Weigel on improvising priests. Fr. Z rants.

We had an honorable mention in a piece by George Weigel today, not by name, but pretty much everyone knows what’s what.

In First Things, Weigel is rightly worked up about priests who, contrary to law and good sense, impose their own changes (preferences) on the texts of Holy Mass (and therefore on the innocent, helpless congregation).

He must have had a experience recently which set him off.

DEAR FATHER: PLEASE STOP IT [Dear Father: Shut up and pray]
In all the sixteen documents of the Second Vatican Council, is there any prescription more regularly violated than General Norm 22.3 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy? Which, in case you’ve forgotten, teaches that “no . . . person, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.”

If you’re a daily Mass attendant, the odds are that you hear that norm violated a dozen times a week. Sunday Mass people typically hear it violated two or three times a week, at least. Auto-editing or flat-out rewriting the prescribed text of the Mass is virtually epidemic among priests who attended seminary in the late Sixties, Seventies, or early Eighties; it’s less obvious among the younger clergy. But whether indulged by old, middle-aged, or young, it’s obnoxious and it’s an obstacle to prayer.

Especially now, I might note, given the restoration of the more formal rhythms of liturgical language in the English translations we’ve used since Advent 2011. Those translations are not faultless. But they’re a massive improvement on what we used to have (as a comparison with what’s still, alas, in the breviary will attest). [Liturgy of the Hours… you can always use Latin.] And by restoring sacral language that was peremptorily discarded in the previous translation, [after preemptorily discarding Latin] the current translation reminds us that Mass is far more than a social gathering; it’s an act of worship, the majesty of which should be reflected in the language of the liturgy—which is not the language of the shopping mall or the Super Bowl party. [Or even of everyday discourse.  If only the Latin Church had a sacral language for worship which could unite us across borders and with past generations, which could elevate and provide a challenging dimension of worship which could prepare us for what is entirely lacking in the Novus Ordo: an apophatic encounter with mystery.]

In one sense, though, the new translation has made things worse. For when Father Freelance scratches his itch to show just how congregation-friendly he is [or how sophisticated] by making what he imagines are nifty changes [it’s the “nifty” that really does it there] to the Mass text, he instantly sets up sonic dissonance for anyone with a reasonably well-tuned ear. And sonic dissonance makes it hard to pray.

So with a civil new year upon us, may I suggest to our fathers in Christ that they cease and desist from making it up, juicing it up, or otherwise tinkering with the Missal? [Do I hear an “Amen!”?] As an old liturgical saw has it, referring to the difference in color that distinguishes prayers from instructions in the Missal, “Read the black and do the red.” Just that, Father. Read the black and do the red. Or, better, pray the black and do the red.


Read the rest there.

I have an antidote.  Weigel won’t like it, but it works.

The Extraordinary Form.

First, it is harder to improvise in Latin.  Harder, not impossible.  I and a few others I know could probably do it, but… why?

The older form of Holy Mass keeps priests under control, helps them to become more transparent, suppress temptations to customize, allows them more easily to decrease.

Learning the older form of Mass changes a way that the priest sees himself at the altar, what his role is.  It gives him a new (old) view of his priesthood (hint = it’s not about him).

When a priest learns how to say the older, traditional form of Mass, he doesn’t say the Novus Ordo in the same way afterwards.  His use of the Novus Ordo is informed by a continuity with our tradition and his priesthood at the altar is transformed.  This can produce a knock-on effect with the congregation.

It revives or even initiates a respect for the Latin texts and could help bring the use of Latin back into the Novus Ordo.  Does it have to be said again that the Novus Ordo should also be in Latin?

At least juridically speaking, since the Roman Rite has two forms, a Roman, Latin Church priest who doesn’t know the Extraordinary Form is not truly knowledgeable about the rites of his own Church.

With its ethos of options, the Novus Ordo, in the vernacular and especially versus populum, is inherently open to these kinds of abuses.   It needs the corrective of the traditional form.

Sapienti pauca.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    There has been times when retired Fr. “Ad-Lib” has mass that I have quietly left and gone to another parish for Mass. Several years ago before I moved away, there was basically never a totally licit Mass. I would repeat to myself: Illicit but valid; illicit but valid. Our older Fr. Ad-libs have had any number of people speak to them about their ad-libbing but they continue on anyway. Can’t change them nor convince them to follow the instructions.

  2. slainewe says:

    Whereas we are talking about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, is not this practice a serious sin? Is it not bearing false witness to Christ to put one’s own words in His mouth? Is it not a sin against the Holy Ghost, the Author of the Mass, to rewrite His text?

    And, if it is this serious, should not a priest who finds the use of the vernacular a constant occasion of mortal sin be counseled to use only the Latin?

