ASK FATHER: Vocation to priesthood, but I want only the Traditional Mass

Priest VictimFrom a reader…


I have been reading it for 4 years and it has greatly helped me as a Catholic and in discerning my vocation.

I am 18 and strongly feel called to the priesthood.

My question is, are there any ways by which one can become a priest and say the Traditional Latin Mass exclusively, or at least mostly, without joining a PCED order such as the FSSP?

Will any bishop accept that?

I really can’t see it happening in my home diocese.  [I’m not surprised.]

I have considered trying to work something out with the Archdiocese of Rome, because I’ve heard the climate there is far more friendly in this regard, but I’m not really sure if it is a realistic idea or not.

First, I am pleased that you are giving proper consideration to the priesthood.  Good for you.

You want to serve the Church by saying the older, traditional form of Holy Mass.  That’s good.  I applaud you.

Were it up to me, I, too, would say only the Extraordinary Form.  That is to say, were the circumstances other than they are, I would say only the Extraordinary Form.  However, I am a priest for the whole Church.  Therefore, I do what I need to do in the circumstances I encounter. For example, I also say the Novus Ordo when called upon to do so.

There are a lot of people out there who, for various reasons, are not ready for the traditional forms either again (if they are older) or for the first time.  Happily, where I am I can bring what I have learned from the traditional Rite about the priesthood and about Mass to how I say the Novus Ordo.  Also, the contact between the two forms in that parish is making a big difference.  There is indeed a “mutual enrichment”.  We see people who have been going to the Novus Ordo now, on their own, trying out the older form of Mass and, after an experience with it, sticking with it.

We have to look at the Novus Ordo, for these good people, as a doorway into a larger world.  What popped into my head right now is the experience that the fictional characters in Doctor Who have when they go into the TARDIS for the first time: “It’s bigger on the inside!”, they say.  Also, yes, the TARDIS takes them into “the past”, but it mostly takes them into the future.  It’s a connection, continuity.

To use another analogy, for my supper I prefer steak and a tanin-rich cabernet.  That won’t work for infants.  They need the food that they need.  Your parents were in no way diminished when (not that long ago) they fed you mashed carrots with “choo-choo” noises to keep your attention.  As a matter of fact, they were ennobled, because they put you and your needs before their own.  That’s the essence of charity: sacrificial love, seeking the good of the other even at your own – especially at your own – expense.



Some will object that I am comparing the Novus Ordo to baby food and the Traditional Rite to grown up food.  Okay.  Object!  That’s what I am doing!  I will add, however, that grown ups can indeed survive on baby food.  I don’t think that they can thrive, but they can survive.  My analogy is not meant to demean people who go to the Novus Ordo any more than children are demeaned by being given age appropriate food.  It isn’t a surprise to anyone who reads this blog that I think that the older, traditional form is richer and superior to the Novus Ordo in many respects.  But people come to that realization in their own time.  On a personal note, the Mass that first caught my attention and was the vehicle for my coming into the Catholic Church was the Novus Ordo.  But it was the Novus fully informed already by the “mutual enrichment” that Benedict wanted for the Novus Ordo everywhere.  I was simply fortunate enough, thank you Jesus, to have encountered it when and where I did.  The gift that God gave me in lining up all those stars and planets now compels me in what I do today, especially through this medium.

So, to you, dear questioner, I suggest that you give yourself over to diocesan formation, happily, cheerfully, with a readiness to use both forms of the Roman Rite when needed according as your bishop asks.

In time I think the demographics will shift, as they inevitably do when young people grow older.  I am convinced that the older form of Mass is going to continue to grow and come to be in demand more and more.  Think of it this way.  Since the Second Vatican Council, we have been experiencing war in the Church.  Recently, Card. Sarah referred to “devastation”.  There have been a lot of casualties in this war leaving, as wars always do, a lot of orphans.  Orphans are raised in less than optimal circumstances, but they grow up.  When the orphans are young, they need age appropriate food.  See where I’m going?  But, when the war ends, as orphans grow up and go out into the wide world, the orphanage, we hope, empties.  The demographics shift.  I think that that is what will happen, if we can gain a period of stability.

There are bishops out there who are friendly to priests who say the older form.  However, I’ll bet you that every one of them would ask his priest, especially in parish ministry, also to say the Novus Ordo.  It may be in the future that more bishops will establish a wholly traditional diocesan parish staffed by diocesan clergy.  That’s my hope!

