Bp. Coyne on what to do when priests don’t “Say the Black and Do the Red”.

A “Say the Black, Do the Red” sighting.

A few days ago I posted about an entry on the blog of H.E. Most Rev. Chris Coyne, auxiliary in Indianapolis.  I guess that that entry helped bring a lot of traffic to H.E.’s blog, which was part of my purpose.  Just as I gave him high supporting marks, I had hoped that you too would give him support.  Some people were less than supportive it seems.  There are those out there who think that just because the internet provides a fog of anonymity and distance, they can write less than kind comments.  That’s the way it goes.  I describe this blog as a fusion of the Baroque salon and the Wild West saloon.

In any event, Bp. Coyne posted some follow-up comments, imbued with both patience and commonsense, while being in no way timid.  I was taken by this paragraph.  My emphases and comments:

[5] I am also very concerned about some of the “unnecessary roughness” being heaped on the clergy collectively.  [Oh?  Are some people hard on clergy?  I remember the phrase “Sacerdos sacerdoti lupissimus!“] There are many priests and bishops out there who make every effort to celebrate the Church’s liturgy as the Church desires it to be celebrated.  They preside with reverence and dignity, they preach well, and they strive to make the liturgy not about them but about Christ.  We must encourage them in their work and their willingness to be humble enough to be a servant of the liturgy. [Do I hear an “Amen!”?] We should also thank them as often as we can[Bis!] In addition, I know of no bishop who is unwilling to address the need for better celebration of the Church’s liturgy within their diocese.  It is just very complicated.  A bishop can encourage his priests to “say the black and do the red,” to celebrate according to the Church’s rites, and to develop better preaching skills, he can hold all kinds of liturgical conferences and workshops for his priests, but the minute guys get back to their parishes, they can do what they want. [Welllll…. yes, of course, Your Excellency. If you say so.] In truly egregious situations of liturgical malpractice, the bishop will have to step in and do something, but the question is “what?” And that’s where it gets difficult especially in this time of fewer clergy to cover many parishes.  Some would say it is better to have a few truly good shepherds than to allow for the flock to be lead astray by the “hired hand.”  That’s all well and good until there is no one available to celebrate the sacraments in any form in the parish because a priest’s faculties have been suspended because he plays with the rubrics.  As you can see, it is a difficult balancing act.

That’s right, of course.  While we must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, at the same time we shouldn’t simply let things slide.  It is a hard set of objectives to balance, given time, energy, numbers.

I thank God that we have good faithful bishops.  I thank God I am not one and never will be.  Two reasons why I will go to the wall for bishops I respect.

WDTPRS Kudos to Bp. Coyne.

He raises a very good point.  I imagine one or two of you will have an opinion.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Good stuff (and Coyne has a nice blog there). I suppose that some of the problem here is the problem of what constitutes a ‘truly egregious situation’.

    On one hand, a truly egregious situation might be the a priest doing God-knows-what in lieu of saying-the-black-doing-the-red.

    On the other hand, a truly egregious situation might be, more generally speaking, a priest shortage in the diocese. So we need to ask…what causes priest shortages? Well, as been suggested by us all, *one* cause of the shortage might the general phenomenon of parishes removing all traces of traditional liturgy and iconography. To wit: on vacation last week, I went to a Catholic parish that had no crucifixes (for real), stained glass windows full of abstract designs, no confessional booths, two bored alter girls, and lots of Gather singing. The priest technically said the black and did the red. But I betcha dollars to donuts that there are no vocations springing from that parish.

    So does the bishop step in? Well, not if we define truly egregious as a priest doing God-knows-what.

  2. jbas says:

    It’s great to have a bishop engaging the faithful on the internet. I suspect some of the disrespect being shown on his site is born of a frustration with seemingly impenetrable distances between the sheep and the shepherds. The internet seems a great way to help the situation. But there’s still no excuse for disrespect.

  3. CatholicDRE says:

    I know I struggle to know where that line of “truly egregious” is, but the little things add up. I really get what contrarian is saying. We have “abstract” stained glass windows with some… unusual designs. We have a factory in one and an actual representation of the physical parish building in another. Really? Did we not see enough of the building walking in? Are we that important? Sorry, but that doesn’t inspire deeper prayer.

