A pre-Vatican II altar with reredos'
The altar is preceded by three steps, as was most common for a church’s main altar, though some main altars, such as that in Saint Peter’s in the Vatican, had (and have) much more than three. Side altars usually had only one step.
The Tridentine Mass is a term used for Mass celebrated in Latin in accordance with the successive forms of the Roman Missal from its December 5 1570 promulgation by Pope Pius V, implementing a decision of the General Council, held in Trent, Italy (Tridentine is the adjectival form of Trent), through its repeated revisions by later Popes, especially in 1604, 1634, 1888, 1920 and 1955, up to but not including the revision by which Pope Paul VI implemented a decision of another General Council, the Second Vatican Council.
The Roman Missal revised and published by order of Pope Pius V
In addition to "Tridentine Mass," Traditional Catholics use the terms "ancient Mass," "traditional Mass," etc., because Pope Pius V’s revision of the Roman Missal aimed at restoring the Missal “to the original form and rite of the holy Fathers”. At the time of the Council of Trent, the traditions preserved in manuscript Missals and being spread because of the invention of printing varied considerably, and standardization was sought not only within individual dioceses, but throughout the Latin West. Pope Pius V accordingly imposed uniformity by law, exempting only rites of an antiquity greater than 200 years. Several of the rites that thus remained legitimate were progressively abandoned, though the Ambrosian rite survives strongly in Milan, Italy and neighbouring areas, stretching even into Switzerland, and the Mozarabic rite continues in much more limited fashion in Toledo, Spain. The Carmelite, Carthusian and Dominican religious orders also kept their rites until the second half of the twentieth century, when they chose to adopt the Roman rite, after this had been revised in accordance with the directives of the Second Vatican Council. The rite of Braga, Portugal seems also to have been abandoned.
Standardization was also required to safeguard against introduction into the liturgy of notions linked with the religious revolution initiated by Martin Luther, whose opinions and those of other reformers made it necessary for the Council of Trent to set forth Catholic teaching on the Eucharist in three of its sessions.
Liturgy of the traditional Mass
The following is an outline description of the Roman-rite Mass as celebrated in the mid-twentieth century, including additions such as the Prayers after Mass or Leonine Prayers, introduced by Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903), but never included in the Roman Missal and not recited in Latin in English-speaking countries, unlike several other countries.
The wordings given are those found in typical Missals used by English-speaking Catholics who wanted to follow the prayers that the priest said in Latin and to which a response was usually given only by the altar servers.
Mass of the Catechumens
- Preparation; Acts of Contrition
- Asperges (Sprinkling with holy water, Psalm 51:9, 3)
- The Priest intones the Aspereges prayer and sprinkles all in the church with holy water.
Sign of the Cross
- The priest makes the sign of the Cross at the foot of the altar, after processing in with other clergy and servers, if any.
- Introibo ad altare Dei; Judica me (Psalm 43)
- The priest prays, and other clergy or the servers symbolically respond on behalf of the people at certain points.
- Public Confession (Confiteor)
- First the priest, then those responding symbolically on behalf of the people, pray: "I confess to almighty God, to blessed Mary ever Virgin, to blessed Michael the archangel, to blessed John the Baptist, to the holy apostles Peter and Paul, to all the saints, and to you, Father, that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Therefore I beseech blessed Mary ever Virgin ... and you, Father, to pray to the Lord our God for me."
- The priest at the altar
- The Introit is usually taken from a Psalm. Exceptions occur: e.g. the Introit for Easter Sunday is adapted from Wis 10:20-21. This evolved from the practice of singing a full Psalm while approaching the Altar, which was revived experimentally before Vatican II.
- This part of Mass is a linguistic marker of the origins of the Roman liturgy in Greek. "Kyrie, eleison; Christe, eleison; Kyrie, eleison." means "Lord, have mercy; Christ have mercy;..." Each phrase is said (or sung) thrice. See also Gregorian chant and the music of the Mass.
- Gloria in excelsis Deo
- The first line of the Gloria is taken from Lk 2:14. The Gloria is omitted during liturgical seasons calling for penitence, such as Advent and Lent, both generally having the liturgical color violet.
