ASK FATHER: Could a diocesan priest choose to say only the TLM?

From a reader…


Could a diocesan priest decide that he will only celebrate the TLM? Is he allowed to do so? What could a bishop do if he disagrees with the priest?

First, a diocesan priest could decide to say only the TLM.  He would then have to live with the consequences.  His bishop and/or the pastor to whom he is assigned as an assistant may not like that decision.  The consequences would be nearly immediate.

So, Father says “YES!”, and the Bishop says, “NO!”

They go back and forth like this for a while.

In the end, Father has no real power to defend his decision.  He might be right or he may be wrong, but he has no effective power.

If the Bishop were unhappy enough, he would probably suspend Father, take away his faculties to celebrate Mass publicly, preach, hear confessions, etc.  He could move to remove him from his parish, if he is pastor.  The Bishop could reassign him, if he is an assistant, to just about anything… or nothing.   He could make Father’s life so awful that the he might want to leave the diocese or the priesthood.

The suspended or unassigned priest could appeal to Rome, but I’m 99.9% sure that he’d lose.  Rome would back the Bishop.

On the other hand, a Bishop capable of thinking outside the box might say, “Okay, Father. We were thinking about closing old St. Eulampius over in Pie Town, but why don’t you have a go with your Latin and so forth.”

It all depends on the bishop.  Some are open-minded.  Some are not. Some are creative thinkers.  Some are not.  Some are good-natured.  Some are not.  Some are really concerned for the good of the priests.  Some are not.   All of them are at times and in different circumstances a combination of all these.  They’re human, after all.

Most priests know where they would stand with their bishops on matters like these.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. kekeak2008 says:

    Although I understand the need to answer questions like this (new readership to the blog, new members of the one True Church), I sometimes find myself getting frustrated when this question is asked. I think we, as laypeople, forget that priests have an obligation of obedience and submission to their bishops. I’ve talked to several priests in private who personally would love to to the TLM but can’t because of their particular bishop. Their hands are tired, as it were, when it comes to spreading the TLM throughout the Church. Any and all efforts to increase the availability and publicity of the TLM and the rest of the Usus Antiquior depends on the laity, US. We shouldn’t rely on priests to do all the heavy lifting in this regard; they’re busy enough as it is and a lot of them can’t help as much as they’d probably like, at least in part, because of obedience to their bishop. We, the laity, should ask/write/call/email/smoke signal/carrier pigeon message our bishops and ask (with the utmost Christian charity) for the TLM. This must be primarily a grassroots effort.

    [You got a lot of things right in your comment. You got something deeply wrong. Do NOT fall into the trap of thinking that the Bishop has to give a priest permission to say the TLM. The question asked was about a priest who wanted to say ONLY the TLM, that is NOT say the NO. Benedict XVI’s document Summorum Pontificum made sure that priests do NOT need permission from their bishops to say the TLM, even publicly. The pastor of the parish can determine that he wants the TLM in his parish. Do NOT think that you have to go to the bishop FIRST. Go to the pastor first. That’s the key. The pastor can then work things out. However, Summorum also says that if the pastor is uncooperative, then get the bishop involved. Of course the bishop might want to get involved on his own and either support the effort or interfere with it. That’s another matter. But, friends, get your heads straight about this. Summorum Pontificum is in force now, not Ecclesia Dei adflicta. Each situation is going to be a little different, but the first thing to do is to build a “stable community” along with a friendly priest.]

  2. Imrahil says:

    I quite agree (with my limited layman knowledge) to what our reverend host has said.

    Let me just add that this sums up to:

    “For all practical effects, no, the priest cannot do so.”

  3. Ave Maria says:

    I know of several priests who came to the conclusion that they only wanted to offer the TLM. Every one of them is now outside of their diocese. The one I know very well was even asked if he wanted to be laicized. He does not. He is presently “on loan” in another diocese where he only offers the TLM and is involved in other holy endeavors.

  4. Sword40 says:

    Excellent answer, Fr. Z. Our group has “been there and done that” as they say. After several cooperative priests were transferred to other locations, the archbishop finally relented and gave us our own church building. And the FSSP sent our first priest. We have experienced a steady growth. So now we have our second priest and our growth is still increasing. Our group is still together (for the most part) and there are a lot of new large families coming each week.

    I really believe that forming a group was our best step. We maintain contact with the archbishop and try to always show our gratitude and respect.

  5. I think that any priest that decides that he will not celebrate either “form” of the Roman Rite needs to do some very serious examination of his conscience. If he finds that it is impossible morally for him to celebrate either form of the rite, he needs to think about what it means to be a sectarian rather than a Catholic.

    Obiter dicta. All priests of my Dominican Order have the right, under Summorum Pontificum and Universae Ecclesiae, to say the Dominican Rite Mass—-privately. In a public oratory or parish they are under the same obedience to the prior or pastor in celebration of public Masses as all other Dominican priests: if the pastor / prior has decided for whatever pastoral or other reasons that all Masses are to be in Latin, in Spanish, in English, etc., according to the “ordinary form,” the priests who refuse to do so have no “right” to do anything else. Conversely, if (as in several of the parishes of our Province) it has been decided that the Mass will be according to the (Latin) Dominican Rite, they have no “right” to do otherwise.

  6. HvonBlumenthal says:

    Fr. Thompson O.P. Makes an interesting point. Of course, priests who only want to say the TLM are used to the accusation of being sectarian. But, as Fr. Thompson says, any priest who feels unable to say the TLM should also ask himself if he is not a sectarian.

  7. Sportsfan says:

    Substitute “steal a car” for ” say only the TLM” in the original question and you get the same answer.

    Yes, but he will have to deal with the consequences.

