“We have to learn how to be Roman priests again.” Wherein Fr. Z rants.

My morning coffee with homemade scone and my side-wise viewing of the Stage 4 of the Tour was enriched by the reading of Fr. Hunwicke’s Mutual Enrichment. He, also in stages, has been commenting on aspects of the Roman Canon (aka 1st Eucharistic Prayer).

In Part 3, Fr. H made a point that is close to my thought about the collision of East and West in our attempts at liturgical revitalization of our Catholic identity. My position is to let East be East and West be West.

Our Catholic identity was devastated after the Council, particularly due to a loss of the sense of the transcendent in our worship and our church buildings. In well-intentioned attempts to undo of the damage, some have thought to appropriate elements of Eastern Christianity, which did not undergo such a dramatic loss of the transcendent. They started to “byzantinize” our Latin churches.

No. We have our own Latin traditions which ought to be recovered. Our Rites can accomplish the same, if they are restored and used. We have our own music, rites, architecture, art. I sincerely admire and enjoy the Eastern Divine Liturgy. For a couple of summers in Rome I lived with Ukrainians and sang with them on a daily basis. I, however, am a Roman and Latin priest. I have my own tradition and identity.

Back to Fr. H and Part 3. He wrote:

[I] would expect an Oriental Christian to feel most at home with the Eastern approach. There is a sense in which I would even agree with the idea that Diversity is essential to Catholicity! What I do wish to highlight is, quite simply, that they are different. And that they can’t just be taken into the kitchen and shoved into the blender and mixed up. One of the very few things I object to very strongly about Orthodoxy is that it sanctions ‘Western Rites’ in which an Oriental Epiclesis has been violently shoved into the Roman Canon. I would complain with no less vigour if some daft Latinising imperialist tried to mangle or eviscerate an Eastern Anaphora. Each of our rites has its own integrity, its own logic, its own grammar. Neither should be bullied into conformity with the other. To do so … I would go so far as to call it sacrilege.

At this point, I will add that I use only the Roman Canon when I happen to say the Novus Ordo.  Only.  I won’t use another Eucharistic Prayer.

Also, at this point, I will remind the readership that in the past I have said that Benedict XVI’s great gift to the Church, Summorum Pontificum, was a juridical approach to a long-standing problem that provided a foundation for a long-term theological goal.

Papa Ratzinger did not solve the historical and theological question of whether or not the Novus Ordo is really in continuity or in discontinuity with the previous iteration of the Roman Rite.

I contend that those questions remain to be studied and weighed.  That said…

Now, moving to Part 4, we find:

If you go to a Novus Ordo Mass, the spine of the Altar Book will make a claim that it is the “Roman Missal”. But is it? Does it … I quote a British Television commercial … do what it says on the tin? [NB]I do not think that anybody who has carefully thought these things through could answer Yes. Fr Joseph Gelineau, described by Bugnini himself as “one of the great masters of the international liturgical world”, a liturgical radical who wholeheartedly applauded what happened after Vatican II, did not make that claim. He wrote “We must say it plainly: the Roman rite as we knew it exists no more. It has gone.” He did not share the ignorant view sometimes put forward, that the post-Conciliar ‘reform’ was analogous to the edition of the Roman Missal published by the orders of S Pius V … (“If it was alright,” people say to us, “for Pius V to bring out his own Missal, why couldn’t B Paul VI do the same?”) You will all have heard and read that sort of thing; but you won’t have heard it from Gelineau. Gelineau was not ‘one of us’, but he was neither ignorant or stupid. He wrote “We must not weep over ruins or dream of a historical reconstruction …. we must open new ways to the sources of life, or we shall be condemned as Jesus condemned the Pharisees. But it would not be right to identify this liturgical renewal with the reform of rites decided on by Vatican II. This reform goes back much further, and forward beyond the conciliar prescriptions”.  [Consider that the Council Fathers gave only a few mandates about the reforms and then hedged them in with cautions about innovations and the true need of the Church.  These mandates were dramatically, callously, systematically violated with the result that, later, Joseph Ratzinger would observe that the “reformed” rites were artificially constructed and suddenly imposed, thus violating the organic growth of worship over time.]


