ASK FATHER: Heavy-handed priest imposes quirky personal whims on TLM

good-idea-fairyFrom a reader…


I kindly ask your opinion (and perhaps advice) on the following matter of great importance to our local TLM community.

The rector of the church (who sometimes celebrates the EF for us, but we are not a personal parish) has sent a letter to all organists, MCs and servers stipulating the following, after we had tried to improve various elements, such as serving and Sacred Music. Please bear in mind when reading that this priest is not, in his heart, a friend of the EF, nor does he know many of the most basic things about it. The points are, in summary:

  1. “The diocesan directives for the celebration of the EF are to be followed.” (This refers to some spurious liturgical prescriptions the diocese imposes on us, such as the vernacular in places.)
  2. There must be four vernacular hymns at every Missa Cantata […]. It eliminates anything else that might be sung by the schola or played on the organ).
  3. The Schola is not to sing anything (motets, etc.) beyond the Propers and Ordinary. (For about a year now, we’ve had a new schola form and sing regularly and they were hoping to gain new members so as to do polyphony)
  4. The celebrant is the one who decides absolutely everything, incl. how servers serve, musical organisation, etc.
  5. The servers are to do everything as it was done at this church a decade ago (which includes major forbidden, wrong and nonsensical things, such as lay servers handling the chalice).
  6. If Sung Mass is not possible (it is the norm for us) on a Sunday, there will not be a Low Mass to replace it, but Mass with Propers and Ordinary replaced by hymns.
I understand this is longer than the general messages you receive, but nevertheless I humbly ask for your opinion on these points, since the letter basically stamps out any initiative to grow the EF in our place. Would you think it helpful or advisable to ask Ecclesia Dei for help with this matter? Your help is greatly appreciated!

These abuse of power situations are frustrating.  Fathers, if you think you have just the greatest ideas in the world about how to improve Mass in a way that is contrary to the rubrics and it’s spirit, … knock it off.  You guys remind me of the military’s legendary “Good Idea Fairy” who flits and tinkers with things because they want to be noticed and to feel important and who feed on the chaos and frustration that results.

(There’s one at a parish nearby to where I am writing, as a matter of fact.  But I digress.)

Friend, you can always have recourse to the Holy See’s Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei”.  However, I’d first consider going to the local bishop. Of course, the success or failure of that approach depends heavily upon who the bishop is!   In some cases, the bishop might rub his hands together say to Fr. Good Idea Fairy, “This time you hold them down so I can kick them!”

Some of the points the rector is trying to enforce seem to be contrary to liturgical law.  A Missa Cantata is just that.  Hymns at a Missa Cantata, instead of the proper texts, is wrong. That is something that the Pontifical Commission might be able to clarify.  I’m not exactly sure what he means by lay servers handling the chalice.  While setting up? During Mass itself, there not much “handling” of the chalice necessary except by the priest.  Perhaps you are referring to bringing a ciborium to the altar, etc.  However, I get the idea that the rector is trying to eliminate in your community distinctions of the priest or laity.  In most traditional communities, when setting up, lay people don’t directly handle the sacred vessels, but rather put on gloves first.

Unless the bishop is of the mind to correct this rector’s heavy-handedness, I’m not sure what recourse there would be.

It may be that you could try another approach.

Is the rector trying to set up a situation to prove that folks devoted to the EF are problematic and disobedient? If so, then obey his heavy-handed directives (even the wrong ones) to the letter. Frustrate his plans by showing just how devotedly obedient you are, and double your efforts to support the parish, financially and otherwise.

Also, figure out what his “thing” is. Does he have a heart for the poor?  Then make sure the EF folks are the first ones to help at the soup kitchen or food pantry.

Is he eager to do evangelization? The EF folks should be the most eager to get to the front lines of going door-to-door.

Is he passionate about the sick and elderly? The EF folks should be right there to help him in home visits to those folks.

The music aspect is probably the hardest point here.  Isn’t it always?  Music for Mass should be an integral and even integrating part of every liturgical action.  Artistic sacred music can foster growth in attendance.  On the other hand, banal music will frustrate good musicians and undermine attempts at growth.