  4. jbas says:

    What’s a little difficult to take from His Excellency’s comments is the one-sidedness of episcopal response to the liturgical practices of priests. One may grant the difficulties of responding effectively to those priests who disregard the rubrics, but what accounts for the effectiveness of bishops in preventing priests from choosing acceptable but traditional options, such as wearing Roman vestments, offering the Canon ad orientem, etc.? I have personally witnessed and experience this unbalanced situation.

  5. Midwest St. Michael says:

    “Some would say it is better to have a few truly good shepherds than to allow for the flock to be lead astray by the “hired hand.” That’s all well and good until there is no one available to celebrate the sacraments in any form in the parish because a priest’s faculties have been suspended because he plays with the rubrics. As you can see, it is a difficult balancing act.”

    Well, since the good bishop brought up the fact that priests should be “Saying the Black, doing the Red” at the Holy Sacrifice – then the bishop sees/hears of priests who are *not* doing this – can it really be said that those priests are following “The law of praying [is] the law of believing.”? (Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi – right?)

    A wise old priest said to me once, “No doctrine is better than false doctrine.”

    If a bishop finds out that after having “…all kinds of liturgical conferences and workshops for his priests, but the minute guys get back to their parishes, they can do what they want” and they are not praying what they believe (thus, allowing false docttrine in their particular form of “worship”) – would it not be *better* for the flock to have no priest (i.e. one who promotes false doctrine) at all?

    Is not this the reason that many of the faithful drive 2-3 hours to find the extra-ordinary form of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (or maybe even some drive that distance to find a holy and reverent ordinary form)?

    Okay, granted, it is compicated – but, good grief! – “to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam 15:22) yes?

    At what point should a bishop – looking after his flock – remove priests who are obstinately disobedient for the sake of the souls under his care? In the spirit of St. Paul, “If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:9) .

    *Because of* abuses in the Holy Sacrifice – should not such priests be removed immediately for the sake of the salvation of souls? Even if this means either, a) fostering vocations to the priesthood with men who will not do such things – even if it may take some time, or b) bringing in priests from beyond the diocese?

    What is the answer?


  6. Mundabor says:

    In my eyes, the bishop has his priorities the wrong way round.

    The bad liturgy is certainly one of the most important causes (if not the single most important one) of the vocation crisis.

    Therefore, the bishop’s stance helps to perpetuate the problem.


  7. TC says:

    I suspect one problem is that innovators who “listen” to people and “make changes” are most popular with the people. If a new new pastor comes to town who follows the rubrics he will soon be rejected as a stick-in-the-mud.

    I’ve also noticed priests here (Albany, NY diocese) priests giving people what they want. Due to shortage of priests (and parishioners!) 2-4 churches will be consolidated into one “cluster” parish. So at St Adalbert’s there is a GIRM-compliant Mass, at St Bart’s a hootenanny and a St Cecelia’s something in between.

  8. jbas says:

    It seems as if discussion of consequences for crimes is no longer part of civilized conversation. For example, everyone in England seems to be blaming the police either for causing the present unrest or for not arriving at shops in time to prevent it. But could it be the real problem is that the youths know that even if they are caught, they are unlikely to spend serious amounts of time in prison? The same is true of canonical matter. If priests violating liturgical law knew there was a real possibility they could be suspended, I suspect almost all would stop violating the law. Liturgical conferences are a little like a group of Met officers standing before a shop with plastic shields: they fail to instill long-term fear of consequence into those determined to break the law.

  9. TNCath says:

    This is where a diocesan jail might come in handy…

    But, seriously, Bishop Coyne raises good points that a bishop can’t be everywhere, and no matter how many directives and corrections are sent from a chancery office, these “Lone Rangers,” especially those who are in rural parishes far from their bishop’s eye, are going to continue to do as they please. However, Bishop Coyne doesn’t raise the question as to what if the BISHOP doesn’t “say the black and do the red”? Who reprimands him?

