Canon lawyer Ed Peters explains, in light of the St. Stanislaus in St. Louis situation, how going to Mass can be sinful.
Archbishop Raymond Burke said Mass celebrated at the schismatic parish by Fr. Marek Bozek would be “valid but illicit,” so Ed explains what that means.
There are, as it happens, a number of restrictions on when and where and by whom Masses may be celebrated. To take just one example, the celebration of Holy Mass is prohibited on Good Friday. But suppose some priest decides that he knows more about the Church’s prayer life than does the Church herself and announces his intention to celebrate Mass on Good Friday. Now, Jesus does not take away the power of confecting the Eucharist from priests even when they are going to abuse His sublime gifts, so a priest’s celebration of Mass on Good Friday would be, in one sense, “valid”. But celebrating Mass on Good Friday would constitute a serious violation of Church law and hence would be gravely “illicit”. A priest acting thus would be sinning gravely.
And what about those who attend such a renegade Mass? Well, assuming they knew that Good Friday Masses were forbidden but they nevertheless attended as a way to show their own disagreement with the Church’s prohibition of Good Friday Masses, they would be cooperators in the priest’s illegal action and would share in his offense.
As Ed says, if this can be so with liturgical law, how much more so would it apply to this situation? Archbishop Burke has issued a valid and moral order that is completely within his rights to do as apostolic successor in St. Louis and rightful bishop of the archdiocese. Some can claim that bishops often overstep their bounds or don’t carry out the duties of their office properly, but that’s a generalization. In this specific case, based on what we’ve seen, Burke is well within his authority.
(Incidentally, Ed has upgraded his blog and it’s a big improvement. Good job, Ed.)