Would there be the possibility of setting up some sort of choral society, to do sacred polyphony outside of the Mass … for now? Have a little concert on Sunday after Mass, or sometimes during the week.  Keep working on it and improving and then integrate it when the right moment comes.  People, hearing you, might say: “Why aren’t they singing for Mass?”

Above all, work with him and don’t allow your exchanges to become acrimonious.  If you get sharp and angry, you lose.  He holds the cards.  If he chooses to be a tyrant there isn’t much you can do about it.

Stay frosty.  Breathe.  Think.  Plan.  Organize.  Persevere.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    FWIW: At the couple of diocosean EF we have visited in different diocese over the last few months, it seems there is a pattern where things have been made specifically difficult for Latin communities. It’s as if someone had the bright idea, ‘if we mess with them enough they will shrivel up and go away’….lol…Lots of luck! That’s a scheme that would be more effectively deployed against the OFers many of whom already tend to treat the faith like a smorgasbord.

  2. EoinOBolguidhir says:

    I wonder what is the relationship of the priest in question and his music director. It sounds like he is bending over to help a music director who is not able to accommodate a need for the more serious music required by the EF. You want a really mean fight in a parish, threaten the jobs of the “professional Catholics” who work there with elimination or obsolescence. You’ll have an AFSCME style riot on your hands in no time at all.

  3. Funny, I thought this was the “golden age of the laity.”

  4. Vita Rustica says:

    “There must be four vernacular hymns at every Missa Cantata […]. It eliminates anything else that might be sung by the schola or played on the organ).”

    I wonder — would the rector be satisfied with singing two or three vernacular hymns before mass (including the processional hymn, if there is that) and one at the end of the mass, leaving room for “anything else” in between?

  5. JustaSinner says:

    Father, are there examples of the ‘perfect’ Mass on film from ‘ancient’ times; ie, pre-Vat II? (EF that is…) Just thinking it may be time to get visual evidence out on the web for these Johnny-B-Good-ish types messing with the Mass. If not, can we video an EF Mass that you are the celebrant? Can’t think of anyone better than you to get it right. Nicely edited, great sound, accompanied by liner notes (time coded for quick study).

  6. ResMiranda says:

    Please allow me to presume to make another suggestion as well.
    Commit every detail of your endeavors to Sts. Mary and Joseph! Invite the BVM and St Joseph (maybe especially as Protector of the Church) into your Schola, into any obedience or challenge to the pastors directives, into the organ, etc.! Then do it again! and again, and again…

  7. Absit invidia says:

    Unfortunately I’ve met some neo-traddies who think their OPINIONS trump the generous traditions of music decor in Latin Mass. Such neo-traddie puritans expecting to strip down the mass to merely sung Propers and Ordinaries with no room for “frivolous” motets or other such “novelties.” Forgetting of course that some of the most beautiful motets were written by renowned Catholic composers to function as motets in the mass: Palestrina, Mozart, Lassus, Byrd, Tallis, and many others where even Communion hymns are such as Palestrina’s Sicut Cervus, Mozart’s Ave Verum, and many others are now to be shunned and discarded as “bastardizations” of the Propers. I kid you not. “Bastardization” is the word I once heard. Are these sacred motets, heralded by St. John Paul II as a “priceless heritage to the Catholic liturgy” to be discounted from the liturgy? Puritan traddies are probably the biggest obstacle to growth of the Extraordinary Form than any progressive opposition to it.

  8. APX says:

    Communion hymns such as Palestrina’s Sicut Cervus,

    Thank-you. It’s so nice to see someone acknowledge Palestrina’s Sicut Cervus as a communion motet and not just for Easter Vigil and baptisms.


    Actually, quite the opposite. High Masses were not the norm back in the day (according to my grandma who used to play the pump organ for the choir, who mainly sang four part vernacular hymns during Low Mass). My dad who served Mass pretty much daily also said that Masses weren’t High Masses except for Christmas Midnight Mass and Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday.

  9. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    Speaking of heavy-handed hyperclericalism.

    It’s like a bulleted list of “How to break the spirit of already beaten-down traditional Catholics by making it clear their pastor doesn’t care about their particular piety and only tolerates them insofar as the letter of the law requires.”

