ASK FATHER: Should I say “Amen” if the priest is making up prayers?

From a reader…


When I attend Mass in the Ordinary Form, the priest sometimes illicitly modifies the texts or even makes up his own prayers. Is it sinful for me to silently pray along with the priest or to answer “amen”? Does this count as forbidden cooperation with the priest’s sin? Does it depend on whether the made-up prayers are heretical or otherwise intrinsically bad?

Allow me to preface this with a story about a faithful priest.

On March 3, 1796, Father Pierre-Rene Rogue was led from the prison where he had been held aintsince the previous Christmas Eve, having been arrested for the crime of bringing Holy Viaticum to a sick man in Vannes, France.  The Revolutionaries had tried at length to get him to go along with the spirit of the times, and adhere to the rites of worship that had been adopted by the revolutionary authorities, but kindly Father Rogue (he was only four foot ten and known as “le petit prete” by the locals) held fast to his faith. Before he was executed, his Roman collar was cut, his head shaved so he had no sign of tonsure, and his arms were tied behind his back. On the way to the scaffold, he sang a song of praise he had written in prison, and managed to give his watch to the man who had betrayed him. His mother was present at his trial, where she was horribly abused by the Revolutionaries who screamed at her, “You reared a monster!” She was likewise present at his execution, performed by one of his former pupils. He was beatified by Pius XI on May 10, 1934.

Fathers, it’s not that difficult to read the black and do the red. Your liturgical “creativity,” rather than making people holier, is causing confusion and crises.

Stop it. Stop it now.

I realize that I’m preaching mostly to the choir, but I get so fed up with the brethren who decide, upon their own initiative, to change things around. A word here or there, or a slip because of old habits… that’s one thing, but wholesale making stuff up because you know better is entirely another.

Perhaps it’s not entirely their fault.  First, they might simply be a little dumb, but not malicious or vain.  Otherwise, they may have had poor formation in the seminary.  Combined with poor leadership in their diocese or order… results vary.

At the same time, they are adults, privileged by the grace of God to stand at the altar and offer the most august sacrifice, so they presumably have enough sense in their heads to know what they are doing.

When attending a Mass at which liturgical abuse is taking place, one should certainly pray for the priest (or whomever is inflicting the abuse upon the faithful). If the priest, say, is making up his own Collect, one would probably not sin by saying “Amen” at the end of it, but neither would one sin by reading the appropriate Collect out of one’s hand missal quietly.  Don’t, by doing that, attempt to usurp the priest’s role. Intend, rather, to pray together with the entire Church, even though Father is rowing against the tide.

Depending on how well you know the priest, and having considered what sort of a man he is, it might be worthwhile to take him out to lunch some day. Explain to him how conflicted you are by his choice to mess with the Mass.

In an ideal world, speaking to the bishop about him might have some effect, but I fear we live in less than an ideal world.

Pray for him, and all those like him.

Bl. Pierre-Rene, intercede for all priests, and give to them a portion of your courage to remain faithful to the faith, their priesthood, and the liturgy.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Volanges says:

    We experienced a first a few weeks ago, when the priest who is the administrator of our parish since our Pastor’s untimely death, opted to use Eucharistic Prayer II until the Mysterium Fidei, then switched to Eucharistic Prayer IV after our response. We thought it was a mistake but then he did it again the next week and when someone asked he replied that it was deliberate and he knew just how many pages to turn.

    You just have to wonder what he is thinking.

  2. APX says:

    So we’re on our way to having a patron saint of Say the Black and Do the Red?

  3. Adoremus says:

    “Adhering strictly to the new translation, a priest might forget to be pastoral. Fire reduced to ashes several houses in his parish, floods and landslides killed his parishioners, or his parish celebrates a joyous event, and all he says at the Sunday Mass is ‘Brethren, let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare to celebrate the sacred mysteries.’ This is not pastoral liturgy. The celebration of Christ’s mystery cannot be detached from the reality of the community.”

    From PASTORAL LITURGY: Shepherding God’s Flock by Fr. Anscar J. Chupungco, OSB.

