Bp. Serratelli’s letter to priests: humbly follow the rubrics out of charity for your people

His Excellency Arthur Serratelli, Bishop of Patterson (NJ) and chairman of the newly revised USCCB liturgy committee, has issued a new pastoral letter to his priests.  Though it is public, on the website of the diocese, it is addressed to priests.  Everyone, however, can read what he has to say to them.  You can read other pieces by Bp. Seratelli here and here.

Notice the date is 18 October.  I didn’t see this letter on the site back then.  Biretta tip to Argent who found it.  o{]:¬)

My emphases and comments.

Bishop’s Letter to the Priests of the Diocese Concerning the Liturgy

October 18, 2007

Feast of St. Luke, the Evangelist
My dear brothers in the priesthood[In other words, I am not talking to everyone, but you can listen in.]

Today the Church celebrates the life and work of the third evangelist. In his work, St. Luke paints for us [Nice pun.  St. Luke is often cited the legendary painter of icons of the Blessed Virgin.] the portrait of Christ the compassionate Savior whose life is the climax of Israel’s redemptive history that continues in the Church. Today’s feast glorifies the Holy Spirit who, in every age, raises up individuals and gifts them with the grace and charisms needed to continue the work of Christ[Watch the progression of idea: Luke – Evangelist – Gospel – mission – priesthood – examination of conscience… ]

With St. Luke, we priests share the privilege of spreading the Gospel. The Holy Spirit has graced us in a special way for this work. Through our ordination, we have been configured to Christ the High Priest [He raises the stakes.  This isn’t a job, but rather an ontology which has consequences.] who uses weak instruments such as us to accomplish His saving work.

On this feast day, I want to take the opportunity to thank you for accepting the vocation to be a priest. I am grateful for your apostolic zeal in serving God’s people with dedication and self-giving and for your love of the Church whose ministers we are. [But…] I would also like to address with you what is so central to our priesthood and so vital for the life of the Church.

St. Luke ends his gospel with the Emmaus story in which the two disciples recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread (Lk 24:30-32). He begins Acts of the Apostles with this picture of the infant Church: “These remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Clearly for the evangelist, the Eucharist is the Presence of the Risen Lord building up the Church in the unity of faith and love.  [The Eucharist is both the sign of the Church’s presence and it creates the Church’s presence.  Without the Eucharist – no Church; without Church – no Eucharist; without the priest – no Eucharist; without the priest – no Church; without the Eucharist and Church – no priest.]

The Eucharist is the Crucified Jesus [Sacrifice] uniting us to Himself, sharing with us His divine life and making the Church truly one so that she can be the effective Sacrament of salvation in every age and in every place. The Eucharist is at the heart of the mystery of the Church. [I think this is the key concept we must focus on more and more in days to come.] This great sacrifice of the Lord’s Body and Blood is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium, 11). The Eucharist contains the entire wealth of the Church. Each day the Church draws her life from this gift given to her by the Lord at the Last Supper.

To every priest is given the great privilege of celebrating the Eucharist by virtue of his ordination. The priest presides at the Eucharist in persona Christi.  [As I said: it is not a job, or a task (in which case any qualified person could and should be the one chosen to fulfill the tasks.  This is ontological, who the priest is at the level of his being.] The priest is the servant of the Liturgy. He is the steward entrusted with a gift that is not his own.  [The liturgy is not the priest’s property or playground.]

Therefore, every priest has the obligation to celebrate the Liturgy in such a way that he provides a witness of faith to the sacredness of the gift given to the Church by her Lord. He is to be faithful to the Church’s norms for the Liturgy so as to be at the service of communion, not only for the community directly taking part in the celebration, but also for the whole Church. The Mystery of the Eucharist “is too great for anyone to permit himself to treat it according to his own whim, so that its sacredness and its universal ordering would be obscured” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 52).  [If you do not stay faithful to the liturgy as the Church gives it, then ou create an obstacle in the mission Christ gave to the Church, rupture unity, etc.  Christ will not be known and loved in the Mass if we distort the Church’s manner of saying Mass.]

