In brief, there were a lot of Catholics who thought (with the aid of the press) that the Second Vatican Council represented a departure from traditional Catholic teachings. They took advantage of the chaos following the council to run amok, pushing a lot of changes that the Council documents never authorized. In the midst of this craziness, Pope Paul VI revised the rite of the mass. I was born in 1969. I don’t have any personal memory of any of this, but it was a painful time for a lot of faithful Catholics. Many of them had their faith damaged.
A group of French seminarians really didn’t like what they were seeing, and they gathered around Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. They formed the Society of St. Pius X in 1970 and established their own seminary in
By 1986, Pope John Paul II was seeking a way to end the schism and bring the SSPX back into union with the Church. An agreement was signed in May 1988. Under the agreement the SSPX would get one bishop, to be consecrated from among its own priests. The day after signing the agreement, Lefebvre backed out. After announcing that he would ordain four bishops, the Pope warned Lefebvre that, should he do so, he would incur excommunication latae sententiae, per canon 1382. Lefebvre consecrated his four bishops and all five received upon themselves the penalty of excommunication.
Archbishop Lefebvre has since died, but the four SSPX bishops ordained by him have had their excommunications lifted. Pope Benedict XVI hopes that this step will renew discussions with the SSPX, with an aim toward reuniting them with the Church. However, it does not appear that any of the four bishops has expressed any contrition or willingness to submit to the authority of the Holy See, and one of the four is now enjoying media scrutiny for denying the holocaust in an interview on Swedish television.
The old Latin mass of 1962 is now widely available for those who wish to attend it, although some travel might be required. There are approved apostolates within the Church devoted to practicing and preserving the old mass. The issue, for the SSPX, is whether they are willing to accept the primacy of the successor of Peter. At the moment, it looks as though the traditional Anglicans are closer to reunion than is the SSPX.
See Holier Than Thou in the April 2003 issue of This Rock. Be sure to read the angry letters from SSPX fans in the July-August 2003 issue as well.