    “There must be at least 4 vernacular hymns” requirement at a LATIN Mass people come to because it’s in Latin? That’s just absurd. Servers are to behave how they did a decade ago (whatever that means?) even though liturgical participants are supposed to follow the 1962 Missal rules according to SP and PCED responses? Also seems absurd.

    Father I agree that the best response to hyperclerical nonsense is obedience and doubling down on charity which will hopefully demonstrate to the priest how vital and potent these EF attendees are, but how does one put their heart into absurdities?

  10. un-ionized says:

    Justasinner, there is a video on youtube of a Mass, narrated by Fulton Sheen.

  11. Ed the Roman says:

    “If you meet the Good Idea Fairy on the road, kill him.”

    Ancient Zen Koan.

    [Similarly, “The Good Idea Fairy is to be shot on sight.”]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  12. JGavin says:

    I do not want to throw stones, but here we go…. Whether it be this priest with the EF or OF all of this seems to be a matter of pride. If there is one lesson I have absorbed over the years is that the liturgy whether EF or OF is not mine to do with as I please but is mine to receive , accept, ponder and pray. Also learn although it is not a didactic exercise but is in fact an an encounter with the transcendent God veiled under the appearance of bread and wine and an opportunity to participate in that sole event that effects the salvation of the world. I do not know how to transmit that to others. I do not know if in priestly or lay formation this can be taught.

  13. JustaSinner says:

    Thanks, didn’t think to add the word “Fulton” to my search for accurate results!

  14. ClavesCoelorum says:

    Father, thanks for helping! I’ll be glad to clarify what is meant by “laypeople handling the chalice”. This does not refer to preparations before Mass. Rather, it means that this particular priest wants – at Sung Mass – the Chalice to be brought to him by the lay MC (something expressly forbidden by the Church) because he’s too lazy to move it left and right when he needs to read something from the centre altar card. In that case, the chalice would be set up on the credence and brought at the Offertory. Don’t search for the logic in it (how does he do it at Low Mass?), because there is none. It’s an abuse that was practiced at this place for years and we fixed it a while back. No other priest minds.

    Thanks again for the good points you raise. I’m not sure about going to Bishop — he’s not someone who hates the old rite. In fact he’s quite “tolerant”, and has even voiced interest in coming by some time. However, he does not enjoy even the slightest bit of controversy, since his predecessor caused quite enough of that in the national media. That’s why I’d be careful.

  15. jaykay says:

    APX: “High Masses were not the norm back in the day…”

    Yes, it very much depended on the resources available. For example, in my town we had 2 churches in the parish, each of which had at least 4 Sunday Masses, so that placed restraints on what could be done, as priests also had to assist at Communion back then. So, it was more usual to have a “Missa Cantata” (sung Mass, priest only) in the “main” church, which had/has a professional organist and large choir, but not every Sunday, once a month as far as I remember, and maybe not during August, with holidays etc. Full High Masses, with deacon and sub-deacon, were on the major feasts. However, we also had 3 other churches staffed by Orders, all with good choirs, and High Masses were more frequent there, as they had no parochial duties… and quite large numbers! What a changed scenario in just 50 years.

  16. ClavesCoelorum says:

    Oh, and for context: The priest in question does not think of himself as a “traditionalist” or a friend of the EF. He’d abolish it tomorrow, if he had the authority. He just says it sometimes, because it’s in his church and he has to — and it provides him with an extra collection. In the past, he told us literally “So what? I don’t care!”, when we pointed out that the chalice on the credence at Missa Cantata is prohibited if there is a non-clerical MC. That’s the attitude. Of course there is more to tell, but this shall suffice for the time being.

  17. Irene says:

    APX: “High Masses were not the norm back in the day…”

    This grandma (old enough to be a great grandma) disagrees with yours. High Masses were the norm every Sunday, usually one high and two low. Many daily Masses were requiem high Masses, sung by our grade school choir of which I was a member. It was not a large parish. Other parishes in the city were the same.

  18. Prayerful says:

    YouTube has a Mass with commentary by Ven Fulton Sheen, which is perhaps the best. Others seem to be clips, nothing full.

