In an interview with Regina Einig for the German Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost (March 17, 2017), Archbishop Guido Pozzo, Secretary of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, reviewed the progress made by the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) toward reaching a reconciliation with Rome since Pope Benedict XVI issued the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum in July 2007, almost ten years ago.
Archbishop Pozzo said that the Holy Father intends to maintain a “positive constructive attitude” in the dialogue with the SSPX. If the Society agrees to a “Doctrinal Declaration” formulated by the Holy See, it may very soon receive from Rome a canonical mission within the structure of a personal prelature. This would enable the Society to keep its “spiritual, theological, liturgical, disciplinary and pastoral identity".
Archbishop Pozzo admitted that he first heard from the media the rumor that the Society of Saint Pius X planned to purchase the Church of Santa Maria Immaculata on the Esquiline Hill. With gentle irony he noted that it is not his job to negotiate the sale of real estate.
With regard to the ambiguous formulations of the conciliar documents concerning ecumenism, dialogue with non-Christian religions, Church-State relations pertaining to religious liberty, etc., Bishop Bernard Fellay stated in an interview in 2016 that the SSPX reserves the right to denounce what it views as ambiguities and errors, but that it is up to the authorities in Rome to clarify and dispel the misunderstandings on these critical points.
The remainder of the interview with Archbishop Pozzo is given below in English translation:
...I think that even after the reconciliation these misgivings and difficulties that the Society points to should be kept in mind, so as to arrive at a clarification, a more in-depth and subsequently more precise understanding of these points. Moreover the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has intervened repeatedly over the last forty years to elucidate and rectify certain false interpretations or misunderstandings of the conciliar teachings. I do not see why this work of clarification and answering doubts and misgivings cannot continue, if they are presented in an ecclesial and not a polemical spirit.
To what extent do you observe agreement already?
There is complete agreement with the Society of Saint Pius X on one absolutely fundamental point: The Magisterium of the Church is not above the word of God, in Scripture or Tradition, but rather serves it by teaching nothing but what is handed down (cf. Dei Verbum, 10). The Magisterium, for its part, to which Christ entrusted the preservation, defense and interpretation of the deposit of faith, has the task of explaining and elucidating the earlier documents of the Magisterium too—including the documents of the Second Vatican Council—authentically in light of the unbroken Tradition, which certainly advances in the Church with the assistance of the Holy Ghost, yet never with any novelty that contradicts what went before, but rather with a better understanding of the deposit of faith “within the same dogma, the same meaning, and the same judgment” (cf. Vatican I, Dei Filius, 4 and Vatican II, Dei Verbum, 8). This principle must be applied also to the documents of Vatican II, which should be read and understood in the light of Tradition and in agreement with the constant Magisterium of the Church, as Archbishop Lefebvre himself acknowledge in 1981 in a letter to Pope John Paul II.
So that means...?
That means, if an interpretation or an understanding or an implementation of Vatican II is suggested that represents a discontinuity or a break with the Catholic doctrine previously defined or taught by the Magisterium, the interpretation must be rejected as false or inappropriate. The problem is therefore not the Second Vatican Council as such, but rather a certain way of understanding, applying and implementing the Council: the so-called “spirit of the Council". Pope Benedict XVI spoke about a “true Council” and a “virtual Council", whereby the latter is the product of the power of the mass media, of modernistic currents in theology, in other words of the “conciliar ideology” that was superimposed on the authentic “mens” [mind, understanding] of the Council Fathers.
In the current issue of the magazine Courrier de Rome published by the Society of Saint Pius X, the authors designate the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI as “Holy Mass”. Can this terminology be taken to mean that the validity of the new Missal has meanwhile been accepted within the Society?
