QUAERITUR: Can pastors deny the use of the church to visiting priests/groups?

I got these questions via e-mail:

I have a question dealing with the proper understanding of the Motu Propio Summorum Pontificum.

A hypothetical diocese has a policy in which the Extraordinary Form is only allowed where explicitly permitted by the bishop but the Ordinary Form is permitted in any church in the diocese.  Is this consistent with Motu Propio Summorum Pontificum?  I would think that wherever the Ordinary Form is permitted the Extraordinary Form is also permitted since these are simply two different uses of the same rite.

This seems not to be consistent with the provisions of Summorum Pontificum.

As I read it, the Motu Proprio places these decisions in the hands the priests, not the bishops.  Bishops may not, it seems, forbid celebrations of the older form of Mass. 

Pastors can schedule Masses with the older form of Mass either on a regular basis or ad hoc.

A second question:  may a priest deny a local group the use of "his" church for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass?  Assume a local group has arranged for a visiting FSSP priest to come to town, the visiting priest has obtained faculties, and the local group approaches the pastor respectfully and courteously to ask whether thevisiting  FSSP priest may offer Mass on a single occasion at some time in which the church is not being used for something else.  Does the pastor have the right to refuse to allow the group & the FSSP priest access to the church?

Yes, I think a pastor of a parish could forbid a visiting priest and an outside group from doing something in his parish. 

Pastors of parishes (or those in charge of other churches and chapels) should extend to visiting priests the opportunity to say Mass. 

However, a pastor is not obliged to let visiting groups or priests move into his church and do what they please, even when what they desire to do is laudable.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Father Z:

    We’ve known this has been the case, but it further drives home the fact that neither you nor any other Tradition-minded priest will be pastorally invited to Los Angeles for a Usus Antiquior, at least in a diocesan parish. At least before 2011 anyway. Granted, there are many religious communities and parishes run by such which would be very welcoming of you, but on a diocesan level, you guys got the wrong Bingo card.

    God bless, Father.

  2. TNCath says:

    While I can see where a pastor can control groups (i.e. the FSSP) from using his parish, I don’t see where this could extend to celebration of Mass in the Extraordinary Form. If the pastor is ill and is not able to offer a funeral or nuptial Mass in his parish (as is his right to do so), shouldn’t the pastor delegate someone to offer them in his place? By the same token, if the pastor of the parish is not capable of offering Mass in the Extraordinary Form and a “stable group” requests it, does not the pastor have an obligation to find someone to offer it? Wouldn’t the right to have the Extraordinary Form in a parish carry the same weight as the right to Catholic burial or marriage of a practicing Catholic, provided all the necessary conditions are met?

  3. canon1753 says:

    Rudeness is a something that should be alien among priests. It is not, sadly. Courtesy is something that should be a norm among priests, but often is not…

  4. Here’s something that I wonder about, but it’s difficult to express. Summorum Pontificum explicitly places the decision for celebrating Mass in the Usus Antiquior in the hands of the pastor. But what if (as we have seen happen all too often) the bishop forbids the pastor to celebrate it so? Now the pastor is caught between permission given by the Pope, and obedience that he has sworn to his bishop. How can a pastor, in good conscience, disobey his bishop? (I find that unthinkable: I wouldn’t do it if I were in that position.) Wouldn’t that entail strictures and/or penance of some sort? Or does the word of the Pope really trump even obedience to one’s bishop?

  5. Thomas says:

    Kevin – Doesn’t a bishop owe obedience to the Pope? Maybe not – maybe they consider themselves equal, I’m just not sure.

  6. Peter Karl T. Perkins says:

    Canon 903 seems to contradict Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s claim:

    “A priest is to be permitted to celebrate the Eucharist, even if he is not known to the rector of the church, provided either that he presents commendatory letters, not more than a year old, from his own Ordinary or Superior, or that it can be prudently judged that he is not debarred from celebrating.”

    We need to keep in mind that the priest also needs somewhere to celebrate Mass when he is travelling. These issues did come up before. The P.C.E.D., as I recall, said that the travelling traditionalist priest did have a right to celebrate at any parish church, but that such Masses could not be advertised. However, the celebrant may leave the doors open or even invite guests, owing to Canon 837.2.

