An examination of the erroneous arguments why we should not insert the pope’s name in the Canon of the Mass

It is our duty to pray for others. Holy Mass is an especially perfect time to do this, since it is the infinitely meritorious sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Further, every pope has the frighteningly grave responsibility for the souls of everyone in the world, especially for Catholics. Thus, we should continually pray for the pope, and most especially, at Mass.

The devil knows the importance of praying for the pope and greatly fears this, especially the efficacious intercession for him at Mass. Satan knows that if God reforms the pope through prayers offered for him, this reformed pope could spiritually transform (the human element of) the Church. Thus, the devil uses every lie and trick he has to discourage prayer for the pope, especially in the Canon of the Traditional Mass.

One trick the devil uses, is to make priests and people afraid to pray for the pope in the Canon of the Mass, fearing that somehow mentioning the pope’s name in the Canon causes us to affirm we agree with his errors. Some sedevacantists1 and even a few non-sedevacantists have this fear, mistakenly arising (we can suppose) out of zeal for the Catholic Faith.2

For a priest not to pray for the pope during the Canon of the Mass is objectively a sin (since he is required to do so), even if no one ever knew the priest made this sinful omission.3

This objective sin is multiplied, if people do find out that the priest does not pray for the pope at Mass because this omission is an objective sin of scandal, since all priests (and all Catholics) have a solemn duty to pray for the hierarchy, especially the pope.

Also, this scandal is gravely multiplied, if anyone is led to conclude that the priest is a sedevacantist (because such priest—like the sedevacantists—does not pray for the pope).

The Text of the Prayer for the Pope at the Beginning of the Canon of the Mass

Latin English
Te igitur, clementissime Pater, per Jesum Christum Filium tuum, Dominum nostrum, supplices rogamus ac petimus uti accepta habeas, et benedicas haec dona, haec munera, haec sancta sacrificia illibata; in primis quae tibi offerimus pro Ecclesia tua sancta catholica; quam pacificare, custodire, adunare, et regere digneris toto orbe terrarum: una cum famulo tuo Papa nostro N., et Antistite nostro N. et omnibus orthodoxis, atque catholicae et apostolicae fidei cultoribus.

Therefore, most gracious Father, we humbly beg of Thee and entreat Thee through Jesus Christ Thy Son, Our Lord. Hold acceptable and bless ✠ these gifts, these ✠ offerings, these ✠ holy and unspotted oblations which, in the first place, we offer Thee for Thy Holy Catholic Church. Grant her peace and protection, unity and guidance throughout the world, together with Thy servant [name], our Pope, and [name], our Bishop; and all Orthodox believers who cherish the Catholic and Apostolic Faith.

Memento, Domine, famulorum, famularumque tuarum N. et N. et omnium circumstantium, quorum tibi fides cognita est, et nota devotio, pro quibus tibi offerimus, vel qui tibi offerunt hoc sacrificium laudis pro se, suisque omnibus, pro redemptione animarum suarum, pro spe salutis, et incolumitis suae; tibique reddunt vota sua aeterno Deo, vivo et vero. Remember, O Lord, Thy servants and handmaids, [name] and [name], and all here present, whose faith and devotion are known to Thee. On whose behalf we offer to Thee, or who themselves offer to Thee this sacrifice of praise for themselves, families and friends, for the good of their souls, for their hope of salvation and deliverance from all harm, and who offer their homage to Thee, eternal, living and true God.

(Emphasis added.)

Una cum Papa nostro Francisco

When we pray in the Canon of the Mass: una cum famulo tuo Papa nostro, [name], this phrase is part of the same sentence in which we offer the oblation for the Church because we offer this oblation for the Church and also (i.e., together) for the pope (and the bishop, etc.).

Some people mistakenly think “together with” means that we declare we are together with the pope in whatever he teaches. In other words, this false argument asserts that putting the pope’s name in the Canon declares we are united (“together”) with the pope in whatever he believes. There are five reasons why this is false:

  1. The pope is mentioned in the middle of a longer “list”. The prayer offers the oblation for the Church, then there is mention of the pope, then the bishop, then all Catholics and finally in the next prayer, we recall the people near and dear to us “on whose behalf we offer” this same oblation. This list has a clear order. We pray for the Church, then those governing the Church, then all members of the Church and lastly, those near and dear to us.

    This grouping and the whole progression of thought shows that the reference to the pope and bishop is our prayer for them and is offering the oblation for them. It is unreasonable to understand this prayer as a declaration of solidarity: viz., as if the prayer were to state that we offer this oblation for the Church, then we declare we believe whatever the pope and others believe, and lastly we offer the oblation for those people dear to us.

    If we were to wrongly assume (as this false argument does) that we break up the series of persons for whom we offer up the oblation, in order to declare sameness in beliefs with the pope, why wouldn’t we declare that we believe what the Church teaches, rather than only the pope? Whatever the Church teaches, we must always believe because it is always true. By contrast, we believe what the pope teaches only when he teaches what the Church teaches. (Any errors that the pope teaches are not the teaching of the Church.) Plainly, it is wrong to think this prayer of the Canon unites us to whatever the pope teaches.

    The Canon is the perfect time to pray for the pope, when we mention him immediately after we pray for the Church. Because the Canon of the Mass is perfect, we would expect the perfection of the Canon to provide this (so this is a further reason to understand the prayer this way).

