Diocese of Fresno statement on Summorum Pontificum

His Excellency Most Reverend John T. Steinbock of the Diocese of Fresno has made a statement about the application of the provisions in the Pope’s Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum.

My emphases and comments.


Mass in Latin

Pastoral Message aired on KNXT-TV during October 2007

Bishop John T. Steinbock, Diocese of Fresno

My Dear People of God,

The document Pope Benedict XVI issued on July 7 regarding the use of the Latin Mass, reformed and published with the authority of Pope John XXIII in 1962, took effect in the Universal Church on September 14 of this year.  The Holy Father declared that both this 1962 Latin [grrrrr] Mass, referred to as the Tridentine Mass, [I know people recognize this term, but… grrrrr] and the Mass we now celebrate, [Well… there are those for whom the older Mass is "the Mass we now celebrate".  Hey wait a minute… as of 14 September, the older is really is "the Mass we now celebrate" just as much as the newer form.] the Mass of Paul VI published in 1970, form one and the same Rite.

The Holy Father has given permission to a priest, [This is incorrect.  The Motu Proprio is not constitutive.  It does not give permission.  It declares that priests have the use of either form if he already has permission (faculties) to say Mass at all. The Holy Father is declaring a fact rather than giving a permission.  This stems from the fact that the older form was never abrogated and it forms, at least juridically, part of one unified Roman Rite.] in Masses celebrated without the people, to celebrate the extraordinary form of 1962 in Latin, on his own authority.  He does not need permission of the Bishop.  Masses celebrated without people are private and non-scheduled Masses.  The Holy Father states that Christ’s faithful, with due observance of law, who spontaneously request it, may be admitted to these celebrations.

In parishes where a group of faithful attached to the previous liturgical tradition exists stably,[this is still not a great translation, but it is better to say "exists stably" than to say "stable group"] if the pastor is able, he is asked to accede to their requests  [this is well put] for the celebration of the Mass according to the rite of the Roman Missal published in 1962.  If a group of lay faithful does not obtain what it requests from the pastor, it should inform the diocesan Bishop. If he cannot provide for this celebration, the Holy Father says that the matter should be referred to the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei.”

As the Bishop of our Diocese, I have always allowed a Sunday Mass in Latin according to the 1962 Missal, both in the South and the North, the Bakersfield area and the Fresno area, for those people, coming from many different parishes, who have an attachment to the Mass in Latin. [grrrrr… I really think we need to make better distinctions.] I thank those priests who have provided this Mass through the years. [You’re welcome.  I was one of them for a short time when I was in Bakersfield.] It is a reality that there are very few priests left that are able to celebrate the Mass in Latin either in the ordinary or the extraordinary form.  [There will be a lot more real soon!]

I cannot foresee, at this time, a regular Sunday Mass in Latin in any other parishes, unless the pastor of a parish is personally able and willing to celebrate this Mass in Latin.  [This is the key, of course.  It is the pastor who deals with this question.]  Most priests are already celebrating two, three and sometimes four Masses, both on Saturdays and Sundays.  As the Bishop, I also have to tell everyone, quite frankly, that because of the shortage of priests, we are now preparing to have some of our parishes staffed, not by a priest, but by a Permanent Deacon, a Religious, or a Lay Person, who will be called a “Parish Life Coordinator.”  [Ouch.  This is a sad reality in some places.  In these cases, it is understandable that it would be very hard indeed to implement a regular celebration of the older Mass in a parish without a pastor.] This person will be in charge of leading the parish community, with a priest coming to celebrate Mass and hear Confessions when available.

Hopefully, the document of the Holy Father will have a significant impact in Europe, where relatively few faithful are coming to Mass on Sunday.  [Yes… we hope it will have a big impact on Europe.  We also hope that it will have an impact everywhere else too.  The Church everywhere needs renewal.]  Here in our Diocese, our parish churches, with multiple Masses, are filled with people, who experience a vibrant and devotional Sunday Liturgy.  [So wonderful that there can be no benefit from the provisions of Summorum Pontificum?  This makes it sound as if everything is just right in the Diocese of Fresno.  I suspect there are also issues there also.]  We are blest, in so many ways, but we are in great need of priests.  Let us pray for vocations especially from within our parish communities.   +


In the balance, this is a very good statement.  The bishop acknowledges that the pastor is the one who makes determinations about regular public celebrations in his parish.  He doesn’t seek to impose restrictions outside the provisions of the MP.  At the same time, he underscores the hard reality of things: there is a shortage of priests.

At the end, he makes an odd observation.  He seems to be saying that the MP is really intended for Europe, and doesn’t seem to be very relevant for the Diocese of Fresno.  He seems to be saying that the situation is great in the parishes there, which are full and vibrant.  This suggests that the reason the Holy Father gave us the MP was to help Mass attendance in those places where it is low (i.e., Europe, but not the San Joquin Valley).  However, in the previous paragraph the bishop explains that they are actually facing a dire situation: there is a shortage of priests.  It seems to me that things are decidedly un-wonderful where there are not enough priests for parishes.  Things are actually precarious if parishes have to be entrusted to lay custodians in the absence of priests.

I am convinced that the Motu Proprio is very much focused on the priest, his role and his identity.  The priest builds up the Church around himself at the altar.  He shapes the laity who then shape the world.  By renewing the identity of the priest by the derestriction of the older form of Mass, the Holy Father is also offering, I think, another way to increase priestly vocations. 

