The phrase Sede Vacante is Latin for the “Seat is Vacant.” It is used primarily to refer to the period of time between when a pope has died and his predecessor has been elected by the Conclave of Cardinals. In recent months I have come to learn about another use of the phrase, referring to a group distinguished as Sedevacantism. It is important to note that the group is not an offshoot of Roman Catholicism but refers to itself, priests, bishops, and laity as the True Roman Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council and Missal of Paul VI in the 1960s. They do not recognize the priests and bishops ordained in the New Rite, or Novus Ordo, of the post-Vatican II Council as true priests or popes. This is a blog that is pointed more towards other Catholics, I ask those reading to keep that in mind, and try not to take any direct insult from myself if one is perceived. I only am paraphrasing and quoting established Canon Law, doctrine, and dogma of the Catholic Faith.
Sede Vacante seal used in the time between a pope’s death and the election of predecessor.
The movement is distinguished by its beliefs that John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis are not true Roman Catholic popes, but instead are antipopes. Also, they are distinguished in their rejection of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) which was an “ecumenical” council in the 1960s, and their rejection of the Novus Ordo Mass (the Mass you will find in almost all churches today, said in the vernacular, on a table, and the priest facing the people) as an abomination of Catholic teaching and Sacred Tradition. Now you are wondering how Catholics could reject the popes whom we believe to be infallible in teaching by guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is important to also note that in the 2000 years of the Church’s history there have been 42 previous “antipopes” of the over 200 popes that have headed the Church. Rejecting a pope is no new phenomenon by any means. Similarly, councils have been convened at certain times that were later rejected due to their teaching of heresy contrary to the Catholic faith. So this idea that a council and current popes teach heresy is no new idea or event to happen in Catholic history.
But why do these groups of Catholics reject these recent popes and Vatican II? Well, that is a lot of information to which I will attach several links to, but I will highlight some main points here: The Roman Catholic Church has always taught that there is only one Church established by Christ, and that Church is the only way to Heaven and salvation through true practice of faith and good works, a dedication of the heart to the seven Sacraments, and a reverence in prayer. The Schism of 1054 with the Eastern Orthodox breaking away from Rome caused the first split in Christianity, over political reasons mostly. All of Eastern Orthodoxy was then considered to be excommunicated since they rejected the One True Church. With the Protestant Reformation’s many sects popping up all over Europe in the 1500s, none of them agreeing with others on any topic it seems, these people were considered automatically excommunicated as they made their own churches. It is also important to note that until recent times that Protestants were never referred to as Christians, but only as Protestants; protestors. The Church has never believed in ecumenism. Vatican II decreed that God does not exist only in the Catholic Church, but may subsist in it and dwell in Protestant churches as well. From a traditionalist Catholic point a view this raises a question that many atheists will tell you is the reason they believe there is no God. If there is One True God, then why would he create so many different denominations within Christianity (over 30,000 since the 1500s)? Wouldn’t God guide people all into one church/religion and one belief? The Catholic answer to this question since 1054, and especially after the Protestant Reformation, is that these other denominations/churches are works of Lucifer (do not get upset Protestant readers, I am simply stating a defined Catholic teaching that is centuries old). Ecumenism is a major heresy that has always been taught against until the 1960s in which almost anyone is now a follower of Christ even if they don’t agree with anyone else on things like baptism, the real presence in the Eucharist, how to worship, Sola Scriptura versus the Bible plus Sacred Tradition, salvation, predestination, the divinity of Christ himself, the state of Mary’s purity, roles of the Apostles, Church Fathers, what a priest is compared to a minister, etc. Thus, Sedevacantists reject this as one point wrong in the council that is only part of why it can be considered a false council. A number of other serious heresies were also endorsed by the council.
