The Question of Assistance at the Mass of a Priest Who Professes Communion With John Paul II as Pope


An analysis of the status of such Masses and their availability to Catholics


“Certainly it is clear that, when we speak of within and without in relation to the Church, it is the position of the heart that we must consider, not that of the body…” St. Augustine.[1]



Distinguishing the issues


Determining whether or not to receive the sacraments from any particular traditional priest can be a fearful challenge.  What would otherwise be a straightforward matter has in the present circumstances become an apparent labyrinth of difficulties and contradictions.


Without pretending to discuss every consideration which conceivably might bear on such a decision, this paper is an attempt to analyse two key factors:


  1. Adherence to John Paul II as pope, and membership in the Church.
  2. The effect of the mention of John Paul II's name in the Canon of Holy Mass.


It should be borne in mind that the question, in itself, of whether or not John Paul II is truly the Vicar of Christ is simply momentous.  Upon it hang the gravest possible theoretical conclusions and practical consequences.  Either that man in Rome is Christ’s Vicar on earth, or he is not.  Every Catholic is gravely obliged either to submit to his divinely ordained authority as he would to Christ Jesus Himself, or to reject him outright as a perfidious fraud.  Realistically, there is no third possibility.


Therefore nothing could be further from my purpose here than to minimise or render unimportant this crucial question.  It is merely that the full consideration of this matter is outside of the scope of this article.  That is to say that whatever momentous and lamentable consequences flow from adherence to John Paul II as Vicar of Christ, the analysis of these consequences are not within the purpose of this article except insofar as they might bear upon the present availability of Holy Mass for Catholics.


I propose to consider two questions which are related to the broad issue of the verbal submission to John Paul II by many traditional clergy, without exhaustively analysing the entire problem; these questions are: does adherence to John Paul II, in itself, place one outside the Church?  And, what is the effect, if any, of the mention of John Paul II’s name in the Canon of Holy Mass?  Various parties who have expressed opinions on the matter have broken these two essential questions into a series of sub-questions.


  1. Are all priests who hold that John Paul II is pope, therefore outside the Church?
  2. What is wrong with the naming of John Paul II as pope?
  3. What is wrong with the naming of John Paul II as pope in the Canon?

In turn, this question has been addressed in various ways, as follows:

a)      May Catholics ever assist at the Masses of non-Catholics?

b)      Is such a Mass a "Catholic Mass"?

c)      If John Paul II is named in the Canon, is the Mass illicit?

d)      Does assistance at such a Mass imply co-operation with the naming of John Paul II as pope?

  1. If it is permissible to assist at such a Mass, is it the better course not to do so?


Question One:  Are all priests who hold that John Paul II is pope, therefore outside the Church?


By baptism a person becomes a member and subject of the Church with all the rights and duties of a Christian, unless, insofar as rights are concerned, there is some obstacle impeding the bond of communion with the Church, or a censure inflicted by the Church.[2]  That is to say, every baptised person remains a member of the Church of Jesus Christ unless he departs from her in some way.


There are only three ways to leave the Church voluntarily, that is, by heresy, schism, or apostasy.  There are only two ways one can depart from the Church involuntarily, that is, by laying violent hands upon the Roman Pontiff or being declared vitandus by Rome.  Evidently neither of the involuntary means of leaving the Church is possible in our days.  Hence it remains to consider the voluntary means by which one may depart from the Church.


Is it an act of apostasy to adhere to John Paul II?


Of the voluntary ways by which one might leave the Church, firstly we consider apostasy.  Apostasy is the total rejection of the Christian religion.  Nobody has asserted that adherence to John Paul II as pope is in itself an act of apostasy, and nor could this be maintained seriously.


Is it an act of schism to adhere to John Paul II?


What precisely is schism, properly understood?  To answer this question we turn to St. Thomas, who explains schism with his usual marvellous clarity.


“As Isidore says (Etym. viii, 3), schism takes its name 'from being a scission of minds,' and scission is opposed to unity.  Wherefore the sin of schism is one that is directly and essentially opposed to unity.  For in the moral, as in the physical order, the species is not constituted by that which is accidental.  Now, in the moral order, the essential is that which is intended, and that which results beside the intention, is, as it were, accidental.  Hence the sin of schism is, properly speaking, a special sin, for the reason that the schismatic intends to sever himself from that unity which is the effect of charity: because charity unites not only one person to another with the bond of spiritual love, but also the whole Church in unity of spirit.


“Accordingly schismatics properly so called are those who, wilfully and intentionally separate themselves from the unity of the Church…”[3]  (Emphasis added).


Note that the Angelic Doctor firstly identifies the principle to be applied: "For in the moral, as in the physical order, the species is not constituted by that which is accidental.  Now, in the moral order, the essential is that which is intended, and that which results beside the intention, is, as it were, accidental."


Then he highlights the key element of schism, by which it is differentiated from other sins, viz. the essence of schism is the intent to separate oneself from the Church.  This same doctrine is taught by St. Augustine, who defines schism as "hatred of the brethren."


Schism is the crime of refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or the refusal of communion with those who are subject to him.  This does not mean that any refusal of obedience, or any refusal of communion with others, constitutes schism, but it must be a refusal to submit to the pope, as pope, or refusal of communion with those subject to the pope, because of their submission to him.  Cardinal Cajetan comments on St Thomas's article on schism as follows, "Disobedience, no matter how pertinacious, does not constitute schism unless it be a rebellion against the office of the pope."[4]


A modern authority teaches the same thing.  "Nor is there any schism if one merely transgress a papal law for the reason that one considers it too difficult, or if one refuses obedience inasmuch as one suspects the person of the pope or the validity of his election, or if one resists him as the civil head of a state."[5]  This is the common opinion of theologians and canonists.


The second constituent of schism is the pertinacious will to refuse submission or communion.  As we have seen, St. Thomas says that schismatics wilfully refuse submission to the pope.[6]  A man is pertinacious, according to the canonists, when he is conscious of the fact that his position conflicts with that of the Church.  Thus, the essential components of schism are the fact of non-submission to the pope, as pope (or non-communion with others who are subject to him, because of their subjection to him), and the pertinacious will.


Schism, of course, like heresy, may further be divided into formal and material.  This distinction belongs properly to moral theology, in which the virtuousness or sinfulness of acts is considered.  Formal schism is that schism which is complete (i.e. in which a person refuses subjection to the pope, as pope, and is conscious of the fact) and in which the culprit is aware of his obligation to be subject to the pope.  Material schism is complete but innocent, in that the person concerned is not subject to the pope, and knows it, but has not realised that he is under a grave obligation to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.  Material schism is impossible for a Catholic; it is possible for a person raised in a sect who has not yet been exposed to good arguments in favour of the true religion.


Now, the traditional Catholic priests who maintain communion with John Paul II do so precisely to avoid schism, if we are to believe their public statements and the other available evidence.  It would be impossible to build a case against them which demonstrated that they intended to submit to a false pope.  Therefore the allegation of schism must vanish as completely baseless.


St. Antoninus, commenting on the Great Western Schism, sheds much light on the point.  “The question was much discussed and much was written in defence of one side or the other.  For as long as the schism lasted each obedience had in its favour men who were very learned in scripture and Canon Law, and even very pious people, including some who – what is much more – were illustrious by the gift of miracles.  Nonetheless the question could never be settled without leaving the minds of many still in doubt.  Doubtless we must believe that, just as there are not several Catholic Churches, but only one, so there is only one Vicar of Christ who is its pastor.  But if it should occur that, by a schism, several popes are elected at the same time, it does not seem necessary for salvation to believe that this or that one in particular is the true pope, but just in general whichever of them was canonically elected.  The people are not obliged to know who was canonically elected, just as they are not obliged to know canon law; in this matter they may follow the judgment of their superiors and prelates.”[7]


The French canonist Bouix has laid down the judgement that in fact the Great Western Schism was not a true schism at all, precisely because there was no evident schismatic intent or pertinacity amongst the various men aligned with each claimant.  "This dissension was called schism, but incorrectly. No one withdrew from the true Roman pontiff considered as such, but each obeyed the one he regarded as the true pope.  They submitted to him, not absolutely, but on condition that he was the true pope.  Although there were several obediences, nevertheless there was no schism properly so-called."[8]  I think it manifest that the priests of the SSPX, for example, submit to John Paul II on condition that he is the true pope.  This is clear because, among other evidence, Archbishop Lefebvre openly admitted that John Paul II’s claim to the papacy is a doubtful matter that one day will be judged by the Church.


It has been objected that in the Great Western Schism all of the papal claimants were Catholics, whereas in our circumstances the only claimant is a notorious heretic.  Therefore, it is argued, there can be no excuse for adhering to him.


By isolating each real similarity and difference between the two cases, we will be in a position to see what effect each has on the claim that there is a real analogy.


