January A.D. 2022
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):
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
Here is Fr.
Zuhlsdorf’s reply with brief commentary, followed by the email Salza sent
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 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:
§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.
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
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.
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
priests were illegally ordained;
priests are not incardinated (as required under canon 265);
priests are suspended a divinis (with faculties only to hear confessions
and, with the approval of the local ordinary, witness marriages);
SSPX has “no canonical status in the Church”;
SSPX is not in “full communion” with the Catholic Church;
SSPX has no canonical mission in the Church, which makes their Masses “illegal”
satisfy the obligation only by assisting at Masses “offered in communion with
the Church, the Pope and the local bishop”;
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);
an SSPX Mass for a lawful Mass on Sundays and Holy Days is a “sin”; and,
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…?
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?
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
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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:
- 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.
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.”
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.
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 www.trueorfalsepope.com). As I state in my article, we do need a definitive
judgment from the Holy See on this question.
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.
forward to your reply and further insights.