QUAERITUR: A priest asks “Day off: Do I need pastor’s permission to say the TLM?”

A question from a priest:

I have been moved to [a] parish where I have every third week without a daily mass. I would like to say a low mass on these days, but I’m sure I will get resistance from my pastor, who is a hippie from the ‘70’s. The Motu Proprio specifies that I need not get permission from the Holy See or the Ordinary. Does this mean also my local pastoral boss?

Thanks for any help you can give me,

Fr. _______


Reverend and Dear Father: this is what Summorum Pontificum says… rather… what Pope Benedict, the Vicar of Christ, the Roman Pontiff, the Legislator says in Summorum Pontificum.


Art. 2.  In Masses celebrated without the people, any priest whosoever of the Latin Rite, whether secular of religious, can use either the Missale Romanum issued in 1962 by Bl. John XXIII, or the Missale Romanum promulgated in 1970 by the Supreme Pontiff Paul VI, and indeed on any day whatsoever except during the Sacred Triduum.  For such a celebration according to one or the other Missal, a priest does not need permission, neither from the Apostolic See nor from his Ordinary.


I think it is pretty clear that if the Pope says priests don’t need permission from the Apostolic See or the local bishop… then he doesn’t need permission from the local pastor

Of course there are practical issues to be considered. 

Will the pastor of the parish or the local bishop crucify you for doing what is your right?  

You could have a Pyrrhic victory over this… be aware.  At least in the short term.

If you are willing to take the heat for what you want to do, you have the right to do it.

Also, remember that according to Summorum Pontificum pastors cannot not respond to requests made from groups of people in the parish. 

YOU, Father, are in the parish also….  if you get my drift.  You could be a part of a "stable group".

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ASK FATHER Question Box, Mail from priests, SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. RichR says:

    Why not just say a private Mass with a layman as server? Just be sure and pick a layman with a big mouth who can’t keep a “secret”. It was a private Mass that had no official promotion. ;-)

  2. Tim Ferguson says:

    If the pastor is hostile and there might be negative repercussions and if there is a nearby parish that either offers the EF Mass on a regular basis, or has a pastor more inclined to traditional things, I’d suggest that Father spend part of his day off at that parish, saying a private Mass there.

  3. Fr. Guy says:

    It seems to me that the general idea here is to err on the side of caution and doing what will not antagonize your pastor. But, I’m glad to see that Fr. Z. correctly points out the relative liberty that Pope Benedict has given to priests in this matter. The “private” part of mass said in this way cannot be emphasized enough. Having said all that, however, I would like to remind folks that it isn’t just a matter of it being “tough luck” on the pastor. We all have to remember that the pastor always has a say on what takes place within the church entrusted to his care even when it is done by the parochial vicar of the same parish. I think it would be a petty and cruel pastor indeed who would go so far as to forbid the manner in which a parochial vicar said mass privately but, in the end, any liturgical celebration which takes place in the church entrusted to his care comes under the local pastor. So, it’s always a good idea to determine whether or not he gives a darn about how you say mass privately. Chances are, he won’t but I think prudence and respect dictate that you should try to find out. (By the way, I am not a pastor myself).

  4. Fr. Guy: You raise interesting points. I am therefore bound to reflect on the terminology by which priests are called when assigned to a parish under a pastor (parochus).

    In some places they are called vicarius or vicar, in other places, associates or assistants, etc.  

    The term implies that the man actually has some rights.  For example, you would think that such terms would imply that he could say Mass according the Roman Rite if he so chose to do so.

    I am reminded of something amusing that occurred many years ago at the supper table in a rectory where the pastor had been in place for decades and who had assistants.  A visiting priest asked the old man what, in that diocese, they called the assistant priests, “assistants” or “associates”. 

    Without missing a beat, he raised his coffee cup and said mildly, “either way, the first three letters are the same.”

    Of course we all know that the lowest form of life in the entire church is an “assistant”, or “associate” or whatever you want to call him.  He barely has the right to Christian burial.   Often times, lay people have more rights in a parish than the assistant.

    So… you comments caused me to ponder to lot of assistants.

  5. Brian Mershon says:

    Art. 4. Celebrations of Mass as mentioned above in art. 2 may – observing all the norms of law – also be attended by faithful who, of their own free will, ask to be admitted.

    It appears that “Mass celebrated without the people” can actually be celebrated by as many faithful who request to assist.

    There is no such thing as a “private” Mass, no matter how often priests want to repeat it.

  6. TJM says:

    This is kind of sad. However, if there is a side altar in the Church or a side chapel, I cannot imagine the pastor would have that
    big of a problem with this fine priest celebrating the TLM. Also, I guess if it were me, I would ask the pastor how he would like to be
    treated if the situation were reversed. In other words, try to appeal to his sense of fairness. Tom

  7. Jacob says:

    Why can’t we go back to when Bing Crosby strutted around his inner city neighborhood as the local curate. :P

  8. TJM: It is my personal experience that fairness or justice or charity have very little to do with how the aging hippies treat younger priests when it comes to traditional liturgical expressions. Some of the worst treatment I have received in my life has been precisely in this situation.