    A far more interesting question is whether or not a retired local priest can demand access to a local parish church for the same purposes, and for not-regularly scheduled Masses (they can be celebrated regularly but not scheduled). The answer would appear to be affirmative, provided that the church is not being used for some legitimate purpose at that time. Should he be debarred de facto, however, and should there be no place for him to celebrate within an hour of travelling time from his residence, he can celebrate in a fitting place outside a sacred place, on an Altar or even a table which is dedicated or blessed by him (Canon 932), he can always use the 1962 Missal and Latin, he can invite guests, and they fulfil their obligation there (Canon 1248.1)


  7. Peter Karl T. Perkins says:

    Addendum to my last comment on retired priests:

    Just to clarify, under Canons 903 and 932, a retired priest can apparently celebrate the 1962 Mass in Latin at a fitting place outside a sacred place whether (a) he was illegally barred from the sacred place or (b) whether he was legally unable to use the sacred place. If he’s unable to get into the church (perhaps nobody’s there when he arrives), whether for legitimate reasons or not, he is entitled to celebrate outside a sacred place at a fitting place.

    A retired priest, under the terms of his retirement whcih are usual in civil law, cannot be required to celebrate any Mass, whether New or Traditional. But, as long as he has faculties (and these cannot be removed without just cause), he is entitled and even encouraged (Canon 904) to celebrate once a day (but not more than once without permission). At this celebration, he is free to use either Missal. It follows logically that he could use only the 1962 Missal for such celebrations. His Masses would be ‘not-regularly-scheduled’ (formerly called private) under the terms of “Summorum Pontificum”, Articles 2 and 4. Faithful are free to ‘spread the news’ on the Internet but it would be unjustified for them to claim a regular schedule, since the celebrant could not communicate one to anyone. They could only tell people that they expect a regular schedule and then add a number to ‘call to confirm’.

    Retired priests are the ultimate ‘nuclear weapon’ of S.P. In law, at least, the bishop just can’t stop them. Nor can he stop one who is ‘called in’ by a parish priest who is prevented from celebrating the old Mass (the bishop can prevent a parish priest but only at a high cost to himself).


  8. PKTP: Canon 903 seems to contradict Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s claim: “A priest is to be permitted to celebrate the Eucharist…”


    I wrote that pastors should allow priests to say Mass. I wrote: Pastors of parishes (or those in charge of other churches and chapels) should extend to visiting priests the opportunity to say Mass.

    That applies to priests. It doesn’t apply to groups.

    Pastors do have the right to control the use of churches entrusted to their care.

    Groups, with a priest or not, do not have the right simply to demand the use of a parish church.

    If the pastor is reasonable, and the request is reasonable, he really should let the group use the church. However, he would also be fully within his right to ask for some sort of remuneration: someone has to pay for the heat, lights, clean up, etc.

  9. Fr. Angel says:

    With the clergy, it is so much better to get to know them on a friendly basis and then to politely and respectfully ask them for what you want.

    Bringing up canon law and making demands is the quickest way for the pastor to dig in his heels, get attitude, and say, “yes, the visiting priest and your group will have use of the church from 2:45 a.m. to 3:30 a.m., at which time the lights will be promptly shut off to conserve energy. Also, per canon law I am requiring the priest to present the proper letters to the rectory at 11:00 p.m., exactly, before the Mass is to be celebrated. I will be unavailable before or after that time. Since canon law permits you the use of the church, I assume you will provide everything else, as the cabinets of the sacristy will be locked.”

    But Father, those demands are so unreasonable.

    “You are exercising your rights according to the letter of canon law, and I am allowing your request without any violation of the letter of that same law. After all, the canon says your group is permitted a Mass in the church, but does not give you the right to determine the time of that Mass.”

    In other words, so much more is accomplished with honey, than with vinegar. Yes, there are rude priests who are not hospitable. But I’ve met even some very liberal ones who are fair if treated with respect as well.

  10. Deusdonat says:

    El que con los lobos anda sabrá aullar…

  11. Peter Karl T. Perkins says:

    Dear Fr. Z.:

    You also wrote this:

    “I think a pastor [i.e. parish priest] of a parish could forbid a visiting priest and an outside group from doing something in his parish.” That “somehing”, given the question asked of you, includes the celebration of Mass.

    The conjunction used by you is “and”, not “or”. He could forbid a visiting priest; and he could forbid an outside group.

    Canon 203 says otherwise: he may not forbid a visiting priest [provided, in general law, that the Church is not being used at a certain time]. It is not that he “should” not: he MAY not. That is what “is to be permitted means”.

    As for groups, nobody is suggesting that groups as such have a right to demand access. However, if a visiting priest asks for access, under Canon 837.2, he can definitely allow invited guests to join him. In fact, he should even try to find participants under that Canon. This is because Mass is public in its very nature: “Since liturgical matters by their very nature call for a community celebration, they are AS FAR AS POSSIBLE [emphasis added], to be celebrated in the presence of Christ’s faithful and with their active participation”. (You might also consult the opening words of the first section of this Canon.)