  2. That the oblation is offered for all of these listed persons is further shown by this prayer (in the Canon) where it says the offering is made for the Church “in the first place”, and then proceeds to mention the pope, bishop, all Catholics and lastly those near and dear to us. This prayer’s phrase “in primis” (i.e., “in the first place”) shows that the offering will also then be made for others, the pope being the very next one listed.

  3. That this reference to the pope (and bishop) is a prayer for him (rather than joining in his ideas), is shown by what the pope and bishops themselves say when they offer Mass. As the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia explains:

    A diocesan bishop in saying Mass changes the form “et Antistite nostro N.” into “et me indigno servo tuo” [i.e., “and me thy unworthy servant”]. The pope naturally uses these words instead of “una cum famulo tuo Papa nostro N.”, and omits the clause about the bishop.4

    In other words, the pope and bishop pray for themselves and offer the oblation for themselves. They plainly are not saying that they unite with themselves and believe whatever they themselves believe. As they pray for themselves in the Canon, likewise we pray for them in the same place, by inserting their names (and we are not declaring that we believe whatever they teach).

  4. This fear to add the pope’s name in the Canon ignores history. From the earliest days of the Church, the Canon of the Mass has included a prayer interceding for the Church, the pope, the bishop and Catholics generally, as well as (in some earlier manuscripts) also intercession for the emperor and for the priest celebrating the Mass.5 The prayer was worded in various ways but always had this same intercessory meaning. That same meaning continues in the wording of the traditional missal we use.

    By contrast, throughout the history of the Mass, in all the various formulations of the prayers in early manuscripts, the Mass has never included a declaration of solidarity in belief with the pope, as is feared by those who fear to include the pope’s name in the Canon.

  5. The pre-Vatican II commentators unanimously explain this passage as a prayer (intercession) for the pope, not a declaration of united belief with the pope. Here is a small sample of such commentaries:


For all five reasons, it is plain that we insert the pope’s name in the Canon in order to pray for him (not to declare we believe whatever he believes). The pope is the only one on earth who can authoritatively reform the (human element of the) Church. Although we reject the pope’s errors, we must pray for him unceasingly (especially at Mass), that he reverses his own course and lead souls back to the traditions of the Church.

The Devil Uses a Second False Reason to Eliminate Prayers for the Pope at Mass

Some people do not pray for the pope at Mass although they plainly see that this prayer in the Canon is a prayer for the pope, not a declaration that we believe whatever he believes. They refuse to pray for the pope because they are troubled by the scruple that somehow it is a sin to pray for a bad pope in the Canon of the Mass because this prayer is the Church’s public prayer, and people with this scruple suppose that it would be a scandal to pray for any bad man (including a bad pope) in the Church’s public prayer. (These misguided people think it is fine to pray for a bad pope in private prayer, but not the Church’s public prayer.)

But this scruple ignores Common Sense, Church history, and Ecclesiastic Tradition.

First, common sense: our prayers for anyone beg God’s help for the person. Those prayers don’t show the person is perfect but are asking God to change and perfect him. So it is the most natural thing for loyal sons of the Church to pray publicly for our bad leaders, especially at Mass.

Second, Church history: through many hundreds of years, it was the practice of good priests, bishops and laymen to publicly pray in the Canon of the Mass, for the emperor—not only for a good emperor but for whoever was the emperor, good or bad.

Third, Ecclesiastical Tradition: the prayers of Good Friday (going back almost 1800 years10) not only pray for the pope (for any pope, whether good or bad) but also publicly pray for the worst of men: heretics, Jews, and pagans, who are inherently bad in their stand against Our Lord and His Church.

It is plain that, however much evil the pope is doing, we should pray hard for him, including public prayers and especially at Mass. Let us unite in fervent prayer for the pope—especially at Mass—that God change his heart and enlighten his mind.

  1. Regarding the error of the sedevacantists.

    Although no sedevacantists pray for our pope at Mass (because they deny he is pope), even some sedevacantists correctly understand that putting the pope’s name in the Canon is praying for him, not declaring that we believe whatever he teaches.

  2. Any Traditional Catholics who have no contact with a person holding this tragic error, might be tempted to think the error is so “far-fetched” that a non-sedevacantist could never really think it was wrong to pray for the pope at Mass. However, there is a good non-sedevacantist priest, opposed to the “new” SSPX’s liberalism but misled by this error. In our times of great confusion, he is (regrettably) not entirely alone holding this error.
  3. We don’t judge such a priest’s interior, subjective culpability. See, Catholic Candle article against the sin of rash judgment.
  4. 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia, article Canon of the Mass, vol. 3, p.262.
  5. See, e.g., The Mass, A Study of the Roman Liturgy, by Adrian Fortescue, Longmans, Green & Co., London, © 1930, pp. 153 & 157 & Ch. III (entitled The Origin of the Roman Mass).
  6. 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 3, article Canon of the Mass, p.262.
  7. Rev. Dr. Nicholas Gihr, Herder, St. Louis, 1941, pp. 596-97.
  8. The Mass, A Study of the Roman Liturgy, by Adrian Fortescue, Longmans, Green & Co., London, © 1930, p.329 (parenthetical comment in original).
  9. The St. Andrew Daily Missal, Dom Gaspar Lefebvre, O.S.B., Lohmann © 1945, p.972.
  10. The Mass of the Roman Rite, Josef Jungmann, Benzinger Brothers, New York, 1955, English Edition, translator Francis Brunner C.SS.R., Volume I pp. 481-2.