- Instruction; Acts of Faith
- The Collect
- The priest turns toward the people: Dominus vobiscum. Et cum spiritu tuo (The Lord be with you. And with thy spirit (an idiomatic phrase meaning "and with you too"). The Collect follows, a prayer not drawn directly from Scripture. It tends to reflect the season.
- The Epistle or "letters" which were primarily extracts from the letters of St. Paul to various churches found in the Bible.
- The Gradual and Alleluia
- The Gradual is partly composed of a portion of a Psalm.
- The Gospel or the words of our Lord
- Before the Gospel the priest prays: "Cleanse my heart and my lips, O almighty God, who didst cleanse the lips of the prophet Isaias...", a reference to Isaiah 6:6. After being cleansed by the angel, Isaias was instructed to prophesy.
- The Sermon
- Before the sermon, announcements were made, especially of marriages, requirements of the liturgical season such as fasting, events for the week, and requests to pray for the ill or deceased.
- The Creed
Mass of the Faithful
- Catechumens, i.e. those being instructed in the faith, were once dismissed at this point, not having yet professed the faith. Profession of faith was considered essential for participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice, cf. Didache, ca. A.D. 140: "Let no one eat or drink of the Eucharist with you except those who have been baptized in the name of the Lord..." (Jurgens §6).
- Offertory; Acts of Self-surrender
- Offertory antiphon
- An antiphon is a musical response, such as a verse. The offertory antiphon is often taken from a Psalm, or from other Scripture.
- Offering of Bread and Wine
- Here the priest prays that, although he is unworthy, he offers to God the spotless host for his own innumerable sins, offences and neglects, for all those present, and for all faithful Christians living and dead, that it may avail unto salvation of himself and those mentioned. He then mixes a few drops of water with the wine, which will later become the Blood of Jesus, and offers “the chalice of salvation”. He then prays a prayer of contrition adapted from Dan 3:39-40.
- Incensing of the offerings and of the faithful (if done)
- The priest prays Psalm 141:2-4: "Let my prayer, O Lord, be directed as incense in Thy sight;..."
- Washing the hands
- The priest prays Psalm 26:6-12: "I will wash my hands among the innocent..."
- Prayer to the Most Holy Trinity
- This prayer asks that God, the Trinity, may receive the oblation being made in remembrance of the passion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and in honor of blessed Mary ever Virgin and the other saints, "that it may avail to their honour and our salvation: and that they may vouchsafe to intercede for us in heaven..."
- Orate fratres and Secret; Amen concludes Offertory
- Here the priest turns to the congregation and prays that "my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the Father almighty."
- Consecration; Acts of Gratitude and Hope
- Preface of the Canon
- "The Roman Canon dates in essentials from St. Gregory the Great  and earlier. It contains the main elements found in almost all rites, but in an unusual arrangement..
- Dominus vobiscum. Et cum spiritu tuo. Sursum corda. Habemus ad Dominum. Gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro. Dignum et justum est. The first part can be seen above at the Collect; the rest means: Lift up your hearts. We lift them up unto the Lord. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is meet and right.
- Next a preface is prayed, indicating specific reasons for giving thanks to God. This leads to the Sanctus.
- Canon or Rule of Consecration 
- Intercession (corresponding to the Reading of the Diptychs in the Byzantine Rite)
- A diptych is a two-leaf painting, carving or writing tablet. Here the priest prays for the living; that the Church may be united and that God may govern it together with the Pope and "all true believers and professors of the Catholic and Apostolic Faith". Then specific living people are mentioned, as are those present, and all those known to God as faithful. Then Mary ever Virgin, the Apostles, and Popes and other Martyrs are mentioned, for they live in Heaven as members of the Church Triumphant.
- Prayers preparatory to the Consecration
- A prayer that God may graciously accept the offering and deliver [us] "from eternal damnation".
- Consecration (Transubstantiation) and major Elevation
- Oblation of the Victim to God
- An oblation is an offering; the pure, holy Victim is now offered, with a prayer that God may accept the offering and command His holy angel to carry the offering up, and that those who will receive the Body and Blood "may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing."