    Our bishop is fond of saying “The Lord be with all of you” at his Masses. I find myself responding, not completely inaudibly, “And also with all of you!” While this would be a minor point, for sure, minor infractions of texts and rubrics lead to larger ones. I fully expect many priests to continue to ad lib the following parts of the Mass after the new translation is implemented:

    1. The invitation to the Penitential Rite
    2. Form C of the Penitential Rite (“For the times we have hurt each other, Lord have mercy.”)
    3. The “Orate fratres.”
    4. The introduction to the Lord’s Prayer
    5. The “Ecce Agnus Dei”
    It is no secret that many priests have been “winging” these parts of the Mass for years, and, unless (and even if) someone tells them otherwise, who’s going to stop them?

  10. HyacinthClare says:

    Egregious for me is plain ol’ heresy from the pulpit. Our bishop is a good one, but when I was still attending OF masses, we had a visiting priest/preacher who was so far into left field that we lost sight of him. Two letters to the Diocese, over two months… and very polite ones, too… got me a promise that the issue would be “addressed” in the bulletin by the pastor, and it never happened. I can’t imagine how some of you stand it all the time. I heard Archbishop Dolan on the radio last week say that the Church must always be “conciliatory and welcoming”. Really?? Blessings and long life to Bishop Coyne.

  11. awlms says:

    Things indeed might be difficult for the Bishops these days, but they at least should try to take every advantage towards reforming the Liturgy that they might come upon. And one immediately current advantage for true reform can be found in the complete and thorough implementation of the new translation of the Roman Missal. In parishes everywhere there are ‘some’ instructions on the translations, but one item apparently is being over looked: new liturgical music norms. As highlighted recently at the “CHANT CAFE” Blog (July 8, 2010), Jeffery Tucker noted that the Roman Missal has significant new requirements associated with the type of music that is now allowed in the GIRM. If the Bishops would pay as much attention to these requirements as they are with the requirements of translating the prayers then we might see the end of Rock drum sets and electric guitars in Church sanctuaries. Unfortunately though, there still seems to be quite a bit of ‘Cafeteria Catholicism’ afflicting the church, wherein some liturgical norms are followed, but others are largely over-looked or ignored. Until we reform the music in the liturgy, and be faithful to and follow the guidelines set by the GIRM for music, I think the overall ‘brick by brick’ reform of the Liturgy will unfortunately be somewhat of a slow crawl. So the Bishops really have an opportunity here of making some headway in Liturgical reform, if they include music reform (now required by the new GIRM) with the text and translations reform that is already being spread throughout Church.

    Really, we should all be focusing on this subject and talking to our Pastors and Priests on these new liturgical music norms so that such a great opportunity for reform is not missed. For those interested in more info. on Jeffery Tuckers article “Dramatic Changes in Music Rubrics for New Missal” go to:

  12. Mike says:


    Yes, our pastor does that. I guess in the 70s, they didn’t teach that “you” in English can be singular and plural!!

  13. jbas says:

    Well, speaking as a US Southerner, “you” is singular, but we tolerate this mistranslation of “vobis”. It should, of course, be “y’all”.

  14. kgurries says:

    Surveillance cameras are often utilized to monitor security and prevent abuse. Bishops should consider deploying these to monitor and control liturgical abuses (no less urgent than other types of abuse the Church is currently fighting). These abuses (liturgical creativity, DIY rubrics, etc.) will diminish immediately and gradually vanish altogether. Imagine how informative and effective those workshops will could be with personalized play-by-play footage….

  15. rfox2 says:

    MW St. Michael and Mundabor, I concur.

    Whatever the cause or causes, the Church finds Herself backed into a corner. For the better part of 50 years, we’ve seen compromises, allowances, permissiveness, experimentation, and lax discipline. I give the well meaning bishops the benefit of the doubt, even if their decisions have been disastrous. We either forgive, or the Father will not forgive us.

    However, even though we are cornered on this issue of a shortage of priestly vocations, that is no reason to continue the appeasement. Would I like to live in a diocese that does not have enough priests for Sunday Mass? No, of course not. But, I would rather that than to tolerate the lax, sloppy, and heterodox liturgical practices that we see in so many parishes as well as the almost complete lack of proper catechesis, or orthodox spiritual disciplines.

