A PCED clarification: stabiliter not continenter in the MP and TLM in universities

A WDTPRSer sent me a copy of a response from the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei".  Our reader had some questions for the PCED and the PCED answered them.

I must say right away that this letter requires me to make a retraction concerning what I have said about continenter and stabliter in the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum.

The official text signed by the Holy Father has the word stabiliter and NOT

I will state clearly that I was wrong about this.

Let us move to the letter itself.

Judging from the PCED response the writer asked the following questions:

  1. Regardless of circumstances like a shortage of priests is it the Holy Father’s intention that at a parish where there are several Sunday Masses, one of them should be celebrated in the extraordinary form? 
  2. Is the Motu Proprio intended to apply also to colleges and universities?
  3. What is the correct Latin text — stabiliter or continenter?

Here is my transcription of the 27 Feb 2008 response from the PCED.  (Folks, it would really help if, when you send me images of letters, you also consider sending a transcript.)

I will add my emphases and some comments.

We wish to acknowledge receipt of your letter of 7 November 2007 address to His Eminence Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos and beg your indulgence for not having managed to respond sooner due to the volume of mail which we have received since the promulgation of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum and the many matters which have required our immediate attention.  We will respond to your questions in the order in which you have raised them, point out at the same time that we are expecting the publication of an instruction on the application of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum sometime in the relatively near future and this should deal in more detail with some of the questions you raise.

It is too difficult to make catergorial statements about whether every parish where there is interest, should provide the extraordinary form of the Mass on a weekly basis.  There are many variants involved including the number of the faithful, the availability of priests etc.  This matter would have to be considered from many practical perspectives.  [In other words, we can’t answer that.]

The Motuo Proprio itself does not speak specifically of college and unversity chaplaincies, but in article 5, §5 it states In ecclesiis, quae non sunt nec paroeciales nec conventuales Rectoris ecclesiae est concedere licentiam de qua supra.  This is understood as referring also to college or university chaplains. [In other words, 5, §5 applies to universities.]

The correct word, that which is contained in the Motu Proprio signed by the Holy Father, is stabiliter and the instruction should deal specifically with its interpretation. [In other words, Fr. Z was wrong when writing about continenter as being the official text.]

Please note some other things.

First, the Holy Father’s clarifications will be coming relatively soon.  Who knows when that will be, but we probably won’t see it before Easter.

Second, the Holy Father is going to explain what 5, §1 says.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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


  1. Gregor says:

    That is certainly surprising given that the version on the Holy See website still says “continenter”.

  2. Gregor: Yes, indeed. On the other hand, given what I have seen of the Holy See’s use of the means social communications, this doesn’t surprise at all.

  3. cor ad cor loquitur says:

    Fr Z, will you subsequently comment on the correct translation of the Latin, given that it is stabiliter and not continenter? And on the practical and pastoral implications of this change — if indeed there are any?

  4. The verb still forces the Fr Z interpretation of the text, does it not, Fr Z?
    Where is that Post?

  5. Pater, OSB says:

    Fr. Z.,
    Other than the horribly out of date page at http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_commissions/ecclsdei/index.htm
    does the Ecclesia Dei commission have a website?

  6. Chironomo says:

    It seems that most of the bungles that have arisen in the interpretation of 5/1 are not because of the difference between stabiliter and continenter, but rather because of a bad translation of stabiliter as “stable” in the popular sense of that word. Does it mean pre-existing, long-term, resident at a particular parish, or does it mean that the group not be an “ad hoc” group or a one-time assembled group for the purpose of getting a Mass established at a parish. It would seem to me that given the previous restrictions on the TLM, it would be absurd to require that a group adhering to the TLM must already be established to fulfill the requirements for having a Mass said regularly. How would the group have existed without the Mass being available? And yet this is precisely what is being claimed by some of the more resistant opponents of SP. Hopefully, the clarification document will settle this question.

  7. Tom says:

    I am sorry. But the dicussion at hand is nonsense. The entire liturgical situation within the Latin Church is nonsense.

    How shocking it is that we’ve reached the point within the Latin Church that the ancient and Traditional Roman Liturgy…the Mass of Saint Peter…is held hostage to the “stabiliter and continenter”…is held hostage to “stable” groups and other such nonsense.

