Communicatio in sacris - A Few Notes
A few notes relative to the present situation of the Church
Here are four certain facts about the Church’s attitude to what is technically known as communicatio in sacris cum acatholicis — i.e. participating in religious worship with non-Catholics.
1. The constitution Ad evitanda scandala (1418) of Pope Martin V explicitly authorizes communicatio in sacris with those whom competent authority has not personally condemned or declared to have incurred excommunication. This authorization per se applies not only to excommunicates who are still members of the Church but also to heretics and schismatics, provided they are uncondemned.
2. The constitution Ad evitanda scandala is still in force today; a substantial part of its provisions figure in Canon 2261 of the 1917 Code — a canon for which it is named as a source — for this canon authorizes the faithful to receive the sacraments and sacramentals from any uncondemned excommunicate, especially, but not exclusively, if other ministers are unavailable. The reception of the sacraments is not only an act of communicatio in sacris, but it is the gravest form of it.
3. All canonists and moralists are unanimous that private prayer between a Catholic and a non-Catholic is permitted if the prayer used is itself Catholic (cf. Wernz-Vidal, etc.).
4. The Holy Office declared in 1949 that the recitation in common by a mixed group of Catholics and non-Catholics of the Our Father or of a prayer approved by the Church does not constitute a forbidden act of communicatio in sacris.
It is clear from these examples that there exists no divine law which absolutely forbids communicatio in sacris with every heretic or schismatic even prior to any formal condemnation.
However the divine or natural law does forbid communicatio in sacris if the minister is not validly ordained, if the rite used is not wholly Catholic or if the circumstances are such that sacramental communion is equivalent to a profession of heresy — or on grounds of scandal.
In the case of priests adhering to the Eastern Schism, the Church has always deemed it “almost impossible” for all these impediments to be absent. For which reason she has always judged communicatio in sacris between Catholics and members of the Eastern schismatic bodies to be unlawful.
The 1917 Code declares that “active participation in the rites of non-Catholics” is illicit. But no commentator can be found who extends this prohibition to the use of a Catholic rite by a minister duly ordained in the Catholic Church who subsequently falls into a personal act of heresy or schism without joining any condemned sect and without being the direct object of any sentence of condemnation.
Canon 2316 specifies that anyone who takes part in communicatio in divinis with heretics “contrary to the provision of Canon 1258” is “suspect of heresy”. Clearly this penalty does not affect an act which is not opposed to Canon 1258 — for instance private prayer or communicatio in sacris with persons who have neither been directly condemned themselves nor joined a condemned sect. Neither does it apply to communicatio in sacris with condemned schismatics who are not heretics, which is forbidden by Canon 1258 but is excluded from the effects of Canon 2316 by the explicit wording of that Canon.
Against this background we may turn to a more concrete question:
Is every bishop who has accepted Vatican II necessarily a heretic or a schismatic?
The above remarks already show that at the worst a bishop having accepted Vatican II would be an uncondemned heretic or schismatic and therefore that communicatio in sacris with him, if he agreed to use a Catholic rite, would fall under the authorization of Ad Evitanda Scandala and of Canon 2261, and not under the prohibition of Canon 1258.
I have said “at the worst”. But is this worst in fact a certainty?
Let us recall that:
1. At the Council of Rimini (359 A.D.) bishops who were orthodox but weak yielded to pressure from the heretics and signed a heretical proposition. When the Holy See (in the person of Popes Liberius and Damasus respectively) had to deal with the resulting situation, the subscribing bishops were not judged to have forfeited their offices ipso facto, but only if they failed to comply with the formal order to withdraw their errors.
2. Pope Pius VI acted in the same way with the French Catholic bishops who had signed the Civil Constitution of the Clergy at the time of the Revolution. He called on them to retract, under pain of excommunication and loss of office.
3. The Arian crisis of the IVth century gave rise to so many different degrees of complicity, actual or suspected, with heresy, that even the saints did not always agree with one another as to who one ought to be in communion with and who not. Saint Hilary for one was accused of excessive leniency with those who had to some extent gone astray either in verbal formulations or in their assessment of which clergy could be approached for the sacraments.
4. The example of Blessed Noel Pinot in Revolutionary France speaks volumes. When the clergy were summoned by the Revolutionary Government to subscribe to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, this parish priest observed three essential facts: (i) it was clear to him that the document was heretical and schismatic; (ii) it had not yet been condemned as such by the Holy See, and (iii) not all priests shared his severe judgement. Hence (i) he steadfastly refused to sign the text himself, come what may, but (ii) he continued to share the ministry of the church of which he was pastor with his curate, Fr. Garanger, who, despite Pinot’s remonstrances, did sign.
“In any event,” writes Blessed Noel’s biographer, “as the Pope had not yet pronounced on the subject of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, Fr. Garanger had not incurred any censure as a result of taking the oath of fidelity to it. Fr. Pinot trusted that the instructions Rome was expected soon to issue on the subject would open his eyes and meanwhile he allowed him to continue his activities in the parish as before…”
Why is it not possible to apply the same logic to members of the clergy deceived by Vatican II but who, so far as can be judged, seem sincerely to intend to adhere to the Catholic faith and wrongly imagine that the Council and its reforms are compatible with that faith ? To the present writer’s knowledge, this question has yet to receive any serious answer.
For the truth is that Vatican II has not yet been condemned by the Holy See — for a reason which hard-line sedevacantists often seem to overlook: namely that the Holy See is vacant!
1. Prospero Lambertini (Pope Benedict XIV): Tractatus de synodo diœcesana, lib. v, cap. 5 and Holy Office, rescript of 10th May 1753, quoted by Gasparri, Fontes, vol. IV, p. 83.
2. 20th December 1949, Instructio ad locorum Ordinarios, “De Motione Œcumenica”, n. v
3. In theology an act is termed “scandalous”, not because it shocks, astonishes or attracts disagreement or disapproval, but when it provokes others to commit sin.
4. Holy Office, rescript of 10th May 1753
5. Canon 1258.
6. The expression is equivalent to communicatio in sacris.
7. The parish of Le Louroux Béconnais.
8. Mgr Francis Trochu, Vie du Bienheureux Noël Pinot, p. 65.