    No doctrine is better than false doctrine. – Amen to that. It would have been better for the barbarians of Northern Europe remain pagans than to become entrenched Arians. The damage that has been done to souls because of heterodox priests is incalculable.

    High praise for the priests and bishops who courageously “say the black and do the red”!

  16. Joe in Canada says:

    I know of no bishop who is unwilling to address the need for better celebration of the Church’s liturgy within their diocese.

    Perhaps, but what about when the Bishop himself wants the abuses? Not hard to figure it out when it happens at every diocesan celebration, and regularly in the (read ‘his’) Cathedral.

  17. dominic1955 says:

    I have rarely heard of an instant when a bishop really stepped in a put an end to “liberal” liturgical abuse. However, I have definately heard of plenty of instances where bishops drop that pre-Vatican II Heavy Holy Hammer from On High to stop something traditional from happening. I just saw a picture of a priest being dragged away from the altar by the police from saying the TLM back in the dark ages (the ’80s) in France. It can be done, all that himming and hawing from the chancery about addressing liturgical abuses is nonsense. If there is a will, there is a way. There is too much old-boyism in the clergy, and too many other behind the scenes intrigues that come to play.

    After reading excerpts from St. Alphonsus Liguori’s “The Dignities and Duties of the Priest” and other such things, I would think that if I were a bishop, I’d be pretty on edge if I wasn’t really taking my priests to task and if need be, kicking the ones out that were obstinate in maintaining the wrong views/ways. Really, what good does it do (ex opere operato, which is definitely true, aside) to have bad priests cranking out valid sacraments to their badly formed parishioners-one big viscious circle down to hell, no? I know we all must be merciful and things do take time, but if it at least looked like the bishops thought these things were more important! On that great day of wrath, I do not think that “being a nice guy” is going to cut it…

  18. Random Friar says:

    I found this comment on His Emminence’s blog interesting:
    History does repeat itself. There are eerie similarities between the years that followed the Council at Trent and those that followed Vatican-II. Both synods stated the clear intent of making the mass more accessible to the congregation, but how that was interpreted on the diocesan and parish levels traveled a bit afield from the intent of the councils. The years following Trent saw the wholesale destruction and removal of elegant rood screens from cathedrals just as V-II saw the removal of communion rails and many high altars. Neither council addressed those changes but some clergy saw the two architectural entities as barriers. Our ancestors failed to recognize the symbolism of the rood screen as the “Temple veil” marking the Holy-of-Holies from the body of the temple. Our Orthodox brothers have great respect for the Iconostasis. The communion rail required a posture of adoration for receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist.

    I think it is instructive for people to realize that Vatican II is not, in some ways, that different from previous major Councils. Things change, sometimes going overboard, and sometimes there will be corrections the other way, etc, etc. Vatican II, at least the interpretation and implementation thereof was not set in stone. The Church will adjust and re-adjust as experience proves necessary. But in either case, Trent or Vatican II, it is not good for the People of God to simply make change for the sake of change, without thinking it through, and without excellent catechesis about the matter at hand. Just my 2 cents.

  19. Random Friar says:

    Ack, I accidently promoted him! His Excellency, rather.

  20. Son of Trypho says:

    The shortage of priests is the critical point – the bishops are severely constrained in their options by logistical issues. They are absolutely terrified of a revolt of priests in their dioceses’ which would cripple their dioceses’ and damage (irreparably) their leadership ambitions.

    Priests are aware of this power they hold – thus we see the recent mass petitions protesting this or that situation and questioning episcopal or Church authority.

    These protests usually aren’t actually acted out to the bitter end because the priests dont usually want to leave – often their supporters are fair-weather friends and they lose the security that the Church provided them, and more importantly, concessions are made by the bishops eg. the liturgical abuses (unless particularly egregious – which usually means anything worse than a clown mass) are tolerated, Fr Bourgeois is given 3 years to consider his stance on female ordination (after participating in an ordination in 2008), Fr Kennedy is repeatedly brought up on invalid baptisms and practices over 15+ years, and the list goes on and on.