    How absurd!

    I have never been to an SSPX chapel. I have never been to an “independent” chapel.

    But in the following sense, more than ever, I admire the folks at such places: They simply offer the Mass of Saint Peter.

    That is it. They simply offer the ancient Roman Liturgy.

    We don’t have time for a slooooow step-by-step Marshall Plan.

    We need the Berlin Airlift.

    The City of God is in dire straits. We don’t have time for clarifications, stabiliter and continenter…for bishops to issue stingy “guidelines” to “implement” Summorum Pontificum.

    We need priests who simply have the guts to offer the Mass of Saint Peter.

  8. Tom, the Mass of Saint Peter is governed by Peter.

    Scott, thanks for that link. I think that goes back to this a few days earlier:

    The liturgy prof would seem to have a very static understanding of the word “exsistere”, something that philosophers like Etienne Gilson and Cornelio Fabro fought to change.

    This dynamism of “exsistere” can be understood by noting that one of its definitions is “to emerge”.

    Comment by RBrown — 5 October 2007 @ 10:25 pm

    The result, then, is the same, and Fr Z has been right all along in his instincts, so to speak.


    Fr Z, your quickness to apologise inspires confidence, although given the circumstances, I don’t think anyone can hold anything against you for anything like that, except, perhaps, that you’re maybe too quick to apologise! No need for a disclaimer on this blog!


  9. fr.franklyn mcafee says:

    ?”Relatively near future”?Haven’t we heard this before?”Immediate””soon””subito”etc before the MP-as much as 6 months prior.I think,with all due respect-that cannot tell time or still use hour glasses.

  10. Chironomo says:

    Fr. Franklyn McCafee…

    Remember that even St. Paul said that Christ would be returning “soon”… and that was when? This is what we might call “Church Time”…

  11. Dr. Lee Fratantuono says:

    The problem is documents like this have become appreciably sloppier over the last few decades.

    There was a time when a document of this sort would never use words like “stabiliter” or “continenter” in this context. It’s simply not precise enough. It opens doors to multiple interpretations.

  12. Henry Edwards says:

    Tom: But the dicussion at hand is nonsense.

    Indeed it is. Whether it’s “continenter” or “stabiliter” makes no difference to the meaning. The point is that either is an adverb modifying “existing”. Whether it says “continuously existing group” or “stably existing group”, means essentially the same thing in context. So no need to go off like a rocket.

  13. Peter Karl T. Perkins says:

    Sorry, ladies and gentlemen. I didn’t see this thread before. I missed it by mistake.

    First of all, I don’t think that Fr. Z. was “wrong” about the official text: he was right in accordance with what we knew at the time. However, the official text has now been set. Until it was announced, nobody could say with certainty which words would be used.

    I would like to argue here that ‘stabliter’ is GOOD news, not bad news. Many of you probably think that I am an ogre, given my reaction to the Good Friday change. Not at all. I simply call them as I see them. Fault me for being an idiot at times but not for being dishonest.

    Now I think that we must consider the Latin etymology of stabiliter and continenter. Continenter essentially means ‘continuously’, but over what period of time? If we say that a group (cœtus) must exist in a parish ‘continuously’, this is presumably manifested in the participation of two or three people at worship on at least two occasions in accordance with a temporal rule (e.g. every Thursday for two consecutive Thursdays, or every Sunday for two consecutive Sundays, and so on). In strict logic, the occasions making for the rule could be as few as two. But law is more than logic, and must needs take into account reasonable conditions in life. Normally, what happens in such cases is that precedent determines the case or, if there is no precedent, a judge will set reasonable conditions which can then be refined in subsequent rulings. Put another way, you’d have to ask a canonist what ‘continenter’ might entail.

