Back to the question of “stable group”

There was some confusion when the Emancipation Procl… er um Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum was released about the Latin

Art. 5, § 1. In paroeciis, ubi coetus fidelium traditioni liturgicae antecedenti adhaerentium stabiliter [previously continenter] exsistit, parochus eorum petitiones ad celebrandam sanctam Missam iuxta ritum Missalis Romani anno 1962 editi, libenter suscipiat …  In parishes, where there is stably present a group of the faithful attached to the previous liturgical tradition, let the pastor willingly receive their petitions that Mass be celebrated according to the Rite of the Missale Romanum issued in 1962. 

Although the Latin does not say "stable group", it does talk about a group (coetus) in the parish in a stable manner (stabiliter).

There has been some discussion of what "stable group" means.  How big must it be?  Must they be registered at the parish…blah blah.

These questions are usually asked only by those who don’t want the older Mass to even be thought of positively, much less actually celebrated.

Still the question has juridical issues at its heart.

How big?   The group has to be large enough to receive a law.  How many persons is that? 



Drei… Trois… San… Tre… Three.

So, a reader sent this:

At our local church, the TLM was offered a week ago for the first time in 40 years! 
In the homily, the visiting celebrant, Fr. Brian Klingele of Garnett, KS, defined a stable group as the 3.
Why? Because he said canon law defines a congregation as 3 or more people.

Sounds about right.

Remember: The priest can be one of the three.

And Summorum Pontificum means what it says when it uses "libenter".

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I try to tell this to my priest who is friendly to the EF. But his responce is I wait to hear it from the Comission.

  2. Fr. Klingele is one of the finest priests in our Archdiocese! Hooray for Garnett! TO THAT EMAILER: if you ever get the chance, ask him to tell you the story about the first two priests to use his chalice. :)

  3. When the EF came to the diocese, there was a big problem with te “stable group.” The parish priest was adamant that it be a large group of people. He never said how many people, but it seems to me that he wanted something like a quorum (10). Now, we have thirty or so people attending on a regular basis, which is excellent news.

    I also agree that three is probably the right number.

  4. ChristopherM says:

    Was this in the Garnett Parish or another KS Parish?

  5. IvoDeNorthfield says:

    What does one do when one’s priest does not know how to celebrate the EF, and says that he does not have the time to learn it?

  6. David2 says:

    The short answer is find a priest who does.

    He will need the permission of the pastor of the parish to use the Church for say a Mass there, so you’ve gotta be a bit tactful about it.

    If that doesn’t work, SP says that your Bishop is supposed to sort out these sorts of practical difficulties.

  7. puella says:

    Thank you for this, Father :)

  8. Fr. Gary says:

    This is an interesting answer to the question, however canon law makes no such claim. Now, we do not know what Father actually said and have only a listener’s summation, but canon law has nothing to say about the necessary size of a congregation.

    Canon 115 §2 does state that an aggregate of persons (universitates personarum) requires at least 3 persons before it can be erected a juridic person. It is quite a stretch to apply this to the group which must exist in a stable manner in a parish. Although a parish is a juridic person, no bishop would erect a parish with three persons. The canon referenced covers all possible aggregates of persons and states an absolute minimum for that category of juridic persons. Since such a person is perpetual and acquires the rights of a person in the Church, they are not to be erected without the competent authority having reasonable certainty that they are both necessary and capable of sustaining themselves. No three person parish would meet that description.

    While I don’t think that the group which exists in a stable manner need be very large, I don’t think that one may rely on some canonically derived number of “3” to support one’s claim.

  9. chironomo says:

    Fr. Gary…

    I am no expert in Canon Law, so I am asking this question with all sincerity… the fact that this particular canon sets three as the VERY MINIMUM requirement would seem to fulfill the interpretation of SP to be as permissive as possible. I have heard elsewhere, and on this site, that documents such as SP are to be interpreted in the widest possible manner since it grants rights to the faithful. Wouldn’t that require the stable group to contain the minimum required number?

  10. Geo.F. says:

    Some of my fondest memories were as an altar boy serving the 6:00AM daily Mass. I was blessed to serve under the pastor, a holy priest. I started serving circa 1973, the mass was N.O. but the priest trained us in the rubrics and many were very similar to the TLM -I guess the “springtime” hadn’t taken it’s uh “full effect” at that time.

    Some of my fondest memories were on really stormy days, the priest would offer Mass in an empty church. The act of offering up the Mass to God because it was the right thing to do without consideration of a “stable group” or other loopholes, just seemed so pure and the right thing to do.

    Please remember this holy priest in your prayers (Rev. Thomas B. Riely +1976)

  11. RBrown says:

    Fr Gary,

    1. While you might be right, the question is why a strict interpretation of this canon when tons of others are interpreted loosely–or ignored completely?

    Two easy examples:

    Canon Law, promulgated in 1983, is very clear about the need for seminarians to know Latin and to have been through a comprehensive philosophy program. Is there any US seminary servicing dioceses where this is the cas3?

