Popular priest who strays from Roman Missal resigns
(POSTED: 2/20/12) A Downstate priest who has a habit of improvising prayers during Mass has resigned from his post after he was instructed to adhere to the guidelines set forth in the new Roman Missal.
The Rev. Bill Rowe, longtime pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Mount Carmel, Ill., said for the past 20 years he has been adapting some of the prayers read during Mass, the central act of worship in Catholicism, to better reflect the week’s gospel reading, songs and homily.
During preparation for the new translation of the Roman Missal, a book that guides the celebration of Mass and was implemented in November in all English-speaking countries, Bishop Edward Braxton sent a letter informing priests in the Diocese of Belleville that departing from the rubrics and prayers of the Mass “will no longer be permitted after the initiation of the new Missal.”
“I just got so used to praying that way,” said Rowe, 72. “To read words from the book would almost feel phony; it wouldn’t feel like an honest expression of prayer.”
Rowe offered in October to step down from his position as pastor of St. Mary’s, and Braxton accepted his resignation in a Jan. 30 letter. Rowe, who will remain a priest, is set to leave St. Mary’s in June after 18 years with the parish, which has about 450 people in attendance at weekly services.
Many people in the community, both parishioners and non-Catholics, have been rocked by the recent announcement, and petitions are circulating to get Rowe back.
“He is a beloved pastor of the parish,” said Alice Wirth, principal of St. Mary’s Catholic School in Mount Carmel. “He makes the Mass so meaningful, just brings it to life. The prayers that he prays are just so impassioned about his love for our Catholic Church.”
Braxton, however, said in a Feb. 14 letter to parishioners that “many” people have stopped worshiping at St. Mary’s and several of them have brought in audio and video tapes documenting the priest’s changes to Mass.
“The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, as every priest knows, is the public worship of the Church. It is not the priest’s personal, devotional prayer,” Braxton wrote. “All Catholics have the right to expect to experience the same rites and prayers when they participate in the Eucharist.”
Here is an example Rowe provided of how he might alter the words at Mass for a recent gospel about Jesus healing and forgiving a paralyzed man: The Missal at one point states, “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.” Instead, Rowe said, “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 . . .” Rowe said, “Therefore, as we celebrate how Jesus can free hearts from sin and fear and who died and rose again, we offer you . . .”
The Rev. Msgr. Jim Buerster, pastor of St. Boniface Church in Downstate Germantown, said: “Father Bill has a unique ability to do what no other priest has the talent or ability to do in terms of how he incorporates readings and songs into the total Mass.”
Buerster recently resigned from his position on the diocese’s personnel board, which he said is being left out of decisions and not being used “in a meaningful way.”
“I am hoping pastorally that our bishop can see this through for the good of this man, for the good of the faith community and for the good of the bigger community,” he said. “I hope that people keep doors open rather than shut doors.”
Braxton, who is in Rome, could not be reached for comment.
By Katie Drews, for ChicagoCatholicNews.com