As far as I know, the Society never called into question the validity of the rite of Holy Mass according to the liturgical books promulgated by Paul VI and John Paul II. As early as 1988, in the protocol prepared by then-Cardinal Ratzinger with the consent of Archbishop Lefebvre, the validity of Holy Mass celebrated according to the Novus Ordo was acknowledged. Because of other matters, then, there was no constructive sequel to the protocol. The Society’s misgivings with regard to the Novus Ordo seem to me to refer to some aspects of the Novus Ordo (for example the Offertory prayers, Communion in the hand, etc.) and also to the manner of celebrating the Eucharist which de facto can be observed in various localities and is often characterized by dogmatic errors and liturgical abuse. But this too can be discussed profitably and clarified. As long as the attitude is constructive, and not polemical or marred by prejudices, discussion about the aforementioned topics can contribute to greater clarity and more detailed definitions, so as to promote the correct, integral doctrine and to avoid the errors, misunderstandings and deficiencies or partisan, superficial interpretations that have been and unfortunately still are characteristic of a particular propagation of the Second Vatican Council and also of the praxis resulting from it in terms of discontinuity and a break with Catholic Tradition.
[Editor's Note: The interviewer is mistaken. The use of the expression "Holy Mass" in Italian is the conventional manner of speaking about Mass generally - the text is a translation of Critina Siccardi and therefore cannot neither be attributed to the SSPX. The use of this expression in the SSPX publication Courrier de Rome and other Italian publications to refer to the Missal promulgated by Paul VI should in no way be interpreted as approval for this deficient form of the liturgy. A further discussion of the deficiencies of the Novus Ordo Missae is contained below.]
Archbishop Pozzo Persists
Since April 2016, this is at least the 4th time that Archbishop Pozzo has given a public interview in which he declares that the whole Second Vatican Council is not to be taken as a binding magisterium. On July 2016, he explained:
On November 16, 1964, the Secretary General of the Council, Cardinal Pericle Felici declared, ‘This Holy Synod defines as binding for the Church only that which is specifically stated as such in terms of Faith and morals.’ Only texts which have been explicitly rated as binding by the Council Fathers are to be adopted as such. It is not ‘the Vatican’ that came up with this, it is stated in the Acts of Vatican II.
And he applied this criterion to Nostra Aetate:
Nostra Aetate carries no dogmatic obligations. Therefore, one cannot expect anyone to accept this Declaration as binding dogma. The Declaration is to be fully understood only in the light of tradition and the permanent teachings.
Can the Second Vatican Council Be Saved?
We take good note of this interesting change. The extracts of Dei Verbum that Archbishop Pozzo offers today express the traditional understanding of the Magisterium. It is because of that traditional understanding that Archbishop Lefebvre and the SSPX after him had to resist to the novelties of the Council which are opposed to the perennial teaching of the Church.
However, the distinction between a “virtual Council” and a “true Council,” between the Council of the Fathers and the Council of the media corresponds only partially to reality. It might help to eventually accept that the Second Vatican Council contains ambiguities and errors, but that does not save the Council and the subsequent magisterium. The history of the past decades shows most the Church’s hierarchy, including her supreme pontiffs, adopting these errors and imposing deadly reforms not only in the name of the spirit of the Council, but referring to the letter and the authority of the Second Vatican Council.
Is Archbishop Pozzo Condemning the Conciliar and Post-Conciliar Magisterium?
How can Benedict XVI—who was the theologian of the progressive Cardinal Joseph Frings and then an artisan of the post-conciliar reforms—denounce a hermeneutic of discontinuity after 40 years of reforms led at in the name of the Council? Is it not a condemnation of the authorities of the Church who have been using and abusing this discontinuity? What is the value of the magisterium of these last 40 years if it consists in the explanations of the wrong Council, the “one of the media,” the “virtual one?" Is the conciliar and post-conciliar magisterium also a virtual and wrong one?
It is, at the very least, clear that the Council’s texts are riddled with ambiguity, as evidenced by the conflicting interpretations surrounding them. Too often these documents are interpreted in a manner that contradicts Tradition. But beyond the ambiguities are plain errors—errors that cannot be dealt with only by way of interpretation; they must be denounced. That is why the SSPX continues its fight against these errors, against these distortions of the Church’s perennial doctrine.
“Error remains error. So we remain today, just as before, just as convinced that there are errors that have been spread in the Church and that are killing the Church.”
(Bishop Fellay, Radio Interview with Fr. Lorans – January 26, 2017).
