Bishop of Rockford Sets a Curb on Use of the Extraordinary Form

Bishop David Malloy, Ordinary of the Rockford Illinois diocese, in a January 11 letter to his priests, has set limits on both the practice of celebrating Mass ad orientem, and the celebration of liturgy according to the Extraordinary Form.

Citing the need for “unity in the shared celebration of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist” he has asked that no priest celebrate either ad orientem or according to the Extraordinary Form without his permission — a move he presents as an act of governance within his diocese, “to underscore our unity” and limit “confusion.”

Summorum Pontificum states, in article 2, that a priest may celebrate this form without a congregation, even without seeking permission. Bishop Malloy’s letter notes that his decision has been taken “with due regard” for article 2.

The bishop’s concern appears to be centered, however, on Masses with a congregation. When a stable community requests the celebration of Mass according to the Extraordinary Forum, article 5 of Summorum Pontificum states that a priest should provide it in such a way that “the good of these members of the faithful is harmonized with the ordinary pastoral care of the parish, under the governance of the bishop in accordance with Canon 392, avoiding discord and favouring the unity of the whole Church.”

What is specifically at issue here, therefore, is how to harmonize the use of the Extraordinary Form with the ordinary pastoral care of the parish “under the governance of the bishop.” Bishop Malloy has evidently decided that it is necessary to set up a mechanism by which his governance will be exercised in such cases.

Does he have a right to require this? Should he do so? Does Bishop Malloy’s letter actually represent an abrogation of Summorum Pontificum? Or is it simply an exercise of pastoral governance in his diocese?

A facsimile of the letter, with critical commentary, can be found here.


  1. I suspect that responses to the questions will fall largely along the lines of personal preferences. So, I will first admit that I personally prefer the Ordinary Form.

    That said:

    1) does he have the right to do this? I would argue that the clause “…under the governance of the bishop in accordance with Canon 392…” gives him not only the right, but the responsibility to do so.

    2) should he do so? I don’t know his diocese, but I suspect he sees divisions in his diocese and has legitimate concerns, and if he does, then, yes he should do so. You only have to read some commentaries on this blog to see that some folks view the Extraordinary form as a preferred norm, and not extraordinary at all. I wish this wasn’t so, but it’s not good for us to be two different churches.

    3) I don’t think he has the authority to abrogate Summorum Pontificum, so

    4) it is simply an exercise of pastoral governance.

  2. I hope the bishop would establish a church for the traditionalists. This could be an unused church which is to be sold. Instead of delegating (increasingly rare) diocesan priests to the church, one of the licit traditionalist orders could staff the parish. This option would better clarify a restriction on the Extraordinary Form, especially when there is a very pronounced pastoral need for the Ordinary Form.

    It’s my experience that traditionalists prefer to socialize among themselves. There is an emphasis on social networks, especially for homeschooling. A dedicated church would be a hub of socialization for traditionalists. Otherwise, they would be scattered about the diocese in little enclaves.

    1. @Jordan Zarembo:
      That is increasingly the case in the UK where some landmark churches that were being closed through falling numbers have been given over to the Institute of Christ the King. We have one in our parish.
      You are quite correct, there is very little contact between the parish community and those who worship at that church. Possible that is because few of them are locals …. they travel in from far and wide.

  3. Rockford already has St. Mary’s Oratory under the guidance of the Institute of Christ the King. Unfortunately, most who attend there do not believe the Ordinary form is valid, as do most who prefer the Extraordinary form. One priest from the Institute once refused the key to the tabernacle for the retired bishop because he didn’t want to “mix up the hosts!” Nonetheless, many of the younger clergy ordained under Bishop Doran are the ones who prefer the Extraordinary form. Poor Bishop Malloy has his hands full! Kudos to him for making this move to help unite his diocese and presbyterate!

    1. @Eric Jensen:
      ” most who attend there do not believe the Ordinary form is valid, as do most who prefer the Extraordinary form.”

      And the metric demonstrating this as true is where?

  4. I understand that the actions of this bishop deal with an Extraordinary Form Mass. But I have always wondered, can a bishop prevent a priest from celebrating an Ordinary Form mass in Latin because it is in Latin?

  5. I tend to wonder about the human element in these developments. The letter refers to a meeting of the diocesan presbytery last September.

    A comment above prompted me to learn that Bishop Malloy’s predecessor died on the first day of that same month, so the meeting followed his death. The current ordinary has been in place since 2012.

    It makes me wonder if there’s been a situation brewing that that Bishop Malloy waited to propose action on to avoid additional layers of problems.

    That said, and I write this as someone who has zero attachment to the preconciliar form of the Mass, I suspect that on its face, Bishop Malloy’s requirement of permission will, if appealed, be reduced to a request.

    Many tools have more than one edge, and before we use them we should carefully consider how they can (and often will) be used in ways we don’t support. Cognitive biases often blind us to these possibilities.

  6. I can confirm Eric Jensen’s note that St. Mary Oratory is there, offering Extraordinary Form masses. It should be understood that the Rockford Diocese, which adjoins the Chicago Archdiocese, is a good deal smaller than Chicago in terms of population but a good deal larger in terms of territory covered, much of it rural. So a single Extraordinary Form oratory is well out of practical reach for people in farther corners of the diocese who may desire to worship that way.

