPX Masses do not fulfill the obligation, as well as subsequent communications (from 2003, 2012 and 2015) which similarly hold SSPX Masses (and other Masses offered by independent priests without faculties to say Mass) do not fulfill the obligation. These facts demonstrate that Fr. Zuhlsdorf has taken Perl’s private reply in 2002 completely out of context.


Canon law was and is clear and it has not changed:

Canon 1248, §1 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.

TOFP: As one can see from Mr. Salza’s original article, Fr. Zuhlsdorf has misinterpreted “Catholic rite” in canon 1248 to mean a valid “Missal,” instead of a liturgical rite offered in Catholic church sui iuris (that is, a church lawfully established by the supreme authority of the Roman Pontiff) and which is in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

There is no question that the Mass celebrated is in a Catholic Rite.

TOFP: As one can see from Mr. Salza’s original article, celebrating Mass in a Catholic rite means celebrating a Catholic liturgical rite in a Catholic church sui iuris and which is in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. Thus, because the SSPX (and its chapels) is not a Catholic church sui iuris, nor is it in full communion with Rome, there is “no question” that their Masses are not celebrated in a “Catholic Rite” under canon 1248.

The priests of the SSPX are Catholic priests and not some other kind of priests.  Regardless of their unique and somewhat thorny canonical status, they are priests of the Catholic Church and not some other Church.  They are even able to receive faculties from competent authority. They validly absolve sins even when there is no danger of death. They witness marriages and say the nuptial Masses.

TOFP: Even though the SSPX clergy are not juridically part of the Roman Catholic Church, nor have they been canonically sent by the Roman Catholic Church, Fr. Zuhlsdorf calls them “Catholic priests of the Catholic Church.” Thus, either Fr. Zuhlsdorf does not understand the SSPX’s canonical status in the Catholic Church, or believes that clergy do not have to be part of, or sent by, the Catholic Church to be lawful Catholic ministers. This is why Mr. Salza has asked Fr. Zuhlsdorft to explain how he defines a “legitimate Catholic minister.” Fr. Zuhlsdorf has a grave obligation to publicly clarify his position, which we hope he does post haste. 

The aforementioned Pontifical Commission on various occasions wrote that, yes, you can fulfill the obligation at an SSPX chapel. Not only that, you can, out of justice, give money in the collection for having received a service.

TOFP: Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s statement concerning the Ecclesia Dei Commission is incorrect. As Mr. Salza’s article demonstrates, the Commission has not, “on various occasions,” stated that SSPX Masses fulfill the Sunday obligation. On the contrary, the Commission has, “on various occasions,” stated just the opposite – that SSPX Masses do not fulfill the obligation, not only because they do not meet the requirements of canon 1248, but also for the additional following reasons (for more detail, see Salza’s article):

·        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.

Those responses from the Commission concerned the SSPX, and not spin off groups from the SSPX.

TOFP: This statement is also inaccurate. As Mr. Salza’s article demonstrates, the Ecclesia Dei Commission’s replies apply to both the SSPX, as well as other groups who are in the same canonical condition as the SSPX (no juridical status or mission in the Church). Indeed, the Commission’s March 28, 2012 letter addressed 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 which directly addresses the SSPX 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). Fr. Zuhlsdorf addresses none of this in his most recent reply.

If there are conflicting letters, it just goes to show that it is an evolving situation and one that people should get overly worked up about it.

TOFP: As Mr. Salza explains in his article, the sole private letter of Msgr. Perl in 2002 only appears to conflict with the public replies of the Commission that were issued in 1988, 1995, 2002, 2012 and 2015 which reiterate the conclusion that SSPX Masses do not fulfill the Sunday obligation. However, Perl himself actually eliminated the apparent contradiction by issuing a public reply the very next year (2003) clarifying that his (2002) private reply was taken out of context and that SSPX Masses remain forbidden. Thus, when all the replies are read in context, and particularly in light of the meaning of canon 1248 (which the Commission interpreted in its April 15, 2002 reply), we are left with only one conclusion – that SSPX Masses do not fulfill the Sunday obligation. Even so, Mr. Salza expresses, at the beginning of his article, his hope that the Pope will issue a definitive judgment on the question to settle the matter once and for all.

Let’s just get over this and relax.

