Find the Cost of Freedom?

Fr. Z’s blog called this story to my attention, but you can find the original here, without his “fisking.”

A 72-year-old priest of the Diocese of Belleville has resigned rather than accede to his bishops instruction that he cease from improvising prayers at Mass. It sounds as if this was an ongoing issue stretching back a number of years, but the stakes seem to have been raised with the new translation.

I suspect, however, that other issues were involved. Also, the article is not entirely clear, but it seems as if it is the priest himself who initiated the idea of his resigning, not the bishop.

I’m wondering: have people experienced less improvisation on the part of celebrants since the introduction of the new translation? This has certainly been my experience.

[Addendum: The is an article at that gives some more of the story. It is still unclear to me whether or not the bishop asked for the resignation.]


75 responses to “Find the Cost of Freedom?”

  1. Angela Ackley Avatar
    Angela Ackley

    I can assure you that there is NOT less improvisation in my home parish but rather MORE than prior to the implementation of the new Roman Missal AND it is not good improvisation. Trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear is not an easy maneuver. Those attempting to do this in my area are not skilled enough to carry it through. I’d rather they leave the inferior product inferior.

    1. Brigid Rauch Avatar
      Brigid Rauch

      Quite seriously, are you reading along from a copy of the new missal? In other words, are you certain that the priest is actually adlibbing? Maybe he’s reading exactly what’s on the page, and it really is that bad!

      1. Angela Ackley Avatar
        Angela Ackley

        Actually, Brigid, I am VERY well aware of what the words SHOULD be according to the new Missal. I do have copies and consult them frequently (er, consulted them… the drivel makes me want to vomit!). They are really that bad, I agree, but what is being improvised is worse, FAR worse.

  2. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
    Karl Liam Saur

    There are important voices missing from this, as is typical: what the consensus, if any, of the breadth and depth of parishioners is. It’s hard to tell how much of a lone ranger he is without that context. One problem with clerical discretion is that it tends to repel the disaffected and attract the like-minded, so finding what the broad and deep sense of parishioners (including not only those who have been attracted but also those who’ve been repelled, as well as the likely vast in-between) is more difficult. I have more understanding for priests who don’t lone ranger, but whose work arises from below, from a broad and deep consensus of that sort, which in my experience is rarer than many lone-ranger priests and their fans would prefer to think. Priests come and go, the flock remains; so the flock (and not just samples of the flock, due to problem of selection and confirmation bias that is common in parochial life) should take precedence over lone rangering.

    1. Brigid Rauch Avatar
      Brigid Rauch

      Will the parish be allowed to survive without this priest? Not only is it unlikely that the bishop has any spares standing around, but this priest served this parish without asking any salary, suggesting that it’s a poor parish.

      In my experience, many parishes will tolerate a lone ranger as long as he doesn’t interfere too much with ongoing aspects of parish life and meets certain minimum standards. It’s when the lone ranger decides to become lord of the manor that problems really start!

  3. Jonathan Day Avatar
    Jonathan Day

    The article that Fritz linked to has a poll associated with it. Given the likelihood of another blogger sniffing out the poll and instructing his readers to vote, I thought I would capture the position as of a moment ago:

    Should a priest be allowed to change the words he says during Mass?

    Yes, if it offers better understanding for parishioners. 704 votes (58%)
    No, rules of the church are set by a higher authority than the priest. 472 votes (39%)
    No opinion. 38 votes (3%)

    Total Votes: 1214

  4. Christoph Berchtold Avatar
    Christoph Berchtold

    A liturgist in our diocese says the following: as professor, pastor, homilist etc I have enough possibilities to “influence” people with my personal approach to theology, etc.. Exactly therefore I do not make use of influencing them again by changing the wording of the prayers. As I am just one person, I know my personal and theological limits, and therefore stay away from always making use of “my” possibilities.
    This I find very considerate and convincing.

    1. Brigid Rauch Avatar
      Brigid Rauch

      Just to offer a counterpoint, if one makes the premise that those who chose the words were chosen for their loyalties and/or political acumen rather than theological soundness, wouldn’t one then be obliged to make the appropriate changes?
      It’s all a balancing act.

  5. Bill deHaas Avatar

    The context: the bishop, Braxton, has been shadowed by controversy in this diocese. Some headlines:
    – he spent >$100,000 for his own retro style vestments out of diocesan funds w/o board approval
    – his handling of sexual abuse has led the diocese almost into bankruptcy – for five years his legal team has fought cases spending over $5 mil in appeal after appeal despite his own clerical board asking him to cease and desist. He lost the last appeal case costing the diocese’ additional millions
    – he has angered his board by making unilateral decisions about spending, etc. violating diocesan norms
    – this incident grew so nasty that Cardinal George and other IL bishops intervened and insisted on an outside consulting firm to come in and meet with the bishop and his priests to resolve some of the antipathies
    – Braxton is an extremely poor communicator; tendency to be autocratic and remote – many of the diocesan staff have resigned over the years since his appointment
    – Braxton had the same pattern in his previous assignment in Lake Charles, LA
    – so, removed from the liturgical question (in fact, would argue that the principles of VII allowed for pastoral wisdom to modify some things to meet the needs of the local church), this only continues the “war” between Braxton and his priests
    – it is truly a sad situation (IMO, Braxton is an example of a bishop who has been moved up according to the Peter Principle to get him some place where he has little impact on the church – so, Belleville pays the price)

    1. Brigid Rauch Avatar
      Brigid Rauch

      Why was he “moved up” from Lake Charles if he was already showing such behavior?