At the opposite end of the academic spectrum from Gelineau, Fr Aidan Nichols points out that [And here is the link to the stuff about Eastern liturgy with which this post began…] “the Rite of Paul VI contains more features of Oriental provenance than the Roman Rite has ever known historically, and notably in the new anaphoras, for these are central to the definition of any eucharistic style”. (He goes on to suggest how the Novus Ordo could be used, and that it could be renamed as the ritus communis). A very distinguished Anglican liturgical scholar, Dr G G Willis, wrote that “Rome has invented in its recent rites a hybrid form … The Roman rite has hitherto kept out the epiclesis, as being inconsistent with its theory of consecration, and the introduction of Oriental elements (seen also in the acclamations of the people, which the new Roman revisions have introduced) would be better eschewed”. Another mighty Anglican scholar, the late Fr Michael Moreton, was very firm and resolute about the need for the exclusive use of the Roman Canon. So should we Latins all be. The chaps that know, know. [Qui habet aures audiendi audiat!]

The Novus Ordo rite as commonly presented is not the Roman rite. [NB: Fr H inserts a note asserting, of course, the unquestioned validity of the rite, as do I.]  I would grant it to be arguable that if one used only its First Eucharistic Prayer, the Roman Canon, what one celebrated might still … just about … yes, I know there were outrageous tamperings with the Verba Domini … be fairly called the Roman rite, without infringing the Trade Descriptions Act too badly. But not a Mass celebrated using one of the new, Orientalised, epicletified, Eucharistic Prayers. And the pseudo-Hippolytan ultra-short Prayer is the one in almost universal and invariable use throughout the ‘mainstream Church’ … despite the hopes expressed in the GIRM that the Roman Canon be used on Sundays and Festivals. Accordingly, the Roman rite proprie dictus, it has to be admitted, has now almost entirely died out in most of the Latin Church, except in such places as Oratories and Ordinariates and the FSSP and Christ the King parishes. And, of course, the SSPX.  [And if that is the case – and I think that it is – then what are the implications for our identity as Catholics of the Latin Church, Roman Catholics?  More on this below.]

It seems to me a cause worth taking seriously, to restore the Roman Rite to use by using exclusively the Roman Canon. The GIRM itself has pointed to this by saying, in each edition it has been through, that “This Prayer may be always used” (Editio tertia para 365 semper adhiberi potest); a comment it makes about none of the other anaphoras.

Fr. H goes on with a few other concrete suggestions that are well worthy of your time, especially if you are priests or bishops.

Let me circle back to that issue of the Roman Rite having died out in most of the Latin Church.

I remind the readership, especially those readers who are diocesan bishops, that the Code of Canon Law, can. 249, requires – it doesn’t suggest or recommend or propose, but requires – that seminarians be “very well skilled” in the Latin language:

Can. 249 — Institutionis sacerdotalis Ratione provideatur ut alumni non tantum accurate linguam patriam edoceantur, sed etiam linguam latinam bene calleant necnon congruam habeant cognitionem alienarum linguarum, quarum scientia ad eorum formationem aut ad ministerium pastorale exercendum necessaria vel utilis videatur.

How is this translated on the Vatican website?

Can. 249 The program of priestly formation is to provide that students not only are carefully taught their native language but also understand Latin well [FAIL!] and have a suitable understanding of those foreign languages which seem necessary or useful for their formation or for the exercise of pastoral ministry.

Calleo is “to be practiced, to be wise by experience, to be skillful, versed in” or “to know by experience or practice, to know, have the knowledge of, understand”.  Sure, “understand” can translate calleant, but in this context that is the weakest of our choices.  We get the word “callused” from calleo.  We develop calluses when we do something repeatedly.

So, calleo is already “well versed/skilled”. Then bene calleant is “let them be very well versed/skilled”.

Review also Sacrosanctum Concilium 36 and Optatam totius 13, just to point to documents of Vatican II. … unless you “HATE VATICAN II!”, as the libs throw about.

Latin is necessary.

Its benefits are so numerous that they shouldn’t have to be enumerated.

And yet here we are, faced with a clergy of the LATIN Church who are nearly totally ignorant of Latin!


I ask you, Reverend and Most Reverend gentlemen, what does it mean for our Catholic identity if our clergy don’t know the language – and therefore what goes with the language – of their Rite and their Church?

Do you think that that’s a problem?

I do. I think that that vast gap is an opening through which the winds of the world’s ways and the smoke of Satan howl and, eventually, toss priests about on the deck of Peter’s barque with nary a lifeline in sight.

