I’ve been asked to explain my position on the Una Cum. For those of you who are new to the Una Cum topic, it is the controversy over whether the prayer in the “Te Igitur” renders the Mass illicit, and therefore evil. The reasoning behind this view is the firmly held belief that Jorge Bergoglio is a heretic and antipope. Therefore, (according to the majority sedevecantist position) offering the Mass “una cum” (in union with, or together with) Bergoglio causes the Mass to be in union with his heresy, tainting it, and causing all who participate in it to place themselves in schism with the true spotless bride.

The text of the Te Igitur (or the vernacular translation of it) has changed a few times since the 50s. Below are the two most common, to my knowledge.

1958 Text:

1962 Text

Because I confidently assist Mass with the SSPX, and have publicly disagreed with the majority Sedevecantist position on the Una Cum issue, I have been asked to explain my position.

That’s fair, I suppose. I have spoken my opinion publicly, but it has usually been in defense of someone calling me a schismatic, a Vatican II heretic, modernist, or whatnot. Many of my sedevecantist friends suffer from an over abundance of certainty with regard to some things. I believe this is one of them.

Consequently, similar to when I discouraged people from voting at all in the 2020 federal election, expressing my opinion on this issue publicly has placed me at risk of being burned at the stake on a Twitter live feed – but only with some folks.

Therefore, I think it’s appropriate for me to point out that I’m extremely hesitant to speak publicly on this issue in such a formal manner. To be clear, I’m not hesitant because I know there will be backlash. Keeping silent does not eliminate the problem of emotionally unstable people. They exist whether I speak or not.

Rather, I’m hesitant because my opinion is truly worthless. I have no authority to teach on this issue whatsoever. What I say is simply the opinion of a broken man, in a shattered world.

Indeed, while sedevecantist bishops certainly have authority to teach their opinions on this issue, even with them, it is still only an opinion. They suffer from the same lack of leadership as we do, while we struggle through the desolation we have created, for as long as God sees fit to allow it.

Consequently, it’s important for me to emphasize strongly that I don’t place myself above these bishops, or Father Cekada, or any of them. I’m certain that they’re holier than I am, and deserve my respect. I simply disagree with their position. I am told Bishop Pivarunas does as well, though I don’t know for certain (please correct me if I’m wrong).

Edit: Bishop Pivarunas does in fact agree with my position. Here is his well-reasoned analysis: https://www.materdeiseminary.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Thoughts-on-the-Una-Cum-Issue-by-Bp.-Pivarunas-CMRI.pdf

Edit (continued): In addition, here’s a very well-regarded priest who obtained a doctorate in theology prior to Vatican II who wrote a letter excoriating Bishop Dolan over the topic: http://traditionalcatholicsermons.org/STEPANICH.pdf. His analysis is solid.

In other words, I hate that I’m doing this. I’m just a layman. I could be wrong. I never should have opened my mouth, but I did. So, here is why I disagree.

First, as a practical matter, sedevecantism as a post conciliar movement did not really exist until sometime after 1983, when 9 priests split from the Society of Saint Pius X. I say “sometime after” 1983, not April 1983 (when the split occurred), because, according to Father Cekada, the split wasn’t really about sedevecantism. In his words:

“Decades Later, the myth still persists that the principal theological disagreement between Abp. Lefebvre and the Nine in 1983 was over “sedevacantism.” As such, though, this particular issue didn’t come up at the beginning, and it certainly wasn’t the one that provoked the dispute. Some of the Nine were sedevacantists at the time of the break and others weren’t.

See http://www.traditionalmass.org/images/articles/NineVLefebvre.pdf.

Father Cekada goes on to summarize the initial reasons for the split in the link above, which can also be found in the original “Letter of the ‘Nine’ to Archbishop Lefebvre.”

