D. of Alexandria on Summorum Pontificum

The Bishop of Alexandria in Louisiana, His Excellency Most Reverend Ronald P. Herzog, has sent a Memorandum to his priests about the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum.

My emphases and comments.


MEMO to Priests:

September 11, 2007

RE: Motu Proprio

As you know Pope Benedict XVI issue a Motu Proprio that becomes effect on September 14, 2007 allowing the celebration of an extraordinary form of the Mass, commonly called the Tridentine Mass, under certain circumstances. This does not require special permission from me. [A good strong statement of fact.  Excellent.] However, the Holy Father is very clear that it is the BishopÂ’s responsibility to ensure that the liturgy is celebrated properly and that the priests who celebrate it are sufficiently knowledgeable in Latin.  [Good.  "Sufficiently" is correct.  But this does not mean "expert".] Since very few of our priests were ordained while this form was in common use, it will be necessary to establish a process to train and/or evaluate this competency the Holy Father mandates.  [Here we go!]

We do not yet have the details of this in place but hopefully we will have it in place soon. In the meantime, please do NOT presume such competency. Do not celebrate using the extraordinary form until you have been certified.  [I think this perhaps does not adequately recognize the rights of priests.  If a priest has faculties to say Mass at all, he automatically has the faculty to say the older Mass too, without any additional permission.  Also, and I probably need education from this by a canonist, I assume that because at ordination someone stood up and publicly declared that candidates were suitable and suitably trained, therefore all priests ordained and having faculties are at least in the eyes of the law idoenei unless it can be proven otherwise.  So, the priest shouldn’t be placed under undue burdens to prove himself beyond what is necessary.   A canonist can help with this.]

Even after certification, please be aware that it may only be used for private celebrations (without people present, except for a properly trained male altar server) [This is also not accurate.  The Motu Proprio clearly states that other people may attend if they desire.] or at the request of an established, stable group [here is that bad English translation rearing its inaccurate head again] of lay faithful who request it and with the pastorÂ’s [sic] approval. Such public celebrations are not at the initiative of the priest. [I can’t see that this is accurate either.  First, I think the priest himself can be a member of the coetus… continenter existens in the parish.  Second, the MP says that the pastor of the parish ought to receive favorably the petitions he received.   However… and I think this is fairly important… I don’t think we can argue that that is the only condition for establishing a public Mass, that is, at the petition of a group.  That is to say that when there is a petition of a group, the pastor should respond willingly.  But even if there is no petition, the pastor is still able to have scheduled Masses with people, even if only occasionally (that is not having a permanent change to the parish Mass schedule.  Favoribilia ampliantur, after all.] The proper liturgical books must be used as well as the vestments required for the 1962 rite. [Okay… I am pleased that the issue of vestments was brought up.  And certainly in virtually every case adquate vestments will probably be available one way or another.  However, even back in the day, if some piece or color was lacking life went on… and so did Mass.  Also, it is not necessary that Roman style vestments be used.  The fuller "Gothic" style can be used too.]  Information about where you may acquire these will also be provided.  [That’s very good!  It is nice to see in these statements that resources and helps are available.]

To the best of my knowledge there are no groups that meet the conditions of the Motu Proprio. For the purpose of clarity, such groups would need to number at least 20 people.  [This is where the whole thing falls apart in a serious way.  First, the statement about his knowledge of groups is entirely irrelevant other than perhaps to convey his own like or dislike of this whole business.  It sure puts a negative pall over the whole thing.  Second, the Motu Proprio does not indicate any minimum size for a coetus, which can actually be quite small., certainly smaller than 20.   It is understandable that a change to a parish’s Mass schedule might not be reasonable for a very small group.  Nevertheless the Motu Proprio doesn’t indicate a minimum group.  The pastor of the parish is the one who makes the decision.  The bishop has the supporting role to help things work harmoniously when help is needed. That is clear in the Motu Proprio.]

Thank you for your patience as we continue to refine this option to avoid unnecessary confusion for our people. Consistency in the practice will help. 

+Ronald P. Herzog


A couple things are manifest in this statement. 

First, there is a willingness to provide training and information.  This is very positive.

However, there are unreasonable restrictions about the number of people who might constitute a coetus.  This is a common feature of some of the more hostile statements of dioceses.  It is a kind of "red flag" item to watch for.

Also very troubling is the concept of "certification".   This creates a double-standard. 

It places an undue burden on one use of the Roman Rite.  If there will also be a move to train or review the competence of all priests also in the newer use of Mass, then this is reasonable.  Furthermore, that should apply especially to foreign born priests whose native tongue is not English, and native English speakers celebrating in, for example, Spanish, and maybe even older priests to see if people can understand them and if they can themselves understand what they are saying.  Maybe it would be a good idea to test all the priests of the diocese in the normative form of the newer Mass, which is in Latin.  If they cannot pass the test, they would not be considered idonei to say the newer Mass in either English or in Latin.  After all, the norm is Latin and the vernaclar is the extraordinary form of the newer Mass.  Right?

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  1. Federico says:

    Fr. Z wrote:A canonist can help with this

    Father, if you can stand an opinion from one who is a semester and comprehensive exams short of a JCL, I will provide it.

    Your take is correct. The key law on this point is canon 846 which reads:
    ” – §1. In sacramentis celebrandis fideliter serventur libri liturgici a competenti auctoritate probati; quapropter nemo in iisdem quidpiam proprio marte addat, demat aut mutet.
    §2. Minister sacramenta celebret secundum proprium ritum.