- Remembrance of the Dead
- On the other 'leaf' of the diptych, the priest now prays for the dead ("those who have gone before us with the sign of faith and sleep the sleep of peace") and asks that they may be granted a place of refreshment, light and peace. This is followed by a prayer that we may be granted fellowship with the apostles and martyrs. Some martyrs, men and women, are then mentioned by name.
- End of the Canon and minor Elevation; Amen ratifying the Canon prayer
- The concluding doxology is: "Through Him, and with Him, and in Him, be unto Thee, O God the Father almighty, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honour and glory, world without end."
- Communion 
- The Lord's Prayer and Libera nos
- The "Libera nos" is an extension of the Lord's Prayer developing the line "sed libera nos a malo" ("but deliver us from evil"). The priest prays that we may be delivered from all evils and that the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, together with the apostles and saints, may intercede to obtain for us peace in our day.
- Fraction of the Host
- During the preceding prayer, the priest breaks the consecrated Host into three parts, and after concluding the prayer drops the smallest part into the Chalice while praying that this commingling and consecration of the Body and Blood of Christ may "be to us who receive it effectual to life everlasting."
- Agnus Dei
- "Agnus Dei" means "Lamb of God." The priest then prays: "Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us." He repeats this, and then adds:"Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, grant us peace."
- The Pax
- The priest asks God to look not to [our] sins but to [our] faith. He prays for peace and unity within the Church, and then, if a High Mass is being celebrated, gives the sign of peace, saying: "Peace be with you."
- Prayers preparatory to the Communion
- In the first of these two prayers for himself, the priests asks that by Holy Communion he may be freed from all his iniquities and evils, be made to adhere to the commandments of Jesus and never be separated from him. In the second he asks: "Let not the partaking of Thy Body, O Lord Jesus Christ...turn to my judgment and condemnation: but through Thy goodness may it be unto me a safeguard...."
- Receiving of the Body and Blood of our Lord
- Several prayers are made here. One of these, prior to communion, is based on Mt 8:8: "Lord, I am not worthy...." If anyone other than the priest will communicate at the Mass, i.e. receive the Eucharist – something not envisaged in the text of the Ordo Missae of the pre-1970 Roman Missal – then a member of the clergy or the altar server will again say the Confiteor (cf. above), as in the rite of giving Communion outside of Mass.
- Thanksgiving; Acts of Gratitude
- Prayers during the Ablutions
- The prayers now focus on what has been received, that "we may receive with a pure mind", "that no stain of sin may remain in me, whom these pure and holy sacraments have refreshed."
- Communion Antiphon and Postcommunion
- The communion antiphon is normally a portion of a Psalm. The Postcommunion Prayer is akin to the Collect in being an appropriate prayer not directly drawn from Scripture.
- "Ite Missa est"; Blessing
- "Go, you are dismissed." Thanks be to God."
- The last Gospel (Jn 1:1-14)
- Leonine Prayers
- The Ave Maria, Salve Regina, and a prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel are offered at this point.
- Canticle of the three youths, from Dan 3 if used.
- Sample prayers after Mass (not part of the liturgy)
- Spiritual books such as missals, which Catholics often carry to Mass with them, usually contain prayers suitable for after Mass, as well as for before Mass. Statues and works of art in the chapel or church are also aids to prayer.
Comparison with other rites
While other rites use more poetic language, the Roman rite is noted for its sobriety of expression. But its ritual has been more formal. It adopted practices unknown in eastern Churches, such as frequent genuflections (instead of infrequent bows), kneeling for long periods, and keeping both hands joined together, as is the custom also for East and South Asians at prayer. The Tridentine Missal minutely prescribed every movement, to the extent of laying down that the priest should put his right arm into the right sleeve of the alb before putting his left arm into the left sleeve (Ritus servandus in celebratione Missae, I, 3). Concentration on the exact point at which the bread and wine were believed to be changed into the body and blood of Christ led to the host and the chalice being shown to the people immediately after that point. For this purpose, if the priest had his back to the people, as was most common, he elevated the consecrated host and chalice above his head.