    The liberal and extreme-liberal members of the Church are also terrified of the priest shortage because the Church isn’t taking up their suggestions of married clergy, female clergy, gay clergy etc to fill numbers and continue their views/positions. Thus we see the full-scale efforts to change the status quo (cf. the female ordination article) and hysterical reactions to the growth of the EF and traditional orders and priests in the Church by them as they see their aspirations slipping away permanently.

  21. benedictgal says:

    Joe in Canada:

    That is what we experienced down here in the South Texas hinterland. Maybe I am too harsh in my critique of the diocesan anniversary Mass (celebrated this past Saturday at an arena), but, someone posted this on YouTube:


    The bishop was present. Sadly, he signed off on using a paraphrased Spanish translation of the Gloria, English versions of the Ordinary that have words added to them and music that would have made the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus weep.

    The sequence depicted here took place just after the distribution of Holy Communion. I did not attend the event because I did not want it to be an occasion of sin for me. Inasmuch as I respect Bishop Coyne’s assessment of his brother bishops, somehow, I do not think that it applies to this situation.

  22. Geoffrey says:

    Deo gratias for such an excellent bishop! I especially liked how he said:

    “We must encourage them in their work and their willingness to be humble enough to be a servant of the liturgy. We should also thank them as often as we can.”

    When I have attended Mass where “say the black, do the red” was faithfully observed, I thanked the priest for “the beautiful liturgy” or “for saying Mass beautifully”, etc. One priest seemed a little stunned! One priest said with all humility “well, I try”. So yes, let us thank our priests who “say the black, do the red”!

  23. Paul says:

    “My good friends, this is the second time there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Now I recommend you go home, and sleep quietly in your beds.” ~Neville Chamberlain

    For some reason, this springs to mind when I hear Bishops promise that they are doing all they can and that we should be patient.

  24. LisaP. says:

    I don’t know. I guess I’ve personally never been one for compromises, moderation, and practicality so I can’t really talk.

    But it sure seems to me that the “let’s just be reasonable and not too extreme” way of leading has not gotten us to a very good place in many different venues. Of course, I don’t know what this country or our Church would be like if our leaders had just said a straight “No.” to so many things they’ve said “no, but. . . . ” to over the last few decades. Maybe we’d have seen chaos and destruction. Or maybe we’d have had a better idea of what “moderate” means. The 500 pound man thinks five meals a day is moderate as compared to his desired ten.

    Our parish just pushed us to contribute for a new building, third parish we’ve been in with a big building fundraising arm. Nothing wrong with the old building, but it’s old, and we need one that will “honor God and honor our community”. We’re all Medici now. So the bishop has apparently set up a fund, the diocese will match our contributions 100% with a loan. I imagine the thinking is that it’s better from the Church than from the bank. It’s reasonable. Practical. Moderate. Compromising. And a heck of a long way from the days when the Church preached that usury was a sin.

  25. Andy Milam says:

    See, I have a real problem with Bishop Coyne’s view. I think that while His Excellency has the right mentality, he (read: all bishops) needs to have enough courage to enforce it. If I’m not mistaken, he is the auxiliary. If that is the case, he has a little more “freedom” to bird dog, between confirmations and ordinations, with regard to the Mass, right? Something was said about the priests having workshops, but going back and doing what they want? What if Bishop Coyne were to start showing up unannounced at Mass around the Archdiocese? And what if he were to catechize immediately after Mass. As an MC, we often teach servers immediately after Mass, when needed. Why can’t the same be applied to the priest? (All of this assumes rubber stamping from the Ordinary, btw)

    The reality is this…”complicated” in this instance is a substitute for fear. Bishops don’t want to upset the apple cart. And the bottom line is this (His Excellency and I disagree on this), 99% of bishops don’t care about the Mass in their diocese. 99% of bishops now equate being Catholic as being pro-life. If they are pro-life, then they are are doing a good job. Being pro-life isn’t enough. I would much rather see a bishop pair back his statements on pro-life and step up his statements on proper liturgy. If the Mass is the most visible expression of Catholic worship, then why isn’t more said about it? The short answer….the Mass is not a social justice issue. If it were, then it would be on the top of the heap.

