The Attractiveness of the Tridentine
by Alfons Cardinal Stickler - Summer
robust 84-year-old Austrian scholar, a Salesian who served as
peritus to four Vatican II commissions (including Liturgy), will
celebrate his 60th anniversary as a priest in 1997. Among
his many achievements: The
Case for Clerical Celibacy (Ignatius
Press), which documents that the celibate priesthood was mandated
from the earliest days of the Church. Cardinal Stickler lives
at the Vatican.
The Tridentine Mass means the rite of the Mass which was
fixed by Pope Pius V at the request of the Council of Trent and
promulgated on December 5, 1570. This Missal contains the old
Roman rite, from which various additions and alterations were
removed. When it was promulgated, other rites were retained that
had existed for at least 200 years. Therefore, is more correct
to call this Missal the liturgy of Pope Pius V.
From the very beginning
of the Church, faith and liturgy have been intimately connected.
A clear proof of this can be found in the Council of Trent itself.
It solemnly declared that the sacrifice of the Mass is at the center
of the Catholic liturgy, contrary to the heresy of Martin Luther,
who denied that the Mass was a sacrifice.
We know from the history of the development of the Faith that
this doctrine has been fixed authoritatively by the Magisterium
in the teach of popes and councils. We also know that in the whole
Church, and especially in the Eastern churches, the Faith was the
most important factor in the development and formation of the liturgy,
particularly in the case of the Mass.
There are convincing arguments for this from the early centuries
of the Church. Pope Celestine I wrote to the bishops of Gaul in
422: Legem Credendi, lex statuit supplicandi — the
law of praying determines the law of believing. This has subsequently
been commonly expressed by the phrase, lex
orandi, lex credendi [the law of prayer is the law of
The Orthodox churches preserved the Faith through liturgy. This
is very important because in the last letter the Pope wrote, seven
days ago, he said the Latin Church must learn from the Eastern
churches, especially about the liturgy...
A matter often neglected
is the two types of conciliar statements and decisions: doctrinal
(theological) and disciplinary.
In most of the councils we have both doctrinal and disciplinary.
In some councils we have no disciplinary statements or decisions;
we have some councils without doctrinal statements, with only disciplinary
statements. Many of the Eastern councils after Nicaea treated only
questions of faith. The Second Council of Toulon in 691 was strictly
an Oriental council for only disciplinary statements and decisions,
because the Eastern churches had been neglected in the prceding
councils. It brought discipline up to date for the Eastern churches,
especially the Church in Constantinople.
This is important because in the Council of Trent we have explicitly both: we
have chapters and canons which belong exclusively to faith; and
then, in nearly all the sessions, after the theological chapters
and canons, we have exclusively disciplinary matters. The distinction
is important. In all the theological canons we have the statement
that anyone who opposes the decisions of the Council is excluded
from the community — anathema sit.
But the Council never states an anathema for purely disciplinary
matters — the Conciliar sanctions are only for doctrinal statements.
Trent on the Mass
This is important for
our reflections now. I've already pointed out the connection between
faith and prayer—liturgy—and especially between faith and the highest
form of liturgy, the common worship.
This connection has its classic expression in the Council of
Trent, which dealt with the topic in three sessions: the thirteenth
in October 1551, the twentieth session in July 1562, which dealt
with the Sacrament of the Eucharist, an especially the twenty-second
in September 1562, which produced the dogmatic chapters and canons
on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. There is also a particular decree
that concerns those things that have to be observed and avoided
in the celebration of Mass. This is a classical and central statement,
authoritative and official, of the Church's mind on the subject.
The decree first considers the nature of the Mass. Martin Luther
had clearly and openly denied its very nature by stating that the
Mass was not a sacrifice. It is true that, in order not to disturb
the simple faithful, the Reformers did not immediately eliminate
all those parts of the Mass which reflected the true Faith and
ran contrary to their new doctrines. For example, they retained
the elevation of the Host between the Sanctus and the Benedictus.
For Luther and his followers, worship consisted mainly in preaching
as a means of instruction and edification, interwoven with prayers
and hymns. The reception of Holy Communion was only a secondary
event. Luther still maintained the presence of Christ in the bread
at the moment of its reception, but he strongly denied the Sacrifice
of the Mass. For him the altar could never be a place of sacrifice.
From this denial we can understand the consequent flaws in the
Protestant liturgy, which is completely different from that of
the Catholic Church. We can also understand why the Council of
Trent defined the part of the Catholic Faith which concerns the
nature of the Eucharistic sacrifice: it is a real saving, force.