    Hence, while groups have no right to demand access, the celebrant has every right to include them. For example, a Fraternity priest could tell a local group that he’s coming to town and will be making arrangements to celebrate Mass at a certain time and place.

    Such Masses obviously cannot be publicised by the celebrant in accordance with any schedule. Those intending on assisting at them are free to let out the word on the Internet, although they can have no right to assert any regular schedule (in the case of retired priests).

    Lastly, if a visiting or a retired priest cannot gain access to a church within a reasonable time (viz. one hour)–whether the cause is licit or not–he is entitled to celebrate outside a sacred place at a fitting place, using a table blessed by him, and a corporal and an Altar cloth (cf. Canon 932). Once again, he can invite faithful to join him there and is encouraged to do so, and they can fulfil their obligation there.


  12. Peter Karl T. Perkins says:

    On Fr. Angel’s comments:

    I agree that the visiting priest should use charm and diplomacy rather than to cite law. We are citing law here because we are trying to address a matter of justice. What are the priest’s rights?


  13. Peter Karl T. Perkins says:

    On Fr. Z.’s reference to ‘remuneration’:

    The law must be reasonable to be just. Yes, the parish priest can ask for his five bucks for the electricity. But if he offers his church at 2.00 a.m., that is NOT reasonable. Incredibly, a judge in a tribunal will take into account what is reasonable.

    While a visiting priest should be polite and gracious, it is good that the parish priests realise that they have a right of access to do the most important work in this particular universe, which is to offer the Eternal Sacrifice of Christ. If parish priests know and understand this in the first place, they will not try to obstruct the visiting F.S.S.P. priest and his small congregation. So it is important that everyone should know what the law says and why.


    [Two things. It is over the top to assert that any priest who shows up at a parish can inform the pastor that he has the right to use the parish church and then demand that the doors be left open so that his accompanying group can have their unscheduled events. Perhaps something like this might be expected at a shrine or a pilgrimage place. But that a group can simply move in and do what they want regardless of the pastor’s desires is crazy. Second, it really annoys me when people post several comments in succession and thereby dominate a thread. – Fr. Z]

  14. Stephen says:

    Bishops control the altars and parishes in their jurisdictional areas — or, at least those who choose to do so. They are also the proclaimed “moderator of the liturgy” approving Mass times, etc. Many Bishops require testimonials, with their personal approval, for all visiting priests into their areas.
    For better or for worse, given the above, who is to say that a pastor is the sole arbiter of what happens in his parish church or even under the provisions of the Summorum?

  15. Hidden One says:

    Note to self: It’s all in the loopholes.

  16. Fr. Angel says:


    In an ideal situation, pastors would know and respect the rights of the faithful and their fellow priests. They would apply the law of the church in a just and reasonable manner. They would not lawyer or loophole their way out of a situation, or simply ignore and defy the law of the Church. The law, in fact, enshrines the church’s ideals.

    But the reality of the way priests deal with laity and each other has never been ideal. On paper, everything you state sounds great. However, when you approach a pastor and begin to make demands, you simply need to realize he holds the keys of the church and in the USA at least, he is seen as the legal executive officer of the parish property.

    He not only may ignore you, but he can call the police to have you physically removed from the property. You can tell the police, “but canon 903 says my visiting priest friend and our group can use the church!” and the police can still remove you from the property or if you are uncooperative can canon law you into the back of his patrol car.

    Yes, you can go to the local church tribunal and report that you and a group of faithful were ejected from parish property and had your ecclesiastical rights violated. The diocesan tribunal will then lament the terrible backlog of cases needing adjudication, and inform you that at their “earliest convenience” (around the year 2016) you will get a hearing. In the meantime, the bishop can call the FSSP superior and tell him that the FSSP are not to enter his diocese under any conditions. He can invent reasons out of thin air, but the point is that even if you win one battle (getting one Mass said) you’ve lost the war (getting the FSSP or your visiting priest friend banished by the diocesan bishop).

    In addition to the usual loopholes that a pastor can use for not allowing a visiting priest to offer Mass in the EF, in the USA we have the additional law applied under the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children, which spells out the bishop’s right to have each priest in his diocese, even visiting ones, checked out by law enforcement.

    So, even the celebret or traditional letters are no longer sufficient in the USA. The Charter has been approved by the Holy See as particular law for the United States. The pastor is in his right then to demand a background check by the police before he allows a visitor to say Mass.

    Moral of the story: just get to know the pastor of the church where you would like Mass said by a visiting priest and avoid preaching to him from canon law. Otherwise, you will learn by experience a whole new meaning to the word “stonewalling.”