  19. Benedict Joseph says:

    I knew I recognized that guy.
    Regretfully the “New Idea Fairy” constitutes a disproportionate number of those remaining in religious life, and their notions go far afield from the liturgy. I have watched them over the past twenty years take a monastery that had the potential to recover turn into a nursing home, now a hospice. Their next goal is to turn it into an ecumenical co-ed community. In all likelihood it will merely turn into an ecumenical co-ed cemetery.
    They are addicts to their notions. They are everywhere to be found in ecclesia.
    When will the biological clock finally find its terminus?

  20. gracie says:


    I’m with your grandma on that one. Back in the day (b. 1950) in Detroit where I was raised, on Sundays there was one High Mass – 11 am – and the rest were Low Masses. This also was true in Philadelphia were we used to visit relatives. I remember as a kid when I walked into Mass I would always look at the candles first. If there were 6 candles lit it meant a High Mass; if there were 2 candles lit it meant a Low Mass. High Mass – longer; Low Mass – shorter – that’s how my childhood brain processed things. I still automatically count the candles – dumb, I know, but it’s a reflex. I guess all Novus Ordo Sunday Masses are “High” since all the candles are always lit – it seems as if Low Masses are relegated to weekdays now – shorter, quieter – I have to admit to liking them more – the quiet is more conducive to reflection.

  21. APX says:

    Maybe it’s time to search for a different priest to offer Mass in the EF.

  22. Apart from the oddity with the chalice, some of these practices, e.g. of singing four vernacular hymns, were not uncommon before 1962 at Low Mass. The four hymn thing was called the “German High Mass” (it originated there) and was common in the Midwest among the “liturgically minded.”

    At the EF mission where I occasionally used to supply, the choir director regularly replaced the Propers with hymns (mostly English) or a (very occasional) motet. When I raised the propriety, I was told “this is what we do; you can just recite the Propers quietly while we sing.” Is that called “layicialism”?

    As to High and Low Mass before Vatican II, practices differed radically from region to region. In my home parish just north of NYC in the 1950s and early 1960s, ALL the Masses were Low Masses. The only music was at the Benediction after the 11 am. That was preceded by what my mother (a convert from Lutheranism) called the “cattle stampede,” during which 3/4 of the congregation rushed for the doors while the priest put on his cope. The only Masses with music were the Easter Vigil and Christmas Midnight Mass: 2 men and 2 women in the loft singing some forgettable 19th-century polyphonic Ordinary and rattling off the Propers in Falsobordone.

  23. TonyO says:

    In the past, he told us literally “So what? I don’t care!”, when we pointed out that the chalice on the credence at Missa Cantata is prohibited if there is a non-clerical MC.

    ClavesCoelorum, is an Acolyte who is the MC sufficient as a “cleric” to avoid having a lay MC handling the chalice? Can you always have an Acolyte be the MC?

    I doubt that this will really work, but in my limited experience, as Fr. Z says, your best bet is to do everything the rector says, and document everything (including, having someone take video at a few masses (just snippets to document the particular issues, not the whole mass). Go whole hog on filling up whatever it is that is Fr. Rector’s “thing” that he loves to accomplish. Try to get a letter or memo from him which puts your heavy involvement in writing, something as simple as note like “As pastor, I would personally like to thank the XYZ group for their commitment to abc endeavor…” And then, after a good while, with incontrovertible evidence in hand for what the proper, mandated, obligatory rubric is about the smallest and least problematic of the errors he is making, ask for an appointment to discuss just that one issue. Initiate the discussion by first referring to the “letter of thanks” or whatever it is, as in “it is always nice to be noticed and appreciated”. Then, discuss the ‘problem’ issue, but don’t make it an issue of “you’re doing this wrong”, make it a “we think you may agree that there is a better way of doing it, and we would like to dialogue about that…” But in the process include the evidence that the proper rubrics require a different practice – again, not in order to attack him, but to gently offer him another avenue. Then, politely ask for his agreement, don’t demand it, let it be clear to him that you are not challenging his authority to decide how things run in his parish, make it clear that you accept his decision whatever it is.