In each particular Church, the diocesan bishop has a most serious responsibility before God for the faithful celebration of the liturgy.  [Many bishops since Summorum Pontificum has started their assesment of the Pope’s Motu Proprio with phrases like "the bishop is the moderator of the liturgy".  Some bishops then go on to established that, despite the MP being a papal document, the BISHOP will say what is going to happen … as if the bishop owned the liturgy.  Watch how Bp. Serratelli asserts that his reponsibility flows not from ownership but rather stewardship.] He is the first steward of the mysteries of God in the particular Church entrusted to him. He is the moderator, promoter and guardian of her whole liturgical life (Christus Dominus, 28; Sacrosanctum Concilium, 41; Code of Canon Law, can. 387 and can. 835.1). Recognizing this serious duty placed upon me, I ask every priest in this diocese to follow The General Instruction of the Roman Missal as well as Redemptionis Sacramentum, [Remember that?] issued in 2004 by the mandate of Pope John Paul II. A careful reading and attention to these instructions can only increase the individual priest’s appreciation of the Eucharist and his own special role within the Church. The Eucharist “is too great a gift to tolerate ambiguity or depreciation” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 10).  [Another document many have forgotten to remember.]

Since the people of God have the right to the Liturgy as the Church has established, both instructions are to be followed in their entirety. [The same applied to Summorum Pontificum.] Priests, as well as deacons, are not free to change the rubrics or substitute their own words for the prescribed texts. Such fidelity expresses true love for the people we serve. [A good point: priests who simply change things around are really showing a lack of charity.] I call your special attention to the items that follow. The Church’s instructions use strong language to indicate the seriousness with which the Church safeguards reverence for the Eucharist.

Concerning the altar.

Out of reverence for the celebration of the memorial of the Lord and for the banquet in which the Body and Blood of the Lord are offered on an altar where this memorial is celebrated, there should be at least one white cloth[Not another color.] its shape, size, and decoration in keeping with the altar’s design (GIRM, 304).  [Traditionally we use three cloths on an altar.  This was once obligatory.]

Concerning the proclamation of the gospel and preaching.

Within the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, the reading of the Gospel, which is “the high point of the Liturgy of the Word,” is reserved by the Church’s tradition to an ordained minister. Thus it is not permitted for a layperson, even a religious, [Sister can’t read the Gospel.] to proclaim the Gospel reading in the celebration of Holy Mass, nor in other cases in which the norms do not explicitly permit it (SR, 63).

The homily, which is given in the course of the celebration of Holy Mass and is a part of the Liturgy itself “should ordinarily be given by the Priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating Priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to a Deacon, but never to a layperson.” (SR, 64)

The prohibition of the admission of laypersons to preach within the Mass applies also to seminarians, students of theological disciplines, and those who have assumed the function of those known as “pastoral assistants;” nor is there to be any exception for any other kind of layperson, or group, or community, or association (SR, 66).

(To safeguard the primacy of the homily and the connection of Word and Sacrifice in the celebration of the Eucharist, any reflection offered by laypeople should be given after the Prayer after Communion.)

Concerning the distribution of Holy Communion.

It is the Priest celebrant’s responsibility to minister Communion, perhaps assisted by other Priests or Deacons; and he should not resume the Mass until after the Communion of the faithful is concluded. Only when there is a necessity may extraordinary ministers assist the Priest celebrant in accordance with the norm of law (SR, 88).  [I am biting back the urge to talk about the meaning of "extraordinary", of course.  The true point is "real necessity".  This is what needs some guideance on the part of bishops with individual pastors of parishes.  If there is one priest in a parish, and there are 1000 at Mass, perhaps some help is necessary even if the priest is, say, 35 years old.  If he is 75, more help perhaps.  I know one pastor who just turned 79 and has very bad knees.  Circumstances must be considered.]

