Monday, July 9, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI and the "Tridentine" Mass

Well, it’s finally official. Pope Benedict XVI has provided for a wider use of the older form of the Latin rite approved by Pope John XXIII in 1962, commonly known as the Tridentine Mass.

The first thing we need to do as faithful Catholics is to hear what the Holy Father is saying to the Church. For this reason, I encourage CUF members and all readers of this blog to read the current issue of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy’s newsletter, which is posted at .

This newsletter has an English translation of Pope Benedict’s apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum on the use of the preconciliar liturgical forms. After the apostolic letter is a letter from the Holy Father to all bishops providing some further explanation and context regarding the apostolic letter. Then the committee provides a helpful series of questions and answers on the apostolic letter and on the “ordinary” and “extraordinary” forms of the Roman Missal.

I consider CUF president emeritus James Likoudis one of the leading experts in the country on the liturgical changes brought about by Vatican II. He is the coauthor, along with Ken Whitehead, of the critically acclaimed book The Pope, the Council, and the Mass. The revised edition of this book is available at Here’s what Mr. Likoudis has to say about Summorum Pontificum:

“Like liturgically concerned Catholics in many countries, I welcome Summorum Pontificum by Pope Benedict XVI, which allows any priest of the Latin rite to celebrate Mass according to the Missal of 1962 (the so-called Tridentine Latin Mass) in a far more generous manner than was previously allowed. As the Pope explained, the Church has ‘two usages of the one Roman rite,’ the ordinary form promulgated by Paul VI in accordance with the desires of Vatican II, and the older extraordinary form cherished by those Catholics having ‘a deep, personal familiarity with the earlier form of liturgical celebration.’

“In the revised 2006 edition of The Pope, the Council and the Mass, in which Kenneth Whitehead and I defend the liturgical reforms of Vatican II, we took care to observe that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger had written books and articles indicating that ‘the sacred liturgy has long been one of his abiding interests and concerns.’ We also noted his view that ‘the liturgical reforms mandated by the Second Vatican Council have not been an unqualified success in all respects.’ We wrote that it was expected that as Pope he would take measures toward an authentic ‘reform of the reform in accordance with the true mind of Vatican II’ (concerning which no one was better informed than that eminent theologian, Joseph Ratzinger). Pope Benedict has now done so in a striking and sensitive manner not only to assure the Church's preservation of its rich Latin liturgical heritage, but also to reach out to those who have been alienated from the Church by liturgical abuses that have gone uncorrected. It is fair to say that those who have expressed criticisms of the Holy Father's motu proprio, especially those on certain liturgical commissions, are the same who bear direct responsibility for failure to assure fidelity to the prescribed norms of the Mass--norms guaranteeing its sacrality, that is to say, its celebration with beauty, reverence, dignity, and solemnity. Pope Benedict XVI's action is calculated to further ‘reconcilation and unity’ in the Church, and as such should receive the support of all Catholics who care to see the end to senseless factionalism and divisions.”

Clearly, Pope Benedict desires to heal divisions within the Church, particularly as they relate to the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which, after all, is meant to be a sacrament of communion, not disunion.

In working toward this union, the Pope gives both” sides” of this issue some food for thought.

He reminds those bishops, priests, and liturgists who oppose the “Tridentine” Mass that this older form has never been abrogated. Moreover, he cites “deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear” as one of the reasons for the desire for the older form. Such “deformations” of course were not required or even allowed by the newer form, but were the result of unauthorized liturgical engineering done in a false “spirit” of Vatican II.

In addition, the Pope mentions the attempts in the 1980s to provide greater opportunities for the older form of the Mass, based on the “legitimate aspirations” of the faithful. However, these efforts were met in some places with resistance rather than the openness that Pope John Paul II envisioned. Rather than meet the pastoral needs of the faithful who desired the Tridentine Mass, some Church leaders took a more dismissive approach that marginalized those who expressed these “legitimate aspirations.” Pope Benedict makes a point of saying that those who are attracted to the older form are not a small handful of aging extremists. Rather, he cites the vitality and size of the Latin Mass movement in his noble attempt to provide for their pastoral care.

If more local Church leaders had demonstrated similar pastoral sensitivity, this motu proprio would not have been considered necessary.

As for the Traditionalists, Pope Benedict makes it abundantly clear that we’re not talking about two different rites. There is only one Latin rite, and its ordinary form or expression--both in theory and in practice--is the Missal of Pope Paul VI, or what is often called the “Novus Ordo” or “new Mass.” The greater access to the Tridentine Mass does not signal a retreat from Vatican II. Traditionalists are bound to accept the legitimacy of the Second Vatican Council as an authentic expression of the living Tradition of the Church. Vatican II did not bring about a “rupture” with the past, such that the conciliar teaching may be rejected by faithful Catholics. Those Traditionalists, such as adherents of the Society of St. Pius X, who have broken communion with the Holy See still need to be reconciled.

Time will tell how all this will play out on the diocesan and parish level, and whether this will bring about a healthy diversity of expression and “cross-pollination” of forms as the Holy Father fervently desires. Surely there will be situations and indeed controversies that will need to be addressed on an ad hoc basis, and Pope Benedict wisely called for Church leaders to report to him in three years so that the Church may continue to monitor the situation.

In the meantime, I encourage CUF members (if you’re not a member, sign up at to let us know how things are going in their own parish and diocese, and we will attempt to counsel and assist you in making your legitimate liturgical aspirations known to your pastor in a way that builds up the unity and peace of the Church. Such information will also help us to provide a unified voice for lay Catholics on this issue in our dealings with Church officials.