“But Father! But Father!”, some of these priests and bishops will respond, “We have so many more pressing problems to address!”

Is that so?

Our Catholic identity is THE pressing problem.   

Our identity has been severely enervated over the last half dozen decades.  Let’s do something about this, starting with elementary and high schools!  Let’s do something about this starting in homeschooling!

We have to recover these lost tools or we will, very soon, begin to pay even more massively than we do now for the wounds to our identity.

Consider how the demographics of the Church are being reported.  There are now more people who identity as former-Catholics than as Catholics, and the majority of the later barely go to church.  What will that mean for, inter alia, vocations?

Oh… and by the way… when rectors or others stand up during ordinations to attest before God that the men to be ordained for the Latin Church have been properly trained…. is that true if they have no Latin?  No, it is not.

So what are they stating before God and the Church?

In order to revitalize our Catholic identity, we have to revitalize our sacred liturgical worship.   Everything starts there and returns there.   

Our worship, especially in the Eucharistic liturgy around which all other rites orbit, is our source and our goal, our fons et culmen.

We are our rites.

No other activity, pastoral or not, rivals the importance of our sacred liturgical worship.  No other activity, pastoral of not, will succeed if it doesn’t begin in and return to worship of God.

What we do or don’t do, what we lose or what we recover, has long-term impact on our identity and, therefore, on our vocations.

This is why it is so important for priests and bishops to prioritize liturgical renewal.

To do that we have to go beyond just “better” celebrations of the Novus Ordo (which, though valid, is compromised).  Yes, “better” is also needed.  But, what we also need, urgently, is the side-by-side use of our traditional Roman Rite, conducted in a stable manner, without tinkering, for a goodly long period of years.

What popped into my mind is a scene in the movie Seabicuit, in which the crafty trainer figures out why this amazing horse is not performing well. In the movie line, the horse had been treated very badly as a colt, thus limiting his potential.

Analogies limp, but that clip might give you a sense of what I am talking about.

It seems to me that, these days, priests are so beat up that it’s hard to tell what we are supposed to do.  I can’t help feeling they’ve got us so screwed up running in a circle that we’ve forgotten what we were born to do. We have to learn how to be Roman priests again.

How do you do that?

That requires the Roman Rite in its fullness.

We are our Rites.

Click for a Daily Prayer for Priests

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Hard-Identity Catholicism, Priests and Priesthood, SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM, The future and our choices, Wherein Fr. Z Rants and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. tho says:

    Father, you write some great stuff, but this one is a keeper. My lame comments would only detract from how moving it is, thank you.

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  3. Unwilling says:

    Wonderfully cheering discourse on the possibility of bringing back holy worship!

    Your mention of Sertillanges two posts later is so apropos for his famous claim that there is no excuse for not learning Latin that “an ordinary mind can master in two months”. [Subsequent editions backpedalled a bit…]

  4. Nathan says:

    Thank you, Father Z and Father Hunwicke, this is very insightful. A couple of thoughts:

    I agree that validity, per se, is not really the issue here. Validity was a problem 30 years ago, when, in the middle of the Liturgical Revolution, we had a wave of extemporaneous Eucharistic Prayers and a problem with invalid matter (“bread” with enough sugar and other additives to be cake), which thankfully has been largely dealt with.

    I also agree most heartily with your cri di coeur (it’s so much more elegant than “rant” IMO) that Catholic Identity is the problem now, and that Latin and the TLM are required for its restoration, and the dire need for real liturgical renewal.

    However, I also think there’s a first order, higher level question in play here. This comes down, IMO, to “who is God and who is man?” If God is who we profess He is, then we, as man, owe him our worship and obedience. More than that, it seems to me that latria, the worship/service we owe God in justice for His Goodness and His Majesty, ought to be the absolute best that we can offer. If the Novus Ordo is compromised, and if it is disobedient to its Latin origins (per Father Hunwicke), then its continued use is, prima facie, deficient in terms of what we owe Almighty God.

    And that, given human free will, is a large part of why we are forgetting who God is and who we are.

    In Christ,

  5. Julia_Augusta says:

    Vive le Tour! Stage 19 starts in Lourdes. I wonder which of the cyclists will be visiting the basilica. Maybe Peter Sagan who is Catholic?