If there is usually present a sufficient number of sacred ministers for the distribution of Holy Communion, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion may not be appointed. [EXCELLENT!] Indeed, in such circumstances, those who may have already been appointed to this ministry should not exercise it. The practice of those Priests is reprobated who, even though present at the celebration, abstain from distributing Communion and hand this function over to laypersons (SR, 157)  [BOOM!  "REPROBATE" is a techincal term which means that a practice may not continue and no claim to "time honored tradition" or "custom" can be used, nor can the practice even be reestablished so that it has the claim to custom.  It is simply ended.]

It is not licit to deny Holy Communion to any of Christ’s faithful solely on the grounds, for example, that the person wishes to receive the Eucharist kneeling or standing (SR, 91).  [I like this.  He doesn’t go into some long kabuki dance about the conference’s preference for standing and everyone really shoud stand as a sign of unity of the mature Christian community gathered in worship blah blah blah.  He just says: don’t even think of denying Communion because a person kneels.  I would like to hear his take on denying Communion to a person at Mass with the 1962MR if they (sadly) desire Communion in the hand.]

Concerning the use of vestments.

“The vestment proper to the Priest celebrant at Mass, and in other sacred actions directly connected with Mass unless otherwise indicated, is the chasuble, worn over the alb and stole” (GIRM, 299).

The abuse is reprobated whereby the sacred ministers celebrate Holy Mass or other rites without sacred vestments or with only a stole over the monastic cowl or the common habit of religious or ordinary clothes (SR, 126).  [WEAR PROPER VESTMENTS!]

Concerning the proper vessels for the Eucharist.

Sacred vessels for containing the Body and Blood of the Lord must be made in strict conformity with the norms of tradition and of the liturgical books. It is strictly required, however, that [they] be truly noble in the common estimation within a given region, so that honor will be given to the Lord by their use, and all risk of diminishing the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharistic species in the eyes of the faithful will be avoided. Reprobated, therefore, is any practice of using for the celebration of Mass common vessels, or others lacking in quality, or devoid of all artistic merit or which are mere containers, as also other vessels made from glass, earthenware, clay, or other materials that break easily. This norm is to be applied even as regards metals and other materials that easily rust or deteriorate. (SR, 117)  [USE PROPER VESSELS!]

The sacred vessels are purified by the priest, the deacon, or an instituted acolyte after Communion or after Mass, insofar as possible at the credence table. The purification of the chalice is done with water alone or with wine and water, [the traditional way] which is then drunk by whoever does the purification. The paten is usually wiped clean with the purificator (GIRM, 279).  [This is clearly mentioned, as it was in Redemptionis Sacramentum because there is far and wide risk of profanation of the sacred species of the Eucharist. We all know the horror stories and don’t need to recount them.]

Following the instructions that the Church lays down for the proper celebration of the Eucharist is not a burden, but a joy.  [Here is a good spiritual point!  The quickest way to get at the point here is through a quote from The Divine Comedy: "In His will is our peace".] For it enables us to enter into the spirit of the Liturgy with greater freedom and less distraction. [Obedience to good thing leads to freedom.  This freedom is both interior (spiritual) and also material.  When we stick to the rubrics and directives, we can actually be more free and creative within a structure.]  It may take a child-like humility to do as the Church asks in the celebration of the Liturgy. However, true love is never proud. “Priests who faithfully celebrate Mass according to the liturgical norms, and communities which conform to these norms, quietly but eloquently demonstrate their love for the Church” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 52).

I thank all of you for your love of God’s people and your desire to be good and faithful “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor 1:4).

May the Eucharist, daily and faithfully celebrated, truly be a gift of life and growth for the Church of Paterson.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most Reverend Arthur J. Serratelli, S.T.D., S.S.L., D.D.
Bishop of Paterson


Folks, this is the new head of the liturgical committee for the USCCB. 

