QUAERITUR: What is a “stable group”? How big? How small?

From a reader:

Saw your most recent quaeriter [“quaeritur” is a verb, btw.] and noted the use of “stable group.” We are struggling with our diocese over the definition of that term, as they [“they”? Diocesan officials?] want to say a stable group is thirty Catholics [NO!] who will pledge themselves to attend the EF. Naturally, we had numbers approaching thirty when our TLM was pushed out of the parishes three years ago. Now we total about fifteen or so, and even though the same people have attended the TLM more or less faithfully (we even found ourselves in a chapel of a secular retirement home for about two years) for four years, the diocese still tells us we are not a stable group. By the way, we had a priest in the area willing to offer this Mass for us. But the bishop banished him to the hinterlands. Now he travels about 300 miles once a month to offer this Mass for our group. Just what IS a “stable group”?

Don’t forget that the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” issued a clarificatory document Universae Ecclesiae, in which we read:

15. A coetus fidelium (“group of the faithful”) can be said to be stabiliter existens (“existing in a stable manner”), according to the sense of art. 5 § 1 of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, when it is constituted by some people of an individual parish who, even after the publication of the Motu Proprio, come together by reason of their veneration for the Liturgy in the Usus Antiquior, and who ask that it might be celebrated in the parish church or in an oratory or chapel; such a coetus (“group”) can also be composed of persons coming from different parishes or dioceses, who gather together in a specific parish church or in an oratory or chapel for this purpose.

The law on this says “some people”.  There is no minimum number identified by the Holy See.   Some have mentioned that a coetus in other contexts can be as few a three.  And the priest himself can be a part of the coetus.

It is wrong to try to impose a minimum number.

At the same time, it is common sense that – in most parishes – it is very hard to implement a major change to the parish schedule for very few people.  But if the priest is willing and able to add a Mass to the schedule and keep it covered through thick and thin without crashing and burning, great!  Support him?  If he wants to do it, he doesn’t need permission.

The BIG problem remains, however.  The parish priest, the pastor, implements Summorum Pontificum in the parish.  The diocesan bishop does not make the decisions about this in the way that he did under the old, now “extinct” provisions of Ecclesia Dei adflicta.

And don’t forget the Bux Protocol.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. albinus1 says:

    Saw your most recent quaeriter [“quaeritur” is a verb, btw.]

    So is non sequitur, but people use is a noun all the time (“That’s a non sequitur“). Same goes for rendez-vous (“Let’s set up a rendez-vous“). And imprimatur (“He gave it his imprimatur), Phrases, especially foreign-language phrases, regardless of their grammtical origin, seem to come to be regarded as nouns fairly often.

  2. Dr Guinness says:

    “Where two or three are gathered in My name…”

  3. Supertradmum says:

    What I find interesting is that some bishops and archbishops are using the term “stable” to mean a group which will cause division in their dioceses. They do not want “stable” TLM groups even of six or seven to be encouraged as some see any number as causing division in the worship of their dioceses. I have heard this actually said and have seen the result of this type of mind-set which sees Latin as causing division. The idea having one type of Liturgy is supposedly a sign of unity is a total irony coming from those who hate the one unifying language of all countries. The idea of any group outside the main-stream is threatening. I have been to the only two TLMs offered since July in the diocese where I have been living and only about twenty people are truly desiring a regular TLM. The archbishop is totally against it and as the people do not feel like they have recourse to anyone, nothing is being done to get more one-off Masses. In fact, there is a general feeling of despondency about having the TLM.

    By the way, this same idea of Latin causing division was expressed to me by the head of seminary, a priest, in America. In addition, I know at least one Abbot who cannot introduce the TLM in his community as he says it will “cause division” among his monks….I only know one source of division and he is the father of lies as well…

  4. Ben Trovato says:

    As we approach the great Feast of the Nativity, I would suggest that the Stable Group we look to is the Holy Family: just three of them in the Stable. (The diocese, surely, can provide any asses required to make up the numbers…)

  5. Pingback: Grupo estável? Fr. Z responde! » Una Voce Brasil - Blog

  6. jesusthroughmary says:

    Ben Trovato: +1

  7. ContraMundum says:

    At this time of year, I’d say a “stable group” consists at minimum of Mary, Joseph, and two shepherds. The Infant and three kings come later. :-)

  8. ContraMundum says:

    Dang. I need to read the comments, not just the post; Ben Trovato beat me to it.