  6. Matt Foley Avatar
    Matt Foley

    As if Fr. Rowe is the only priest currently that has been changing the words let alone changing “here and there” how the liturgy is celebrated? Give me a break, he’s not the only priest in the global English speaking world to have done this in the last couple of months.

    1. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

      Which is why I wondered if there weren’t other issues involved.

      1. Emily Kloster Avatar
        Emily Kloster

        Right, it sounded like +Braxton said “Please stop doing that,” and this guy replied “No, I’m only willing to be a priest if I can adlib. I resign.”

  7. Barbara Lowenthal Avatar
    Barbara Lowenthal

    Until holier-than-thou-more-catholic-than-the-pope catholics realize that WE are liturgy, these types of issues continue to unnecessarily plague liturgical progress. Unfortunately, even the bishop of Rome is part of the problem. It’s time for ALL to accept the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. We are the light of the world. We are the salt of the Earth. We are the children of God. The GIRM (as grim as it is) is ONLY a suggested guide. We do not have to do EVERYTHING literally. We celebrate! We believe!

  8. Jack Feehily Avatar
    Jack Feehily

    Once again, we have two differing understandings of what is meant by “as the church believes (and lives), so the church prays.” One understanding comes at it from a canonical perspective: pray the words in black, follow the directions in red. Following the traditions of the scribes and Pharisees, a great many clergy insist this is the only licit (maybe even valid) perspective. But there is another tradition that was followed from the earliest centuries of the church which understood that the presbyter (elder or overseer) gives thanks as he is able to do so when presiding at the Eucharist. Church authorities are always very selective when singling out the bigger “no no’s” and so far some small amendments to the texts to make them more prayable and understandable seems to be well down the page. The folks in charge dutifully point out regularly that “not even a priest……may alter a word”, but have you noticed that with priests being in such short supply the enforcement is less than stringent. I never alter anything that makes perfect sense as is.

    1. Mike Burns Avatar
      Mike Burns

      I think you mean “the law of praying is the law of believing”? I have never heard as the Church believes so it prays when speaking of Liturgy.

      1. Jim McKay Avatar
        Jim McKay

        I am not sure his exact formulation applies here, but Pius XII said it in Mediator Dei:

        Hence the well-known and venerable maxim, “Legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi” – let the rule for prayer determine the rule of belief.[45] But if one desires to differentiate and describe the relationship between faith and the sacred liturgy in absolute and general terms, it is perfectly correct to say, “Lex credendi legem statuat supplicandi” – let the rule of belief determine the rule of prayer.

  9. Paul Inwood Avatar
    Paul Inwood

    I have to say that I have not yet encountered a priest on either side of the Atlantic who is not tweaking the Missal texts, mostly without even being aware of it. Our clergy are sufficiently sensitive to omit the odd word there, or add the odd word somewhere else, in order to aid the flow of these awkward texts; but they don’t realize they are doing it. And this applies even to those who claim they are sticking to every jot and tittle of the prescribed text. It also includes bishops. Trust me — I have been checking with a fine toothcomb.

    If bishops are so flush with priests that they can afford to let them go because of such peccadilloes, then they are living in cloud-cuckoo land. It sounds to me as if Fr Rowe is being made a scapegoat, with the object of bringing other priests into line. A short-sighted policy, but then Braxton is apparently well-known for those.

    I am encountering priests who are tweaking the new texts, who use a mixture of old and new, or who are using, at least in part, ICEL 1998. What was designed to bring unity to celebrations has resulted in the most divisive and un-united mess imaginable. Two parishes in my diocese have not changed anything they were doing before. The 1973 Missal still lives on. In addition, music is highly variable. Many more parishes are using old and new music alongside each other; and one is still using all old music.

    1. Brigid Rauch Avatar
      Brigid Rauch

      What if every priest who finds the new translation to be mush in his mouth entered the sanctuary some Sunday, announced he couldn’t do it, and took a seat to the side? A reverse interdict.

  10. Henry Edwards Avatar
    Henry Edwards

    I must live in some sort of out-of-contact backwater. In attending Masses celebrated by both liberal and conservative priests (ecclessiologically), I’ve yet to hear one depart from the written text by so much as a single word. (Although I don’t carry my Kindle with the new translation with me to Mass, I do study the propers in advance, and am sufficiently familiar with the order of Mass to spot any departure.)

  11. Bill deHaas Avatar

    Fritz – would have to do some digging to find out where this priest is within the diocese pecking order.

