28Jun US priest who improvised liturgy is removed by bishop

Parishioners at St Mary’s parish in Mount Carmel, Illinois, were officially informed that the local diocese is removing their parish priest of 18 years, because he improvised some prayers at Mass.

Bishop Edward Braxton of Belleville Diocese sent a letter on Friday to Fr William Rowe informing him of the decision.  Fr Trevor Murray, 36, has been asked leave his parishes in West Frankfort and Royalton, Illinois, and take over as parish priest of St Mary’s on July 10.

The letter from Bishop Braxton was read at Sunday Masses.  The Bishop wrote, “I am deeply aware that you, your parishioners and your friends are saddened by this change in your assignment.  I am saddened as well.  In your years at St Mary Parish, you have (surely) touched many hearts.”

Bishop Braxton went on: “Throughout our many conversations, it has been my hope that this action would not be necessary.  However, the long, winding road down which we travelled never led to the open door of complete acceptance and obedience to the disciplines and doctrines of the Catholic Church.”  Fr Rowe, who is 72, was to make another appeal to the Bishop on Monday and if this is rejected he will take his appeal to Rome.

Fr Rowe says he got into the habit of adding a few words to prayers in the Mass and other services over the years, in order to make the liturgy more meaningful.

The introduction of the new translation of the Missal, he said, made it even more difficult to stick to every word proscribed by the Vatican.  Fr Rowe said, “I just found, especially with the new translation, that it doesn’t match what I’m talking about.  The new wording is so awkward, and people don’t understand it.”

“I have heard that there have been a few priests that do what I do … but I haven’t heard of anyone being removed,” he said.  “This is new ground I guess.”

Earlier this year, parishioners protested outside of St Peter’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Belleville against plans to remove Rowe.

24 Responses

  1. Mary O Vallely

    He added a few words to make the liturgy “more meaningful”. He acted according to the Spirit within him. He listened to the people and reacted from a compassionate heart, not like an automaton. Blind obedience is what we expect in a totalitarian state.There are a lot of priests who agree with him but lack his courage just as there are many, many teachers who agree with Trish Cameron (sacked for daring to say that personally she was in favour of same-sex relationships but wouldn’t bring these views into the classroom)but who haven’t the courage to speak out. Rigidity and absolutism must be questioned or we fail as Christ followers. IMHO. Mary V

  2. Perry-mason

    I agree Mary.

    God in heaven forbid someone in the congregation is moved by the Spirit to spontaneously proclaim, “Ave Maria gratia plena…. ora pro nobis.”

    I am sure even that wouldn’t quiet the Latin and Rubrics brigade.

    I was just reading a letter from a priest in prison in Illinois and his asking about having Mass. How the others, Baptists, Menonites etc all had their weekly visits. But he was left to it.

    Widows, orphans and visiting those in prison. The things Jesus will look to having been done.

    And this lovely man is chastised for giving voice to the very Spirit.

    Let’s start a petition.

    Or if anyone finds one online – link and we can add our signatures.

    Power to the people – and the Spirit.

    And to those who might be worried – my confirmation name isn’t ‘Free’.

  3. Jo Siedlecka

    Please pray for Fr Rowe. It’s not a nice way to end a long a faithful ministry and I think people have quite short memories.

    There has been a petition around for months. A bit late now but signing it would show support:

  4. Cyril North

    This kind of behaviour on the part of some persons in authority has always been a constant in the church. The difference is that nowadays it is being exposed to public view, so everyone gets to see what consequences a belief in absolute power and absolute truth can lead to.

  5. Perry-mason

    Never too late, Jo. I will paste on a few other places too. Thanks for the link. If can help the poor soul even like this it’s worth the five seconds it takes.

  6. James

    This Priest has been let down by the Church. The liturgical reforms after the Second Vatican Council are to blame for this, they should never have happened. They encourage the mass to become a sort of a show. That is not what the mass is, it is the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. The Church needs to be renewed, return to the sacred.

    Two things would greatly speed along this renewal. Firstly a return to the ancient practice whereby the priest faces the same way as the people during mass, secondly a return to the use of the sacred Latin language which would make the Church more universal.

