Pope Pius XII and Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre

The SSPX Is in Communion with Rome

Once one gets past the false accusation that ‘the SSPX is in schism’ (see previous article in this series), a number of other objections may be raised. These often begin with:

Well, I was told that they are not in “full communion” with Rome.

If you are not ex [out of] communion then you are in communion. Being “in communion” or being “out of communion” (excommunicated) refer to one’s reception of the Sacraments and one’s participation in “the common blessings of ecclesiastical society.”[1] As the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and reception of Holy Communion hold such an essential and normative place in Catholic life, this concept stems from the root word ‘communion.’ Thus, one who is “in communion” may receive Holy Communion, whereas one who is “out of [ex] communion” may not.[2] Like schism, this is a binary term (either “yes” or “no”) and it does not permit of degrees. Thus, no one is in “partial communion” any more than someone is partially pregnant or partially married to someone.

“Full communion” and “partial communion” are novel terms popularized after the Second Vatican Council. Nowhere can these terms be found in the traditional teachings of the Church Fathers, Popes, Ecumenical Councils, Doctors of the Church or Saints of the first nineteen centuries of Catholic teaching. They are based on the erroneous notion that somehow everyone is a member of the Church, but only to varying “degrees.”[3] (Editor’s Note: Here we include a very important footnote which we strongly encourage the reader to diligently study.[4])

Using this logic, it is said that the schismatic Orthodox groups are not in “full communion” or that Protestants are in “partial communion” with Catholics. Yet this is a terrible misnomer. Neither schismatic Orthodox nor Protestants are allowed to receive Holy Communion or any other Sacraments until they convert. Note as well how, according to the Church’s perennial and constant teaching, members of these groups are not members of the Catholic Church (see footnote #4 below).

Here we have a case where precise Catholic terminology (“being in communion with”) is retained but given a different meaning. Instead of referring to the reception of the Sacred Body of Christ and participation in the Church’s Sacraments, “communion” is used to refer ambiguously to some kind of “fellowship,” “solidarity,” or holding certain beliefs or practices in common. This is a common modernist ploy: to use the same word which has a definite meaning and rich Catholic heritage but substituting a different meaning for it which is based in common parlance.[5] Many people are then duped by this sleight of hand because they are unaware of the true Catholic meaning but are familiar with the common usage meaning.

So in dealing with this objection, the real question is: May the faithful of the SSPX receive Holy Communion in any Catholic parish? The answer is “yes, they may.”[2] Similarly, may any Catholic receive Holy Communion at an SSPX chapel? Again, the answer is “yes, they may.” This is because all are baptized members of the Holy Catholic Church and none are excommunicated or schismatic. With this simple understanding it is clear that the SSPX is in communion and not out of communion.

For clarity’s sake, I would strongly encourage you not to use terms like “full communion” or “partial communion” or even “irregular communion.” If you are ever in a discussion with someone who uses such terms, you should ask them to define the term for you. If they are actually able to provide a reasonable definition (which would be quite out of the ordinary), then ask them for the source for their definition, because I am quite certain it will not come from our tradition or the perennial teaching of Holy Mother Church.

Okay, but they aren’t truly in “union” with Rome.

At times I hear this objection, and so once again, I simply have to ask for a clearer definition of terms. This seems a very imprecise manner of speaking which I think we would do well to avoid. After all, what does it mean to be “truly in union” with Rome, especially in this time of grave crisis?

If being “in union with Rome” is understood as it has always been understood by the Catholic Church, and as is enumerated in the Catechism of the Council of Trent – namely, that one accepts all the de fide teachings of the Church with divine and Catholic faith, administers the same Sacraments, and accepts the legitimate authorities of the Church (i.e., Pope and bishops) – then I would hold that the SSPX is, in fact, in union with Rome.

However, I would note that there are many who carry the name “Catholic” and do not receive the Sacraments and reject numerous infallible de fide teachings. Nevertheless, they rarely suffer the same kind of calumnies and detractions regularly leveled against the SSPX. I do wonder, “Why is this?” Individuals who reject the Sacraments – e.g., who never go to Confession, believing it is unnecessary, or prefer not to get married in the Church – are clearly not “truly in union with Rome.”

Even more abundantly clear, those Catholics who reject de fide teachings – such as the Immaculate Conception, the existence of Purgatory, Transubstantiation, that the Holy Mass is Christ’s Sacrifice, that only men can be ordained to the Priesthood, that Sacred Scripture is inspired and inerrant, that the Sacraments are necessary for salvation, that souls do go to hell and are not annihilated – are also clearly not “truly in union with Rome.” Perhaps they are not in union at all, but that can be a subject for another discussion.

When someone tells me, “But they [the SSPX] aren’t truly in union with Rome,” I generally reply as follows: Is that so? Well, that is news to Rome, considering the Pope has given the SSPX the permission to ordain Roman Catholic priests in any diocese in the world. Moreover, on numerous occasions the Vatican has called on leaders within the SSPX to “report” to Rome for various meetings and the SSPX leaders have always obediently gone. During such visits, they have not presented themselves as “equals” or as outside the authority of Rome (as do leaders of other religious groups and of political states), but rather as inferiors to their superiors.

