& traditional priests
How traditional priests can administer the sacraments
when they have had their sacramental faculties removed
Bishop Bernard Tissier de
Mallerais's notes from a conference given to the Catholic Study Groups
March 9-10, 1991
Fr. Peter Scott
State of the question
Many have asked how traditional priests can
continue to administer the Sacraments, and especially hear
confessions, when they have had their Sacramental faculties
removed by the local ordinary.
The following considerations will help you to
understand not only the injustice of this, but also how these
priests are clearly entitled to use supplied jurisdiction.
It is obvious that the present crisis in the Church is not
foreseen in Canon Law.
Consequently we must base our activity on the
juridical analogy taken from the general norms of the Codes
(Canon 20 in the Old Code and Canon 19 in the New Code),
which state that if there is no express law concerning a special
situation, the rule must be taken from:
1) laws promulgated for similar circumstances.
The similar circumstances are those in which the Church supplies
jurisdiction on account of the grave danger to souls. They are the
- common error concerning a priest’s jurisdiction: Old Code
[i.e., the 1917 Code of Canon Law, forthwith "OC"]
Canon 209 (New Code [i.e., the 1983 Code of
Canon Law, forthwith "NC"] 144).
- positive and probable doubt: OC 209 (NC 144).
This can be concerning jurisdiction or common error or danger of
- non-cognizance to the fact that jurisdiction has expired:
- danger of death: OC 882 and 2252 (NC 976 and
1357). Those who cannot find a suitable confessor for a long
period of time and who are consequently in danger of spiritual
death must be assimilated to those in danger of death, according
to the principle of Canonical Equity (see below).
2) the general principles of canon law, which
inspire the particular laws. The two principal ones are:
- the salvation of souls is the highest law (NC 1752).
- the Sacraments are on account of men.
3) recourse equity. This is recourse to the
mind of the legislator (when there is nothing explicit in
writing), who never wants his legislation to be too onerous
(burdensome), but always wants it to be interpreted in a just and
favorable manner. That it is indeed the mind of the Church to be
generous in the granting of jurisdiction and not overstrict or
onerous is also apparent from the following two canons:
OC 878 §2 (NC 970). Ordinaries and superiors are
not to restrict jurisdiction. If the priest is suitable and the
good of the faithful requires his services this jurisdiction
cannot be refused to him. Clearly traditional priests should in
justice receive personal jurisdiction and that everywhere (NC
- OC 2261 §2 (NC 1335). The Church suspends its
prohibition for an excommunicated or suspended priest
celebrating the Sacraments or posing acts requiring
jurisdiction, provided it be in favor of the faithful who
request it for any reasonable cause at all, and especially if
there is no other minister.
It is clear that, given the present
circumstances of crisis in the Church and the principles of
Canonical Equity, given the general principles of the law, and the
Church’s continuous practice of supplying jurisdiction for the
good of the faithful whenever it foresees that this lack of
jurisdiction would be to their detriment, traditional priests
receive supplied jurisdiction from the law. This is with the
understanding that personal jurisdiction is unjustly refused to
them simply because of their attachment to the Faith and its
traditional expression (inseparable from the Faith), and that the
faithful cannot be expected to continually search out and judge
for themselves which confessors in the Conciliar Church might be
acceptable and might give them the spiritual advice they need
(given that the vast majority do not).
In conclusion, therefore, it is obvious that,
besides the case of common error, besides the case of probable and
positive danger of death as interpreted in the broad sense of
spiritual death, traditional priests receive a iure (from
the law itself) a supplied jurisdiction for all cases in which
this jurisdiction is required. This is simply the application of
Canon 20, notably of Canonical Equity. There are no solid
arguments against this and since there is at least a positive and
probable doubt in favor of this argument, and we know that in such
a case the Church certainly supplies jurisdiction, then
traditional priests can and must act accordingly and the faithful
can and should approach them for Confession.
In the case of marriage this conclusion need
not be applied. For OC 1098 (NC 1116) describes
situations when even a priest without jurisdiction can validly
assist at a Catholic marriage, namely when there is a major
"inconvenience" for more than one month (as, for example, the New
Mass or the liberal pre-Cana classes).
All depends on whether the crisis in the Church
is recognized or not. Those who refuse to see it will refuse the
recourse to OC Canon 20 (NC 19). Those who
understand its gravity will all agree on the force of these
canonical arguments for supplied jurisdiction presented by Bishop
Tissier de Mallerais in the following pages.