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Geoffrey says:

    The term for his new post is only 3 years, correct? That’s too bad…

  2. Brian says:

    Wow. What can be said, but “Amen, Deo Gratias!” (Possibly a “Te Deum”?)

    In Christ,

  3. Bryan says:


    I can’t even begin to imagine his predecessor in the committee printing something like that in his diocesean paper.

    Is this what they mean by a 180-degree turn?

    No, if only the rest of the Bishops were listening.

    There are glimmers of light in the darkness of the past 40 years of white martyrdom as a result of the Council being misapplied. Deo gratias!


  4. RichR says:

    This is interesting. The fact that this was dated mid-October (my birthday, actually), puts it before the NCCB convened and His Excellency was assigned to the Liturgy Committee. The fact that he assumed this role after this letter was put out may suggest something is happening with the hierarchy as a whole. Don’t they vote on the leaders of the Committees? Is it likely they would have been aware of this letter as they cast their votes?

  5. Steve Girone says:

    A nice elaboration on “do the red, read the black.” I pray that there
    is a genuine trickle down effect, as this comes from the new head of the
    USCCB liturgical committee. Nice to see Bishop Serratelli setting such
    a nice tone from the top. This is the kind of leadership we need.

    Very encouraging indeed!


  6. berenike says:

    want. want. want!

    gies this bishop! Gies him NOW! WANT THIS BISHOP!!!!

  7. Paul, South Midlands says:

    How do I go about nominating him for the post of Archbishop of Westminster?

  8. SC says:

    Fr. Z,
    Does the selection of this wonderful shepherd mitigate the selection of new USCCB VP? More than a little discouraged on that point. Maybe the Most Reverend Arthur J. Serratelli is our one step forward?

  9. Dob says:

    Excellent letter.

  10. amy says:

    I understand that the entire episcopal makeup of the committee will be new, as well. That’s what I’m very interested to see, but it’s not been posted anywhere.

  11. Jason in San Antonio says:

    Your comments to the good bishop’s article remind me of something. Perhaps this has been discussed elsewhere (please delete it if so)–and perhaps it’s just such a matter of common sense that no one’s bothered. Why is there a restrictive interpretation accorded to “extraordinary” in the sense of ministers of Holy Communion (in that they’re only to be used where it’s truly necessary), whereas a broad interpretation is sought to be applied to “extraordinary” in the sense of the form of the Mass liberated under Summorum Pontificum (in that it’s permitted wherever requested)? (Or rather, as it plays out in practice: why are extraordinary ministers so ordinary and why is the forma extraordinaria far from ordinary if the same term is used?)

    When the bishops so lovingly corrected by Bishop Ranjinth seek to marginalize the TLM, they often do so by reference to its “extraordinary” appellation. Yet they make no such distinction with regard to permitting liberal use of EMHC. Has no one pointed out this inconsistency to the bishops?

  12. mrs. k says:

    Ok — what happens now, since our dear diocesan liturgist quotes and refers ONLY to BCL documents, and will only act or speak once she and her liturgist organization checks with the BCL on “stable group” — to whom will she go? I guess I’m hopeful beyond reason, but won’t she and her/their Bishops have to change? They LOVE the USCCB.

  13. Tom S. says:

    BOOM indeed!!! I Love It!

  14. pdt says:

    Let’s see now … yesterday our celebrant
    – gave us the “good morning” chat after the introductory sign of the cross
    – called for applause for our pastor for his sermon on parish volunteer slots
    – failed to bow/genuflect after the consecration of the host
    – added the words “my Lord” to consecration of both species
    – added “Please stand” and “Please be seated” at numerous places
    – called for applause for the choir [clapclap] the servers, ushers, Eucharistic ministers [clapclap]
    – then called for applause for ourselves for attending this … um … Mass?
    – and after dismissal added a “Have a nice day”

    Can this bishop reissue this letter to every diocese and parish once he is in his new position within the USCCB? I’d be glad to donate towards postage.