  9. Ben Trovato says:

    BTW, with regard to ‘quaeritur’, I have heard it said that in modern American vernacular, there is no noun that can’t be verbed… But maybe that’s just a wild prejudice we Brits hold.

  10. pseudomodo says:

    Can the EF be in english (vernacular) as VII taught? Do we not have 2 forms, ordinary and extraordinary?

  11. wmeyer says:

    My recollection of the statement made in England (if memory serves) by Card. Castrillon Hoyos was that two would be a sufficient number, and moreover, that he fervently hoped the EF would be offered in every parish, requested or not.

    Still hoping that in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, we may see more than one parish where the EF is offered.

  12. Dr. K says:

    I once asked a local priest if he would be interested in allowing a EF Mass at our parish. He told me to get at least 350 signatures, then he’ll see what he can do.

    350? I don’t think the three weekend OF Masses draw that many combined!

  13. don Fabio says:

    May I suggest you the old, glorious sentence of the Roman Right: «Tres faciunt collegium»? See here.

    Fr Z's Gold Star Award

  14. leonugent2005 says:

    I’d say where ever two or three are gathered together in Christ’s Name there He is among them. That’s all it should take

  15. pelerin says:

    Re Dr K’s 350 signatures wanted. One of my friends asked her priest if he would celebrate the EF and was told that if she could find 20 others then he would. She was unable to find even one other (it is a very small parish). 350 here 20 there – are these numbers being pulled out of a hat?

  16. Johnsum says:

    Would I be justified in seeking out a SSPX chapel on Sundays? My parish is one with an extremely bad music program. Our pastor asks the congregation to join him by holding up our hands when giving special blessings or commissioning people as EMHE. Most Masses lack the sacred character that they should have due to various minor liturgical violations.

    I dread going to this church because there are no ready alternatives. There is an SSPX Mass about 40-50 from my city. Lately, I have been thinking going to this chapel to heat Sunday Mass.

  17. jesusthroughmary says:

    It is altogether unreasonable for the pastor to want to have assurances that a TLM will have the support of at least a non-negligible percentage of the parish before devoting a significant percentage of parish resources toward it? On the whole, it is more expensive to conduct the Traditional Mass than it is the Novus Ordo, and the vast majority of parishes can’t simply add a Mass to the schedule, so he’d be replacing one. If the parish has 500 families and 15 people will be there every week, it’s just not practical. This is why I think dioceses (like Trenton) are justified in establishing regional TLMs. If all priests were trained to offer it, they could easily establish a rotating schedule of priests so the people could have their community Mass each Sunday and the priests aren’t taxed far beyond their normal busy schedules.

  18. Acanthaster says:

    If a priest is willing, but an official time isn’t allowed on the calendar, a suggestion is to have the priest say it, but only advertise it word of mouth and simply don’t put it on the calendar. A priest says at least a private Mass every day anyway, and since it’s not on the calendar, it’s just his private Mass for the day…which people just happen to know about, and which just happens to be a TLM. :)

  19. ipadre says:

    If they want to go by the numbers, many parishes will have to cancel their daily Masses in the Ordinary Form, and some will even have to cancel their Sunday Masses (OF).

  20. Supertradmum says: What I find interesting is that some bishops and archbishops are using the term “stable” to mean a group which will cause division in their dioceses. They do not want “stable” TLM groups even of six or seven to be encouraged as some see any number as causing division in the worship of their dioceses. I have heard this actually said and have seen the result of this type of mind-set which sees Latin as causing division.

    I’ve heard that one, too. The elephant in the room is that the division is already there, and it’s not the division they fear.