Bishop Tissier de
Mallerais addresses the problem
I. THE PROBLEM: THE ABSENCE OF JURISDICTION?
A problem is immediately apparent to you, as I
am sure you are aware. What authority do these priests, these
bishops, these district superiors, this Superior General and these
traditional communities have in the Church? You ask this not only
because they are, so we are told, excommunicated, but also because
they do not receive their authority from the hierarchy of the
official Church. Our priests do not receive the power to hear
confessions from the diocesan bishops. The Priestly Society of St.
Pius X has no longer any "official existence." The bishops of the
Society, they say, did not receive their authority from the Holy
Father. What right therefore does this traditional clergy have to
require of you, the laity, to depend on it in your Catholic
It is this objection to which I am going to
reply. What is the authority of the traditional Catholic clergy in
this crisis situation, and, in particular, what is its authority
with respect to traditional Catholic study groups? The thesis is
the following (I can review it briefly before explaining it):
Your traditional priests—for they are your
priests—your traditional bishops and your traditional parishes,
have no ordinary authority, but an extraordinary authority which
is a supplied authority.
Then, I will strive to examine the concrete
aspects of this supplied authority of the traditional clergy so as
to apply them to the case of your "Catholic action."
To explain this, let me use the example of
confession in normal times. The traditional clergy has no ordinary
authority over the faithful, for it has not received this
authority which we call jurisdiction. It has not received it by
delegation or by mandate of the Sovereign Pontiff or the diocesan
bishops or of regularly appointed parish priests. This is the
concrete case, especially for the priests of the Society; for
example, for confessions.
You know that for the validity of a confession,
the priest must have the power of hearing confessions. He normally
receives this power from the bishop, but it is quite obvious that
in the present situation this is impossible. Does this mean that
our confessions are invalid? No.
We already resolved this question a long time
ago, explaining it to the faithful as a case of necessity. Here we
fall back on principles which are very elevated in the hierarchy
of principles of the Church. This is the case where the Church
directly confers jurisdiction on a priest without going through
the different degrees of the hierarchy. It is the Mystical Body of
Our Lord, Our Lord Himself as Head of His Church, which gives
jurisdiction to priests in some particular cases.
Do you know, for example, the case of what is
called "common error"? When a priest is in a church and has no
jurisdiction, but is in stole and surplice, and one of the
faithful asks him to hear his confession, this priest can indeed
hear his confession, although he has as such no faculties. The
reason is that the person is in error in believing he does and
that is what we call "common error." In such a situation the
Church makes up for the lack of jurisdiction for the good of the
Another situation is when a priest is no longer
sure whether or not he has jurisdiction. There is a doubt. The
Church resolves the doubt in favor of jurisdiction. Likewise in
the case of danger of death. If a Catholic overturns his vehicle,
and is in an emergency situation any priest has the power of
hearing his confession even if he does not necessarily have
jurisdiction. In such a case the Church opens wide the doors of
her mercy and gives jurisdiction to any priest. It is the Church
herself which gives jurisdiction, without involving the hierarchy.
"Ecclesia Supplet" —"The Church
Supplies" (For the Spiritual Good of the Faithful)
These three cases are foreseen by Canon Law,
and the same principle applies in each of these three cases;
namely that for the good of the faithful, that is their spiritual
good, the Church assures, as much as possible, that they have the
means available necessary for salvation. That includes the
Sacrament of Confession. We therefore say "Ecclesia supplet"
—"the Church supplies," —when the priest lacks
jurisdiction. Another rule of Canon Law applies: "Salus
animarum suprema lex"—"The supreme law is the salvation of
souls." Consequently the Church supplies for an absence of
jurisdiction. It is therefore not the good of the priest which is
in question. It is not to reassure the priest that he has
jurisdiction to hear confessions. it is the good of the faithful
which matters. It is very important to understand this. It is for
your own good that your priests receive a supplied jurisdiction,
that is to say for the common good of the Church and not for the
personal good of the priest.
For the good of the faithful in these three
cases, "Ecclesia supplet"—"the Church supplies."
I have spoken to you of the jurisdictional
power of the priest, which is the power of governing. Let us say a
few more words about it.
Jurisdiction: The Power to Feed a Flock
Does a priest lack something when he is
ordained a priest? Would there be something missing from his
priestly character which the diocesan bishop has to add by word,
"Here, I give you jurisdiction," as by waving a magic wand?