For all the good that the traditional groups such as the FSSP and the ICK do, and it is considerable, the real action will start when diocesan priests take up the banner.  That’s where the front line is.

Also, do not pin your long-range goals on bishops.  Bishops come and go.  There is line at the opening of Exodus: “In the mean time there arose a new king over Egypt, that knew not Joseph.”  As The Donald would say, “Believe me.”

Finally, whatever you have heard about the Diocese of Rome is far too rosy.  It is not a “friendly” climate for priests of a traditional leaning.  Furthermore, the Diocese of Rome is not all like the historic “centro” with its beautiful churches.  Get out into the periphery and it is an entirely different place, and one which I doubt you would care for.

I am convinced that when men are called to the priesthood, unless they have a strong sense of a call to a religious community of some kind, they should answer the call where they are, or in their native place.  Sometimes that doesn’t work out, but that’s, I think, where to start.  Are there exceptions?  Sure!  But that must be worked out carefully and with a lot of advice.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Your advice makes sense, to be sure. I do, though, sympathize with your reader:   I realized about 10 years ago that, being completely honest with myself and with Our Lord in prayer, and after many discussions with men and women much holier than myself, if I were ordained a priest I would be completely unwilling to celebrate the Novus Ordo. My reasons are many, I don’t intend to discuss them here, but it ultimately boils down to a matter of conscience. That realization made (and continues to make) it impossible for me to enter diocesan formation where I live. I’ve prayed and prayed about other options, but have only become more certain God wants me to live out my life in the diocese wherein I currently reside; and there are no TLM-only orders that would be certain to have me serve my in home diocese……. So, it’s been heart breaking, but I’ve effectively given up on the great desire of my heart — to serve Christ’s Church as His priest. Over the years, I’ve met a handful of men with nearly identical stories as my own, and I imagine there are more than a few across the globe. It’s a tough road to hoe, and I pray every day that, one day, no one else will have to face the same dilemma. Thanks be to God, the ICKSP runs an oratory nearby to where I live, so the TLM can be part of my daily life.

  2. A beautifully written and thoughtful post. Certainly this post is something worthy of a Vocations Director, it is also for the laity.
    Your explanation about the Novus Ordo is clear and CATHOLIC. It is also full of charity, of true love for Christ and HIS Church.
    It has helped me tremendously today, thank you.

    [Sometimes I think that, perhaps, vocations directors ought to have gray hair.]

  3. Thunder Dan says:

    To continue Father’s analogy I would add: sometimes mom and dad slip baby a little grown up food off of the dinner table along with the “choo-choo” carrots. And eventually as baby matures physically, baby eats from the dinner table. While the N.O. is comparatively bland to the E.F., it can be celebrated with great reverence. ALWAYS use Eucharistic Prayer #1. (#2 is appropriately numbered IMHO). Say the Gloria in Latin, the Kyrie, Sanctus, Angus Dei, there are also parts during or after the consecration that can be recited in Latin that flow very well. Start feeding from the dinner table in other words. Eucharistic Prayer #1 has many similarities to the E.F., such that when a N.O. attendee does make that leap to the E.F., there can be a sense of “well that wasn’t so different”. Maybe celebrate the N.O. Ad Orientem if you can get away with it and explain why it makes sense to do so. I attend the E.F. on Sundays exclusively at my parish, but recently went to mass for first Saturday and our WONDERFUL Norbertine Fathers celebrated the N.O. with tremendous reverence as I have mentioned above. Not the E.F……but not bad either. Bottom line: the progressives have always known that the way to get from A-Z on their agenda of change is to slowly walk through B, C, D………X,Y in order to get to Z. If you try to go straight to Z, people will revolt if for no other reason, people don’t typically like radical change. To get back to A, start walking your flock in that direction…..Y, X, W, U, V….. God Bless you during your time of discernment. If a vocation to the priesthood is truly your calling, be holy, be strong, be properly educated (educate yourself if those in charge at the seminary cannot or will not), and always, always be a good priest!!! Lastly, if pursuing your vocation in your home diocese just does not work for you as Fr. Z has recommended, check out the Norbertine Fathers at St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, CA.

  4. rdb says:

    Another option is to consider an oratory like the one just established in Cincinnati. An oratorian may offer the Mass in both forms,have an active ministry and also have more protection from episcopal overreach. As someone who lived in Rome for a few years, the reputation of being friendly to tradition brought a small smile.

