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Expert Answer Forum

by Catherine Frakas 29 Aug 2001

illicit mass QUESTION from Diane April 13, 2000
Hi Mr Miskell, I have read on another Q&A; forum that a priest who performs an illicit mass (such as omitting the Creed, using inclusive language, allowing the female pastoral associate to read the Gospel and give the Homily, telling the faithful to stand during the Consecration, etc etc etc) is in mortal sin for doing so if he has full knowledge and gives his full consent. Is this true? Where in Church documents is this written? I also read that the parishioners are morally obligated to attend another church where Mass is properly said. The priest who answered the question on the forum said that the faithful can be in venial sin for supporting a disobedient priest. Is this also supported by Church documents? Thanks for all of your help, God Bless! ANSWER by Mr. John Miskell on April 13, 2000
Dear Diane, Thank you for a very interesting question. First of all let me point out that I'm not a moral theologian so any opinion I have on the matter is pretty much that -- my opinion. The Bible is filled with verses that tell us that we must obey those who are in authority over us. It even tells us that we are obliged to obey our superiors even if we don't agree with them. Our Lord Jesus says; [Y]ou must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach [Matthew 23:3]. Peter, the first Pope says; Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men [1 Peter 2:13]. The Apostle Paul reflects this teaching when he says; [I]t is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience [Romans 13:5]. The Apostle James goes even further in explaining the necessity of doing the right thing; Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin[James 4:17]. These examples from Scripture are only four of literally dozens of verses telling us that we must obey those in authority. Jesus was given all authority from God the Father; All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me [John 28:18]. Jesus transferred this authority to the leaders of the Church; As the Father has sent me, even so I send you [John 20:21]. Jesus tells the leaders of the Church that they speak for Him; He who listens to you listens to me... [Luke 10:16]. We see that according to the Scriptures we're obliged to obey those in positions of authority over us and that this obligation extends especially to obeying the Church. Indeed Jesus tells the Apostles, who were the first bishops, that the rules they make are binding both on earth and in heaven. Jesus first gave this authority individually to Peter, the first Pope; I will give you (Peter) the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven [Matthew 16:19]. Later, Jesus extends this authority collectively to the Apostles, the first Bishops, when they act in union with Peter; If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, [bishops] whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. [Matthew 18:18] The Church clearly has Divine authority to rule. So what does the Church say about the necessity to obey? Let's first look to the current Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC); We are obliged to honor and respect all those whom God, for our good, has vested with his authority [CCC 2197].
The Catechism also tells us that a person acting deliberately is morally responsible for his actions;
Freedom makes man a moral subject. When he acts deliberately, man is, so to speak, the father of his acts. Human acts, that is, acts that are freely chosen in consequence of a judgment of conscience, can be morally evaluated. They are either good or evil. [CCC 1749] We now look to the official and dogmatic documents of the Church Councils. I remind you that dogmatic teachings must be believed by the faithful. If a Catholic rejects a dogmatic teaching of the Church he or she is automatically anathematized. The Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) says; [T]he Church adopted the word anathema to signify the exclusion of a sinner from the society of the faithful. When one is anathematized he or she is in affect automatically excommunicated because their action. Bearing the above in mind, we turn to the Decrees of the First Vatican Council. Among the official documents of this Council we find that one of them clearly defines the powers of the Pope and the extent of these powers; Wherefore we teach and declare that, by divine ordinance, the Roman church possesses a pre-eminence of ordinary power over every other church, and that this jurisdictional power of the Roman pontiff is both episcopal and immediate. Both clergy and faithful, of whatever rite and dignity, both singly and collectively, are bound to submit to this power by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, and this not only in matters concerning faith and morals, but also in those which regard the discipline and government of the church throughout the world. So, then, if anyone says that the Roman pontiff has merely an office of supervision and guidance, and not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole church, and this not only in matters of faith and morals, but also in those which concern the discipline and government of the church dispersed throughout the whole world; or that he has only the principal part, but not the absolute fullness, of this supreme power; or that this power of his is not ordinary and immediate both over all and each of the churches and over all and each of the pastors and faithful: let him be anathema. There is much more evidence available in both the Scriptures and in the documents of the Church to support the necessity of obedience to all the rules of the Church and not only the rules that apply to faith and morals. Liturgical law applies to discipline as opposed to faith and morals yet as demonstrated in the document cited above it seems to me that one cannot without sin simply choose to disobey the liturgical law of the Church any more than one can without sin choose to disobey the Church laws against artificial birth control, abortion, adultery, or murder. Pope John Paul II has often stressed the importance of obeying liturgical law. Most recently in November 1997 he said to a group of American bishops; [I]t is so important that the liturgical law be respected. The priest, who is the servant of the liturgy, not its inventor or producer, has a particular responsibility in this regard, lest he empty liturgy of its true meaning or obscure its sacred character. Prior to this the Holy Father said; One who offers worship to God on the Church’s behalf in a way contrary to that which is laid down by the Church with God-given authority and which is customary in the Church is guilty of falsification [Inaestimabile Donum, 1980]. He goes on to say; Since liturgical celebrations are not private acts but celebrations of the Church, the ‘sacrament of unity,’ their regulation is dependent solely upon the hierarchical authority of the Church. The liturgy belongs to the whole body of the Church. It is for this reason that it is not permitted to anyone, even a priest, or any group to add, subtract or change anything whatsoever on their own initiative. Fidelity to the rites and to the authentic texts of the liturgy is a requirement of the lex orandi (law of praying), which must always be in conformity with the lex credendi (law of believing). A lack of fidelity on this point may even affect the very validity of the sacraments. [Ibid.] It is very clear that the Pope intends for priests and bishops to obey the liturgical law. Much of the disregard for liturgical law today seems to be purely accidental or at worst it is done out of ignorance. But there are some who abuse the liturgy and their abuse is both intentional and pre-meditated. I believe this kind of disobedience can be dangerous to one's soul. For these reasons, whenever I attend a blatantly disobedient Mass (like I do sometimes to document the abuse), I choose not to receive Communion. I do so because their open defiance to Church authority is a schismatic act. Canon law forbids us under normal circumstances to receive Communion from other Christian groups if they are in schism, even if they have valid Sacraments as do the Eastern Orthodox and the Society of St. Pius X. I apply the same logic to a defiantly disobedient Mass. I don't know if every reliable Catholic moral theologian would agree with my logic but it works for me and my family and my spiritual director / confessor is okay with it. In Christ, John Miskell Back to Index Page

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