“Bring back the good old days of diocesan laws that have the form of law.”


Pope Francis reading Mass “ad orientem”.

Last July Robert Card. Sarah made a personal (not official) bid to priests to begin celebration of Holy Mass ad orientem, and that a good time to do that would be this coming Advent.

I hope many priests will do this, carefully, prudently, and with lots of catechesis.

Card. Sarah did not suggest anything against the law or tradition.  He did not say to do this abruptly.  He did not say that they had to.  He did not suggest anything particularly unusual.

Some people went bananas.

“How DARE he say that!  He can’t do that!  This isn’t official!  You have to ignore him because it isn’t official.  You had BETTER ignore him if you know what’s good for you!”

In an ironic twist, I am now getting copies of letters from bishops (or someone in their chanceries) to priests which tell them that they must not say Mass ad orientem.

However, the letters are not truly framed according to the law.

They “lay down the law” but they don’t make law.

Can you imagine what the reaction would be were a bishop to say to priests that they shouldn’t’ say Mass “facing the people”? That they must say Mass ad orientem?

Sometimes bishops order things that can’t be ordered. The “order” might have a sketchy argument as support, such as “I’m the moderator of the liturgy in this diocese!”  Then the bishop – or, more frequently, his stand in – will strongly suggest something to be done or not to be done according to his will or wishes or desires or hankering or preference or daily haruspicy.

sic semperOne of my canonist friends wrote to me, “Bring back the good old days of diocesan laws that have the form of law.”

On reception of such a suggestive letter, however, the well-attuned priest will understand exactly what the bishop wants him to understand:

“Father, I write to you today in paternal solicitude and after deep, prayerful reflection.  I don’t have authority to order this, but if you defy me I will lovingly crucify you. I will, pastorally, crack your bones and, fraternally, drink your much appreciated blood from the new mug made from your skull, which I highly value as a coworker in the vineyard. In fondness and in unity in Our Lord, and grateful for the your spirit of always willing collaboration in our shared ministry, I remain yours in Christ.

+Fatty McButterpants
Bishop of Libville

As I mentioned, above, I received copies – from more than one source – of a letter in which it is strongly suggested that priests may not make any change whatsoever toward ad orientem worship.  I also received a copy of a letter from another bishop which strongly suggests that priests shouldn’t do anything too traditional.  No, really.  There is no actual directive according to the law, because they know they can’t legitimately order something that contravenes universal law.  But the message is crystal clear.  Even though X,Y, Z are legitimate options that enjoy also the strength of centuries of tradition… don’t you dare do them.

If you do, I’ll hurt you.

Screen-Shot-2016-09-28-at-19.57.37-300x176We have a rule of law in the Church.  Sometimes implication and bullying supplant the rule of law.  That’s abuse of power.

Let’s turn the sock inside out.  Let’s suppose that Fatty McButterpants’ classmate and fellow bishop writes to his clergy a soothing, pastoral letter in gentle language that, beginning Advent, they are all to start saying Mass orientem.  A priest reads the letter carefully and then translates it into real language…

“I’m the moderator of the liturgy around here, and you, Fathers, will not say Mass any more facing the people.  You must now say Mass ad orientem.  Don’t give me that old song and dance about versus populum being a legitimate option.  Around here I SAY WHAT GOES!  Here are my thin reasons, which will make it look like I have this authority, but you know what will happen if you defy me…  Non sacciu si mi speiu….

+ Antuninu Ruspa
Bishop of Pie Town

PS: And if you send this letter to Fr. Z….

The Sicilian phrase there might help get the point across.

Were a bishop to make such a requirement, people would go bananas.  They’d shout, “He might be the ‘moderator of the liturgy’ in his diocese, but he can’t do that!  Mass versus populum is a legitimate option!”

So is Mass ad orientem.

As a matter of fact, the rubrics themselves indicate that that is what the Roman Church does.  Mass “facing the people” is a still relatively newfangled fad compared to ad orientem worship.  Our Catholic identity favors worship ad orientem for Mass more than versus populum.

