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Tridentine Mass

A surviving Pre-Vatican II altar and reredos, with High Mass candles
This altar was not radically re-ordered because of its historical importance. Note the steps up to the altar. Different parts of a Tridentine Mass were performed on different steps, with the consecration taking place in front of the tabernacle. A modern wooden altar (out of shot) which is now used in the celebration of Mass, stands between the old altar and the altar rails, which remain intact also.

The Tridentine Mass is the name given to the Latin-language Mass celebrated in accordance with the Roman Missal promulgated on December 5 1570 following the Council of Trent (Tridentine is the adjectival form of Trent). It was codified by the Council of Trent to standardize the celebration of the Mass in the Western Church (although the rite was mostly unchanged for a few centuries before its standardization) and as a response to the theological and ritualistic changes of the new Protestant churches.

Table of contents
1 Other Rites replaced
2 Very formalised ritual
3 Pontifical High Mass
4 The replacement of the Tridentine Mass
5 Public attitudes towards the two Masses
6 Sedevacantists
7 Tridentine Mass increasingly celebrated again
8 Tridentine Mass increasingly celebrated again
9 External link

Other Rites replaced

The local rites that it superseded were for example, the Gaulic and Irish (although these were only different in small ways), though the new Missal containing the new Tridentine Mass retained any other rites that had existed for at least 200 years. This allowed the presevation of the Ambrosian and Mozarabic Rites, which are still praticed in Milan and Toledo respectively, as well as the rites of the Dominicans, the Carthusians, and the Carmelites.

The Council of Trent solemnly declared that the "Sacrifice of the Mass" is at the centre of the Roman Catholic liturgy, contrary to the what it deemed the heresy of Martin Luther, who denied that the Mass was a sacrifice.

The Council of Trent, which dealt with the issue of the Mass in three sessions: the thirteenth session in October 1551, the twentieth session in July 1562, (which dealt with the Sacrament of the Eucharist), and in particular the twenty-second in September 1562. This latter session produced the 'dogmatic chapters' and canons on the Mass.

Very formalised ritual

Compared to other Catholic rites at the time, the Roman rite was noted for its sobriety. It featured an almost military like coordination and structure in movement, with everything done in a smooth, deliberate fashion. One of the main reasons for the codification of the rite was to prevent pious Priests from improvising their own additional prayers. The Roman rite usually does not have the Iconostasis that almost all other Catholic rites use, and this influences much of the liturgy.

The style of chant by which the mass is sung is much simpler than any other liturgy, especially when compared to the Coptic rites. Whole prayers are usually sung by the priest or Bishop on series of three notes.

Pontifical High Mass

The basic liturgical function, from which others are derived, is the Pontifical Mass, the Mass of the Bishop. As the faithful spread and grew, one Bishop was not sufficient to provide the sacraments to everyone, so Priests were delegated to say Mass. This led to a reduction in ceremonies unbeffitting to a simple Priest. Later, when poorer churches could not afford choirs, Mass was simple spoken, instead of sung, this was called a low mass. The distinction was shown symbolically by the use of candles. In the Pontifical High Mass, all the candles were lit. In a Low Mass, only the lowest candles on the reredos were lit.

The replacement of the Tridentine Mass

The Tridentine Mass was replaced following the Second Vatican Council, which decreed a general revision of the order of Mass and encouraged, in its "Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy", the adoption of translations of that liturgy into vernacular languages (i.e. local languages, rather than Latin). With the publication and promulgation of the new Roman Missal Pope Paul VI presented the Church with the Novus Ordo Missae.

Redesigning the Sanctuary

In the Tridentine Mass, the priest celebrated Mass with his back to the congregation (symbollically leading the congregation), facing the tabernacle that was on the altar in front of a reredos (or retable), and which usually faced towards the east as a symbol of the rising sun of Christ who was to be worshipped.1 In the modern Mass introduced by Pope Paul VI the physical structure of the sanctuary where Mass is celebrated was changed dramatically, a fact reflected in the manner of the celebration of the Mass. In the new Mass, the celebrant faces the congregation over the altar. Though some churches simply moved the altar away from the reredos, many removed the often spectacularly carved reredos altogether.