    Now, this is ultimately true for ‘stabiliter’ too. However, the meaning of words in a normal sense is the first consideration in the interpretation of texts (cf. Canon 17). Stabiliter comes from stare, to stand. In this sense, it means, to exist or subsist. So, a stable group is an existing group. Period. Now, in order for a group of people to exist *as* a group, they must have already manifested themelves by some provable form of co-operation. In other words, for a group to be stable, its members must have a distinct relationship as such a group. I would think that any public association at common law would qualify. In my jurisdiction which is proper for this in secular law, the Province of British Columbia (which is a much better place than anywhere in the U.S.A. by the way), the authority for this would be the B.C. Societies Act. That would qualify.

    A second possibility, of course, would be to found a group in canon law, such a private or public association of the faithful. That too would qualify. In common and contract law, it would also do to write up a one-page declaration of association and have it witnessed and dated under conditions which would make it binding in secular law. Anyone can do that in his kitchen. It must include some condition of common enterprise, such an an intention of the members to benefit spiritually from celebration of the 1962 Missal.

    This declaration or documentation would then need to be proved by presentation to the authority in the matter in hand. In this case, that is the parish priest or the rector of a non-parochial church, as the case may be.

    This brings us to the question of how many people constitute a group. But that is a separate matter. In Late Latin, a group could be as few as two individuals joined together for some joint purpose. But canon law might require three. That was the number suggested by the Canon Law Society of Great Britain. In any event, anyone can cobble together one or two other people and then sign them on to a kitchen contract. Once they are bound by the contract in some way, they ‘stand’ as a group; hence, they are stable.

    Naturally, it is possible that Canon Law requires more than this owing to precedent, or the law might be more specific about the nature of the contract. So the matter still needs clarification. But this should not deter us in the mean time. Simply draw up a document in precise wording, have it signed, witnessed, and dated, and present it to your parish priest with your request for the Traditional Latin Mass. It should include an attestation that the members of the group ‘stand’ in the parish either because they have worshipped there recently with the intention of continuing to do so, or because they have domiciles or quasi-domiciles in the territory of the parish.

    Now you may have supporters in mind who have never worshipped in the parish in question and who don’t live in its territory. Leave them out of the contract. You only need three individuals who qualify for the purpose of forming the group. But once a public Mass is approved, under current law, anyone can attend. So others could come with you and some of them might later join the group to ensure its unbroken continuity.

    Really, three people who qualify in this way as a stable group could make a contract and submit a request for the old Mass, and they could then be joined by 500 other people from other parishes.


  14. Peter Karl T. Perkins says:

    A Consideration Regarding Time

    One final note: The context of S.P. clearly means that a stable group must exist at the time it submits its request for the old Mass, not at any old time. Hence we must form our groups by kitchen or other contracts first, and then submit the request. That is the order of operations. We could include a copy of the contract with the letter or request, although this would not be necessary unless the recipient (usually a parish priest) asked for this.

    From my own sense of canonical texts (I have read a fair number of them), I would say that conditions here for membership in a such a group would be one or more of the following:

    (a) the member lives in the territory of the parish in question because he or she has her main residence [domicile] there.

    (b) having a quasi-domicile (e.g. summer cottage or any other official residence) there would also qualify.

    (c) in the case of the homeless (vagi), they will qualify if they are willing to swear that they normally sleep in the same territory.

    (d) if the member does not live in the territory of the territorial parish in question, he can still qualify if he has worshipped there recently (preferably twice in a row in accordance with a temporal rule, such as the two previous Sundays) AND swears that he has the intention of continuing to do so. In this case, it would be best to attest to a minimum pattern of attendance plus the intention to continue. The intention to continue, in my view, is absolutely vital.

    Really, this is all good news, I think. Stabiliter in Latin just means existing. It does not carry all the connotations of ‘stable’ in English.


  15. big benny says:

    Dear Fr Z,
    I think you really need to go back and delete your many comments about this. Even though this will be time consuming, i think you have an obligation as you were wrong. Many people looking at your old posts, would be mis-informed and that will not help reconcile the internal divisions within the church.

  16. Peter Karl T. Perkins says:

    One More Consideration

    It has just occurred to me that the situation is even better than I have written in the last two posts. To be a member of a stable group, one presumably only needs to express (in writing) an intention. Once one has done so, that *makes* one a member of a stable group.

    So, to reiterate in general terms, the members of such a group must

    (a) reside in the parish in question or

    (b) express in the written contract forming the group that they intend to worship in the parish should a Traditional Latin Mass be approved there.