The first difference is that in the fifteenth century Catholics were asked to adhere to an orthodox claimant, while in the second case Catholics are asked to adhere to a heretic.  There is no doubt that, in isolation, this is a striking difference.  If it were the only difference then we would be faced with one case (the Great Western Schism) in which the choice was between two Catholics, and another case in which the alternatives are a Catholic and a public heretic.  There can be no dispute that if these were the two cases being compared, there could be no analogy drawn between them which would be useful in the question we are examining.


However, there is a second difference between the two sets of circumstances.  And it is that in the Great Western Schism Catholics were presented with a choice between two (or three) claimants, each with numerous orthodox and prudent adherents among the clergy.  Whereas in our situation Catholics are faced with judging between accepting a heretic as pope, or believing that an unprecedented vacancy of forty years has occurred, unknown by all of the ordinaries (i.e. bishops with sees) in the world, and by almost all of the clergy.  I do not think any reasonable man will describe the latter choice as so blindingly obvious that anybody who fails to see it is abandoning either reason or faith.


The similarity between the two sets of circumstances consists in the fact that a good Catholic was (or is) required to form a judgement which he was (or is) not necessarily equipped to make.  In both cases the choice was (or is) exceedingly difficult – in fact for many, and probably most, impossible.  In more normal times in the Church the question of who the pope is or isn’t stands as a simple and obvious matter.  During the Great Western Schism and today the question was and is exceedingly difficult.  During both sets of circumstances the ordinary means of identifying the true pope were (or are) inoperative.  In such a situation it is plainly unreasonable to insist that any man who has failed to see the truth is therefore a schismatic


Therefore it is clear that a real analogy exists between the Great Western Schism and our own circumstances.  From the Great Western Schism we learn that a man may remain a good Catholic, or even be a saint, whilst failing to reject a false pope, and whilst rejecting a true pope.  Today we are faced with the lamentable sight of men adhering to a false pope, but who at least do not reject a true pope.


Is it heretical to maintain that John Paul II, a public heretic, is pope?


Heresy, as St. Thomas teaches, is essentially opposed to faith.


Heresy is defined as the pertinacious doubt or denial of a truth which must be believed with divine and Catholic faith.[9]  And all those truths must be believed with divine and Catholic faith which are contained in the written word of God or in tradition and which the Church proposes for acceptance as revealed by God, either by solemn definition or through her ordinary and universal teaching.[10]


Therefore heresy only exists where two conditions are fulfilled, viz. pertinacity, and doubt concerning, or error directly against, divine and Catholic faith.


St. Thomas explains the whole matter in his treatment of the question, "Whether it is lawful to have various contrary opinions of notions?"[11] in the Summa.


"I answer that, Anything is of faith in two ways; directly, where any truth comes to us principally as divinely taught, as the trinity and unity of God, the Incarnation of the Son, and the like; and concerning these truths a false opinion of itself involves heresy, especially if it be held obstinately.  A thing is of faith, indirectly, if the denial of it involves as a consequence something against faith; as for instance if anyone said that Samuel was not the son of Elcana, for it follows that the divine Scripture would be false. Concerning such things anyone may have a false opinion without danger of heresy, before the matter has been considered or settled as involving consequences against faith, and particularly if no obstinacy be shown; whereas when it is manifest, and especially if the Church has decided that consequences follow against faith, then the error cannot be free from heresy.  For this reason many things are now considered as heretical which were formerly not so considered, as their consequences are now more manifest.


"So we must decide that anyone may entertain contrary opinions about the notions, if he does not mean to uphold anything at variance with faith. If, however, anyone should entertain a false opinion of the notions, knowing or thinking that consequences against the faith would follow, he would lapse into heresy."[12]


Now, it follows from the idea that John Paul II is pope that Holy Church has defected.  The latter heresy is a consequence of the former error.  But it is not true to say that the idea that John Paul II is pope is directly opposed to the faith.  And therefore it is not necessarily heretical.  It remains (at the very least) possible that those who think John Paul II is truly the Vicar of Christ retain their belief that Holy Church is indefectible.  And in fact traditional Catholics who adhere to John Paul II make it abundantly clear that they do believe Holy Church to be indefectible.  Furthermore, it is notorious that traditional Catholics who maintain that John Paul II is pope do so precisely because they are under the impression that to deny this would involve implicit denial of the indefectibility of Holy Church, and would thus sever themselves from her.  A more clearly non-heretical mindset could not be imagined.


The fact remains that recognising John Paul II as pope is bound to lead to inconsistency, for no Catholic could behave towards John Paul II as one should behave towards a pope.  But such inconsistency must be sheeted home to its true cause, and not made the basis of a charge of unorthodoxy in itself.  The only way that the latter case could be made is if it could be shown that the cause of the inconsistent position was an unorthodox belief in itself, or an unorthodox animus in general.[13]


In addition to these arguments, there is the extrinsic authority of Cajetan, Suarez, John of St. Thomas, Bouix, and Journet.  Each of these has publicly taught that if a pope were a heretic he would retain the papacy until and unless “deposed” by an extraordinary Council.  And while this doctrine is wrong, and in fact certainly so, Holy Church has never condemned it, so that it is not impossible that a good and holy Catholic accept it, if the reasons in its favour appeal to him.  Hence, our hypothetical priest is able to hold that John Paul II is both a heretic and the Pope, and himself remain a Catholic.


Therefore there is no basis whatsoever for maintaining that those traditional Catholics who adhere to John Paul II are, for that reason, outside the Church.  Adherence to John Paul II as pope is neither an act of apostasy, nor schism, nor heresy.  It is a lamentable yet understandable mistake.



Question Two:  What is wrong with the naming of John Paul II as pope?


The obvious answer to this question is that it is an error to think that John Paul II is the pope.


Errors may be evil in three ways;

a)       When deliberate, they are sins.

b)       Even when innocent, they are in themselves evil, as the intellect is made for truth, so that any positive error is an evil.

c)       Even innocent errors may have evil consequences, or they may form the basis of further errors which in turn may have evil consequences.


The possibility of sin


Analysing the first problem, the possibility that sin is involved, we can be morally certain (in at least most cases) that a traditionalist priest who mentions John Paul II as pope is innocent in the matter.  It is not within the scope of this article to analyse fully the errors and possible culpability of such traditionalist priests.  Suffice it to say that their open and vigorous resistance to Vatican II, and to the heresies and errors of John Paul II, eliminates the possibility that they adhere to him because they favour his programme of evil.  Their publicly declared reason for adhering to him is that they wish to avoid schism.  I am aware that many of those who publicly adhere to John Paul II are in fact most doubtful that he really is the pope,[14] but this doubt does not make their continued adherence to him a sin, for they also believe that it is not their business publicly to reject a “pope” to whom the vast majority of Catholics adhere.  In this we see merely an example of the attitude which St. Antoninus has said is perfectly justified.  “[I]n this matter they may follow the judgment of their superiors and prelates.”


The evil of error


The second problem, the essentially evil nature of a positive error, might bear on the issue in two possible ways.  The two ways in which the error of a priest in this matter might affect the faithful are, i) if they believed it themselves, which will be considered immediately below, or ii) if they were somehow held responsible for it.  And the only way in which the faithful could conceivably be held responsible for the error of a priest with whom they associate is if they could be said to co-operate in his error.  Suffice it to say at this point that it is absurd prima facie to say that an avowed sedevacantist who assists at the Mass of a priest who names John Paul II as pope intends to co-operate with the priest’s error.  The only possibility with which we may concern ourselves is that the sedevacantist faithful at such a Mass unwillingly (i.e. merely materially) co-operate with the naming of John Paul II by the very fact of assisting at such a Mass.  This possibility will also be considered later in this paper (v. infra. “Does assistance at such a Mass imply co-operation with the naming of John Paul II as pope?”).


Evil consequences


The third perspective from which errors may be considered is that which takes into account their consequences and fruits, both for the men who hold those errors, and for other parties who may be affected by them.  Once again, a distinction seems necessary:

a)       A man who errs may act, because of his error, in a way which causes harm to others.

b)       The fact of the man holding to the error, and announcing it publicly, may lead others into error also.


The only evil actions which might arise directly from thinking John Paul II is pope would appear to be co-operation with his programme of evil, or acting inconsistently by disobeying him while claiming to be subject to him.  The first of these is evidently not a problem with traditionalist priests.  They do not co-operate with his programme - they openly resist it, as has already been said.[15]


The inconsistency problem is real, at least to some extent.  Clearly it is a problem to live in open rebellion against the pope, and even more so over a period of decades.  And yet it must be kept in mind that even a pope cannot validly command what is sinful, so that resisting the pope is not, per se, unorthodox.[16]  Indeed, it can be meritorious, as several historical examples prove (e.g. Pascal II on investitures, and John XXII on the enjoyment of the beatific vision, by the saints, prior to the General Judgement).  Pope Paul IV, in the very document most relied upon by sedevacantists, Cum ex apostolatus, [17] teaches that “the Roman Pontiff, who is the representative upon earth of God and our God and Lord Jesus Christ, who holds the fullness of power over peoples and kingdoms, who may judge all and be judged by none in this world, may nonetheless be contradicted if he be found to have deviated from the Faith.”


