Why don’t priests follow rubrics? Fr. Z cheerfully rants.


From Fr. John Zuhlsdorf:

My friend Fr. Ray Blake, distinguished p.p. of St. Mary Magdalen in Brighton, has a post sure to prick the consciences of some not yet liberally heart-hardened priests and bishops.

He starts off with a comment about the lack of liturgical continuity from one place to another and that many priests ignore liturgical laws as they please.  He raises the question of whether liturgical renewal is possible.   That is an important question to me, of course.  In my view, no initiative in the Church toward a “new evangelization” or anything else is possible to sustain without a revitalization of our liturgical worship.

That said, Fr. Blake then posts this, in turn from Fr. Gary Dickson… well into his blog entry.  Read the rest there, but… my emphases and comments:

We have spent fifty years ‘advising and encouraging’ clergy at all levels -from Cardinals down to associate pastors and deacons- to follow liturgical norms, but we have had very little success with such exhortations. Why? [I have my own idea.  Let’s see where he goes…] I think because if we were to follow even the norms that are in place now for the Missanormativa of Paul VI, we would have a very different kind of liturgy than we currently have in most parishes[Aaaaaand…?] Some questions we can ask ourselves about the liturgy in our own parish to see if we are following norms or not are the following.  All of these questions should be responded to with a ‘Yes’ if we are following norms; a negative response means we are not following the norms(according to the General Instruction and Redemptionis Sacramentum).

  • Do we ever use Latin for the Ordinary of the Mass? (cf. RS #112; GIRM #41)
  • Do we retain use of the Communion Plate? (cf. RS #93)
  • Do we use Extraordinary Ministers only in exceptional circumstances? (cf. RS #151)
  • Does the celebrant stay within the sanctuary at the Sign of Peace? (cf. RS #72)
  • Do we omit the chalice if the greater proportion of the congregation does not receive from it? (cf. RS #102)
  • Do we allow/encourage Communion kneeling and on the tongue? (cf. RS #92)
  • Do we keep the Church and adjoining rooms quiet before and after Mass? (cf. GIRM #45)
  • Do we omit hymn singing to have an organ voluntary at the end of Mass? (cf. Celebrating the Mass, Bishops Conference of England & Wales, #225)

These may seem paltry things to some, but if they are so paltry, why refuse to follow them? [Getting back to the question, ut supra…] It takes so little to put them into place, other than a sense of humility and obedience.


I return to a long-stated opinion here: if the Novus Ordo were celebrated exactly in accord with the Missal as provided by Pope Paul VI in 1970 in accord with liturgical continuity and the actual decrees of Vatican II, ie., altar-facing (rubric 133) with Latin (Sacrosactum concilium of Vatican II #54,116) and Communion on the tongue while kneeling (1970 GIRM 247) we would see significantly less hostility to the Church’s ancient form of Mass.

Okay.  Let’s drill.

First, one of the reasons why priests and bishops don’t follow the norms is because with the Novus Ordo, there was no longer in the norms published in the missal itself, in the forward or praenotanda, the stern reminder that certain serious faults and flaws in celebration of Mass were mortal sins.

Rubrics and their implications are a matter of moral theology.  The older, pre-Conciliar missal is clear that when a priest violates some points of the rubrics, he commits a sin.

When sin was detached from observance of the norms, priests and bishops – who often have pride problems like everyone else – were off the leash.

I am not talking about slips or momentary lapses. I do not include in this, before someone adds it, genuflecting to the Eucharistic Lord in a tabernacle when passing before it. I am not talking about tiny variations.  I am talking about serious things, such as changing prayers or the form of consecration, purposeful disregard for important points.  I am also talking about seriously confusing the roles of lay people and the ordained.  I am talking about things that can risk profanation of the Eucharist.

The rubrics of the older Mass are a powerful leash indeed.  When a priest obeys the rubrics of the older form of Mass, he is kept under tight control.  He cannot impose too much of himself on the Mass and on the congregation.

On top of that, the mania of turning altars around – in no way asked for or required by the Council – poured gasoline on already fired up priestly pride.  No sin, no leash, plus look at me!  At best, Father felt the huge psychological pressure of all those eyes on him all the time and – even when well-motivated – caved into the suggestion implicit within the new “versus populum” arrangement, that he personally had to take charge or entertain.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since the Council.   We now have really bad liturgical habits far and wide.  Many older priests are set in their ways and won’t change, even though over the last decade or so there have been clarifications and deeper discussions about liturgy.  These guys know they are violating the rubrics as written and they just don’t give a damn. They know better than the “official” Church!

I fear men like that will go to hell.

Another point about that suggestion, above, that were we to celebrate the Novus Ordo in conformity to the norms then resistance to the older form of Mass might fade.

This raises a question.  If the Novus Ordo – the “normative” Mass? – is all the better the more it is faithful to the Roman Rite as it has developed over the centuries, then why don’t we just use the older form?  Perhaps the older form is the true norm, in a broader view.  Rubrics and fidelity to norms are supposed to protect continuity with what we have always done, no?  Except when they don’t, some traddies will point out.

Since I am ranting, …. on my planet,

  • the concept of sin for violation of rubrics would be reintroduced in the praenotanda of even the Novus Ordo
  • De Benedictionibus would never have existed
  • all seminarians would be required to be able to use the older books before I would ordain them (would there even be any newer books on my planet? – a connundrum!)
  • all fortune cookies would have an actual fortune in them instead of a stupid platitude
  • all priests would need to participate in continuing education to learn the older forms if they didn’t know them already  (again, Star Trek like space-time paradoxes enter in)
  • heck, so would bishops for that matter
  • players would have to pay to play for the New York Yankees instead of getting paid
  • Communion in the hand would be banned under pain of suspension a divinis for deacons and priests and, heck, bishops too (remember – this is my planet we are on)
  • there would be latae sententiae excommunication for answering a mobile phone during Mass
  • ad orientem worship would be restored as the norm – allowances made for some few historic Roman churches or odd circumstances
  • etc. according to my whim

We must reconnect in the heads of priests that one day they will die and go to their judgment.  Since the celebration of Mass is perhaps the most important thing priests do,  how they celebrated Mass during life will be part of their judgment.

Fathers, consistently violating important rubrics is sinful.  Your priestly state in life requires that you know the rubrics.  You cannot claim inculpable ignorance.

If you are sincerely a little fuzzy on the rubrics, I implore you to review them and make some changes.  If you are purposely violating important norms, for the love of all that’s holy knock it off.

Have a beautiful rest of your day.

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  1. Andrew says:

    Do the red…say the black. Its pretty simple. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist OR a liturgist to figure it out.

  2. LoveGodAndAsHeLoved says:

    Just learned a Catholic grade school had Living Stations of the Cross in which Blessed Mother, Veronica, other women wore costumes which covered one shoulder and left one completely bare and thus straps showing. The parish priest should oversee those things too.

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