Reminder about Summorum Pontificum 5, Universae Ecclesiae 15 and the “stable group”

For some reason I have had several emails recently – from far-flung places – which all have to do with a common problem that some people are encountering in making petitions for celebrations of Mass in the Extraordinary Form.

They are running into opposition based on the claim that the people making the petition are not a “stable group” or that the group isn’t big enough.

You will recall that Summorum Pontificum (Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio with provisions that free up the use of the 1962 Missale Romanum) indicates:

Art. 5, § 1. 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. …

The usual liberal common-sense defying questions arose about how big the group had to be and whether or not they had to be registered in the parish in question, blah blah blah.

The Instruction about Summorum Pontificum called Universae Ecclesiae brought greater clarity to the issue of the “stable group”.

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.

Furthermore, the document is clear that the people in the group do not have to be from the same parish, either as registrants or territorial residents, they don’t even have to be from the same diocese!

It is obviously that large initiatives, such as changing a busy Sunday schedule around, seems a lot to ask for half a dozen people.  That doesn’t mean that there cannot be ad hoc Masses for them.

Furthermore, I think we can see in the Holy Father’s provisions and in the Instruction the desire of that the older forms of worship be brought to the attention of the faithful across the board.  Pastors of souls should take steps to make sure that their flocks are aware of and can appreciate and participate Mass celebrated also with the 1962MR.  Therefore, a small stable group could be like liturgical leaven in a parish.  A parish priest should welcome their helpful contributions rather than try to extinguish their spirit.

That said, people who are petitioning for celebrations of the Extraordinary Form have to keep their ducks in a row.  Do as much of your work with the parish priest as you can in writing.  Keep copies of everything.  If there is a conversation, follow up with a memo of what was said.  You need written records of the whole process.

Work to increase your numbers.  Do not hesitate to contact the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei“, with documentation about what is happening.

If you write to the Commission, use this address:

His Excellency
Most Rev. Augustine DiNoia
Vice-President of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei”
Palazzo del Sant’Uffizio
00120 Vatican City

You might frame your letter – on one side of one page – like this:

Your Excellency….


With prayers for Your Excellency and for your collaborators as you carry out the mandate entrusted to you by the Holy Father, we/I remain sincerely yours in Christ,


You can add attached documentation to your cover letter, but keep that cover letter short and to the point.

I have some other suggestions about how to write to ecclesiastical authorities HERE.

Be patient in getting responses from Church authorities.  

“But Father! But Father!” you might be saying.  “How long should we wait?”

There is no hard and fast rule.  Perhaps 1 week for a response from your parish priest.  Perhaps 2 weeks for a response from your bishop.  Perhaps 1 month for a response from Rome or the Nuncio.   Roman offices will sometimes have to consult with the local bishop, so allow for some turn around time.  Sometimes it helps speed things up if you fax correspondence and then follow with a hard copy by post.  And there are fast delivery services now as well.  Email, you ask?  Not so much.  If you have an email contact, always follow up with a hard copy by post.

Yes, we have modern means of communication, but this is the Church we are talking about.

You don’t have to just lie there and let priests or parish councils kick you or ignore your proper petitions.  You have recourse.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Brick by Brick, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM, Universae Ecclesiae and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Charles E Flynn says:

    Commemorating Summorum Pontificum in the Eternal City, by Alberto Carosa, at The Catholic World Report.

  2. tonyfernandez says:

    Those turnaround times seem very quick. It may be correct for the parish priest, but I’ve waited months for a response from Rome and the local bishop.

  3. Joe in Canada says:

    I wonder, though, if it might not be the case that some of the priests saying “no” really mean “I don’t know how to do it, and I am overworked already”. I am not a parish priest, but I would be hard pressed to find one who could celebrate in the EF.

  4. I have been involved in various efforts to request / setup / maintain the TLM at various local parishes. Often those involved in the organization, treat the efforts similar to a political battle — Organizing petitions and having signature campaigns. Head counts certainly provide useful information, but there is this train of thought that “If we only had 30 more signatures we might have changed Father’s/his Excellency’s mind!” My experience suggests that it simply does not work that way.

    What having “larger” groups does help is to provide a support pool to draw from when needs arise. Is the group capable of putting in the work it takes to help father? If they can’t do this, then they need to find resources to help. Masses need trained altar servers, and men to train them, Masses need vestments and missals… etc.

    10 years ago I knew of two young men who were capable of serving the Mass / training others, knowledgeable about sacred music, and even taught themselves basic sewing to make repairs on the old vestments they were purchasing for a local priest. Very capable and “stable” group… of two.

  5. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    On the cheerful side, there is renewed interest among some diocesan clergy I know in the celebration of the older form of the Mass.

  6. TMKent says:

    I’d like to tell you just how quickly things can move when the priest(s) and bishop favor it.

    This past summer the order that ran our rather typical, mostly orthodox, large, young, diverse, suburban, NO parish left and our church was returned to diocesan control.

