The effect of the Extraordinary Form on vocations to the priesthood

From a reader…

In recent weeks I recall reading here and elsewhere some encouraging speculation and projections about the numbers of vocations produced by traditional vs. non-traditional types of communities. I’ve discovered that my parish seems to support those projections. We have both the Ordinary Form and the Extraordinary Form. There are 3 OF Masses each weekend, and one EF.

Recently the parish published information about all the vocations we’ve had from our parish in the last roughly 60 years. Between the years of 1965 and 2007 we had a grand total of 3. However, in the last 10 years since our parish has added the EF, we’ve had 9 new vocations, of which 7 are from EF attending families – 1 priest, 2 brothers, and 4 sisters.

Of the two OF-produced vocations, one is a priest from a very conservative family, who now celebrates the EF himself and has allowed that to greatly influence his OF ars celebrandi.

Bear in mind that there are easily 5 times as many people attending OF Masses at our parish than EF, and yet the EF vocations outnumber them 7 to 2. If you were to assume equal numbers of people at each form, and then extrapolate the data, you’d end up with somewhere around a 15-1 preponderance in favor of the EF. Absolutely amazing.

As we know, the plural of anecdote is data.  This is what I’ve been talking about and writing about for a long time.  The knock on effect of the Extraordinary Form.

This is why libs hate and fear it.

This is why I have begun to wonder if the Extraordinary Form, after a few more years of disastrous demographics and the churning wake of The Present Crisis, won’t be the “Last Mass Standing”.

¡Hagan lío!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ¡Hagan lío!, Hard-Identity Catholicism, Just Too Cool, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, New Evangelization, SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM, The future and our choices. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. iPadre says:

    Many Bishu, Priests, … will not accept this because they will have to admit their way is a failed experiment.

  2. Kate says:

    Our parish has the same kind of statistics. For National Vocations Week, our parish highlighted the priests, seminarians and religious from the parish. Three men were ordained before Summorum Pontificum, and there were no religious in this time. Since then, when the TLM was introduced into the parish, we have had one priest, who says both the OF and EF, ordained for another diocese; one man ordained as a deacon, who intends to say both the OF and EF, ordained for another diocese; two young men in a TLM religious order intending to study for the priesthood; and five young women who have embraced religious life. Of those latter numbers, 1 was already in the seminary when SP came out, 1 was a sometime attendee, and the remaining 7 all were regulars. So again, if we remove the one already in seminary, we have a statistic of 7:1, and even that one sometimes attended the TLM. Again, like the writer in the article, we have good attendance at the TLM, but I think the OF probably outnumbers us 4 to 1.

    Another interesting tidbit. For some time, the parish listed the collections for each Mass separately. But the TLM was collecting 1/3 or more of donations (back when we were really small). It was rather embarrassing and not supporting the argument that “the TLM is such a drain on the parish,” so the finance council decided to lump all donations together.

  3. Sawyer says:

    Granted the EF is superior to inauthentically, poorly celebrated OF both as worship and in producing vocations. (The two are causally related.) How about authentically, reverently, beautifully celebrated OF versus EF? There’s probably not much basis for comparison. One springs to mind: St. Michael’s Abbey in Orange County CA is surging with vocations to their community, and they celebrate OF in Latin with chanted propers.

    Questions in my mind: is it the EF itself that is inherently superior to OF and causes more vocations from EF communities? Is it the lack of authenticity, reverence and beauty that characterizes so much of OF worship that depresses vocations from OF communities? If OF worship were improved, would there be more vocations from OF communities? I think so. Are some people writing off the OF hastily? Perhaps.

  4. scotus says:

    Over the last ten years my NO parish has had one vocation to the priesthood. He’s not interested in the EF Mass but he is solidly orthodox. The total attendance at Mass on Sundays (including the Saturday Vigil) is declining and currently is about 600. Meanwhile, I attend the EF Mass elsewhere on Sundays. Average attendance is between 30 and 40. To my knowledge there has been one vocation to the priesthood from among those attending the EF Mass over the past ten years. This person went to the Institute of Christ the King. The attendees at the EF Mass are predominantly elderly. So same number of vocations between the OF and the EF but the ratio of attendees is about 1 to 15 or more.

