THE CATHOLIC KNIGHT: In a stunning act of reconciliation, Pope Benedict XVI has just ended a two decade saga between the Vatican and the "Society of Saint Pius X" (SSPX).
The SSPX is a traditional Catholic organization started by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1970 in response to the new Missal of Pope Paul VI released in 1969. The Missal of Pope Paul VI (sometimes called the "Novus Ordo" or "Ordinary Form" of the mass) provided a new form of Catholic liturgy, which omitted many elements of historic Catholic tradition, changed various prayers, and generally reworked the Catholic mass in such a way to make many Catholics feel their tradition had been lost. While it is true the Missal of Pope Paul VI mirrors various elements of Protestant liturgies, it is also true the Missal retained enough Catholic character to remain valid. The Second Vatican Council (1961 - 1965) called for vernacular translations of the mass, and so it was this "Novus Ordo" that became the target for this experiment. The mass celebrated in the vernacular languages around the world today is the Missal of Pope Paul VI.
Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, on the other hand, saw the potential dangers of this, and observed in the trends of his time the eminent downfall of the Catholic Church. His fears became reality within just a few decades, and were made manifest in the most heinous way, in everything from the liturgical abuse of "clown masses," to the administrative nightmare of the clergy sexual-abuse scandal. While the mainstream Church was undergoing a clerical shortage, the SSPX quickly grew to become the world's largest traditional Catholic community, and remains so to this day.
The SSPX has always pledged loyalty to the pope, regardless of it's disagreement with the Holy See. However, in 1988 an unfortunate turn of events led to what many have called a "schism." In 1988 Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre consecrated four bishops to continue his work and keep the SSPX alive, even though he did not have permission from the Holy Father to do this. Pope John Paul II responded by declaring automatic excommunications of Archbishop Lefebvre and the four priests he consecrated as bishops.
The excommunications of the SSPX bishops led to a scandal that engulfed the entire Catholic Church worldwide. Liberals within the Church were emboldened by the action, seeing it as a condemnation upon traditionalism in general, and a license to continue their so-called "reforms" with impunity. Traditionalists on the other hand were marginalized. Even those who left the SSPX, to join other traditionalist societies still on good terms with the Vatican, found themselves on the fringes of the Church, often denied access to the traditional liturgy, and looked down upon as "troublemakers."
In July of 2007, Pope Benedict XVI (formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) issued a motu proprio explaining that the traditional Catholic liturgy, still used by the SSPX and all traditionalist societies, was never banned by the Vatican, and in fact, any priest anywhere may celebrate it (if he is competent), and any Catholic anywhere may request it. What follows nearly two years later is this proclamation that the SSPX excommunications have been lifted, leaving the question open if those excommunications were legitimate to begin with.
It is a happy day for traditional Catholics around the world, and special congratulations are in order for members of the SSPX. The bishops of the SSPX are now back within the fold of the Church. The canonical status of the SSPX itself remains in question for the time being, but we can expect this issue to soon be resolved as well. Today, however, is a day for rejoicing!