    Since July we have seen Roman style vestments (w/ maniple, biretta, cassocks, etc.), added servers, older, male acolytes, the reduction in EMHCs who may no longer come on the altar, Communion in one species, the priest singing his parts while “doing the red”, the permanent deacon performing the appropriate “duties”, the gospel sung, acolytes kneeling before the altar with bells and incense, the hiring of a new music director, classes for all EHMCs, lectors and servers, and we’re about to begin classes on Ratzinger’s The Spirit of the Liturgy. We’ve also seen a measurable increase in both the times for the Sacrament of Confession and the parishioners who avail themselves of it.

    Seeing my friends who are heartsick at the “changes” in our parish, I feel very badly for their feelings of displacement and disorientation. It’s human nature for us to want our parish to be constant and unchanging. I must admit though, it’s hard for me to contain my excitement over these things that I feel I’ve waited my whole life to experience or my anticipation for what I believe will soon come.

    To others who are still waiting- hang in there and pray!

  7. OrthodoxChick says:

    Fr. Z.,

    I have a slightly different obstacle to encounter. I asked my pastor (during this past summer, around August) if he would be interested in celebrating Mass in the EF. He was very nice and also matter-of-fact in his response. He explained to me that he has his hands full already running the two parishes (in two different towns) that have been assigned to him. And I can vouch for the fact that he DOES have his hands full. The two parishes were yolked a year ago and it has gone over about as well as a lead balloon among parishoners in one of those parishes. He’s a young priest (late 30’s/just about 40) and he explained to me that he has never studied Latin in either regular schooling, nor seminary; nor was he instructed in the Latin Rite in seminary. He went on to explain that he doesn’t think it would possible for him to learn everything he would need to know to celebrate an EF Mass properly with the other responsibilities he has.

    I honestly haven’t known what to do since that conversation. There are no EF Masses being celebrated within less than an hour’s drive from my home and I can’t afford to make that trip on a weekly basis. Since that first EF Mass that I went to a few months ago, and fell in love with, I have not been able to get back again yet. I find myself becoming more and more disgruntled with the liberal liturgical “ad libs” that I now notice in the OF Masses celebrated in local parishes. But at the same time, I don’t want to be perceived as “THAT” parishoner who pushes an agenda onto a pastor whose nerves have been frayed already by pushy, complaining parishoners from the two parishes.

    I am in need of sound advice as to whether I should do nothing and respect what the pastor told me, or try to find a kinder, gentler way to help make this happen somehow – though I don’t know what that should be or how to go about it.

  8. JaneC says:

    If you are lucky enough to have a local EF Mass, attend as often as you can and give money when possible. Pastors keep track of these things: how much money was in the collection from each Mass, and how many people were there. This shouldn’t sound too mercenary, they have to keep the lights and heat on! At our local EF Mass, a lot more time and parish resources go into preparing for the weekly High Mass (training altar boys, rehearsing the choir, “worship aides” with the propers of the day, etc.) than into the OF Masses, but the EF is often poorly attended and the collection is small. It doesn’t help that there is an SSPX chapel locally with Mass once or twice a month, and a lot of people who normally come to our (licit) EF magically vanish when the SSPX priest is in town, and many don’t contribute to the collection even when they’re with us.

    I think sometimes the pastor wonders why he bothers. He loves the EF, but almost every week there is some headache associated with it, because it runs long and infringes on preparation time for the Mass that comes after it (especially if there is an 8-minute tract or sequence to be sung!), or people are complaining about this or that. If you have an EF Mass and you love it, tell your pastor frequently and show support in any way you can!

  9. lucy says:

    Agree with Jane. If you have one nearby, please attend and contribute. Our group knows for a fact that the office comments on how much money the people at the one traditional Mass of the weekend give. They’re amazed at how much.

    We’re also fit in between two new Masses, but it usually works out on time. We have to put up and tear down the altar and leave it “like we were never there.”

    We’ve steadily increased our population over many years. Good preaching really brings in people. Every week now there is a sermon worth recording.

    Thankfully, the pastor of the church supports us. Our bishop is less than friendly, but only 7 more years til retirement. Then we will begin to pray all over again for a bishop who is friendly toward both forms of Mass.

  10. John UK says:

    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 as three. And the priest himself can be a part of the coetus!
    Now, just Who was it who is recorded as saying:
    “Where two or three are gathered together, I am in the midst of them”? ………

    Kind regards,
    John U.K.

  11. AnnAsher says:

    I also agree with Jane. I know of at least a couple priests who offer the EF and do love it but also suffer various degrees of what is basically shunning by their brother priests. They need our support.
    I do thank you Fr. Z for this post and I pray the Most Reverend — takes heed.

  12. Former Altar Boy says:

    Father z wrote:
    “If there is a conversation, follow up with a memo of what was said. You need written records of the whole process.”
    Here is a polite way to word the opening of such letter while still allowing for the possibility of some misunderstanding in the conversation:
    Dear Father,
    This will memorialize our (phone) conversation of (date) in which I understood you to say….

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