    [I’ve given a lot of thought to this. However, there first has to be in the diocese an oratory for a young man to join.]

  5. Father Z, this post is very helpful to me although I am in a slightly different situation. I like the Extraordinary Form (and have nothing against the Ordinary Form), but I have also been enriched by the Byzantine Divine Liturgy as well. Right now, I am in the middle of discerning between the Latin Diocese of Dallas and the Ruthenian Archeparchy of Pittsburgh (leaning more towards the Archeparchy of Pittsbugh at the moment), but I still have student loans to pay off (only about $15,000). Prayers do help (not only for me, but for all men discerning the priesthood too).

    [You can’t change Churches like you can parishes or dioceses.]

  6. Will499 says:

    I am the one who sent in the quæritur.
    Thank you very much for responding to my question, Father.
    It has given me a new perspective on my situation and some food for thought (and prayer!).

    Please pray for me, and be assured of my prayers.

  7. Joseph-Mary says:

    I know of at least a half dozen priests–no , even more–that now only wish to offer the TLM. It is not easy for them and they find themselves at loose ends sometimes. Four are under two tolerating bishops and have parishes dedicated to the TLM. One has become a hermit now. Another is a chaplain for nuns who only want the TLM and another is in a temporary TLM assignment and another has faculties and no assignment. Such is the life of an Order or diocesan priest who only wishes to offer the TLM. Also I know young people who are looking to the priesthood and to the convent and only want the TLM. Choices are very limited but the desires are out there!

    [Indeed, there is strong desire. And that desire is growing. And the persecution will become worse. And the desire will grow stronger yet. It’s like a war of attrition, however.]

  8. PTK_70 says:

    “I am convinced that when men are called to the priesthood, unless they have a strong sense of a call to a religious community of some kind, they should answer the call where they are, or in their native place.”

    FWIW…..this seems quite right to me and here’s my story to back it up. I had a friend from college days who opened his heart to celibacy and priesthood. So far, so good. But he didn’t much care for the bishop in his native place and went shopping around, so to speak, for a “good, solid, orthodox” bishop. Military chaplaincy was an aspiration so perhaps he didn’t think location should matter all that much. He got ordained but military chaplaincy didn’t work out. This bishop that he liked, and under whom he was ordained, moved to another diocese. So here’s this Texan exercising his priestly ministry in a colder place (literally and perhaps culturally). And I’m not quite sure his heart ever left Texas. He died on vacation back in his home place in an unfortunate (and I believe preventable) accident, not even 40 years old.

    Unless the call is to a mendicant order, I rather think a young fellow should want and expect to be buried in the place he was ordained…..IMHO. And where you’re buried does matter or else the Church wouldn’t make such a fuss about it.

    To this stouthearted Father, and my friend, Requiescat in pace.

  9. oldconvert says:

    Speaking as a lay person, with no expert knowledge of liturgy, I would say that from a lay perspective one of the main problems with the OF is how it is celebrated. Given the right (or wrong!) celebrant, it can turn into a barely religious occasion. (And, where I live, we are stuck with the Jerusalem Bible, than which no translation could be clunkier!). But I have been fortunate in discovering a priest who celebrates, in the OF, but as Pope St John XXIII and Vatican II actually intended. [Alas, that rite doesn’t exist. The Novus Ordo is not what John XXIII and the Council Fathers intended.] It has been a revelation.

  10. thecatholicshoemaker says:

    It’s encouraging to hear of other young men asking the same things I’ve wondered about. Although for me it wasn’t only about the EF/OR question, but also if there was a way, as a potential diocesan priest, to avoid being put into situations where you had to go along with the bad habits of a parish. There is almost no place where you can celebrate the Novus Ordo fully according to the rubrics and so forth without having to put up with an immense amount of resistance. (just ad orientem by itself takes much bravery). In any case, I am still very hopeful for the future, and excited for the Church. As well, as a layman, I’ve made a video to help other laity on how to be more reverent, as I think there’s lots we can do just in the pews to help the situation, regardless of what anyone else is doing:

  11. Nicholas says:

    Thanks for this father. I almost could have been the one to write this question. (Though I wasn’t.)

    I have been recently become more interested in diocesean priesthood, and plan on contacting the vocation director soon.

