QUAERITUR: If a priest cannot say Mass in the Extraordinary Form, is he properly trained? Wherein Fr. Z rants.

From a reader:

At ordination, the rector of the seminary is asked if the candidate is fully prepared for priestly duties. If a priest cannot say Mass in the E F, should that be considered not being prepared to assume his duties?

I have written about this many times.

I have a hard time understanding how a man who doesn’t know the rites his Church calls him to celebrate can be considered properly trained. The Roman Rite has two forms, Ordinary and Extraordinary. A priest should be able to celebrate both. If he cannot, he knows half his Rite.

How is half-trained for Mass and the sacraments, properly trained?

Furthermore, the 1983 Code of Canon Law says that all seminarians must be very well trained in Latin. I am not making this up. The CIC can. 249 requires… it doesn’t suggest… it requires that all seminarians be very well-versed in Latin and also any other language useful for their ministry: “lingua latina bene calleant“. Not just calleant, but bene calleant. Calleo is “to be practised, to be wise by experience, to be skilful, versed in” or “to know by experience or practice, to know, have the knowledge of, understand”. We get the word “callused” from this verb. We develop calluses when we do something repeatedly. So, bene calleant is “let them be very well versed”.  Let is also review Sacrosanctum Concilium 36 and Optatam totius 13!

How often does some fellow stand up in front of the bishop and say that the men to be ordained are properly trained even though they cannot say the Extraordinary Form and they don’t know any Latin?

“But Father! But Father!”, some of you might be ready to exclaim. “Latin is hard!  The Extraordinary Form is too haaaard for men today!”

Boo hoo!

I’ll tell you what’s hard.  What’s hard is ordaining men who don’t have these fundamental tools.  It’s hard on the people of God and hard on the men themselves in the long run.

Yes, it takes work and time to learn the Extraordinary Form and Latin.  It take about 5 minutes to learn to say the Ordinary Form in your native language.  Whoop-Dee-Doo!  Saying Mass in the older, traditional form is an accomplishment.  You don’t just get up and do it.  It is not like learning to do brain surgery, but it does take training and practice.  The newer form?  Big deal. Just about anyone could come straight up from the pews and do what Father does…. which probably has led in some places to everyone coming up from the pews and doing what Father does.

And we wonder why respect for the clergy has decreased over the decades. What’s so special about what he is doing if it seems like anyone could do it?

Yes, I’m ranting. I’ll stop now.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Father Z., I join my rant to yours, but with less eloquence. There is NO diocesan seminary in the states or a seminary where diocesan seminarians go west of the Ohio River which teach the Latin Mass as part of the curriculum. Time may be allowed to go to seminars in Chicago at St. John Cantius for sems to learn the Mass, but that would be it. Latin is not a required language at four major seminaries I know in the Midwest.

    In England, the Latin Mass may be learned privately, but again, there are no classes for learning the TLM that I know of in Scotland or England or the seminary in Spain, or in the Venerabile.

    I would like to be corrected on this information, if I am wrong. Father Z, you wrote about this 0n 2008:

    ” A letter from the Ecclesia Dei commission, the body which deals with matters concerning the 1962 missal, said that the Vatican is preparing to order rectors to “provide for the instruction of their candidates in both forms of the Roman Rite” in a forthcoming clarification of Summorum Pontificum, the Apostolic Letter which liberated the traditional Mass last July.

    The Ecclesia Dei letter said: “Candidates for the priesthood in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church have the right to be instructed in both forms of the Roman Rite.

    “Those responsible for the formation of candidates for the priesthood in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church should provide the instruction of their candidates in both forms of the Roman Rite.”

    Nothing has changed. Who is in charge? The Pope, or…

  2. Phil_NL says:

    And while there are undoubtedly priests in formation who are no polyglots and never will be, one doesn’t need years and years of latin nor a natural affinity with languages to get a working knowledge of latin so one can celebrate the EF Mass. It’s not as if the priest has to translate the text during Mass, he has to pray it. If he has to look up the exact meaning of a prayer prior to Mass, so be it; if he forgets the proper grammatical case that’s a pity, but as long as he remembers (or glances at the translation printed next to the latin) what he prays, I cannot see the problem.

    In sum, I’d say that ‘bene calleant’ even goes further than what is required for saying Mass.

