QUAERITUR: How to correct a priest who is getting the rubrics wrong?

From a reader:

A priest has started saying the Extraordinary Form Mass at a local church. The congregation is very thankful, and we make sure to let him know. [Excellent!]

Unfortunately, even though he is enthusiastic about the Extraordinary Form, he doesn’t know the Mass well. It’s  difficult for the servers to correct him. He insists he’s right. It obviously embarrasses him, so we just try to ignore it.

The difficulty comes when he starts to give the servers new instructions.

Is there anything we can do to fix the situation without embarrassing him?

Without embarrassing him.

Well…. this is not really a situation of fraternal correction, unless you are priest.

First, don’t do it in front of anyone else.

It seems to me that, above all, you are rights that he is wrong.  That is to say, be sure of your position before attempting to correct him.

Then, provide proof.  You need evidence.  There is an old phrase: gratis asseritur, gratis negatur… something your assert without evidence is just as easily denied by the one you are telling.

Off the top of my head, perhaps you could offer to pay for a refresher workshop with the FSSP or with the guys at St. John Cantius.


In lieu, I suggest you get a reliable source such as The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described by Fortescue and O’Connell reworked by Reid after Summorum Pontificum.  Double-check everything.  Then make a private appointment with Father and bring the book.  As a matter of fact, you could give him a copy of the book!  At the very least, you could bring photo copies of the relevant pages.

You also need to be familiar with the Instruction on Summorum Pontificum issued by the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” entitled Universae Ecclesiae.  

Universae Ecclesiae clarifies that (my emphases):

24. The liturgical books of the forma extraordinaria are to be used as they are.  All those who wish to celebrate according to the forma extraordinaria of the Roman Rite must know the pertinent rubrics and are obliged to follow them correctly.

In approaching him I wouldn’t be aggressive.  Neither do I think you need to avoid eye-contact as you would when encountering a tiger.  Like a tiger, however, Father may aim an initial blow at your hamstring to immobilize you before he suffocates you with his jaws and subsequently guts you.  Don’t panic.  Remain cordial. Don’t lash back.  Give Shere Khan … er… Father an honorable escape route.  Thank him for the meeting and leave the materials you brought.  After a couple days call and ask when you might be able to see him again.

Do these things, Mowgli, and you probably get some results.

Meanwhile, make sure your will is in order.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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


  1. Charles E Flynn says:

    FSSP Video on Traditional Latin Mass (Part 1/3), (video: 30 min 6 sec.). The “Show More” link reveals the URLs for Part 2 and Part 3.

    The FSSP have 38 videos on YouTube.

  2. Hank Igitur says:

    What is he actually doing wrong? there are no details. If he is new to the TLM then he is still learning and lay people correcting him would be embarrassing and probably turn him off and you could lose what you already have. He needs encouragement not criticism at this point in the proceedings. Only another priest whom he knows and who is more experienced should correct him and then in private in an atmosphere of charity. If he has said only the Mass of Paul VI up until now switching and staying with the rubrics of the TLM may require quite a lot of concentration and he may well be aware when he has lapses but is uncomfortable and frustrated when these are pointed out.

  3. iPadre says:

    Could be that he’s new to the EF. It takes time to get it perfect when your in full time parish ministry. I occasionally mix something up, but always working to improve, memorize and do better. If I could celebrate more often, I would do even better.

  4. acardnal says:

    iPadre, you raise some good points. I know a diocesan priest who recently learned the EF at an FSSP seminary for which I was most pleased to fund. BUT he sometimes commits and admits to inadvertent mistakes when celebrating the EF. This is because it is challenging for him to celebrate the OF at 8 a.m. and then celebrate the EF at 9:15 a.m. Both he and I are confident that these minor errors will be overcome with time and practice. Not to worry.

  5. Imrahil says:

    I respectfully disagree and do say it is in principle a matter of fraternal correction. To wit, that thing which is the fraternal correction of a superior. In the military, superiors humbly told us that they acknowledge and even expect and demand such thing (called, of course, “comradely advice” and not fraternal correction).

    It certainly is not authoritative correction, but fraternal correction? Yes, I think it is.

    So much for the principle.

    In practice, I’d just be very, very silent about everything that is a mistake in the narrower sense. Everyone makes mistakes, and it is the priest’s own job to diminish their number. However, according to the letter, he insists that he is right, which seems to indicate that he has actually gotten something wrong (beyond mere mistake-making that is). In this case, there is indeed room for advice.

    You know what? That may be cowardly… but I’d write a letter with my kindest regards etc. etc. and point him to what the rubrics does say, yours faithfully (in the double sense), and then quietly sit down and think my duty fulfilled.

    (I’d do even that only if, as indeed also seems to appear from the facts presented, that the priest is willing to do it rightly. If he does not appear to be so… then here is the deeper problem which is not my job to solve.)

  6. Imrahil says:

    which seems to indicate that he has actually gotten something wrong

    Assuming the reader was right in the first place.

  7. Lin says:

    It is risky to upset Father. One never knows when one will be in need of last rites!

  8. momoften says:

    It sounds as though the servers had been trained somewhere else. After expressing your
    gratitude to the priest (for which you are truly expressing) and telling him how much more
    difficult it is to learn to say the Traditional Mass, tell him you are somewhat in a quagmire.
    The servers have been trained somewhere else and there are 2 different ways, and it is making
    it confusing for them–then bring out your book and say is it this or what would you say? You are making him the expert and playing dumb. He will either look at it and study it and say oops…and
    correct, or if he doesn’t care, you won’t do any damage with your relationship with him- you will
    learn whether he is open to correction at that point. If he isn’t pray for him to be open to correction.