So, what’s my point? My point is that these men are the primary origins of the sedevecantist movement. There are a few men who said sedevecantist things earlier than they, of course. Some of them remained in union with Rome. Some of them were schismatic prior to Vatican II, and therefore could not be considered “the Church.” Some had questionable ordinations or consecrations. The list goes on, and I am by no means an expert on the history of post conciliar sedevecantism, but the point is this: From whatever origin date one chooses until “sometime after 1983,” there was no visible group of prelates who were omitting the presumed pontiff’s name in the Te Igitur.

I have no problem with the notion that Seat of Peter could be vacant for decades at a time. I used to find the notion impossible and offensive. Today, I find the issue apocalyptically horrific, but not impossible. Quite the opposite. See The Relations of the Church to Society — Theological Essays, an 1882 book discussing the 40 year Great Western Schism, by theologian, Father Edmund James O’Reilly: “not that an interregnum covering the whole period would have been impossible or inconsistent with the promises of Christ, for this is by no means manifest.

But, I do still find it impossible and offensive that the Church qua Church would only offer displeasing worship to the Father via illicit, tainted, or <insert adjective> Masses, for years, let alone a single day.

I find that impossible and offensive, because that seems to me an irrefutable argument that the Church defected. Given that sedevecantist opinions regarding when this all began are varied (1958? 1963? 1969? 1983?), I don’t see how anyone put forth any scenario in which this impossibility was avoided, if they are correct on the Una Cum issue.

That’s not to say that sedevecantists are wrong regarding the council, the changes in sacraments, and the validity of post conciliar popes. I’m not making that argument at all. I have made my position clear since 2015 that I believe Bergoglio to be an antipope. It’s only gotten more obvious since then.

For some time afterward, I was convinced that Ratzinger was the “true pope.” But my desire to be honest and consistent doomed my ability to hold that position, over time. It was a heartbreaking process. But, it’s an unavoidable process, unless one allows emotion to rule over one’s thinking. It’s a matter of historical record that Ratzinger was the principle architect of Vatican II. Maike Hickson does a great job of chronicling some of that history here: https://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2020/12/rorate-exclusivenew-biography-describes.html.

His issues didn’t cease with Vatican II, of course. There are a great deal more. Interestingly, although not dispositive, Father Paul Kramer described Ratzinger as one of three principal “murderers” of the Fatima message, in the original publication of his book “The Devil’s Final Battle” (2002). He revised that book in 2010, and removed the criticisms of Ratzinger. The Fatima Center used to sell the book, but it no longer does.

These historical issues are somewhat tangential to the precise one of the moment, however: the una cum, with antipope Bergoglio. Above, I gave my practical reasons why I disagree with the sedevecantist position. Now, I will attempt to give my grammatical and contextual reasons.

As Catholics, precision and accuracy are values that matter to us very much. In fact, they’re absolutely essential. This is one of the reasons why we traditionalists oppose the notion of abandoning Latin for the vernacular. They say: “Latin is a dead language.” We say: “Great.” The meaning of words in the language of the Church does not change over time. Language and consistency are critically important in both liturgy, and biblical interpretation.

Similarly, grammar is extremely important in both its ability to interpret the meaning an author intended to convey (scripture), and its ability to convey meaning (liturgy). When God is the coauthor of a text (scripture), and that text is faithfully transcribed and translated, we assume that grammatical construction is intentional, and important. Likewise, our liturgical texts, if not coauthored, are certainly guided and inspired by the Holy Ghost. Consequently, we can trust that the grammatical construction of our liturgical texts is intentional, and meaningful. Last, on a practical level, we know that small changes in punctuation can change the meaning of a sentence, a paragraph, or even an entire document. Everybody recalls the most famous example: “Let’s eat, grandma” versus “Let’s eat grandma.”

In addition to trusting the grammatical structure of our liturgical texts, they need to be read strictly, at times. Even legalistic. Consequently, it is by no means a criticism of sedevecantists when I say that they are precise, strict, and legalistic when they interpret papal documents, council documents, and liturgical texts. I think that’s a very good thing.

