"Una Cum" and the Pied Piper
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Introduction

A friend of mine recently told me he preferred to stay “home alone” rather than attend a Mass where the priest prays “una cum” pope Francis, whom he considers to be a heretic. This is how he explained it to me :

The Te Igitur seems to contain a public solemn vow before the throne of Almighty God stating that each person partaking in it is united to Francis.

I cannot in conscience attend his Mass or any Mass in which the priest speaking for himself and all present makes a vow (sacramentum) that he prays in union with (‘una cum’) Francis.

I would be making a lie, perjuring myself in the holiest place on earth, as well as declaring myself at one with (una cum) the beliefs of Francis.

So I would like to offer here a few arguments against what I believe is an erroneous interpretation of the una cum in the Te Igitur prayer in the Canon of the Mass and which I believe is ultimately yet another snare of the devil to keep Catholics away from the Sacraments.

Correct Translation

This is how Dom Guillou, a famous traditionalist benedictine monk and friend of Archbishop Lefebvre, translates the Te Igitur:

We therefore pray Thee with profound humility, most merciful Father, and we beseech Thee, through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Our Lord, to accept and to bless these gifts, these presents, these sacrifices, pure and without blemish, which we offer Thee firstly for Thy Holy Catholic Church. May it please Thee to give Her peace, to keep Her, to maintain Her in unity, and to govern Her throughout the earth, and with Her, Thy servant our Holy Father the Pope. 1

For those people who prefer to go back well before Vatican II, this is how in the 1937 Fr. Lasance Missal 2 the Te Igitur is translated:

Wherefore, we humbly pray and beseech Thee, most merciful Father, through Jesus Christ Thy Son, Our Lord, to receive 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 guard, unite, and guide her, throughout the world; as also for Thy servant N., our Pope, and N., our Bishop, and for all who are orthodox in belief and who profess the Catholic and apostolic faith.

From these translations it is already quite clear that “these gifts, presents, sacrifices” are offered up for the Church, for her hierarchy (pope and bishop) and for her faithful. And it is equally clear that therefore the “una cum” is not a “public solemn vow before God” declaring us “at one with the beliefs” of the ones we are praying for.

What Theologians Say

In “The Mass: A Study Of The Roman Liturgy” by Fr. Adrian Fortescue, published in 1922, we read:

The Intercession (from “in primis”), now spread throughout the Canon, begins by praying for the Church, Pope, bishop and the faithful. Mediaeval missals have: “et rege nostro N.” after the bishop. This was omitted in 1570, but certain Catholic countries still keep the custom of praying for the sovereign here. Before the XIth century the local bishop was often not mentioned. In the middle ages the celebrant added a prayer for himself. The commonest form was: “ Mihi quoque indignissimo famulo tuo propitius esse digneris, et ab omnibus me peccatorum offensionibus emundare.” The word “orthodoxi” is rare in the West. This prayer has striking parallels with the Intercession of the Antiochene rite. 3

In “A history of the mass and its ceremonies in the Eastern and Western church” by John O’Brien, published in 1879, we find this explaination of the Te Igitur prayer:

In the first prayer of the Canon the priest prays for the Universal Church at large, and for its visible head upon earth, the Supreme Pontiff, by name; then for the bishop of the diocese in which he is celebrating; and, finally, for all the orthodox upholders of the Catholic Faith. .. When a bishop himself says Mass, instead of saying, “and our bishop, N.,” he says, “and I, thy unworthy servant,” without expressing his name. When the Holy Father celebrates he says, “I, thy unworthy servant, whom thou hast wished should preside over thy flock.” If the Mass be celebrated at Rome no bishop’s name is mentioned after the Pope’s, for there is no other bishop of Rome but the Holy Father himself. 4

Monsignor Pohle in his Dogmatic Treatise on The Sacraments, Volume II says about the canon of the Mass :

For this reason, they say, the Church prays for the Pope, the Ordinary of the diocese, and the faithful generally in the Canon of every Mass, regardless of whether or not the celebrant has received a stipend compelling him to apply its special fruits to some particular person or intention. 5

In the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia we read about the Canon of the Mass that:

The priest prays first for the Church, then for the pope and diocesan ordinary by name. 6

From this it is obvious that in the Te Igitur we pray for the Church, for her hierarchy (pope and bishop) and for her faithful.

When the Pope Says Mass

Consider that when the Pope himself is saying Mass, he omits the words “una cum famulo tuo Papa nostro N. et Antistite nostro N.” and instead uses these words: “Et me indigno servo tuo”. It is rather obvious that in this case the pope is not praying in union with himself, but rather for himself. Those who claim that una cum must be understood as meaning in union with would have a real problem translating this sentence as “which we offer up.. for Thy holy Catholic Church… in union with myself your unworthy servant..” That simply does not make sense. No one prays in union with himself, but it is quite normal to pray for oneself !

Again, when the pope prays the Te Igitur, he does not pray in union with himeself but for himself, just as every other priests prays for the Church, for her hierarchy (pope and bishop) and for her faithful.

Using Logic

At the start of the Canon of the Mass, there is also a certain logic, a hierarchy of priorities to pray for. First in the Te Igitur we pray for the Church, then for the pope, then for the local bishop, then for all orthodox faithful and finally in the Memento we also pray for all those “whose faith and devotion are know to God only”, and for who this Mass is offered explicitly.

It would make no sense to pray for this whole list of intentions, ordered from most to least important, except for the one item in the middle of that list, the pope, claiming that we don’t pray for him, but simply declare to be in union with him. That defies logic and good order.