In the sacrifice of Jesus Christ the priest is a substitute of
Christ himself. As a result of his ordination he is a true alter
Christus. By means of the Consecration the bread is
changed into the Body of Christ and the wine into His Blood. This
implementation of His sacrifice is the adoration of God.
The Council specifies that this sacrifice is not a new one, independent
of the unique sacrifice of the Cross; rather it is dependent upon
that unique sacrifice of Christ, making it present in a bloodless
way such that the Body and Blood of Christ are substantially present,
while still remaining under the appearance of bread and wine. Consequently
there is no new sacrificial merit; rather, the infinite fruit of
the bloody sacrifice of the Cross is effected or realized by Jesus
Christ constantly in the Mass.
It follows that the action of the sacrifice consists in the Consecration;
the Offertory (by which bread and wine are prepared for the Consecration)
and the Communion are integral parts of the Mass, but are not essential
ones. The essential part is the Consecration, by which the priest,
in the person of Christ, and in the same way, pronounces the consecrating
words of Christ.
Thus, the Mass is not and cannot be simply a celebration of Communion,
or a mere remembrance or memorial of the sacrifice of the Cross,
but rather a true, unbloody making present of this self-same sacrifice
of the Cross.
For the same reason we can now understand that the Mass
is an effective renewal of the sacrifice of the Cross. It is
an adoration of God, offered only to Him. This adoration rightly
involves other elements: praise, thanksgiving for all the graces
received, sorrow for sins committed, petitions for necessary
graces. Naturally the Mass can be offered for one or all of these
various intentions. All these doctrines were established and promulgated
in the chapters and canons of Session 22 in the Council of Trent.
derive from this fundamental theological nature of the Mass. First,
the Canon Missae.
In the Roman liturgy there has always been only one Canon, which
was introduced by the Church many centuries ago. The Council of
Trent expressly stated, in Chapter 4, that this Canon is free from
error; in fact it contains nothing that is not full of sanctity
and piety and that does not raise the faithful to God. In composition
it is based on the words of Our Lord himself, the tradition of
the apostles and the regulation of saintly popes. Canon 6 of Chapter
4 threatens with excommunication those who maintain that the Canon
Missae contains errors and should therefore be abolished.
In Chapter 5 the Council stated that human nature requires external
signs in order to raise the spirit to divine things. For that reason
the Church has introduced certain rites and signs: silent or vocal
prayer, blessings, candles, incense, vestments, et
cetera. Many of these signs have their origins in apostolic
prescriptions or tradition.
Through these visible signs of faith and piety, the nature of
the sacrifice is underscored. The signs strengthen and encourage
the faithful in their meditation on the divine elements contained
in the sacrifice of the Mass. To safeguard this doctrine, Canon
7 threatens with excommunication all those who consider these external
signs as inducing impiety instead of piety. This is an example
of what I discussed before: this kind of statement, with the canon
of sanctions, has largely a theological meaning, not only a disciplinary
In Chapter 6 the Council emphasizes the desire of the
Church that all the faithful present at Mass should receive Holy
but states that if only the priest who celebrates the Mass receives
Holy Communion, this Mass should not then be called private and
so be criticized or forbidden. In this case the faithful receive
Communion spiritually, and, further, all sacrifices offered by
the priest as a public minister of the Church are offered for all
the members of the Mystical Body of Christ. Thus, Canon 8 threatens
with excommunication all those who say that such Masses are illicit
and should therefore be forbidden—another theological statement.
Chapter 8 is dedicated to the peculiar language of worship in
the Mass. It is known that in the cult of all religions a sacred
language is used. In the Roman Catholic Church during the first
three centuries the language was Greek, being the common language
employed in the Latin world. From the fourth century on, the Latin
language developed into the common idiom in the Roman Empire. Latin
remained for centuries in the Roman Catholic Church as the only
lanuuage for worship. Quite naturally, Latin was also the language
of the Roman rite in its central act of worship, the Mass. This
remained the case even after Latin was replaced as the living language
by the various Romance languages.
Trent on Latin,
Now we come to the question:
why not chance again? We answer: divine Providence establishes
even secondary things. For example, Palestine—Jerusalem—is the
place of the Redemption by Jesus Christ. Rome is the center of
the Church. Peter was not born in Rome. He came to Rome. Why? It
was the center then of the Roman Empire—that means, of the world.
That is the practical background of the diffusion of the Faith
by the Roman Empire, only a human thing, a historical thing. But
it enters certainly in divine Providence.
A similar process can be seen even in other religions.
For the Moslems, the old Arab language is dead and yet it remains
of their liturgy, of their cult. For the Hindus, the Sanskrit.
