Pre-conciliar Mass policies updated in diocese

Father Christopher Young celebrates the pre-conciliar (Latin) Mass at St. Patrick Church in Iowa City Jan. 30.


Faithful of the Diocese of Davenport:

Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.

This is the Church’s shorthand for saying that how we worship ex­pre­sses what we be­lieve and dir­ects how we live. Liturgy, doctrine, and the Christian life are intimately connected. There­fore, the way that we celebrate the Mass is not about personal preference, or likes and dislikes; we are called to pray together as a community, as the Body of Christ. Our unity is expressed in, and deepened by, our common worship. The Eu­charist is the Sacrament of Unity.

Bishop Zinkula

For more than 2,000 years, our Church has been faithful to Christ’s command to gather and celebrate the Eucharist in his memory. The details — the externals — of how we have celebrated the Eucharist have changed over time and differed from place to place. At the Council of Trent, in the mid-1500s, the bishops called for a reform of the liturgical books to express Catholic belief and to foster unity within the Church through a common way of celebrating the Mass. This eventually gave us the Missal of St. Pius V and its subsequent revisions.


In 1963, the bishops who gathered at the Second Vatican Council called for a reform of the liturgical books to express the Catholic faith in a new context and to emphasize that the whole Body of Christ celebrates the Mass. All of us, lay and ordained, are called to full, conscious, and active participation in our worship. Liturgy is not a spectator sport!

We received the Missal of St. Paul VI in the early 1970s, and in 2010 began to use the third edition of that Missal. Our way of celebrating the Mass has changed over time because the Church and the liturgy are alive. As Pope Francis reminds us, the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council are irreversible, and the liturgical books that resulted from the Council are the unique expression of the Church’s lex orandi.

In a series of steps after the Council, bishops received limited permission to allow for the celebration of the pre-conciliar Mass. In 2007, Pope Benedict granted wider permission for such use, noting that “[if] truly serious difficulties come to light, ways to remedy them can be sought.” Recently, Pope Francis consulted the world’s bishops to see how the provisions granted by Pope Benedict were working. In many places, sadly, the greater use of the pre-conciliar Mass had led to division and discord. In some places, adherence to the pre-Vatican II Mass resulted in rejection of that Council.

Given what he heard from his brother bishops, Pope Francis issued Traditionis custodes on July 16, 2021. The following December 4, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments provided further guidance on how to apply the pope’s document. The Holy Father is calling the Church to deeper ecclesial communion through the celebration of the Mass, the other sacraments, and the rites contained in the liturgical books promulgated by Popes Saint Paul VI and Saint John Paul II, in conformity with Second Vatican Council decrees.

Our task is to enact in our diocese the direction the Holy Father has set for us. After careful consultation, I am promulgating updated policies that reflect Pope Francis’ desire that we strive for ever deeper unity, in and through the celebration of the reformed liturgy.

We are not eliminating the celebration of the pre-conciliar Mass in our diocese. I am establishing two parish churches where the pre-conciliar Mass may be celebrated: Holy Family in Davenport and St. Patrick in Iowa City.

For the good of those who adhere to this way of praying the Mass, and because no other suitable place is available in our diocese, I am dispensing from the law the requirement that parish churches are not to be used for these celebrations. I also am dispensing from the law the requirement that a priest celebrate the pre-conciliar Mass only once each Sunday. This allows the same priest to attend to the needs of both communities when there is a grave necessity.

I know that not everyone will welcome these changes. However, the Holy Father has called us to begin to walk the road of more fully living into the Second Vatican Council. I ask all of us to move toward a more profound unity expressed and deepened by a common liturgical life rooted in the theology of that Council.

This is a challenge to all Catholics, whether or not they have found a spiritual home in the pre-conciliar liturgy. Much work remains to implement fully what the Council called us to. Pope Francis noted that some who celebrate the post-conciliar Mass foster disunity and discord by celebrating it poorly, departing from the liturgical books, and focusing attention on themselves. Instead, the role of presiders and other ministers is to mediate an encounter with Christ.

I am calling my brother priests and deacons to a double challenge. First, I ask you to accompany our brothers and sisters whose faith lives have been enriched by the pre-conciliar liturgy (and all Catholics) toward a growing appreciation of the reformed liturgy. Second, I ask you to remember that one way of doing so is to celebrate the reformed liturgy “worthily and well” by being attentive to the ars celebrandi (the art of celebration) and to the community. Please allow for silence and be reverent before the Mystery that we are called to serve.

At Eucharist, we gather as the Body of Christ to receive the Body of Christ to become more and live more as the Body of Christ. Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.

Sincerely in Christ,
Most Rev. Thomas R. Zinkula
Bishop of Davenport

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2 thoughts on “Pre-conciliar Mass policies updated in diocese

  1. Excellency,

    You said, “… adherence to the pre-Vatican II Mass resulted in rejection of that Council.”

    I was four years old when the Novus Ordo Missae was instituted. I can tell you that any doubts I may have had about the Council began as a young altar boy, once they started distributing Communion in the hand. That was nearly 40 years before my first TLM.

    That’s 40 years of hopping from church to church in search of the one priest who would say the red and do the black. 40 years of dodging Eucharistic Ministers, scrambling to get into the priest’s line.

    In those 40 years, I’d rarely experienced anything resembling “unity”. I never knew what I was going to be presented with, church to church, priest to priest, week to week, even day to day.

    Speaking of unity, or the lack thereof, the segregation of Spanish and Vietnamese speakers occurs in some churches every Sunday. Relegating them to their own separate Masses seems to connote a form of disunity, but does anyone ever give that a second thought?

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