    But, here is an article from Rocco Palmo (who never met a bishop he didn’t love) concerning Braxton and his priests barely 8 months into his “reign”:

    Here is a story about the legal fees and the appeals:

    Good overview of the crisis in this diocese – if this priest has been deeply involved, he may be looking for a way to retire and be free:


    – The pastoral crisis in Belleville, where communication has broken down during three years of Braxton’s leadership, is such that on April 17, the third day of Pope Benedict XVI’s U.S. visit, a quarter-page ad appeared in USA Today asking the pope to remove Braxton. The ad, reportedly costing $10,000, was written and paid for by Frank S. Ladner, 81, a Catholic philanthropist from Lawrenceville, Ill.

    A few weeks earlier, in mid-March, 46 Belleville priests, representing about half of active diocesan priests, took the unusual step of signing a letter of no confidence, urging Braxton to resign “for his own good, for the good of the diocese and for the good of the presbyterate.”

    – to an earlier question about why he was moved from Lake Charles: Braxton alluded to priests’ complaints that his appointment to Belleville by a seriously ill Pope John Paul II occurred without their input and over their objections. At the time of the appointment, some 50 area priests protested what they said was a lack of process in a letter addressed to Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, papal nuncio Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, and curia officials in Rome.

  12. J. Thomas Avatar
    J. Thomas

    At some point before Christmas in an exchange with Bill deHaas in this forum I indicated this showdown was on the horizon: linking to the SIAP (southern illinois association of priests) web site and FOSIL (faithful of southern illinois) web site. Already then, it was brandied about that members of SIAP close to, or beyond, retirement age were threatening not to use the new translation. As Braxton is on the USCCB liturgy committee he came out strongly saying all priests, including those in his diocese, would be required to use the new translation unaltered and was threatening punitive action even before the translation came into “force”. This outcome isn’t really news. I did expect more than 1 priest to resign however.

    At the same time I was surprised to see Rev. Myler listed as the diocesan spokesman. He is the pastor of the cathedral, not the vicar general, but desperate to become something more. As it is, he has run away congregants from the cathedral since being appointed, all the while the parish school falters. More notoriously he has overseen the purchase of property around the cathedral to build senior housing with the intention of marketing them as in proximity to a hospital soon likely to close or downsize, saddling the parish, and diocese in an unclear fiscal situation, and unclear contractual obligations with with the IL state HUD program.

    If only those who actually knew what they were doing were ministerial heads of the church…as it is…[chirp chirp – the sound of empty pews].

  13. Michael Cedrone Avatar
    Michael Cedrone

    Fritz, a serious question, if perhaps not directly on-point: Why read Fr. Z at all? In the final sentence of his blog post “hopes” for a “peaceful” resolution to the situation in Belleville, but his “fisking” of the news article is laden with snark, cynicism, and self-righteousness. From my perspective, Fr. Zuhlsdorf does not make a constructive contribution to church life today. I, for one, do not see the value in reading his rantings.

    1. Mary Burke Avatar
      Mary Burke

      Agreed, Michael. I deliberately don’t click on his blog for that very reason. I know he had a wish list at one stage “Not because I want it but because you are asking…..”

    2. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

      Fair question, to which I have a few answers:

      1) like it or not, he has a wide readership and influences people, so it pays to know what he is saying.

      2) whenever I feel like a conservative I can read his blog — especially the comments — and feel like a liberal

      3) it’s like a wreck on the highway from which I, in my moral weakness, cannot avert my eyes

      1. Bill deHaas Avatar

        Thanks, Fritz – loved number three!

      2. Bill Kish Avatar
        Bill Kish

        It is not just me. Thanks for reinforcing my thoughts.

      3. Dr. Dale Rodriguez Avatar
        Dr. Dale Rodriguez

        Fritz, love the “wreck on the highway” comment!
        So true, I never looked at it that way.

        You made my day. God Bless.

      4. Michael Cedrone Avatar
        Michael Cedrone

        Thank you for these thoughtful answers. Number 1 is more true than I care to admit, but I like #3 as well… the fascination of the abomination, so to speak!

  14. Ann Riggs Avatar
    Ann Riggs

    A bit more context: The priest was generally beloved by his parishioners. He lived on his Air Force retirement income and never took a salary. He personally did a lot of the maintenance and repair work. It’s doubtful the parish will survive without that kind of presbyteral subsidy.
    I know a priest in another diocese who didn’t quite extemporize, but who used a Eucharistic prayer of his own. It had all the normative structural elements and nobody minded. He even presided at a parish known for its conservative mindset — and the parish ladies there loved him.
    Keep in mind that there were no books at all until ??? (4th century, I think), and not the same kind of authority in the “official” texts for centuries — even Charlemagne’s attempt at Romanizing the liturgies in his empire by importing Roman books resulted in regional variations.

  15. Mary Wood Avatar
    Mary Wood

    “Why read Fr. Z at all?”

    Read Fr Z to discover a point of view with which you may not be familiar. It may help to clarify your own thoughts and spur you to active response!

    Wikipedia gives some interesting biographical details of Fr Z, and last summer there was an interesting string of comments and questions on this Aussie blog:

    This URL also provides a link to Fr Z’s self description.

    From a similar stable we find a heartfelt blog entry by the chairman of the Latin Mass Society in England, concerning the means of spreading the EF Mass. He advocates a strategy of :”Shock and Awe” rather than steady attrition.