But there are hard and fast rules to analyzing the meaning of language in documents. And, if we’re going to be precise, strict, and legalistic, we should also be consistent, and we should apply all of the rules.

Let’s start with the easiest one to refute. My sedevecantist friends roll their eyes at this one, but I’m going to include it anyway. Take a look at the 1962 version of the Te Igitur, again:

“Most merciful Father, we humbly pray and beseech Thee, through Jesus Christ Thy Son, Our Lord, to accept and to bless these + gifts, these + presents, these + holy unspotted Sacrifices, which we offer up to Thee, in the first place, for Thy Holy Catholic Church, that it may please Thee to grant her peace, to preserve, unite, and govern her throughout the world; as also for Thy servant {“Francis”} . . . our Pope, and N . . . our Bishop, and for all orthodox believers and all who profess the Catholic and Apostolic faith.”

Assuming, for sake of the argument, that the una cum does what sedevecantists say that it does, who does the paragraph claim to be in union with? “Pope Francis.” But there is no such person. He’s not a pope. His name isn’t Francis. He’s a villainous heretic named Jorge Bergoglio wearing a costume. So, at worst, the paragraph places the Mass in union with a fiction.

If we’re going to precise, strict, and legalistic, we should follow those principals to the extreme – especially if it means doing otherwise causes us to accuse millions of faithful traditional Catholics of being schismatic heretics …. A little restraint is in order.

But, let’s continue to some things that won’t cause people to roll their eyes at me. There are a number of canons that one must employ when discerning the intention and meaning of a writing. Some of these are:

  • Ordinary-Meaning Canon: Words are to be understood in their ordinary, everyday meanings—unless the context indicates otherwise.
  • Fixed-Meaning Canon: Words must be given the meaning they had when the text was adopted.
  • Omitted-Case Canon: Nothing is to be added to what the text states or reasonably implies (casus omissus pro omisso habendus est). That is, a matter not covered is to be treated as not covered.
  • Negative-Implication Canon: The expression of one thing implies the exclusion of others (expressio unius est exclusio alterius).
  • Unintelligibility Canon: An unintelligible text is inoperative.
  • Series-Qualifier Canon: When there is a straightforward, parallel construction that involves all nouns or verbs in a series, a prepositive or postpositive modifier normally applies to the entire series.
  • Proviso Canon. A proviso conditions the principal matter that it qualifies—almost always the matter immediately preceding.
  • Whole-Text Canon. The text must be construed as a whole.
  • Presumption of Consistent Usage: A word or phrase is presumed to bear the same meaning throughout a text; a material variation in terms suggests a variation in meaning.
  • Harmonious-Reading Canon: The provisions of a text should be interpreted in a way that renders them compatible, not contradictory.
  • Irreconcilability Canon: If a text contains truly irreconcilable provisions at the same level of generality, and they have been simultaneously adopted, neither provision should be given effect.
  • Ejusdem Generis Canon. Where general words follow an enumeration of two or more things, they apply only to persons or things of the same general kind or class specifically mentioned (ejusdem generis).
  • Prefatory-Materials Canon: A preamble, purpose clause, or recital is a permissible indicator of meaning.
  • Absurdity Doctrine. A provision may be either disregarded or corrected as an error (when the correction is textually simple) if failing to do so would result in a disposition that no reasonable person could approve.

Let’s apply each of these to the relevant phrase: “unite, and govern her throughout the world; as also for Thy servant {“Francis”} . . . our Pope, and N . . . our Bishop, and for all orthodox believers and all who profess the Catholic and Apostolic faith.”

1. Ordinary-Meaning Canon: Words are to be understood in their ordinary, everyday meanings—unless the context indicates otherwise.