In any event, it is not my intention to pick at this statement, which is really pretty good.

Let us hope the people of that diocese will encourage vocations to the priesthood and give support to the priests they have.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. John Eakins says:

    It would be nice for a bishop to release a statement such as this:

    “For those priests in the diocese who may not have a copy of the SP and the Holy Father’s letter which accompanies the SP, we are providing copies. As these documents have been translated into English we presume they will be self explanatory. In the unlikely event that some of our native English speaking priests do not understand what the Holy Father is saying, please contact us and we will do the best we can to assist you in your understanding. As for us, the Bishop and those in the chancery, we are taking the documents at face value, and await decisions from each parish as to the way each pastor wishes to implement the SP. For those non-native English speaking priests we are available to assist”

    +Bishop WhoReadsAndUnderstandsEnglishAndSpeaksClearly

    PS: Please pray for the repose of my mother’s soul. Today is the 53rd anniversary of the death of Mary Quinn Eakins.

  2. Ah Father the bishop states the true problem of our age. Churches filled with families none of whom encourage their sons to become priests. As a catechist I am happy to say that there are a number of young men praying and discerning on the decision to join the priesthood, as well as a young man who is now at seminary in formation. This is quite a change from just a few years ago when I actually had parents who discouraged their sons from considering the priestly vocation. We still have a problem in this diocese, but things are changing and I have hope that in a few decades the tide will have turned. One can only hope that Summorum Pontificum will hasten this.

  3. Henry Edwards says:

    Churches filled with families none of whom encourage their sons to become priests.

    Clearly these are not churches where the traditional Latin Mass is celebrated. Anecdotally, it is not uncommon for a single TLM community in a diocese to match the rest of the diocese combined in vocations. I have observed this myself in small TLM communities. It would be good to have some reliable statistics on this. The percentage of TLM altar boys who enter a seminary must be astronomical.

  4. Richard says:

    It’s San JoAquin Valley, with an “A” in the middles, BTW…

    Spiritual growth in Central California has faced a long, sleepy lull the past 30 or so years. The parishes are occasionally brought to life by the migrant community, reflecting a mix of Charismatic and traditional Mexican devotion, during seasons of more intense labor in the agricultural industry. There needs to be something more, and faithful and consistent implementation of the MP would constitute a breath of fresh air and new surge of energy for the Church’s life in this area, as in others.

    The bishop is right that the shortage of priests impedes to an extent the implementation of the MP. But it would be even worse if nothing were done to try to implement it anyway. If people try their darnedest to schedule priests from around to come say the extraordinary form of the Mass regularly in certain locations in these areas, young men will witness an authentic, substantial Catholic spirituality worth devoting one’s life to (yes, as opposed to that presented by happy-clappy Masses, the central focus of which are bad choirs, as opposed to the Eucharist). It would also help if Latin were taught at St John Cabrillo seminary in southern California and St Patrick seminary in northern California. The priest shortage situation is bound to turn around if these efforts were made.

  5. LCB says:

    I hear Lincoln and Saginaw are getting lots of vocations. Maybe Steinbock could find out what they’re doing?

    It certainly couldn’t hurt.

  6. Un Mexicano Tradicional says:

    Juan Cabrillo (Joao Cabrilho) was an explorer under the Spanish crown. St.
    John’s Seminary is named for the Evangelist in the city of Camarillo, CA.

  7. Richard says:

    Thanks, Mexicano Tradicional! Got my students’ history lesson seeping in there…

  8. Andrew says:

    Henry Edwards: Anecdotally, it is not uncommon for a single TLM community in a diocese to match the rest of the diocese combined in vocations. I have observed this myself in small TLM communities.

    Our TLM community has had several holy vocations to the priesthood and religious life. The only problem is that they have not been to our diocese. These men have gone off to FSSP, EWTN, traditional friendly monasteries, or onto other dioceses where the seminary training they provide is more orthodox.

    I can’t say I blame them. The priests coming out of our seminary are more likely to damage the peoples faith and introduce error than lead them to holiness.

  9. Nick says:

    Bakersfield? Really? Any suggestions for a good parish for a potential convert?

  10. Central Valley Catholic says:

    The Tradtional Mass never died in Bakersfield. The Mass used to be side at the old St. Lawrence school in the chapel then in the garage then onto the lawn. In the 80’s Bishop Madera allowed the public celebration of the Mass and the Mass of the ages has thrived in Bakersfield under the direction of Monsignor Ralph Belluomini and Fr. Angel Sotelo. Even FR. Z was there for some time. The Bakersfield Mass was held at San Clemente Mission for years until the current administrator wanted everyone out who questioned him so now we are at St. Francis church in downtown Bakersfield. Every Sunday 400 plus attend the Mass. Bishop Steinbock has never been a supporter of the Traditional Mass. He allowed it to remain in place after Bp. Nadera allowed the Mass in Bakersfield and Fresno. UNtil now Steimbock did not allow the Mass to be advertised it was known by word of mouth, but we did a good job considering the numbers that attend on Sundays and Holy days.

  11. Central: did not allow the Mass to be advertised it was known by word of mouth, but we did a good job considering the numbers that attend on Sundays and Holy days.

    You can sure advertise it now!

Comments are closed.