  4. The Masked Chicken says:

    “The celebration of Christ’s mystery cannot be detached from the reality of the community.”

    Who know what reality is except God?

    The Chicken

  5. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I’m about to be totally frivolous and point out the shiny thing.

    “Rogue” is both an actual existing last name, and by virtue of beatification, a legitimate baptismal name?! Okay, I don’t know that I advocate its use for kids’ names in real life, but if anybody is writing a swashbuckling character… wow!

    Okay, you may now return to your serious discussion.

  6. quo vado says:

    “Fire reduced to ashes several houses in his parish, floods and landslides killed his parishioners, or his parish celebrates a joyous event, and all he says at the Sunday Mass is ‘Brethren, let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare to celebrate the sacred mysteries.'”

    The Carthusian motto is, “Stat crux dum volvitur orbis.” The Cross is steady while the world turns. Should our liturgy be any different because of joy or sorrow? What suffering would be sufficient chastisement for our sinfulness such that we should no longer acknowledge our sins at Mass? What joy shall compare to Christ’s coming in the Eucharist that we should no longer acknowledge our sins before receiving Him? A priest who says the black and does the red is doing his flock a service – while the latest fancies of the world pass, our eyes remains fixed on Christ.

  7. FoolishThomist says:

    “Adhering strictly … all he says at the Sunday Mass is ‘Brethren, let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare to celebrate the sacred mysteries.’…”

    That’s terrible! The Missal is quite clear: “Brethren (brothers and sisters), let us acknowledge our sins,
    and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.”
    I wish he would get it right.

  8. Fr. Timothy Ferguson says:

    One of the images stuck in my memory from that mostly forgettable mini-series “Thorn Birds” back in the 80’s, is that of the funeral scene. Replayed a couple times during the whole of the series, when one of the characters died, the mournful theme music would well up, accompanying the silhouette of the family trudging up the hill to the cemetery, led by the priest and the pallbearers carrying the casket. In one part, a young child had died, and, instead of six pallbearers carrying the casket, the father of the child hefted the tiny casket on his shoulder, but other than that, they entire scene was the same.

    It struck me, as a child of the liturgically “adventurous” 70’s, how consoling it must be to have a ritual one went through over and over, until it became second nature, so that, at those moments of grief (and even those moments of great joy) one could surrender oneself to the larger scene, one could feel the comfort of the generations gone before and those yet to come, as one participated in – rather than tried to create anew – real ritual, real liturgy.

  9. Hidden One says:

    In fairness to Fr. Chupungco, GIRM 50 includes “After the greeting of the people, the Priest, or the Deacon, or a lay minister may very briefly introduce the faithful to the Mass of the day.” Thus, the celebrant could, without in any way deviating from the black or the red, say something like, “This Holy Mass is offered for the souls of our parishioners and for others who died in the landslides earlier this week. [pause] Brethren, let us acknowledge….”

  10. Joseph-Mary says:

    I rather doubt that especially priests of “a certain age’ who like to ad-lib their Masses read your column! And even when someone respectfully mentions some of the abuses, never have I known a priest to change what he does.

  11. Br. Augustine of Nubia says:

    Please pray for our Priest and Parish.

    The weak-sauce catholic-lite people around here don’t like that he follows the rules. We are the only Parish in the area that offers up the EF and the OF.

  12. Imrahil says:

    I’d say:

    If the priest is making up a prayer which is, in itself, right (only his tampering with the rubrics is the problem), and you have no problem with praying for what he prays for (only with his tampering with the rubrics), then I’d say Amen.

    If he prays for something which is not Catholic to pray for, or if he, in making up a prayer, prays for something you just don’t want to pray for, although it would not be demonstrably un-Catholic to do so (say, “Let us pray to the Lord that he disturb us where our life is comfortable”), then I’d not say “Amen”.

    I’ve also found it useful, especially for general intercessions, to take a middle approach and say (silently), “Amen, as understood in the right sense”.