  21. Stability has little to do with numbers, unless the numbers are so small as to threaten existence. A group of three people who are die-hard extraordinary form devotees could be considered stable if they can be expected to attend every week and aren’t suffering from terminal illesses or have other obligations that would prevent them from attending. As was noted in this discussion and has been noted here many times before, however, many practical matters can affect whether a separate Mass can be scheduled for any particular group. First and foremost is to be sure two particular priests are available to offer Mass in the extraordinary form. Even the most devoted priest will be ill or otherwise need a break. Without that, the rest is academic, and with that, the rest can be relatively easy. (Note that I say relatively easy. It’s next to impossible if no qualified priests are available.)

  22. Johnsum:

    To answer your question …

    Ordinarily, an unlawful means cannot be used to accomplish a lawful end. That said, there are extraordinary circumstances where attending Mass at an SSPX chapel might fulfill one’s obligation. One example would be the lack of a valid Mass elsewhere. (Notice I said “valid.”) At the same time, as the Society is currently not in perfect communion with Rome, regular attendance is not to be encouraged. One can become in the habit of not relying upon fidelity to Peter and perfect communion with the Church founded by Christ. This is not always apparent in the short run.

    Depending on where you live, an Eastern-Rite Catholic church may be available, which could provide refuge until the storm passes. Contact me privately, and maybe I can direct you to one.

  23. Jerry says:

    Johnsum – Have you considered viewing the situation as a cross the Lord wishes for you to bear rather than one to avoid?

  24. Centristian says:

    In all fairness to the diocese in question, from what of the reader’s complaint is posted, it seems that there are 15 people, not within a parish, but within his entire diocese who are requesting a regularly scheduled Tridentine Mass. If that is the case, is the diocese really to blame for the lack of availability of a regularly scheduled “EF” Mass in an area where, apparently, no segment of the Catholic population–apart from a group of 15 people–is interested?

    In my own diocese, there happens to be a sizeable segment of the Catholic population that is interested in the pre-Conciliar liturgy and there are two parishes, therefore, that offer a regularly scheduled Sunday Mass. Those two Masses adequately accomodate all the faithful in the diocese who currently manifest an inflexible attachment to the “TLM” as well as those who simply like to attend from time to time but don’t insist upon the pre-Conciliar rites, exclusively.

    That latter point being the case, I can imagine that if a handful of parishioners petitioned the pastor of some random parish and said, “we constitute a stable group of the faithful who want the TLM every Sunday, so you’ll have to give us what we want according to Summorum Pontificum”, the pastor would, rather than just up and drop everything in order to go learn how to celebrate all the pre-Conciliar rites simply for their benefit, be justified enough in pointing out that the diocese already offers two Tridentine Masses at two different parishes, advising them to go to one or the other of those churches.

    But if only 15 people within a whole diocese are requesting it…well…at any given time there are 15 people within a diocese requesting something: that their priest be transferred, that the cathedral parking lot be re-paved, that lectors be asked to speak up. Sometimes we’re too quick to blame a diocese or a bishop on the lack of a Tridentine Mass venue when, in fact, the culprits are the 21st century and regional demographics.

  25. amenamen says:

    What is a stable group? What is a finite simple group?
    Five mathematicians from Northwestern University give their a capella thoughts on the matter:

    By the Klein Four Group: “A Finite Simple Group (Of Order Two)”

  26. teomatteo says:

    How many? I say 12.

  27. Former Altar Boy says:

    Hello Fr. Z,
    I was in Honolulu last week and attended the holy day and Sunday Mass at Blessed Sacrament church, the only (as far as advertised) parish offering the EF on eight islands! Hard to believe there are not “stable” groups on the other islands. That being said, I picked up a bulletin on the way out Sunday in which was listed the previous week’s collection from the one EF and two OFs. The collection from the TLM nearly equaled the combined collection from the other two Masses. If a bishop’s primary concern is saving souls and closing churches is counterproductive to that goal, then maybe more of them should consider adding a TLM at every parish.
    Oh, and Blessed Sacrament is “blessed” with TWO priests trained in the TLM.

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