  5. chantgirl says:

    Sawyer- I would be interested to see data on that question. My hunch is that since the NO was designed to bring the Mass closer to Protestant acceptability, that we would see fewer Catholic vocations coming from it than the EF (and probably more laity who would leave for actual Protestant communities since the Protestants do “Protestant” liturgy better than Catholics).

    In my own experience, a NO celebrated with reverence and beauty only whets the appetite for more, and eventually leads to a desire for the EF. A beautifully celebrated NO is almost like a gateway drug to the EF, which may explain some of Rome’s hostility to the FFI and many bishops’ desire to keep the Latin Mass sequestered in territorial parishes. In my direct experience, bishops are much more hostile to diocesan priests trying to say the EF than they are to EF-only parishes (possibly because they think it keeps the “fever” contained).

  6. Imrahil says:

    How about authentically, reverently, beautifully celebrated OF versus EF?

    That is a very good question.
    Nor is it (generally) true that there is not much basis for comparison; I, at least, can name at least two Churches around where I am where that is the certain case, and a large couple more where a Catholic not willing to take issue can well get through without feeling the need to complain.

    The answer (I could give reasons) is that the EF, in itself, is superior to that too. However, we must keep in mind that “inferior” strictly means “inferior”, but not “bad” or “fruitless”.

  7. Imrahil says:

    But, yes, as to what the dear chantgirl wrote: The two OF-Churches I had in mind both have a somewhat overlapping attendance with the EF chapel.

  8. taylorhall95 says:

    Most definitely the Traditional Latin Mass will be the last one standing. The Novus Ordo isn’t even 50 years old yet, and already it is falling apart. Yes, it is a valid form of the Mass and has the same level of intrinsic value as the TLM. But on an extrinsic level, the NO is deficient in so many ways. The Roman Rite of centuries will survive! And we will all thank God that he allowed the suffering of the past 50 years so we can better appreciate the Tradition of the Church!

  9. BrionyB says:

    I agree it may not be the EF per se that leads to the increase in vocations, but rather the greater reverence at Mass, and the fact that the priest and people are behaving as though they actually believe what they say they believe (in contrast to the strange cognitive dissonance experienced at the less-reverent OF Masses, where we supposedly believe in the Real Presence of our Lord and God, yet inexplicably choose to behave as though He isn’t there). What young person would choose to dedicate their life (forsaking marriage, children, career, etc.) to something that no one even seems to believe in in more than a half-hearted way?

    My personal observations are that (1) the most reverent OF Masses tend to be those said by priests who also say the EF; and (2) the more reverent the celebration of the OF becomes (especially once Latin and ad orientem are introduced) the more it becomes clear that you might as well go all the way and have the EF.

  10. Gab says:

    @BrionyB “My personal observations are that (1) the most reverent OF Masses tend to be those said by priests who also say the EF;”

    That has been my experience also. One of the youngest here in Oz to have been ordained a priest, Father Marcus, says the TLM once a month at another parish/ As he is the assistant priest in his own parish, his parish priest won’t allow him to say the TLM there. And yes, when Fr Marcus says the NO mass it is most reverent. Fr is only 29 years old.

  11. LeeGilbert says:

    When we first came out here to Portland in 2008 we discovered a Latin Mass parish, St. Birgitta’s, from which came many vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Based on this discovery, I wrote a letter to the Catholic Sentinel suggesting that the Latin Mass promoted vocations. They published it, and I triumphantly sent a copy to my Carmelite daughter, because her monastery not only had the Latin Mass, but sang all seven offices in Latin.

    Very relevant is the fact that two of the young ladies from that parish were in the same convent with her, a convent overflowing with vocations then and now, the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Valparaiso Nebraska. These young nuns discussed my letter at recreation, and they disagreed with me. Rather, their conclusion was ( attention bishops and directors of vocations!) that for the most part their vocations came from families where the parents read the children bible stories and lives of the saints from a very early age.

