An Idea for Diocesan “Traditional” Vocations

It has now been 12 years since Pope Benedict XVI issued his document Summorum Pontificum, which clarified that any priest may celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass according to the liturgical books of 1962. The result of this legislation has been a great increase in the number of such Masses celebrated around the world. More than that, there has been the establishment of parishes dedicated solely to the traditional rites. Here in my diocese, we have a parish and a monastery where only the traditional rites are celebrated; another parish has both forms of the liturgy on a weekly basis, besides. Of course, there were already places where the Traditional Latin Mass was celebrated (under indult) before Summorum Pontificum, also.

An interesting result of this historical development is that we now have the phenomenon of young men who grew up primarily attending the Traditional Latin Mass and now sensing a call to the diocesan priesthood. What are they to do?

None of the young men in this circumstance whom I have had the occasion to get to know reject the Novus Ordo (i.e., the Ordinary Form of the Mass) celebrated in the vernacular per se — they recognize that it is a legitimate variation in the life of the Church. It is just not the variation that they prefer. Indeed, it is rather alien to them, since it has not been part of their weekly religious experience for most of their years on this earth.

Are we to reject and effectively export such vocations, channeling them toward the traditionalist religious orders, such as the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter or the Institute of Christ the King, as their only option to answer God’s call? But some of these men feel called to be diocesan priests, serving the Church in the area they grew up in. Is it truly right and just simply to turn them away?

Granted, while the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass has spread greatly in a rather short time, it is not the mainstream in most places. Most dioceses still only have a “need” for a few priests who can regularly celebrate the sacraments in the Extraordinary Form. Yet in these same communities there are often families with numerous children, that might even produce multiple vocations. In other words: there are likely to be a large number of vocations from Latin Mass communities. We need a solution that responds in a just manner to our dilemma.

I have been pondering this dilemma for a few years now and have batted around various ideas that are essentially variations on a theme. Basically, we err if we see diocesan priestly vocations only or primarily in terms of parish work. There are many ways that a priest may serve. I will return to this in a moment. Moreover, Pope Benedict XVI made it clear that there are two forms of the Roman Rite: ordinary and extraordinary; if we expect some men primarily to celebrate in one form, there is no reason we might not expect some men primarily to celebrate in the other.

My idea concerns a process whereby, eventually, a diocesan oratory or a collegiate chapter of canons/collegial church might be established as the place where such men may reside, as the home base from which they may do their priestly work — rather than taking on “regular” parish assignments.

Many dioceses have at least one nice old church with a good-sized rectory that is no longer particularly needed — usually due to demographic shifts. The closure and liquidation of such churches is often a matter of local strife and national news (at least in Church circles). But a bishop might be able to “re-purpose” such a church in order to handle the “problem” of traditional vocations. It seems easiest to lay this out in steps:

  1. Begin accepting such men as seminarians and send them to a seminary that responds to their general sensibilities: the liturgy there is primarily celebrated in the Extraordinary Form and the doctrine is traditional in nature, as outlined by the Code of Canon Law and immemorial practice (thus, focusing heavily on St. Thomas Aquinas, the study of Latin, the study of Aristotelian philosophy, etc.).
  2. As these men reach ordination, begin assigning them to this church which is set aside. There they will form a community which can be juridically defined at the appropriate time (when it reaches a critical mass).
  3. These priests can be the ones that are sent for further studies (in topics like canon law); they can work in the tribunal; they can be hospital chaplains (someone who is in danger of death is grateful to receive the sacraments in whatever form and language they are offered!). They can supplement confession schedules in local parishes. They can visit the Catholic schools and hear confessions there. For that matter, they can teach in the schools. They can be sent on loan to teach in seminaries. They can give spiritual direction to lay people and be confessors and even spiritual directors for the other priests of the area. They can provide coverage for Latin Masses wherever they are offered, so that the priests who ordinarily offer them may take their vacation.
  4. A particular charism of such a nascent community might be that of offering their daily (Latin) Masses for a diocesan purgatorial society (i.e., for the faithful departed who are enrolled in that society by the faithful of the diocese, who would also make financial contributions to fund a foundation, the interest of which would pay the Mass stipends). They could offer Masses in reparation for offenses against the Holy Eucharist. They could offer Masses in reparation for clergy scandals. There is much reparation needed in the Church today, and these priests could have that be a focus of their spirituality.
  5. Once the number of priests in this group reaches a certain size, the bishop could further define it with a set of statutes, forming it into either a diocesan oratory or even a collegiate chapter (foreseen in canon law and fully within the power of the local bishop to establish — see canons 503ff). In the latter case, the canonical acrobatics could be done to re-designate the church as a capitular church, with the priests resident there becoming canons with liturgical and other responsibilities as defined in their statutes.
  6. The remuneration of these priests can happen in numerous ways, from the positions they hold in the diocese (chancery or whatever), to the establishment of an endowment fund that would support them, and so forth. I have a lot of ideas in this area but this is the sort of thing that would have to be worked out locally in each place according to the possibilities that exist there. In any case, I am confident that the financial part could be worked out with reasonable ease. Where there is a will, there is a way.
  7. Priests in this oratory or collegiate chapter could “transfer out” and take regular parish assignments if they wished (thus probably transitioning to mostly celebrating in the ordinary form); likewise, existing diocesan priests could “transfer in”. Processes and guidelines could be established to foresee these possibilities.
  8. Of course, this group of priests would also be fully trained in the celebration of the sacraments in the Ordinary Form and could be available from time to time (possibly defined in the statutes) to assist on a limited basis where needed in that specific regard.

The result would possibly and hopefully be a spiritual powerhouse and great resource to meet many diocesan needs.

  • How many dioceses do not need more priest confessors?
  • How many dioceses do not need more priests who can handle chancery roles?
  • How many dioceses do not need more priests who can visit hospitals?
  • How many dioceses do not need more priests who simply offer Mass quietly and, as it were, in a hidden way, in reparation for the great evils that have taken place in our Church?
  • How many diocese do not need more priests who are trained to serve as spiritual directors?
  • And so forth… we need to think a bit outside the typical box.

The traditional vocations that are appearing from our Latin Mass communities are a great gift and we risk missing the ways that they can help us respond to our real and actual ecclesial needs. The foregoing is a quick run-down of what I would envision; surely there are other ways that we could respond besides. This reality calls for creativity and a will to accommodate all the “laborers for the harvest” whom the Lord sends us in answer to our fervent pleading to the Master for vocations!

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