What other sign do you have that you are in union with Rome other than baptism, professing the Creeds, not being under penalty of excommunication, having valid Orders, praying for the Pope and local bishop at Mass, and reporting in when Rome calls? With a touch of irony, I might well ask: Is there a special badge the priests of the SSPX should wear to prove they are Catholic? Or is their valid Roman Catholic priesthood, unfailing fidelity to Catholic doctrine, and accompanying Sacraments enough?

My point here is that there is a very wide range of interpretation for the phrase “not truly in union with Rome” and such imprecise terms ought to be avoided. They all too easily lead to error and misunderstandings, and by them one can easily fall into sins against charity and unity. Over her 2,000 year history the Church has developed precise terms and we should use those, and use them correctly. Such terms include “schism,” “in communion with” and “excommunicated”.

It has been abundantly shown that the SSPX is neither in schism nor excommunicated. The Catholic Church has also provided important criteria as to who is a member of the Church – i.e., the Mystical Body of Christ, the only Church which Our Lord founded. Those criteria are based on holding all the de fide doctrines of the Church, administering or receiving the same Sacraments, and acknowledging the rightful authorities of the Church hierarchy. Once again, according to all these criteria, the SSPX holds “passing marks” and, quite frankly, much “higher marks” than many others who carry the name “Catholic”.

In the next article we will discuss the term “irregular canonical status” and how it may or may not apply to the situation under discussion.

[1] “Excommunication, (Latin ex, out of, and communio or communicatio, communion — exclusion from the communion), the principal and severest censure, is a medicinal, spiritual penalty that deprives the guilty Christian of all participation in the common blessings of ecclesiastical society” (Catholic Encyclopedia). Even the source Wikipedia informs readers that “Excommunication is an institutional act of religious censure used to … deprive, suspend, or limit membership in a religious community …, in particular, … of receiving the sacraments”.

[2] All the normative conditions naturally apply: a person must be baptized, have made their First Holy Communion, not be conscious of mortal sin, and observe the rules of fasting prior to receiving Holy Communion.

[3] Karl Rahner, S.J. († 1984) postulated the grave error that – even without baptism and without professing faith in Jesus Christ or the Blessed Trinity – any and all men could, in fact, be “anonymous Christians.”

[4] One of the most problematic statements in the documents of Vatican II states: “This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him…” (Lumen Gentium, #8). [emphasis added]

Much ink has been spilled in discussing this statement and the highly ambiguous “subsists in” clause. This is a novel concept. If “subsists in” is interpreted in continuity with all Catholic teaching and tradition then it must simply mean “is”. But then why not simply use the word “is”? If, however, the term “subsists” means that the Church of Jesus Christ, the Mystical Body of Christ, is ‘more than’ the one Holy Catholic Church or that the Church founded by Christ somehow includes elements, structures or members that are not in the One, Holy, Catholic Church, then this is a grave error contrary to all Catholic tradition.

One need only read Pius XII’s encyclicals on the Church (Mystici Corporis, 1943) and on the Church’s Liturgy (Mediator Dei, 1947) or Pius XI’s encyclical on Christian Unity (Mortalium Animos, 1928), or the First Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ (Session 4, 18 July 1870, No 1-8) to receive the Catholic Church’s clear teaching on the nature of the Church.

For example, Pius XII clearly and unequivocally states: “To describe this true Church of Christ – which is the Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, Roman Church – there is no name more noble, none more excellent, none more Divine, than the expression, ‘the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ’.” (Mystici Corporis, #13) [emphasis added] It is a wholly legitimate question to ask why Vatican II did not simply use this citation, from a document barely 20 years old. Instead, they inserted the infamous “subsists in” which has turned into a veritable time bomb causing much destruction in Catholic doctrine, liturgy and morals.

Furthermore, Pius XI emphatically proclaims: “It is clear why this Apostolic See has never allowed its subjects to take part in the assemblies of non-Catholics. There is but one way in which the unity of Christians may be fostered, and that is by furthering the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it … [F]or since the Mystical Body of Christ, like His physical body, is one (1 Cor. 12:12), compacted and fitly joined together (Eph 4:16), it were foolish and out of place to say that the Mystical Body is composed of disjointed and scattered members. Whosever therefore is not united with the body is no member thereof, neither is he in communion with Christ its Head.” (Mortalium Animos, #15).

The Catechism of the Council of Trent is also very clear on its teaching regarding membership in the Church. It states: “The Church militant is composed of two classes of persons, the good and the bad, both professing the same faith and partaking of the same Sacraments, yet differing in their manner of life and morality.” Note that Trent describes one as a member of Christ’s Church here on earth by professing the same one True Faith and participating in the same Sacraments of Holy Mother Church. A few paragraphs later, so as to make sure there is no misunderstanding, the Catechism states: “Hence there are but three classes of persons excluded from the Church’s pale: infidels, heretics and schismatics, and excommunicated persons.”

[5] This is one of the reasons why Modernists tend to hate the Latin language and St. Thomas’ scholastic methodology. Latin and Thomism provide precise definitions and clear distinctions which prevent the Modernist from easily performing this “bait and switch” meaning of Catholic terms.

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