The wonders of Canon 87

I’ve been, as I am sure you have, watching the reactions of bishops in the wake of Francis’ Plessy v. Ferguson document Traditionis custodes.

BTW… do become a Custos Traditionis (HERE) and don’t forget the Novena to St. Ann (HERE).

In general bishops – mostly gobsmacked by this document, which gives them “power” (which the want) but makes them the target for displeasure (which they don’t) – are saying “Keep going the way you are going while we study this.”   That doesn’t mean that another shoe won’t drop.  And some shoes will drop sooner than others and some of them wrong side up.

However, I am pleased that some are citing can. 87, which I wrote about on the very day TC was extruded into the world.

Can. 87 §1. A diocesan bishop, whenever he judges that it contributes to their spiritual good, is able to dispense the faithful from universal and particular disciplinary laws issued for his territory or his subjects by the supreme authority of the Church. He is not able to dispense, however, from procedural or penal laws nor from those whose dispensation is specially reserved to the Apostolic See or some other authority.

§2. If recourse to the Holy See is difficult and, at the same time, there is danger of grave harm in delay, any ordinary is able to dispense from these same laws even if dispensation is reserved to the Holy See, provided that it concerns a dispensation which the Holy See is accustomed to grant under the same circumstances, without prejudice to the prescript of can. 291.

Hence, a diocesan bishop can dispense from disciplinary laws, both universal laws and those particular laws made by the supreme ecclesiastical authority (read: Supreme Pontiff) for his territory and his subjects provided they are not reserved to the Apostolic See or deal with procedure or with penal law.  Since the provisions of TC is disciplinary law, and has not been reserved to the Apostolic See, the diocesan bishop is free to dispense from the norms.

Can. 87, my friends.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Father, I suspect you may have already seen this . . . but I thought you might want to link to, or post and comment about, a statistical investigation done by on July 19 concerning the frequency of Extraordinary Form Masses in the U.S. it is titled “How extraordinary is the Extraordinary Form? The frequency of the ‘usus antiquior’ “, and can be found at

    Here is the interesting introduction:

    “ The motu proprio Traditionis custodes has been discussed extensively in some Catholic circles and prompted a variety of responses from bishops.

    It has also left some people wondering how many American Catholics actually attend Mass in the Extraordinary Form.

    At The Pillar, we decided to find out. And while we couldn’t quantify the number of Catholics who actually attend the Extraordinary Form, we did learn a few things worth noting.

    There is no central registry of all Masses said in the United States or in the world. While the Church is a world-wide institution with the pope at its head, individual parish, oratories, chapels, and religious houses are responsible for setting their own Mass schedules. But there is a crowd-sourced resource called the Latin Mass Directory, which was founded as a lay initiative to make publicly available the times and locations of Extraordinary Form Masses throughout the world.

    The Pillar tested a sample of the directory’s listings and found them to correlate with 80% to 90% accuracy to the schedules of Extraordinary Form Masses listed on linked U.S. church websites; making it a credible and the best available resource of scheduled Masses in the Extraordinary Form.”

    All the best, David

  2. ajf1984 says:

    As I was reading through His Excellency Bishop Paprocki’s declaration, invoking can. 87, a frightening thought came to me: if their Lordships who are sympathetic to the usus antiquior can utilize this canon to provide a dispensation from Traditionis custodes in their dioceses, is it possible that some others who are not friendly to the Mass of the Ages used the same provision to effectively negate Summorum Pontificum? And, should, Deo volente, TC be rescinded by the Supreme Legislator, could that very rescission be dispensed with by some Bishop who wants to keep the lid on the Extraordinary Form? Wheels within wheels…

  3. Charivari Rob says:

    Serious question: Since this law is directed firstmost to bishops – granting them some authority to regulate the EF in their respective dioceses while defining the standards under which they are to do so – how can they dispense themselves from its requirements?
    Unless it was actually impossible for a bishop to permit the EF as specified (I’m imagining a diocese with no spare churches, no chapels/oratories/shrines, literally nothing but parish churches which are all in use) .. I think I recall you saying more than once that the law doesn’t require the impossible – I could see that as justification for a dispensation

  4. Bthompson says:


    Maybe not invoking canon 87 per se, but that IS pretty much what a number of bishops did or tried to do throught the era of SP: declaring that his priests still needed to ask for permission (at least for public Masses), and/or require that he be informed but then respond to such informing missives with an “I’d REALLY rather you didn’t…” (cue ominous music) response letter and/or an assertion that the lay request was somehow defective such that SP could not be invoked.

