Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What’s Right About Rites?

In the UK, the Catholic Herald refers to him as "The World's Most Powerful Catholic Blogger." It is most fitting. A former staff member of the Roman Curia (the bureaucracy of the Holy See in Rome), whatever Father John Zuhlsdorf, writes as author of What Does The Prayer Really Say?, someone in high places in Rome is reading it. And if he should tell a tale of devious shenanigans in your diocese, any formal action might take its usual course, but it is possible that their bishop will get a phone call within 24 hours. No wonder so many Catholics come to this man who speaks truth to power, and teaches others how to do the same.

This is only one of his unique qualities, another being to take one of a number of subjects on more than one occasion, and beat it into the ground like a dead horse. An example was regurgitated earlier this month.

[Y]ou can fulfill your Sunday Mass obligation by attending Masses, Divine Liturgies, of the Eastern Catholic Churches, but not those of Orthodox Churches. The Eastern Catholic Churches are celebrating in a Catholic rite ... You can fulfill your Mass obligation at a chapel of the SSPX as well, for they are using, obviously, a Catholic rite. Their union with Rome is questionable in some respects, but the Holy See does not at this time say they are in schism.

(I should say, in the interest of full disclosure, that I have known Father Zuhlsdorf for over ten years now, and have served Mass for him on more than one occasion. Whatever his human foibles, he is a good man, a most dedicated priest, and is a welcome addition to dinner conversation. That being said ...)

So, the distinction that makes it a Catholic rite, is that they are not in formal schism. Or is it? Marcin asks:

You write, Father, that attending [Divine Liturgy] of the Eastern Catholic Churches fulfills Sunday obligation, so does of the SSPX Mass. Is that by virtue of them being the Catholic rites, or of _not_ being in formal schism?

The distinction is important, since Orthodox do celebrate in Catholic rites, even though they are in schism.

Father has been asked in the past, in his comments section, point blank, how the Byzantine Liturgies of Saint Basil the Great and/or Saint John Chrysostom can each be defined as a "Catholic rite" according to Canon 1248, when celebrated in an Eastern Church that is in perfect communion with Rome, but CANNOT be so defined when celebrated in an Eastern Church that is of the Orthodox communion, which remains in a state of formal schism. This distinction does not appear to be a problem when the Traditional Roman Rite is celebrated in a chapel of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), which, while not in formal schism -- You got that, you über-trad bozos? I did not say they were in schism! -- is not in perfect communion with Rome.

So, according to Father Z, one is a Catholic rite, the other is NOT a Catholic rite. Right?


The aforementioned Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church IS a Catholic rite. In its essential qualities, it has all four marks -- one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, as professed by their faithful in the Nicene Creed. Its sacraments are valid, and its priesthood is valid. These qualities are what it shares with the sacraments and priesthood of the SSPX. The latter gets a pass from Father Z; the former does not. At this writing, he does not answer Marcin's challenge, nor has he answered similar challenges in the past.

The issue here is not one of validity, but of licitness (lawfullness). There is a difference. The Eucharistic Liturgy (what western Catholics refer to as the "Mass") may be celebrated, and the priest may confect the Eucharist validly, but in so doing, will either be inside or outside the law, which is to say communion with Rome. And so, the fundamental question is this:

How can an unlawful means be used to accomplish a lawful end?

There is only one answer: it cannot. The reply to a Catholic writer several years ago, which addressed the issue of attending Mass at an SSPX chapel, said that there were circumstances where this COULD meet one's Sunday obligation (the part upon which said writer lays great stress), but that the Holy See did not really recommend it (the part which said writer, and damn near everyone else, has downplayed). The reason is that the lawgiver is ill-advised to recommend seeking a remedy OUTSIDE THE LAW!

Some might be afraid of upsetting "the world's most powerful Catholic blogger," because he might throw them off his comments section, or barring that, interject his "rubrics" (red text) into their comments. Oh, the humanity! It'll show everybody who's boss. But we are not engaged in such fora to prove that; rather, in a search for the truth, don't you think?

Or don't you?

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