Custom vs GIRM, seating of priest

Under what circumstances, if any, can the liturgical norms of the Church be superseded by a contrary custom of a local parish? Our parish is merging with a student parish at a nearby university. Some are claiming that the priest should be seated with the congregation as a symbol of “servant leadership.” It is acknowledged that paragraph 294 of the GIRM prohibits this, but argued that the contrary custom of the student parish should prevail. How binding is the GIRM? Your help, including citations to any sources, are much appreciated. Thank you.

The circumstances where this are allowed are when the local ordinary (the Bishop) has requested an indult from the CDW (Congregation for Divine Worship) at the Vatican. When an indult is appoved, the priest is permitted to vary from the GIRM. The GIRM is binding unless the proper authority (CDW) has granted an exception.

The GIRM is liturgical law. Individual parishes cannot make up their own way of how the Church’s liturgy is celebrated. Citations for this are too numerous to even begin to mention.

“Custom” is a word which gets thrown-out there quite often by people who aren’t aware of what that word actually means in the context of the Church’s laws. The word “custom” does not mean “that’s how we decide to do things here.”

Instead of asking the question “how binding is the GIRM?” (and the answer is “absolutely binding unless the Holy See says otherwise”), the real question to be asked is “by what right does the university parish make changes to the Mass on its own authority?”

Catholics need not “prove” that the GIRM is binding. It is the law, and therefore the fact that it is binding is a given.

However, to directly answer the question of when a local custom might take precedence over liturgical law, the response is that it has to be continuously practiced for at least 100 years, and that’s just the first condition to be met. See canon 26.

Canon Law describes what are and what are not legitimate “customs”, and how long a “custom” must exist for it to be considered a valid “custom”.

Basically, the priest should not have been sitting with the assembly to begin with; that “custom” should never have gotten started. And that’s the problem: an inappropriate custom is begun (illicitly) and then when it is discontinued the people are all offended and feel like something from their heritage is being “taken away” from them.

Write the bishop if it is a problem.

I believe it’s 30 years by canon 26.

Since it’s a contradiction of existing law, it needs to be at least 100 years.

That would only be if the custom had to “prevail against a canonical law which contains a clause prohibiting future customs.”

That is not the same as saying it’s contrary to an existing law. Being contrary to existing law is addressed in the first part of the canon, along with a custom that may be beyond a canonical law,and followed by the 30 year stipulation.

I’m honestly not aware of any canonical law in the 1983 Code that contains a clause prohibiting future customs.

That’s because it’s not in the code of canon law. The seating of the priest or the arrangement of the Church isn’t a matter which is addressed in the codex. It’s addressed in the liturgical law. There’s plenty in the liturgical law which prohibits any changes to the Liturgy, so that’s why it comes under the heading of a future custom being prohibited.

Custom is not something we have been doing for the last few years. It is something that is rooted in the long history of a place or people. Not something we started doing “way back” in “88”, maybe 1888!

I’m curious (no, I’m nosey . . . ), why should the student parish custom “trump” your parish custom even if it was allowed? (Which, we all seem in agreement, it is not . . . )

And . . . while I’m at it . . . what is a “student parish” anyway??

We’ll likely need a canon lawyer for any final resolution on this. I still think that the requirement for a specific clause regarding custom is required for the 100-year stipulation, and I’m not aware of any such clause in any liturgical law (which is canonical even if not in the Code)…of course with all the laws out there I am sure it’s likely just something I’ve never come across. Of course liturgical law prohibits changes to the liturgy, i.e. individuals aren’t free to change it. The Church, however, of course IS free to change it. So the examples I assume you’re referring to do not, imho, fall under the literal requirement for a specific “clause prohibiting future customs” (my emphasis; as distinct from general liturgical principles that prohibit anyone except the appropriate authority from changing this or that liturgical law).

Thank goodness for lawyers.

A canon lawyer wouldn’t be needed. A simple letter to the Congregation for Divine Worship at the Vatican would result in a reply addressing the specific situation.

My own guess is that the CDW would not approve any local custom involving the priest sitting in the congregation.

You’ve provided your own answer. When you say “…general liturgical principles that prohibit anyone except the appropriate authority from changing this or that liturgical law.”