  7. Sean Walsh

    If that is the way of it then half the priests in Ireland should be in fear of censure for they daily struggle to make this new, latinised version of the liturgy imposed by the Vatican, understood by their ever-dwindling congregations… Which is more important: making the Eucharist a lived, sharing celebration that is at once relevant and meaningful to mass goers – or bowing the head in obedience to the dictats from Head Office… continuing to struggle with a flat, convoluted and joyless version of what should be a celebration – clear, understandable, meaningful… ever drawing us to the table of the Lord…

  8. Joe O'Leary

    “The liturgical reforms after the Second Vatican Council are to blame for this, they should never have happened. They encourage the mass to become a sort of a show. That is not what the mass is, it is the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary.”

    If the mass is well celebrated it is anything but a show. The community joyfully worship the Lord together and also organize themselves for charitable activities, which are a natural outflow from the liturgy and a central form of celebrating the redeeming sacrifice of Christ: “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren.” All of this has been made much clearer by the reforms of Vatican II — which our liturgical praxis, alas, does not live up to sufficiently.

  9. Chris (England)

    Sean, I agree with your sentiments.
    I have been attempting to discover what kind of alterations Father Rowe made to the liturgical texts and the above linked article provides some examples.
    E.g. where the Missal reads:
    “Grant, we pray, almighty God, that, always pondering spiritual things, we may carry out in both word and deed that which is pleasing to you.” Father Rowe prayed:, “God of healing and comfort, thank you for sending us your son to free us from guilt and fear that paralyzes our spirits. May we rise up and follow your word more closely.”
    During the Eucharistic prayer, instead of saying, “Therefore, as we celebrate the memorial of his death and resurrection, we offer you . . .” he prayed “Therefore, as we celebrate how Jesus can free hearts from sin and fear and who died and rose again, we offer you . . .”
    To my mind, these changes do not alter the meaning of the prayers: they simply translate the cumbersome phraseology, (probably devised by a committee), into language likely to have more meaning and relevance to a modern day congregation.
    What a sad state of affairs that a Bishop sees it necessary to take such draconian action against a long serving priest! Is it any wonder that so many people are shrugging their shoulders, saying “whatever” and walking away.

  10. Soline Humbert

    ” You blind guides! Straining out gnats and swallowing camels…” (Matthew 23:24)

  11. Ann Lardeur

    What a shame Fr. Rowe did not live at the same time as Justin the Martyr

    “On Sunday we have a common assembly of all our members, …. The recollections of the apostles or writings of the prophets are read as long as there is time. ….the President of the assembly speaks to us…… (homily). Then we all stand up together and pray.

    On conclusion of our prayer, bread, wine and water are brought forward. THE PRESIDENT OFFERS PRAYERS AND GIVES THANKS TO THE BEST OF HIS ABILITY, AND THE PEOPLE GIVE ASSENT BY SAYING “AMEN”.

    The Eucharist is distributed, everyone present communicates and the deacons take it to those who are absent.”

    First Apology of Justin the Martyr.

    One assumes Fr. Rowe’s congregation gave their assent to his wording!

  12. Déaglán

    A priest is ordained and celebrates the sacraments only with the Authority of the Church. He is a priest for Christ, not himself. He has to act within that Authority. This is to ensure stabilty and to protect against heresy. What would happen if a priest were to say something which would alter the meaning of the words? What if every priest was allowed to change the formulae? Confusion, distraction and possibly heresy.

    Why would anyone want to add to the words of the Mass? The new translations are beautiful, biblical and more meaningful than any ad lib additions/alterations. The new collects are astounding, relating to each day’s celebration.

    The Mass belongs to Christ and the Church, not individual priests. The Bishops are the custodians of the faith, they are the one’s that are charged with ensuring that the Faith is passed on legitimately and faithfully from generation to generation. It is only the Bishops who have the competence to change or alter parts of the Mass. Ensuring the uniformity of the formuale guaruntees that the whole Church is praying with one voice to the One Lord. By going off the cuff the priest disconnects from that One Prayer of the Church and creates unnnecessary localisms and can confuse the faithful.

  13. Michael O'Donovan

    Good decision and I could suggest a few more candidates. I don’t want the priest to draw attention to himself when I go to Mass. Except during the homily, he should be as unobtrusive as he can. He is there not as himself but as a cipher for Our Lord. I am not there to celebrate something “joyfully” (I have no idea what that means anyway) with a lot of other people; we are all there to worship as a group, each aware of all the others but each communing with the Lord on his or her own.