The second problem, the threat that falsehoods pose to others, is much broader than the una cum clause of the Canon of the Mass.  Indeed, the una cum clause becomes much less relevant in this context, for it is said silently.  Much more significant are the sermons, the printed material, and the public stance on John Paul II as pope, which all tend to harm the common good in a most grave matter.  Obviously it is not right to acquiesce in any such assertion that John Paul II is pope, whether this assertion is within the context of Holy Mass or not.


The danger that the errors and inconsistency of these priests poses is that of perversion, particularly of children.  If nothing is done to correct the notion, children raised in such a climate are bound to think that open, habitual, resistance to "the pope" is something other than monstrous.  Fortunately, however, we have abundant evidence that the children of sedevacantists who grow up assisting at Masses in which John Paul II is named as pope do not, as a rule, end up with faulty ideas about submission to papal authority.  I regard this as a manifest fact, testified to by numerous clear examples.  In other words, whatever danger of perversion might exist, it does not, in fact, produce the perversion feared.[18]


Let us also note the fact that the priest believes and expresses a falsehood concerning a very grave matter; but so do most traditionalists, on one matter or another.  This is our frame - to err is human.  And particularly so when there is no habitual jurisdiction or magisterium being exercised which could settle controversies.  That isn't to say that charity does not dictate efforts to correct errors.  It is merely pointing out that error is very common, particularly today, and that the errors of others are not, generally, our responsibility.  The government of Holy Church has not been laid upon our shoulders.


It may be useful to summarise what has been said in response to the question, What is wrong with naming John Paul II as pope?:




Question Three:  What is wrong with the naming of John Paul II as pope in the Canon?


Obviously it is wrong to name John Paul II as pope for many reasons, as explained above.  Here we consider the narrower question, what is the effect of naming the heresiarch in the Canon?  Various arguments have been advanced with the intention of proving that a Mass becomes unavailable to Catholics when open heretics such as John Paul II are named in the Canon.


One such argument is that any priest who mentions John Paul II in the Canon is thereby a non-Catholic, and that Catholics may never assist at the Masses of non-Catholics.


Another is that such a Mass is a “non-Catholic Mass” or a “schismatic Mass” by virtue of being offered in union with a non-Catholic, and that therefore Catholics may not assist at it.


A third argument is that such a Mass is illicit, and that therefore the faithful are prohibited from being present.


Finally, the case has been put that the presence at such a Mass is an implicit approval and/or co-operation with the acknowledgement of John Paul II as pope, which for somebody who rejects him, is a sin.  Worse, it has been claimed that such assistance at Mass is an act of communion with John Paul II himself, so that anybody who does it with full knowledge thereby becomes a schismatic.


The theological and legal authorities of whom I am aware discuss only three classes of Masses that the faithful are obliged to avoid.  These are the Masses of non-Catholics,[19] Masses in which the rite itself is unorthodox,[20] and the Masses of priests living in open concubinage.[21]  Therefore, according to the approved writers of the Catholic Church any “fault” with a priest or a Mass which falls outside of these three categories does not constitute a reason why the faithful are prohibited from assisting.  And, as a matter of fact, the Masses we are here considering do not run afoul of any of these prohibitory reasons.



Question Three, a)  May Catholics ever assist at the Masses of non-Catholics?


The notion that the insertion of John Paul II’s name in the Canon makes the celebrant a non-Catholic, or always indicates that he is a non-Catholic, has been considered already.  The idea that adhering to John Paul II, or naming him as pope, is unorthodox, is groundless.  The status of John Paul II could not possibly be a matter of faith.  (That the notions that John Paul II is truly pope and has inflicted heresy on the Church lead to an heretical conclusion is granted.  But as explained above, heresy involves a direct conflict with a matter of faith.  It is not a matter of faith that John Paul II is not pope.)  Likewise it is not necessarily an act of schism to adhere to a non-Catholic.  It may merely be a mistake, and in the cases under consideration that is precisely what it is.


But even granting, for the sake of the argument, that such priests were all non-Catholics by virtue of remaining in communion with John Paul II, it remains for our opponents to demonstrate that the Masses of such priests would always be forbidden to the faithful.  For, surprising as it may seem, in cases of necessity Holy Church does in fact permit her children to assist at Mass with, and receive sacraments from, undeclared heretics and schismatics.  The origin of this indulgence was in the aftermath of the Great Western Schism, during which numerous problems arose for the simple faithful, who could not be sure who were their true pastors, and who were those that were in rebellion against the authentic Roman Pontiff.  Pope Martin V settled such difficulties for the future with his ground-breaking law, Ad evitanda scandala.


Ad evitanda scandala reads as follows, “To avoid scandals and many dangers and relieve timorous consciences by the tenor of these presents we mercifully grant to all Christ's faithful that henceforth no one shall be bound to abstain from communion with anyone in the administration or reception of the sacraments or in any other religious or non-religious acts whatsoever, nor to avoid anyone nor to observe any ecclesiastical interdict, on pretext of any ecclesiastical sentence or censure globally promulgated whether by the law or by an individual; unless the sentence or censure in question has been specifically and expressly published or denounced by the judge on or against a definite person, college, university, church, community or place.  Notwithstanding any apostolic or other constitutions to the contrary, save the case of someone of whom it shall be known so notoriously that he has incurred the sentence passed by the canon for laying sacrilegious hands upon a cleric that the fact cannot be concealed by any tergiversation nor excused by any legal defence.  For we will abstinence from communion with such a one, in accordance with the canonical sanctions, even though he be not denounced.[22]


Cardinal de Lugo[23] explains that this certainly applies to undeclared heretics, as follows, “The second chief doubt is whether we may communicate with an undeclared heretic only in civil and human affairs or even in sacred and spiritual things.  It is certain that we cannot communicate with heretics in the rites proper to a heretical sect, because this would be contrary to the precept of confessing the faith and would contain an implicit profession of error.  But the question relates to sacred matters containing no error, e.g. whether it is lawful to hear Mass with a heretic, or to celebrate in his presence, or to be present while he celebrates in the Catholic rite, etc.


“But the opposite view [i.e. that such communication is permitted] is general [communis] and true, unless it should be illicit for some other reason on account of scandal or implicit denial of the faith, or because charity obliges one to impede the sin of the heretical minister administering unworthily where necessity does not urge.  This is the teaching of Navarro and Sanchez, Suarez, Hurtado and is what I have said in speaking of the sacrament of penance and of matrimony and the other sacraments.  It is also certain by virtue of the said litterae extravagantes [i.e. Ad evitanda scandala] in which communication with excommunicati tolerati is conceded to the faithful in the reception and administration of the sacraments.


“So as these heretics are not declared excommunicates or notoriously guilty of striking a cleric, there is no reason why we should be prevented from receiving the sacraments from them because of their excommunication, although on other grounds this may often be illicit unless necessity excuse as I have explained in the said places.”


It must be emphasised that scandal and danger of perversion are grave matters, and divine law[24] dictates that both are to be assiduously avoided.  But if they are absent, then we may assist even at the Mass of an undeclared heretic, as Cardinal de Lugo explains.



Question Three, b)  Is such a Mass a "Catholic Mass"?


This question is posed by Fr. Donald Sanborn[25], and answered in the negative, in his article, Vatican II, The Pope, and The Mass.


Fr Sanborn explains that a Mass offered "in union with" a false pope cannot be truly in union with Christ, and is therefore a "non-Catholic Mass."  He further explains that such Masses are "objectively schismatic" for the same reason.


However the theologians who discuss the status of Masses concentrate on the status of the offerer of the Mass.  If the offerer is Catholic, then the Mass is a "Catholic Mass," assuming a Catholic ritual is used.  If the offerer is not a Catholic, then his Mass is, like him, "outside the Church" in the sense that it is unavailable to Catholics.  (Although, as we have seen, Cardinal de Lugo asserts very clearly that in the absence of an alternative the faithful may assist even at the Mass of a heretic, prior to the judgement of the Church.)  Furthermore, the reason given by the theologians for this is that to assist at such a Mass would be an act of communicatio in sacris with a non-Catholic.  That is, an act of worship in common with a non-Catholic, which of course relates to the ecclesiastical status of persons, not to “non-Catholic acts of Catholic persons.”


i.)  "Non-Catholic Masses"?


Fr. Sanborn’s definition of the term "non-Catholic Mass" is unclear.  There are Masses offered by Catholics, and Masses offered by non-Catholics.  As far as I can discover, there is no such thing as a "non-Catholic Mass" unless and except if this refers to the Mass of a non-Catholic or a Mass celebrated according to a corrupted, unorthodox, rite, and neither is the definition that Fr. Sanborn gives.