    FRIDAY, AUGUST 12, 2011
    The Reform of the Reform, and a more peaceful alternative

    In his view, it’s WAR.

    1. Brigid Rauch Avatar
      Brigid Rauch

      I find myself unable to read Father Z any more. I e-mailed him to suggest that his remarks suggesting Italian sisters are not capable of lining up candlesticks weren’t very charitable. Ever since, “the page re-directs in two seconds” to a blank page. Evidently, Father Z preaches only to the choir!

  16. Ray MacDonald Avatar
    Ray MacDonald

    On the question of improvisation my limited sample size of 2 (daughter’s parish and my own) says less or little.
    Priest has nose stuck in the Big Book throughout. People in pews who respond do so from pew cards or missalettes.

    1. John Drake Avatar
      John Drake

      Must be some slow learners in your parish, Ray!

      1. Ray MacDonald Avatar
        Ray MacDonald

        I am truly amazed at what you can get people to say if you stick a pew card in their hands and let them read it out loud.

  17. Brigid Rauch Avatar
    Brigid Rauch

    #3 Angela Ackley –

    Thanks for your answer! I was thinking it was possible that the priests were stumbling over the syntax and sounded like they were adlibbing!

  18. Rita Ferrone Avatar
    Rita Ferrone

    I appreciated the reminder of Stephen Stills’ (of Crosby Stills Nash & Young) classic rock song about the Vietnam war, “Find the Cost of Freedom” (which I suspect Fritz is too young to remember!). It sent me looking back for the story of that song and its lyrics. It appeared on the flip side of the single “Ohio” and was subsequently the title of a movie. I guess many people assume it was about the student protesters who were killed at Kent State. But the song predates that event. It’s about the hideous horror of war, the prospect of giving the ultimate sacrifice for one’s country. The lyrics begin with a dream of the Civil War dead ancestors (on the northern side):

    “…All the brave soldiers that cannot get older
    been askin’ after you.

    Hear the past a-callin’ from Armageddon’s side.
    When everyone’s talkin’ and nobody’s listening how can we decide?

    Do we find the cost of freedom buried in the ground.

    Mother earth will swallow you
    Lay your body down.”

    The photographs that appear with this Youtube recording brought back that awful time.

    Nothing relating to the Missal can touch this. Nothing. If anything, I am glad for Fr. Rowe. He has lived and served as he believes he should, and when the time came to choose between betraying his integrity and laying down his pastoral charge, he picked the right thing. He will always be a priest. No one can take that away from him. Yet people try to take away our integrity every day. I don’t know the man, but it sounds like he knows what he’s about. This decision didn’t happen overnight. And it’s not about verbs and nouns.

    1. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
      Jordan Zarembo

      re: Rita Ferrone on February 5, 2012 – 10:00 pm

      He has lived and served as he believes he should, and when the time came to choose between betraying his integrity and laying down his pastoral charge, he picked the right thing. He will always be a priest. No one can take that away from him. Yet people try to take away our integrity every day.

      Integrity resides not only in personal conviction and intent, but also a well formed conscience.

      For years, Fr. Rowe stole from his parishioners. He did not pray an English translation authorized by his bishops’ conference and the Holy See. His parishioners were denied the ability to pray as a church with the Church because he chose not to pray the propers alloted for the church year. A younger priest friend of mine obediently followed the implementation of Summorum Pontificum. He did not sing one note until the first day the motu proprio went into effect, even though he had prepared for that day for years. That is integrity.

      Fr. Rowe’s conviction that lawful liturgical books are merely templates for his extemporization is not in keeping with the doctrine that the Mass is not only a congregational prayer, but also a corporate prayer with the Universal Church. There is no integrity in placing the self above the liturgical intent and thought of the Church. Do not all priests solemnly pledge to follow the authority of their bishop or superior at ordination? I suppose that priests who extemporize at Mass possess an authority higher than apostolicity.

      1. John Drake Avatar
        John Drake

        Hurrah, Jordan!

      2. Jim McKay Avatar
        Jim McKay


        The tradition in our church is that praying with the church means praying with clergy. Ordination authorizes an individual to pray with and for the Church. When Fr Rowe was ordained, people could be assured that his liturgies were the Church’s liturgies.

        Alongside ordination, texts developed. When printing came about, it was possible to imagine every priest acting in a uniform manner with identical texts. This is important, but it is nowhere near as central to Catholicism as ordination. By printing, a text is sent; by ordination, the Holy Spirit is sent. I have little trouble deciding which is more important.

        For your comments to be true, you would have to know that his bishop did not authorize him to use the text as a malleable template for liturgy. His current bishop apparently does not, and Fr Rowe’s resignation might be read as standing up for the tradition he received when he was ordained. That tradition goes back 2000 years, much longer than the tradition that priests must use a uniform text.