  3. Knight from 13904 says:

    There is one example of priests that change the text of the liturgy that always bothers me but it seems so minor and inconsequential that I never mentioned it. I might be the only person in the entire Catholic world that takes an issue with this, so I am glad to get a chance to bring this up. (Thank you Fr. Z) Does it bother anybody else that while addressing a group of men & woman some priest will always say “my sisters & brothers”. I, as a man, I would say brothers & sisters. Especially if it is written (in the Black) “brothers & sisters”. Why do so many priest seem to have the need to pander to woman?

  4. greenlight says:

    Knight, you’re certainly not alone with the “sisters and brothers” pet peeve. It’s something of a mini epidemic here in St. Louis, especially among the more progressive lectors. We have one who always uses that innovation, complete with dramatic inflection and pauses, just in case no one takes her meaning. The former pastor finally told her to knock it off or step down but when he left the new pastor decided it wasn’t a fight worth having.

  5. JKnott says:

    You’re not alone about the “sisters and brothers” issue Knight.
    Funny how (except maybe still in the South) men no longer open doors for women in public or anywhere, but have no problem with the “sisters and brothers” feminist paranoia. The devil is a master of contradiction.

  6. tz2026 says:

    At the three parishes where I’ve attended that had the Extraordinary form and the Novus Ordo, the only “innovation” to the NO I can remember is Father always forgetting the Kiss of Peace at a particularly devout parish (and I wasn’t about to correct him).
    Also even within the Extraordinary form, there can be a quiet Mass, a sung High Mass – no innovation but still a difference.

  7. Iacobus M says:

    Optime, Pater! A little Latin never hurt anyone (nor, come to think of it, did a little reverence).

  8. Thomas Sweeney says:

    Everyone should know, that at every Mass that we attend, a miracle take place at the Consecration. Why, oh why, do we surround it with the banal rubrics of the Novus Ordo.
    The Mass of our youth, and the Mass of our ancestors, shrouded this mysterious beauty with solemn and glorious gestures. A person sitting in the pew, didn’t have to be conversant in Latin, to understand that something special was happening. The old Mass deepened our spirituality and directed our thoughts heavenward.
    And it is perfectly fine to say the Rosary during Mass, while taking in such an uplifting experience, your heart is where it should be.

  9. Pingback: Reclaiming the Sacred: Why the Latin Mass is Not Just about the Latin – Musings of a Michigan-Man

  10. Dave N. says:

    It seems very odd to me that George Weigel would be part of a parish lead by a priest such as “Father Freelance.”

  11. Michelle F says:

    tz2606: The “sign of peace” in the Novus Ordo is not required, so the priest who omits it is following the rubrics, and is not guilty of improvisation.

    As for the “sisters and brothers” thing some others mentioned, the same thing goes on in my diocese constantly. It also irks me terribly. There’s nothing like having sex-specific political correctness inserted into the Mass to break any transcendent mood which might be creeping into the congregation.

    We do have, however, one tradition-minded priest who says simply “brethren” in his Novus Ordo Masses. He has also done away with that infernal “sign of peace,” and he has only male altar servers. He is also banished to a remote corner of the diocese.

  12. Michael says:

    Father, I ask this question out of mere curiosity as to your opinion, recognizing that the Novus Ordo is simple to learn, especially compared to the TLM:

    With regard to priests who belong to orders that specialize in the TLM, like the FSSP, would you apply your comment about “only knowing half the rite” to them, too? That is, do you think, ideally, an FSSP priest (or a priest of a similar order) *should* know how to say the Novus Ordo?

  13. L. says:

    It seems likely that Mr. Weigel ran into the improvisation while traveling. Not too many years ago my wife and I were driving home from a distant city on a Sunday morning and stopped for Mass at a downtown church in a major southern city. We were astonished that at this Ordinary Form Mass the Priest ad libbed and paraphrased everything he was supposed to read and recite, including the Gospel.

  14. HighMass says:

    With its ethos of options, the Novus Ordo, in the vernacular and especially versus populum, is inherently open to these kinds of abuses.

    Father Z. truly isn’t that what bugnini had in mind???? Make up as you go, abuses etc???