Would a word from the bishop give something extra to the priest?
No, it is not quite this.
Jurisdiction is the fact that the bishop gives
a flock to his priests, or that the Pope designates a flock for a
bishop by giving him a diocese. Jurisdiction is the power which a
superior has over his flock and which a pastor has over his sheep.
This is what the power of jurisdiction is: the
power to feed the sheep.
You certainly know that in the Church we
distinguish between the power of Holy Orders and the power of
jurisdiction. When Our Lord said, "Go into the whole world and
preach the gospel," "docete omnes gentes"—"and teach
all nations,"—it was the power of jurisdiction which he gave.
"Teach," or, "Teach them to observe all that I have
commanded you" (Matt. 28:19), that is to teach the—commandments of God. Thus to direct the flock is the power of
Just beforehand Our Lord had spoken to His
apostles of the power of Holy Orders: "Baptizing them in the
Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost"
(Matt. 28:19). This is the power of Holy Orders, which is the
power of sanctifying, which depends directly upon the priestly
character. It is the power to celebrate Holy Mass and to sanctify
the faithful by the Sacraments. There must therefore be something
besides the priestly character, by which the priest or the bishop
receives from his hierarchical superior a part of the flock. It is
that which is called the power of jurisdiction.
The Supplying of Jurisdiction in Times of
In the present situation of crisis, it is
obvious that your priests cannot receive from their superiors in
the church, that is to say from the diocesan bishops and from the
Pope, a flock, because that flock is refused to them. This
authority over a flock must, therefore, be given to them in
another manner: that is, by substitute or supplied jurisdiction.
In this case it is the Church herself which
gives to priests a power as the power of the pastor over his
flock. Normally the power of Holy Orders, brings with it the
foundation or basis of a power to organize the Church in a
hierarchy. Thus the priest’s or the bishop’s power of Holy Orders
normally brings with it the power of jurisdiction. It is normal
for a bishop or a priest to have a particular flock over which he
exercises his power of Holy Orders. But in the present situation
we have to deal with the abnormal situation where the power of
Holy Orders is unjustly deprived of the power of jurisdiction. It
is in this case that the Church mercifully supplies jurisdiction
in favor of you, the faithful, giving the jurisdiction your
priests would otherwise not have.
This is therefore an extraordinary power, which
is an exceptional case. In exceptional situations there are
The General Extent of Supplied Jurisdiction
It is not only present for confessions, but
also for the entire priestly ministry. There is no reason to limit
it to confessions alone.
And, you are indeed aware that jurisdiction is
sometimes necessary for a priest to validly administer the
Sacraments. This is the case, first of all, for Confession. It is
equally the case for a priest assisting at Marriage. If he does
not have jurisdiction the marriage is null and void. Although the
two spouses are the ministers of the Sacrament, the Church has
added a supplementary condition for validity, that is to say that
the matrimonial consent be exchanged before the official witness
of the Church, which is normally the parish priest. It is quite
obvious that our priests do not have this power in an ordinary
way. They can only receive it in an extraordinary way by the
Church’s supplying of jurisdiction. In fact we here depend on
OC Canon 1098 § 1, which dispenses from the necessity of the
presence of a priest having jurisdiction for the marriage to be
valid when it is foreseen that such a priest cannot be found.
Normally jurisdiction is necessary for
licitness, that is to say, in order that the act of the priest be
licit, or, permissible. For example, to preach a priest must have
a mandate, or, for a bishop to confirm in another diocese than his
own, he must have a mandate from the diocesan bishop. In order to
ordain priests a bishop must normally have jurisdiction and this
is, of course, all the more so for the consecration of other
bishops. For an episcopal consecration he must have a Pontifical
This same principle is supplied throughout. In
an exceptional situation the Church supplies for this absence of
jurisdiction on the part of the priest or even the bishop.
And the more serious the crisis is, the more
necessary it will be to fall back on this supplying of the Church
on a higher level. This is what happened on June 30, 1988, when
Archbishop Lefebvre consecrated four bishops with Bishop de Castro
Mayer as co-consecrator.
The Case of Necessity for the Traditional
The fact that heresy, and even apostasy, is
widely spread amongst the clergy, leaves the faithful, and
especially those who want to keep the faith and the true religion,
as sheep scattered and without a pastor.