There have always been certain sins that the Church has believed to be heresy and automatic excommunication even if it is not publically decreed from the papacy. Even if the person was to continue to lead and be a part of the Church, if he committed and continued to practice knowingly what he was doing was heresy he was excommunicated in spirit without exception. Catholic teaching specifically says that even if the pope were to teach a known heresy, which he knows is heresy (it’s the pope, if he does something that is contrary to Catholic belief he has an army of theologians around him to say so), then he is outside the Church and no longer a true pope. He is no longer in authority. No longer a true pope even if he continues to hold the office, in spirit he is not pope, and thus has no authority and is no longer infallible. Specifically John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla) was a leading figure of the Second Vatican Council and as pope included dialogue with religions that rejected Christ as God altogether and taught a score of heresies contrary to Catholic tradition; especially on ecumenism . So even though these men held office they committed heresies that would put them outside the Church, and thus have no true spiritual authority. This is most prominent in the current “Pope” Francis (Jorge Bergoglio), who teaches a score of things contrary to Catholic belief. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AmV8-TDjwKo
“No one, therefore, unless in communion with Peter can share his authority, since it is absurd to imagine that he who is outside can command in the Church.” -Pope Leo XIII, Satis Cognitum (#15), June 29, 1896
The Mass is another thing that has changed in part due to Vatican II and then officially with Paul VI’s Missal of 1969. First off, many people know that the Catholic Mass use to be in Latin, the priest said Mass with an altar rail separating him from the people, facing the altar with his back to the congregation, and the Eucharist was only taken on the tongue from the faithful while kneeling, only the priest could distribute the Eucharist and no laity was allowed to touch it with their hands, and the Tabernacle (where the bread of the Eucharist is stored) was at the center of the church/altar. This was called the Tridentine Mass (or Roman Rite/Old Rite), codified and promulgated by Pope Pius V centuries ago. The Mass said today is known as the Novus Ordo Mass (New Rite), and is notable for several reasons in its contrast to the Tridentine Mass. The Novus Ordo is commonly done at a table instead of an altar, the “priest” faces the laity, almost everything is in the vernacular (which is not a bad thing specifically), the Eucharist is called “communion” more so and rarely taken on the tongue while kneeling but on the hand while standing. The people respond and speak with the “priest,” there are female altar severs (no I am not sexist), the Tabernacle is in many places to the side of the church and no longer in a centered place of honor, Eucharistic Ministers which are laity can touch and distribute the Blessed Sacrament, and it is rarely referred to as The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass anymore. There are very obvious differences from the Tridentine Mass and the Novus Ordo Mass, but why are these considered bad? A couple reasons actually can be mentioned now. As Catholics we believe that Christ is truly present in the bread and wine, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. So why is the Tabernacle no longer in the center of many “Catholic” churches today? The reformers of the Protestant Reformation who did not believe this on the Eucharist did something to symbolize that the Eucharist was just bread and wine and not Christ, they took it in the hand and referred to it as the Supper of the Lamb instead of the Sacrifice of the Mass. As Catholics we have always believed that the True presence of Christ in the Eucharist was so great that the priest tried as little to touch the host and wine once consecrated out of reverence, and the adherents received it on the tongue so that our sinful hands would not touch Christ, due to our unworthiness. “My God I am unworthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” The Sacrifice of the Mass comes from Revelations, it is the bloodless sacrifice and described by the Apostle John in Revelations. A priest by definition is someone who offers up a sacrifice of some kind. Many Protestant churches do not believe in a priesthood because of its role as the mediator to the people in offering up a bloodless sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. Women were never allowed to act as servers to the priest during the Mass because of that role being that of a man, or boy, in its relation to Christ being a man in his act of Sacrifice on the Cross. That is not to say the Church is anti-woman, after all our greatest saint is a woman (Mary, the Blessed Virgin). It is simply saying that the role of men is not to be more feminine, and the role of women is not to be more masculine. That, in a non-sexist way, men have certain roles, and women have certain roles in the Church (not referring to social roles, just religious roles in the Church). Saying Mass in Latin is an act of which helps keep the Church and Mass universal no matter where it is held in the world. Saying it in the vernacular is something that, if translated word for word and absolutely correctly, is not bad. But for Catholic readers you will remember a couple years ago when the words of the Mass had to be changed because their original English translations were wrong, since 1969, over 43 years of known mistranslations. Latin is a dead language which is why it is key to being universal in the Church missal. It doesn’t evolve like living languages, its words will remain the same in meaning. In the vernacular the meaning of words, and thus intentions change over time. http://www.pacifier.com/~belisle/moretreasures/altarboys.htm
Now what is the common thread of all these changes, they are the things Martin Luther and other Protestant reformers practiced and wanted of their worship. They are all distinctly Protestant traits, which if one is Catholic and they reject Catholic teaching and worship for Protestant teaching worship then how are they Catholic in any way but name? This is why Sedevacantists believe they are the True Roman Catholic Church, and without a pope of the pure Catholic Faith they work to return Rome to its beliefs prior to the 1960s. They do not believe in there not being a pope at all, but that the current popes with their expressed beliefs are not true Catholics and thus not true popes. For Protestants to hear of these changes in the Church it is probably a positive for them, but as Catholics it is a negative. It implies that the teachings of the Council of Trent, scores of popes, doctrines, dogmas, papal bulls, Sacred Tradition and the Mass have been wrong for centuries. Thus, to Catholics our Mass has been destroyed, our identity changed to Neo-Catholicism (Protestantism), and our beliefs completely reversed. We are not the same Church under that of Pius XII, Pope Saint Pius X, Pope Leo XIII, Saint Peter, Church Fathers like Ignatius of Antioch, and others.
Side note: Do not confuse Sedevacantists with Conclavists. Conclavists believe in a number of similar things in respect to the Catholic faith but elect their own “popes” in opposition to the “pope” in Rome.