  15. Fr. Reader says:

    “Thomas Sweeney: And it is perfectly fine to say the Rosary during Mass, while taking in such an uplifting experience, your heart is where it should be” and the rest of the post…
    There are some problems with that post. The goal of the Mass is not to have an “uplifting experience”, I might have that in a yoga session or watching a movie, having some popcorn. The liturgy, including the texts, shapes the heart of a Christian.
    The entire comment seems to me like a romantic (cheap and banal, yes banal, aestheticism) with this approach to the “old Mass” as something “perfect”, versus the “new Mass” as something just “decadent” (“banal” rubrics?)
    And if the “old Mass” is so “shrouded this mysterious beauty with solemn and glorious gestures” why, oh why, you might want to recite the Rosary during Mass? (even if some doctors of the Church might have done it.)
    I don’t think comments like this one help the cause of the sacredness of the liturgy, not for those more pro-extraordinary form nor for those more pro-ordinary form, nor Coptic, or Maronites not anyone. Yes, “my Mass” is so perfect that I can recite the rosary during it and it is just “perfectly fine…”
    I might be exaggerating a bit your position in my reply, but not so much, just a bit.

  16. andia says:

    Haven’t noticed the “sisters and brothers” in my Church, but I do see the “stand up and great someone” stuff.. drives me bonkers.

  17. Mike says:

    Our Deacon always ends Mass with “We go in peace.”

    Dropping the imperative seems, somehow, imperative for him. GRRR.

  18. iamlucky13 says:

    I don’t hear “sisters and brothers” very often, but in college, I noticed some of the priests and many of the students replaced any pronoun referring to God (He, Him, etc) with “God” directly., sometimes raising their voices slightly to ensure their change is heard. I assume this is because they presume to consider God’s own use of the masculine terms referring to Himself as somehow intended to be a slight against women.

    On a very loose tangent, what happened to very simple yet beautiful devotion of capitalizing pronouns referring to God?

    I understand why secular writers don’t, but I’m at a loss why Catholic writers no longer honor God with that exclusive gesture and remind themselves and their readers the significance of Who we’re talking about.

    And not merely independent writers. I’ve never noticed even the USCCB to capitalize such pronouns properly, nor does the Vatican website, and even the New American Bible.

    It seems independent of who is Pope. Sacramentum Caritatis (Benedict XVI) and Veritatis Splendor (John Paul II) both use lower case. Going back to Sacrosanctum Concilium, however, I see the capitalization.

    How is it in the sacramentary and the lectionary?

  19. Fr. Reader says:

    I like imperative in the Liturgy. Just imagine the Gospel without imperative, rewritten like that.

  20. PomeroyonthePalouse says:

    Our pastor likes Eucharistic Prayer 4, but doesn’t like it enough to read it correctly. Everywhere* there is a “he” or “man” he changes it to “us” or “we,” totally changing the meaning of what is actually in the prayer. (* He does not change the word “he” when it refers to Jesus.)

    For instance, near the beginning, “Even when he disobeyed you and lost your friendship you did not abandon him to the power of death, but helped all men to seek and find you” becomes “Even when we disobeyed you and lost your friendship you did not abandon us to the power of death, but helped us to seek and find you.” C’mon, there’s a historic-ness there that he’s totally ruining.

    And this translation/mis-reading comes from a man who up to a year ago was proud of the fact that he made it through 8 years of seminary training without ever learning Latin. That’s the 70’s seminary education Father talks about. But now that he’s been spending time in Belgium and a local large city being trained as a lawyer and as a canon lawyer, he had to take Latin. So he was sent to London for 3 weeks for a speed course.

  21. KatieL56 says:

    I don’t know if I dare, but I would love to e-mail this article to my territorial parish’s priest (who was just made VICAR of one of the new “territories’ in the diocese, to boot). . .and who has never in the 2 years I have been here said a Mass with a penitential rite of ANY kind (not even a ‘let’s stop to think about how we can be community with each other’). . .never said a Gloria in Sunday Masses outside of Lent and Advent, never said a CREED of ANY kind, never said a Eucharistic Prayer that was not totally made up by him (he fancies himself as a poet of the “God of the cosmos, wonder-maker, grant that we may hear you in the sparkling sunshine of our spinning planet” and includes said poems in each bulletin to boot), always trots through the church to high 5 all and sundry at the Kiss of Peace. . .and who pointedly told me that he prides himself in that “HIS” church offers FULL AND ACTIVE PARTICIPATION of the people. How CAN we fully and actively participate in ‘his’ Mass when the majority of the liturgy that the congregation is supposed to pray he omits or alters beyond recognition? The only thing holding me back from actually asking him this, face-to-face, is the dread that (since the bishop either doesn’t know what he’s doing, doesn’t care, or is totally down with it) I’d be marked as the town rad-trad and that if I ever did try to communicate further with him, or anybody else in authority, I’d have already been ‘boxed and labeled’ as an irrational hysterical killjoy liturgy Nazi and anything I said would be disregarded. On the other hand, he’s been here nearly 6 years so that is 6 years of people (including all the children at the local school) who have been exposed to this, most of them apparently loving it and him–but what’s to happen when he DOES leave and the people go ballistic when the new priest won’t give them the Burger King liturgy they’ve grown to expect and to cherish because they’re so darn special that they don’t have to have one of those dreadful ordinary Masses that ‘other people who aren’t as community, clever, cool, etc. have? Usually my mom drives us over the border to an ‘ordinary Mass’ but she has been very ill the last few weeks, too ill for me to leave her to go here in town, though thanks be she is beginning to recover. However I doubt she’ll be driving (especially here in tundra winter) for weeks to come, so I’ll be going over to the dreaded “Mass” for a few weeks, and I know I’ll be driven nearly to distraction with all the liturgical abuses, and yes they ARE abuses! Pray for us.

