The Holy Office on Worship with
Non-Catholics from 1622 to 1939
by Craig Allan –
Following such historical catalysts as the
persistent Great Schism of 1054, the Protestant Revolt, and
the Age of Exploration, there was begun by the Catholic
Church a vast missionary activity throughout the world that
had not been seen since the days of St. Patrick, St.
Augustine of Canterbury and St. Boniface. Bishops and
priests confronted an array of pastoral and moral situations
for which they sought guidance from the Holy See. The Holy
Office throughout this period preserved the original queries
and the subsequent responses carefully crafted by its
theologians and approved by the Roman Pontiffs. These
collections became the standard references indicating the
Church's sharpened self-understanding vis-à-vis her
relationship with the non-Catholic parts of the globe. They
shred the credibility of the oft-quoted mantra that "nothing
has changed" in the modern Church.
The Holy Office, also known as the Roman
Inquisition (Romana Inquisitio), was a congregation in the
Roman curia "dating from Innocent III (1194-1216), although
some authorities attribute its establishment to Lucius III
(1181-85). In the beginning of the thirteenth century
Innocent III established at Rome an inquisitorial tribunal
against the Albigensians and other innovators of the south
of France. From its first title of Romana Inquisitio
was derived the usage of calling this body the Congregation
of the Holy Roman Universal Inquisition.... Later it had the
official title Suprema Congregatio Sanctæ Romanæ et
Universalis Inquisitionis. Pius X in his recent Constitution
calls it, simply, Congregatio S. Officii."1 Under the
pontificate of Paul VI, the name of the congregation was
changed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.2
The essential function of this office from its inception was
to address and authoritatively judge matters pertaining to
faith and morals. During the period of 1622 to 1939,
questions regarding worship with non-Catholics were
addressed to the Holy Office. The response of the Holy
Office to the questions throughout the nearly three
centuries which constitute this period is without exception
consistent, giving one a grasp of the mens ecclesiae ("the
mind of the Church"). This article will restrict
itself to the Holy Office itself, not including statements
from popes or other dicasteries on the issue during the
period. The purpose of this article, therefore, is to
provide an understanding of the Holy Office's teaching on
worship with non-Catholics during a specific historical
period which ended just twenty years before the summoning of
the Second Vatican Council by Pope John XXIII.
I. Participation in Heretical and
Schismatic Worship in General
In order to adequately address this topic,
we must first consider the question of engaging in
schismatic and heretical worship in general. We can
then consider questions of participation in schismatic and
heretical worship in particular. The discussion of
participation in schismatic and heretical worship is rather
detailed in the documents of the Holy Office from the period
of the seventeenth century onwards. The Holy Office
addresses schismatic and heretical worship by the term of
communicatio in divinis, which later is changed into the
phrase communicatio in sacris. The terms historically
meant that those who worship together communicate in divine
things, hence communicatio in divinis or in sacred things,
whence communicatio in sacris. As for communicatio in
divinis with schismatics and heretics, the Holy Office
states that it is "constantly and uniformly forbidden."3
The Holy Office was principally dealing with
questions sent by those working in mission territories where
there may not be Catholic priests or where the non-Catholics
tended to dominate demographically. Yet, the Holy
Office declared that even if one cannot find a Catholic
priest, one cannot participate in schismatic worship,4 even
if it is a Catholic rite.5 Here the question, as far
as the Holy Office was concerned, is not whether the worship
is Catholic, but whether one can join with schismatics or
not. Historically there have been occasions where
Catholics find themselves in locations where there was no
Catholic priest, but the schismatics who were present
offered the same ritual as was offered by the Greek
Catholics and now today by the Roman Catholics. The
Holy Office went on to say that Greek Rite Catholics, when
they do not have their own church, cannot go to the Greek
rites said by heretics and schismatics, but they should go
to the Latin rite.6 Therefore, if the rite to which a
Catholic belongs is not offered in his area, he is to assist
at a different rite said by a Catholic priest. If
there is no Catholic Mass available [a Catholic rite said by
a Catholic priest], one is not held to the precept of
hearing Holy Mass. One cannot attend a non-Catholic
Mass.7 In connection to this discussion, the Holy Office
stated that Catholics were forbidden to approach schismatic
