With the sad state of affairs in the Catholic Church in the United States and abroad today, it is only natural that there will be those well-formed Catholics who instantly recognize the immediate danger to their souls while attending Mass in certain parishes and they will begin to look for alternatives outside of the Diocesan system.
The Society of Saint Pius X is one such group outside of the Diocesan structure who just happen to have a presence here in the Diocese of Scranton.
So today we continue the good Bishop's article on supplied jurisdiction.
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 action?
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 faithful.
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 jurisdiction.
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 Crisis
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 exceptional powers.
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 mandate.
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 Faithful
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 ministry.
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, herself supplying.