Rorate Caeli

"Only the best for the Altar"

From Paix Liturgique: an interview with the founder of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, Fr. Frank Phillips, and an article on the institute that he founded.

Fr. Frank Philipps offering Solemn Mass according to the 1962 Missal in the Basilica Shrine in Fatima. Source.)

From 8-11 September 2010, Fatima hosted a conference whose object was to promote the discovery and celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite in Portugal. (Rorate's post on this event can be found here; the NLM has a series of posts on the same event: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Solemn Mass in the Basilica Shrine Fatima -- CAP)

The organizers of this first meeting on the traditional liturgy held in Portugal since the release of Pope's Benedict Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum were the Canons Regular of Saint John Cantius (SJC), a society of religious life founded in 1998 in the Chicago diocese.

The Canons of Saint John Cantius run two parishes in Illinois. Their motto is “Instaurare Sacra” (“Restoring the Sacred”). They celebrate both forms of the Roman Rite and pay particular attention to the liturgy and to the sacred arts, especially music, which they know well and actively promote.

We met their founder and superior, Rev. Frank Phillips—he is a music teacher himself—in late spring as he was leading some of his parishioners on pilgrimage in Rome.


1) Father, could you introduce your Institute to the readers of Paix Liturgique?

Father Phillips: At the heart of our mission is the conviction that the Church teaches through the senses; the more our senses are educated, the more we grow in faith.

Church cornerstones used to bear the inscription “The House of God and the Gate of Heaven.” “The House of God and Gate of Heaven”: this is the Church, since it is a divine institution entrusted to man. It is that towards which all churches, since they are places of worship, ought to lead us by refining our senses: our sight through the beauty of our surroundings; our smell through the scent of incense; our hearing through the organ’s harmonies; our touch through contact with the wood of the pews and of kneelers gleaming with the patina of generations of faithful who came before us; lastly, our taste through receiving the Blessed Host, Jesus Christ honoring us with His presence. This is the meaning of our public motto “Instaurare Sacra,” which we complete with an in-house motto: “Only the best for the Altar.”

Our mission also draws its inspiration from our patron, Saint John Cantius, a humble and learned 15th-century priest. Our main parish, founded by Polish immigrants at the end of the 19th century, is dedicated to him.

2) Would you tell us a word on your statutes and numbers?

FP: For the time being we are a simple association of faithful. I say “for the time being” because a request for the status of diocesan right is under review by our bishop. Such a status is essential for our development as it will allow us to give a positive answer to those bishops who ask us to establish ourselves in their dioceses.

As for our numbers, we have nine priests and 29 seminarians at this time. Vocations come to us by internet (ed. note: the website of the Canons of Saint John Cantius is attractive, well conceived, and gets a high number of hits) or on the recommendation of friendly priests. Our seminarians study in a seminary in Connecticut (Holy Apostles) that serves several communities. They have daily Mass, the Rosary, the recitation of the Divine Office and, three times a week, the celebration of the extraordinary form. One of our priests, Father Dennis Kolinski, teaches the Extraordinary Form of the Mass to the seminarians at Holy Apostles Seminary.

Our priests live in community according to the rule of Saint Augustine. I must say, by the way, that I was quite moved that the first question I was asked in Rome, on the presentation of our request to be raised to the status of diocesan right, was: “How is your community life regulated?” This is a sign that the Year of the Priest is already bearing fruit and that a priest is no longer judged only by his activity but also by his way of life.

3) The bulk of you mission takes place at the parish level. What characterizes that?

FP: Besides what we do for the sacred arts, one of our specificities is encouraging family devotion among our faithful. We encourage them to have an oratory at home around which the family can gather. We invite them to participate in reciting the Divine Office when possible. We bless households in Epiphany season—that is, taking blest chalk and inscribing the three kings’ initials and the current year at the house’s entrance to place the home under their protection. We carry out the blessing of wine, of December 27th the Feast of St. John. None of our faithful shares a drink without invoking Saint John the Divine, in memory of the episode in the Apostle’s life when a snake came out of the poisoned chalice he was to drink, but upon which he had just traced the sign of the Cross. We also consecrate families to the Sacred Heart and extend the Blessing of the Church on families for the Feast of the Holy Family.

We also try to foster knowledge and love for Church history, particularly that of Rome, among both our faithful and our seminarians; this starts as early as the children’s catechism. During Lent we give our families a booklet listing all the liturgical stations with a presentation of each saint of the day and various indications (including a map of Rome) to help children better to make their own what is a part of their history. At Pentecost we have rose petals rain down inside the church, just as is done at the Pantheon, to celebrate the descent of the Holy Ghost in the form of tongues of flame upon the heads of the Apostles. Our table reading during community meals is drawn from the Roman Martyrology: everything is designed to foster love and devotion for the Holy Church and to reinforce our bond with the See of Peter.

Lastly, as this beautiful year of the priest that the Holy Father has given us to live out comes to an end, I should also like to underscore our attachment to the sacrament of Confession. We follow the example of Saint Jean-Marie Vianney, whose relics we honored this year, and consider the confessional to be our priests’ natural workplace. Every Sunday, five of them hear confessions throughout the day. It is not unusual for 500 of our 2,500 parishioners to confess on any given Sunday in our main parish.

4) “Only the best for the Altar,” you said, which perfectly expresses the attention you pay to the celebration of the liturgy. What has been your response to the 2007 publication of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum restoring the traditional liturgy?

FP: As a matter of fact, this liturgy had been celebrated at Saint John Cantius since before the foundation of our society. The 1962 missal was in use there by the mid-90s at the invitation of Cardinal Bernardin, who was Archbishop of Chicago at the time. He encouraged us to celebrate what was not yet called the extraordinary form of the Roman rite.

