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The SSPX Response to Benedict’s Motu Proprio

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Jul 16, 2007

The news is a few days old, but I haven’t had a chance to comment on it. The head of the Society of St. Pius X has described the expansion of use of the 1962 Missal as “not a step, but a leap in the right direction.” He also holds out hope for another conciliatory step: the lifting of the decree of excommunication against SSPX bishops.

SSPX leader Bishop Bernard Fellay says that Vatican officials have suggested to him that it will be easier to get the excommunication lifted than it was to get the Motu Proprio issued. Perhaps, but in Summorum Pontificum Benedict himself seemed to caution against optimism by noting that the issues dividing the SSPX from the Catholic Church are at a deeper level than the liturgy. These issues have yet to be effectively addressed, so there is a long way to go.

Benedict has also indicated that he wants his pontificate to be marked by reconciliation within the Church, and I have no doubt that he would lift the excommunication once enough progress is made, if he thought doing so would restore unity. Obviously he would have to be very careful, probably requiring at least a private agreement in advance that Bishop Fellay and his brothers within the SSPX would henceforth be obedient to the Pope. Otherwise, there would be no point.

Quite apart from such speculation, there is one thing Bishop Fellay said which I feel bound to question. He said that the wider use of the 1962 Missal would bring “extraordinary supernatural assistance at a time of grave crisis.” Without claiming to know the Bishop’s intention, this sounds rather too much like another slur against the validity of the novus ordo. Otherwise, why should Bishop Fellay expect “extraordinary supernatural assistance” just because more people might be celebrating Mass according to the older form?

Is the Sacrifice of Christ less potent in the novus ordo? No, the infinite power is still there. As always, it is our receptivity which must be heightened. And even if one prefers the 1962 Missal, there are very good spiritual reasons to doubt that one has a greater opportunity to gain grace from the liturgy one finds most pleasing. In fact, maintaining the right attitude in unpleasant circumstances is likely to be worth substantially more.

Is this an argument for bad liturgy? No, but it is an argument for proper dispositions and against statements about “extraordinary supernatural assistance” based on liturgical preference. If emotional consolation is what we’re after, then by all means let us hold out for the liturgy of our choice. But if we really want extraordinary supernatural assistance, the best course is to avail ourselves of Christ’s saving power, obediently and joyfully, in whatever form the Church provides.

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