  12. fishonthehill says:

    Father Z’s advice is excellent. I will pray for this young man. BTW that image of Christ placing the crown of thorns on the priest saying mass was a holy picture in my breviary for my nine years of seminary; it speaks volumes (I seemed to have misplaced the image).

    [Something that the older, traditional form emphasizes and that the Novus Ordo does not is that the priest is simultaneously the victim being sacrificed.]

  13. PA mom says:

    Parents don’t only provide that which would be beneath their desires for themselves, they live quite immersed in it.
    Thousands of hours of less than satisfying conversation, hundred of hours of repeating basic knowledge they have mastered decades ago, years of physical tasks which can feel quite servant like…
    Please be willing to suffer with less than your ideal desires and offer that discomfort for us the laity. We NEED your holy and committed priesthood, even is among the Novus Ordo (reverently w/some Latin responses) crowd.
    Please do continue to pray for direction!

  14. Eoin Suibhne says:

    What you’ve said here, Father, makes a lot of sense. I grew up in a banal, suburban parish, was introduced to the Latin NO in my twenties, and in my forties “Tradded” over to the TLM. Your point about baby food vs. grown-up food is spot on.

    However, here is my concern for young men such as Will499: many priests who have received diocesan formation and who have later fallen in love with the TLM have lamented greatly, even bitterly, what they themselves describe as very poor priestly formation. Indeed, not long ago you posted a heartbreaking story about a priest who gave up saying the TLM because he realized that his poor formation prevented him from having any clue what he was doing. The disconnect shattered him. (BTW, I was glad at your “Man up!” — or should it be “Priest up!” — reaction.) [Before men can be priests, they have to be men!]

    What we need are not only priests who can offer the Traditional Latin Mass, but also priests who have received Traditional formation. Until then there will be a disconnect; you cannot give what you do not have. [The formation goes hand in hand. Moreover, just as I did not in my post, we must not let the better be the enemy of the good. These are the times we live in. To pretend to live in another time (of perfect formation – WHICH NEVER EXISTED) is unhealthy.]


  15. Eoin Suibhne says:

    Thank you for your comments, Father.

    Let’s be accurate; I believe you’ve set up a straw man: I did not write “perfect formation,” nor did I imply it. However much I wish it, I know well that, practically speaking, there is no way to go from where we are now to “All-TLM All-the-Time.” In fact, just a few days ago I wrote the following to a friend: [Alas, your planet’s yellow sun doesn’t give me the power to read your writings from afar.]

    “I must acknowledge that the Latin Novus Ordo had a profound affect on me and was the catalyst for me moving to the TLM. For a time I was of the mind that the Latin Novus Ordo was ‘just fine’ or ‘good enough,’ if you will. However, that was nearly twenty years ago, and the more I looked into the matter, the more I realized that that position is untenable.

    “Now the environment is much different. While I was never of the opinion that people would begin flocking to the TLM because of Summorum Pontificum, there is no question that the TLM is growing. And now that it has been freed, there is much to the argument that the Reform of the Reform should be abandoned. The thing is, though, that there are many people now where I was twenty years ago (Latin NO ‘just fine’ or ‘good enough’), so the ROTR may still have some practical benefits.”

  16. moon1234 says:

    This exact question is what I wrestled with in my late teens. I wanted to be a traditional priest in the mid 90s. It was impossible without leaving for Italy or Switzerland. I wasn’t prepared to do that.

    I am now married with many children and I am happy with my life, BUT I still think many times “what if.” My children have grown up with the TLM their entire lives. I can only pray that one of my boys may someday be a priest.

  17. The original Mr. X says:

    Fr. Hunwicke also mentioned on his blog that some Anglo-Catholic priests in the olden days used to try and slip as much Catholic liturgy into their services as possible (he gave the example of one priest who used to recite the Roman Canon silently when consecrating the Host). I wonder if priests could do the same with the VO/NO — e.g., when saying the Collect, say the NO Collect out loud and then silently add the VO Collect afterwards, or saying the longer VO Offertory prayers. [No.]