Ordinarily, a pope is Catholic. A non Catholic pope is impossible. Consequently, that phrase applies to “all orthodox believers who profess the Catholic and Apostolic faith,” including the [Catholic] pope. Nothing in the ordinary meaning implies that it unites one with an anticatholic, apostate, who happens to be an idolatrous antipope.

2. Fixed-Meaning Canon: Words must be given the meaning they had when the text was adopted.

At the time the text was adopted, everybody knew that one must be Catholic to be pope. Furthermore, the authors of the text intended it to apply only to all orthodox believers and all who profess the Catholic and Apostolic faith,” which necessarily excludes heretics.

3. Omitted-Case Canon: Nothing is to be added to what the text states or reasonably implies (casus omissus pro omisso habendus est). That is, a matter not covered is to be treated as not covered.

Antipopes and heretics are omitted from the text, but “orthodox believers who profess the Catholic and Apostolic faith” are specifically included, as the ultimate qualifier. Therefore, we can assume that the text does not intend to unify the Mass to heretics and schismatics.

4. Negative-Implication Canon: The expression of one thing implies the exclusion of others (expressio unius est exclusio alterius).

The specific expression of “orthodox believers who profess the Catholic and Apostolic faith” necessarily implies the exclusion of heretics, antipopes, and schismatics.

5. Unintelligibility Canon: An unintelligible text is inoperative.

The notion that the paragraph intends to unite “all orthodox believers who profess the Catholic and Apostolic faith” with heretics, schismatics, and antipopes is nonsensical. The authors surely did not intend such a perverse result. Forcing that interpretation renders the entire paragraph unintelligible, and therefore inoperative, and not illicit or schismatic.

6. Series-Qualifier Canon: When there is a straightforward, parallel construction that involves all nouns or verbs in a series, a prepositive or postpositive modifier normally applies to the entire series.

The phrase: “thy servant {“Francis”} . . . our Pope, and N . . . our Bishop, and for all orthodox believers and all who profess the Catholic and Apostolic faith” is a series that ends with a modifier “who profess the Catholic and Apostolic faith.” Consequently, that modifier applies to the entire series. In other words, applying Canons 1-6 to the phrase causes the unavoidable conclusion that it a) assumes the “pope” is Catholic, and b) excludes him if he’s not.

7. Proviso Canon: A proviso conditions the principal matter that it qualifies—almost always the matter immediately preceding.

The application of proviso canon is the same as the series qualifier canon. In other words, “in union with Francis” provided he is Catholic.

8. Whole-Text Canon. The text must be construed as a whole.

Reviewed as a whole, it is manifestly obvious that the intent of the text is to unite the Mass with “orthodox believers and all who profess the Catholic and Apostolic faith” and only “orthodox believers and all who profess the Catholic and Apostolic faith.”

9. Presumption of Consistent Usage: A word or phrase is presumed to bear the same meaning throughout a text; a material variation in terms suggests a variation in meaning.

It is consistently presumed that the pope is Catholic. If he’s not Catholic, he’s not pope, and therefore he’s not in the Canon.

10. Harmonious-Reading Canon: The provisions of a text should be interpreted in a way that renders them compatible, not contradictory.

The only way to read the Te Igitur harmoniously is to presume that it naturally excludes non-Catholics and antipopes, for all of the reasons above. Otherwise, the sentence would literally contradict itself.

11. Irreconcilability Canon: If a text contains truly irreconcilable provisions at the same level of generality, and they have been simultaneously adopted, neither provision should be given effect.

If the Te Igitur both united the Mass with a) nonCatholics, schismatics, heretics, and antipopes, while also using the ultimate universal qualifier “and all orthodox believers and all who profess the Catholic and Apostolic faith,” then it would be truly irreconcilable and neither provision would be given effect.

12. Ejusdem Generis Canon. Where general words follow an enumeration of two or more things, they apply only to persons or things of the same general kind or class specifically mentioned (ejusdem generis).