    La Madonna del Ghisallo is considered to be the patron saint of cyclists.

    French cyclists go to Notre Dame des Cyclistes in Labastide d’Armangnac (and of course, enjoy the Armagnac from the region).

  6. Suburbanbanshee says:

    The Great Courses now includes Latin 101 as a video course, and many libraries include it in Hoopla for free. (The textbook is not there, alas.)

  7. jameeka says:

    You know, I have written letters to bishops pleading with them to allow certain priests to DO what they were born and consecrated to do—so this post (and the video) hits home. So many have been so beaten up, to the Church’s great detriment.

  8. Fr. Reader says:

    Recently I began to relearn my rusty Latin using this gift I received: HERE

    Let us see if it works.

  9. Fr. Reader says:

    Recently a friend, a priest, older than me, told me that Jesus hates Latin very much because during the Crucifixion the Roman soldiers used Latin.
    Simplistic as it sounds, this kind of examples has shaped a generation.

    [Wow. That’s really dumb.]

  10. Elizabeth D says:

    One time I met one of the horses that played Seabiscuit in the movie, he was precisely the same conformation and shape, size (15.2 hands), color and markings (a little star on his forehead, that they colored over for the movie) as my gelding Darty that I owned for a few years in my early 20s. Seriously, I have never seen another horse that looked so much like Darty as the Seabiscuit movie horse. Darty was also really fast but only when I did not want him to be. When I wanted him to gallop out he would not go very fast. When he got freaked out and ran away with me he was lightening, truly Seabiscuit speed, certainly 40mph (yes I did get hurt, he skidded to a stop at a gate). He was only 3 or 4 then, as he grew up he mellowed and I would even gallop him bareback but as I said he would not go very fast. I liked to walk around bareback together sometimes and let him decide what to do, he would go exploring around the property satisfying his curiosity about things he wasn’t otherwise able to go check out close-up, or one time in the arena it had been raining and he lay down and rolled in a puddle and when he was about done I got back on his back and he stood up. What this has to do with liturgy I don’t know, but I do know if you let a horse just be a horse you don’t get a champion race runner by accident even though the horse naturally can run fast. :-) It takes ascesis and human intelligence.

  11. Dear Fr. Reader (10 July 2018 at 7:54 PM),

    What an odd idea your priest friend suggests.

    The working language of the Roman army in the eastern Mediterranean during the first century was not Latin but Greek. As was the language of the Roman administration. I guess that means that our Lord hates the original text of the New Testament.

    By the way, Mel Gibson’s presentation of Pilate and the Roman soldiers speaking Latin was remarked on by many historians as wrong, but film often has “useful fictions”—e.g., Latin better suggested Roman control of Palestine than Greek.

    If one is going to use history for silly theological arguments, at least get the history right.

  12. HvonBlumenthal says:

    “Joseph Ratzinger would observe that the “reformed” rites were artificially constructed and suddenly imposed, thus violating the organic growth of worship over time.“

    For this reason it is beyond me how Benedict XVI felt it was possible to speak of a “Hermeneutic of Continuity” or how Cardinal Sarah and the learned Fr Hunwicke can in all seriousness speak of “mutual enrichment”.

    I did once hear it said that McDonald’s and Le Gavroche could enrich each other’s cuisine but I don’t believe it.

  13. Ages says:

    Fr. Z, what are your thoughts on Eastern Catholics venerating saints that the West has considered heretics, or just post-schism?

    I think of St. Gregory of Palamas, who has been condemned by the West, but whose feast is an integral part of Lent for the Byzantine Rite, and whose theology of theosis is foundational to Eastern spirituality. And then there is St. Seraphim of Sarov, who is well after the schism, but is nevertheless beloved by the Slavs.

  14. Antonin says:

    The Universal Church has ALWAYS supported the vernacular including Rome. The Eastern tradition and Slavonic language were accepted as valid.

  15. Fr. Reader says: Recently a friend, a priest, older than me, told me that Jesus hates Latin very much because during the Crucifixion the Roman soldiers used Latin.

    And He hates Latin so much He permitted it to be the central language of His Church, and of worship in the Roman Rite, for century upon century.

    I guess my response to that would be that in fact Jesus co-opted the Latin language — right down to the liturgical style, as Fr. Hunwicke points out — wresting it from the dominion of hell and turning to the worship of the One True God that which for so long had been used to worship devils.