    This makes me wonder if it is wholly correct to say, as asserted here, that EF parishes produce vocations. Or is it rather the case that the families who produce vocations tend to gather at traditional parishes? This may seem to be a difference without a distinction, but it is not. If it is rather the family life than the Latin Mass that is producing vocations to the priesthood, then the real focus of those who have the responsibility and apostolate of promoting vocations to the priesthood ( all Catholics, really) should be on promoting the sort of Catholic family life that produces vocations. For one thing, at least in my view it would be far easier and faster to promote a program, let us call it Family Evenings Together, where families ditch the TV and spend their evenings reading good secular and Catholic literature, the lives of the saints and doing some catechism together, far easier to do that than to promote the EF. For one thing, it is far less controversial and would have a broader appeal within the Church.

    My guess, too, would be that this would also be the fastest way to promote the Traditional Mass, for one can hardly read lives of the saints to children without increasing their appetite for all that is holy. In fact, come to think of it, I remember our reading the Cure of Ars to our kids when they were 12 and 10 yrs old. When we read about the processions that St. John Vianney would organize, together with the beautiful liturgies, my son David, age 12, piped up and said, “Boy, we don’t have much, do we?” Well, recognizing that is the first step toward seeking more, and parents who recognize it will seek out a traditional parish. Some of their children will become priests, some nuns, and some excellent parents in their turn. The key, in my opinion, is to transform the way Catholic families spend their evenings.

  12. BrionyB says:

    God bless Fr Marcus, and all the faithful young priests out there.

  13. Greg Hlatky says:

    I suppose the OF Mass can be reverent and dignified. I’ve never been to one like that. My experience has been more “The Father Tom Show, with special guest Jesus Christ,” sappy music and scripture read in a way William Shatner would find over the top. Does the congregation feel more drawn to Christ or are they just getting their weekly entertainment? If the latter, it’s no wonder few vocations result.

  14. Charles E Flynn says:

    Edward Said’s “Orientalism” is one of the most-requested books in many academic research libraries. The other side of the story is often overlooked:

    Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism , by Ibn Warraq

    From the description:

    “This is the first systematic critique of Edward Said’s influential work, Orientalism, a book that for almost three decades has received wide acclaim, voluminous commentary, and translation into more than fifteen languages. Said’s main thesis was that the Western image of the East was heavily biased by colonialist attitudes, racism, and more than two centuries of political exploitation. Although Said’s critique was controversial, the impact of his ideas has been a pervasive rethinking of Western perceptions of Eastern cultures, plus a tendency to view all scholarship in Oriental Studies as tainted by considerations of power and prejudice.

    In this thorough reconsideration of Said’s famous work, Ibn Warraq argues that Said’s case against the West is seriously flawed. Warraq accuses Said of not only willfully misinterpreting the work of many scholars, but also of systematically misrepresenting Western civilization as a whole. With example after example, he shows that ever since the Greeks Western civilization has always had a strand in its very makeup that has accepted non-Westerners with open arms and has ever been open to foreign ideas.”

    Also of interest:

    How Edward Said took intellectuals for a ride, by Gary Kamiya


    Irwin maintains that Said’s thesis is false, the arguments he made for it dishonest, distorted and weak, and his theoretical framework self-contradictory and evasive. He charges that Said engaged in a counterfactual rewriting of history, attacking figures from earlier eras because they did not say or do what Said thought they should have. Said’s entire project, in his view, is “a work of malignant charlatanry in which it is difficult to distinguish honest mistakes from wilful misrepresentations.”

    The author also criticizes Said for inadequate methodology, incoherent arguments, and a faulty historical understanding. He points out, not only Said’s tendentious interpretations, but historical howlers that would make a sophomore blush.

  15. Dismas says:

    I have perhaps the most horrifying image to present to a partisan bishop opposed to the EF:

    How long did the Oath Against Modernism last?