You can easily see, my dear friends, that it is
the case of necessity amongst the faithful which is responsible
for the fact that traditional priests and bishops have a supplied
jurisdiction with respect to your needs. This is not only so that
they may validly hear confessions and validly assist at marriages,
but also for all of the acts of their priestly or episcopal
For confessions, you certainly remember that
Archbishop Lefebvre invoked the principle of the "danger of
spiritual death" of the faithful. Just see the unhappy
faithful who have no priests of certain doctrine, and who
sometimes even doubt the validity of their confessions: "Does
this priest really have the necessary intention so as to validly
absolve?" They can readily doubt this. "If I can no longer
go to confession then I am exposed to fall and perhaps to fall
into grave sins. Who knows? My eternal salvation is at risk, I am
in danger of spiritual death." The Church supplies, for the
Church places ipso facto (by the fact itself) this Catholic
under the jurisdiction of a priest. The Church places this
Catholic as a sheep of a priest who will be his pastor for a
determined case. Thus is established between the faithful Catholic
and his priest a relationship as the sheep or the lamb with
respect to the shepherd. The only thing is that this relationship
of authority does not come from a delegation from the hierarchy of
the Church, but by the Church, the Mystical Body of Our Lord,
II. CHARACTERISTICS OF SUPPLIED JURISDICTION
Let us strive to describe the characteristics
of this supplied jurisdiction.
1) first of all it is a supplied jurisdiction.
This is its definition. It is the supplying for the absence of
jurisdiction in a priest or a bishop: "Ecclesia supplet."
It is neither the Pope nor the diocesan hierarchy which gives
their flock to the traditional clergy, but the Church, and Our
Lord Jesus Christ as Head of His Mystical Body. It is they who
sanction and declare this case of necessity for the faithful.
"I have mercy on this crowd," Our Lord
said, "for they are as sheep without a shepherd." This
would indeed be your case if there was no traditional clergy. The
Church takes account of this abnormal situation and therefore
links you up with traditional priests by that link of authority
which makes a pastor and a flock.
This is supplied jurisdiction. The Church
supplies for the absence of the ordinary link between you and your
priests. It creates a link on account of your spiritual needs.
2) it is a personal and not a territorial
jurisdiction. It is very important to understand this. Your
priests have jurisdiction over your persons and not over a
Traditional priests have jurisdiction over each
one of their faithful who come to their chapel or traditional
church or traditional convent or priory, and they do not have
jurisdiction over a determined territory as for example the
territory of a parish.
So when we say that "our churches are our
parishes" it is true, but we must see that it is true without
technically being the same thing.
3) finally, the third characteristic of this
supplied jurisdiction is that it depends a great deal on the
Allow me to explain. It is the state of
necessity of the faithful which creates between the priest and the
faithful the relationship of authority or supplied jurisdiction.
Take for example Archbishop Lefebvre, who, when the French
episcopacy failed to do so, sent a telegram to the representatives
to declare that they would fall under the pain of excommunication
if they voted for a law favoring abortion.
But in order that such a ministry and such
admonitions be fruitful it is necessary that the faithful in
question accept them willingly. It is inasmuch as you do not
refuse to receive from your priests the ministry which they have
the right to exercise for your good, that is to say for the good
of the Church, that the jurisdiction that you in a certain way
give them will be able to be fruitfully exercised.
Normally, a parish priest can take hold of a
sheep which is perhaps a little mangy and say to him
authoritatively: "Look out, come back to the Church!" But
in our case the admonition of this suppletory pastor will only
bear fruits if the sheep recognizes first of all that relationship
of authority which has been created in his favor by the very case
of necessity. This is the limit and the practical fragility of the
organization of our traditional parishes.
"Your chapels are your parishes"—It is
exactly inasmuch as you accept the principle of supplied authority
of the priests and of its exercise over yourselves, that their
authority over the flock will be extended, efficacious, genuine,
continuous and broad. It is quite obvious that if you do not want
to ask anything from your priests, or very little, they will be
paralyzed. Archbishop Lefebvre said, and it is perfectly true,
"Your chapels are your parishes, consider your priories and your
chapels as your parishes, that is where you are. Do not return to
your former parishes, which have fallen into the hands of the
modernists." Consider your chapels as your parishes! But in
saying that, Archbishop Lefebvre had no intention of usurping for
his priests an ordinary jurisdiction that they do not have.
