Twenty years ago, on June 30, 1988, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre ordained four men as bishops. His action, taken in defiance of the will of Pope John Paul II, ended months of negotiations between the Vatican and the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), which Archbishop Lefebvre had founded in 1970 to train young men for the priesthood in traditional Catholic doctrine and to teach them to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass. (The Novus Ordo had just been promulgated.)
On July 2, 1988, Pope John Paul II released an apostolic letter, Ecclesia Dei, in which he declared that the ordination "constitutes a schismatic act," which meant that, under canon law (the governing law of the Catholic Church), Archbishop Lefebvre and the four newly consecrated bishops had incurred automatic excommunication.
Over the past 20 years, many efforts have been made to reconcile the SSPX to Rome, and Pope Benedict XVI's motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, restoring the Traditional Latin Mass as one of the two approved forms of the Mass, was undoubtedly motivated in part by the Holy Father's desire to end the schism.
And now it appears that the negotiations may soon come to an end. Andrea Tornielli, one of the most respected Catholic journalists in Italy, is reporting in the Italian daily Il Giornale that the Vatican has made the SSPX a "one time offer," in the translation provided by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf on his blog, What Does the Prayer Really Say?
That offer consists of five points, of which two are apparently that the SSPX "must accept the Second Vatican Council and the full validity of the post-Conciliar liturgical rite" (the new Mass). If the SSPX agrees, it would be set up as a personal prelature, much like Opus Dei.
The offer, however, is said to expire this Saturday, June 28. If so, the symbolism is clear: Pope Benedict would like a reconciliation to occur before the SSPX marks the 20th anniversary of the illicit ordinations. As Christ prayed that we might all be one, as He and His Father are one, so, too, we should pray fervently for unity in the Church.