churches, when there is no Catholic Mass, in order to hear
Mass, even if there is nothing contrary to the Faith.8 When
there is no Catholic priest available, they are not held to
the precept of hearing Mass. In relation to Greek
Catholics, the Holy Office was wont to observe that they
should attend a Latin rite church, if available, and the
same would apply to Latins. This would follow since
Catholics must avoid all communicatio in sacris with
schismatics and heretics.9 Catholics were forbidden to give
alms at a Mass offered by a schismatic priest,10 presumably
since this would be a form of support of false worship and
confirming the schismatic priest in his error by financial
Furthermore, one cannot participate in
schismatic prayer, even if there is nothing contrary to the
Faith.11 Again, the Holy Office said that it is not so
much a matter of whether the prayer contains anything
objectionable to the Faith, but the very fact that one
participates with schismatics. For this reason the
Holy Office said that by participating [in schismatic and
heretical worship], Catholics give exterior signs of
segregation [from] and disapproval12 [of the Catholic
Church] by unifying themselves with those who disapprove or
segregate themselves from the Catholic Church, since
participation in liturgical actions constitutes a sign of
unity.13 By coming together with them in unity
of prayer, in unity of cult, in unity of veneration and
worship, one does so with perverse14 schismatic and
heretical ministers.15 In effect, the Holy Office was
saying that it is by the very coming together with those who
reject the Faith and joining one's prayer and worship to
them that one is participating in worship which is done by
those who reject the Catholic Church. To participate
with those who reject the faith is therefore forbidden.
With heretics, there are errors pertaining
to matters of the Faith,16 and given the aforementioned
considerations regarding schismatic worship, the Holy Office
stated that participation in schismatic and heretical
worship is forbidden for the following reasons. First,
there is a danger of perversion of the Catholic Faith,17
i.e. there is a danger of the loss of Catholic Faith.
This indicates the implicit obligation to protect one's
faith. Second, there is the very danger of
participating in a heretical or schismatic rite,18 for the
above mentioned reasons, i.e. the very participation
manifests a sign of disunity from the Church by being united
in worship with those not united to the Church. Third,
participation in heretical or schismatic worship is a danger
and occasion of scandal.19 By scandal, we presume the Holy
Office meant that participation in schismatic and heretical
worship can affect the Faith of others who see Catholics
involved in such worship. Fourth, in schismatic
churches there is the commemoration of some schismatics who
are venerated as holy; there are images, cult of relics or
feasts that are celebrated of those who died in schism as
well as the commemoration of living patriarchs or schismatic
bishops and heretics.20 Fifth, by participating in their
worship, one confirms schismatics and heretics in their
The Holy Office therefore observed that the
Council of Carthage forbade praying and singing (psallendum)
with heretics.22 The Supreme Congregation stated that
participation in schismatic and heretic worship is
"universally prohibited by natural and divine law...[from
which] no one has the power to dispense ...[and with respect
to this participation] nothing excuses."23 Those who so
participate must seek absolution in the sacrament of
II. Participation in Heretical and
Schismatic Worship in Particular
Having forbidden participation in
non-Catholic worship in general, the Holy Office likewise
answered questions about the application of this prohibition
in a variety of different circumstances. The first category
of circumstances is Catholics participating or attending
schismatic and heretical worship and/or churches. The
second category of circumstances is with respect to
non-Catholics joining in Catholic prayer, worship or the
reception of sacraments from Catholic priests.
As to the first category, the Holy Office
addressed the question about whether Catholics can receive
sacraments from non-Catholics. It said that Catholics may do
so provided the following conditions are in place.25 The
first is that there must be grave and urgent cause.26
Second, it must be administered by a validly ordained
non-Catholic priest who administers the sacrament by a
Catholic rite without any mixing of the condemned rite (ritus
damnati).27 Third, by the communicatio in divinis,
there must be no external professing (protestatio) of false
dogma. Fourth, it must not cause scandal. While
this pertains to the reception of sacraments for a grave and
urgent cause, for those occasions which are outside of those
conditions, it is forbidden. Hence, the Holy Office
forbade Catholics to go to the funeral of non-Catholics,
except from a causa civilis,28 i.e. from a civil cause.