    Remember what a rite is (ref. CCEO can. 28): ”Ritus est patrimonium liturgicum, theologicum, spirituale et disciplinare cultura ac rerum adiunctis historiae populorum distinctum, quod modo fidei vivendae uniuscuiusque Ecclesiae sui iuris proprio exprimitur”

    So, since a minister may celebrate Sacraments according to the approved liturgical books, and since the missal of 1962 and the NO missal are both approved liturgical books and belong to the same rite, the minister is presumed to be suitable if he has general permission to celebrate the Eucharist. It is normally up to him to choose the liturgical books (as long as they are approved).

    In any given situation, however, it falls to the diocesan bishop to provide oversight and assure sacraments in his diocese are licit and valid, and to avoid abuses (canon 392). It could be argued that a bishop with reason to have general concern about all (or most of) his priests could impose restrictions; this would be an exception to the default rule, however, and would have to be based on reasonable evidence that his priests are not idonei.

    If the decision were taken in the absence of such evidence, it would be an abuse of discretion and would be ripe for a hierarchical recourse (it is a matter of potestas administrativa) according to canon 1400 § 2.

    That said, it is often remarked that “two canonists, three opinions”. Nevertheless, I hope it helps.

  2. John Eakins says:

    Spend a little time on Herzog’s diocese web site and you will discover why he is not TLM friendly. He’s apparently spending all his time and efforts on really ‘Catholic’ stuff like “Steubenville South.”


  3. Father Bartoloma says:

    The starting point always seems to be the same with these statements: Priests are stupid. Not because they might not necessarily have a sufficient knowledge of Latin or have the “gnosis” of living in yon pre-Vatican II days (constantly raising this issue shows that many find it difficult to move the Extraordinary Form, at least in their own minds, out of the realm of nostalgia) but stupid because they are presumably not capable of simple self-assessment; judging whether they have or do not have the ability to offer this form of Mass. They have to be evaluated and told. (I shutter to think who the evaluators will be in these situations.)

    Meanwhile…. The presumption that should perhaps be re-evaluated is that priests are automatically capable of celebrating the Ordinary Form correctly. Wasn’t there a liturgical abuse or two or two million over the last few years?

  4. FloridaJohn says:

    “To the best of my knowledge there are no groups that meet the conditions of the Motu Proprio. For the purpose of clarity, such groups would need to number at least 20 people.”
    This is a ridiculous statement. How does he know this? Nobody is asking the people in the pews or even those who wish to return to church via the “Extraordinary form” Mass. Let the bishops ask the people! Take a poll! But don’t ignore us who have been waiting for years to worship at the “old Mass”!

  5. junie says:

    As a young lay person of the Diocese of Alexandria, who deeply desires the Mass of the 1962 Missal, trained with a year Latin in a Jr. High School, I was deeply disturbed to see the photo of our Bishop kissing the ring of Pope Benedict XVI in a sign of respect for the Successor of St. Peter on the cover of our diocesan newspaper published following his letter forbidding the pastors to exercise their rights as granted in the Motu Proprio. Where is his respect of the Holy Father’s words? I have attended a class with more than 20 people to study Ecclesial Latin and the Mass and were truly excited about the opportunity to attend the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. What is he afraid of? What is his true motive by this denial of the Mass to the Priests and Laity of his diocese, in direct disobedience to the Holy Father?

  6. Brian Crane says:

    A bishop will not (or at least should not) ordain a seminarian who has not sufficiently learned how to celebrate the sacraments according to the Novus Ordo. Isn’t it reasonable to suggest that a bishop would want to know that a priest could celebrate sufficiently well the Vetus Ordo?

    While perhaps some of the language used in these memos sounds (or could be interpreted as) a bit draconian, nevertheless, I think the intention of these bishops is not totally misguided. Even if the Motu Proprio does not say “Bishops should test priests to determine their capability”, yet, as the director of liturgy in his diocese, it would seem completely reasonable (to me at least) for a bishop to want to “certify” his priests in their capability (idoneousness) of celebrating the extraordinary form. (Here is where we hope that they only assess capability and not go for strange requirements like absolute fluency in Latin, etc.)

  7. jh says:

    People don’t rush to judgement of Bishop of Alexandria. He is a pretty good Bishop and I expect what happens there will be a pleasant surprise.

    As for Steubenville South. For those that don’t know the area it is a hotbed of Pentecostalism. Bishop Jacobs was sure to allow opportunities for the Charismatic movement inthe Diocese. I might add that the Diocese of Alexandria is a success story and you can see that in vocations.

    People that are viewed as “traditionalsit” have too often been lampooned as the crazy aunt in the attic. I find it sad that people that experience are implying there is something not quite Catholic about Steubenville South or Steubenville on the Bayou that is done in the Diocese of HOuma. You will find that many of those same people especially in this Diocese might be some your biggest allies in making sure the extraordianry form of the Mass is available

  8. CPKS says:

    Of course the normative form of the missa normativa is in Latin. (Why did it take so long for the penny to drop?) Of course. Thank you, Fr Z.

    And it seems to me that competence in (or ignorance of) Latin is actually becoming the central battle-ground: on the one hand, there are those who argue that it is the language of our patrimony, to which we are all entitled; and on the other, there are those who argue that since we don’t (cannot) understand it, we should not be allowed to access it (unless appropriately spoon-fed).

  9. Paul says:

    In this particular discussion, the issue for the bishop of Alexandria is not just competency in Latin, but competency in English as well. Priests who are from other countries will not have the same requirements placed upon them as those who will have to be certified for the 1962 Missal. There is a double standard in the grading of Latin competency and not in English competency. Capability of those who desire the Mass of Bl. John XXIII is something that shouldn’t be as much of a concern for this bishop as the capability of those who only desire to celebrate the Novus Ordo. And yes, his photo on the cover of this diocesan newspaper appears to be what it was….a good photo op and an empty gesture.

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