What is the Traditional Latin Mass?

The Tridentine Liturgy?

the-tridentine-liturgy-001The Tridentine liturgy is one of the liturgical forms of the Church. Codified after the Council of Trent "in times of real difficulty where the Catholic faith had been put in question as to the sacrificial nature of the Mass, the ministerial priesthood, and the real and enduring presence of Christ under the Eucharistic species, the primary task of St. Pius V was to preserve a tradition which was relatively recent1, and had been unjustly attacked: And this he did by introducing the least possible changes in the sacred rite." Such is the manner in which the context of the Tridentine reform and consequently the assets of the Tridentine Missal are described in the Institutio Generalis of the reformed missal (n. 7 of the preamble added in 1970). We may well then ask to-day, as faith and piety towards the Blessed Eucharist are diminishing, whether one way to counter contemporary theological, spiritual, and pastoral inadequacies is not the celebration of the Eucharistic mystery by means of the liturgical forms of the Missal of St. Pius V.

The traditional liturgy in fact gives acute expression to the Sacrifice of the Cross made present on the altar, orients the soul toward God, and witnesses our adoration of His Real Presence. Clearly the Mass should not be viewed as a theology lesson, but its prayers express a doctrine eloquent indeed, including the four finalities of the Holy Sacrifice: adoration, thanksgiving, propitiation, and petition.

It is only natural that the prayers of the Mass should be oriented towards adoration, because man's first duty as creature is to acknowledge his total dependance on God. This, then, is the first finality of the sacrifice. Next we may observe that most of the prayers of the 1962 missal as well as the various prayers of the offertory and canon, are fervent petitions for God's graces, the first being that God deign to accept the sacrifice. The prayers of the offertory manifest clearly the propitiatory character of the offering: Jesus Christ immolated for our sins in accomplishment of the Redemption. All this, amongst other things, is explicitly contained in the rich texts of the traditional offertory.

Let us note too that the Tridentine rite, after the fashion of incense rising towards Heaven, elevates our souls to God, and, as it draws us from the realities of the senses to the eternal mysteries, permits us, already on earth, to unite our voices to those of the Blessed. This is the goal of all the gestures and of all the ceremonies. The orientation of the altar, the gestures of adoration, the sacred language, the mystery and the silence which surrounds the consecration: all these aspects manifest the sacrality of the Mass.

the-tridentine-liturgy-002Is it not because he is minister of the Church, as we have said above, that the priest employs for example in the course of his sacred ministry a language which is not his mother tongue, but rather the language of the Church for whom he is acting as ambassador? The language of the Tridentine rite is of course Latin. Most of the prayers of the Mass date from the first centuries of the Christian era. It is a matter of general agreement to-day that the Canon (the central prayer of the Eucharistic Sacrifice) was fixed almost definitively by the end of the fourth century2! In 1570 Pope St. Pius V did not thus "compose" a new missal: he simply harmonized the prayers and rites which antedated it by a long period.

Silence is in itself the finest expression of our adoration of the God who descends upon our altars, and most expressive of the mystery which is enacted there. As St. Ignatius of Antioch teaches us, silence accompanies mystery: "The Virginity of Mary, the birth and death of the Lord are three resounding mysteries which God worked in silence." The silence during the Canon is the most ideal means for fostering a truly profound, personal, and interior participation in the mystery of the altar.

Music also holds a supereminent position in the classical liturgy: Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony have developed in the course of the centuries in order to serve and to embellish it.


[1] Pope Paul VI in the Constitution Missale Romanum which precedes this text nevertheless traces its origin back to St. Gregory the Great!
[2] Revd. Joseph-A. Jungmann S.J., Missarum Sollemnia, Aubier, 1951 Vol. I p. 81.

--fssp.org