      3. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
        Jordan Zarembo

        Jim McKay on February 6, 2012 – 3:25 pm

        Jim: […] Fr Rowe’s resignation might be read as standing up for the tradition he received when he was ordained. That tradition goes back 2000 years, much longer than the tradition that priests must use a uniform text. (my ellipsis)

        Jim, you are entirely right that for the majority of Christian history some degree of improvisation and liturgical variety was the rule, not the exception. Even so, pre-Reformation liturgical development likely developed alongside well-trodden cultural, liturgical, and theological folkways passed through generations of clergy. A priest might improvise, but a successful and durable innovation would probably fall within an accepted improvisational spectrum.

        Christians of both the Roman and Reformation traditions have prayed liturgies and sung liturgical music from printed material for about the past 500 years. Perhaps many liturgical Christians expect a relatively high degree of correspondence between the printed liturgy and the liturgical celebration. In what way could western Christianity shatter the bonds of the printing press and its expectations? Could a middle ground between improvisation and standardized liturgical variety, such as the use of liturgical software as a component of liturgical planning, respect both the pre- and post-printed historical stages of liturgical celebration?

        Perhaps “stole” was too strong a characterization of Fr. Rowe’s deviations from the missal. Such is my blustering manner, unfortunately. The printed paradigm is, for now, the dominant expectation. Until there is a broad realization of the pre-typeset improvisational tradition, the sensibilities of those who think within the printed paradigm should be respected.

      4. Jim McKay Avatar
        Jim McKay


        I suppose the issue I am raising is the classic letter vs spirit one, as in the letter brings death, but the Spirit gives life. 2 Cor 3:6. The demand for a uniform standard was not invented by printing.

        The Catholic Church has a well known position on this. Scripture alone does not suffice, but must be read in the context of Tradition. This “with the mind of the Church” type of thinking is enacted by the gift of ordination. This, and not the text, is what has always validated liturgy.

        I believe it is best to stick to the text, just like I obey the 10 commandments. And improvisation may indeed impoverish people, keeping them from riches God has in mind for them. But the Spirit given at ordination is at the heart of validation and tradition. So I may not disagree with you much on this issue. I just think the text needs to be viewed alongside nd subordinate to the Spirit.

    2. Sean Parker Avatar
      Sean Parker


  19. Jonathan Day Avatar
    Jonathan Day

    My guess – and I invite correction from those with a solid knowledge of liturgical history – is that the idea of a rigid, ‘say the black and do the red’ approach to the liturgy, with laypeople following in their missals, ready to report the priest if he deviates from text or rubric by a jot or a tittle, is in fact very modern, not traditional at all. Would Pius V have been able to promulgate the Tridentine Missal without moveable-type printing, developed about 100 years earlier? Would today’s liturgical police be able to function without the internet?

    I agree with Jordan that the faithful are entitled to pray with the Church, to have a Mass we can enter into without worrying what the priest is up to. But minor improvisations don’t bother me. One very holy and faithful priest always prays, ‘May the body and blood of Christ keep us all in eternal life’ – rather than ‘May the Body of Christ keep me safe for eternal life.’ Even in Latin, he says nos rather than me. Nobody has complained.

    If there is to be ‘organic development of the liturgy’ – as opposed to the ‘development by committee’ so despised by traditionalists, then some improvisation is not only inevitable, it is a good thing, and in fact is very traditional.

    To Fritz’s question: I have rarely seen much large-scale improvisation, with the old translation or the new. I have seen a lot of small-scale improvisation. The level of this has remained constant, in my experience. The need to attend to an unfamiliar text has focused priests’ attention on the words of the new missal, reducing their ability to improvise. But at the same time, many priests are quietly modifying texts that are simply incomprehensible, or splitting sprawling sentences.

    I see a lot of dodgy rubrical improvisation, especially in traditionalist and reform-of-the-reform parishes – removing the chasuble during the homily, for instance, because ‘it is not part of the Mass’.

    1. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
      Jordan Zarembo

      re: Jonathan Day on February 6, 2012 – 5:46 am

      I agree Jonathan that improvisation is very traditional when innovations stem from previous local parish or monastic liturgical developments. For example, one might say that Trent’s drastic reduction in the number of sequences, as well as the suppression of the medieval tradition of abundant liturgical tropes, curtailed an era of liturgical locality which greatly enhanced worship. The insertion of the names of rulers or a litany of local saints into the Canon set improvisation within the greater framework of the local social hierarchy as well as local popular piety.

      Also, before the rise of seminaries and the printed word, many secular priests learned their “trade” in apprenticeships. Not a few of these trainee priests were illiterate or functionally illiterate. In this case errors were likely made through ignorance, and not the improvisation of an individual literate priest.

      There is a fine line between medieval tropic traditions and an individual priest’s “do it yourself” approach to Mass propers outside of any greater improvisational tradition. Local tradition can take two paths: rejection through strict adherence to rubrics, or a localized innovation developed through online or real-life consensus which is eventually folded into licit Church practice over time. The latter process of regional variation turned licit option is quite different than unilaterally initiated clerical changes.