  16. MrsMacD says:

    @LeeGilbert ; this is a very interesting point but I think that it is not so much a distinction without a difference as a part of a whole. Catholic family evenings coupled with reverent liturgy produce vocations. I think of the Martins, St. Therese’s family. They attended Mass every day at 5am, with the servants, and they read Dom Guarange’s Liturgical year every evening, of the children who made it to adulthood all became religious, and, I would hazard, saints. The parents also cultivated an attitude of pursuing perfection in their children, and they cultivated a prayer life.

  17. Sword40 says:

    Fascinating group of observations. Our TLM parish has many of these same stories. We have a newly ordained priest who converted his entire family AFTER he entered the traditional Seminary. He found the TLM by searching for himself.
    My personal experience dates back to the early 1970’s when Fr. Francis Fenton helped to form the Orthodox Roman Catholic Movement. Regretfully that organization destroyed itself. I have fought the fight every year to get a TLM and here we are now with a parish given to us by the Archbishop. We have two priests and our numbers grow each Sunday. Two Masses each Sunday with about 400 folks attending. Our parish is very young and active. Lots of children.

  18. TonyO says:

    Here’s my experience: I lived in fairly conservative parish in the very conservative diocese, Arlington, VA. About a year ago Fr. Pastor re-introduced mass ad orientem for all parish masses. Our parish produced 4 priestly vocations over the past 12 years. That’s out of a roll of something like 1600 families nominally on the books, but in actuality something more like 800 to 1000 families actually belonging to the parish. Not bad, but in reality also not fantastic. It effectively amounts to about 1 priest per 1000 persons (per 12 years).

    We recently drove across the country, and though we had intended to get to a good diocese and parish, that fell through, and we did Sunday mass in just whatever parish was handy, in TN. UGH! Neither the lector nor the cantor could be bothered to put a collared shirt on, both were in jeans and t-shirt. The music was both completely modern and completely unsingable – so naturally nobody was singing it except the cantor and a few die-hards who would probably won’t stop singing until a day or two after they are dead. And (of course) the pastor was not an American, he was imported from elsewhere – because naturally how is a diocese like that to attract vocations?

    On the other hand, I also attended Thomas Aquinas College. For most of its existence (before SP), the mass was an extremely careful, extremely reverent OF mass in Latin. The college has 3 masses a day carefully planned for times when there are no classes, all very well attended (well over 50% of the students attend daily, though there is no requirement to do so). Since SP, the college now has one mass each day in the EF. The college says that approximately 10% of the alumni have gone into the priesthood or religious life. To the best of my knowledge, there may have been a modest uptick in the number of vocations since putting in the EF daily, but not a very substantial one. (Though I do not have access to the data itself.) On the other hand, the number of vocations specifically toward the EF institutes is pretty strong – maybe even higher than the percentage of those who attend the EF consistently versus those who attend the OF consistently? I don’t have the data. But overall, the college’s experience shows that even a thoroughly good and sound OF mass will produce a high rate of vocations.

  19. Kate says:

    While Thomas Aquinas College does have a reputation for producing vocations, I still do not think it can be a considered a “high rate”. Maybe high compared to most other Catholic colleges, but still far below what would be considered “normal”, somewhere between 25% and 33% of the total population, according to the saints I have read. I’m not sure I can name one parish anywhere that has come up to that standard, but I can point out several families.

    While the EF is certainly not a silver bullet, it does support what happens within the home. Even at somewhat reverent OF Masses, I’ve often felt undermined as a parent.

    I also read another article (but where, I can’t remember) that pointed out that when young vocations are asked how when heard the Lord’s call, it was only the EF Mass-goers that ever said, “At Mass.” All others were Adoration, teaching, a good college class, a retreat…. Now, granted most of these never experienced an OF Mass said properly, but still, it is somewhat telling.

  20. Philomena Mary says:

    My parish seems to have several vocations a year – at least four this year that I’m aware of. We’re traditional Mass only, for what it’s worth. Our parish also has a lot of converts and a lot of young families.

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