He had the intention of making you realize and
making you understand, you faithful laymen and laywomen, that it
is your duty to ask from your traditional priests and chapels for
the entire priestly ministry which is normally exercised in a
parish. It is your duty to ask for all of the priestly ministry
that they are able to provide for you. It is your duty to entrust
yourselves completely to your traditional priests. You have not
simply to ask of them a Mass, a Baptism, or a sermon and that is
all. If this were the case you would paralyze the priest. He
cannot exercise his total ministry in all of its fullness under
III. CONSEQUENCES FOR THE ATTITUDE OF THE
FAITHFUL WITH RESPECT TO THE TRADITIONAL CLERGY
What are the consequences of this principle
which seems to be very important for the attitude of the faithful?
Formerly, the parish priest had simply to speak
and everybody obeyed. It was the word of the gospel and everybody
Obviously this is no longer the case. An
appropriate state of mind must therefore be established in the
faithful with respect to the traditional clergy. There must be on
the part of the laity a voluntary submission to the clergy. They
ought to feel the need for their souls to be totally dependent on
the priestly ministry in all of its amplitude. I think that this
is a requirement of the sense of the Church. If you have the sense
of the Church, that is to say the sense of the hierarchy of the
Church, you will understand this. The "sensus Ecclesiae,"
the sense of the Church, on the part of the faithful, will make
them learn to avoid two snags, that is to say, two dangerous
attitudes which, as always, are opposed to one another. Errors, as
you know, are always in the direction of too much of something or
too little of it. The truth is situated as a summit above
the two opposed errors of too much or too little. The truth is
not a liberal, compromising middle point between the
I say therefore that there are two dangerous
attitudes which exist in the present crisis in the Church, and
which are opposed to the sense of the Church. Neither of these
opinions is in conformity with the divine constitution of the
Church: whether it be the error by excess, an error in the
direction of too much, or the error by default, in the direction
of too little.
The Error by Excess: "The Catholic Hierarchy
No Longer Exists. Let Us Therefore Create a New One!"
The error in the direction of too much is to
say that all bishops, or nearly all, have apostatized from the
Catholic Faith, or at least that they no longer preach it and that
consequently there is no longer a legitimate hierarchy: that there
is no longer a legitimate Pope nor legitimate bishops in the
Church. Hence the true Catholic hierarchy, and the only one which
exists, consists of traditional priests alone. According to this
idea, it is the traditional clergy alone, with their exterior
hierarchical organization, which would make up the hierarchy of
the Church. Consequently one of the bishops would have to be
elected as Pope and this would complete the hierarchical
Certain sects have not hesitated to do just
this: they have fallen into the trap. This is quite obviously
false. We refuse this analysis and its consequences. Without a
doubt we can indeed question the legitimacy of certain bishops,
and one can even have questions concerning that of the Pope
himself. But these are but questions. We do not have the authority
to decide on these questions. The Church will herself judge. A
future council or Pope will decide on the mysterious situation of
this Pope John Paul II and his predecessor Pope Paul VI. It is not
for us to judge. We do not have the power. Even a single bishop
does not have the power to decide on these things. It is the
Church who will have to resolve this problem as she will without
doubt do. It will without doubt not make a decision saying "This
Pope was not Pope. "I do not think so, for this has never
happened in the Church, to say that this Pope was not a Pope. But
it will be declared: "This was a bad Pope...who professed
errors...and even heresies!" Hence we cannot say that the
hierarchy of the Church no longer exists. It has in large part
defaulted, but we cannot say that it no longer exists. We cannot
Secondly, we cannot say either, that the
Society of St. Pius X, (since it is especially the Society which
is concerned, for it has bishops and superiors), is constituted in
a hierarchy in the same way as the hierarchy of the Church with a
Pope, bishops, parish priests, etc. It is not at all the same
thing. It is similar, but it is not the same thing.
At Every Degree it is but a Supplied
The hierarchy of the Society, and the only
hierarchy it has, is a substitute hierarchy. Its priests have
power directly over the faithful in their priories, in their
parishes, and in their traditional chapels. The district superiors
have power over their priests. But in principle that is all the
power they have. According to the constitution of the Society they
have in principle no power over the faithful. But on account of
the crisis in the Church they have a
supplied power over the
Here the principle of subsidiaries is to be
invoked. This means that that which your simple priests in the
priories cannot do, the district superior will make up for, and
this for the good order of our priories. The district superiors
also have to look after the apostolate of their priests and hence
have relations with the faithful. But this is a supplied
jurisdiction. Likewise the Superior General of the Society of
St. Pius X has in principle no direct power over the faithful,
but he will all the same exercise his authority for important
questions and difficult matters, which the simple priest or even
the district superiors cannot resolve. This is a supplied power in
virtue of the principle of subsidiaries.