      1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
        Karl Liam Saur

        Also, improvisation is different in an era when the participation by people in the pews is part and parcel of the ritual. In a former era, where participation was delegated to an elite, improvisation was more readily engaged (and critiqued) within the elite (priest, deacon, subdeacon, acolytes, schola/choir). Today, if people in the pews question an improvisation, it’s often dismissed as scrupulosity, rigorism or an undesirable restraint on the priest’s own creative powers. One of the consequences of bringing the people back into the ritual is that improvisation needs to be at least as amenable to critique and restraint from below as it is from above. Bringing the people back in means less, not more, freedom for clerics, especially in terms of increased accountability.

  20. Glenn McCoy Avatar
    Glenn McCoy

    Thanks, Rita, for the clarifying image. Some in this thread have called obedience their guiding value in this ongoing struggle. Integrity seems to me to be an excellent counterbalance. Both are genuine values; neither ‘side’ is ‘the enemy.’ For some fortunate souls dealing with this current issue in the church, obedience and integrity overlap, and all is well. For others the two are are, to some extent at least, mutually exclusive.

    When a person is wrestling with questions of personal integrity versus obedience to ‘Mother Church’ there is pain, and all the invective and name-calling aren’t helping. And you are right- it’s not about verbs and nouns. The transcendent and universal God that we worship is also the imminent and very personal God who dwells within each one of us. We are called to be true to what is universal and also true to ourselves. God be with all of us as we labor to sort it out.

  21. Bill deHaas Avatar

    Here is a story based on an actual interview with Fr. Bill Rowe:

    Note – Fr. Rowe does not take a diocesan salary but lives on his prior federal retirement fund as a chaplain.

    This helps a lttle in terms of Fr. Rowe not needing to depend upon the bishop for current compensation, housing, or retirement. Interesting (unlike most priests) what happens when an ordained minister no longer has to worry about his livelihood or be dependent upon a bishop for security.

  22. Claire Mathieu Avatar
    Claire Mathieu

    Finally I think that it is right to reach out to those most attached to the EF Mass: they should be encouraged to stay in the family of the church.

    I agree, and think that it would also be right to reach out to those most attached to the improv OF Mass: they should be encouraged to stay in the family of the church.

    What a big family!

    1. Sean Parker Avatar
      Sean Parker

      But who are more welcoming of the others?

      By that I mean, are traditionalists more or less likely to tolerate the use of the OF (improvised or not) by those who wish to use it, as progressives would be to tolerate the use of the EF, by those who wish to use that form?

      1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
        Karl Liam Saur

        I would say that neither traditionalists nor progressives are monolithic. There are wings of each camp that have a very well developed raft of rationalizations to begrudge the other, and there are other wings that are quite happy to live and let live. I would not wager odds that one wing is notably more dominant at one pole than the other, for that matter, so I would not chalk up a win or a loss for either side on this point.

    2. Claire Mathieu Avatar
      Claire Mathieu

      For a long time traditionalists were not tolerated. Now they are taking their revenge. They have the backing of those in power and take advantage of it to bully others. They have been frustrated for many years, and now it’s payback time. Their triumph is ugly, but frankly, I am not positive that it’s related to their approach to liturgy. Also, the ones we hear about are the loudest, the internet amplifies their vociferations, but they might not be representative of their group at large.

      In Judaism there are several branches, conservative, orthodox, and liberal. Each branch has prejudices about the others. There is a basic conflict between the universal world view of progressive Jewish people, and the particularistic attitude of many Orthodox Jews. But the writings underpinning their faith offer a much more nuanced both/and view, presenting Jewish people as both unique and with a mission of love for all people and of involvement in the world and in social justice issues.

      1. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
        Jordan Zarembo

        Claire Mathieu on February 7, 2012 – 7:13 am

        Their [the traditionalists’] triumph is ugly, but frankly, I am not positive that it’s related to their approach to liturgy. (my addition)

        I’m inclined towards the opposite view: traditional triumphalism is in a very large part predicated on entrenched liturgical viewpoints.

        Earlier in this thread I lambasted Fr. Rowe as a thief for not exactly following the missal. I later moderated my view after Jim McKay rightly pointed out that liturgical standardization is a post-printing press phenomenon. My mindset has been fixed into a standardized view of liturgy that has blinded me to the fact that liturgical micromanagement is a relatively new phenomenon. An insistence on uniformity and ritual absolutism has already wounded our rite once before.

        “Liturgical deregulation” will only work as a coalition project. If the Anglophone world wishes to have five liturgies in circulation at once (1973 trans, 2010 trans, EF, Anglican rite, plus typical OF in part or whole), then the different “parties” of the Roman Rite must both respect the distinction between communities and display a willingness to occasionally worship with one another. Given the clerical shortage in North America, a priest might have to intone the asperges me one Sunday at one church and enter to a praise hymn at another church next Sunday. I heavily doubt that this level of cooperation will come to pass in my lifetime.

      2. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
        Jordan Zarembo

        Jordan Zarembo on February 7, 2012 – 10:35

        I later moderated my view after Jim McKay rightly pointed out that liturgical standardization is a post-printing press phenomenon.

        Since then, Jim has clarified his position. My previous statement is a distortion. While unintentional this distortion nevertheless highlights my fixation on text rather than the Holy Spirit who is present at the ordination.