  13. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I have been reading up on Blessed Rogue (sorry, that just tickles me!). The hymn of praise to God that he sang at his execution, and which he wrote in prison, was actually a parody or adaptation of a folksong or mission hymn, written from the viewpoint of a repentant sinner converting back to God (I found one verse in a Catholic songbook from 1777).

    He was basically playing with the tradition of broadside ballads written by highwaymen about to be executed, etc.; but turning it to the purpose of exhorting the faithful to be happy for his martyrdom, and not to hate the officials who did it. (His executioner was actually one of his own former pupils, from teaching theology classes to laypeople.) So he was definitely a flexible, creative guy… at the right time and place!

  14. robtbrown says:

    Br. Augustine of Nubia says,

    The weak-sauce catholic-lite people around here don’t like that he follows the rules. We are the only Parish in the area that offers up the EF and the OF.

    Interesting article in light of the fact that the Early Church didn’t permit flowers at funerals, which was a pagan practice.

  15. The point of a fixed ritual with words that never change is to show that Christ is the real actor. When the priest makes up words or gestures, or omits them, he is drawing attention to himself. It’s like a guy in a clown suit constantly getting in your face while you’re trying to kneel at the foot of the cross.

    And the ordinary form fosters this kind of attention-seeking behavior, even without all the aberrations, because it has so many alternative options for every part of the Mass. Why is this? How many Eucharistic prayers do we need? The proliferation of options makes it almost impossible to tell when the priest is making stuff up. This — not saying and doing the same thing, Mass after Mass — is what detracts from the Mass’ power to console in hard times.

    We really need to go back to the idea that it is a mortal sin for a priest to make deliberate changes to the Mass. Assuming we still have enough priests who believe there is such a thing as mortal sin.

  16. That article linked above contains the following lines:

    When the new priest told us we could not have a eulogy because it interfered with the order of the service, we were devastated. Whose service was it, really? He did not personally know my grandfather, but felt the right to deny 10-15 minutes of a eulogy and instead fill that time with rituals that I believe were somewhat unnecessary.

    The pursuit of imaginary “rights” is the root of so much evil in the world. “Whose service was it, really?” Well, the answer was, and is, Christ’s. And conformity to His will as expressed by His Church gave more glory to God, and did more good for the souls of the departed, than all the flowers and all the eulogies in the world.

  17. KatieL56 says:

    How would you like this scenario?
    Father processes down center aisle, loudly singing the Haugen-Daaz of the 70s and 80s. “Let us all come together to celebrate our loving God”.
    Several minutes of talking about the latest sports, the fish he didn’t catch, getting to sit next to the Bishop Emeritus when “The Sisters of St Joseph led the prayer group and oh I cannot wait until we see them lead us all years from now”. . .
    “You came to call us Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have Mercy’.

    A Collect which he makes up even though, if you check the Sunday Collect, you can see one or two words which proves that he actually READ the correct one, but decided his words were better.

    LOUD singing of the Responsorial which is NEVER the correct psalm OR verses but a jingle like “his love is forever, his love is forever, his love is forever more.” Congregation silent.
    Gospel, often with some of the local students ‘acting out parts’. Words like “HE” always changed to “God”.
    Homily where Father goes roaming around (A roamin’ Catholic) and is never based on the actual gospel but always on how God loves us no matter what, all are welcome, stop being judgmental, we are Church, we are wonderful, we are beautiful.
    Directly into the Prayers of the Faithful which he writes and are full of the usual, “For all those marginalized in our world, may we embrace them as they are”, “For the stewardship of the gardens and graces” etc.
    Completely, totally ad libbed Eucharistic prayers in which one can find dribs and drabs from ALL, in that he starts out like, “Blessed are you, oh holy and wonderful Redeemer, Fount of Life, who comes to all of us, east and west”. . and in which he speaks thus, “When His earthly life was over, Jesus took the bread. He gave it to his friends, his family, and said, “take this and eat for this is my body, given for you. Likewise he took the cup, and gave you praise, oh God, and said, “Take this cup and drink of it, this is the cup of salvation, which will be given for all of you, because you are loved so much.”
    More cobbling.
    The Our Father (mercifully, left alone). Ad libbing EVERYTHING ELSE, and a big ‘sign of peace’ where he comes down and goes to about mid church hugging and high five-ing.
    Lamb of God (usually to what I call the Bluegrass Mass setting).
    And did I mention the chalice is GLASS (yes it is).
    Time for the communion choice of a keyboard solo done in the inimitable lounge lizard style we have come to know so well lo these 40 years.
    “Well now I hope you are all ready to go out and have FUN, people. Do I hear an AMEN? I can’t HEAR YOU. “OK, go forth in the name of God to be Christ to each other.”