  15. Anthony says:

    Not too long ago Serratelli celebrated a Solmen High Pontifical at Our Lady of Fatima Chapel in his diocese. He’s certainly very sympathetic if not supportive of tradition.

  16. mike says:

    No great insight here – but the Bishop bears a resemblance to Chief Justice John Roberts – a “strict constructionist”, conservative, originalist and Catholic.


  17. PNP, OP says:

    “The abuse is reprobated whereby the sacred ministers celebrate Holy Mass or other rites without sacred vestments or with only a stole over the monastic cowl or the common habit of religious or ordinary clothes (SR, 126). [WEAR PROPER VESTMENTS!]”

    The Dominican in his sparkling white habit says, “AAArrrggghhhhhhh…!” Fr. Philip, OP

  18. Maria says:

    What a great letter!

    Father Z, on the purifying “with wine and water, [the traditional way]”, what is the practical or symbolic reason that wine is also used in purifying?

    Father Philip, are you the Dominican who says “Argh” or is it a certain one of your confreres? :p —signed UD Student

  19. momoften says:

    I pray for such a bishop–hopefully ours will retire from the Gaylord Diocese next year…
    Wish he could be here…we are still waiting for a public T Mass. Have a competent priest,
    trained altar boys, and even a choir. We will wait and pray—and HOPE!

  20. Trad Tom says:

    With such negative images of New Jersey as “The Sopranos” or the Newark airport, who would have ever thought that spine, joy, and firm direction would come from this wonderful bishop of Patterson, NJ? Further, to think that he will be the new head of the liturgical committee of the USCCB just proves that the Lord works in mysterious ways.

    How I wish I lived in his diocese, or that he would be appointed to mine!

  21. Tom Seeker says:

    Florida is in great need of such a Bishop…thank GOD that they are out there! THANKS BE TO GOD!’

    in +JMJ+

  22. Trad Tom says:

    With such negative images of New Jersey as “The Sopranos” or the Newark airport, who would have ever thought that such positive joy, firm direction, and ecclesiastical spine would come from this wonderful bishop of Patterson, NJ? Further, to think that he will be the new head of the liturgical committee of the USCCB just leads us all to say “Deo Gratias!”

    How I wish I lived in his diocese, or that he would be appointed to mine!

  23. Anthony says:

    Bishop Serratelli is great. however as someone from his diocese i would definitely like to see these great pronouncements enforced. I have not really seen any stricter adherence to liturgy in the diocese. but i guess this will come with time. at any rate he needs our support.

  24. PNP, OP says:

    Maria: now, now… :-) It’s me. You know how hot natured I am. The thought of yet another layer of clothing on top of the four layers I am already wearing is too much. Yes, I get the whole “the habit is ordinary clothing so you need an alb” argument. But…I’m not putting on another layer of clothing to satisfy a definition. Fr. Philip, OP

    P.S. On every other point the good bishop is absolutely correct. I might point out here that the latest issues of homiletic & pastoral review has a great article in it titled, “Messing with the Mass: The problems of priestly narcissism today.” Gotta love that title!

  25. About the altar…

    Do I understand Fr. Z’s comments to be negative on using a colored cloth on the altar? My understanding was that was allowed, so long as the top cloth is white.

  26. I believe Bp. Serratelli was addressing the common practice in his diocese of mass celebrated on an altar that only has one colored cloth on it and/or has no cloth on it (only a corporal). The mention of the stole being worn over the monastic cowl wasn’t there haphazardly either. His diocese has two Benedictine Abbeys in it (St. Paul’s in Newton and St. Mary’s in Morristown) and this is a direct comment to them. St. Mary’s is notoriously progressive and I know his comments about vesture were definitely a little slap directed at them.