    If you get him to change on that one issue, set the stage for the NEXT step (months later) by writing to the bishop a letter of appreciation for Fr. Rector, who “has been willing to work with those of us who love the TLM, and with mutual cooperation the parish has made small changes that improve the TLM liturgy.” With a courtesy copy to the parish. This does 3 important things: (1) it gets Fr. Rector brownie points with the bishop, something every priest appreciates; (2) it sets up a officially noted pattern of “cooperation” which requires that he hear you with an open mind and heart next time (for if not he is failing to abide by that pattern which was made explicit to the bishop); and (3) it gives you a base-line of documented evidence that you (the TLM group of the parish) are not troublemakers and ‘divisive’ as a group, rather, you are helpers and cooperators – so that, if you ever DO have to take one of the issues to the bishop, Fr. Rector’s unwillingness to work with you will then be a jarring note against the prior backdrop of “mutual cooperation”.

  24. Henry Edwards says:

    Gracie: “Back in the day (b. 1950) in Detroit where I was raised, on Sundays there was one High Mass – 11 am – and the rest were Low Masses.”

    I’d bet this was the norm in more places than not. With solemn high Mass only on special occasions (e.g., Christmas and Easter) in larger multi-priest parishes. And perhaps even the single Sunday high Mass suspended in the summer if the choir loft was to hot for the choir to sing up there.

    But so far as what most people most frequently experienced, the perceived norm was the low Mass, since the combined attendance at the several Sunday morning low Masses substantially exceeded that at the single late-morning high Mass.

  25. CharlesG says:

    At our weekly missa cantata, we usually sing Latin hymns for extras following the Offertory and Communion propers. I had thought the rubrics required Latin for such. Vernacular hymns only allowed for low mass.

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  27. ClavesCoelorum says:

    Fr Thompson, yes, indeed. In German it’s called “Betsingmesse”, that is “Pray-Sing-Mass”. It was done in the past and is a product of the liturgical movement gone off the rails, only tolerated by the Holy See as a step towards proper High Mass. It is not, however, what he means by the “four hymns must be sung: Procession, after the Gospel, Offertory, [Thanksgiving], Recessional. Those refer to every single Missa Cantata. And people don’t even really sing those! But they MUST be had.

    The rector is ordering that, should the case arise on Sundays that there is nobody to sing the propers, we will but have Low Mass (even with hymns), but the Missa Cantata as usual with propers replaced by hymns. There was one occasion in the past when five minutes before Mass, the organist called and said he would not make it because traffic was too heavy. What to do? The rather old MC (who likes things done as he grew up with them in 1965) wanted to have this “Betsingmesse”. Others said we should just go with Low Mass – which was what happened.

    Side note: Would this “German High Mass” thing be allowed under SP?

  28. Imrahil says:

    Well, the problem here seems to me to be not the one or the other directive which in itself may be quite understandable (I’ll come to that), but the elephant in the room is that the priest doesn’t like the old rite, period. That can be overlooked in a rector who grudingly allows his Church to be used by another celebrant for the old rite; but not really, it seems, in a celebrant.

    Let me note here that an EF celebrant who does not like the EF is a thing I can hardly imagine in this present Situation. Around here, priests who do not specifically like the EF do not say it. And perhaps some priests who would specifically like the EF do not say it either.

    In the end, the only solution will be to have a celebrant who likes the EF. If there is an EF (even, I ‘d think, a semilegal EF if you know what I mean) in a near place around, even the thought to abandon the place would merit consideration.

    As for the points in themselves, though, most of them look tolerable, to me.

    1. depends on whether the diocesan directives are tolerable, which I don’t know. (Does not depend on whether it was tolerable for the diocese to make directives; even if it wasn’t, the choice is up to the celebrant and he chooses to follow them).

    2. As for the “elimits anything else”, I take it from the following points that Propers and Ordinary are not eliminated; hence, the Point is tolerable. That there must be, in addition (I take it) to the Propers and Ordinary, four vernacular hymns, may be burdensome to some, because it means the Mass is longer, but it is within a celebrant’s legitimate choice of possibilities. It also has its positive effects: it strongly underlines the fact (which is a fact) that “EF” does not mean “Gregorian chant and polyphony as opposed to hymns”, it leads to the fact that the EF community also knows the hymnal or at least its good parts, which belongs to general education if to no other thing; and it has the presumably unintended effect that People who want to sign hymns at least sometimes for a change (which, shall I say it, would include myself) do not need to visit the Novus Ordo for the purpose.