Opposing the New Mass and Saving the Traditional Mass
The SSPX’s position about the Novus Ordo Missae is well known and very intimately tied to its history. It is in the context of the crisis of the priesthood and of the Mass that Archbishop Lefebvre founded the Society. He collaborated in the redaction of A Brief Theological Study of the Novus Ordo Missae, which was written in 1969 and is widely known as the “Ottaviani Intervention.” This intervention condemned the new Mass as “represent[ing], both as a whole and in its details, a striking departure from the Catholic theology of the Mass as it was formulated in Session XXII of the Council of Trent.”
It was because the seminarians at Ecône were taught the theology of the Mass enshrined by Trent that the French episcopate had declared Ecône a “renegade seminary” and calumnies were brought to Paul VI to disqualify Archbishop Lefebvre and his young Society. The Archbishop’s opposition to the Novus Ordo Missae became more and more central as its adverse liturgical consequences became more apparent. The old Mass Archbishop Lefebvre solemnly celebrated in Lille in 1976 became a symbol of Tradition.
1988 Consecrations to Save the Priesthood and the Mass
It was in order to perpetuate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass through authentic Catholic priests formed according to the wishes of the Council of Trent that Archbishop Lefebvre decided to consecrate four bishops in 1988. During the subsequent years, despite the unjust charges of schism and excommunication, these bishops gave to the Church priests ordained for the Tridentine Mass long before Benedict XVI eventually recognized that this rite had never been abrogated.
To this day, the Society still rejects the idea that the Novus Ordo Missae is a rite which gives the proper honor due to God. The matter is so grave that the SSPX continues to advise the faithful not to assist at it. As Archbishop Lefebvre said in 1971 to a small group of seminarians:
How can I agree to abandon the Mass of All Time or to admit to place it at the same level as the Novus Ordo, created by Annibal Bugnini, with the participation of Protestants to make of it an equivocal supper that eliminates totally the Offertory, and touches the very words of the Consecration.
Deficient but Valid
At the same time, it is important to note that the SSPX has never denied absolutely the validity of the New Mass celebrated according to the typical edition of the 1969 Roman Missal. Validity, however, is not enough. Rather than issue aesthetic criticisms of the Novus Ordo Missae that focus solely on musical selections or the possibility of priests improvising and adapting parts of the Mass according to their personal preferences, the Society focuses instead on the failure of this form of Mass to fully express the Catholic Faith.
The New Mass obscures the propitiatory character of the sacrifice of the Mass, the unique power of the priest as alter Christus, and the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist. These obfuscations were cleverly designed to align the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church with Protestant liturgical and theological sensibilities in accordance with the troubling ecumenical ambitions of Paul VI and Annibal Bunigni. The end result is that while the Novus Ordo Missae may be valid to the extent that the proper form, matter, and intention are present for the consecration of the bread and wine (which is not always certain), it is still a deficient liturgy insofar as it undermines the true theology of the Mass and can oftentimes promote heresy.
Validity and deficiency can, unfortunately, go hand-in-hand in the New Mass just as it is possible for a person to consume fast food to satisfy their hunger while compromising their health. That is to say, the fast food is perfectly “valid” for this short term purpose, but ultimately deficient for staying healthy over the long run.
Can We Avoid a Polemical Attitude?
What does “polemical” mean? If we understand by “polemical attitude” name-calling, harsh and uncharitable condemnations, abuses of power, authoritarianism and arbitrariness, as well as the lack of respect for proper authority, we agree. But if the rejection of polemics means compromising with error, of making no distinction between good and evil, then we do not agree.
Error, whether in faith or morals, is a poison that sickens both the Church and society. Its destructive consequences are painfully clear. And so justice demands that error be identified and combatted—sometimes aggressively—in order to restore health to the Body of Christ and the world at large. Reaffirming truth in its fullness cannot come about without also condemning error.
Bishop Fellay, in the long interview he gave on January 26, 2017 discussed the challenges presented by the potential regularization of the Society with these words:
The problem is, once again, this battle of ideas. Is a Church that for 40 years has imposed a way of thinking, this modernist way of thinking against which we fight, against which, or because of which we were even declared schismatic and everything else, outside of the Church; is this Church ready, yes or no, to let us continue on our path?
(Bp. Fellay, Radio Interview with Fr. Lorans – January 26, 2017)