  3. momoften says:

    Speaking to seminarians a few weeks ago regarding the EF Mass. There seems to be a fear(or timidness) among them that they should have an interest in the EF Mass. Whether that is coming from their diocese, or parish-I don’t know. But, I agree that it is NOT being cultivated(the EF Mass) at the seminaries well enough. I think it is lack of push from the bishops that send their seminarians to these seminaries(they are not interested or perhaps don’t see the value.) The value in teaching the Ef Mass is that the seminarian realizes the reverence and meaning behind the Mass. Even if he were never to say the EF Mass, he would gain so much in learning about the Mass. It is something that needs to be addressed. Although, remember this. There are more new seminarians that have been coming in that have been exposed and love the EF Mass. That will
    help immensely!

  4. Supertradmum says:

    I am not trying to sound sinister, but looking at how many years have passed since the promulgation of the Summorum Pontificum, I have come to the conclusion that there is a cabal in each of these seminaries actively stopping the learning and promotion of the EF. There must be hidden interests, such as misguided ideas of ecumenism, or hatred of tradition, or even a personal arrogance as to the role of the priest which stops the natural growth of the EF worldwide. The excuse that Latin is hard to learn is lame.

  5. Well Fr. Z, I am sure that if seminarians chose to use your arguments to pursue the TLM in seminary, all we’d have left after the 5-6 years are a bunch of the liberal brainwashed “spirit of Vatican II types”. The traditionalists would be kicked out by the liberal tyrant overlords and “colleagues”

  6. Dave N. says:

    Although all signs point to seminary education and its ills as the source of many of the problems facing the American church, it’s really the elephant in the room that no one wants to address. We need a sort of “No Priest Left Behind” program where underperforming and/or unqualified seminary students can get the help they need BEFORE they graduate–because there’s not going to be any academic help afterward. Like public education, many seminaries have become a mult-year systems of ego stroking instead of time devoted to academic and spiritual rigor.

    There are a FEW quality seminaries in the U.S. that could be held up as model programs—Denver’s archdiocesean seminary comes to mind–but they are truly scarce. To make matters worse, bishops desperately cling to their seminaries as a sort of diocesean status symbol, even when it’s been long clear that these institutions have become theological and economic albatrosses–here, L.A. springs to mind.

    In the United States there are around 200 seminaries with about 5,000 men in formation: that’s an average enrollment of 25 men—at all levels of formation—per seminary, and even some of those will drop out. Some seminaries have academic faculty (not counting administrative personnel) larger than the student body. In an era where parishes and elementary schools are being closed for lack of funds, this is all really unconscionable.

    Requiring facility in Latin at all seminaries, since after all it IS a requirement, would be a nice start down the road of seminary educational reform. The continual lowering of the bar in seminary education leaves all of us wallowing in the dust.

  7. mamajen says:

    I don’t disagree, but I do know one very, very good priest (I think he’s probably in his 70’s now) who struggled greatly with Latin and was almost prevented from becoming a priest because of that. He doesn’t do the EF, but is one of two priests in my area who can be relied upon to say the NO to the letter. He is extremely orthodox and loves being a priest. He travels miles to say mass at various small-town parishes that do not have their own priest. I don’t think seminarians should be coddled, but there should be room for exceptions sometimes.

  8. RuralVirologist says:

    Please don’t get me wrong – I love the Latin Mass and wish to see more priests able to say it.

    But if a Latin rite priest only knows half his rite’s liturgy, and isn’t fully trained for his rite if he only knows the Ordinary Form, then can the same be said in reverse for the FSSP and similar orders/groups who only say the Extraordinary Form? Or do they actually know the OF as well? Not 100% sure about the FSSP. The SSPX do not know the OF, and yes, they could learn it in 5 minutes, but they are, at least most of them, and at least currently, only half-trained. The better half, one could argue, but still half.

    Further down the rabbit hole, we can postulate the existence of a Latin rite priest moving to Milan. How rapidly is he expected to learn the Ambrosian rite? I don’t know.

  9. Some seminarians are now learning the EF Mass, but surely all of them know when to keep their heads down on the subject. I wonder whether merely learning the necessary Latin is the principal impediment.

    I’ve heard the claim that a vocabulary of only 400 Latin words suffices for the Order of Mass. Whatever the actual number, liturgical Latin–apart from the collects, whence Father Z’s original WDTPRS fame–and especially scriptural Latin are extremely easy, as compared with almost anything else in Latin. Multiple Latin courses should not be necessary for a priest to celebrate the EF Mass.