And again, we must keep in mind that the canonical use of the word “custom” does not mean the same thing it means in our everyday vocabulary. “Custom” does not merely mean “we feel like doing it this way” Too many people think that’s what the word means. It doesn’t.

If you’d like a specific law prohibiting future customs, here it is:

    1. Regulation of the Sacred Liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop.
  1. In virtue of power conceded by the law, the regulation of the Liturgy within certain defined limits belongs also to various kinds of competent territorial bodies of bishops legitimately established.

  2. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the Liturgy on his own authority.

Sacrosanctum Concilium Second Vatican Council - Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy - Promulgated by Pope Paul VI (December 4, 1963)

That’s a pretty clear statement prohibiting future (from the perspective of 1963) changes.

You apparently misunderstood me. I am aware of the quotation you cited as well as all the similar such ones that are common in liturgical law.

I am also aware that the canonical use of “custom” is different from everyday use. Thank you, though, for ensuring that. I appreciate your consideration.

Nothing you quoted, as I would have expected, referred to “prohibiting a future custom.” No such clause, no use of “custom” in the reference you quoted. Canon 26 specifically does use the word “custom” and refers specifically to a clause prohibiting future CUSTOM. Please read the Canon again, and a good commentary if you have access to one, that should help you understand my question better.

I doubt this is adding anything to the OP or thread, though, so it’s probably not worth pursuing unless someone with Canon Law expertise cares to chime in.

Back to the OP’s real question, I’m sure this issue can be handled locally, if need be with recourse to the Bishop/diocese. The GIRM is binding. No need to go to canon lawyers, probably, and certaintly not the CDWDS.


As I re-read the title of this thread I realize something:

Custom vs. GIRM

The “custom” of a university parish of having the presider’s chair in the midst of the congregation versus the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.

What happens when an irresistable force meets a portable object?

Simply put, “custom” does not apply here.

Just because people have been doing something for a period of time, that does not mean that it’s “custom.” One can’t simply say that because it’s been happening for 30 yrs it somehow automatically gets called “custom.”

What we have happening here is an example of outright disobedience of the Church’s liturgical laws. That’s not custom. Whether or not it’s been happening for 30 years or more is completely irrelevant. The topic of custom has been irrelevant here from the very start. That’s what you’re not seeing. I only used the word in my first post because that word was used in the title of the thread, and it was in answer to the OP’s question. I was explaining that the common use of “custom” is not the canonical use of the word. Looking back on it, that was probably a mistake because I further opened the door into an irrelevant line of argument which cannot be used to justify what’s happening.

There is no possible way to justify this liturgical abberation. There is no recourse to “custom” in this particular situation.

The problem here is that you are starting from the point-of-view that this practice is a “custom” and then going from there to say that because it’s a custom, it (might) enjoys some kind of favor of the law. But since it isn’t “custom” in the first place, but an act of defiance, it doesn’t get that label, so it’s not reasonable to continue with a line of argument based on a false premise.

A “student parish” is one located at a university, to serve the student population.

I am not assuming the situation the OP raised was one of disobedience, or defiance, or aberration. It might be, but I personally don’t feel right making the judgment. I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt. Those who know more about the real people involved would be best suited, imho, to judge such things.

You first raised the issue of “custom” and canon law, I was not starting from any particular point of view but simply commenting on points you raised. If you think the points you raised are no longer relevant, that’s fine of course. No worries!

What I’m realy trying to say here is that the word “custom” is all too often used when speaking of liturgical practices. Canon 26 is speaking more about custom in terms of interpreting and applying canon law (universal or particular but not necessarily liturgical). Canon law for the most part does not deal with liturgical practices because it’s not intended to do so. Liturgical law complements the code of canon law–each one has its purpose. Yes, there are times when the principle of custom might be legitimately invoked when it comes to liturgical practices, but for the most part, the liturgical law is what prevails in liturgical matters.

To get us back on topic, the college parish has no “right” to change the location of the presiders chair in the first place, and any attempts to do so are illegitimate from the very start. That means that there is likewise no “right” to continue the practice when these 2 parishes merge into one community.

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