By this, it appears we are to understand that only those who
hold a civil office or a position of prominence within a
civic community could go to the funeral of a non-Catholic.
However, those who attend a funeral for a civil cause may do
so only if their presence is material,29 when there is no
harm to the Catholics30 and when they do not participate in
the rites or ceremonies.31 This means that Catholics
at non-Catholic funerals cannot be pallbearers in a
procession to or within the heretical church.32
However, they can accompany the body to the cemetery but
must be separate from the non-Catholics.33 Catholics
were forbidden to carry candles in the funeral procession of
schismatics,34 presumably since this would be a form of
communicatio in divinis.
When schismatics have a procession of the
Blessed Sacrament, Catholics are to adore the Blessed
Sacrament as it passes, however, they cannot associate with
the schismatics.35 This would seem to indicate that
Catholics should kneel or perform some other form of
reverence while not participating in the actual procession
itself (i.e. walking in the procession), nor engaging in the
singing in conjunction with the procession. A Catholic
bishop is forbidden to go to a schismatic Greek church to
chant the doxology.36 Catholic priests are entirely
forbidden to offer Holy Mass in the private houses of and in
places frequented by schismatics and heretics.37
Catholics were forbidden to be godparents at
the Baptisms of schismatics and heretics.38 It is not
licit to receive the nuptial blessing from a non-Catholic
minister.39 We may surmise that this is due to the
fact that it is a form of communicatio in divinis with the
non-Catholic minister. As for Catholics going to the
marriages of Catholics being married outside of the Church,
the Holy Office says this is forbidden by virtue of law (regula).
However, it may be tolerated for a causa civilis,40 and
provided that, scandal being removed, there is no perversion
of the Faith or contempt for ecclesiastical authority.41
This meant that unless one had a civil cause, one was
forbidden to go to the wedding.
When approaching or entering a schismatic or
heretical church (building), the Holy Office had several
conditions. First, one can enter out of curiosity as
long as there is no communicatio in sacris with the
schismatics or heretics.42 The Holy Office says that
to go to a heretical temple as long as it is viewed as a
profane edifice is an indifferent moral act,43 i.e. it is in
itself neither morally good or morally bad, but is rendered
bad based upon a depraved end (motive) and circumstances.44
It appears that the Holy Office said that the heretical
church is to be viewed as a "profane edifice" precisely
because it is not holy in the sense of having been made holy
or sacred by a due rite of the Catholic Church.
Entering a schismatic or heretical church is materially
sinful if: (1) one has the intention of assisting at a
sacred function of heretics, (2) one goes and it is seen or
seems to appear to be a communicatio in divinis with
heretics and thus an occasion of scandal, (3) such going
proceeds from an indication given by a heretical governor
(civil magistrate) as a protestation of the Faith or
religion of Catholics, (4) one wills a token union of
Catholics and non-Catholics, i.e. as a sign of unity of
Catholics and non-Catholics.45 This also meant that
Catholics could not go to a schismatic church and pray
privately during the services of non-Catholics, even to
avoid persecution.46 However, a Catholic may enter a
schismatic church, pray before the images and the Blessed
Sacrament, provided there is no scandal and no joining in
the prayers with the schismatics.47
Catholics cannot contribute to the building
of heretical churches.48 However, one could help to
build the "sacred" building of heretics provided that (1) it
is not viewed as a positive approbation of the false
religion, (2) it does not have anything which directly and
per se expresses something contrary to the Catholic cult and
expresses approbation of the condemned (damnati) cults of
heretics and (3) that those building the heretical church
are warned not to cooperate in the heretical cult.49
Catholics were forbidden to play the organ in heretical
churches.50 Catholics were forbidden to swear on and
kiss an heretical bible.51
As for non-Catholics coming and
participating in Catholic worship or receiving sacraments
from Catholic priests, the Holy Office made several
statements and observations. As to the reception of
the sacraments by Greek schismatics, the Holy Office appears
to restrict Catholic priests to administering only the
sacrament of penance and only in the "case of extreme