    I would also note that the Institute of Christ the King is a religious order, which to my mind raises the question: are religious-order priests in-scope for this request? I’d also note that, as described in this post, it was not an order but a request from the bishop. If that is the case – then presumably a “request” from a bishop carries a lot of weight with priests (although perhaps a bit less with religious-order priests than diocesan priests?), but a priest might in good conscience decide to decline the request.

    Bishop Malloy succeeded Bishop Doran, who was quite conservative in his own right and attracted and cultivated conservative priests. My sources (family members who attend the Oratory) tell me that Bishop Doran was pretty supportive, perhaps enthusiastically so, for the Extraordinary Form. So my take is that this letter reflects a bit of a “mismatch” between conservative priests and a perhaps-not-as-conservative bishop.

  7. A priest friend in that diocese once shared with me the tenor of Bishop Dolan’s assignments often fell along these lines: sending conservative priests to progressive parishes and progressive priests to conservative ones. Theoretically, that might mean a kind of middle road for northern Illinois, but my sense is that had potential for a lot of simmering conflict: clergy with low morale and parishes marginalizing their priest.

    Rockford is an interesting diocese. Its eastern frontier is suburban Chicago. The see city is small, and there are a lot of rural parishes spread to the Mississippi. It’s about as diverse as a mostly white diocese can be. Yes, I suspect there’s a long and complicated narrative behind this initiative.

  8. The bishop absolutely has no authority to do what he did here. A bishop cannot simply contradict canon law or juridical determinations such as Summorum Pontificum whenever he feels like it. Though, of course, the bishops of Malta have just contradicted canon law — and their document was published in L’Osservatore Romano. This is why I tend to agree with a deacon friend who once said: “There is no rule of law anymore in the Catholic Church. It’s all voluntarism.” More and more like the Anglicans, Catholics are wilfully defining themselves into dozens of splinter groups. Church law used to be a guarantee, or at least a strong motivation, for avoiding this kind of behavior.

  9. Jim Pauwels : I would also note that the Institute of Christ the King is a religious order, which to my mind raises the question: are religious-order priests in-scope for this request?

    Legally, the answer would be no. He doesn’t have authority over the institute, they are autonomous within the walls of the churches they run, accountable to their internal superiors.

  10. Charles Kramer : I understand that the actions of this bishop deal with an Extraordinary Form Mass. But I have always wondered, can a bishop prevent a priest from celebrating an Ordinary Form mass in Latin because it is in Latin?

    Since Latin is still the official language of the Roman Rite, it remains lawful for any priest to celebrate in the Ordinary Form in that language, as the Pope himself often does. But a priest who chooses to celebrate only in Latin would soon find himself in trouble with his bishop! The guiding principle should be that the needs of the faithful must prevail over the personal preferences of the priest.

    1. @Robert ADDINGTON:

      “The guiding principle should be that the needs of the faithful must prevail over the personal preferences of the priest.”

      I agree. But it could be noted that this same principle was the rationale for the permissions in Summorum Pontificum: that there were stable groups of the faithful who (at least in their judgment) needed mass in Latin and according to the 1962 (or earlier) edition of the missal.

      It’s pretty clear that some bishops don’t agree that this is, in fact, what these stable groups of people need; it seems these bishops view the situation rather as (to use the same phrase quoted above) a personal preference, rather than a need. Are pastoral leaders stakeholders in discerning what the faithful need? I think it’s an interesting question, and I’d guess that most of us would think that pastoral leaders should be stakeholders.

      It’s a question that’s wider than Summorum pontificum and the Extraordinary Form. In a primarily-English-speaking nation such as the US, does a large group of parishioners whose first language is Spanish need to be able to worship in Spanish, or is that a personal preference? How we answer that question presumably would guide the assignment of pastors, among many other pastoral decisions.

      1. @Jim Pauwels:
        It seems infantilizing and paternalistic to tell someone that they need to go Ordinary Form Masses. If someone discerns and in good conscience determines that Extraordinary Form Masses are best for their spiritual lives, they should be respected.

      2. @Jim Pauwels:

        In a parish with a large number of Spanish-speakers, there is obviously a pastoral need for at least one Sunday Mass in that language.

  11. SP allows the EF at the request of people, not the preference of the priest. I think it is well within the Bishop’s governance to determine the context of the EF or ad orientam Masses in terms of the pastoral need.

  12. I’m surprised that no one has yet mentioned the letter which Pope Benedict sent to the world’s bishops upon issuance of SP. He provides the actual context and motivation for that document. It did not at all include any encouragement to priests who personally prefer the TLM to make converts of parishioners to its usage. It was intended as a concession to people who have a sincere and ongoing need for the extraordinary rite. What has happened is that “traddies” directed their energies to the “reform of the reform” in which they could reintroduce birettas and fiddlebacks (even maniples) along with fully “dressed” chalices parked on the altar from the beginning of Mass, and ad orientam posture to make the ordinary form look as much like the extraordinary form as they can get away with. I think Pope Francis has made clear his mind regarding the RTR. Methinks the Bishop of Rockford senses that under Francis its time to rein in the traddies for the good of all God’s holy church.

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