Due to its necessary connection with the supernatural, worship
naturally requires its own particular religious language, which
should not be "vulgar" one.
The fathers of the Council knew very well that most of the faithful
assisting at the Mass neither understood Latin nor were able to
read translations. They were generally illiterate. The fathers
also knew that the Mass contains a great deal of instruction for
Nevertheless they did not agree with the view held by
Protestants that it was necessary to celebrate the Mass only
in the vernacular.
In order to provide instruction for the faithful, the Council ordered
that the old custom approved by the Holy Roman Church—the mother
and teacher of all churches—be maintained everywhere, and that
care should be had for souls in explaining the central mystery
of the Mass.
Canon 9 threatens with excommunication those who affirm that
the language of the Mass must only be the vernacular. It is noteworthy
that in both chapter and canon the Council of Trent only rejected
the exclusivity of the "vulgar" language
in the sacred rites. On the other hand, we need once again to take
into account that these various Conciliar regulations do not only
have a disciplinary character. They are based on a doctrinal, theological
foundation that involves the Faith itself.
The reasons for this concern can be seen, firstly, in
the reverence that is due to the mystery of the Mass. The decree
followed concerning what has to be observed and avoided in the
celebration of the Mass states, "Irreverence cannot be separated
from impiety." Irreverence always involves impiety. In addition,
the Council wished to safeguard the ideas expressed in the Mass,
and the precision of the Latin tongue safeguards the content against
misunderstanding and potential errors based on linguistic imprecision.
For these reasons the Church has always defended the sacred tongue
and even recently Pius XI expressly stated that this language should
be non vulgaris. For these
self-same reasons Canon 9 established excommunication against those
who affirm that the rite of the Roman Church, in which a part of
the Canon and the words of consecration are pronounced silently,
must be condemned. Even silence has a theological background.
Finally, in the first canon of the reform decree, in the twenty-second
session of the Council of Trent, we find other regulations which
have a somewhat disciplinary character but also complete the doctrinal
part-for nothing is more fit to guide worshipers to a deepened
understanding of the mystery than the life and example of the ministers
of cult. These ministers should mold their lives and behavior to
this end, and that is reflected in their dress, their bearing,
their speech. In all this they should be dignified, modest and
religious. They also are to avoid even slight faults since in their
case they would be considered grave. Thus superiors were to demand
of the sacred ministers the living out of the whole tradition of
proper clerical behavior.
The Mass of Pius
V and the Mass of Paul VI
Now we can better appreciate
and understand the theological background and foundation of the
discussions and regulations of the Council of Trent concerning
the Mass as the summit of the sacred liturgy. In response to the
serious challenge of Protestantism we can now understand the theological
attractiveness of the Tridentine Mass, not only for that particular
historical period but also as a pattern for the Church and liturgical
reform of Vatican II.
In the first place, we have to determine here the correct meaning
of this reform. As in the case of the Tridentine Mass, we emphasize
the importance of a correct understanding of what was understood
by the Mass of Pope Pius V which fulfilled the wishes of the Council
fathers at Trent.
Now, we must underline what should be considered the correct
name of the Mass of the Second Vatican Council: the Mass of the
post-Conciliar liturgical commission. A simple glance at the liturgical
constitution of the Second Vatican Council immediately illustrates
that the will of the Council and the will of the liturgical commission
often do not coincide, and are even evidently contrary.
We'll briefly examine the main differences between the two liturgical
reforms as well as what we might term their theological attractiveness.
Firstly, in the light of the Protestant heresy, the Mass of Pius
V emphasized the central truth of the Mass as a sacrifice, based
on the theological discussions and specific regulations of the
Council. The Mass of Paul VI (so-called because the liturgical
commission for the reform after Vatican 11 worked under the ultimate
responsibility of the Pope) emphasizes rather the integral part
of the Mass, Communion, with the result that the sacrifice is transformed
into what could be termed a meal. The great importance given to
the readings and to preaching in the new Mass, and even the faculty
given to the priest to add private speeches and explications, is
another reflection of what can be called an adaptation to the Protestant
idea of worship....
French philosopher Jean Guitton says that Pope Paul VI
revealed to him that it was his [the Pope's] intention to assimilate
much as possible of the new Catholic liturgy to Protestant worship.
Clearly, it is necessary to verify the true meaning of this remark,
since all the official statements of Paul VI—especially his excellent
eucharistic encyclical Mysterium Fidei of
1965, issued before the end of the Council, as well as the Credo
of the People of God demonstrate his absolute
orthodoxy. Now, how can we explain this opposite statement?