There is one class of people that is specifically mentioned “orthodox believers and all who profess the Catholic and Apostolic faith.” Therefore, those general words only apply to the specific enumeration of the “pope” and “bishop” immediately preceding them, if they are of same kind or class that was specifically mentioned – Catholic.

13. Prefatory-Materials Canon: A preamble, purpose clause, or recital is a permissible indicator of meaning.

The phrase “all orthodox believers and all who profess the Catholic and Apostolic faith” is the purpose clause of the paragraph. Consequently, it is a permissible indicator of meaning for the entire paragraph.

14. Absurdity Doctrine: A provision may be either disregarded or corrected as an error (when the correction is textually simple) if failing to do so would result in a disposition that no reasonable person could approve.

No reasonable Catholic would interpret the Te Igitur as intentionally uniting the Mass and those assisting it with a heretic and/or antipope, because the paragraph is specifically limited to Catholics. In other words, the sedevecantist position on the una cum violates the absurdity doctrine.

That’s my contextual analysis. Take it or leave it. It’s not worth much more than the paper I wrote it on, and I didn’t use any paper.

One last thing – from what I understand, the Te Igitur used to include the name of the local monarch, along with the pope and local bishop.

I don’t suppose anybody will claim that all those Masses were united with the various errors of the Kings and Queens who ruled us, over the centuries. But, as in all of these things, I’m sure there is somebody out there who sounds smarter and more passionate than I, who will tell me why that is irrelevant.

Please, if you’re going to argue with me or condemn me, understand before you bother that I don’t care whether you agree or not. You’re absolutely free to interpret any such matter more strictly than I, and perhaps even grow in virtue because of it.

As in all things, I submit to Holy Mother Church. Hopefully, Our Lord will see fit to end the eclipse of Her teaching authority, very soon.

23 thoughts on “On The Una Cum

  1. “Edit (continued): In addition, here’s a very well-regarded priest who obtained a doctorate in theology prior to Vatican II who wrote a letter excoriating Bishop Sanborn over the topic:”
    That was addressed to Bp. Dolan, not Bp. Sanborn

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am not at all qualified to respond to your thoughts on the una cum Mass and I really have no idea whether you are right or wrong on this matter. My first sense was that this complicated explanation reminded me of some of the tricky questions the legalistic Pharisees would pose to Jesus. My reason for leaving the Novus Ordo was super simple… I was disturbed by the mention of Bergoglio’s name at the point in the Mass where Jesus was present on the Altar. I left the New Mass for the SSPX where (for a short while) I felt undisturbed because I could not hear his name invoked, until someone pointed out to me that their Masses were (albeit silently) in union with a manifest heretic. Simple as that…. I needed to find a non-una cum Mass. No canon lawyer needed to parse this simple sense of the faith out for me. Regular folks don’t have the chops to do the deeper research that you have a gift for, but that doesn’t mean that that Truth is difficult to discern. His very name invoked at the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass causes scandal and often therefore leads unsuspecting souls to believe that their invalid marriage is perfectly legit. Simple as that.

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    1. Every single explanation in the blog post is very simple. The fact that there are a great many straightforward arguments against your position that cause the blog post to be long does not make it complicated, nor does it turn it into “tricky questions the legalistic Pharisees would pose to Jesus.” That’s the very sort of pharisaical double speak soliciting fear and guilt that too many sedevecantists fall into … but it’s a great way to develop a cultish following. “Come to my Mass or you’ll go to hell, because yours is evil.”

      It’s interesting how some sedes have dogmatized this issue, thereby making their chosen bishop pope, all while emphatically rejecting other sede’s positions on the topic – including a bishop, and including a sede priest who is the only actual theologian to be approved and educated prior Vatican II.

      Not even the people dogmatizing the issue held this position until sometime in the 80s. So their claim is that every Mass from Vatican II until “sometime in the 80s” was evil. Even Fr. Desposito backs off his claims at this point in the conversation.