    [Ummm… no. Yes, there are consequences for every human act. But, no, there is no comparison between stealing a car and SAYING MASS. That said, some bishops would be less verklempt were Father to commit grand theft auto than to celebrate ad orientem or, forfend, the TLM.]

  8. Josephus Corvus says:

    I think the other key to this is located in the last line of Father’s response to kekeac2008 above: …the first thing to do is to build a “stable community…”, which I see as the one hole in the otherwise awesome Summorum Pontificum . You could have the clone of Father Z as a standard diocesan priest with Cardinal Whatever (who doesn’t care if you do an EF or a Clown Mass every week as long as he gets invited to the party afterwards), if he doesn’t have that “stable community”, the priest is basically out of luck – at least with respect to having S.P. back him up.

    [This is cynical and unnecessarily negative. Technically, a “stable group” can be as few as three, one of whom is the priest himself. That’s a low bar. At the same time, it is understandable that it might be hard for a priest to undertake a large project (learn the TLM – which he ought to do anyway) for a very small group. It is likely to catch on, but doing good work of organizing beforehand really helps. Hence, my constant advise not to whine, but to get to work.]

  9. Fr_Andrew says:

    As kekeak points out, corrected by Fr. Z to some degree, there is need for the laity to demand the EF if they want the EF. At the very least it gives the priest who wants to offer it at a parish some covering fire with a bishop who is somewhat hostile to the idea.

    However, there is also need of Prudence.

    I myself have been the victim of such imprudence. The priestly group of which I am a member has a place where we say the EF Mass in a fairly remote corner of the diocese for a fairly small regular group, but it is also a fairly thinly populated area. The next nearest “parish” has Mass only twice a month.

    The parish priest is very hostile toward the EF due to some silly events. He was offended that his assistant was not allowed to concelebrate at the EF for his mother’s funeral, which when dying she chose to have at our bigger parish (in a more EF-friendly diocese), despite having been told that there is no rite for concelebration in the EF and the litugrical law does not allow it.

    When circumstances forced us to find a different place for our monthly EF Mass while the church we usually use was being renovated, people approached that hostile priest (their pastor), asking if we could use that church. That’s not a bad idea in itself, but they presumed to speak for me in doing so, rather than floating the idea. Even though they also approached the bishop (again without asking me) and he said it was perfectly find if temporary, their annoyance to this hostile pastor made him give the alleged response, “I will never allow a Latin Mass in my parish every, for any reason, and I don’t care what the bishop says.”

    Had I been allowed to approach the priest, perhaps we could have worked out the misunderstandings and differences, and perhaps secured the church for use, and shown we were eminently reasonable, and not dingbat crazy. Sadly because of the push of the laity without consulting a priest who knows the diocese, they’ve torpedoed the expansion of the EF.

    Ironically this family was convinced by that priest that they would lose their souls by coming to a “schismatic Mass” even though we’re a fully-approved Mass, and have the permission of the bishop. So not only have they not gotten what they wanted, but they’ve been convinced the EF is evil and merely permitted to save the sedevacantists and SSPX from totally leaving the Church, they’ve created bad blood in the diocese, undermined the bishop, undermined this priests’ reputation, and robbed the parish from which they come of the chance to have the EF occasionally.

    All which could have been avoided if it were a priest asking a priest for the favor.

    The laity do have the right to demand the EF. Priests should provide it for them. Bishops should be generous toward them. Prudence must rule the day.

    Often that Prudence will dictate that the laity, who can be the driving force, coordinate with the priests who are willing to help. If they do not they risk causing far more damage.

    [Lay people. Get organized, but – as I usually say – find a friendly priest to work with. The priest will know how to proceed. Many times lay people – full of zeal – rush into the vacuum of lack of priestly interest or involvement and make things more complicated.]

  10. Joseph Mendes says:

    It really seems like Summorum Pontificum did not go far enough. So long as pastors and bishops can effectively refuse to allow the TLM, it will keep being suppressed, and loads of people will keep not having access to the traditional rites of the Church.

  11. Amante de los Manuales says:

    “I think that any priest that decides that he will not celebrate either “form” of the Roman Rite needs to do some very serious examination of his conscience. If he finds that it is impossible morally for him to celebrate either form of the rite, he needs to think about what it means to be a sectarian rather than a Catholic.”

    Do those who think like this also find sectarian rather than Catholic priests belonging to orders like the SSPX, FSSP, and ICRSS?

  12. Amante de los Manuales says:

    erratum: orders > groups

  13. cengime says:

    I am not sure Josephus Corvus is right that the traditionalist priest is dead in the water without a stable group. The Diocese of Rzeszów submitted five questions in German to Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei in January 2010. They received a reply in Italian, and both letters can be found here with Polish translations:

    The third was whether a priest can offer the Extraordinary Form on his own initiative. The reply was, “we leave this question to the prudent judgement of the pastor, remaining firm that the stable group of the faithful has the right to assist at the celebration of Mass in the Extraordinary Form.”

    [Certainly that’s true. However, let’s also consider practical issues. Numbers count.]

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  15. Gilgamesh says:

    Dear Fr_Andrew, It seems that the disposition of the pastor was set against the EF. Even a maximum of prudence would not guarantee a positive openness from an obstinate liberal. If only the cordial private conversations of brother priests obtained such mutual understanding and cooperation for the good of souls. As a brother priest, I would caution you not to be so naive that a priest would necessarily be more kindly to a brother priest. Yes, we need docility from the devout lay faithful for effective, coordinated action. However, it seems this adversarial pastor is being intentionally obtuse and sadly may have been a longtime infiltrator in our ranks. Alas. May our Blessed Mother obtain the conversion of even such as these priest cherished sons. May God bless your ongoing efforts for the Sacred Liturgy, for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. Oremus pro invicem.

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