Years ago, a heard an apologist give a piece of very sage advice. If you want to bring a certain class of people to knowledge of Christ, make friends with several and don’t try to convert them. Just listen to them. Hear their concerns. That’s one of the reasons I try to stay in conversation with all kinds of people, one of whom happens to be a follower of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX).
Now, the SSPX and its splinter groups are schismatics who refuse to recognize the authority of the Second Vatican Council and the Pope. Their priests and bishops are validly ordained, consequently all seven of their sacraments are valid. Sadly, none of them are licit.
Whenever I say this, people inevitably respond with, “And what, exactly, is the difference between being valid and being licit?” Instead of going into a long theological discussion, it is best to use an example.
When a man and a woman get married, they generally tend to have sex. Sexual relations between spouses is both valid and licit – it is valid because it is ordered towards the indivisible gifts of procreation and unity, it is licit because the relationship is consecrated and elevated by God to the status of a sacrament. Thus, God’s law and man’s law coincide – that is what it means to be licit.
Now, if these same two people had sex without benefit of marriage, they would be involved in a valid expression of sexuality – the union could still produce a child, at least on a theoretical level – but their union would not be licit. God may bless them with a child despite the fact that they refuse to allow His authority in their lives, but their actions are not in conformance with the level of obedience God desires from each of us. They have valid but illicit sex.
What of invalid and illicit sex? The best example of that is homosexual sex. It is invalid because it is simply not ordered to procreation or unity. It is illicit because that sexual act between those two people can never be elevated to a level of obedience to God. Fornicators, and to a lesser degree adulterers, can make their actions both valid and licit by obeying the laws of God's Church and allowing Him to sanctify their relationship, but homosexual sex can never be either.
You may think it an enormous leap to jump from liturgy and sacraments to sex, but it isn’t. The Mass is the Wedding Feast, where Eucharist, the Flesh of the Bridegroom, enters the flesh of the Bride. As the Holy Father tells us, sex is meant to be a foreshadowing, a dim way of imaging, the enormous love God pours out to us in the liturgy. When properly done, “sex is, in a certain sense, liturgical.” It is precisely our failure to make this connection that causes us so much problem in discussing our Catholic Faith.
The orientation that worship has matters. We can worship God incorrectly or we can worship God correctly or we can worship demons. It is incorrect to say that those who worship God incorrectly are at the same level as those who worship demons – after all, though certain fundamentalist sects call the Catholic Church “The Whore of Babylon”, still, I have a fellowship with them that I simply don’t share with followers of Wicca. My Wiccan friend is very nice, loves her pagan form of worship and certainly doesn’t believe she is doing anything satanic, but she is also certainly not my separated brother in the same sense that the Baptist woman down the street is.
Now, as noted above, sex is a dim reflection of liturgy. The difference between valid and licit, taht is, the difference between the illicit, invalid liturgical worship of Wicca, the valid liturgy of the SSPX and the valid, licit liturgy Catholics attend every Sunday is intimately woven into the problem of sexuality.
The Catechism tells us that in God there is neither male nor female (CCC #239). So why do we always use the masculine pronoun in reference to Him? In part, because God penetrates us, He impregnates us with His word, as the Holy Father says in Catechesis in Our Time. He acts first, we respond. That is how it must always be when we deal with God – since God is creator, Since God holds us in existence from moment to moment, He must also always be First Actor. We don’t penetrate Him, He penetrates us. He is Bridegroom, we are Bride.
This is why St. Paul says sins of the flesh are the worst kind of sin, for these offend against the Temple of the Holy Spirit, which is the body. Sins of the flesh are the worst precisely because sins of the flesh are intimately linked with sins of the liturgy.
In the Catholic Mass, the Bridegroom meets the Bride, He enters us, and the mystery of divine loving union with God is consummated. In the SSPX Mass, the Bride takes advantage of the Bridegroom, using Him in a way that does not respect Who He is and what He wills, but the marriage itself still exists, even if the relationships are distorted. In Wicca, it is different.
Wicca is goddess-worship. In Wicca, the bride meets the bride. It is not valid worship, it is not licit worship. It is intrinsically disordered worship. It is worship irretrievably skewed. Of all the liturgical errors one can make, nothing matches the error of attempting Wicca worship. It is an error of a different class.
It has been pointed out by numerous people that, just as the act of eating has natural consequences, so does the act of sex. Eat too much and you gain weight. Have sex, and you eventually get pregnant. People who want to eat but don’t want to gain weight sometimes try to rectify the problem by becoming bulimic – they constantly force themselves to throw up. Abortion has been called the sexual form of bulimia. If we follow this kind of analogy, we can see that homosexuality is the sexual form of Wicca. Thus, we should not be surprised to find that a culture that promotes New Age beliefs, including Wicca, suddenly also finds itself awash in problems involving homosexuality.
Many people think the Catechism of the Catholic Church reflects a basic homophobia, because the Catechism calls homosexuality “intrinsically disordered.” Homosexuality is the only mode of life that is described that way by the Magisterium. Now that we understand the difference between valid and licit, and the link between sex and liturgy, it is, perhaps, more clear why the Magisterium provides this description.
Just as there are different levels of venial sin, whose deeper levels eventually induce the sinner to plunge into mortal sin, so there are different levels of mortal sin. Some are easier to recover from than others. In that sense, some mortal sins are, indeed, worse than others. As has been pointed out elsewhere, mortal sin against the Ninth Commandment – coveting a neighbor’s goods – is not nearly so bad as mortal sin against the Tenth Commandment – coveting a neighbor’s spouse. Wicca worship is much worse than SSPX worship. Homosexual behaviour is much worse than fornication and adultery.
It’s a simple problem to solve, really. We just need to explain the connection between sex and liturgy and the difference between valid and licit.