Speaking about the SSPX among Catholics is like speaking about Donald Trump among, well, almost anyone. You can never be certain of the reaction you are going to witness. I have had two very good priests say radically different things to me about the society. One said that it was like the Orthodox Church, in that they were in a full separation from Rome. Another priest said to me that it was like the Protestant Church, without valid sacraments and heretical. Another priest expressed on a pretty solid Catholic blog that the SSPX mass is like a “Black Mass” offered to Satan. Clearly, even among the most solid of clerics and lay-Catholics alike, there is a lot of confusion surrounding the Society.
This article is not meant to be a propaganda piece for the SSPX, and in full disclosure, to this day I have still never been to a Mass offered in one of their Chapels. However, my wife and I are in a period of our lives in which we are discerning what to do with our children’s incumbent education. Our oldest of three is about 2 years from starting any real schooling, but we are trying to sort out whether we will homeschool our children, send them to a solid private Catholic school, or maybe a combination of both. I am a Catholic school teacher, which quite frankly, is why I couldn’t stomach sending my children to a normal Catholic school. I understand that many people don’t have the option to homeschool, no judgement here. There is however, an academy run by the SSPX about 25 minutes down the road, which has forced me to investigate the Society to find out what is really going on.
Three months ago, I had no opinion of the SSPX. I didn’t know if they were schismatic, in schism, sedavacantist, or maybe a combination of all those things. It turns out, like most things to do with Traditionalist Catholicism post Vatican II, that the story is layered with complexity, and depending on who you speak with, they are either the greatest thing since sliced bread or are ushering in the greatest schism since 1054 AD.
Before I continue, I should note that researching the SSPX online can bring one down a rabbit-hole of weird blogs and opinions. I recommend reading their website, sspx.ca, for the most accurate information. Unlike on independent blogs, you will find everything they say to be direct from communications with the Vatican, Canon Law, or from correspondence with Pope’s and Bishops.
Admittedly, the irregular situation of the Society does not sit well with me. The Vatican has said on numerous occasions that attending Mass at an SSPX chapel does fulfill Sunday Obligation, they have been given jurisdiction indefinitely to hear confessions validly and licitly, and they may now witness weddings with the permission of the local Bishop. Obviously, they are nothing like the Orthodox Church or a Protestant denomination. The Church would never suggest that attending a Lutheran service fulfills our obligation, and only in the most extreme circumstances, like a war, could a Catholic justify approaching communion at an Orthodox Church. However, the situation between the SSPX and Rome is foggy. They are not in full communion, yet they are in communion “enough” that they have regular communication with Rome, and they fully accept the Holy Father and his authority. They don’t have jurisdiction to offer mass publicly in a local diocese, yet they have universal jurisdiction from the Holy Father to hear confessions. Their Masses are valid, but not necessarily licit, and the Church has said they are not in schism, yet regular attendance at their chapels can lead to a “schismatic” attitude. A very odd situation indeed.
What has me the most conflicted is the fruit that has been born from the Society. It is not all perfect, they have been hit with abuse scandals in some places. They are not without wacky personalities who go off the deep end (same with the Church at large). And I am sure that many parishioners of their chapels have lost much of their charity and have become like many Traditionalists in that they are stiff-necked and pessimistic. Yet, you get the immediate impression from their publications and resources that they are in a deep fully devoted love-affair with the beauty and grandeur of the Church. I have personally fallen into a more committed relationship with the Blessed Mother after reading their thoughts on the Rosary. Their schools are like breeding grounds of strong and masculine members of the Church Militant. And one look at their seminaries makes you think that St Thomas Aquinas oversaw priestly formation.
I have not even come close to scratching the surface in my brief explanation of the SSPX and their status in the Church, however, I would like to finish this article with something to ponder. The strongest argument for the validity of the Society as a legitimate arm of the Church lies in the provisions given in Canon Law that allow for irregular actions during situations of crisis. Essentially, if the Church really has been in crisis for some time now, then perhaps the beginnings of the SSPX, although controversial, were in fact a legitimate response by an Archbishop reacting to a true crisis of faith and church governance. Of course, this is all speculation, and there is a mountain more to be said on the subject. But, the deeper I dive into the doctrine of the Church, and the infallible teachings of the Tradition, the greater looks the current crisis, and the more attractive looks the Society of Saint Pius X.
I highly recommend watching the following video:
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