  17. Peter Karl T. Perkins says:

    Fr. Z. writes:

    “It is over the top to assert that any priest who shows up at a parish can inform the pastor that he has the right to use the parish church and then demand that the doors be left open so that his accompanying group can have their unscheduled events.”

    That is a complete misrepresentation of what I wrote. I never suggested that the travelling priest just showed up and made demands. If he does show up unexpectedly, the law says that he must be (not should be) accommodated. However, in such cases, the demands may very well prove unreasonable in the circumstances. It would vary from case to case.

    But what I wrote did not suggest that the priest simply appeared. He could very well have telephoned or e-mailed in advance to make arrangements, and that would surely be the usual situation. The point, however, is that, as long as circumstances *are* reasonable, there is an ordinary obligation to admit him. That is owing to the importance of what he is coming to do. He is not coming to play tiddlywinks but to celebrate Holy Mass.


    Perhaps something like this might be expected at a shrine or a pilgrimage place. But that a group can simply move in and do what they want regardless of the pastor’s desires is crazy. Second, it really annoys me when people post several comments in succession and thereby dominate a thread. – Fr. Z]

  18. Peter Karl T. Perkins says:

    Dear Fr. Angel:

    Thank you for your kind remarks on this. My point, however, is that it is useful to know what the law does say and why. It is there, after all, for a reason. It is important for parish priests to realise that they are not morally free to bar a travelling priest or retired priest from using a church to celebrate Mass if that church is free at the time, whether he is coming to celebrate the New Mass or the traditional one. Whether they decide to act morally and civilly is another matter–and ultimately one for the internal forum.

    In regard to your practical points, well, it works both ways, Father. All sorts of bishops find that, how strange!, they can no longer get promotions if they ban the Latin Mass. How bizarre? I wonder why? Tribunals exist for a reason and the law is there for a reason. It is not good to argue that the law is irrelevant. We are Catholics! We are not *all* bad people, you know. Some of us obey the law because we regard it as our duty to do so. The ordinary assumption should be that the parish priest and the bishop are good Catholics who will obey the law, even if they don’t want to, not the reverse. I do all sorts of things I don’t want to, all for the Faith. Should that be regarded as odd?

    Sure, confession is a waste of time too. You can go into the ‘penalty box’ and tell the confessor all sorts of lies. But if you do that, you are not a real Catholic in the first place.

    On background checks: well, the travelling priest should know all the ins and outs in the country he’s visiting. That is a matter of course.


  19. Fr. Angel says:


    I wholeheartedly agree that the law of the Church must not be dismissed as if it is irrelevant. I am grateful that you have brought up very pertinent and informative facts of canon law. I misunderstood when you spoke of the methods of bringing this law to light with the clergy.

    Although we were taught in canon law the things you mention here, my best training was from priests I worked under who needed no coercion from law to receive a visiting priest as one receives a brother, and to extend to him every courtesy possible.

  20. Tim Ferguson says:

    Canon 903 does establish that a priest requesting permission to offer Holy Mass should not be denied as long as he has recently issued celebret, or there is a prudent judgment that he is not barred from offering Mass. At the same time, the rector of the church in question also has rights and responsibilities with regards to the church in his care. What we have here is a situation of competing rights, at least potentially.

    If, in the scenario Mr. Perkins describes in one of his many posts above, a retired priest was regularly – even daily – asking the rector of a church for permission to offer Holy Mass, and not “advertising” it directly but utilizing a sort of “Guerilla Gregorian Brigade” to spread the word, the rector of the church would have a legitimate case to make that his authority over the church is being undermined. Let us remember that the law can cut both ways – let’s say that, instead of a traditional-minded priest attempting to establish a regular celebration of the Extraordinary Form at St. Ipsy Dipsy, we had a case of Fr. Lovebeads and the Anarchist Society trying to establish a stealth LifeTeen Mass at a church operated by the Fraternity of St. Peter.

    The law is and should be respected, but the law should not be used as a bludgeon. In cases where rights conflict – such as the right of a priest to offer Holy Mass and have at least some congregation present versus the right of a pastor or rector to moderate the celebration of the liturgy in a church entrusted to his care – there can be grist for a canonical trial. How much better, though, when such conflicts are settled extrajudicially – as the law itself exhorts (c. 1446).

    It is unfortunate when some pastors and rectors reject legitimate requests from the faithful for the celebration of Holy Mass according to the extraordinary form, but before we resort to guerilla tactics employing retired priests and thereby fomenting or fostering animosity among our priests, perhaps we could aim for reasonable comprimise.