Relocation of the Tabernacle

Many other changes occurred. Many churches moved the tabernacle from the centre of the sanctuary a side chapel. The large-scale removal of altar rails that had originally marked the boundary between the sanctuary where the clergy were permitted and the nave, where the faithful were permitted. The vestments were substantially altered, while an increased use of native language music, often involving traditional, folk, rock and sometimes secular music has replaced Latin hymns and Gregorian chant.

Public attitudes towards the two Masses

The introduction of the new Missal proved to be one of the most controversial changes to come after Vatican II. While the vast majority of Roman Catholics accepted the changes (some reluctantly, some with enthusiasm), a small minority of conservative laity, priests and bishops criticised its introduction and claimed the changes went against papal bulls and encyclicals dating back half a millennium. According to conservatives, the validity of the Tridentine Mass and the invalidity of the use of a vernacular translation was stressed as recently as Pope Pius XII (r:1939-1958). French philosopher Jean Guitton claimed that Pope Paul said to him that he wanted to assimilate as much as possible of the new Catholic liturgy to Protestant worship.2

Many also criticised the re-ordering of church sanctuaries to facilitate the celebration of the reformed Liturgy, in particular the removal of the reredos and altar-rails from many sanctuaries, and the removal of the tabernacle from its previously central position on top of the old altar to side chapels. Conservative critics have blamed the decline in the use of traditional religious ceremonies such as Benediction, and the disappearance of old-style church music, on the introduction of the Novus Ordo Missae.

A priest celebrating a Tridentine Mass


The Tridentine Mass is of central important to various Sedevacantist groups who have claimed the actions of Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI and their successors made them antipopes. Organisations such as the true Catholic Church even elected their own 'popes' to authorise the continuing use of the Tridentine Mass. Others, like the Society of St. Pius X, insisted on celebrating Tridentine Masses even when debarred from doing so by Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II.

Tridentine Mass increasingly celebrated again

While the Vatican does allow the use of Latin Masses, it insists that the latin version of the new Missal be used rather than the older Tridentine Mass, which only can be celebrated with a special dispense. These Parishes are approved by Rome and their local Bishop. There are now Parishes dedicated to the exclusive celebration of the Mass said according to the 1962 Missal, itself based on the original Tridentine Missal of 1570.

There are also several groups, in union with the Holy See that celebrate the Tridentine Mass exclusively. These include the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter founded by Pope John Paul II after issuing the motu proprio "Ecclesia Dei" in 1988.

Tridentine Mass increasingly celebrated again

While the Vatican does allow the use of Latin Masses, it requires that in the vast majority it is the latin version of the Novus Ordo Missae that is used rather than the previous Tridentine Rite. While it does on some occasions allow the saying of Tridentine Masses, it insists on only allowing these with special dispense or Indult. Such dispensations have been increasingly granted. In 1999 Cardinal John O'Connor allowed the celebration of a full Pontifical High Mass in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, by a visiting retired cardinal. In 2001 it was revealed that the Vatican now routinely allows the celebration of Tridentine Masses in St. Peter's Basilica (though not on the main altar). It was further revealed that Pope John Paul II himself now regularly celebrates Mass according to the Tridentine Rite in his private papal chapel in the Papal Apartments in the Vatican.

In some places there are now Parishes dedicated to the exclusive celebration of the Mass said according to the 1962 Missal, itself based on the original Tridentine Missal of 1570. There are also a number of priestly societies that celebrate the Tridentine Mass exclusively, among these the more commonly know are the Fraternity of St. Peter, Society of St. Pius X, Society of Christ the King. A number of priests have rejected the need for permission to say the Tridentine Mass, citing the Papal Bull of Pope St. Pius V Quo Primum Tempore which accompanied the promulgation of the 1570 Roman Missal. However celebration of the Tridentine Mass without full approval is seen within mainstream Roman Catholicism as a breach of church law and may result in censure of those clergy who do so.



1 Alfons Cardinal Sticker, "the Attractiveness of the Tridentine Mass" (Speech in the United States in 1999 by Sticker, who is the retired prefect of the Vatican Archives and Library).

2 Guillon's claim was mentioned by Stickler in the above speech.

External link

text of the Tridentine Mass in latin with an english translation