QUAERITUR: Can a Vicar General tell a priest not to say the TLM?

From a reader:

Does the Vicar General have the power to tell a Priest to stop saying the Extraordinary Form of the Mass?

No.

Does a Vicar General has the power to overrule Pope Benedict?

I am reminded in these situations of a old acrostics I learned years ago in Latin for different roles in the Church.  The vicarius was Vir Inutilis Carens Auctoritati Rare Intelligentiae Umbra Superioris. This is applied to any sort of vicarius of course, not just a VG.

Everyone took a hit in those acrostics, by the way.  The one for a pastor of a parish begins Pauca Agens

Because the VG is, as mentioned above, the Umbra Superioris, they tend to take on some of the qualities of their master in the episcopal chair, at least while holding that post.  I have known men who are or were Vicars General and who are good, kind, holy men, diligent in the hard work entrusted to them by their bishops.  I have met the opposite.  One in particular has been known as “The Prince of Darkness”.

One of the things priests can expect is that, when the law favors the priest, some bishops – not all – will try to get their way through intimidation, rather than through persuasion.  That’s life, men.  Boo hoo.  We live in a cruel world wounded by original sin.  We eat our bitter bread with tears and carry on.  We live in a world and in times when Summorum Pontificum is necessary.  Summorum Pontificum is the only document I can think of in the last few decades which actually did something for priests, rather than merely enhance the power of the bishops… again.  I often ponder if that is the reason it is so disliked in chanceries.

Now that I am done ranting… the question at the top is vague.  I can think of scenarios in which the VG is right to tell a priest not to celebrate the old Mass.

“But Father! But Father!”, some of you are about to howl.  “NEVER!  JAMAIS!  NUMQUAM!”

No. There are times when the bishop or his VG should get involved!  For example, Father says Mass so badly, and people are so angry, that Father has to be stopped.

Most of the other reasons you could think of would involve liturgical abuses that would be bad no matter which form of Mass he was using.

There are times when the Vicar General has to get involved because there is a problem and the bishop wants him to handle it.

But, in a vague and general sense, does the Vicar General have the power to tell a priest to stop saying the Extraordinary Form of the Mass?  Provided the priest is following the provisions of Summorum Pontificum, then he is within his rights to say the older form of Mass according to those provisions.

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16 Responses to QUAERITUR: Can a Vicar General tell a priest not to say the TLM?

  1. Well, the bishop or his vicar general would have the right to interfere imho, if the EF mass would endanger the support of the parish with OF mass. I don’t think of the “cruelty” to force 50 attendants of a mass to join another mass with the same amount of attendants, when the church easily can hold over 400 faithful.

    But the bishop or vicar general should have got arguments for this to give account to the CDF, not only “We don’t want this” or “Some of the parish feel uneasy with the existence of unfancy masses”.

    Unfortunately some laymen and some clerics are allergic against the EF, like a saying in my home:
    “They fear it like the devil fears holy water”

  2. Choirmaster says:

    I think the answer to the question should be: “Yes! Absolutely!”

    I think the question should have been: “Does the Vicar General have the right?” The answer to that question is: what Fr. Z said.

  3. Henry Edwards says:

    if the EF mass would endanger the support of the parish with OF mass.

    It’s difficult to envision a specific scenario in which this would be the case.

    But isn’t the underlying question independent of the particular form of the Mass? A bishop (or his vicar general) might have a responsibility to suspend a priest from celebrating Mass–whether it be OF or EF–until he can refrain from egregious liturgical abuse. Perhaps the situation in the Church would be better now if this responsibility had more frequently been exercised in the past.

  4. dcs says:

    Well, the bishop or his vicar general would have the right to interfere imho, if the EF mass would endanger the support of the parish with OF mass.

    I beg your pardon, but what does that even mean? Do you mean that a TLM celebrated at one parish might draw away people who would otherwise assist at the Novus Ordo in their parish of domicile? Wouldn’t that be a bit like a bishop or VG telling a priest not to offer Mass too reverently, lest the faithful fleeing from liturgical abuse flock to his Mass instead?

  5. @Henry Edwards:

    Well, we have unfortunately two terms “Kooperative Pastoral” and “pastorale Räume” which would probably translated with “co-operative pastoral” and “pastoral areas”. This concepts can mean for example, that 20 former parishes are gathered in a “community of parishes” with one canonical parish priest and 2 or 3 “co-operative pastors”. They have to say mass in all of the 20 former parishes, even if the attendance is about 50 people in this village at all, because it is not “justifiable” to tell the people to attend mass in the village 3 km away in a church of the same “community of parishes”. So every priest can end up with about 4-5 masses per weekend.

    In one diocesis there is the plan that the priests, non-transitional and transitional deacons, and the pastoral assistants (laymen or mostly -women) form a “pastoral council” of this “community of parishes, with the ordained ministers in clear minority, but the majority decisions should be binding for the priests.

    We had recently a “scandal” when a “co-operative” pastor said an EF mass during the week for some parish members, the mass was not announced in the parish bulletin, no bells, no event-note at the end of the sunday mass, but one woman entered the church midst in the EF mass to “light a candle” and was “gravely shocked”. She created a scandal with media attentiveness in such high waves, that the priest offered his resignation to the bishop.