  9. TJM says:

    Father Z, I do recall the other day that on this website a group of folks that wanted the TLM appealed to the bishop’s heart and he
    relented and said the Mass himself after some nasty arguing back and forth. Although, I don’t doubt your experiences at all (because of my clashes with priests/liturgists) it still might be worth a try to appeal to the pastor’s sense of fairplay. Tom

  10. ED says:

    I can see how sick the church is today but the simple fact that a good priest has to hide his name when sending in a comment. to your site

  11. Father Totton says:

    I recall a time when I was an ASSociate (pre-Summorum Pontificum) One day, I believe it was my “day off” and I had not yet said Mass. We didn’t have any side altars (they were wiped out just before I arrived – actually the pastor and I arrived in the same week). I didn’t want to cause a spectacle, so I set up all the requisite materials to say Mass on the vesting table of the sacristy (I know, I know, hold your breath) I never remember having a conversation about “private Masses” with the pastor before this point. I don’t think he was particularly opposed, but probably would have been more puzzled by the notion that a priest would say Mass if not for the benefit of other parishioners physically present. Much more “why bother?” than “thou shalt never!”

    I was just about to begin the Canon when I heard the key in the door – I turned to discover the look of embarassed surprise on the face of the pastor. He was accompanied by a clerical friend, one of the more liberal priests in the diocese. “Someone left the air on…” he kind of muttered. “I will get it when I am done Father.” was my response. He meekly bowed out apologetically and the topic never came up in discussion after that! Apart from the awkwardness, this wasn’t so bad – I regret that we didn’t have more open lines of communication, but the year quickly came to an end – I think I have spoken more to him since than I did that entire year.

    Nevertheless, I have friends who got much more grief for even suggesting a private Mass (ordinary form in English even!)

  12. Federico says:

    Fr. Guy wrote: “We all have to remember that the pastor always has a say on what takes place within the church entrusted to his care even when it is done by the parochial vicar of the same parish.”

    Yes, and no. The pastor has a say to make sure that what goes on in the church entrusted to him is lawful, licit, and valid. He has a say to make sure that what goes on in the church does not interfere with the normal liturgical activity of the church. And he may reasonably manage the schedule of liturgy in the church.

    That all being said, he does not have the right to abridge rights that are provided by the universal law and, to that extent, it is his “tough luck” (to paraphrase Fr. Guy above). We are all bound by higher laws, and I don’t see why a pastor should be bound any less.

    Let’s remember that a priest who’s not impeded has the right to celebrate the Eucharist, even at a church not his own: “can. 903 – Sacerdos ad celebrandum admittatur etiamsi rectori ecclesiae sit ignotus, dummodo aut litteras commendatitias sui Ordinarii vel sui Superioris, saltem intra annum datas, exhibeat, aut prudenter existimari possit eundem a celebratione non esse impeditum.”

    He may do so using any approved liturgical book (cf. can. 929).

    If the pastor does not like the law, he needs to take that up with the legislator. It is illicit (and really uncharitable) to ask one who enjoys rights flowing from universal law to refrain from exercising them.

    By the way, a private Mass is one that is celebrated for a priest’s own devotion (let’s not muddy the waters with whether or not people are present — that is juridically irrelevant).

  13. Daniel Latinus says:

    Nevertheless, I have friends who got much more grief for even suggesting a private Mass (ordinary form in English even!)

    I do remember hearing that in the 1960s and 1970s, there were liturgists going around suggesting that a Mass without a congregation was ridiculous and/or invalid, and that all Masses should be concelebrated.

    If the pastor is going to be a problem, I think Tim Ferguson’s suggestion might be the way to go. And remember, there are religious houses, schools, and other institutions, where a friendly chaplain or superior might allow an “off-duty” priest to celebrate a private Mass in peace. (I know some pro-life groups maintain chapels in their offices.) Or what about a sympathetic layman with a suitable space?

  14. Chris says:

    It might help not to think, even to yourself, of your Pastor as a ‘hippie from the 70’s’. That sets you up for confrontation before a word is said.

  15. Chris: Or it might help outline the parameters of the situation.

  16. paul says:

    Father, I would say go ahead and just do it. Yes it will take guts but you can do it. Who knows other clergy may admire you for your ability to say the EF? Don’t be afraid Jesus is with you.

  17. Chris says:

    Chris: Or it might help outline the parameters of the situation.