TOFP: Fr. Zuhlsdorf evidently brings a casual attitude to the question of whether Masses offered by clergy who are not part of, nor sent by, the Catholic Church – and thus have no faculties to say Mass – satisfy an obligation of the Church under pain of mortal sin. We think this is an unfortunate and reckless attitude, and certainly does not conform to the mind of the Church.
After all, a Catholic who assists at illicit Masses (offered by priests with no faculties to say Mass) commits an objective mortal sin by participating in the Mass, and 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.”[1]

        The question of whether SSPX Masses satisfy the obligation is not something we should “get over with and relax” about, on the assurances of Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s blog posts, who does not appear to have a deep understanding of the issue, especially when the wrong answer will leave us in objective mortal sin.

Look.  The anomalous and slowly evolving SSPX situation is complicated.  When things are really complicated in the Church, we are charity bound to cut people some slack and interpret restrictive laws as strictly as possible so as to give people maximum latitude.

TOFP: Unfortunately, the SSPX’s lack of a canonical mission (and faculties to say Mass) is not a “slowly evolving situation,” but a condition that has existed for over 45 years. Even after Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunications on the four Society bishops (in 2009), he still declared that the SSPX “does not exercise any legitimate ministry in the Church.” And even after Pope Francis delegated faculties (in 2015) to SSPX clergy for confessions (and, conditionally, for marriages), Cardinal Burke still publicly stated that “the Society is not part of the one Roman Catholic Church throughout the world” (2021) and Archbishop Pozzo (who has been responsible for trying to bring the SSPX back into the Church) said the SSPX’s ministry remains “illicit and illegitimate” (2017).

Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s advice to “interpret restrictive laws as strictly as possible” but still “give people maximum latitude” is contradictory. Further, if one interprets canon 1248 “as strictly as possible,” one necessarily concludes that SSPX Masses do not fulfill the obligation (and that interpretation is not even “strict,” but rather how both the 1983 Commentary and the Ecclesia Dei Commission have interpreted canon 1248!).

While Fr. Zuhlsdorf may wish to grant “people maximum latitude” when he believes the law is unclear (which we don’t believe is the case here), his approach would certainly not apply to grave matter that could result in mortal sin. Indeed, the Church’s moral theology would dictate the opposite approach recommended by Zuhlsdorf, which would be to take the safer course (which appears to be the only course) and avoid SSPX Masses altogether.

I am convinced that the Enemy knows that he cannot win if we succeed in renewing the life of the Church through a recovery of our traditional liturgical rites.   Therefore, the Devil is going to fuel feuds, create strife and prompt the hardening of hearts.

TOFP: We are convinced that the Enemy will win if he can convince Catholics that they can leave the Church to assist at illicit Masses offered by clergy who are not part of, nor sent by, the Roman Catholic Church, something which the Church has always condemned. In fact, this appears to be the Enemy’s strategy at this particular point in time, as he inspires Modernist bishops to suppress the Traditional Mass, thereby provoking Catholics to anger and tempting them to leave the Church for “independent” chapels and vagus clergy who say the 1962 Missal (and, no doubt, “reject the New Mass and Vatican II”). While this is not Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s intention, his misplaced advice is playing right into the Enemy’s hands.

       We agree with Fr. Zuhlsdorf that a renewal in the life of the Church will be recovered through our traditional liturgical rites. However, that renewal must take place within the Roman Catholic Church, and not outside of her, for there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church, or remission of sins.


Moreover, Old Scratch and demons are the ultimate lawyers.   If they can keep us quibbling and mired in the details, we are rendered ineffective.

TOFP: Unfortunately, whether SSPX Masses satisfy the obligation under canon 1248 is not a mere “quibble about details,” but a question that concerns mortal sin and the salvation of souls. And Mr. Salza takes umbrage with Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s condescending characterization of lawyers, claiming that the devil is the ultimate exemplar of the legal profession. Perhaps if Father had formal legal training, he would have researched the legal meaning of canon 1248, although it does not take a law degree to read the applicable canonical commentaries or the replies of the Commission to understand its meaning. Jesus Christ, of course, is the ultimate Lawgiver and Judge, and He requires His clergy to have a juridical mission from the Church in order to lawfully minister in His Church.