    There is few what is not possible here, but unthinkable until you hear about it that it is already reality.

  6. @dcs:

    No, I mean that the priest, who says the EF mass, drops an OF mass for it. Depending on the diocesis and the local situation it could be, that this would endanger the supply (maybe this is a better word for it than support) of OF masses. [I can see the chancery getting involved if the priest refuses to say the Ordinary Form at all.]

    In the majority of cases I can oversee here, the problems are home-made, and some have the interest to keep it that way.

  7. Henry Edwards says:

    Marcus,

    I must admit to not having envisioned a situation like you describe. I’m still having difficulty imagining it concretely.

    In regard to the pastoral council situation you describe, I understand that parish councils canonically are merely advisory to the pastor, with no actual authority.

    A private EF Mass situation like the one you describe occurs daily in the parish church nearest me. Only a tiny minority of this very mainstream parish has any interest in the EF, but I cannot imagine anyone making a “scandal” of it.

  8. @Henry Edwards:

    You are correct about the canonical implications regarding the pastoral council, the bishop of this got an exhortation letter from Card. Hummes in 2009, but I didn’t hear anything about major changes in the pastoral plan.

    Maybe you can imagine the situation, when you hear that about 200-300 priests belong to a network formed in 2001 that named themself “Network catholic priest” who understand themself as selfdefense community of priests who want to teach an unabbreviated faith. This network has three speaker as leading board. The home dioceses of this three priests is a map of focus points in my country.

    If you are interested in learning more about it and you understand german well or you have somebody you can bribe to translate quite a lot of material, if would like to direct you to this homepage: Netzwerk katholischer Priester You will find the interesting topics especially under “Priestertum aktuell” “Strukturmaßnahmen konkret” and widespread in the press review “Pressespiegel”.

    [I think we are now outside the topic of this entry.]

  9. Jerry says:

    SP confirms that priests have the right to publicly celebrate the EF without approval; however, it does not establish an obligation to do so. Also, I don’t recall any provision in SP that prohibits a superior from making a positive act to restrict celebration of the EF, even if it seems clear that to do so without just cause would be opposed to the Holy Father’s intentions.

  10. Father S. says:

    I can think of a not uncommon situation where a VG (or any other relevant V, such as a Vicar Cleri) may get involved. In many, if not most places today, there is only one priest in a parish. If the priest chooses to do the EF, he may well encounter the situation where he has difficulty with bination and trination. For example, in my parish I offer the EF on First Saturdays. I also have an evening OF Holy Mass for Sunday. This means that on First Saturdays, I cannot offer a Nuptial Mass or Quinceañera Mass without benefit of dispensation from legitimate authority. This has not been a conflict for the parish, but if I had chosen to do offer the EF every Saturday, it would be a conflict. In such a case, I could very well foresee a Vicar of some type getting involved. I imagine that the involvement would take the form of being told that the dispensation would not be granted every Saturday of the year whenever I want to trinate.

    I understand that this is not the same as someone being told that he is forbidden to offer the EF or even to offer it publicly. I simply concur with Fr. Z that there are situations when such intervention may well be warranted and reasonable.

  11. James Joseph says:

    Your Reverence,

    What about in religious communities; that is, non-secular priests?

  12. MichaelJ says:

    Jerry,
    I would think that probiting a “superior from making a positive act to restrict celebration of the EF” (without just cause) would be implicit in the confirmation that a Priest has the right to celebrate the EF at his own discretion. Does it really have to be spelled out?

    If I grant my sons the right to use the family car, do I really have to explicitly spell out that one may not hide the keys from the other?

  13. Henry Edwards says:

    Marcus,

    Some of the stuff at the Netzwerk katholischer Priester home page is really depressing. I didn’t know that His Eminence Cardinal Lehman had (I assume) allowed the situation there to decline so much.

  14. Jerry says:

    @MichaelJ

    I would think that probiting a “superior from making a positive act to restrict celebration of the EF” (without just cause) would be implicit in the confirmation that a Priest has the right to celebrate the EF at his own discretion. Does it really have to be spelled out?

    If I grant my sons the right to use the family car, do I really have to explicitly spell out that one may not hide the keys from the other?

    Actually, it does. While the Pope’s intention might seem obvious, for it to have the force of law, it must be explicitly spelled out.

    The hypothetical situation with your sons is not analogous because they are peers, whereas the priest and his superior are not. Restricting access to your car is not something one son would normally be responsible for; issuing policies and procedure is part of a superior’s responsibility.

  15. MichaelJ says:

    Actually, it does. While the Pope’s intention might seem obvious, for it to have the force of law, it must be explicitly spelled out.

    Then it appears that SP is rather pointless. If a superior can, for any reason, probit a Priest from offering the EF Mass, that hypothetical Priest doe not have the right, does he?

  16. AlexE says:

    Can someone please provide a reference which makes this the case? “Actually, it does. While the Pope’s intention might seem obvious, for it to have the force of law, it must be explicitly spelled out.”