Since there is no suggestion that the rite itself contains something contrary to the faith, the correct question, according to the principles laid down by the theologians, is, "Is the Mass of a priest who names John Paul II in the Canon, the Mass of a Catholic?"  There are two ways that this question could be answered negatively, viz. if the act of naming John Paul II in the Canon automatically made the priest a non-Catholic, or if the priest already before offering the Mass were a non-Catholic, due to his adherence to John Paul II.


The second possibility has been considered above.  Nobody can rightly be judged a non-Catholic merely for adhering to John Paul II, especially if he explicitly refuses John Paul II’s heresies.  The first possibility, that the naming of John Paul II in the Canon makes the priest a non-Catholic, is also false, and for the same reasons.


ii.)  "Objectively schismatic"?


Equally problematical is Fr. Sanborn's use of the terminology, "objectively schismatic."    What does Fr. Sanborn mean by this term?  He does not define it.  The closest he gets is the following,  "If he [the priest] means well, i.e., he has a good intention and does not know that he is doing wrong, then he commits no personal sin. But objectively it is a sinful act."  Thus it appears that Fr. Sanborn is saying that the act of naming John Paul II as pope in the Canon is the matter of schism.  Or perhaps he is arguing that there is true schism in such an act, but that it is merely material (i.e. innocent).


However, as Cardinal Billot explains, in relation to heresy,  "…a material sin is said to exist only when what belongs to the nature of the sin takes place materially, but without advertence or deliberate will.  But the nature of heresy consists in withdrawal from the rule of the ecclesiastical Magisterium and this does not take place in the case mentioned [i.e. when a Catholic accidentally adheres to an heretical proposition], since this is a simple error of fact concerning what the rule dictates. And therefore there is no scope for heresy, even materially."[26]


And in speaking of schism, Billot draws a parallel with heresy.  "The second condition required for adults [to be members of the Church] is that the bond of Catholic communion be not impeded or dissolved - a breach that can occur in either of two ways. The first is by the individual's own act, i.e. by schism concerning which the same judgement applies, in due proportion, as applies to heresy. The second is by sentence of ecclesiastical authority..."[27]


The same principle applies, mutatis mutandis, to a refusal of communion with fellow Catholics.  The various splits amongst traditional Catholics do not constitute true schism precisely because there exists no mind or will to sever communion with those subject to the pope, but rather a refusal of communion based on judgements, whether sound or unsound, that the other group is not truly Catholic or perhaps is gravely scandalous.  In the absence of a true pope such splits are seemingly inevitable, but they are not necessarily "schisms."


Thus a man who places an act which involves one element of the matter of schism, without knowingly breaking the bond of communion, cannot be described as a "material schismatic."  In the same way we do not call a man who falls off a cliff a "material suicide."


Therefore it is clear, as has already been proved, that adherence to a false pope, even though he is a public heretic, especially if this adherence is maintained precisely because he is believed to be the true pope, cannot constitute schism.  In fact, one might say that it is the opposite of schism.  Nor can it be said to constitute so-called material or objective schism, for where there is no pertinacity, there is no schism at all, either formal or material, as Billot explains.  "Objective schism" may or may not be equivalent to "material schism," but in any case what is clear is that there is no sort of schism at all in the act of a priest who mentions John Paul II because he mistakenly believes that he is the pope.


Benedict XIV teaches, “…a commemoration of the supreme pontiff and prayers offered for him during the sacrifice of the Mass is considered, and really is, an affirmative indication which recognises him as the head of the Church, the vicar of Christ, and the successor of blessed Peter, and is the profession of a mind and will which firmly espouses Catholic unity.”[28]


Recalling St. Thomas’s eternal principle, “…in the moral order, the essential is that which is intended, and that which results beside the intention, is, as it were, accidental", we apply it to this teaching of Benedict XIV.  The only possible conclusion is that when a priest inserts John Paul II’s name in the Sacred Canon in the mistaken belief that he is the pope, this is “the profession of a mind and will which firmly espouses Catholic unity.”  To call it, on the contrary, schism, is simply to miss the point.


iii.)  "Offensive to God"?


It has also been suggested that the mention of John Paul II as pope, in the Canon of the Mass, is offensive to God in any case.  It is asserted by Fr. Sanborn that this is a sacrilege, whether the priest sins in committing it or not, and that therefore the faithful who know better must refuse to co-operate with it, even materially. (And no proof is offered that the faithful even materially cooperate with the naming of John Paul II in the Canon merely by assisting at such a Mass.)


Against this it must be asked whether God is offended by innocent mistakes.  The mention of John Paul II in the Canon is either a crime or a mistake.  There is no third possibility.  In relation to schism, I posed the hypothetical case of a man who falls off a cliff.  Is he rightly called a "material suicide"?  Likewise, is God offended by a man falling off a cliff?  Of course not.  Mistakes have no moral character whatsoever, and cannot offend God.  That is not to say that some morally imputable offence has not been committed previously, which led to the present innocent error.  But our concern is not the complete analysis of a priest's moral life, and nor should it be.  We are concerned strictly with this act of naming John Paul II in the Canon.  Is this act a sacrilege?  Assuming that the priest sincerely believes John Paul II to be pope, the answer can only be in the negative.



Question Three, c)  If John Paul II is named in the Canon, is the Mass illicit?


The following discussion is, necessarily, highly technical.  The matter discussed involves a veritable forest of distinctions, each of which is of crucial importance to a sound understanding of what is involved.  I have aimed chiefly at clarity and precision.


No one as far as I am aware has constructed a complete argument which reaches the conclusion that a Mass in which John Paul II is named as pope would be illicit, in the sense that the faithful are therefore prohibited from assisting at it.  One example of such a complete argument would consist of the following elements:


  1. Naming John Paul II in the Canon is contrary to the law.
  2. This breach of the law makes the Mass itself “illicit.”
  3. The faithful may not assist at an “illicit” Mass.
  4. The faithful may not assist at an “illicit” Mass, even in the absence of an alternative.


The argument has been put that since every external heretic is ipso facto excommunicated,[29] and since excommunicates may not be mentioned in the Canon of Holy Mass,[30] if this is done then the Mass itself is illicit.[31]  Furthermore, it is contended, the faithful may not assist at such an “illicit Mass” for any reason at all.


To my knowledge we have no authoritative indications of what a priest is to do when his bishop publicly disappears into heresy, and by Canon 188, §4, loses his office.  Obviously if he recognised that this had occurred, he would omit his (former) bishop’s name from the Canon of Holy Mass.  But would he be bound to do so?  For obvious reasons this quandary becomes deeper in relation to a so-called pope who is a public heretic.  Questions such as these serve to highlight the unprecedented nature of the crisis facing Holy Church at present.


Our only hope of solving such problems is by applying the general principles furnished by the popes, the theologians, and the Code and its commentators.


Pope Benedict XIV, in the bull Ex quo, by which he promulgated the restored liturgical book for the Greek Catholics, the Euchologion, has expounded many of the points of which we require knowledge in order to analyse this question.  Pope Benedict, employing the work of St. Robert Bellarmine, firstly explains that there is no divine law governing the question of whether non-Catholics may be named in the Canon, so that we must consider instead what the law of the Church is in relation to the question.


“But among the Oriental peoples this practice of commemorating the king in the sacred liturgy is common, as may be seen in the Liturgies of the Armenians, Copts, Ethiopians and Syrians.  But if it should be asked how it can be endured where it is certain that the kings for whom they pray and whom they commemorate in the liturgy are infidels, Ven. Card. Bellarmine would reply (as in fact he replied in the chapter quoted above[32]) that it is by no means forbidden by the nature of the object, as theologians say, to pray during Mass even for infidels since the sacrifice of the Cross has been offered for all men.  And of course St. Thomas teaches that although St. Augustine wrote in his work de origine Animae that the sacrifice is offered only for those who are members of Christ, his statement must be understood to include both those who are already members of Christ and those who are able to become such (in 4. Sentent., dist. 12, quest. 2, art. 2, quest. 2, to the fourth). Therefore, the Cardinal adds that the whole question should be assessed in terms of what the Church has forbidden: ‘It is certain from the nature of the object that if the Church has not prohibited it, it is permissible to offer prayers for those men (i.e., the infidels).’  Although there is such a prohibition against the excommunicated and so against heretics and schismatics, there is none against infidels and these are not bound by excommunication.  This is enough, he says, to allow commemoration of them during Mass and even the offering of the sacrifice for them in accordance with the evident tradition in this matter and with the apostolic constitution.  ‘But someone may ask whether it is permissible if the king is an infidel as in Greece, where the Turk is ruler, and as in India, Japan and China where pagans rule, for priests there to offer prayers expressly for the king.  I answer that I consider it permissible provided that the king is not excommunicated as are heretic kings, but is a pagan.  For this tradition, this constitution, is apostolic, as I showed just above. To my knowledge there is no clear prohibition of this by the Church.’"[33]


Divine law, as St. Robert Bellarmine and Pope Benedict XIV make clear, certainly does not prohibit non-Catholics to be prayed for by name during Holy Mass.  Consequently the entire question must be discussed in terms of ecclesiastical law.