    3. This really is a pity, and some bad logic because a motet is not structually anything others than one of the vernacular hymns above – meaning, neither Propers nor Ordinary. However, given that motets are obviously not liturgically necessary for an EF mass, that’s the legitimate (though deplorable) choice of the celebrant and, hence, tolerable.

    4. As long as he stays within the liturgical law, that actually is the celebrant’s right.

    5. See no. 4. Of course if in this “as a decade ago” is included a breach of liturgical law (as described above), then that particular part is of course not tolerable.

    Nice example of Novus Ordo-ish philistine Conservatism, though.

    6. This is both tolerable (within the rights of the celebrant, etc.) and actually a very good idea. No matter whether it was the tradition or not, a Low Mass in the old sense of the term i. e. a Mass without any singing or even a Silent Mass is not the thing to do on a Sunday or a feast of similar festivity. At the least not if there’s only one EF Mass for it (as I take it); whether to make such a Mass at 7 o’clock for those who have to prepare Sunday dinner, and keep this Mass brief, is yet another question.

    [* Note: Around here, the usual thing is to combine “ordinary, no propers” with such hymns or “ordinary, some propers, others not” with hymns, which, I guess, is technically a Low Mass with some ordinary and propers as background. And I intuitively assume that this Course of Action is legal and possible, though I don’t strictly know whether that is not an indult which may not apply at some places.]

  29. corm_corm says:

    Have you considered finding another church nearby to base your latin Mass community?
    Where I am the parish priest permits us to use one of the parish churches, but he himself plays no other part.
    We set the Church up for the Latin Mass and then put it back how we found it afterwards. This arrangement works well for us.

  30. Absit invidia says:

    Check out the book Psallite Sapienter – A Musicians Guide to be 1962 Roman Missal … it covers all the rules on this. I believe only vernacular on either end of the mass but not the body of it.

  31. ClavesCoelorum says:

    TonyO, the problem is this is a diocesan Mass and we have nobody in minor (or major) orders serving. We are all laypeople, so that would not work, unfortunately. Again, the chalice issue has been brought into line with every single one of the other celebrants (four or five). Both they and all the servers see why this is so and do not want it changed back. Except this one priest.

    You raise good points, and I do admit that it is very hard to keep the tone charitable and not making it a case of “you’re doing this wrong”. As described above, the attitude we face sadly sometimes leads to such reactions on our part.

    Imrahil said: “Let me note here that an EF celebrant who does not like the EF is a thing I can hardly imagine in this present Situation.”

    He doesn’t *hate* it, but he doesn’t see the point in it. He has no real interest in it either and wouldn’t shed a tear if it were gone tomorrow. To him, the liturgical reform was done perfectly well and there is no real reason to have the EF anymore. Indeed, he once said to me: “You know, when you get down to it, there is no real difference between the two.” He also believes the local practice of having a vernacular hymn to the Holy Spirit after the Gospel and before the homily to be “part of the Rite of Mass”.

    Regarding your points:

    1. One of the “directives” is that there absolutely MUST be a vernacular translation of the Epistle and Gospel. The Epistle one is to be read straight after the Latin, by a layperson at the ambo.

    2. You understood that point correctly. The point is less that the hymns aren’t technically forbidden, but that firstly no one really sings them except for one or two grannies, secondly the schola was really looking forward to singing some motets in the future (for which there is now no room left), and finally: No one really missed them, except for one of the servers. There were quite a few voices saying: “Finally, we can pray.”

    4. Yes, as long as he stays within the law. But that’s precisely the point. He “doesn’t care” about the law, or even the established universal custom (which is quasi-law).

    corm_corm: It’s crossed our minds, of course, but there really isn’t any viable option. Other priests would probably be even more problematic, and there aren’t really any churches suited to the EF. Sadly. We already do all the setting up and resetting every time we have the Latin Mass, but there’s only so much you can do. We even bought our own altar cloth (reaching to the ground) because the rector would not permit the proper long ones to be on the high altar permanently, nor would he pay for it (from the money he gets from our collection). Such things.

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