  18. Maynardus says:

    An interesting juxtaposition of this post and another one on the same day citing several recent examples of priests being persecuted – even if not overtly – for their traditional inclinations. My tongue is only partially in-cheek when I say that I think I know all of the priests mentioned, I’d bet some others may think the same! [You don’t.] The frequency with which these cases are beginning to occur, after a bit of a lull, is worrisome; they certainly serve as cautionary tales to Will499 and other young men discerning vocations in a diocesan setting. [Only insofar as, now, they have to be more careful. May God preserve any person from discouraging a vocation through their imprudent remarks.] Although I am a laic I have seen and heard from many seminarians and young priests how important it is for them to have support and mentorship from older, more experienced priests, something I know you (Father) have encouraged. I shall certainly pray for Will499 and the beleaguered priests you mentioned. [Indeed, yes! Pray! Be encouraging!]

  19. michael de cupertino says:

    and as Fr. Z so often exhorts, if you find yourself in a diocesan seminary that is less receptive to Tradition, keep your head down and get ordained. The Church especially needs fervent priests in regular diocesan parishes, and with demographics as they are, you might be a pastor before you know it.

  20. Geoffrey says:

    The thing that has always concerned me about “traditional” parishes where only the 1962 liturgical books are used or priests who only celebrate the extraordinary form is that it creates a sort of ghetto mentality, going against the mutual enrichment desired by Pope Benedict XVI. It is very easy for the appearance to be one of “okay, you people go over there and play with your old stuff while we grown-ups stay here”.

    If a priest celebrates both forms, you can be pretty sure they are orthodox and faithful to the rubrics of both forms. We need more like this.

  21. robtbrown says:

    [B]Geoffrey says,

    who only celebrate the extraordinary form is that it creates a sort of ghetto mentality, going against the mutual enrichment desired by Pope Benedict BXVI [B]

    Don’t you think that someone who has grown up in a garden variety parish has been “enriched” enough for lifetime?

  22. robtbrown says:

    Good stuff from Fr Z, esp on not choosing a diocese or order on what it might be in 20 years.

    If a.prospective seminarian wants to say the EF exclusively, the only choices are the FSSP, Clear Creek, perhaps soon the SSPX, and a few other groups. And there are Oratories that have both forms.

    Diocesan priests will seldom have the opportunity for a public EF. The irony is that a priest has to prove his mettle by years of OF before he has the chance to use the 1962 Missal

  23. LeeF says:

    @robtbrown who said, “Diocesan priests will seldom have the opportunity for a public EF. The irony is that a priest has to prove his mettle by years of OF before he has the chance to use the 1962 Missal”

    A diocesan priest, assuming meeting the requirements for proper training, could theoretically be offering a public EF quite soon. While his first assignment will likely be under the thumb of a pastor, in most dioceses there simply are not enough priests to keep him from being the pastor and only priest at his next assignment. Whether he gets punished with the assignment after that is another question.

  24. robtbrown says:


    You’re mostly right, except right now it’s unlikely that a newly ordained priest will be a pastor on his second assignment. Further, are political pressures that can be put on every curate and pastor. In the mid 80’s Roman residences for priests were filled with men sent for a JCL/JCD in the new code. The Casa Santa Maria was filled. I knew a US priest who found residence with a religious order. The rector told him the time of the daily concelebration. The priest said he didn’t need to concelebrate (every priest is free in this matter), and the rector replied that he didn’t need to live there either.

    There must be a constellation of factors in a parochial EF: a priest wanting to celebrate it, a pastor who is not opposed, a bishop also not opposed, laity who want it, and furniture able to accommodate it.

    I have a very good priest who is now a retired priest. Studied in Rome and taught theology at the seminary, he finally returned to parish work. His last parish was a modern, semi-circular design, with the tabernacle on off to the side, and the celebrant’s (pardon me, the presider’s) chair in the middle. It was a great triumph just to place the tabernacle in the center. Hearing that he had a Latin Mass at the previous parish, parishoners asked him to do it. He said the arrangment of the church made it impossible.

  25. Mike says:

    How damnably tragic that a faithful young Catholic’s zeal to offer authentically Catholic worship might be endangered by the hostility of putative Catholics. A paragraph from Anthony Esolen’s Out of the Ashes could, with little adaptation, be applied here:

    There are only two things wrong with our schools: everything that our children don’t learn there and everything they do. The public schools, with their vast political and bureaucratic machinery, are beyond reform. That does not mean that persons of good will should not offer themselves up as missionaries of truth and goodness and beauty, to teach there, as in partibus furibundis. But we would be quite mad to send our children there. We send missionaries to cannibals. We do not serve the cannibals our boys and girls.

    Will499, you are in my prayers.

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