  5. Jim Dorchak says:

    As they say, “The devil is in the details” . Sometimes for the better.

  6. barryaltarserver1985 says:

    Strange happenings on EWTN, they were supposed to have Cardinals Muller and Burke, plus Robert Royal and Fr Gerald Murray discussing the Pope’s restrictions on the Extraordinary Form, but it looks like the show has been pulled and they’re showing a repeat from 2017, bizarre

  7. David says:

    Dear ajf1984 – surely it’s obvious on the face of TC that allowing bishops to utterly negate Summorum Pontificum and strangle the TLM to death is exactly what TC is for? Surely the appearance of anything less is just face-saving.

  8. Fulco One Eye says:

    Yes. Strange things on EWTN. The show to discuss the destruction of the Tridentine Mass and the recent resignation at the USCCB somehow was canceled and a re-run of the July 4th show was put on. The original show is still on their program schedule but no dice. A bridge too far for the happy clappy Church I imagine.

  9. TRW says:

    FWIW, The aforementioned episode of The World Over is available on YouTube. Maybe it was unavailable in some locales because it was live? Not sure.
    Thankfully, not a few Bishops are refraining from implementing the new Motu Proprio(at least for now). I’m wondering, is a Cathedral considered a parochial church? I honestly don’t know if our diocese even has any churches that aren’t parish/parochial churches.

  10. Part of the problem with the new moto proprio is that it is self-contradictory, at least on its face. (A canon lawyer might be able to explain rational ways to interpret it consistent with existing canon law and tradition better than I.) First, it states that the bishop has “exclusive competence to authorize the use of the 1962 Roman Missal in his diocese, according to the guidelines of the Apostolic See.” That sentence in itself is self-contradictory. “Exclusive” means “admitting no other.” Thus, even before the sentence is finished, it starts undermining the exclusivity that is originally stated. And when we see the word “guidelines” these days, we all know that it really is a cover for absolutism. Granted, we need to interpret these things in the context of 2,000 years of Church history, doctrine, and law– but still, the document itself comes across as something written in a fit of anger by someone who doesn’t think or proof read before posting.

    I also see ajf1984’s comment as being something to give everyone pause. Or as Jesus said, “He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.” We need to be persuasive and convincing in our rational arguments– that is how we will eventually convert the culture and the world. Just as law by itself isn’t going to eliminate abortion or any number of other social problems, neither will it solve our liturgical problems, one way or another.

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  12. Rob83 says:

    As with Ex Corde Ecclesiae and other Roman documents, the bishops who want to implement this document will do so, those who do not will either find some way not to, or do something superficial in deference to it while ignoring it in practice. Funny how fifty years of encouraging the turning of a blind eye to the desire of Rome might become a stumbling block.

    Let’s not forget another old favorite tool available for slow-walking something, the study committee. A number of bishops have said things will stay status quo while studying the new document. It is amazing how long such things can be drawn out by gathering information, scheduling infrequent meetings, postponing due to more pressing business, or starting over from scratch because the committee membership changes or the facts on the ground change.

  13. MrsBridge says:

    If the Extraordinary Form Mass cannot be celebrated in a parish church, where does that leave it? Where else will it find the dignified setting it deserves and needs? Many Protestant congregations start up in shopping center storefronts. That will not work for the EF Mass, of course (which is another blatant sign that the whole point of the TC is to phase it out altogether, and quickly.)

    I’m wondering about the many chapels that exist in hospitals, schools, and colleges. Many of them are very formal and dignified. Might they serve as locations for frequent and regular EF Masses? And if such chapels are too small to handle a large, growing, and enthusiastic congregation, well, maybe wealthy donors will soon step up to build larger ones. (Non-denominational if necessary, but beautiful and solemn.)

  14. mbabc123 says:

    If certain Bishops can ignore canon law on abortion, maybe others can ignore papal law on the Latin Mass?

  15. WVC says:

    @Fulco One Eye – from the Catholic Thing about last night’s EWTN show:

    Friends, the EWTN segment on the pope’s new restrictions on the Traditional Latin Mass – in which Cdls. Burke and Mueller, Fr. Murray, and I appeared – did not air in the regular slot last night (8-9 PM) owing to a technical problem. (The Devil does like his little games.) It did air in its entirely 9-10 PM. If you did not have a chance to watch then, as always, it’s available at the EWTN YouTube channel, which you can access by clicking here. – Robert Royal

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  17. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Might a Bishop establish a fleet of vintage ambulances upon the hoods (UK: bonnets) of which, and a collection of vintage mobile field hospitals within which, the TLM might be celebrated?

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