    Certainly, canon 249 should be obeyed. But the real reason–aside from the fact that it’s the law–is that without a knowledge of Latin, the priest is forever cut off from the special ethos of the Roman church, from the language in which our liturgy, spirituality, and theology developed, and in which their best expressions are still found. Anyone, who has systematically compared the Latin patristic readings in the Liturgy of the Hours with their English translations, knows how much of their depth and nuance is lost in reading them only in translation.

    Even aside from liturgical considerations, I wonder whether this is why many priests of recent generations seem thin or even superficial in their understanding of Catholic morality and spirituality and theology–that in their seminary preparation they were cheated and deprived of full priestly formation.

  10. skypilot777 says:

    Maybe I’m conspiratorially minded, but I also suspect that the nefarious actions of the enemy are at work here. Satan hates the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in general and there is ample evidence he hates the EF of the Mass especially. I suspect it is he who has turned so many hearts against the EF and created the situation that we are in now – where the revival and spread of the EF is almost totally supressed even in defiance of Pontifical rulings and Canon Law. The fact that many seminarians are ordained without any training in the EF is more evidence of how successful the enemy has been in supressing it.

  11. jasoncpetty says:

    RuralVirologist, as you yourself say, if a priest is trained and prepared to offer the traditional Mass, he can surely offer the Novus Ordo.

    It may not look like any Novus Ordo most of us have ever seen–it would probably look like a shorter traditional Latin Mass, since he’d be applying what he knows to words and rubrics that are likely to be new to him (at least in small part)–but it would be probably the best Novus Ordo ever.

    There is no new training required if one knows the old form; it is the standard from which the other form departs and–if we accept the Holy Father’s proposed hermeneutic of continuity–the standard to which it is to refer. I can’t imagine priests undergoing more than a moment’s training to learn the Mass of Paul VI prior to offering it Advent I 1970.

  12. Mile 12 says:

    Young Canadian is right, though I’m not exactly comfortable in advocating the silent “biological solution”.

    The EF is suppressed at seminary. It’s not across the board, but some chaplains will fish for any hint’s of “Traditionalism”, “You’re not a raddy-Traddy are you?!”. Latin is not required and most dioceses will create many hoops for seminarians to jump through before even allowing them to take courses much less learn the EF. I’ve heard of Rectors yelling at seminarians for even asking for just one EF to be celebrated at the seminary. They are told that “they just don’t do that anymore”. If you stick your neck out, it gets chopped off; so guys get driven underground.

  13. guatadopt says:

    Father, that wasn’t a rant. My 7 yr old could say the OF mass without a book when he was five.

  14. acardnal says:

    Couldn’t have said it any better myself. A very well thought out rant. Three cheers!

  15. I think all Fathers are very special! Trying to instill the same reverence for Priests that I learned as a child. Not an easy task today, but I am not giving up!

  16. acardnal says:

    I know home-schooled children who learn Latin! If a child can, so can every young man in seminary. It used to be that every person who wanted to be a lawyer, doctor or a priest learned Latin before graduating from secondary school.

  17. acardnal says:

    RuralVirologist, you should not compare religious order or societies of apostolic life, such as the FSSP and the ICKSP, with the diocesan priesthood. The FSSP has its own constitution which was approved by the Holy See.

  18. momoften says:

    People can rant all they want about the lack of anything in seminary, but if a Bishop is not involved
    in following the formation of their men in seminary, things don’t change quickly if at all. Honestly, yes, Latin can be taught in middle, even elementary school, I wonder how many Catholic schools teach it? None in our diocese. And as for the ease of learning the Latin Mass, hard, right? NO, not that hard. One of my sons had all the latin memorized as well as gestures when he was 13 or 14 …after learning the Mass at 12 years old…hard is not an excuse.

  19. EXCHIEF says:

    It isn’t the difficulty of Latin at play here. The difficulty is Bishops and heads of semanaries substituting their will and their desires for that of Holy Mother Church.

  20. PomeroyonthePalouse says:

    mamajen Perhaps it was tough for your priest to struggle with Latin in the seminary 45 and more years ago. Up through the late 60s (and maybe later) it was the norm for seminarians who were in the Theologate (5-8th yrs of college) to attend classes that were taught in Latin and to be expected to carry on conversations in Latin.

    Now, it’s mostly a matter of memorizing the words used in Mass. My high school senior college freshman daughter (who took two yrs of Latin via DVD and me) can read, understand (most) and speak all the Latin in the red missallete we use when we attend Mass at North American Martyrs.

  21. Padraig Smythe says:

    I guess priests of the FSSP only know half their rite…

    …just kidding.