    And He that sat on the throne, said: Behold, I make all things new. Revelation 21:5.

  16. JamesA says:

    I shall never tire of hearing you preach this, Father, and I repeat it to everyone who will listen.
    Per evangelical dicta, deleantur nostra delicta !

  17. Fr. Reader says:

    @Augustine Thompson OP, @Anita Moore OP
    Thank you for your responses.
    I did not know this about the working language of the Roman army.

    Many times I hear about this “mutual enrichment”. I have read lists of enrichment possibilities from both sides. But I would like to add one item to these lists: I feel that the Extraordinary Form, both the Missal and the Breviary, is much more eschatological than the Ordinary Form. This is, more mentions of saints in heaven, more petitions to God granting eternal life to the deceased ones, etc. It is as if it reminds us more that they also are part of the Church, or even better, that we are also part of that Church in Heaven and Purgatory, and that to arrive there is not something to take for granted.
    I said that it is just a feeling, because I have not made a research on that.

  18. PTK_70 says:

    @HvonBlumenthal….As I understand it, the “hermeneutic of continuity” is a lens or interpretive key for understanding the documents of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. The “hermeneutic of continuity” goes hand-in-hand with the view that the Church neither began nor ceased to be in 1965. So the hermeneutic of continuity is not, strictly speaking, a “liturgical” concept.

  19. Boanerges says:

    Vatican II, a most unnecessary council, MUST go the way of the Council of Pisa.

  20. Grant M says:

    “Recently a friend, a priest, older than me, told me that Jesus hates Latin very much because during the Crucifixion the Roman soldiers used Latin.”

    The priest is clearly a member of the ultra-ultra traditionalist Society of St Pius I. :)

    From their blog:

    FACT: Latin is NOT the original language of the Church!

    It’s a VERNACULAR language that was foisted on the Roman church by Pope Victor I (A.D. 190-202), who was an AFRICAN priest–NOT a Roman!!!

    The earliest liturgies at Rome as described by St. Justin Martyr were in GREEK. But once Victor made the change in language, that OPENED THE DOOR a century later to a barrage of changes in the rite of Mass itself, from which the Roman Rite has NEVER recovered.

    This opening up of vernacular languages has led to the Church becoming a veritable Tower of Babel, full of all sorts of barbarian languages that were NOT SPOKEN BY THE APOSTLES. Was this what Christ intended when he prayed that the church be one? A hodge podge of incomprehensible barbarian tongues that were formerly used to worship fake gods like Jupiter? Die-hard Vulgate Pope John VIII even allowed Cyril and Methodius to translate the liturgy for the Slavs into Old Church Slavonic!!

    Wouldn’t you want to use a language that was actually spoken by the Apostles, rather than some barbarian language spoken by goatskin wearing savages? EVERY SINGLE BOOK of the New Testament was written in GREEK. Not Latin. Not Syriac. Not Coptic. Not Old Church Slavonic. And especially not English. This fact alone PROVES that these other languages are inventions of SATAN and CONDEMNED BY GOD.

    So whatever later so-called “Popes” may have said about the use of Latin, it IS NOT TRADITIONAL!!!

    And even further, linguists have shown that Nero–who is identified by some biblical scholars as the archetype of Antichrist in Revelation–spoke Latin. Do you really think God would want you to be using the Antichrist’s language–IN A CHURCH?????

  21. aiello01 says:

    A Catholic identity usually refers to the worship practices that are typically identified with the Catholic Church. If that was the sum total of Christianity, changes would be a problem. For me, God’s peace and strength came from casting all of my care on Him and being anxious for nothing (1Peter 5:5-7 and Philippians 4:6-7). This became the most important thing in my life and it gave me a Christian identity. My Catholic identity did not do this. This is why changes in the language and format of the liturgy have not been a problem for me.

  22. Unwilling says:

    Grant M – hilarious!
    Augustine re Mel Gibson. It is true that Greek was the lingua franca of the empire in Jesus’ time. One would expect the use of Greek on official business in Palestine. However, Rome was still the capitol and the use of Latin prestigious. And someone must have been the intended audience of the Latin in the tri-glot INRI inscription [Jn 19:20]. Since there were no tape recorders (smirk), it is not possible to rule out the use of Latin among the depicted soldiers nor especially between Jesus and Pilate.

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