Hence at all levels of the hierarchy of the
Society, and the hierarchy of Tradition (if you wish), there is
only a supplied power and not an ordinary power. Consequently,
there is no way that it can be said that Archbishop Lefebvre
constitutes the Church. There can be no question of the "Church of
Lefebvre" as the newspapers report it. There is simply the
Catholic Church with its incomprehensible and generalized
failings, and in the Catholic Church the clergy which has remained
entirely faithful to the Faith, and with, because it was
necessary, a certain organization, and bishops with their power
over the faithful but which is only a supplied power.
This is the Error by Excess: to say that there
is no longer any hierarchy in the Church, and that we must
therefore create a jurisdiction and submit ourselves to this
jurisdiction. We may as well create a new church! This is an
error, for we cannot create a church.
Error by Defect: "Our Priests do not have
Jurisdiction. Therefore, we are Free!"
The error in the direction of too little would
be to say that the traditional priests in our priories and in the
convents have not received jurisdiction from the Pope or the
bishop and have therefore no power over us. "What right have they
to require something of us? We are indeed free! Let us stay free!
We are free to place ourselves under their authority or not."
Such a mentality is also a danger which is
opposed to the sense of the Church. This would be to take
advantage of the crisis in the Church because of the appearance of
freedom which it gives. It is especially dangerous for the lay
apostolate where, it is true, there is a large part of freedom.
For very often the tasks performed by lay people are not the
specific tasks of a priest, such as, for example, to spread the
Christian social order in the State. There is, therefore, a
certain element of autonomy in the Catholic action of the laity.
This is true. But it is not the sense of the Church to dispense
oneself entirely from every link with the hierarchy. To say this
on account of the crisis in the Church, because "the
traditional clergy has no ordinary power over us" would be to
really lack a sense of the Church. Let us therefore avoid these
two snags of either going too far or not going far enough.
The Paradoxical Situation of Certain Laymen
We are at the present moment in a rather
paradoxical situation with respect to Catholic action. I speak of
your action as lay Catholic men and women in the Church and in the
state. A few decades ago, "La Cité Catholique," and
then the Holy Office, had a great deal of difficulty in finding
support from the clergy. They looked for bishops and they found
none except Archbishop Lefebvre. They looked for chaplains but
Archbishop Lefebvre warned them, "Look out! Death trap! Do not
look for chaplains in the present clergy, for they are all
progressive and they will torpedo you! Therefore develop your
organization without priests, since the situation is like this."
So, you see, these founders of "La Cité
Catholique," who had a profoundly Catholic spirit, were
obliged to found an organization of Catholic action in the strict
sense without priestly support, on account of the failure of the
priests (or at least without the support of the hierarchy).
Just recently their successors, who follow them
in their fight for Tradition, chose a few months ago to deprive
themselves of their dependence on the clergy. This is not the same
thing, for now there is a good clergy, now there are priests, and
good priests I hope, and priests who are well formed. They are not
all specialized in all political and social questions, of course,
but they know the major principles. And now I say to these laymen
and women, now that you have a good clergy how can you deprive
yourselves of the priestly influence over your Catholic action?
This would be a paradox!
This is always under the pretext that
traditional priests do not have jurisdiction! But they do have a
supplied jurisdiction. It is you who have to appeal to this
supplied jurisdiction. I therefore say that the sense of the
Church, the sensus fidei, must persuade faithful laymen and
laywomen to willingly submit their apostolic activities to the
traditional clergy. This is the proper order. It is the sense of
hierarchy to submit your Catholic action to the counsel and higher
guidance of the traditional hierarchy, to use the words of St.
Pius X. This corresponds to the hierarchical constitution of the
Church. It is necessary for the faithful to understand this well,
and all the more since the clergy cannot, strictly speaking,
require this dependence since it has no ordinary jurisdiction over
Requirement for Virtue on the Part of the Laity
You see, then, that I must insist on the moral
necessity of an appropriate state of mind in the faithful. There
are special moral requirements linked to this time of crisis. This
exceptional situation, which gives only a supplied jurisdiction to
the priests, requires on the part of the clergy, of course, quite
some tact, prudence, and wisdom. For they cannot demand to
exercise a strict right (hence the clergy has to understand the
principles which are relevant). But this situation requires on the
part of the laity virtue, a hierarchical sense, a sense of the
need which you all have, namely of having a link by which you
depend upon the traditional clergy in all the amplitude of their
priestly ministry and in all the amplitude of your apostolic
I think that I could summarize these remarks in
a brief phrase: your submission and your dependence with respect
to the clergy must be as voluntary as the clergy have less right
to demand it.