  14. Steve Edward

    “…the new translation doesn’t match what I’M talking about..” What?? If a priest wants to improvise, he can always become a Pentacosalist preacher. When, oh when, is this sort of nonsense going to end?

  15. Eddie Finnegan

    Steve Edward: My wife is Pentecostalist. If you want to insult our fellow Christians, at least get the spelling right.

  16. Joe O'Leary

    “This is to ensure stabilty and to protect against heresy” — this suggests a terrible anxiety that is not compatible with the spirit of eucharistic celebration. It reminds me of the time when the words of consecration and the entire canon were regarded as a perilous prayer offering hundreds of occasion of mortal sin. Our eucharistic culture is already in deep crisis, and this sort of obsession is only compounding the problem.

    “I am not there to celebrate something “joyfully” (I have no idea what that means anyway) with a lot of other people” — which suggests that you have no experience of liturgy. The Bible always presents liturgy as communal and joyful. “We are all there to worship as a group, each aware of all the others but each communing with the Lord on his or her own.” That is one of the reasons why the Mass is so dead in Ireland. An Indonesian community in Japan sing joyfully together and each member warmly shakes hand with every other member at the communion. Africans and Filipinos also know how to rejoice in the Lord. We could do with a touch of Pentecostalism, not only from the priest but from the people.

  17. Mary Burke

    Yes, indeed, Michael O’Donovan, and Joe. The celebrated Jesuit liturgist, Bob Taft advised that two things should never be done alone: sex and liturgy.

  18. Sean

    We don’t really know the full reasons for this action by the Bishop. The letter says he had many long conversations with the priest in question. There are too many priests today (I know several myself) who think they can make up the liturgy as they go along and who brazenly disobey their lawful superiors. This is about more than liturgy and often involves heretical opinions about theology, the sacraments, the Church, and sexual ethics. This gives great scandal to the faithful in the Church. I have the impression that between about 1965 and 1980, priestly training collapsed in our seminaries and religious orders and so priests who are now in their late fifties and upwards are passing on very dubious teaching to their flocks. It is good that the present Pope and serious prelates are beginning to put things right.

  19. wiliam o'b

    The new translation is not so much about avoiding heresy (witness the limitation of the prayer over the cup (i.e. Chalice) which restricts the action of Jesus to “many.” Did he not die for all? It is about establishing the power of the Curia over the entire church. The documents of the Ecumenical council demand that the Bishops conferences should be the ones to make the changes for their respective countries, submitting the actions for the approval of Rome. Today the actions of the curia are submitted to the Bishops as mandates, to be accepted without serious thought or discussion. A recent proposal by one of the Bishops to consider a review of the new Missal was met with absolute refusal.
    There are those who would destroy a priest because he says All instead of Many. A review of the missal is urgent to look at the grammar, and the language. One cannot simply transliterate from latin into English. Any second year latin student would fail a course is he or she transliterated a passage from Caesar or Cicero. The Bishops seem unwilling to jeopardize their careers by making waves, but isn’t that precisely the meaning of Leadership?

  20. Ann Lardeur

    Safeguarding from heresy?? The literal translation throws up some some theology which is peculiar if not actually heretical. e.g. just before doxology in EP II praying “we may merit to be coheirs to eternal life”. Romans 8.17 “If we are children we are heirs ……coheirs with Christ.” i.e. it is gift not merit. As children of father and coheirs no way do we need to “dare to say Our Father”.

  21. Steve Edward

    Terribly sorry Eddie for the misspelling and no insult to Pentecostalists intended. I was intending to insult ‘lone ranger’ priests.

  22. ger gleeson.

    Don’t worry about those “lone ranger” priests Steve. They have got quite a few “tonto’s” supporting them.


    I live in Uganda and i have read with concern about Fr.Rowe’s changes.
    I am surely praying for him and things will be fine. The reason which the Bishop gave is a SODA straw (toooo weak).
    David [UGANDA]

  24. Susan

    Obedience is KEY to a priest’s spiritual development. If every priest began to “improvise” the Mass, imagine the consequences! Learn your Catholic Faith and you will see the error of this priest who was removed, and pray for all our priests, they need our daily prayers!