        Jim is right to stress the priority of the Holy Spirit in ordination. I read his comments as an admonition. The Spirit and the liturgical text work together, and not as independent variables. In some ways Jim’s thoughts meld with my view that liturgical coexistence takes place only through cooperation. A priest who says “I am an EF priest” or a layperson who says “I am an OF Catholic” neither heeds the Holy Spirit acting in ordination in the first instance or the power of the Holy Spirit to unite us in worship.

      3. Jim McKay Avatar
        Jim McKay

        Admonition? From me?

        I often write when I have a sense of something, but not a clear idea. Writing helps me clarify. That process means I sometimes overemphasize one side.

        But I do not mean to admonish. I often write to you because I see you putting pieces together thoughtfully. I hope your construction helps me understand my own ideas and how they fit with others.

        I know I should end this note with an admonition, but all I can come up with is
        Never take anything I say as admonishing.

      4. Mitch Powers Avatar
        Mitch Powers

        I consider myself a Traditionalist at this point even though I grew up with the NO Mass and still attend it on occasion, although I prefer and attend more often the EF. And although I can not speak for everyone in the Traditionalist circles I can certainly say I do not view my preference for the EF Mass to be vengeful or bullying. Your comment seems to lump a whole group of people into a generalized, hostile group, bent on revenge and payback. Please give the benefit of the doubt to those of us who have no gripes which the Pauline Missal when celebrated with dignity and reverance. There really are a few of us who simply stumbled upon the EF Mass and prefer for a myriad of reasons.

  23. Mary Burke Avatar
    Mary Burke

    Ms Castro writes:

    “We need to pray the words of the Mass as the Church has given them to us, not as we would like to use them.”

    How have you discovered that this is what people need? And

    “As for the 1998 ICEL, it was soundly rejected by the Holy See. That being the case, why bother using something that Rome voted down?”

    Because the Mass is too important to be concerned with the machinations of a dysfunctional Roman organisation of unelected officials, which doesn’t have an apostolic mandate unlike each bishop in his diocese. This is especially the case when one remembers that under a CEO who was a confidant of the Chilean dictator, Pinochet, the ordering of responsibilities determined by Sacrosanctum concilium was reversed without even the batting of an eyelid.

    That action ought to be reversed first of all.

  24. Brigid Rauch Avatar
    Brigid Rauch


  25. Susan Roll Avatar
    Susan Roll

    “Being prodded by priests to change the words of the Lectionary because of inclusive language certainly goes against one’s conscience.”

    Hmmm, I would have said exactly the opposite: that the use of language that identifies the normative human person as male not only violates my conscience (and that of many) but is simply not reality.

    1. Mary Burke Avatar
      Mary Burke

      “Susan, we all came from the body of Adam. We are all one flesh.”

      Is your interpre tative approach to scripture a fundamentalist and literalist one?

      You may not need to have language changed. You are entitled to that view. My fear would be that you might wish to have that imposed on others. The peevish nature of your comment (for example, the expression “misguided notion” which you attribute to those who do not agree with you) suggests that you might.

  26. Mary Burke Avatar
    Mary Burke

    Thank you , Jeffrey! Remind me that I owe you one.

  27. Mary Burke Avatar
    Mary Burke

    Ms Castro, your split infinitive was enough to convince me where your tastes lie.

  28. Jacques Crémer Avatar
    Jacques Crémer

    A petition for Father Rowe at The comments certainly do not describe him as a firebrand.

    1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur

      Well, the only comments can be from people who signed, so there’s a selection bias problem…

  29. Mary Burke Avatar
    Mary Burke

    “Ms. Burke, we do come from the one flesh of Adam, whether you choose to believe that or not.”

    Senora Castro, if you believe that the second creation narrative in Genesis, the one with the talking serpent is historical or factual, then I think no amount of conversation here on PT or elsewhere is likely to provide either enlightenment or insight.

  30. Glenn McCoy Avatar
    Glenn McCoy

    Maybe we need to agree on what we mean by “the Church”. Is it just the hierarchy? The People of God? The Communion of Saints, past and present, living and dead? To whom and through whom does the Spirit speak? The Pope alone? Scripture alone? Doctrine alone?

    We are all (including the Pope) humble parts of one Body of Christ, much bigger than any individual, spanning time and space but incomplete without each individual. If we dismiss “the particular” we lose the whole.

    1. Mary Burke Avatar
      Mary Burke

      Once again Ms Castro you display a less that adequate understanding of history.

      It wasn’t until the time of Irenaeus of Lyons, that is, in the final thrid of the second century, that the church adopted a monarchical style of government, thereby mimicking the imperial system.

      In order to “sell” this form of government, Irenaeus had the bright idea of making it appear as if this system had been there from the beginning. So he fabricated a list from Peter to his own day. Victor, the 14th on the list is considered to be the first of the monarchs to have operated under this new style. See Eamon Duffy’s “Ten Popes who shook the World”

      In short the title “vicar of Christ” is an anachronism in these two centuries.

      It may not fit your schema but it’s there by consensus of academic historians.

    2. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur


      Of course, any historian worth his or her salt would acknowledge that Catholics are utterly free to disagree with that interpretation of what facts there are, which interpretation can’t bind them.