      In the event that you are actually open to reasoned analysis by other sedevecantists that is contrary to your emotional position, here are two:

      Bishop Pivarunas’ well-reasoned analysis: https://www.materdeiseminary.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Thoughts-on-the-Una-Cum-Issue-by-Bp.-Pivarunas-CMRI.pdf

      Fr. Stepanich: Pre Vatican II theologian who wrote a letter excoriating Bishop Sanborn over the topic: http://traditionalcatholicsermons.org/STEPANICH.pdf.

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  3. Thank you. I now understand what is meant when you reference this topic. Your knowledge and opinion on these matters is valuable to me; so I thank you for your thorough and timely response. I will take all of this information and ask Our Lady to help me ponder in my heart and guide me. I am not sure where I stand on all of this, but I am certain that She will not lead me astray. Please pray for me and I will continue to pray for you.

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    1. There’s certainly no harm in interpreting this issue stricter than I, unless it causes one to be prideful and/or unjustly to condemn others who disagree.

      That sort of scandal and calumny is something I’d fear more than the una cum issue.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Not at all, Erin. I apologize if it came off as defensive, and I absolutely wasn’t directing that at you. In fact, I can’t imagine you doing that even if you disagreed with me strongly.

          As you know, I’m not a passive aggressive guy.

          Liked by 1 person

                1. You’re welcome. I think it’s fascinating how this issue suddenly manifested itself through Fr. Cekada, and Bishops Sanborn and Dolan, and now they treat their opinions as dogmatic fact.

                  It’s a very effective recruiting mechanism – telling everybody they’re going to go hell if they don’t come to your Mass.

                  Liked by 1 person

                    1. Because I know these men are validly consecrated bishops who are almost always trustworthy on faith and morals (except with voting, the vaccine, and the una cum), I’m choosing to show restraint and respect.

                      It can be difficult.

                      Liked by 1 person

  4. I cannot thank you enough for this, and I give thanks to Our Lord even more – it is a question that has plagued me for some time given how much our local SSPX Clergy have been instrumental in our conversion to the Faith. I understand it’s your humble opinion, but it’s an answer to prayer for some of us!

    Do you know where I may be able to find more information about the changes in Episcopal Consecration please? We also know a holy traditional Benedictine Priest (who only celebrates the TLM) and am unsure about how to discern regarding the validity of Sacraments.

    Sincerest thanks Michael, God Bless

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Whew! 😳. Well I can see now that this is going to take me 2 or 3 more times reading this before I can even begin to comment:) Really substantive article. Enjoyed it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Like 5000, I’ve never heard of those canons, so I found it to be both an enjoyable and informative read.
    As a sede, and despite any previous provocative questioning, I have never been decided on the una cum. I also know of far more learned sedes than I who attend SSPX mass and say the una cum is not an issue at all.

    I agree that the text cannot be read to imply it has any intention to unify the mass with heretics.
    Although you say the text can also not be bent to imply it, I think the question for me was never about the intent of the text, but it is the intent of a properly ordained Priest knowingly naming a heretic as Pope, which is a lie.

    Has the Priest committed a sin? I am not his judge.
    If it were a sin, would a layman share in this sin if he knew the mass was offered intentionally with a man he knew to be a heretic? I do not know.

    However, as we cannot hear who the Priest names, I would say we have no culpability.

    Despite this, the situation my mind keeps returning to is if I were to go to an SSPX mass with a Priest I do not know, then due to the position of the SSPX, I think it is possible the Priest may name Bergoglio, but I do not know for certain either way.

    Therefore I would still have no culpability, but I would think it prudent to discuss it with the Priest before attending mass to settle my mind.
    Not to spring any gotcha questions, but I’d like to see what he thinks about the last 6 decades etc to know where I stand with him.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I really liked reading this post, so thank you. I’d never heard of those canons before. A reasoned, objective analysis is hard to come by these days!

    Liked by 1 person

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