  22. WYMiriam says:

    ” [Do I hear an “Amen!”?]”


    I hold that the ad orientem posture during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass would probably correct more than 75% of the abuses and aberrations that exist in the OF. It would certainly go far in correcting the false notion that *some* priests seem to have of being performers, not priests.

  23. IStartedTheFire says:

    Our new Pastor is a former FSSP Priest. His reverence during Concentration is beautiful. Please pray that he begins offering TLM this summer in our Parish.

  24. Mike says:

    Yes! Non-imperatives are the rage, sadly.

  25. Thomas Sweeney says:

    Fr. Reader: We have before our eyes, in the Mass, a perfect sacrifice, to chastise some person for saying the rosary during this event is mean spirited. The way to God has many paths, and is strewn with many thorns, let him or her step over them in a holy way as possible. I would not find fault with any reverent practice that bring a person closer to God. My argument is with, what I consider, the uninspiring rubrics of the Novus Ordo Mass and the beauty of the Traditional Mass. I accept both as a condition of my loyalty to the Church.
    While in the service in the 1950s, I traveled all over the Western Pacific, and Mass was the same whether in Japan or in my home parish. Now it is different from parish to parish. We have enough problems, leave the old lady saying her rosary alone.

  26. chantgirl says:

    It is interesting to me that the elderly who assist at Mass (NO or EF) tend to like to follow along in the missal. At an EF Mass, they may not understand Latin, but they can follow along in the book in English. At an OF Mass with a priest ad-libbing, they really have no way to follow along. Along with violating the rubrics, ad-libbing is uncharitable to the people in the pews.

    I think about the poor priests who will have to explain to God upon their death why they tinkered with the heavenly liturgy because *they* knew better.

  27. Volanges says:

    Our present Pastor does not ad-lib but he tends to do the Penitential Rite from memory so it’s often the old version and he routinely omits the Gloria at the Saturday evening Mass.

    He does have a problem with reading, though. Not once in a Preface has he properly read “Thrones and Dominions”, it always comes out as “Thrones and Dominations”.

  28. iamlucky13 says:

    @ KatieL56

    “never said a Eucharistic Prayer that was not totally made up by him”

    Do you mean “totally made up by him” literally?

    Because if he did not at least use the words “This is My Body” and “This is…My Blood,” then this is an outright invalid Mass. This would be a very grave matter and absolutely should be brought to the attention of the bishop, in as tactful of a manner as possible so the notice does not get ignored as an exaggeration.

    Everything else you mention is “merely” liturgical abuse taken to a maddening level.

  29. Fr. Reader says:

    @Thomas Sweeney:
    After posting what I wrote I was bit concerned about the tone, and I thought about editing it, but cannot be done. I apologize.
    “leave the old lady saying her rosary alone.” I might not have any problem with an old lady reciting the rosary, and I would not suggest her not to do it. With a young man I would.
    I once read a phrase in a book: “Even if it is not in Latin, the liturgy is still in Hebrew.” I feel often many people not know or understand or care about what is between the “Oremus…” and the “Per Christum Dominum Nostrum.”, even if it is in their mother tongue. I often invite people to pray with the texts of the Mass (in whatever language they want), to think about them, to try to turn them into personal prayer. It is not always easy, but I think it is worth trying. I find strange the opposition between the “uninspiring” and the “beauty” of your phrase. It might be that we belong to different worlds, but I find “inspiration” in the Mass in the Ordinary Form, and there is beauty in it, as soon as it is celebrated with dignity and devotion.

  30. frjim4321 says:

    The recent Vox Clara innovation can be improved upon rather easily by following a handful of simple practices. To me the few though necessary improvisations are not very serious. If we want to talk about a real problem let’s talk about the rampant innovation of the rite itself such is seen everywhere with the communal form of the rite of penance. What I’ve seen is never even close to the rite. For example the Lord’s Prayer is part of the rite but it’s almost never done. Almost all CPS’s are ersatz.

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