ASK FATHER: How to suggest more Latin and Gregorian Chant in a Novus Ordo Parish without being annoying?

From a reader…


How do you suggest a layman approach the question of getting more Latin used in a NO mass (or even of suggesting a traditional mass) without coming off as though I am telling the priest how to do his job because I know better, or without coming off as a “‘Can I speak to the manager” type? Since you are a priest, I thought you could give some insight as to how to not annoy a priest with a “suggestion” that looks like a complaint.

Some context, if it is helpful:

My parish is small, Novus Ordo, and mostly of the boomer generation (though fairly mixed racially—we are in BC, Canada). The demographic sinkhole you’re talking about is gaping: my wife and our baby are I think the only young family at this parish.

We recently got a new priest, a convert, fairly young, and really a good one. It’s precisely because I like the guy that I don’t want
to come off as a complainer.

In any case like most NO parishes not a word of Latin is spoken in the entire mass, not even for the Sanctus or Gloria. The music is all English as well—Gregorian chant certainly does not hold pride of place. My understanding is that this is just how they have “always” done things.

My dream of dreams would be to get this guy to offer a Latin mass, but I don’t know how he’d respond to it. But in the short term I would at least like to see some more traditional elements in the NO masses.

If relevant, our Coronavirus status is that literally everything is allowed to operate here except churches. (I know). Our churches do distribute the Eucharist after mass.

I had thought of mentioning that I am the Latin teacher at a local traditional Catholic school as a way of introducing the idea, but was not sure if that would be likely to help.

Thank you for your time, Father.


Each situation will have to be handled differently – one size does not fit all. Being a Latin teacher at a Catholic school, you have a couple good openings. “Father, I was teaching my students about the rich treasury of Latin prayers the Church has. Would you be interested in coming to the class some day and talking to the students about that? I’d love, someday, for my students to be able to experience Latin in the liturgy. It’s been so meaningful to me when I’ve been able to experience it.”

Father, being relatively young, and relatively new to the parish is probably going slow, which is usually a good thing. He might not be interested himself (which would be sad, but is a reality with some young priests) or, more likely, he’s gauging the parish before making any changes. If the predominant demographic, and the zeitgeist has been the aging boomer crowd, things may have to move very slowly, at least at first. If, as you say, there’s a racial mix (being Canada, I’m going to assume it’s a mix of anglophone, francophone, European, Asian, and perhaps First Nations?) bringing up Latin might be a way to bridge the cultural divide.

In presenting an idea to the pastor, take into account the fact that he’s probably overwhelmed with work already. Anything that sounds like more work for him is likely going to get a look of fear on his face. “Father, I was wondering if I could help you out in any way? Do you need adult male servers, or men to recruit and train the altar boys? I’d be happy to take that on!” That goes much further than, “Father, we don’t have enough servers, and the altar boys are clearly not doing a good job, when are you going to do something about that?” Similarly, “Father, I don’t have a great voice, but I can do some Gregorian chant. Would you like me to see if I could pull together a schola and maybe add some music to the daily Mass?” would be better than, “Father, why don’t we have any Gregorian chant at Mass? When are you going to do something about it?”

Get to know him before offering any suggestions. Offer to have him come over to dinner, to bless your house. Wait for awhile until you know what his thoughts are on things before employing a full court press. Brick by brick and all, but before you even buy the bricks, you have to make sure the site will hold a building, everything is level, there’s a decent foundation in place, and all the appropriate permits are in order. Father, being a convert, and having gone to seminary in Canada, will probably not have had a whole lot of exposure to traditional liturgy (or, he may have – you have to get to know him first). He may be hostile, apathetic, curious, intrigued, eager, or oblivious. Your strategy should be different depending on who he is and what his thoughts are. Play the long game.

Depending on the situation, it might be best not to go directly to the priest at first. Is there someone in charge of music at the parish? Is there <shudder> a liturgist on staff? Approaching them, usually in a non-threatening manner might be a good first step. “Hi, Judy. What an up-tempo version of ‘Lord of the Dance’ at the Offertory today! Where do you get your ideas for music choices?” (If she says, “Oh, I subscribe to Modern Liturgy,” or “At this wonderful workshop last year with Marty Haugen…” or “I usually go to the LA Religious Ed Conference,” you’re not going to get anywhere, so smile and walk away.

Fr. Z adds:

Fr. Ferguson’s suggestions are good.   You have to assess your particular situation.  There isn’t going to be a “one size fits all” strategy.

That said, it occurs to me that if you were to have a schola already formed and singing well before you go to the priest, that might be helpful, especially if the schola is good.

Perhaps you could build up a schola cantorum and start singing together for a while.  Get good.  Learn really well a few of the useful Masses.   There are good resources, such as HERE and HERE.  Get comfortable with reading the notation, pronouncing the Latin, and get those good Gregorian dynamics in place (so often ignored, to the detriment of all).

I am imagining a scenario along the lines of, “Hey Father, come into the church.  We have something to show you.”  And when he enters, start up with the Introit for the coming Sunday’s Mass.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    It all starts with a QUALITY person filling the role of director of liturgical music. We have a 30 something convert at my parish with a voice capable of singing chant and polyphonic hymns. After coming from a NO parish, and myself a convert and choir member, I know firsthand the learning curve to sing chant well but it’s not an insurmountable feat. I was told that before our current pastor, the choir loft housed a drum set. Imagine St Paul outside the wall with a drum set pounding out beats to Go Make a Difference! Gag. The incorporation of chant and polyphony from our extraordinary form Masses to the NO Masses took some time, but not much. Printing a guide to liturgical music helped explain the changes to parishioners and it helped my family realize that not all music in the hymnals is suitable for Mass. Hire qualified music directors, educate the populace, and be persistent yet patient.

  2. AmandaL says:

    “That said, it occurs to me that if you were to have a schola already formed and singing well before you go to the priest, that might be helpful, especially if the schola is good.

    Perhaps you could build up a schola cantorum and start singing together for a while. Get good. Learn really well a few of the useful Masses.”
    Years ago we did something much like this. We had a few friends over each week and learned some chant, hymns in parts, and easy polyphony just for our own enjoyment. Not so very long afterwards, the choir director took a position at a different parish, and we were able to step in with some basic but nice music ready.

    Perhaps also, you could teach your students some Latin chant/polyphony, and ask Father to say Mass for the school so they could sing the pieces there. If you’ve sold the kids on the Latin and the music, Father might be moved by their enthusiasm.

  3. JTH says:

    Back in the 70’s, I remember as a kid the NO Mass was celebrated in Latin not so infrequently.

    Not at all today.

  4. Pingback: THVRSDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  5. APX says:

    I would also wait until after the restrictions are lifted and things start getting back to normal before broaching the subject. Right now public Masses aren’t permitted in BC, let alone group singing. Priests are busy dealing with other things right now.

  6. APX says:

    I will pass along one helpful resource for getting chant started. We still can’t have more than one singer, but our bishop only allows the antiphons to be sung. No hymns, etc. The Diocese posted a great resource of all the different resources online for various musical versions of the antiphons in varying degree of skill level.

  7. JakeMC says:

    I can speak to the suggestion of getting a schola together and presenting well. We did that in my NO parish; while some of the boomer-aged congregation actually got quite angry over, overall it was very well received. In fact, attendance at the Mass at which we sang eventually became better than at any of the others. Eventually, Father began introducing some of the Latin responses into the NO Mass, and the congregation actually learned the responses. I think he was working toward doing the NO entirely in Latin, but he never got the chance; age and ill health eventually took him from us.

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