Perhaps a solution lies in an examination of the fact that every heretic is ipso facto excommunicated.[34]


The law of the Church certainly prohibits the public offering of Holy Mass for an excommunicate.  For an excommunicatus vitandus it is permitted to offer privately only for his conversion; for a toleratus Holy Mass may be offered privately for any intention at all.[35]  However, the distinct question of whether the law of the Church permits a priest to name an excommunicate in the Canon of Holy Mass is a matter of controversy.  De la Taille answers in the negative[36].  However he acknowledges that, “there are not a few teachers who think otherwise…”[37]  Likewise Gihr, discussing only the Memento states that, “Liturgists usually say that the priest may include in the Memento, not only members of the Church, but also unbelievers, heretics, schismatics, those who are excommunicated, and they state in proof of this assertion, that it is only a private prayer of the celebrant (thus write Gavanti, Merati, Cavalieri, De Herdt and others).” [38]  Gihr disagrees with these authors, stating that the Memento is not merely a private prayer, but rather a public (i.e. official) prayer of the Church.  In this he agrees with Pope Benedict XIV, who taught as follows in Ex quo, “Moreover heretics and schismatics are subject to the censure of major excommunication by the law of Can. de Ligur. 23, quest. 5, and Can. Nulli, 5, dist. 19. But the sacred canons of the Church forbid public prayer for the excommunicated as can be seen in chap. A nobis, 2, and chap. Sacris on the sentence of excommunication. Though this does not forbid prayer for their conversion, still such prayer must not take the form of proclaiming their names in the solemn prayer during the sacrifice of the Mass. This fully accords with the ancient practice, as may be seen in Estius in 4. Sententiar., dist. 12, sec. 15.”[39]  This teaching would appear to settle the matter, covering as it does the entire Canon, not just the Memento.


But even if we regard the question as settled in our own minds, only a certain law obliges, so that we can only aver that it would be wrong publicly to offer Holy Mass for a vitandus, or to offer it for some intention other than his conversion, or publicly to offer it for a toleratus, which is all that the Code makes clear.  As far as naming an excommunicate is concerned, even if we take the view that this is forbidden, any priest who judged differently could cite several authorities for his position.  Clearly no condemnation of such a priest would be possible.


In relation to an excommunicatus toleratus whose excommunication has been inflicted ipso facto we are faced with yet another difficulty – viz., at what point do the obligations in respect of such a person fall upon third parties?  In other words, who is obliged to obey the terms of a censure automatically inflicted upon another party by the law itself?  Canon 2259 sheds some light on this question.


“Every excommunicated person is deprived of the right to assist at the divine offices, but not at the preaching of the word of God. If an excommunicatus toleratus assists passively, it is not necessary to expel him; a vitandus should be expelled, or, if he cannot be expelled, the divine service must be stopped, provided it can be done without grave inconvenience. From active assistance, which entails some participation in celebrating the divine offices (services), not only an excommunicatus vitandus is to be barred, but also every excommunicated person whose excommunication was inflicted by a declaratory or condemnatory sentence, or whose excommunication is otherwise notorious.”[40]


Within this canon we see the principles embodied that govern when third parties are obliged to obey an excommunication.  The excommunication of a vitandus is notorious by a notoriety of law – all are obliged to obey such an excommunication.  A toleratus is to be acted against in certain circumstances, when his excommunication is notorious; that is, when the censure he has incurred is notorious with a notoriety of fact or of law.


St. Thomas confirms this understanding. 


“Whether one must avoid excommunicated persons concerning whom experts disagree as to whether they are in fact excommunicated?


“To the third question it is proceeded as follows.


“It seems that those excommunicates should not be avoided concerning whose excommunication wise men hold conflicting opinions.  Because according to the laws a bishop cannot remove a benefice which he has granted to a cleric without some fault on the cleric’s part.  But the communion of the faithful is as much due to any of the faithful as a benefice is due to a cleric to whom a bishop has granted it.  So neither is the communion of the faithful to be withdrawn from anyone without fault.  And when it is doubtful whether a cause is present, the mind of a good man ought to be more prompt to interpret the facts in the milder direction.  Hence, when it is doubted whether some persons are excommunicated, one ought rather to take the position that they are not excommunicated, in which case there is no need to avoid them.


“But on the other hand, should someone die as a result of having been struck in war and it is unknown who struck him, on account of this doubt anyone who took part in the war is considered irregular by the laws.  So analogously [“a simili”] it seems that when there is a doubt as to whether some persons are excommunicated, for greater safety they ought to be avoided.


“I reply that doubt as to whether certain persons are excommunicated either precedes the sentence of the judges or else follows it.  If it comes before, for instance when it has not yet been declared by the consensus of the judges that certain persons are excommunicated, they are not to be avoided until the matter has been closed by definitive judgment.  For in this case it is true that we ought to follow the milder interpretation.  Hence Deuteronomy 17:8 says: If thou perceive that there be among you a hard and doubtful matter in judgment…and thou see that the words of the judges within thy gates do vary…thou shalt come to the priests and to the judge…and thou shalt ask of them…and thou shalt do whatsoever they shall say.”[41]


At this point let’s apply the principles here exposed to the facts at issue in the present discussion.


The mention of the pope and the bishop in the Te igitur is not, per se, equivalent to offering Holy Mass for them, insofar as that act is referred to by the Code, so that even John Paul II’s ipso facto excommunication is not clear grounds for a claim that naming him in the Canon is illicit.


It is far from obvious that it would be contrary to the law of the Church to mention one’s bishop in the Te igitur, even if one believed him to be (automatically) excommunicated, but prior to the judgement of the Church.  This is because only a notorious excommunication places a burden upon third parties.  The judgement of when a particular excommunication is notorious, or only perhaps public, is one which men may well differ upon.


Obviously this consideration applies, a fortiori, to “the pope,” and even more so when not one ordinary (i.e. bishop with jurisdiction) has declared him excommunicate.  In other words, John Paul II is certainly an excommunicate, but he is a toleratus.  His excommunication is certainly notorious by the notoriety of fact.  But this is a matter of prudent judgement, upon which men may legitimately differ.


The fact that no (serious) infraction of law is involved in such a case becomes, if possible, even clearer when the nature of ecclesiastical penal law is examined.  Canon 2195 defines the concept, crime:  “A crime or delict in ecclesiastical law means an external and morally imputable violation of law to which a canonical sanction, at least indeterminate, is attached.”[42]


Since there is no serious suggestion that the average una cum cleric is morally guilty of wilfully naming a non-Catholic or excommunicate in the Canon, and since even this is not indisputably against the law, and furthermore since the only law which might conceivably apply to such a case (c. 2262) has no sanction attached, there is no way that the act could possibly be criminal.


For all of these reasons, therefore, it is simply not possible to make a case that there is some kind of crime involved in naming John Paul II in the Canon.  Nor, in my opinion, is there any basis for alleging a lesser infraction of the law.  What we are faced with is a mistake.


Expanding the question to consider whether the act of recognising John Paul II as pope is, in itself, an illicit act, the following considerations arise.[44]


If John Paul II had been judged by Holy Church to be a heretic and no pope, then there would exist a basis upon which all would be presumed to know that he was to be avoided.  Such a public judgement would set up a universal obligation, in the external forum, for the faithful to refuse communion with John Paul II.  In brief, such a judgement would involve the declaration that John Paul II is vitandus.  But this has not happened.  Hence the obligation to reject John Paul II, as far as it goes, is a private one, and rests on each individual’s knowledge and ability.  If one is incapable of seeing that John Paul II is a heretic, then one is not obliged to avoid him.  If one does see that he is a heretic, then one is obliged to avoid him, at least in general.


This principle is clearly enunciated in Cum ex apostolatus, which grants the faithful the right to refuse communion with a heretic claiming the papacy, but in no way penalises those who fail to do so.


The priests with whom we are concerned have no deliberate will to name a non-Catholic in the Canon.   Their will, clearly evidenced by public statements, is to name only Catholics.  Hence there is no infraction of any law in their communion with the heretic.


In the absence of any other basis for declaring such Masses illicit, the conclusion is not established.  But even if such Masses were illicit, it does not necessarily follow that Catholics may not assist at them.  The theologians taught, before the law relating to the matter was changed, that the faithful may assist at the Mass of a priest living in open concubinage, if there is no alternative, and we can be perfectly certain that such a Mass is entirely illicit and in fact sacrilegious.