    3. Samuel J. Howard Avatar

      It may not fit your schema but it’s there by consensus of academic historians.

      Because “academic historians” in this sentence is being defined as “those who agree with this consensus.”

  31. Mary Burke Avatar
    Mary Burke

    Ms Castro your model of obedience, like your grasp of history and liturgy are woefully inadequate.

    On a number of occasions here you have referred to “the Church” when it is the dysfunctional organisation of non-elected officials you have in mind.

    1. It is we who are the church.

    2. Obedience, as a religious virtue is primarily concerned with discernment. In Hebrew, Greek and Latin it means to listen to the voice of. Your are confusing this with military obedience which was castigated at Nuremberg.

    3. For centuries, the prayers used at the gathering of Christians to celebrate the eucharist were improvised ad libitum.

    1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur

      And for centuries, one post-baptismal sin would put you out with the penitents, or worse. Just because something was once done in the early Church means it worth bringing back…

  32. Tom Kostrzewa Avatar
    Tom Kostrzewa

    Maybe some folks might think that a word change here and there in the Roman Missal (in places where “these or similar words” is not listed as an option) is okay. Perhaps others may think that tailor-making the liturgy to suit a misguided (but, well intended) need to ensure that “all are welcome” is justified. When we start doing that to the liturgy, we might fall into the trap of the sin of pride, which was what led to the fall of man. We think that we know better than the Church. We begin to lose humilty and wind up thinking that the Mass is all about ourselves than about God. At this point, we begin to tread on dangerous waters

    Wowza, there’s a whole lot in this post. With regard to the main post that started this thread, I wonder exactly how much Fr. Rowe was extemporizing and where. Was it in the words of institution, the collects, the canon or the creed?
    While I can’t speak for other denominations (aka ecclesial communities) I do know that within the Presbyterian Church (USA) there is an option for an extemporaneous praying of the Great Thanksgiving (think Canon or Eucharistic Prayer) not to mention the fact that there are at least eight Great Thanksgivings to choose form, as well as proper Thanksgivings for the various seasons of the church year. There is one that has its roots in the Roman canon (imagine that!) as well as the Alexandrine Liturgy of St. Basil, another a translation of the ancient eucharistic prayer of Hippolytus as well as one prepared by ICEL pre Vox Clara. (Feel free to cheer or hiss, depending on which side of the church you sit on – hehehe.)
    As for the comment regarding “all are welcome” and seeing that as a critique…..hmmm, tax collectors and sinners were drawing near to Jesus to listen to him….Jesus looked with pity/compassion on the person with leprosy and touched him (possibly her?) and IMMEDIATELY that person was healed.

  33. Tom Kostrzewa Avatar
    Tom Kostrzewa

    Opps, ran out of space…..As for the sin of pride leading to the downfall of “MAN” – I wonder what led to the downfall of women.
    And for the comment “we think we know better than the church” – try selling that to anyone who has been sexually abused by a priest, or their families, or knows about the denial and cover up by “the church” and the “stellar” way they have been treated by the institutional church and see how that flies. Jesus never calls us in the Gospels to be naive – like little children, yes, but also wise. Humilty has its righful place before God – God is God and we are not – and obedience is all about listening to and discerning God’s will – not the political machinations of the Roman Curia and those who influence it. I think the holy Rule of St. Benedict gives us lots to think about in terms of leadership (the role of the abbot) as well as the members of the community (the monks.) Even the chapter on “When a monk is commanded to do Impossible things” (chapter 68) has a bearing on obedience. We’re Chrisians, not Marines when it comes to obedience.
    One final note – I surely hope we are not returning to the days when a priest could commit about 25 mortal sins by not “saying” mass properly – extending his hands too far – or not enough – praying too loudly, not holding his fingers properly, etc. Tom K.

  34. Brigid Rauch Avatar
    Brigid Rauch

    “And for centuries, one post-baptismal sin would put you out with the penitents, or worse. Just because something was once done in the early Church means it worth bringing back…”,

    Wasn’t the post baptismal sin in question the public denial of Christ and/or betrayal of other Christians?

    Also, aren’t you describing a stage in the evolution of the sacrament of penance? The understanding of sacraments as having evolved (or possibly still evolving!) is quite different from the notion that everything done in the pre-Vatican II Church was done that way because that’s how Jesus told the apostles to do it!

    1. Samuel J. Howard Avatar

      Wasn’t the post baptismal sin in question the public denial of Christ and/or betrayal of other Christians?

      No. Many sins were treated that way.

      Also, aren’t you describing a stage in the evolution of the sacrament of penance? The understanding of sacraments as having evolved (or possibly still evolving!) is quite different from the notion that everything done in the pre-Vatican II Church was done that way because that’s how Jesus told the apostles to do it!

      Mary Burke was appealing to the historical practice of priests improvising prayers. Karl’s response has nothing to do with an idea of “everything done in the pre-Vatican II Church was done that way because that’s how Jesus told the apostles to do it!” Instead, he was pointing out that the practice was one that development had done away with, just like the public penances of the early Church.

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