  9. APX says:

    I agree with Hank Igitur. My friend is a new diocesan priest trying to learn the EF. He’s very intelligent, yet finds the rubrics particularly challenging because of their precise nature. He describes the EF as a Mass that one needs a degree in nuclear physics. Added to that, he finds people who attend the EF to care very much for the Mass and thus are especially observant to make sure everything is correct, and if it isn’t “they’ll shoot you”.

  10. Eriugena says:

    There’s a great book by Fr. Schmitz, first published in 1960 and available at Sancta Missa for download (http://tinyurl.com/qjfwz2o). It is extremely simple and thorough, called

    Learning the Mass: A Manual for Seminarians and Priests by Fr. Walter J. Schmitz SS STD.

  11. Cantor says:

    We have only one EF Mass in the diocese. When it began, it was offered on First Friday afternoons. People complained because they couldn’t get there.

    They moved it to First Fridays at 6pm. People complained because 3 months each year there is a “First Friday” arts/crafts street fair 3/4 of mile away which somehow complicates their getting there.

    They moved it to First Saturday mornings. The people complained because it did not fulfill their Sunday obligation.

    They moved it to First Saturday evening. The people complained it was not weekly.

    They expanded it to a weekly Mass. The people complain that the EF must be celebrated on Sunday. It has not (yet?) been changed.

    The last two times I attended, there were 18 and 42 people, including servers, ushers, and Priest.

    There is no choir, because people complained that men and women should not be seated together. So the father, mother, and 3 college-aged children (2 girls, one boy) who constituted our schola quit in frustration.

    The celebrant (age 75) and I sat down for coffee after the last Mass I attended and he asked if I had any wonder that there’s not another priest in the diocese interested in becoming involved with the Extraordinary Form.

  12. C. says:

    Like a tiger, however, Father may aim an initial blow at your hamstring to immobilize you before he suffocates you with his jaws and subsequently guts you. Don’t panic. Remain cordial. Don’t lash back.

    Thank you! I wish I had received that advice years ago.

  13. GOR says:

    This annoys me!

    Some people have become obsessed with the minutiae of the EF – to the extent of watching like hawks for any misstep by the celebrant. [There is a difference between “minutiae” and mixing the rites.]

    “What did you come out to see?” comes to mind.

    Barring something that would invalidate the Mass, a missed Sign of the Cross, missed genuflection, turning the wrong way, or other minor deviations from the rubrics are not your concern. [Liturgy is everyone’s concern. Though in minor points I agree that people should not worry about them.]

    Father should not be made to feel he is being ‘graded’ on his ‘performance’. [Right!] He is offering the Sacrifice of the Mass to the best of his ability and you should be participating to the best of your ability – which does not include obsessing over trivia! [I think you mischaracterize what my correspondent wrote.]

  14. Titus says:

    Isn’t the path of least resistance here simply to give him a copy of Fr. Fortescue’s book? [I think I suggested that.] If he’s enthusiastic about saying the EF, he’ll be sure to read it. If his mistake is as blatant as the inquirer implies, the good father will note the contradiction in the text and amend his practices. If it comes up later, the inquirer can simply say, “Really? Well, I’m delighted the book was helpful, Father. We’re so very thankful for your service.”

  15. Fool_for_Christ says:

    Okay. Fr. Z or anyone out there… I’m wondering what exactly does the rubric “saying secretly” mean regarding the Canon? The reason I ask is because I served the EF Mass of a priest shortly after SP and he literally thought the Mass – he never even moved his lips for the consecration or any other part of the Canon. He was a newby to the EF (as I was to serving the EF), and I always wondered if that “Mass” was even valid. Doesn’t the priest have to say the consecration (inaudibly, but spoken nonetheless)? Or can he just “say” it interiorly without even moving his lips? [This is getting far afield. When ever I post Q&A inevitably the “What about this…? questions come in. I’ll put this to rest. The Canon and prayers in that voice must be vocalized, but very quietly. It can be argued that there is always, even in thinking, some sub-vocalization. However, if I were with that priest, I would remind him that he is skating too close to the risk of invalidity. However, I warn everyone again NOT to assume they know exactly what Father is doing or not doing. Rabbit hole closed.]

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  17. HighMass says:

    This concern has to do with the N.O. rubrics or Instructions…..My son who has never served Mass or has on occasion was asked to do so yesterday at Sunday Mass. For Some GOOD reason he lit the candles on the “High Altar” (which is no longer there” only the Tabernacle and Six Candles….I was questioned before Mass why did were the “High Mass” Candles Lit…..well we did sing all the parts of the Mass except the Credo…..Kyrie, Gloria in English, Sanctus/Angus Dei in Latin Plus Offeratory and Holy Communion Hymn is Latin…..

    Well I was again questioned by another parish member After Mass, Why the SIX candles were lit…..because some of the Priests don’t like them to be lit…..I was short of having a blowing a fuse…..I did say that there was no reason the candles couldn’t be lit…plus they should be on the altar, all six of them with a crucifix in the center of the alter……

    Like Fr. Z. says reason # ……………………. for S.P. If only one could find a parish who has Mass only in the E.F. this old boy would be no longer attending the Modern Day parishes……….sorry to complain….but had to get it off my chest………

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