              After Mr. Salza was alerted to Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s reply, he sent Father the following message (and followed up with a second message after the first one went unanswered). Salza was (and still is) hoping to get further clarity from Father on the basis for his conclusion, particularly in light of the arguments that Salza set forth in his article (which Father did not address and may not even be aware of). We are also hoping that Fr. Zuhlsdorf explains what he means by “Catholic priest,” that, is, what Father considers to be a lawful Catholic minister, given that defenses of the SSPX are principally rooted in errors in ecclesiology, and which has no doubt contributed to the crisis in the Church.
            To date, Fr. Zuhlsdorf has not replied to Mr. Salza’s first or second requests (we know he is very busy, especially during this time of year). Thus, we are publicly posting our questions to him in the hopes of getting a reply, since this is such an important question. Perhaps Fr. Zuhlsdorf can convince us that his position on SSPX Masses is correct (or, perhaps, he will change his mind, or at least sees the merit the position we have presented). As Mr. Salza stated in his article, we ultimately hope for a definitive judgment from the Church on the question. But, in the meantime, moral theology dictates that we take the safer course.

Here is Mr. Salza’s email:

23 December A.D. 2021

Dear Fr. Zuhlsdorf:


Greetings and Blessed Christmas to you.


I am writing to understand your position that Masses offered by the SSPX fulfill the Sunday obligation (recently Dr. Peter K contacted you about what he described as my “insane” argument that SSPX Masses do not fulfill the obligation). I am writing you in good faith to truly understand your position, and thought it would be helpful to frame my question in three parts:


First issue - Before addressing the Perl letter, I refer you to canon 1248 and the commentary on the 1983 Code of Canon Law which provides:


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.[2]


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, and in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.” Thus, whether the Mass fulfills the obligation is not just tied to the Missal, but to the church in which the Mass is offered. Do you concede that the SSPX is neither a Church sui iuris, nor in full communion with the Catholic Church? If so, does this change your conclusion that SSPX Masses fulfill the obligation?


Second issue – you refer to Msgr Perl’s private reply of September 27, 2002 addressing the particular situation of an individual, in support of your conclusion that SSPX Masses satisfy canon 1248. But that is not the whole (or even half of) the picture. You do not mention that, on April 15, 2002, Msgr Perl issued a reply intended for the entire Church which stated that SSPX Masses do not fulfill the Sunday obligation. Further, you do not mention that Msgr Perl issued a letter on January 18, 2003 explaining that his September 27, 2002 letter (the one you refer to) was intended as only a private communication, and not for the entire Church, and that SSPX Masses remain “illicit and contrary to the law of the Church.”


Perl’s clarification is consistent with Perl’s other letters of October 27, 1988 and September 29, 1995 in which Perl stated that SSPX Masses do not fulfill the Sunday obligation. Perl’s replies are also consistent with other Ecclesia Dei replies dated March 28, 2012 (regarding another chapel whose priests were not incardinated), November 6, 2012 (regarding the SSPX), and June 18, 2015 (regarding the SSPX) that the Masses do not fulfill the obligation.


Based on the foregoing, do you still hold that the Perl letter of September 27, 2002 allows Catholics to fulfill their Sunday obligation at SSPX Masses? If so, how do you reconcile that position with the other letters?


Third issue – how would you define a legitimate Catholic minister? I ask this question because the SSPX is not part of the juridical structure of the Catholic Church (which Cardinal Burke confirmed this past May 2021), and does not have a juridical mission from the Church. In fact, the SSPX rejects the Catholic Church’s Profession of Faith.


Do you believe that a validly ordained priest, who is not part of, nor sent by, the Roman Catholic Church, but celebrates a valid Missal, is a legitimate Catholic minister who can offer a Mass that fulfills the Sunday obligation?


Fr. Z, I write these private questions to you so that I can fully understand your position, and compare it to what I have concluded, based on my own research (if you would like to read my article on why SSPX Masses do not fulfill canon 1248, the article is at As I state in my article, we do need a definitive judgment from the Holy See on this question.


In the meantime, based on the perennial teaching of the Church (that Masses must be offered in lawfully established churches by priests with juridical mission in order to fulfill the Sunday obligation) and the current commentary on Canon Law, I believe we must take the safer course and avoid SSPX Masses. I also wish to mention that I have received a private letter from Abp. Listecki confirming that SSPX Masses do not fulfill the Sunday and holy days obligation.


I look forward to your reply and further insights.


In Christ,

John Salza














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

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