Remember: Somethings truly are within a diocesan bishop’s authority to regulate.  Others are not.  In the first case, they can issue a proper directive.  In the second case, they can’t, and so they use other means.  Sometimes they even make their preference (because that’s all it is at the end of the day) look official, by dressing it up with fancy language and references, and so forth.

The problem with trying to circumvent the law and legitimate options, the problem with getting your way by force, is that we wind up with no Church at all.  Ignore the rule of law and we have chaos and violation of rights and of charity.

Far better is to make an argument, present your reasons, and attempt to persuade.  “Here are my reasons for this.  If you object or have concerns, let’s talk about them.”

Many who hold power today (for the time being – tick… tick… tick…) are quite simply terrified of ad orientem worship.

Many priests want to move in that direction, at a prudent pace and with lots of catechesis.  When they do, they will be made to suffer by those who should have their back.  Priests can, in fact, fight back with recourse to higher authority.  That takes time, know how, help, and lots of pain.  Meanwhile, bishops can hurt their priests in a thousand creative ways.

This is how battles go, dear readers.  There is always tension and ineluctable suffering.

Let us together, as the clock ticks, now meditate upon the verse: “In the mean time there arose a new king over Egypt, that knew not Joseph” (Exodus 1:8).

The moderation queue is ON.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ¡Hagan lío!, "How To..." - Practical Notes, Brick by Brick, Liberals, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Mail from priests, Our Catholic Identity, Priests and Priesthood, Si vis pacem para bellum!, The Drill, The future and our choices, Turn Towards The Lord. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. tlawson says:

    So, so many of our western bishops, focus on “the important stuff” like not rocking the boat, not offending, “pastorally” putting The Lord second so as not to offend, being “collegial” with the mediocre majority…makes you wonder, how many of tgem will be judged kindly by Our Lord, having let the flock be so scattered? I wonder how a bishop from Africa, say, feels and what he thinks, when he hears what goes on here, when he hears one of the’s sad excuses for apostles “speak”?

  2. Joseph-Mary says:

    Ah, in my former diocese with my former bishop…the days we all stood for the consecration because of the ‘spirit of Vatican2’ and being a ‘resurrection people’ and all that. And then some could also come up and stand around the altar for the consecration too and even hold out our hands and the dissident ‘nuns’ could go in the other room for their alternative liturgy…yes, those were the days! But then, since standing for the consecration did not feel right, some of us investigated and-lo and behold–the bishop only ‘invited’ us to stand. It was treated like a command but realizing that we could decline an ‘invitation’, some of us started to kneel and it became such that part of the people did one thing and some the other. Do not miss those days.

  3. Sonshine135 says:

    “Even though X,Y, Z are legitimate options that enjoy also the strength of centuries of tradition… don’t you dare do them.”

    My answer would somewhat flippantly be, and in Latin no less:
    “Yes, but even though A, B, and C were never legitimate options and were liturgical experiments gone awry, your Excellency looks the other way while they are being done throughout the Diocese. Ergo….I’ll take my chances.”

    I’ll let one of your copious followers translate that into proper Latin.

  4. Uxixu says:

    It’s usually the remnants of previous bishops in the chancery that keep up this sort of thing more than the current occupants… but that doesn’t exclude the culpability of the sitting Ordinary and putting all the blame on the ‘Emeritus.’ There’s a saying from the USMC: “authority can be delegated but not responsibility.”

    Whenever the liturgical liberals invoke the GIRM, the natural follow up is the GIRM’s suggested use of EP1 for Sundays and Solemnities & and restricting use of EP2 to weekdays and ferias.