This therefore requires moral virtue on your
part. It is for you, faithful Catholics, to seek for this
profitable and necessary dependence in your traditional study
groups. This does not mean that the priest is going to do
everything. The priest will be, as Father Bonneterre remarked,
"the counselor, the guide, the doctor" but not necessarily the
organizer. He will remain in his spiritual domain, but the laity
will retain this indispensable link of dependence.
IV. SUPPLIED JURISDICTION AND PRESENT LAY
Let us very briefly apply these principles to
traditional Catholic study groups. This morning I tried to
summarize the idea of Pope St. Pius X, who distinguished two sorts
of apostolic endeavors for the laity:
1) Direct participation of the laity in the
priestly apostolate inasmuch as it is possible. This includes the
education of youth, teaching in our schools, and special, more
properly apostolic youth movements which have as their purpose the
conversion of souls. It is obvious that such a movement has an
essential dependence with respect to the clergy. It would be quite
erroneous to say that such a movement is a movement of Catholic
action in the strict sense of the word, with a relatively loose
dependence on the clergy.
From the very fact that it is for the
conversion of souls, it follows that there is an intrinsic
dependence on the clergy. The same applies to the Catholic Scout
movement and the Legion of Mary which had as its purpose, by the
intercession of Our Lady, the conversion of souls. This is, if you
wish, a participation in the priestly ministry on the part of the
laity, and consequently it requires a mandate. The priest gives a
mandate to the laity to exercise a part of his priestly
2) Quite different is Catholic action
understood as a work of the Catholic laity in the temporal order,
so as to bring about the reign of Christian social principles in
the State. It is this which St. Pius X strove especially to
promote, and which can be called Catholic action in the strict
sense of the term. We cannot say that such Catholic action,
because it is not the ministry of the priest, is independent of
the priest. St. Pius X, as I reminded you this morning, said
that "One cannot at all conceive of this Catholic action of the
faithful independently from the counsel and higher guidance of
It is an essential distinction. Pope Pius XII,
following Pius XI, blurred somewhat its importance, which is not
Tissier de Mallerais’ article, "Catholic Action Defined" for
a comprehensive explanation of this matter - Ed].
He simply spoke of a gradation in the dependence of works of
Catholic action on the hierarchy. The more a work is properly
priestly the more must it have an intimate dependence on the
priest, and the more a work properly belongs to the laity the more
tenuous the link with respect to the clergy. That which is
constant in all of the popes is the teaching that there can be no
question of giving total autonomy to the laity in their action.
This is impossible. This is repugnant to the Catholic sense. It is
repugnant to the sense of hierarchy in the Church.
The Sacramental Basis of the Hierarchical
Spirit in the Church
As I said to you this morning, everything is
founded on the characters given by the Sacraments of Baptism,
Confirmation and Holy Orders. Baptism and Confirmation make us
sons of the Church, brothers in Jesus Christ and soldiers of
Christ, witnesses of Jesus Christ. Hence the necessity of
spreading the Gospel. But they do not make you members of the
hierarchy. It is alone the character of the Sacrament of Holy
Orders which constitutes the hierarchy, and is therefore
responsible for organization in the Church. The two characters of
the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are dependent upon the
character of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. If you have understood
this well you have but to apply these principles to our
traditional Catholic study groups. The priest does not do
everything but he is the inspirer, the guide, the counselor, and
the doctor who brings back to mind the major principles, who
maintains the correct doctrinal position, and who avoids
deviations. We are for hierarchies, because we are Catholic we are
for hierarchies. We wish to respect the hierarchies which are
divinely instituted, whether they be supernatural or natural.
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SSPX FAQ #9: Do
traditional priests have jurisdiction?
Supplied jurisdiction and traditional priests
This conference given by Bishop Tissier de Mallerais in 1991 touches
on the important topic of supplied jurisdiction, its effect upon
traditional priests and their ministry, as well as on the issue of the
laity and Catholic Action
SSPX and annulments
Lists some FAQs regarding this important matter and provides links to
4 in-depth articles