Priest fired for refusing to use new Catholic prayers

ST. LOUIS — For 18 years, the Rev. William Rowe has done a little improvising while celebrating Mass on Sunday … Continued

ST. LOUIS — For 18 years, the Rev. William Rowe has done a little improvising while celebrating Mass on Sunday mornings at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Mount Carmel, Ill.

Now those deviations have led to his resignation in an incident that may be tied to global changes to the Catholic liturgy.

On Jan. 29, instead of saying “Lord our God that we may honor you with all our mind and love everyone in truth of heart,” during the opening prayer, he altered the phrasing to better reflect the day’s Gospel message, in which Jesus heals a man with a troubled spirit.

“We thank you, God, for giving us Jesus who helped us to be healed in mind and heart and proclaim his love to others,” the 72-year-old priest prayed instead.

Three days later, Rowe received a letter from Bishop Edward Braxton of Belleville, Ill., accepting his resignation.

“The problem is that when I pray at Mass, I tend to change the words that are written in the book to match what I was talking about, or what a song is about,” Rowe said in an interview.

The book in question is the Roman Missal, a book of prayers, chants and responses used during the Mass. Rowe has been saying some of those prayers in his own words for years.

But last December, the Vatican-mandated adoption of a new English-language translation of the missal may have given bishops an opportunity to rein in freewheeling priests who have been praying in their own words for decades.

“Since December when the new translation came out, no one has said what would happen to you if you changed stuff,” said the Rev. John Foley, director of the Center for Liturgy at St. Louis University.

“But I find it hard to believe a priest in Illinois would be forced to resign because he wasn’t using the exact words from the translation. It’s not a strong enough offense for that.”

In the wake of sweeping changes in the church as a result of the Second Vatican Council, some priests in the 1970s began using their own words and phrasing in place of the verbatim translations of the original Latin liturgy in the missal, Foley said. He said there has never been an established penalty for improvising nonalterable prayers, and bishops have traditionally looked past an individual priest’s extemporizing.

Monsignor Kevin Irwin, professor of liturgical studies at the Catholic University of America, said there are some prayers said by a priest at Mass in which he is “beholden to the structure, not to the words.”

But there are also prayers that priests are “duty-bound to say,” said the Rev. John Baldovin, professor of historical and liturgical theology at Boston College. Most of the prayers in the missal, in fact, are not optional, he said.

Rowe said his previous bishop, Wilton Gregory, had discussed his off-the-cuff prayer habit with him, referring to the practice as “pushing the envelope.” He said five years ago, Braxton also discussed the matter with him, and asked him to read directly from the missal.

“I told him I couldn’t do that,” Rowe said. “That’s how I pray.”

Last summer, Rowe said, the bishop made it clear to his priests that “no priest may deviate from any wording in the official missal.”

Braxton did not respond to a request for an interview with the Post-Dispatch.

In October, two months ahead of the introduction of the new missal translation, Braxton said he couldn’t permit Rowe to continue improvising, according to Rowe. The priest offered his resignation but didn’t receive a response.

On Monday, Braxton wrote Rowe a letter informing him that he’d accepted his resignation.

The action did not sit well with the nearly 500 families at St. Mary’s.

“The ways Father changed the Mass ritual with his words have only made it more meaningful to us as opposed to distancing us from the church,” said Alice Wirth, principal at St. Mary’s School.

“Everything he does is based on our faith; it’s not just a whim. There’s a reason for every word he prays.”

(Tim Townsend writes for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in St. Louis.)

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Universal Uclick.

More on: ,
  • catatonicjones

    So a priest will get fired for saying religious stuff incorrectly, but will be shuffled around for molesting children.

    Got it, Church policy on display for one and all.

  • tzelinski

    If Catholic bishops are going to force the resignation or retirement of all priests who change a word or two in the liturgical prayers, then we will soon be in an even worse priest shortage. Once again, in this case, we see that most likely a bishop is out of touch with what the real people are thinking and are concerned about. The people themselves say “everything he does is based on our faith; it’s not just a whim.” Amen. Listen to the people. Does God in heaven really care if we change a few words in the Roman Missal? There are more important things for the bishops to be concerned about.

  • cseiwert

    I wonder when people will start critically reading articles again, rather than just the title and a skim. The title is disingenuous and doesn’t match up to the article’s content. He was not fired, but put in his own resignation and that was then accepted.

Read More Articles

shutterstock_185995553
How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

HIFR
Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

shutterstock_186364295
This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

shutterstock_186566975
Hey Bart Ehrman, I’m Obsessed with Jesus, Too — But You’ve Got Him All Wrong

Why the debate over Jesus’ divinity matters.

shutterstock_148333673
Friend or Foe? Learning from Judas About Friendship with Jesus

We call Judas a betrayer. Jesus called him “friend.”

shutterstock_53190298
Fundamentalist Arguments Against Fundamentalism

The all-or-nothing approach to the Bible used by skeptics and fundamentalists alike is flawed.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

SONY DSC
Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.

shutterstock_186090179
How Passover Makes the Impossible Possible

When we place ourselves within the story, we can imagine new realities.

This Passover, We’re Standing at an Unparted Red Sea

We need to ask ourselves: What will be the future of the State of Israel — and what will it require of us?

pews
Just As I Am

My childhood conversion to Christianity was only the first of many.

shutterstock_127731035 (1)
Are Single People the Lepers of Today’s Church?

In an age of rising singlehood, many churches are still focused on being family ministry centers.

2337221655_c1671d2e5e_b
Mysterious Tremors

People like me who have mystical experiences may be encountering some unknown Other. What can we learn about what that Other is?

bible
Five Bible Verses You Need to Stop Misusing

That verse you keep quoting? It may not mean what you think it means.

csl_wall_paper
What C.S. Lewis’ Marriage Can Tell Us About the Gay Marriage Controversy

Why “welcome and wanted” is a biblical response to gay and lesbian couples in evangelical churches.