  27. I liked the little slap about proper vesture. Two Benedictine Abbeys are located in that diocese (St. paul’s in Newton and St. Mary’s in Morristown). The latter of the two is notoriously progressive so I believe the comment about stoles over the monastic cowl was directed at them. Sometimes religious need reminding that they are subject to the local bishop. Good for him!

  28. Louis E. says:

    I gather the decision that Serratelli’s committee would absorb Trautman’s was made last year.Recall Trautman’s letter some months ago exhorting his faithful to write letters to chairman-elect Serratelli urging that the reading level of the translations be kept down despite ICEL.

  29. Peter says:

    Here is a remark in a speech by an East Anglia priest I heard a few years ago.
    ‘Rubrics are there to protect the laity from the idocies and idiosyncrasies of the clergy. Rubrics are the church’s good manners. Doing your own thing is not on.’

  30. justinmartyr says:

    “There’s a new spirit abroad. I see it on every side.”

    And, poor booby, he was bang right.

  31. michigancatholic says:

    PNP OP,

    Maybe we can take your comment about not wanting to do as the rubrics say in the same spririt as one might take my lay complaint that I don’t want to go to work in the morning, change the kitty litter, do the laundry, pay my light bill, etc etc. However, I do complete these things because I am a layperson and it is my station in life to take care of these things. This is the station in life which I accepted.

    No one dragged you kicking & screaming to your station in life. It comes with responsibilities and privileges, as mine does. Suck it up. Stop carping in public. It looks bad. It does the Church a disservice.

  32. Tom says:

    Hooray, at least for three years! Keep up with the sacrifices. The battle is not over yet.

  33. pattif says:

    When Bishop Serratelli’s three years is up, could he please be seconded to the CBCEW? Puhleeeze?

  34. Jim C says:


    Reprobated’s second meaning is condemned to hell. The dictionary seems to indicate that this is the theological definition. Can you provide any further clarity. I saw your definingion and don’t doubt you but it can be quite hard to find Catholic definitions of what are legal terms in in general sources. Thank you.


  35. JimC: My explanation was pretty clear, I think. The bishop is speaking of liturgical laws, practices and abuses. You cannot reprobate a practice to hell (no matter how much we despise them). In legal contexts reprobate has a meaning, and I explained it.

  36. Ut videam says:

    Amy said: I understand that the entire episcopal makeup of the committee will be new, as well. That’s what I’m very interested to see, but it’s not been posted anywhere.

    The membership of the new USCCB Committee on Divine Worship, as reported here:

    Most Rev. Arthur J. Serratelli, Bishop of Paterson, Committee Chairman; Justin F. Cardinal Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia; Most Rev. Daniel M. Buechlein, OSB, Archbishop of Indianapolis; Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap., Archbishop of Denver; Most Rev. George H. Niederauer, Archbishop of San Francisco; Most Rev. Kevin J. Farrell, Bishop of Dallas; Most Rev. Ronald P. Herzog, Bishop of Alexandria in Louisiana; Most Rev. Octavio Cisneros, Auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn (also chairman of the Subcommittee on Liturgy for Hispanics); and a final member yet to be determined.

    Consultants to the committee are Roger M. Cardinal Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles; and Most Rev. John G. Vlazny, Archbishop of Portland in Oregon.

  37. Dear Fr. Philip,

    Might I suggest that to solve the problem of over-heating in the
    South and notice of rubric violation, that when you say Mass
    you simply remove your capuce, scapular, belt and Rosary?

    Add a cinture and you have an alb. The tunic is a long white robe,
    that is the definition of an “alb.” You are now in rubrical

    This will also removed two of those layers of clothing that make
    one so uncomfortable in hot weather.

  38. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    Would the USCCB like nominations for the Liturgy committee? How about Brukewitz of Lincoln or Garcia of Monterey or Burbidge of Raleigh or Jugis of Charlotte?

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