Question Three, d) Does assistance at such a Mass imply co-operation with the naming of John Paul II as pope?


Every argument against assistance at una cum Masses assumes that the faithful co-operate in the error of the priest.


One argument which makes this assumption is to the effect that the una cum clause of the Te igitur is an expression of common oblation with whomever is named in it.  Those who argue in this way explain that the una cum phrase is a declaration that the Holy Sacrifice is “offered together with Thy servant N. our pope etc.”  Once again, even if this were true, it has yet to be shown that the faithful present at such Masses are deemed to be co-operating with whatever commemorations the priest makes.


In any case, the una cum clause is an intercessory mention of those with chief responsibility for the welfare of the Church.  It is a prayer for those who are mentioned in it.


Pope Benedict XIV explains, “Still in reference to the Latin practice, We will also note that when a bishop is celebrating Mass, he prays for himself as an ‘unworthy servant.’  This practice is in harmony with the words of the apostolic constitutions where the celebrant, after praying for others, prays for himself in these words: ‘We now beseech Thee for a man of no worth, for myself who am offering to Thee’ etc. (Ap. Const., bk. 8, in Cotelerius, Opera Patrum Apostolicorum, vol. 1, p. 407).


“Moreover it should be known that in Rome commemoration is made only of the Roman Pontiff since he is not only Supreme Pontiff, but also the bishop of the city of Rome in particular. When the Pope himself says Mass, he prays for himself in precisely the same way as any bishop prays for himself during Mass.  In reply to the bishop of Orense who enquired how the Pope commemorated himself during the celebration of Mass, Innocent III, in a letter not yet published but preserved in the Vatican archives (bk. 9, no. 33) replied as follows: ‘You have also asked to be instructed as to the words used by the Roman Pontiff at the place in the canon of the Mass where a priest of lower rank says together with our Pope, since the Pope is then obviously praying for himself and is subordinate to no bishop.  Our reply to your devotedness is this: at that place We say together with me Thy unworthy servant.'”[46]


Gihr teaches the same thing.  “The general fruit of the sacrifice falls the more copiously to the share of the individual members of the mystical body of Christ in proportion as they contribute to the common welfare of the Church; hence we have now a special offering and prayer for the pope and for the chief pastor of the diocese in which the Mass is celebrated.


“Then is added a general intercession for all those persons who not only preserve the true faith in their heart and confess it with their lips, but who, moreover, according to their ability defend and propagate it.


“It is proper that throughout the entire Church the pope should be prayed for and the sacrifice be offered for him, for he is the vicar of Jesus Christ, the infallible teacher and supreme pastor of all the faithful, the head and father of all Christendom.”[47]


Numerous authorities could be quoted on this point[48] – they appear to be unanimous in teaching that the una cum phrase is intercessory – that is, it is a prayer for those named in it.[49]


Obviously it is not possible to prove a negative, and we must be satisfied to leave it to those who claim that the faithful co-operate with the commemorations of the priest to prove their position.  In the mean time, it is significant that even Fr. Hervé Belmont, who wrote the original una cum article published by Fr. Barbara in Fortes in Fide, and by Fr. Sanborn in Catholic Restoration, holds that one may assist at an una cum Mass when there is no alternative available.  He has publicly given the following advice:


" is quite certain that no Catholic may formally cooperate with the una cum Johanne-Paulo pronounced by a priest in the Canon of the Mass.  It is impossible for him to unite himself with such an act which expresses allegiance to a false rule of faith and sacramental dependence on one who is not the head of the true sacraments of the Church.


"Is it possible to assist at the 'una cum' Mass without this impossible (morally speaking) formal co-operation – i.e. is it possible to limit oneself to a morally permissible material co-operate?


"We think the answer is 'yes' on the following conditions:


– refuse interiorly this 'una cum' and protest before God one's wish to conform oneself to all the exigencies of the Catholic Faith;

– have a grave (i.e. proportionate) reason for doing so.  It is quite clear that the fear of having to travel further or of fatigue or the wish to take advantage of more convenient timetables or of avoiding unwelcome encounters could not be sufficient reasons.  By contrast, the necessity of placing one's children in a school with sound morals or of not exposing oneself to a dangerous deprivation of the sacraments might be this grave reason.


"In a word, assistance at the Mass defiled with the Una cum must not be voluntary – it must be forced on us.  We realise that some will accuse us of not being rigorous enough on this point, but we fear to incur the reproach Our Lord addressed to the Pharisees; 'For they bind heavy and insupportable burdens and lay them on men's shoulders, but with a finger of their own they will not move them'.  (Matt, 23:4)"[50]


This remains Fr Belmont's view of the matter.


Fr. Oswald Baker, one of the faithful few pre-Vatican II priests who has stood entirely firm against the changes, has publicly given the following advice on assisting at a Mass “una cum John-Paul II”:


“…It is understandable that there is now some perplexity about attending St Pius X Society Masses.  It is of course different from attending the new ‘Mass’.  A priest in the Conciliar Church shares the erroneous beliefs and obeys the instructions of John Paul II, leader of a false religion, false because its errors include the tenets of Vatican II.  In practice, Lefebvre rejects both the commands and heresies of John Paul II, his acknowledgement of whom can be regarded as a theoretical error of mistaken identity.  Lefebvre is not spurning the pope or the Pope’s subjects, he is not heretical, for he accepts all Catholic doctrines, and his Mass and sacraments are undeniably Catholic, despite his lamentable acceptance of the debated ‘John XXIII reforms’.  Given the extreme abnormality of a situation in which John Paul II is all but universally accepted as Pope, the faithful who would otherwise be deprived of the life-giving sacraments are in my view entitled to ignore Lefebvre’s professed allegiance and attend the Masses of his priests.  Lefebvre is not an agent of John Paul II as a Conciliar ‘priest’ is, and though his misunderstanding concerning the John Paul and the Conciliar Church may annoy, depress or even horrify, it does not debar stranded, stricken Catholics from the ministrations of his priests.  I do of course refuse the use of my altar to any priest who puts John Paul’s name in the canon, but this is surely not inconsistent.  My altar and oratory are private property, the priest is not in dire need and suffers no deprivation, there are other altars available (there is a John Paul II church next door), and I must do what I can to impress on a priest the error of his ways.  Similarly a layman too has, opportunity offering, an obligation to intimate his protest against the insertion of John-Paul’s name, but having done so he is entitled to assist at a Mass which is neither heretical nor to my mind schismatic….


“Supporters of the St Pius X Society are in my view entitled to complete certainty that none of the priests serving them was ‘ordained’ merely in the disputed new rite, whether vernacular or Latin.  When such certainty is not assured, about any particular celebrant, the faithful should refuse to attend his Mass…”[51]



Question Four:  If it is permissible to assist at such a Mass, is it the better course not to do so?


In favour of assistance.


i.)                   The sacraments are necessary for salvation, and frequent reception of them is not only encouraged, but enjoined by spiritual writers and other Catholic authorities.


ii.)                 Weekly (or more frequent) assistance at sacred functions is a normal part of Catholic life, and ought to be the experience of children as they grow.


iii.)                Only the gravest reasons ought to lead Catholics to break communion with other Catholics.  If such reasons are absent, then communion ought to be maintained and indeed fostered, for this is "the unity of the spirit, in the bond of peace," which St. Paul instructs us to keep inviolate.  After quoting St. Paul to the effect that without charity we are nothing, St. Augustine writes, "if within the Church different men still held different opinions on the point, without meanwhile violating peace, then till some one clear and simple decree should have been passed by an universal Council, it would have been right for the charity which seeks for unity to throw a veil over the error of human infirmity, as it is written 'For charity shall cover the multitude of sins.'  For, seeing that its absence causes the presence of all other things to be of no avail, we may well suppose that in its presence there is found pardon for the absence of some missing things."


As far as I can see, there are no arguments against these points.  If there are good reasons not to assist at such Masses, then these will be independent of the above-listed principles.  In other words, I think it fair to say that all Catholics will agree with these arguments in favour of frequent assistance at Holy Mass, and the maintenance of the bond of charity with fellow Catholics.


Against assistance.


i.)                   It is of crucial importance that no appearance of support is given to John Paul II's claim, and there may be a danger that by assisting at Masses celebrated "una cum John Paul II,” one is seen to treat the matter lightly.


ii.)                 John Paul II is a notorious enemy of the faith.  By refusing to assist at una cum Masses one witnesses publicly, albeit indirectly, to the faith.


iii.)                The SSPX position implies that the Novus Ordo sect is the true Catholic Church.  Catholics must witness against such a hideous idea.


iv.)                The SSPX priests involve themselves in a manifestly contradictory position which involves a dilemma, either horn of which amounts to "material schism."  Catholics must not be seen to be associated with such a scandalous position.


v.)                  There may exist a danger of perversion from bad sermons, faulty advice in the confessional, and various other means, which ought to be avoided.