    There are a few bishops, such as Bishop Morlino, willing to encourage ad orientem in his diocese and even celebrate it. Would that there were more! Imagine if there were even 1/3 to 1/2? The graces would flow from heaven in fruitful vocations and those seminaries would become a sight and shining example to the rest. Let all of these take heed of the lesson of Cardinal Burke, who would have been better off to stay in the magnificent basilica in St. Louis than take a position in the Curia, even if it meant forever passing on the red hat… respectfully decline promotion and refuse another diocese or archdiocese… He could have worked on ensuring orthodoxy in his chancery and seminary.

  5. Henry Edwards says:

    It may be recalled that–in regard to Mother Angelica’s Shrine, where the daily Novus Ordo Mass has always been celebrated ad orientem–Bishop Foley (of Birmingham then), after “consultation” with the Congregation for Divine Worship, withdrew his decree that Mass in his diocese be celebrated exclusively facing the people. However, he was allowed to prohibit ad orientem in Masses televised from his diocese (e.g., on EWTN). See


    ” On February 22, 2000, Bishop Foley issued a new document: ‘Norms for Televising the Mass in the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama.’ And when EWTN implemented those norms, the bishop wrote to his priests, saying, ‘Now I see no reasons for the General Decree of October 18, 1999.’ In a formal document on the same date, he withdrew the canonical decree [which had prohibited ad orientem celebration] ‘in its entirety.’

    “This left the Birmingham diocese in an odd situation. The canonical decree, which had juridical force, was null and void. The norms for televising the Mass, which have no canonical force, remained in place. Technically, a priest was free to celebrate Mass ad orientem in the Birmingham diocese, unless that Mass was televised.”

  6. amrc says:

    Antuninue Ruspa Bishop of Pie Town? Pie Town! That’s in my neck of the semi-arid desert/junipero woods! Actually, Pie Town does not even have its own Catholic Church, and its inhabitants must travel by car, horse or cart 22 miles east or west to attend a liturgy, ad orientum or otherwise (ways). The Most Rev. James S. Wall, a Pope Benedict appointee, is the bishop of Gallup, NM, wherein wonderful pies are concocted & celebrated annually at the Pie Town Festival. Bishop Wall is awesome (my opinion!), and has given some of the best homilies I have ever heard at the annual Sanctity of Human Life Masses in Santa Fe (where our 3 NM bishops present). I don’t know where he stands (or kneels) on ad orientum Masses; but I do know that reverent Masses are a priority for him, as well as pro-life causes. God bless him, and all or our bishops.

  7. St Donatus says:

    Our wonderful bishop (not in Wisconsin) is talking to the priests during retreat about returning to ad orientum, returning to traditional music, and other ‘Catholic’ liturgical practices. He is a wonderful bishop who understands how not to make a lot of noise and thus upset the apple cart but yet makes a slow steady return to holiness. I pray for him often. God Bless our holy Bishops.

  8. Papabile says:

    Oh…. how I chortled when I saw that extract from [___].

    Good old Bishop [___]. I knew him when he was just a Monsignor. He was so thoroughly pleased with his liturgical direction, and I heard him wax philosophical about how they should use the side altars. But ALWAYS sotto voce because of the big meanies in the chancery.

    Yes, he surrounded himself with adoring altar servers and seminarians from CUA.

    The last time I saw him was at one of the National K of C Conventions in DC. He was sitting in a chair, speaking in the royal “we” and talking about how the chair was appropriately cardinatial red.

    Now, it seems, he is one of the big meanies.

  9. Rosary Rose says:

    Bishops are human. Write to your Bishop and tell him what a great job he’s doing and that you support ad orientem Mass and why. Speak to your priest, also. Encourage them. Then pray and offer sacrifices for our leaders.

    The Bishops must be courageous to make this change. The majority of the tithing Catholics might be loudly opposed to any change. There might be a decrease in attendance before attendance starts to increase again. There are many reasons a Bishop might not change.

    Do your part. Add “letter to Bishop” on your to do list. The Blessed Mother is on your side. She wants us to worship her Son in the most reverent way possible.

    Save the Liturgy, save the world.

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