And so at the end of the 90s, when I had the joy of meeting Cardinal Ratzinger to introduce our parish to him, I did not fail to point out to him that we celebrate the Roman rite both in its new from and in the traditional one. To my great embarrassment he exclaimed: “Finally! Finally, a community that celebrates both liturgies!”

In a certain sense the MP was not a turning point for us since we had already gone back to the traditional Mass. On the other hand, as soon as we heard of its publication on July 7, 2007, we decided to participate in disseminating it. We immediately undertook the creation of a software tutorial, which we put on line in August 2007, just before the MP went into effect on September 14 of the same year.

We offer both the ordinary and the extraordinary forms in our two parishes, on Sundays as well as throughout the week. On Sundays, we celebrate both Low Mass and Solemn Mass of the extraordinary form in our main parish.

5) In 2007 a former seminarian of the Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP) was ordained as a priest for your community by Cardinal George, in the ordinary form of the Roman rite. This event elicits two questions: What is your relationship with the Ecclesia Dei Institutes? Also: Might you eventually choose the extraordinary form for your ordinations?

FP: Actually, in order to avoid any dispute within our community and any debate on the validity of the ordination of any of our priests, I decided to use only the new rite for our ordinations. This will keep us from any future division among our priests and faithful.

This choice distinguishes us from Ecclesia Dei institutes, whether the FSSP—several members of which were present for the ordination of Father Scott Haynes in 2007—or the Institute of Christ the King, which is also in Chicago and with which we have neighborly relations.

6) For Benedict XVI, the celebration of both forms of the rite is meant to be a source of mutual enrichment. For those bishops and priests who are opposed to it, it is a source of problems and tensions. What is it like in your parishes?

FP: You won’t be surprised if I tell you that this double celebration has been a source of enrichment for us, just as the Holy Father wished. I shall take just one example, the very example that is often brought up against the Pope’s text: the liturgical calendar.

For us, the existence of two distinct liturgical calendars is not a difficulty. On the contrary, it is one of the MP’s joys. It is a great grace for us and for our faithful to be able to celebrate two saints every day, or even to celebrate the same saint twice in one year! So for example we celebrate our patron, Saint John Cantius, both on October 20 (according to the traditional calendar) and on December 24 (according to the ordinary calendar). Two days with the same saint: our parish life is all the richer for it!

7) Lastly could you tell us how a simple association of Chicago faithful ends up organizing a meeting for the discovery of the extraordinary form in Fatima?

FP: During our pilgrimage to Fatima last year (as a rule we take our novices there before their vows) a young man came up to us and asked whether we were indeed the Canons of Saint John Cantius.

During our conversation he described the situation in Portugal and in neighboring Spain and the reluctance that blocks all development of the extraordinary form in those countries. It is simply not proposed to the faithful, at least in Portugal.

He is regular reader of our internet site and knew that we had already organized conferences for the presentation and discovery of the extraordinary form. He asked us to organize something along the same lines at Fatima during our next pilgrimage and assured us that he could bring together enough interested laymen and clergy to justify this initiative.

We first asked for our archbishop’s approval and then wrote to the bishop of Leiria and to the rector of the Fatima shrine to propose the idea to them and ask for their agreement. The story might have stopped there with one or two letters of refusal, as some feared. Yet Providence was looking out for us and the rector as well as the bishop gave us a favorable answer.

(End of interview. CAP)


1) The Canons of St. John Cantius are a community that represents well the new liturgical movement willed and encouraged by Benedict XVI. They know what they want, they feel profoundly Roman, and they attract vocations. They are the equivalent of the Benedictines of Nursia (see French PL letter number 186).

Indeed they regularly celebrate "in utroque usu" (in both forms of the one Roman rite). According to a report they drew up on their activity in the first three years since the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, they have conducted 31 extraordinary form workshops involving 700 priests, deacons and seminarians, mostly in the USA.

2) During the last general assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in November, the Canons of Saint John Cantius distributed materials aiming at forming the bishops themselves in the celebration of the pontifical ceremonies according to the extraordinary form of the Roman rite. They notably were able to give to each bishop a DVD of the Pontifical Mass at the throne that had been celebrated last April in Washington's Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.

On the big-screen TV at their booth they offered several showings of a DVD on the pontifical liturgy in the extraordinary form. This elicited the interest of several bihops. One documentary that particularly garnered the prelates' interest was that on the Rite of Confirmation according to the 1962 Pontificale Romanum. Furthermore several bishops told the Canons their desire to celebrate the extraordinary form for the faithful of their dioceses, but said they did not know where to begin.

3) To illustrate the spirit of the Canons of Saint John Cantius, here is what Canon Haynes, the former FSSP seminarian mentioned above, declared on Portuguese radio station Renascença during the Fatima conference: "The Holy Father said that the motu proprio is for all the faithful. . . . In the US, many are converting thanks to their interest in the traditional liturgy. There are also many young people who are baptized or even confirmed but who do not practice their faith. They find in the traditional liturgy the path that brings them back to the faith, to Mass, to Confession and to practicing the Catholic faith. The Church is renewing herself through this Mass."

4) Though the attendance was rather low, the days of discovery of the extraordinary form that the Canons of Saint John Cantius organized at Fatima were a highlight for the Portuguese faithful desiring to discover Benedict XVI's "new Mass." For the first time since the Conciliar reform, the traditional liturgy could be celebrated on the high altar of the Marian Shrine Basilica. Above all, as a fruit of the Canons' missionary apostolate, the first group of Portuguese faithful attached to the extraordinary form of the Mass was formed in October. It goes to show that no one is to be left out in the Lord's vineyard and that the application of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum is indeed a universal concern.