necessity."52 Presumably the operative principle is
salus animarum suprema lex est (salvation of souls is the
In Catholic funerals, schismatic priests are
not to be tolerated, except, perhaps, if they offer a purely
material presence (passive presence, i.e. they do not
participate in the worship) and a civil ministry.53
Non-Catholics are to be tolerated at Catholic worship
provided they offer a mere material presence for the purpose
of civil honor to the dead and they do not mix in with the
prayers and rites of Catholics.54 Moreover, heretics
cannot sing in our churches nor serve at the altar at
Mass.55 Protestants can come to Catholic Baptisms but
they cannot participate (communicatio in sacris)56 and
non-Catholics can be tolerated at Catholic weddings provided
they do not participate (communicatio in sacris) and there
is no scandal.57 The Holy Office also stated that
Catholic missionaries are forbidden under pain of suspensio
a divinis ipso facto58 to invite schismatic government
officials, offer them blessed water when they enter and to
exhibit any kind of honor, when some feast is celebrated.59
On a different note, the Holy Office observes that if there
is no Catholic to play the organ, if the scandal is remote,
a non-Catholic could play the organ.60
The Supreme Congregation stated that, on the
Epiphany, it may be tolerated that Catholic priests with
fear of coercion from schismatics may bless their houses,
but not in any way so as to seem to communicate with them in
prayer.61 Lastly, Catholic priests may exorcize Turks
(Moslems) but the Turks must be educated and persuaded about
the authority of the Church to minister in this way, which
was given by Christ, without the priests giving any false
idea that it comes from human science or art.62
To summarize, we may recall that the Holy
Office said that it is not so much a matter of whether
schismatic worship contains anything objectionable to the
Faith; rather, the problem is the very participation in
worship with schismatics. By participating in
schismatic and heretical worship, one is giving exterior
signs of segregation and disapproval. Any participation in
liturgical actions would constitute a sign of unity with
those who are not in union with the Church. By coming
together with them in unity of prayer, in unity of cult, in
unity of veneration and worship, Catholics would offer
worship with perverse schismatic and heretical ministers.
In effect, the Holy Office said that it is by the very
coming together with them and joining one's prayer and
worship to theirs that one is participating in worship of
those who reject the Catholic Church. To participate
with those who reject the Faith was therefore forbidden,
since there is a danger of perversion and loss of the
Catholic faith. There is the very danger of
participating in a heretical or schismatic rite, since the
participation manifests a sign of disunity from the Church.
Participation in heretical or schismatic worship is an
occasion of scandal and by participating in their worship,
one confirms schismatics and heretics in their errors.
The Holy Office therefore observed that the Council of
Carthage forbade praying and singing with heretics and that
participation in schismatic and heretic worship is
"universally prohibited by natural and divine law...[about
which] no one has the power to dispense...[and with respect
to this participation] nothing excuses."
Craig Allan is a nom de plume
for a professor who has earned a doctoral degree from a
pontifical university. He is presently teaching at the
graduate level in the United States.
1. Catholic Encyclopedia (The
Gilmary Society, New York, 1913-1958), vol. XIII, p. 137.
2. See James-Charles Noonan,
The Church Visible: The Ceremonial Life and Protocol of the
Roman Catholic Church (Amaranth, Brooklyn, New York, 1996),
3. Collectanea S.
Congregationis de Propaganda Fidei seu Decreta Instructiones
Rescripta pro Apostolicis Missionibus (Ex Typographia
Polyglotta, Roma, 1907), vol. I, p. 99, n. 311 (1729) and
Col., vol. I, p. 293, n. 455 (1764). Henceforth, the
Collectanea will be referred to as: Col., volume, page,
4. Col., vol. I, p. 91, n. 267
5. Col., vol. I, p. 91, n. 267
6. Col., vol. I, p. 231, n.
389, ad 2 (1753).
7. Col., vol. I, p. 54, n. 171
8. Col., vol. I, p. 54, n. 171
(1668) and Col., vol. I, p. 91, n. 267, 1 (1704).
9. See Col., vol. II, p. 233,
n. 1696, 7 (1888).
10. Col., vol. I, p. 371, n.
600, 2 (1789).
11. Col., vol. I, p. 91, n.
12. Col., vol. I, p. 100, n.
13. Col., vol. I, p. 642, n.
14. Here, the term perverse
does not necessarily refer to the Sixth and Ninth
Commandments as it tends to in modern English parlance.
