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To Pray or Not to Pray for the Pope?

Fr. Ronald Brown

We received an email to inform us that it was a "sin" to pray for the Pope in the Canon of the Mass since the last four Popes have been acting contrary to the traditional teachings of the Church. We hear this comment from time to time and need to clarify for those who come to our Traditional Mass at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Chapel, exactly what our firm Catholic position is on this matter.

The Papal Tiara, a symbol of papal power

Symbol of papal power
The Church has had many difficult periods during her long history. Most of the time we are blessed with saintly Popes who use their authority to defend the Faith, safeguard the deposit of Faith. From time to time we've had some bad Popes (either weak men or even, unfortunately, immoral men) or misguided Popes. What some fail to realize is that the Pope is not infallible in all aspects of his office, but only when he defines for the "universal" Church on matters touching "faith and morals."

The fact is we can do nothing about any "bad" Pope (real or imagined). Cajetan for example, tells us that "it is imperative to resist a Pope who is openly destroying the Church." This indicates that a Pope may possibly work to "destroy the Church" in some capacity. Yet, he remains the Pope. Some speak of "anti-popes" - yet in 2,000 years of Church history, no valid Pope on the throne of Peter ever "lost" his papacy and became an "anti-pope." Any "anti-popes" you can read about were never, in the first place, legitimate Popes who occupied the Petrine office validly. This is a fact that some refuse to acknowledge.

St. Robert Bellarmine guides us as well: "It is lawful to resist a Pope who attacks the body, it is also lawful to resist the one who attacks souls... it is lawful to resist him by not doing what he orders and preventing the execution of his will." It is clear that a valid Pope might abuse his authority, at which point the Catholic Bishops, priests, religious and laity are permitted to resist him, which resistance is in reality a true upholding of the Catholic Faith, true respect for the office of St. Peter.

For this reason, Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Chapel joins with many more Catholic Chapels and organizations in resisting the Liberalism of the current Hierarchy, as Liberalism was long condemned by past Popes. Our Catholic belief in the authority of the Popes requires us to remain faithful to holy tradition, to Catholic doctrine. We resist the implementation of a "New Mass" and new rites for the Sacraments, clearly understanding the limits of authority.

No Catholic on earth is empowered to do anything about a bad Pope, certainly Catholics are unable to "declare" anything, to remove him, or judge him as a non-pope. It is realized that the many "united" and charitable groups of "Sede Vacantists" are able to do this, but we are not. While Liberalism is a terrible disease let loose on the Church, we also see the fruits of those who "take matters in their own hands" and often enough, take on the role of mini-popes.

Saints Peter & Paul

St. Paul resisted the wrong teaching of St. Peter
The long tradition of the Church is that "the first primatial see is subject to no one's judgment." As one real Canonist points out "A General Council (i.e. all of the Bishops of the Church) could not judge a Pope, because unless convoked or ratified by him, it could not render a valid sentence. Hence nothing is left but an appeal to God, who will take care of His Church and her head." (Rev. P.C. Augustine, OSB in his commentary on the Code of Canon Law, 1923). If anything, we must redouble our prayers for the Pope, and certainly not refuse to pray for him.

We come to the problem now of refusing to pray for the Pope in the Canon of the Mass. A concern was raised about this recently, and in fact, we received inquiry about this matter from more than a few souls. It is absolutely wrong, a gross lack of Catholic charity, to not inform souls that a priest offering Mass is not commemorating the Pope in the Canon. The Mass is the prayer of the Roman Catholic Church - it is not the place for making theological or canonical points by tampering with the prayers. Caveat emptor [Let the interested beware].

This is problematic not only for those attending that Mass, but for the priest himself who does not acknowledge the Pope in the Canon of the Mass. It is a matter of charity that souls understand the implications of not praying for the Pope in the Mass, so that they might have an informed conscience as regards this matter. It is a gross lack of charity on the part of a priest (if true to his convictions) that would not himself inform those at his Mass, where he stands.

Is it a sin to pray for the Pope in the Mass una cum Papa nostro [united with our Pope]? What if it could be agreed or established that any particular Pope was a bad Pope? Again, the argument of some that so-and-so is not a valid Pope simply does not hold water, in light of both the teaching and practice of the Church. We cannot argue an incorrect premise, a flawed premise, and then proceed from that point into a myriad number of theories. It is realized that many of these theories are well intentioned of course. Good intentions do not make that which is wrong the right thing to do.

Canon of the Mass

Acknowledging the Pope in the Mass Canon
It is of course not a sin to pray for even a bad Pope in the Canon of the Mass, it is just the opposite: it is sinful to refuse to pray for a living occupant of the See of Peter. From the earliest times in the Church the Pope has been mentioned in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In fact, in the Eastern-Greek Catholic Rites, the name of the Pope is mentioned much more frequently. It was only the heretics and schismatics (such as the Orthodox, the Old Catholics, etc) who removed the name of the Pope from the Mass. We are not speaking of a deceased Pope of course, when a true "Sede Vacante" exists and the name of the Pope is not mentioned (because of course, no Pope is on the throne, at least temporarily).

This issue has been addressed in the history of the Church, as an example is found with Pope Pelagius I when he addressed the schismatic bishops of Tuscia. Pope Pelagius advised them that the matter was settled: To refuse to pray for a living Pope was "equivalent to declaring oneself outside the Church." In fact, the Pope furthered advised these schismatic minded bishops that their offering of the Mass would be rendered as "mutilated and incomplete" by not commemorating the Pope.

It is simple, and far less complicated than many think, if only some good souls would open their minds on this and practice humility: We cannot judge the person sitting on the throne of St. Peter and we are obliged under pain of being "outside the Church" to pray for him, especially at Holy Mass. At Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Chapel we do not overly fault those who have made this unfortunate decision about the Chair of Peter being vacant. But at the same time, we cannot support this thinking, and we are obliged in Catholic charity to inform souls about this matter.

It is so sad that some insist on going in directions that even a General Council, or the Angels... would not dare to tread! Of all the people in the world, the Pope needs our prayers and desperately so.

This article was first published on the
Holy Rosary Chapel website

Posted November 30, 2011

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