    That should be sufficient to make it a stable group. There need only be three people signing the contract. The other 500 can show up if they want!


  17. Peter Karl T. Perkins says:

    To Big Benny:

    Come, come. It was not Fr. Z.’s fault. Look, I don’t hesitate to call Father out when I disagree with him (I didn’t like his “spittle” comment on the Jews question). But he has done nothing wrong here. He went to the text given by the Church herself in a public forum. And he was right in his interpretation of that text.

    No legal text is ‘official’ until it has been published as such by the Holy See. We don’t know what the official words will be until it is published, and the Holy See can change its first published text before publishing a legally-binding one in the A.A.S.

    Fr. Z. did nothing wrong. Nothing at all. He is dead wrong about the Good Friday Prayer but then that’s because he’s not I. How unfortunate it is for him not to be I. Every morning, I look in the mirror and say to myself, Ah, how good and sweet it is to be I.


  18. Peter Karl T. Perkins says:

    More on Intention

    Yes, to make someone the member of a stable group (or, to get the grammar right ‘stably existing’ in a group), it should be sufficient for that person to swear an intention to worship in a certain place. Clearly, stability can be grounded in one’s intention. But an intention can be conditional; it can be restricted. Even if i say that I have a firm intention to do x only under conditions y, it is no less firmly an intention for the condition. The Church accepts my intention as honest, given the universal principles of justice, unless there are good reasons to think otherwise. The Church assumes the best of her members, not the worst.

    To understand what ‘stand’ (stabiliter) can mean in law, one must consider time and place and intention in relation to them. If the text means ‘stably existing’, it means existing in either fact or intention for a place and for a time. An intention can be stable or firm, just as a fact is.

    Hence, it means that one lives in the parish in question or that one intends to live there (is moving in to the territory) or that one intends to worship there under some or no conditions. But such intentions to worship there, together with intentions to co-operate with others in a group, should be manifested in a written documents which is signed, dated, and witnessed. That way, if the parish priest questions that certain people qualify as a group, they can prove it instantly.


  19. Peter Karl T. Perkins says:

    Kitchen Contracts

    Someone could draw up a model kitchen contract for a stably existing group, and then publish it widely on the Internet.

    It should include the following items:

    (1) At least three individuals need to found it.

    (2) Resident founders need to swear that they reside in the territory of the parish.

    (3) All the founders should swear that they intend to worship in the parish on a regular basis, provided that the Traditional Latin Mass be available to them there on that same basis.

    (4) All the founders should confess their adherence to the whole Traditional Latin Liturgy and its entire ethos, and they should state that they are coming together in Christ’s Name to worship Him and venerate the angels and saints by means of the Traditional Liturgy of the Latin Church.

    (5) Membership in the group should be open to faithful anywhere in the Diocese or in any adjoining diocese.

    (6) The contract should be witnessed by people who are not members of the group.

    (7) The contract should be dated, adding a reference to the pontifical year (we are about to enter the fourth year of His Holiness’s pontificate).

    (8) The contract should be signed by all the founding members of the group, over their printed names.

    (9) A list of names and addresses of the founders should be included.

    (10) I would include a pious spiritual condition to bind the members together, such as an undertaking to pray one Pater a day for the good of the diocese.

    The group need not have statutes or a constitution. It can be simpler than that. I can simply be a contract among three or more persons.

    A more formal group could be founded as a Una Voce chapter, a pubic or private association of the faithful in canon law, or an association under civil law. But these could follow later, as they take more time and consideration. It’s the Mass that matters. Secure the Mass first with the aid of a kitchen contract, and then devise more complex rules if you wish.

    I would really appreciate it if others would added suggested conditions for this kitchen contract. We should cobble something up for the Internet.


  20. big: I think you really need to go back and delete your many comments about this. Even though this will be time consuming, i think you have an obligation as you were wrong. Many people looking at your old posts, would be mis-informed and that will not help reconcile the internal divisions within the church.

    No, I don’t think so, and I won’t do that.

    First, I might have been wrong, but I wasn’t far wrong. I am happy to admit public any public errors I make.