  21. Peter Karl T. Perkins says:

    I agree with most of what Mr. Ferguson writes and, yes, standards of reasonability do apply.

    However, I don’t see how a quiet Mass for a small group of invited guests is really a guerilla activitiy. [This may be the first time you introduced the idea of “quiet”, or much of anything irenic. I recall you calling retired priests a “nuclear option.”] It only is if we see the Mass in political terms. Similarly, I think that the same applies to a small group of N.O. supporters using a F.S.S.P. church for their Masses, provided, that their Masses were said in accordance with approved rubrics of a recognised rite the Church. The probem with many ‘Life Teen Masses’ is not that they are untraditional but that they are illicit.

    The New Mass and the Traditional Mass are both legitimate *provided* that their celebrants follow the rubrics and follow them. I don’t see why a F.S.S.P. priest should object if some faithful want to have a New Mass in his church at an available time, as long as their activity is reasonable, meaning that they must clean up after themselves and make a small contribution for the use of the building.

    I wish to clarify that my intent was not to ‘show up’ Fr. Z. on his own blog. I dont’ care for that. I only objected to his statement because I feel that it is misleading on an important point of law. [I think not.] I consider it important that priests know what Canon 903 stipulates. Owing to the importance of the Mass–to what it is–priests need to know that visiting and retired priests do have a reasonable right of access to celebrate Mass. They are asking for admittance to do the holiest thing on earth, not something which is per se bad or disruptive. The Church is solicitious to ensure that they not be obstructed in their holy work. Therefore, like a loving mother, she instructs them to assist one another and open the doors of the churches for that purpose. But her policy, to be firm here, is not one of recommendation or enjoining; it is one of strict obligation provided that the circumstances are reasonable. That is because of how important Mass is.

    Of course, I agree with Fr. Z. that the visting priest should plan his trip, that he must respect what is reasonable, and that he ought to be (mot must be) polite. But law is enforced first by the individual on himself. So a parish priest is bound in law to open the church to the visiting priest even if that is not what he’d prefer to do. [?] The question of who can get away with what before tribunals is secondary. Catholics shouldn’t think like that.

    The assumption should be that the visiting priest, the parish priest, and the bishop are all good Catholics who obey the law even when they’d rather not do so. Don’t we all do that at Lent? he point is that we sometimes consider it a duty to do what we’d rather not do. Duty must be (not should be) something we live by; otherwise, God may have a few things to say to us at judgement time.


  22. Peter Karl T. Perkins says:

    Fr. Zuhlsdorf, commenting on my text, writes:

    “This may be the first time you introduced the idea of “quiet”, or much of anything irenic. I recall you calling retired priests a “nuclear option.”.

    My text there says that the Mass itself is “quiet”. Presumably, it will be. I never suggested that the visiting or retired priest should advertise or publish schedules but *quite the contrary*. I made it clear that they could not do so.

    I used the expression ‘nuclear’ in a different context entirely. What I meant there was that the retired priest is, under S.P., the one priest who is always free to celebrate the old Mass no matter what the bishop says to the contrary. It is ‘nuclear’–unstoppable–in the sense that, even should a retired priest be banned from a church–legally or not–he can, under Canon 932, repair to a fitting place outside a sacred place to say the T.L.M.–and he can bring along invited guests, and is even encouraged to do so under Canon 837. Such Masses even fulfil the obligation. Hence no bishop can ever be sure that he can exclude all Gregorian Masses–not any longer.

    In contrast, while active priests do have a general right to celebrate the old Mass, that can be limited in various ways by the bishop. For example, the bishop could limit them to one Mass per Sunday (Canon 905) and then demand that that be he New Mass (can’t remember the canons on this part but I can find them).

    I am not trying to start a fight with Fr. Z. on his own blog. I just want people to know that visiting and retired priests are “to be permitted to celebrate the Eucharist” even if “not known by the rector of the church”. That is what the law says. It is a right in Canon Law. Sure, it’s limited by what is reasonable, but it entails a duty nevertheless, not just a recommendation. Lex is not incompatible with caritas but supports it.


  23. Paul Priest says:

    Just as an aside :
    BBC English : Standard pronunciation ; doesn’t derive [as many think] from London ; but actually from the third largest English town of the Tudor and Stuart Era – Northampton [and its environs]!
    The pronunciation derived from ‘trendy’ upper middle-class merchants ; who made the language more conducive to clarity and precision throughout their trade routes.
    The aristocracy speedily adopted it; and it spread into Lincolnshire and Cambridge; then Oxford and ultimately London Society. The rest is history.

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