    This is my Sunday world. I go and offer it up. Later in my nearly nonexistent free time I try to find the Mass on EWTN to watch just to see a ‘real Mass’. But I’m going to be 60 this summer assuming this illness doesn’t kill me before then, and it just seems as though for most of my life I’ve been a hostage to “Father A’s Mass’ or “St Whooziwhatsis Mass”, basically, just everything and anything BUT an authentic Catholic Mass. But this, this is by far the worst I have ever had to suffer. And it is real suffering. And I know I’m not the only one. Just this Sunday the three gentleman (70ish) in the pew ahead of me were commenting, “Guess it’s time for the show.” “Does he ever talk about anything but himself?” “I wish the bishop could hear this mess.” And yet, apparently enough people who pay the tuition at the school or are important enough to be ‘heard’ really LOVE this priest, and so ‘anything goes’. It is SO hard to pray not just for me and my family, and the others, but to pray for this priest himself. We don’t have the ‘full and active participation in the liturgy’ that he assured me was the hallmark of “his’ parish. We have HIS words, HIS ‘settings’, what HE leaves in, or takes out, or adds. It is HIS ‘liturgy’, it’s not the Church’s. How can we be full and active participants in the Church or in the Mass when it’s like this????

  18. Kerry says:

    KatieL56, perhaps this might help. (As is said, “Works for me!”). At the sign of peace, big smile, shake hands and say, “Not peace, but a sword”. Or, “Benedictus sit nomen Domini nostri Jesu Christi”. Puzzlement in the eyes and face until they hear “Jesu Christi”. (At one especially chatty church in these parts I’ve also tried, “Christ, truly present in the Eucharist”.
    Vaya con Dios! Viva Christo Rey! Viva nuestra Senora de Guadalupe!

  19. Sixupman says:

    One parish priest I had to endured [a Paris trained liturgist] rejected ‘the books’ and used a loose-leaf folder the content of which being his personal concoction.

    My much loved parish priest emeritus [now ill and deserving of our prayers] when Celebrating the NOM used the TLM formula at The Ablutions, much more reflective of that which had taken place. To receive Communion from his hands, I considered a privilege and the first moment I met him, I knew that he was special.

  20. un-ionized says:

    Sixupman, If your priest said a prayer or other formula from the TLM in the NO Mass, is that not illicit, if the rubrics at that point don’t say “the priest says these or similar words?”

  21. Ages says:

    Adoremus quotes: “Fire reduced to ashes several houses in his parish, floods and landslides killed his parishioners, or his parish celebrates a joyous event, and all he says at the Sunday Mass is ‘Brethren, let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare to celebrate the sacred mysteries.’ This is not pastoral liturgy.”


    In the turbulent storms of life, there is no greater comfort than the Church’s firm foundation displayed in her liturgy par excellence. It is the same in peacetime and in war, in the greatest cathedral and the humblest chapel.

    A pastor who is so effected by events as to change what is unchangeable, has no business being a priest, as he does not have a strong enough faith to lead a frightened flock.

  22. Tantum Ergo says:

    KatieL56 The words used for the Consecration of the wine would most probably make the Mass not only illicit, but INVALID.
    “Take this cup and drink of it, this is the cup of salvation, which will be given for all of you, because you are loved so much.”
    This is so serious that even a liberal bishop just might put a halt to it. Fr. Z has given advice before on such matters.

  23. un-ionized says:

    Tantum Ergo, you are right. It is the “this is my body” part that must be pronounced for the consecration to happen.

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