    Second, what I wrote still have some validity and it stands as a record on the discussion.

    Third, I, and others, were working from the official text as it was released to the world. I and others did our best with what we had.

    Fourth, it’s too much work.

    So, thanks for the suggestion, but I won’t be doing that.

  21. Peter Karl T. Perkins says:

    What does stabiliter modify?

    “Stabiliter” is an adverb; it modifies “exsistit”.

    According to my Chambers desk dictionary, stable can mean “firm in purpose or character; constant; not ready to change”. Keep in mind its etymology from stare, to stand. The group stands rooted in a place. Time and place are always crucial to law.

    A group which is ‘stably existing’ in a parish is one the members of which live there on a constant basis, or those who intend to do so, or those who intend–have a firm purpose–to worship there, whether conditionally or not.

    Hence a kitchen contract can solve many of our problems. I should consult someone in my family about this (several lawyers and one judge). We need someone to draw up a kitchen contract for wide dissemination on the net, as a template.

    Of course, the other shoe will soon drop with the definition of ‘cœtus’. I suspect that it will allow nasty Mahonys to set Latin exams for aspiring young traditional priests. But Fr. Z. would advise me to wait and not worry.

    Parish Shopping

    Now we can shop for parishes to target! We need to find a parish church which looks like a church (that cuts down the options to a very small number) and which the members of our groups can reach by car or helicopter or on their hands and knees. I like train travel the best, but I must admit that that’s no way to get to church. We need, above all, a church which has an Altar, and not just some pathetic suppertable.


  22. Mark says:

    A problem with any “stable” group(or whatever the correct word is)for the celebration of the extraordinary form is that such people are widely distributed. Here in northern England, you’re lucky if you can get one person within a parish who is attached to the extraordinary form, or a least a member of England’s Latin Mass Society. It is very dificult to get a group of people, resident within the territory of the parish, to form a group who could request a TLM from their pastor/parish priest. The best you could hope for is a group of people, covering a wider area, who would be willing to worship in a parish in the future, were it to offer a Latin Mass. A lot then depends on how strictly Summorum Pontificum is interpreted and the willingness of and pastor to grant a request for people who don’t belong to his parish.

  23. Peter Karl T. Perkins says:

    To Mark:

    I understand your concern. I have relatives in England (all in the South, though), and they are less willing to travel than are Canadians and Australians and Americans. We are used to the huge distances here and have fantastical ideas that, we’d “drive a hundred miles just for a cup of tea”.

    However, I am certain that members of the group will not need to reside in the parish. They will only need to undertake to worship there on a regular basis. In forming a group, they only need to manifest that intention by a contract. In law, the group can be made stable by a firm purpose and can manifest and demonstrate that person by written declaration.

    Nevertheless, you may still have a problem, since many of your supporters may not be willing to travel long distances.

    It is important to remember that, under the current Code, we can fulfil the Sunday obligation wherever we like–even on Easter Sunday. We can even fulfil it at an Eastern Divine Liturgy. Gone are the days when one had to repair to one’s parish church.


  24. Dr. Lee Fratantuono says:

    The sad thing is, neither “stabiliter” nor “continenter” is precise enough for a tinderbox document like Summorum Pontificum. Both words have rich nuances of meaning that defy definitive analysis. A clarification is obviously needed, and apparently forthcoming if not imminent, but one does scratch the head at how someone could have chosen either adverb and not realized it opened a large can of Tridentine invertebrates.

  25. Peter Karl T. Perkins says:

    I think that Dr. Fratantuono makes a very good point. Why insert any adverbs at all here? It seems to me that such qualifications only give the bishops (or the parish priests, in this case) reasons for denying Masses. Qualification always means restriction.

    Clarification usually means restriction as well, which is why I am worried about the coming one. It seems at times as if the curia was unsure of how far to go. Will too much freedom for the old Mass cause an episcopal rebellion? Will too little make the S.P. a dead letter. They were not sure exactly where the right balance was. So they inserted modifiers of undefined meaning, which they could restrict in accordance with convenience after the fact. An interesting idea. We are now reading the texts back into the intention of its writers.


Comments are closed.