Of late there has been a good deal spinning around the blogosphere about the actions of Benedict XVI and the Society of Pope Pious X (SSPX). In particular, that revolves around the utterly stupid ideas about the Holocaust one of their Bishops has been spouting. A great deal of the strom and drang has been caused by not completely understanding what excommunication is, and is not.
Simply put excommunication is an act of refusing to administer the sacraments to a person by an Ecclesial body. This may be due to differences in doctrine, or an action which puts you outside that body's fellowship. The Anabaptists call this shunning. A similar process and status was imposed upon Spinoza by the Jewish congregation in Amsterdam. Now, the Roman Church has a set of distinct categories of being "in" and "out' of communion. The most serious of these is the one that involves the Vatican formally forbidding you from participation in the life of the Church.
These four bishops were excommunicated because of the fact that they were consecrated as bishops against direct orders of the Vatican. Their group is one which basically denies the Second Vatican Council as being valid, with their main concern being in the way in which the Mass is celebrated (previously in Latin according to the Tridentine Rite, now in both Latin and the vernacular and with some changes in form according to the Novus Ordo Rite). Their consecration more or less constituted an act of schism. In the decades since then, the Church has more and more recognized that the Tridentine Mass was never abrogated by Vatican 2, something made officially clear by Pope Benedict, when he issued what is called a Motu Proprio, an official Vatican statement, which declared that the Tridentine Mass can be celebrated at any priest at any time without permission of the bishop. This was seen in part as being a reaching out towards SSPX.
So now we have the, rather dramatic, lifting of the excommunication by the Pope as the crowning moment of this years Octave of Christian Unity. It must be understood that the lifting is strictly referring to the reasons for which they were excommunicated in the first place. In other words, it is an act of reconciliation in the hopes of eventually bringing them back into full relations with Rome and reconciling the differences that SSPX has officially with Rome. It doesn’t pass comment upon any other weirdness of the people involved, since being a Holocost Denier is seen as more of a form of mental illness by the Vatican rather than a doctrinal position. It does not yet normalize those relations. While the excommunications have been lifted (meaning that they can now receive the Sacraments in the Church again, in particular they are no longer denied the Eucharist) the Pope has made it clear that issues still need to be worked out before relations are any where near normal once again. One can imagine that among these issues is the problem of Bishop Williamson himself.
As has been pointed out on another blog:
Q: Is the SSPX now legitimate?
Not in a juridical sense, no. The SSPX still does not have the approval of the Pope or of a diocesan bishop. It is still a separated group, though these days many prefer not to speak of "schism".
Q: Is it okay for the SSPX bishops to ordain now?
No. The bishops of the SSPX are validly consecrated bishops, but the fact remains that they were illicitly consecrated. That hasn’t changed. They are still not reconciled with the Bishop of Rome. They are still suspended a divinis. They still have no permission to exercise ministry in the Church. They may not licitly ordain. They have no authority to establish parishes, etc.
Q: Are the chapels of the SSPX okay now?
Not in a juridical, legal sense, no. Many good things can happen in one of those communities, but the SSPX chapels are not, because of the lifting of the excommunications, suddenly made legitimate. They are not reconciled by this move.
Q: Are the priests of the SSPX in good standing now?
Not yet they aren’t. The priests of the SSPX are still suspended a divinis. They say Mass validly, but without the permission of the Church, either from a faculty of the Holy See or the local bishop. They do not have the necessary faculties to hear confessions and give sacramental absolution except in danger of death.
Q: Is it okay to go to chapels of the SSPX for Mass?
Yes and no. It is still not "okay" to go to chapels of the SSPX if you are doing so out of contempt for the Holy See or Holy Father, etc. If you are deeply attached to the older form of Mass, and it is very hard on you to go without it, yes, you can attend these Masses out of devotion. You can fulfill your Sunday obligation still, because the 1983 Code of Canon Laws says you do.
But the fact remains that these are still chapels separated from unity with the local bishop.
In my opinion, it is not a good idea to go to these chapels exclusively except perhaps in very rare circumstances wherein there really is no acceptable alternative.
Q: Is it okay to receive Communion at an SSPX Mass?
Yes and no. Yes… if you would otherwise have to go without the Eucharist for a long time because you are morally or physically impeded from receiving in a licit way. No… if you are doing so because of contempt for the Pope, bishop, Holy See, etc.
Where I am having difficulty is in seeing this as anything other than an "ecumenical gesture" with the middle finger towards the rest of Christendom. The only good thing I can see come out of this is the potential for schadenfreude when the Forward in faith types get another red leather heal smashed into their teeth, metaphorically speaking, since their all kinds of bouncy and eager like puppies that Rome will take them seriously.