  22. Jason Keener says:

    Pope Benedict, gloriously reigning, should simply issue a clear directive that effective immediately all seminaries of the Latin Church are required to train seminarians in the Latin language and both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Holy Mass. Then, over the next year or two, the Holy Father should send apostolic visitors to each seminary to make sure his directives are being obeyed. If bishops and rectors are not following the Pope’s directives, they should be removed and sent off to a monastery for prayer, penance, and reflection. :-)

  23. vetusta ecclesia says:

    When I was a boy (in the ’50s) in England few seminarians had university degrees or even “A” level Latin but they coped at seminary because they were taught, or sent before seminary for an intensive Latin course. Latin has not got harder but the educational level has increased – ergo …

  24. AnnAsher says:

    The priests I have known were offered virtually zero education/training in Latin, the EF, or chant for that matter. It is another problem of the destruction of seminary sustainance of the seventies – IMO.
    Did you hear that our dear Bishop Morlino has recently added the requirement of mastery in the EF for all his seminary would-be graduates? (probably you did / I’ve been blog absent due to imposing limits on myself)

  25. mamajen says:


    I suspect you are right. I don’t know the details, but he made it sound as though he was really expected to master the language, not just memorize the EF. He is a very smart man, but that for some reason was a particular challenge for him. He said the requirements were relaxed just in time, otherwise he would not have passed.

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  27. LauraK says:

    I think you treated that 30-year-old priest harshly. In my area priests are overworked from a young age. Your position that “you are right,” and priests like that 30-year-old objector are wrong, is a wrong one. If you were right, the bishops and the pope would agree with you, and teach thus. If you were right, the Novus Ordo would be illicit, for why should EVERY priest offer the EF, if the NO were sufficient? If you were right, you would be in company with the sedevacantists. Father, on this matter you are not right, and your treatment of a brother priest, a hardworking parish priest in the trenches, is a liturgical abuse of kind worse than toleration of “Gather Us In,” and, ISTM, borderline heretical if you are serious in your “right”-ness.

  28. UncleBlobb says:

    @LauraK I think that you have misinterpreted Father Z.’s writings. And Pope Benedict himself has said that the EF is part of the Roman Rite, and should be available. So it would seem that it would be heresy to say that the NO is not sufficient. Father Z. has merely advocated over and over again that all priest should be trained in offering the EF Mass, as well as being well trained in Latin, and this last to comply with canon law and many church documents. And for what it’s worth, I think the young priest treated Father Z. harshly. (But I’m biased). No, Father Z. is right.

  29. Indulgentiam says:

    “Latin is hard! The Extraordinary Form is too haaaard for men today!” love the boo hoo btw :)

    We home school and my son has been taking Latin since he was 10. At 11 he took the National Latin Exam, Intro Level and got a…um, OK I’ve bragged enough, let me just say he did very well. He is by NO means a genius, believe me. I have learned many things in the few years I’ve been home schooling. One of the most important is, when you raise the bar they reach for a level of flawlessness. When you lower the bar you get mediocrity.

    “What’s so special about what he is doing if it seems like anyone could do it?” I think your on to something there Father. I think that particular trend of thought is exactly what the framers of the “spirit of VII” had in mind.

  30. jflare says:

    I’ve just read over an update to this entry.
    I would have this to say this the priest who complained:

    With all due respect, Father, if you were to offer Mass in the Extraordinary Form..
    YOU..WOULD..be there. YOU, Father, are the only person required to be at Mass for there to be a validly and legally offered Mass. By offering Mass in the Extraordinary Form, you could pray for graces for changes of heart in people.

    I wish more priests would remember that.

  31. LauraK,

    I think you have to remember that Father Z usually dishes out the tough love to seminarians and his fellow Priests who are younger than him. It’s not something unusual to this particular Priest – it’s just his way. If someone takes it in another way, I think they’re mistaken on Father’s intent. It’s a fatherly gesture in charity.

    Also, it is not a prerequisite for his being right that any of the Bishops agree with him. The fact is that an enormous number of Bishops are very heterodox. As far as the Holy Father agreeing with him, he’s basing himself on the Motu Proprio of the Holy Father, Summorum Pontificum, which states very clearly that, at this point in time, both the Ordinary and the Extraordinary Forms legally constitute the one Roman Rite. This is the authoritative teaching of the Holy Father. The Extraordinary Form has, legally, *AT LEAST* an equal claim to be celebrated and heard, and many traditional Catholics, including Priests, would say it has more merit than the Ordinary Form. This reasoning is solid, and Father’s point is simply that if they both have, again, at bare minimum, equal status as the official Rite of the Roman Catholic Church, then a seminarian who is not formed in both is done a disservice, as are the people he serves. He is quite right on this, it’s as plain as day. The only way to deny it is if you contradict Summorum Pontificum.