History

From the earliest days of the Church the Canon of the Mass included a prayer for the Church, the pope, the bishop and the faithful. At times it also included the emperor in this list. Fr. Adrian Fortsecue explains :

The Intercession (from “in primis), now spread throughout the Canon, begins by praying for the Church, Pope, bishop and the faithful. Mediaeval missals have: “et rege nostro N.**” after the bishop. This was omitted in 1570, but certain Catholic countries still keep the custom of praying for the sovereign here.

It would make no sense to claim that Catholics used to declare in the Canon of the Mass that they were in union with their secular emperor. Rather, they simply included him in the list of intentions to pray for.

Fourth Council of Constantinople

In the fourth council of Constantinople, this idea of private judgement and refusing communion with one’s patriarch based on a private judgement is clearly and directly condemned as a schimatic act. Omitting the name of the pope (patriarch of Rome) during the Mass (divine mysteries or offices) is explicitly condemned:

As divine scripture clearly proclaims, Do not find fault before you investigate, and understand first and then find fault, and does our law judge a person without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?. Consequently this holy and universal synod justly and fittingly declares and lays down that no lay person or monk or cleric should separate himself from communion with his own patriarch before a careful enquiry and judgment in synod, even if he alleges that he knows of some crime perpetrated by his patriarch, and he must not refuse to include his patriarch’s name during the divine mysteries or offices.

In the same way we command that bishops and priests who are in distant dioceses and regions should behave similarly towards their own metropolitans, and metropolitans should do the same with regard to their own patriarchs. If anyone shall be found defying this holy synod, he is to be debarred from all priestly functions and status if he is a bishop or cleric; if a monk or lay person, he must be excluded from all communion and meetings of the church until he is converted by repentance and reconciled. 7

The Church does not allow us to use private judgment to separate ourselves from our legitimate patriarch, and explicitly teaches us that we must not refuse to include his name during the divine mysteries or offices.

Pope Benedict XIV

Pope Benedict XIV in his encyclical Ex Quo, explains that:

But however it may be with this disputed point of ecclesiastical learning, it suffices Us to be able to state that a commemoration of the supreme pontiff and prayers offered for him during the sacrifice of the Mass is considered, and really is, an affirmative indication which recognizes him as the head of the Church, the vicar of Christ, and the successor of blessed Peter, and is the profession of a mind and will which firmly espouses Catholic unity. This was rightly noticed by Christianus Lupus in his work on the Councils: “This commemoration is the chief and most glorious form of communion” (tome 4, p. 422, Brussels edition). This view is not merely approved by the authority of Ivo of Flaviniaca who writes: “Whosoever does not pronounce the name of the Apostolic one in the canon for whatever reason should realize that he is separated from the communion of the whole world” (Chronicle, p. 228); or by the authority of the famous Alcuin: “It is generally agreed that those who do not for any reason recall the memory of the Apostolic pontiff in the course of the sacred mysteries according to custom are, as the blessed Pelagius teaches, separated from the communion of the entire world” (de Divinis Officiis, bk. 1, chap. 12). 8

Praying for a Heretic in the Canon of the Mass

I hope this will suffice to prove that “una cum famulo tuo Papa nostro” in the Canon of the Mass simply means that we pray for the pope, and that it certainly is not “a vow” or “a declaration of us being in union with all his beliefs”.

So what then about the argument that a Catholic is not allowed to publicly pray for a heretic, at least not in the Canon of the Mass ? Does that argument apply to our situation ?

Keeping in mind that a Catholic is not allowed to receive communion from a heretic either, let us listen to what St. Thomas Aquinas has to say on this issue:

Still there is a difference among the above, because heretics, schismatics, and excommunicates, have been forbidden, by the Church’s sentence, to perform the Eucharistic rite. And therefore whoever hears their mass or receives the sacraments from them, commits sin. But not all who are sinners are debarred by the Church’s sentence from using this power: and so, although suspended by the Divine sentence, yet they are not suspended in regard to others by any ecclesiastical sentence: consequently, until the Church’s sentence is pronounced, it is lawful to receive Communion at their hands, and to hear their mass.​

We see that St. Thomas makes a clear distinction between the Divine sentence and the ecclesiastical sentence, and that since God does not publish his Divine sentences on a public noticeboard, we mortal humans have to rely on the Church’s judgement and her ecclesiastical sentences to guide our judgments and actions. Just as we must still treat a person whom we suspect of heresy as a Catholic in good standing when attending Mass and receiving communion, unless and until the Church’s sentence is pronounced, so we must also treat a pope whom we suspect of heresy as a valid pope, unless and until the Church’s sentence is pronounced.

Those who think their own private judgment is sufficient to regard the pope as a heretic and to refuse to pray for him in the Canon of the Mass, should be consistent and refuse to attend the Mass of anyone they privately consider a heretic. And in doing so they are in direct contradiction to St. Thomas Aquinas.

Conclusion

The argument that a Catholic should not mention the name of a pope during the canon of the Mass if he privately suspects the pope to be in error or even suspect of heresy, is based upon an erroneous understanding of the Te Igitur prayer in the Canon of the Mass, and upon the erroneous reasoning of sedevacantists who claim that private judgement is sufficient for us to recognize a heretic and to then put this private judgment on the same level as an ecclesiastical sentence.

And when Catholic faithful refuse to attend the Sacraments from a priest who does not think and act as rashly as they do, and who still prays for a bad pope in the Canon of the Mass, they are simply following the pied piper of sedevacantism, whether they like to admit it or not. And more often than not it leads them completely away from the Sacraments, in order to stay “home alone”. The devil himself could not ask for more!