Along these same lines we can try to understand the new position
of the altar and the priest. According to the well-founded studies
of Msgr. Klaus Gamber concerning the position of the altar in the
old basilicas of Rome and elsewhere, the criterion for the old
position was not that it should face the worshiping assembly, but
rather that it should be turned towards the East, which was the
symbol of the rising sun of Christ who was to be worshiped. The
completely new position of the altar and priest in facing the assembly,
previously forbidden, today becomes an expression of the Mass as
a meeting of the community.
Secondly, in the old liturgy the Canon is the center of the Mass
as sacrifice. According to the testimony of the Council of Trent,
the Canon traces itself back to the tradition of the apostles and
was substantially complete at the time of Gregory the Great, 600.
The Roman Church never had other canons. Even for the mysterium
fidei in the Consecration form, we have evidence from
Innocent III, explicitly, at the inauguration of the Archbishop
of Lyons. I don't know if the majority of liturgy reformers know
about this fact. St. Thomas Aquinas in a special article justifies
this mysterium fidei. And the
Council of Florence explicitly confirmed the mysterium
fidei in the Consecration form.
Now, this mysterium fidei was
eliminated in the Consecration words brought about in the new liturgy.
Why? We also find permission given for new canons. The second
one—which does not mention the sacrificial character of the Mass—with
its merit of being the shortest, has virtually supplanted the old
Roman Canon everywhere. Thereby, the profound theological insight
given by the Council of Trent has been lost.
The mystery of the divine Sacrifice is actualized in every rite,
though in different ways. In the case of the Latin Mass it was
emphasized by the Tridentine Council with the silent reading of
the Canon in Latin. This has been discarded by the proclamation
of the Canon in the new Mass out loud.
Third: the Vatican II reform destroyed or changed the meaning
of in much of the rich symbolism in the liturgy (though it remains
in the Oriental rites). The importance of this symbolism was emphasized
by the Council of Trent....
This fact was deplored even by a well-known atheistic
psychoanalyst, who called the Second Vatican Council the "Council
There is one theological
principle completely overthrown by the liturgical reform but confirmed
both by the Council of Trent and by
the Second Vatican Council, after a long and sober discussion.
(I assisted, and can confirm that the clear resolutions of the
final text of the Council constitution substantially reaffirmed
it). That principle: the Latin language is to be preserved in the
Latin rite. As in the Council of Trent, so in Vatican II the Council
fathers admitted the vernacular only as an exception.
But for the reform of Paul VI, the exception has become exclusive.
Theological reasons which were stated in both councils for the
retention of Latin in the Mass can now be seen to have been justified
in the light of the exclusive use of the vernacular introduced
by the liturgical reform. The vernacular has often vulgarized the
Mass itself, and the translation of the original Latin has resulted
in very serious doctrinal misunderstanding and errors.
Furthermore, the vernacular was not formerly permitted for people
who were not only illiterate but also completely different from
one another. Now that different languages and dialects can be used
in worship, by Catholic people of varying tribes and nations, all
living closely in a world that becomes smaller every day, this
Babel of common worship results in a loss of external unity in
the world-wide Catholic Church which was once unified in a common
voice. Further, it has become on a number of occasions the cause
of internal disunity even in the Mass itself, which should be the
spirit and center of external and internal concord among Catholics
throughout the world. We have many, many examples of this fact
of disunion caused by the vulgar tongue.
And another consideration.... Before, every priest in the whole
world could say the Mass in Latin for all the communities, and
all the priests could understand Latin. Unfortunately, today no
priest can say the Mass for all the people in the world. We must
admit that, only a few decades after the reform of the liturgical
language, we have lost that possibility of praying and singing
together even in the great international gatherings, such as Eucharistic
conferences, or even during meetings with the Pope, the center
of the unity of the Church. No longer can we sing and pray together.
Finally, we have to consider seriously the behavior of
the sacred ministers in the light of the Council of Trent—the
behavior of the sacred ministers whose deep relationship with
ministry the Council of Trent emphasized. Correct clerical behavior,
dress, bearing, comportment, encourage people to follow what they
say and teach. Unfortunately, the wretched behavior of many clerics
often obliterates the difference between sacred minister and laity,
and emphasizes the difference between the sacred minister and the alter
Summarizing our reflections, we can say the theological attractiveness
of the Tridentine Mass corresponds with the theological incorrectness
of the Vatican [II] Mass. For this reason the Christi
Fidelis of the theological tradition should continue
to manifest, in the spirit of obedience to legitimate superiors,
the legitimate desire and pastoral preference for the Tridentine