    I would love for Bishop Coyne to just show up some weekend. I would love to hear that he was catechizing. If a bishop wanted to make the Mass a priority, he would. Bishops don’t want to, so they don’t. Oh sure, they will opine 3 or 4 times a decade about the proper implementation of Vatican Council II, but then nothing will be followed up on…why? Because they have that pro-life rally to get to, so they can be seen in a social justice setting.

    Please don’t get me wrong…being pro-life is important. One cannot be Catholic without being pro-life. But that is the point. Bishops today are focused on the wrong thing…if they put as much energy into Sacramental theology within their dioceses (and deaneries, for auxiliaries), as they do into social justice issues, I firmly believe the NOM would be celebrated much more reverently and much more faithfully.

  26. Gail F says:

    What many people here fail to realize is that the sort of people who read Fr. Z’s blog are the sort who, generally, care a lot about the liturgy. Not everyone does. For many people, issues that we may think of as paramount are the “side issues,” and vice versa. A bishop has to deal with everyone. A bishop, I would assume, hears from left, right, center, up, down, and sideways. A bishop deals with money, with law, with property, with media, with hospitals, with schools, with staff, with seminaries (if he has em), with religious orders, with urgent problems that have to be solved RIGHT NOW, with long-term strategies, with tumbling values of investments, with infrastructure, with Rome… I am not saying that a bishop shouldn’t put a stop to liturgical abuse, but just that a bishop deals with a lot of things the rest of us don’t, and that we need to respect that.

    I, for one, think Bishop Coyne is fabulous for addressing the issue publicly, and I also take him at his word that it’s one thing to tell priests what to do, but it’s another to be able to ensure that they do it. For instance, if a bishop wanted all the priests to do more ad-libbing, I think we would all be fine with them going back to their parishes and NOT doing it. What we want is for them to do what they are supposed to do with the liturgy, not to create a more effective bishop police force.

  27. mike cliffson says:

    Fr, watch out!
    Quote”I thank God that we have good faithful bishops. I thank God I am not one and never will be.”
    Is it not church tradtion that, unlike the priesthood, desire to be a Bishop be quite a bar to so being, reluctance a very good sign? Was not St Augustine a type, in being all but dragged in?
    Not wholly thumb in cheek : the only bishop Ive known as a priest beforehand only knuckled under in obedience, and previously used to use substantially your words.

  28. Andy Milam says:

    @ Gail…

    If the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Catholic Faith, and the liturgy is the vehicle by which that Sacrament is imparted to Catholics, how can it NOT be paramount to every single Catholic and why shouldn’t that issue be solved RIGHT NOW?

  29. “I know of no bishop who is unwilling to address the need for better celebration of the Church’s liturgy within their diocese.”

    This is a most interesting remark. We see occasional reports of bishops acting promptly and decisively when they hear of priests committing liturgical innovations such as ad orientem celebration or saying the canon in Latin, etc.

    It would be informative to see some reports of bishops acting promptly and decisively when they hear of priests committing liturgical innovatins that are actually proscribed by the rubrics (e.g., not saying the black and doing the red).

    Perhaps it would be uplifting if people could cite examples of bishops who they have observed to be willing to address the need for better celebration of the Church’s liturgy within their dioceses.

  30. Lepidus says:

    Bishop Coyne asks “what can be done?”. The answer to that depends upon the priest. In business you learn to address people as individuals. This person is motivated by visible recognition in the company; this other person would like more time with his family; another guy would like a trip. The alternative is also true. I know a person who has “enough” money and not getting a raise in retaliation for coming in late would not motivate that person in the slightest. Therefore, the bishop needs to take a look at the individuals and what they might need from the diocese. For example, I’m willing to bet my current pastor would have been more apt to “read the black…” if a few years ago he would have been concerned that the bishop would not approve his (unneeded) building project (in the midst of a recession). Another priest might keep himself in line if he thought his next assignment might not be as cushy or that his assistant pastor might not be replaced or his diocesan “assessment” on the parish might start rising. I’m sure there are many such “motivators” that the laity may not even think of.

  31. In the land of Los Angeles, (in some circles LA stands for Liturgical Abuse)…the use of the flagon to consecrate the Blood of Christ was promoted for years by the powers at be. The abuse even made it into a letter of infamous memory. I’m praying that the new Bishop suppresses this ridiculous behaviour.

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