    Comment by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

    I don’t think so. It isn’t a clear assesment, it is a prejudicial reaction. Now, very likely, the pastor has his own prejudicial reaction to his new assistant too! However something different than a predictable, destructive and frankly un-christian stand-off might just happen if one or other was able to go behind the labels and actually talk about why they see things differently.

  18. Chris from St. Mary's says:

    Chris, how could he have described the situation with the pastor so that it was a clear assessment and not a prejudicial reaction? To say that he was trained in the 1960s or 1970s and the style taught at that time seems to be the style he prefers?

  19. dominic1962 says:

    Chris, your suggestion sounds good assuming that one can sit down and discuss traditional matters with those folks educated in the “Spirit of the Council” in a rational manner-which cannot be taken for granted. You must not be a cleric or never have had to deal with a unfavorable ecclesiastical superior.

  20. Fr. Guy says:

    For those who commented on what I had to say let me add that it doesn’t really seem to be a matter of trying to browbeat someone into submission with the Code of Canon Law. Canon 929 concerns vestments not liturgical texts and Canon 903 is concerned with a priest who is visiting presenting a celebret in order to celebrate mass not a parochial vicar in his own church. Even so, Canon 903 still indicates that the rector of the church (pastor or religious superior) still has the right to permit OR NOT TO permit someone to say mass in a church entrusted to his care. You can wave the Code under his nose all you want and if he doesn’t want to allow something in his church he has the power (pastors exercise ordinary power within their parish) to stop it. Just because one may be right in a given situation doesn’t make them “correct” or that what they propose should be done. There is always a difference between what “can”, “may” and “should” be done in almost any given situation. Parochial Vicars (the canonical term regardless of what is in fashion in your diocese) who attempt to get their own way by quoting Canon Law to their pastors and then informing them that its their tough luck will find themselves transferred quickly. Parochial Vicars are not jurisdictions unto themselves. The pastor of the parish is THEIR pastor too. Seeking the consent of your pastor may not be canonically required but it is, nevertheless, the prudent, the courteous and the right thing to do. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

  21. Melody says:

    I think it very sad that some priests might think of saying mass as work to be avoided on off days rather than an sacred privilege.

  22. Charivari Rob says:

    It’s impressive to see how many of us think we have full knowledge and understanding of the situation – the facts, motivations, attitudes, goals, relationship of the two parties – from a one-paragraph note from one of the parties.

    From my incomplete understanding, I’d second the idea of trying to have a reasonable, non-confrontational discussion in an attempt to understand his pastor’s concerns and present his own. If that doesn’t work, move on to other options.

    To ask a more general question of you other priests: What do you generally do if there are days you don’t have a scheduled mass as part of your assigned responsibilities? Presuming you do plan to offer a Mass, of course. Do you use the same church (main altar or side altars, if they exist) at an unscheduled time? Is there another chapel in the parish besides the main church? Do you just arrange space otherwise (in your study, perhaps)?

    I’m genuinely curious. In the few parishes I’ve lived in in my adult life, I know for a fact that each had one or more chapels in addition to the main parish church. So, there were always options there, I would presume.


  23. Federico says:

    Fr. Guy,

    I think we are in agreement that honey works better than vinegar. The real question is what to do if the honey fails.

    You are quite correct regarding the scope of c. 929, which is why I used the abbreviation for confer: c. 929 is relevant in the context of a c. 17 analysis.

    I respectfully disagree regarding your interpretation of c. 903. The canon is broad, provides a benefit, and so must be read broadly. A sacerdos as a class includes the subclass of parochial vicar.

    We can split hair about whether the subjunctive in the canon is jussive or hortatory, but I think this is exactly that: hair splitting (some Latin scholars don’t even admit of a difference.) The point is, it’s command language. Priests must be admitted absent a darned good reason (the use of some form of debere would remove even that discretionality.) A priest needs a celebret …etiamsi rectori ecclesiae sit ignotus… I don’t think this can reasonably apply to a parochial vicar absent a pastor with Alzheimer’s :-). The rest of the canon, however does.

    Waving copies of the code at anybody is not productive. On the other hand, these types of abuses can be pursued via hierarchical recourse and are relatively easy (if slow) to win.

    At the end of the day, I think we are in violent agreement on the following:
    1. It’s best to resolve things amicably. Sometimes, things don’t work out amicably though.
    2. In the short term, the pastor has the power to stop an individual celebration and might do so.
    3. Just because he can, does not mean it’s lawful. This is what recourse is about and I’ve seen enough similar recourses succeed to believe one such of these would.
    4. Of course, every diocese has a Siberia. Any decision to take recourse must be made with the possibility of ending up in Siberia in mind. No, it’s not right, but such transfers are much harder to win on recourse. That granted, it may still be worth bringing the recourse.

    Sometimes, a well represented recourse will remind the one it’s brought against that the Church does have a law. This can lead to an amicable solution suddenly appearing out of nowhere.

    Take care.

Comments are closed.