The Roman rite no longer has the iconostasis or curtains that heavily influence the ritual of some other rites, though it too at one stage sometimes used full-scale iconostases (one is represented in a scene in Giotto’s Stories from the Life of St Francis in the great Assisi basilica) or the reduced form known as a rood screen.
Western ears find the traditional chant of the Roman rite, known as Gregorian chant, less ornate than that of the eastern rites: except in such pieces as the graduals and tracts, it eschews the lengthy melismata of Coptic Christianity, and, being entirely monophonic, it has nothing of the dense harmonies of present-day chanting in the Russian and Georgian Churches. But, when Western Europe adopted polyphony, music at the Roman-rite Mass did become very elaborate and lengthy. While the choir sang one part of the Mass, the priest said that part quickly and quietly to himself and continued with other parts, or he was directed by the rubrics to sit and await the conclusion of the choir’s singing. The elaborateness of the music used in the Roman rite may also explain how it became normal for the priest to speak the words of the Mass, often inaudibly, instead of chanting them, as is done in all other rites.
Different levels of celebration
Though what was called the Pontifical High Mass, Mass solemnly celebrated by a bishop accompanied by a deacon and subdeacon and other ministers, was the original form of the Mass, the Mass most people were familiar with was celebrated by a single priest who spoke the words without chanting. In English, it was called a Low Mass. Mass at which the priest sang and a choir responded was known as a Missa Cantata (sung Mass). A High Mass was celebrated with the assistance of a deacon and subdeacon (or of priests taking the parts allotted to these) and with some additional ceremonies.
Revision of the Roman Missal
On 4 December 1963, the Second Vatican Council decreed in Chapter II of its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy  that “the rite of the Mass is to be revised ... the rites are to be simplified, due care being taken to preserve their substance. Parts which with the passage of time came to be duplicated, or were added with little advantage, are to be omitted. Other parts which suffered loss through accidents of history are to be restored to the vigor they had in the days of the holy Fathers, as may seem useful or necessary. The treasures of the Bible are to be opened up more lavishly so that a richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s word ... A suitable place may be allotted to the vernacular in Masses which are celebrated with the people ... communion under both kinds may be granted when the bishops think fit ...”
Pope Paul VI implemented the Council's directives, ordering with apostolic constitution Missale Romanum of Holy Thursday, 3 April 1969, publication of a new official edition of the Roman Missal, which appeared in 1970.
Opposition to the 1970 revision of the Roman Missal
Many Catholics – though only a very small minority within the Roman Catholic Church as a whole, as is indicated also by the choice of the religious orders mentioned above to adopt the revised rite in place of their own – claimed that the revision went against the 4th Anathema of the Council of Nicaea, Pope St. Pius V's bull Quo Primum promulgating his edition of the Roman Missal, Pope St. Agatho's Papal Oath, etc.; that it fails to promote proper reverence; and that it leads to Protestantized belief. They still maintain this position: see Novus Ordo Missae.
A few high-profile Church figures were among those who opposed the revision. In September 1969, before the revised Missal was published, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, Prefect Emeritus of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote an open letter to Pope Paul VI, accompanying it with a theological study of a preliminary draft of the Ordo Missae section of the Missal. The study claimed that the draft "represents, both as a whole and in its details, a striking departure from the Catholic theology of the Mass as it was formulated in Session 22 of the Council of Trent.".
In October 1967, a meeting of the Synod of Bishops had given its opinion on a still earlier draft. Of the 187 members, 78 approved it as it stood, 62 approved it but suggested various modifications, 4 abstained, and 47 voted against.
After the 1970 publication of the revised Roman Missal, Cardinal Ottaviani wrote that Pope Paul VI’s doctrinal exposition of the revised liturgy in its definitive form meant that “no one can any longer be genuinely scandalized”..