Against these arguments are the following:


i.)                   Any such danger appears very slight, especially in circumstances where all relevant parties are fully aware of the fact that John Paul II is categorically rejected, and where there is no alternative source of the sacraments.  It is a well-known fact that many sedevacantists assist at una cum Masses around the world, and I have never heard anybody suggest that these people think it unimportant whether or not John Paul II is recognised as pope.  In other words, if the danger existed, then it would have produced its proper effect somewhere, but it does not seem to have done so.


ii.)                 There is no obligation on simple laymen to witness in an extraordinary way against John Paul II's claim to the papacy, and certainly not at the cost of very grave inconvenience.  His possession or non-possession of the office of pope is not a matter of faith, and cannot oblige beyond simply refusing to agree with his claim and acting accordingly.  The importance of receiving the sacraments regularly should also be prudently weighed against any such consideration, as indeed it should be in relation to the whole matter.


iii.)                The answer to this is the same as the answer to ii.) above.  Also, we should be absolutely clear that the Church is that body of men who are Catholics.  Either the priests of the SSPX are Catholics or they are not.  If they are, we may not only assist at their Masses, but we ought to do so, all other things being equal.


iv.)                As has been explained in the body of this article, either schism exists or it does not.  Material schism is that schism which is, like material heresy, complete but innocent.  Hence neither horn of the devil's dilemma upon which some would impale the SSPX can be truly described as schism, either material or formal.  But in any case, what is really being proposed in this argument is that the faithful are required, or at least advised, to deprive themselves of necessary sacraments in order to witness against a position which is not contrary to the faith.


v.)                  This danger is far from absent with sedevacantist clergy in many cases, also.  Many serious examples could be given here.




The Example of the Saints


In addition to what has already been said in favour of charity and liberty in this matter, there is the example of the saints.


We possess one very good parallel for our own situation in the history of the Church.  The Bollandists give the story of St. Hypathius, who did what every sedevacantist priest does in our days – he cut off communion with a manifestly heretical prelate (his patriarch, Nestorius) immediately his heresy was manifested, without waiting for his condemnation by the Church.  This, of course, is interesting in itself.  But another factor adds even greater interest for those of us who are attempting to identify the correct Catholic response to such a crisis.


Bishop Eulalius, St. Hypathius’s ordinary, also rejected Nestorius’s heresy, but he took the view that until Holy Church condemned and deposed the Patriarch, they must continue to recognise him by putting his name in the Diptychs.  Hypathius’s response to Eulalius was magnificent. "...I cannot insert his name in the Canon of the Mass because a heresiarch is not worthy of the title of pastor in the Church; do what you will with me, I am ready to suffer anything, and nothing will make me change my behaviour."[52]

One could argue that Bishop Eulalius was weak and pusillanimous, and gave grave scandal by provisionally remaining in communion with Nestorius.  But there has never been any suggestion that Eulalius himself incurred heresy or schism, even “materially,” or that the faithful should have shunned their bishop's Masses, in which the Canon contained the name of Nestorius, as they shunned the Masses of Nestorius himself. That is surely why St. Hypathius did not sever himself from Bishop Eulalius, even though he differed with Eulalius over the canonical status of the heretic Nestorius, and over the question of whether Nestorius should be named in the Canon.


So much for the attitude we ought to have towards priests who differ with us over the status of John Paul II.  Another historical example shows us that saints were prepared to assist at Masses in which an excommunicate, and in fact a schismatic, was named in the Canon.  During the English Schism, Henry VIII had blasphemously and heretically declared himself head of the Church in England.  Prior to the direct judgement of the Church, the situation was somewhat parallel with that now existing.


Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher refused to sign the Oath of Supremacy, preferring death to this act of apostasy, this denial of faith; for, in their clear-sighted view, the Oath was nothing less.  And yet, as Fr. Thomas Stapleton records, almost all of the London clergy subscribed to the Oath "without the slightest delay or difficulty."


Some might imagine that these saints would have considered the clergy who swore to the Oath, heretics, schismatics, or apostates.  But they took a very different view indeed.  Both refused repeatedly to accuse of sin those who decided to take the Oath.  St. Thomas More, indeed, seemed hardly able to mention his refusal to submit to Henry as Head of the Church without also stating his unwillingness to hold any other to the same standard as himself.  For example, in a letter to his daughter, Margaret, in which he describes the first occasion on which he was commanded to swear, four times within a few paragraphs he adds the qualification, "not blaming any other man that had sworn," in those or in similar words.  (How strikingly different was his attitude to that of many present-day sedevacantists and others, towards those who differ with them.)


St. Thomas More continued to regard the clergy as fellow Catholics, and in fact on the very day he was summoned to take the Oath, he received the sacraments from a priest who had himself sworn to it.  St. John Fisher's attitude appears to have been identical.  It is worth noting that in the Sarum rite, then in general use in England, the King is named in the Canon, so that St. Thomas More not only received the Holy Eucharist from a priest who had sworn the Oath, but assisted at Mass in which Henry was actually named in the Te igitur.


Another example is offered by the conduct of St. Vincent Ferrer, who adhered to Benedict XIII during the Great Western Schism.  St. Vincent preached all over Europe, even on occasion within territories which were in obedience to Benedict's rival, Gregory XII.   And yet despite his constant preaching of the duties of each state of life, to the common man, the clergy, and to the nobility and princes, there is no suggestion that he declared against assisting at Masses offered by those whose obedience differed from his own.  His fellow Dominican, St. Antoninus, has effectively laid down the principle that it was properly a case of respecting the consciences of those in each "obedience."


Finally, there is the sterling example of St. Cyprian and the other African bishops during the "re-baptism" controversy.  St. Cyprian held that it was a matter of apostolic tradition that heretics and schismatics are incapable of validly baptising, so that any man returning to the unity of the Church who had been baptised by such must be re-baptised.  This doctrine was confirmed at a council of eighty bishops, and yet there were some in Africa who remained unconvinced.  St. Cyprian wrote concerning them, "It remains that we severally declare our opinion on this subject, judging no one, nor depriving any one of the right of communion if he differ from us.  For no one of us sets himself up as a bishop of bishops, or, by tyrannical terror, forces his colleagues to a necessity of obeying, inasmuch as every bishop, in the free use of his liberty and power, has the right of forming his own judgment, and can no more be judged by another than he can himself judge another."[53]


Thus St. Cyprian regarded as his fellow Catholics men who were admitting to the Sacred Mysteries others who the Saint believed had not been validly baptised.  A more grave issue is difficult to conceive, involving as it does the matter of sacrilege against Our Lord's Body and Blood, and yet even this was not a sufficient reason for St. Cyprian to sacrifice the bond of communion, for he held that he had no right to judge their consciences, and they appeared sincere in their belief.  Of course, St. Cyprian was wrong about the doctrine concerned, but this only illustrates more abundantly the wisdom of his charitable attitude.





The theologians teach that it is permissible to assist at an illicit and sacrilegious Mass (i.e. one offered by a priest living in open concubinage!) and Cardinal de Lugo goes so far as to affirm that we may assist at the Mass of an un-condemned heretic.   Those who argue that the faithful may only ever assist at Masses which are considered “pure” in some sense or other have failed to take into account the reasons underlying this teaching of the theologians.  In brief, the approach to this problem by Catholic teachers is to begin with the strict right which Catholics have to the sacraments; and the fact that the power to provide these sacraments belongs absolutely to Holy Church, not to whomever might happen to possess it de facto.  Weighed against such considerations, the crimes and errors of a given cleric can be given their true moment.  When there is an alternative source of the sacraments, heretics and other non-Catholics must be entirely avoided.  When there is no other source, such men may be approached, on condition that scandal and danger of perversion are prudently considered to be absent.


It remains to add a word regarding our approach to others who differ with us on the many disputed points exercising the patience of Catholics in our time.  St. Augustine is most fulsome in his praise for St. Cyprian, not in those doctrinal points upon which Cyprian was right, but precisely in relation to Cyprian’s attitude to others who differed with him on a matter not yet judged by Holy Church, and on which doctrine St. Cyprian was wrong.


Of the great Martyr St. Augustine says, “putting on the bowels of humility through the moving influence of [Cyprian’s] discourse, if, in common with the Church at large, I entertain any doctrine more true than his, I will not prefer my heart to his, even in the point in which he, though holding different views, was yet not severed from the Church throughout the world.  For in that, when that question was yet undecided for want of full discussion, though his sentiments differed from those of many of his colleagues, yet he observed so great moderation, that he would not mutilate the sacred fellowship of the Church of God by any stain of schism, a greater strength of excellence appeared in him than would have been shown if, without that virtue, he had held views on every point not only true, but coinciding with their own.”[54]


"In things necessary, unity, in things doubtful, liberty, in all things, charity."  St Augustine.