    The Ordinary Form need not be illicit (though it is certainly Liturgically inferior to the Extraordinary Form) for Father to be correct, and your reasoning doesn’t make any sense. Every Priest ought to at the very least be trained in, and hopefully offer, the Extraordinary Form because it is part of the official Rite of the Roman Catholic Church, and may not be relegated to an inferior of second-class status. That is the exact reverse of how things ought to be in the Church.

    He is not in the company of the sedevacantists, nor is heretical; both accusations border on slander. He is simply educated and faithful to Roman Catholic patrimony and Sacred Tradition.

    Charity may perhaps be questioned, but the orthodoxy behind Father Z’s reasoning is impeccable, the reasoning, very tight, and faithfulness to Tradition and the Magisterium, unquestionable.

  32. Supertradmum says:

    A priest told me this week that if young men here want to learn the EF, they would be advised not do this while in any of the seminaries in England. Fill in the spaces_________

  33. I believe the core of Father Z’s argument is that–whether or not there is a “need” for a young priest to celebrate the EF regularly in his present parish–learning to celebrate the EF will inform his celebration of the OF by providing him with the formation, and his knowledge of himself as a priest, that he may not have received in the seminary. Almost every priest who learns the EF testifies that it has a profound effect on his celebration of the OF and his spirituality as a priest. Indeed, I personally have come to suspect this indirect effect may have been an important reason for Summorum Pontificum. And I wonder whether Bishop Morlino wants all his seminarians to learn the EF for the same reason, and not necessarily because he expects them to celebrate the EF in their future parishes.

  34. chantgirl says:

    I know several young diocesan priests who were not taught the EF in seminary but say the EF privately in their rooms. Either they have done a lot of personal homework, or some kindly priest has taught them. These young priests need prayers as they are in a sort of exile right now until the biological solution solves some things. A family priest recently learned to say the EF in his 50s (it’s never too late) because one of the good ICKSP priests taught him. My suggestion to seminarians who want to learn but are rightfully fearful of being kicked out of seminary would be to wait for summer vacation, and meet with a learned, perhaps non-diocesan priest if you’re really paranoid, who can secretly teach them in a neutral setting.

    As for Latin, I use several homeschool DVD courses with my children based on their age. Probably the best for an adult with no exposure would be the Latin for Children DVD sets from Classical Academic Press taught by Dr. Christopher Perrin. These courses include classical and ecclesiastical pronunciation. For an adult, just watch the chant sessions and the grammar sessions and skip the skits. Classical Academic Press also has an intensive several days’ seminar worth of instruction DVD class for parents who want to teach Latin but have never taken it themselves. That would be more of a Latin bootcamp for someone who learns language easily. I have also used the Prima Latina and Latina Christiana DVD sets with my children, but these would probably be too basic for an adult, and to be honest, hearing ecclesiastical Latin from a teacher with a heavy southern accent drove me a little berserk. Latin instruction is experiencing a huge revival among homeschoolers, even non-Catholic, and while it is probably easier to learn as a child, many of us didn’t learn until we were adults. It can be done!

  35. akp1 says:

    There’s DVDs available and inexpensive from The Latin Mass Society in England. I’d be happy to pay for them. I think I can be emailed by clicking on my username here. Even if he, or any other priest or seminarian, just learns it by himself for now, I am 100% certain he will not regret it.

  36. acardnal says:

    Chantgirl and reverend clergy: thanks for your recommended Latin educational resources.

    For any clergy, please contact http://www.sanctamissa.org for online video tutorials. EWTN has dvds
    of both high and low Masses done by the FSSP and which are suitable for tutorial. Many different camera angles are displayed (overhead, side view, etc.) along with commentary to assist the priest in learning the rubrics.

    The FSSP also conducts one week training sessions. Here is one for September 2012 at their seminary in Nebraska: http://fssp.com/press/2012/07/low-mass-training-september/

    Here are just three FSSP instructional videos available on YouTube:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUCa0pkPBhs Part 1 of 3
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_3QU-lUXp0 Part 2 of 3
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nToRDQeg_I Part 3 of 3

  37. chantgirl says:

    This is the link for the teacher intensive.

    You know, if more parents made sure their children had a background in Latin, they would be better prepared to be Catholic adults, priests or not.

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