In the 1960s, 1970s and beyond, Western countries experienced a drop in Mass attendance. These same countries also saw a decline in seminary enrollments, though on a worldwide scale (especially in African countries, which embraced the revised liturgy most enthusiastically) there was a strong increase in numbers: from 72,991 major seminarians in 1970 (the first year of the Statistical Yearbook of the Church and, coincidentally, the year of publication of the revised Roman Missal) to 113,199 in 2002. The same holds for the number of priests (again in contrast to the global trend) and for adherence to fundamental truths of the Catholic faith, as expressed by Catholics in Western countries. The geography of the declines suggests they are part of the general phenomenon of secularism and libertarianism that these countries were already experiencing since the 1960s, before the liturgy was revised. But some, instead, attribute the declines to the changes in the liturgy, and point to opinion polls in which people indicated they thought there was such a link.
Recitation of the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar at the start of a “Tridentine” Mass
Present official status of the “Tridentine” Mass
The present Roman Missal is, doubtless, the text that the Roman rite will use for many years to come. However, the Holy See has made provision for those still attached to the earlier form of the Roman rite. The letter Quattuor abhinc annos of 3 October 1984 authorized for them celebration of Mass in accordance with the pre-1970 Roman Missal. In his letter Ecclesia Dei of 2 July 1988, Pope John Paul II stated that “respect must everywhere be shown for the feelings of all those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition”. That this was a reference not only to the use of the Latin language but also to the pre-Vatican II form of the Roman liturgy is shown by his urging “a wide and generous application of the directives” in the 1984 document.
Authorization to use the pre-Vatican-II Missal is in fact granted to individual priests and to groups in Rome itself and in many dioceses. Other diocesan bishops have not found it appropriate to authorize it. On some occasions the difficulty is that the demand comes from people who treat the directives of the most recent popes as heretical and the most recent Ecumenical Council as unauthoritative.
The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter is an association of priests who celebrate the “Tridentine” Mass in complete accord with the Roman Catholic Church leadership. In 2004, it had 170 priests and 120 seminarians, living in 15 countries. There are some twenty other such groups of priests and religious, operating with full papal approval, most notably the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, with 40 priests and over 60 seminarians in 11 countries.
A group in dispute with the Holy See is the Society of St. Pius X, founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, initially with canonical approval, later withdrawn. Its programme is more sweeping than celebrating Mass in the “Tridentine” form, for it rejects declarations of the Second Vatican Council on relations with non-Catholics and on religious freedom, claiming that some inviolable principles have been betrayed in these and other official documents of the Roman Catholic Church and also in the Church’s practice.
External links and further reading
Quo primum, promulgating the 1570 Roman Missal (Pope Pius V)
Cum santissimum, promulgating the 1604 Roman Missal (Pope Clement VIII)
Si quid est, promulgating the 1634 Roman Missal (Pope Urban VIII)
Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum, promulgating the 1970 Roman Missal (Pope Paul VI)
Encyclical Mediator Dei
Photographs of a Traditional (Tridentine) Mass
Complete English-Latin Ordinary of the Mass in a printer-friendly format
Text of the Tridentine Mass in Latin with an English translation
Why attend the traditional Mass rather than the Novus Ordo?
Prayers after Mass
Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei"
- Michael S. Rose, Ugly as Sin: Why They Changed Our Churches from Sacred Places to Meeting Spaces and How We Can Change Them Back Again Sophia Institute Press, 2001. ISBN 1928832369
The Saint Andrew Daily Missal, St. Bonaventure Publications, p. 69.
- Alfons Cardinal Stickler, "The Attractiveness of the Tridentine Mass" (Speech in the United States in 1999 by Stickler, retired prefect of the Vatican Archives and Library).
- James B. Spencer, "Facts are Stubborn Things" (a review of Index of Leading Catholic Indicators) in The Latin Mass: A Journal of Catholic Culture, Vol. 13, No. 1, Winter 2004, p. 85.
Why the Old Mass in Latin
Novus Ordo Watch
Tridentine Parish of St. Peter & St Paul -- An indult parish.
Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest
Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter
Latin Mass Society of England and Wales
Latin Mass Magazine Published Quarterly
Latin Mass Society of Ireland.
Catholic Apologetics of America
Last updated: 05-07-2005 14:35:02
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04