Government is not management. To rule or govern is chiefly (but not solely) to issue commands in the form of laws. Executive power is secondary and unimportant in this respect, in that it is about managing details, not about governing per se.
Lots of people manage things; lots of people have executive power, but only one rules. Only one governs. Subjection to the government is therefore obedience to law. Government cannot legitimately give personal orders to free men.
Again, keep aside executive power, in which personal orders are given to employees or agents of the State. We're talking about the ruling or governing power in its essential element, by which it differs from all other power. This is about laws. Obedience is about law.
The pope (or the king in the Christian conception) is not a tyrant, he is not an arbitrary ruler, he does not order about the individual Christian as if they were his minions or slaves. Actually, he *serves* those subject to his authority.
He serves by making wise laws, and enforcing them justly and mercifully. A law which is not enforced is not a law, because the ruler makes it clear by his lack of enforcement that he didn't mean it to be a true law. He was just kidding, we might say.
If he doesn't think it obliges, why should anybody else? Laws must be clear. They cannot be ambiguous, and if they are, they are not laws. A doubtful law does not oblige (i.e. because it is *not* a law). An essential aspect of the clarity of law is who it affects.
If you cannot tell whether you are covered by a specific law, you're not. The law that says one can kill another except in self-defence covers everybody except authorised executioners. The laws that govern the conduct of executions only apply to executioners.
Now, consider two concrete cases of purported law. Pius V's Quo primum, and Paul VI's Missale Romanum. The former lays out what is to be done or not done, and who is affected (i.e. who is obliged to do or avoid what). The latter gives no category of men to be covered...
...(e.g. "all priests of the Latin Rite" or "all priests of the Latin Rite except those in the Dominican Order, or the Diocese of Milan" etc.), and does not say what is to be done or not done. It literally orders only one thing - that the Missal be published.
There was no room for doubt in 1570 as to what missal you had to use. In 1969 there was no doubt either - the law had not changed, and Quo primum still applied. If Paul VI wanted to change it (and if he were pope he could have) then he had to issue a law. He simply didn't.
And as I already said in an earlier thread, if he had, then the priests who declined to adopt the new Protestant missal could have been charged canonically, and tried. But nobody was, because there was no law.
Since there was no law except Quo primum, actually everyone who *adopted* the new Protestant missal was disobedient, and could have been prosecuted.
If any defender of heretics wants to debate this, feel free, but do not point out that Paul VI *said* that all were obliged to use his new man-worshipping missal. That is what is called commentary, not law. He *said* that he had made it obligatory, but he was *wrong* in fact.
He hadn't. If you want to argue the only point that matters, you have to find a law, and cite it, and show that it applied. You cannot do this, and nobody ever has, not even the bishops who brutally, without colour of law, imposed the new missal on their priests.
Addendum: Understanding the nature of authority and obedience, we should be clear that traditional Catholics are not "lawfully disobeying," we are *obedient* to the Church. Obedience to the Church is obeying her laws. There's nothing else to it, for a layman at least.