    Canon Law is also clear about the educational requirements for bishops? Is that followed?

    BTW, the same word is used to describe both episcopal candidates (378. Ad idoneitatem candidatorum Episcopatus requiritur ut quis sit:) and priests who use the Missal of JXXIII (Sacerdotes Missali B. Ioannis XXIII utentes, idonei esse debent).

    2. I also disagree with your interpretation of the point Fr K allegedly made, which, it seems to me, is: If three is sufficient for a group to qualify as a juridic person, it is certainly sufficient to qualify as a coetus stabiliter exsistit.

  12. John says:

    Our FSSP priest told us several months ago that the Holy Father would be issuing another explanatory letter on “Summorum,” partially to address this “issue” of “what is a stable group.” As Father Z mentioned, it has become the favorite stumbling block to be positioned before traditionalists, by bishops who despite tradition.

  13. A Random Friar says:

    If by “stable” they meant “mentally stable” then I’m afraid many orders and parish groups would have to cease to exist… ;)

  14. Geo.F. says:

    Random Friar: good one ! Sadly there is much truth in this statement. My biggest gripe (I have too many of these and am trying to be less complaining and more grateful in the new year)is parishes that are run by parishoners.
    It is a sad state of affairs when a priest cedes his authority to an oftentimes lukewarm (or worse) laity.

  15. paul says:

    The question I’m curious about is when a group is coming from multiple parishes. Can you not have a centralized location for a “stable group” from multiple churches in, say, a suburban area so that you do not have to drive half an hour to the old “downtown” church to hear a TLM?

  16. Paul: The question I’m curious about is when a group is coming from multiple parishes.

    Cardinal Castrillon addressed this specifically in one of his news conferences. He implied — or maybe even said explicitly — that the 3 members of the “stable group” could be from 3 different parishes.

  17. Badger says:

    The better question is how few compels a pastor of sound reason to acquiesce to the requests of his parishoners. While 3 is theoretically possible, it is not reasonable in your typical parish, never mind the folks that want a high mass for 3 people. One would think a decently organized group of 50 that only wanted to burden the diocese with a time and place would be easily accomodated. One would think a group of 10-15 at the parish level that used a retired priest and didn’t request financial assistance from the parish would be easily accomodated. If you need money or people, you are competing against other people’s legitimate demands. Failure to recognize this seems to be the greater issue.

  18. therese b says:

    I would guess the requirement was rushed in at the last minute, and not thought through -it maybe was negotiated to prevent a small group going round each parish of the diocese in turn and insisting on their “rights” to the TLM. I know, I know – TLM supporters are much too mature and sensible to use this sort of manipulation, but there seems to be a fear and distrust on the part of some senior clerics, who believe that traddies are part of a sinister plot to undermine V2 reforms and take over the world…….

  19. Rob says:

    I’ve asked a few local priests about the Latin Mass, and here are the responses (paraphrased of course):
    -Priest #1: I have no interest in returning to the old liturgy. It would be as inauthentic for me as celebrating in one of the Eastern rites.
    -Priest #2: You will need at least 300 people interested, then you should approach the Bishop.
    -Priest #3: We already have a solemn Novus Ordo, we can’t offer every option


  20. MC says:

    I am very late in responding to this…my apologies.

    I had an opportunity to speak with Archbishop Ranjith recently and we discussed this subject. The archbishop said that the Holy Father wishes to be understood in this way: priests should go out and celebrate the Mass in the Extraordinary Form, even if no one has approached them; [Yes… I think this is accurate.] bring it into the parishes, make it part of the normal schedule. The “minimum of three persons” refers to the number of persons that would REQUIRE [Yes. Exactly.] a priest to offer Mass in the Extraordinary Form. Thus, if I am a priest who does not want to offer the Traditional Mass and I am approached by at least three people, it is my DUTY to acquiesce to their request. But I should not wait for the request; rather, I should begin learning it and offering it NOW.

    Of course, it would be much easier on everyone if this were proclaimed publicly. Watch and pray!

  21. IvoDeNorthfield says:


    Wow! That’s very encouraging news.

  22. Badger says:

    Considering my parish priest offers 3 masses on Sunday presently, he lawfully cannot offer a fourth. He really shouldn’t be offering three. The smallest mass has 150-250 people. My parish is not unique. The idea that he should lose sleep at night about not being able to provide a service every Sunday for 3 peopls is a bit parochial, to put it mildly. It is such a ridiculous request that one has difficulty conceiving how a person making it has any concern for the parish or priest whatsoever.

  23. John Caughey says:

    My Mother used to say “Where there is the will, there is a way.”

    I am 83 years of age now and still think what she said all those years ago was very wise.

    If your local bishop hasn’t the will or the desire for the Traditional Latin Mass, you will have your work cut out.

    However, nothing worthwhile is achieved without a struggle and personal sacrifice. So, never give in.

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