John Lane

September 10, 2002

Feast of St. Nicholas of Tolentino





Bp. Mark Pivarunas and his brethren, of the C.M.R.I., have provided the following statement in relation to so-called “una cum” Masses, to be appended to this article.


"The Religious Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen (C.M.R.I.) holds that the Catholic faithful may petition the Sacraments from traditional Catholic priests who unfortunately offer their Masses "una cum" (John Paul II).


"Although C.M.R.I. does not accept John Paul II as a legitimate successor of St. Peter, it does not consider such traditional priests (who offer "una cum" Masses) as schismatic. For, if such priests were schismatic in the canonical sense of the word, then they would be required, upon their recognition of the vacancy of the Apostolic See, to abjure their error and be received back into the Church.


"Nevertheless, it has never been the practice of any traditional bishop or priest to require this abjuration of error of any priest who at one time mistakenly recognized John Paul II as a true pope.


"This does not mean that C.M.R.I. in any way endorses the theological contradiction of those traditional priests who maintain that John Paul II is a true pope.


"Lastly, we exhort the faithful to use great discretion when they approach such priests for the Sacraments. This is especially true in regard to their children, who may be confused by their erroneous opinions on the Papacy and on the infallibility of the Church."


Bp. Mark Pivarunas, C.M.R.I., Superior General

The Priests of C.M.R.I.

August 10, 2002

[1] On Baptism, Against the Donatists, Bk. 5.

[2] Cf. CIC 87

[3] S. Th. II-II, Q. 39, Art. 1

[4] Quoted by Cardinal Billot, De Ecclesia Christi, 4th ed., pp. 289-290.  Emphasis added.  All of the translations of Billot in this article were done by John S. Daly.

[5] Szal, Rev. Ignatius, Communication of Catholics with Schismatics, CUA, 1948, p.2

[6] S. Th. loc. cit.

[7] St. Antoninus, pars 3, tit. 22, cap. 2

[8] Quoted in The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. XIII, p. 539.

[9] cf. CIC 1325 §2

[10] cf. CIC 1323

[11] The “notions” are the distinctive marks by which the individual divine persons are recognised.  They result from the process which theologians call “appropriation,” by which particular acts or properties of God are “appropriated” to one or other of the individual persons of the Trinity.  Thus we say that “paternity” is proper to the Father, “filiation” to the Son, and “procession” to the Holy Ghost.

[12] S. Th. I., Q. 32, Art. 4.

[13] The case of John Paul II himself, for example, is entirely different.  In his case the unorthodox animus is notorious.  He errs directly against the faith, and not only fails to excuse his numerous scandals against both faith and charity, but he ignores all criticism, or persecutes those who defend themselves and others from his depredations.

[14] Archbishop Lefebvre’s public position on John Paul II was that his papacy was “doubtful.”  The Archbishop’s view was that Catholics have sufficient basis for their resistance to Vatican II in the principle, “We must obey God rather than men.”  Therefore, he thought, we can let the question of John Paul II’s legitimacy rest until Holy Church judges the matter, at some future date.

[15] Of course, the SSPX clergy do accept some elements of the revolution, such as parts of the liturgical revolt and the legitimacy of the new “Code” of 1983.  The general principle governing their actions is that they think that must accept what is not directly opposed to faith or morals, whilst rejecting what is incompatible with true religion.

[16] This was, as has been said, Archbishop Lefebvre’s explicit basis for resisting the Vatican II revolution whilst holding that the “popes” who imposed it were true Vicars of Christ.

[17] Bull of Pope Paul IV, 15th February 1559, by which it was laid down that any man, even a layman, may safely reject any papal claimant who was seen to be a heretic, even if the entire Church adhered to the heretic as pope.

[18] In any case, the danger of perversion must be weighed against the gravity of the reason which is invoked as the sufficient basis for tolerating it.  In this matter it is often the case that the faithful cannot receive sacraments with any regularity unless they assist at so-called una cum Masses.

[19] This is a general law which may suffer exceptions.

[20] Divine Law prohibits co-operation in false worship.

[21] The law of the Church in the Middle Ages prohibited the faithful from assisting at such Masses.

[22] Pope Martin V, 1418, Fontes I, 45.  Translated by John S. Daly.

[23] Cardinal John de Lugo S.J. (1583-1660), Tractatus de Virtute Fidei Divinae: Disputatio XXII, Sectio 1.  Translated by John S. Daly.  According to The Catholic Encyclopedia, St. Alphonsus regarded Cardinal de Lugo as second only to St. Thomas as a theologian.  Higher praise could not be imagined, and this from the saint who himself has serious claim to that exalted position in the hierarchy of theological doctors.

[24] The divine law at issue is the command that we avoid heretics.  The classic scriptural text cited by the theologians as proof of it is Titus, 3:10, “A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, avoid.”  That this applies to uncondemned heretics, and not only to those judged and excommunicated by Holy Church, is certain.  The reason for the requirement that we avoid heretics is scandal to the faith and danger of perversion.

[25] Fr. Donald Sanborn is a priest of the Lefebvre line, who holds the theory of the late Bishop Guerard des Lauriers to the effect that John Paul II is pope materially but not formally.

[26] Cardinal Billot, De Ecclesia Christi, 4th ed., pp.289-290

[27] Billot, Op. cit., Thesis XI

[28] Benedict XIV, Ex quo, March 1st 1756. 

[29] CIC 2314

[30] As far as I can discover, there is no law in the Code which explicitly prohibits the naming of excommunicates in the Canon of Holy Mass.  Canon 2262 states that excommunicates do not share in the public prayers of the Church.  On the face of it, this would seem to imply that they are not to be named in the Canon, but this is not the common teaching of the liturgists.  More on this below.

[31] The use of the word “illicit” in this context generates difficulties, in that no writer on the question of una cum Masses has provided an unambiguous statement of what the word means.  Generally the implication is that an “illicit” Mass is one at which the faithful are forbidden to assist.  Which is nothing more than a statement of what is to be proved.  An alternative is that what is being claimed is that if a Mass is “illicit” then the faithful are forbidden to assist at it.  Which claim, of course, is certainly wrong in its obvious sense, as will be proved below.

[32] Pope Benedict provides the reference, Controversarium, vol. 3, bk. 6, de Missae, chap. 6

[33] Benedict XIV, Ex quo.  Benedict provides no further reference to Bellarmine.  It appears from the context that the quotes are taken just after the passage referenced above (footnote 31) in Bellarmine’s Controversies.

[34] This excommunication makes the culprit a toleratus [“to be tolerated”].  Canon 2258 lays down that some excommunicated persons are vitandi [“to be shunned”], others tolerati. Nobody is a vitandus, unless (1) he is excommunicated by name by the Apostolic See, (2) the excommunication is publicly proclaimed, and (3) in the decree or sentence it is expressly stated that he must be avoided. The only case in which one becomes an excommunicatus vitandus by the very fact of committing a crime is stated in Canon 2343, § 1, n. 1.  Canon 2343 inflicts the penalty of excommunication upon those who lay violent hands on the Roman Pontiff.  Canon 2258 is essentially the embodiment in the Code of Pope Martin V’s Ad evitanda scandala, with an additional relaxation of the law in several respects.

[35] CIC 2262.

[36] Maurice de la Taille, S.J., The Mystery of Faith, Bk. II, The Sacrifice of the Church, London, Sheed & Ward, 1950, p. 317.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Rev. Dr. Nicholas Gihr, The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, B. Herder, St. Louis and London, 1951, p. 642.

[39] Benedict XIV, op. cit.

[40] CIC 2259.  Paraphrased by the Rev. Stanislaus Woywod, O.F.M., A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, Joseph F. Wagner, New York, 1945, vol. II, pp. 439,440.

[41] Quodlibet IV, Art XIV, translated by John S. Daly.

[42]  CIC 2195, §1

[44] We have already considered whether it is possible to remain a Catholic whilst acknowledging John Paul II as pope.  A distinct question is whether acknowledging him is contrary to the law of Holy Church.

[46] Benedict XIV, Ex quo.

[47] Rev. Dr. Nicholas Gihr, op. cit. pp. 638, 639

[48] On this point see Una Quicum? by F.X. Lamoureux, Sacerdotium VI, Pars Hiemalis (1993), pp. 29 ff.

[49] The entire Mass and therefore every prayer in it is oblatory in a general sense, because the Mass is “The Clean Oblation.”  But the precise point at issue is whether or not this prayer expresses a common oblation “with the pope” or whether it is a prayer offered for him.

[50] Bulletin Notre-Dame de la Sainte Esperance, no. 98, July 1994

[51] This was an extract from a private letter, which Fr Baker printed in his parish bulletin for October 1983.


[52] Quoted by J.S. Daly, Heresy in History, published on the World Wide Web at

[53] Quoted by St. Augustine, On Baptism, Against the Donatists.

[54] St. Augustine, On Baptism, Against the Donatists, Bk. 5. Emphasis added.