Rather, it is a broader nomination.
15. Col., vol. I, p. 100, n.
16. Col., vol. I, p. 100, n.
17. Col., vol. I, p. 99, n.
311 (1729) and Col., vol. I, p. 642, n. 1176 (1859).
The CIC/17 (can. 2316) observes that those who participate
in schismatic and heretical worship are suspect of heresy.
18. Col., vol. I, p. 99, n.
19. Ibid.; Col., vol. I, p.
231, n. 389 (1753) and Col., vol. I, p. 642, n. 1176 (1859).
20. Col., vol. I, p. 100, n.
22. Col., vol. I, p. 642, n.
23. Col., vol. I, p. 100, n.
25. These conditions are taken
from Col., vol. I, p. 231, n. 389 (1753) and Col., vol. I,
p. 692, 1257, 6 (1864).
26. It would appear than an
example of this would be the danger of a Catholic dying in
the state of mortal sin.
27. A ritus damnati would be a
rite of the non-Catholic priest which has been condemned or
which contains heresy or false worship.
28. Col., vol. I, p. 428, n.
727 (1818) and Col., vol. II, p. 411, n. 1362, 2 (1871).
See also Col., vol. I, p. 519, n. 921, 2 (1841).
29. By material presence is
meant that it is not formal, i.e. they are not voluntarily
and actively joining in the actual rites of the funeral.
30. Normally, this is
understood in the sense that, by going to the funerals of
heretics, there must be no danger to the Catholic's faith.
31. Col., vol. I, p. 428, n.
32. Col., vol. I, p. 180, n.
354 (1751) and Col., vol. I, p. 217, n. 379 (1751).
33. Col., vol. I, p. 217, n.
379 (1751). In some places, this translated into
accompanying the body to the cemetery but not actually
entering the non-Catholic cemetery.
34. Col., vol. I, p. 405, n.
672, 1 (1803) and ibid., p. 692, n. 1257, 1 (1864).
35. Col., vol. I, p. 294, n.
458 (1751) and ibid., p. 692, n. 1257, 5 (1864).
36. Col., vol. I, p. 519, n.
37. Col., vol. I, p. 230, n.
388, 1 and 2 (1753).
38. Col., vol. I, p. 371, n.
600, 1 (1789); Col., vol. I, p. 405, n. 672, 2 (1803) and
Col., vol. I, p. 692, n. 1257, 1 and 4 (1864).
39. Col., vol. I, p. 420, n.
40. See above on discussion of
funerals of non-Catholics.
41. Col., vol. II, p. 76, n.
1410, 1 (1874).
42. Col., vol. I, p. 428, n.
43. Col., vol. I, p. 428, n.
44. Col., vol. I, p. 428, n.
45. All four of these are
taken from Col., vol. I, p. 428, n. 727 (1818).
46. See Col., vol. I, p. 90,
n. 264 (1704).
47. Col., vol. I, p. 294, n.
458, 1 (1764).
48. Col., vol. I, p. 692, n.
1257, 8 (1864).
49. Col., vol. I, p. 692, n.
1257, 10 (1864).
50. Col., vol. II, p. 240, n.
51. Col., vol. I, p. 432, n.
739, ad 2 (1820).
52. Col., vol. I, p. 231, n.
389, ad 3 (1753).
53. Col., vol. I, p. 263, n.
411, ad 2 (1758).
54. Col., vol. I, p. 642, n.
55. Col., vol. I, p. 692, n.
56. Col., vol. I, p. 286, n.
57. Col., vol. II, p. 76, n.
1410, 1 (1874).
58. A suspensio a divinis ipso
facto is a canonical penalty in which a priest is stripped
of his faculties and his ability to exercise his priesthood.
A suspension is ipso facto when the priest is suspended by
performing the very act to which the suspension is attached
and not based upon a judgment of a superior.
59. Col., vol. I, p. 230, n.
388, 5 (1753).
60. Col., vol. I, p. 432, n.
739, 3 (1820).
61. Col., vol. I, p. 263, n.
411, ad 3 (1758).
62. Col., vol. I, p. 332, n.
537, 1 (1779).