The Tridentine Mass

Paul Cavendish

We hear a lot these days about people who attend the "Tridentine" Mass. Considering the amount of controversy and strength of feeling about the subject it may come as some surprise to many people that the "Tridentine" Mass has almost certainly not been celebrated, apart from occasional liturgical reconstructions, since 1604 - nearly four hundred years ago.

The "Tridentine" Mass was, as its name suggests, the Roman rite of Mass revised by order of the Council of Trent and published with the now much-misunderstood bull Quo primum of Pius V in 1570. There has been no shortage of apologists claiming that this rite of Mass was thus an insurmountable obstacle against the Protestant heresies, which is rather odd considering the missal of 1570; is virtually identical to Roman missals first printed a century earlier, before Protestantism was on the scene. Whilst it is true that the calendar was radically pruned of an accretion of saint's feasts and was largely a return to eleventh century usage, with regard to the non-changeable part of the Mass, the Ordinary, it must be emphasised that this was essentially the same as that in the first printed Roman rite missal of 1474. Now only found in the great libraries of the world, like our own British Library in London, Pius V's missal is worthy of close examination, especially as it contained several features which were only going to last thirty odd years before being changed under the authority of Clement VIII with the publication of his revised missal in 1604.

On opening the missal the first item of interest is a rubric ordering the celebrant on entering the church to kneel and recite a verse from Ps.65 "I will go into thine house" (Introibo in domum tuam; in holocaustis reddam tibi vota mea, quae distinxerunt labia mea.) before reciting the further antiphon, Ne reminiscaris, and the five psalms in preparation for Mass. The same is to be found in the rubrics for Pontifical Mass. The Pontificale of Pius V, and earlier editions, instruct the bishop to kneel and say Introibo in domum tuam before he vests for Terce and Mass. (For example see: Pontificale Romanum, Venice, 1572, British Library Cat. C132.h.50.) The prayer of St Ambrose, Summe Sacerdos, is not divided into sections for the various days of the week. In the revised missal of 1604 the first antiphon disappears altogether and St Ambrose's prayer is divided into sections of equal length for the different days of the week. The general rubrics of the missal are not numbered as in later editions. (For example see: Missale Romanum, Paris, 1572, British Library Cat. 15 .) Within the general rubrics there is no mention of ringing a bell, incense or torchbearers but all these appear in the rewritten rubrics of the 1604 edition along with additions such as the rubric, RG XX, describing the preparation required for the altar.

With regard to the ordinary, i.e. the non-changeable part of the Mass thereare several interesting features. After the Confiteor the words "all sins" (Missale Romanum, loc.cit., "Misereatur...omnibus peccatis; Indulgentium... omnium peccatorum".) appear in the absolution rite. At High Mass a rubric orders the verse Dirigatur Domine... to be said by the celebrant whilst he incenses the altar before saying the Introit of the day, in addition to saying the same words when the altar is incensed at the Offertory. This rubric is suppressed in the Clementine missal and I have been unable to discover its existence in pre-Trent missals. A rubric appears in some missals instructing that the Kyrie be said at High Mass at the centre of the altar, which in the 1604 rite and subsequent revisions is done only at a private ('low') Mass. (On this point there is some variance between missals produced by different printing houses. e.g. Missale Romanum, Venice, 1589, B.L. Cat. C.130.d.14 along with others clearly state this whilst the 1572 edition referred to above does not.) In the canon the name of the king is mentioned and the words "As often as you do these things..", the Haec quotiescumque, are said whilst the celebrant elevates the chalice, not afterwards which is ordered in Clement VIII's missal. The latter is an interesting point and probably reveals the more ancient concept of the elevation of the Eucharistic Elements, at this point in the Mass as an act of offering, not for adoration. In earlier centuries adoration would have been given towards the end of the canon at what is now termed the "little elevation" which originally was the major elevation in the rite. A comparison with current Byzantine practice is helpful in conveying the sense of the two different elevations in the Canon. Certainly with the growth of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament in the Middle Ages the original significance of the action was obscured and replaced. The Pian missal preserves the last vestige of the older idea in this rubric. At the end of High Mass another distinctive rubric regulates the blessing given by the celebrant. He is instructed to impart not one but three blessings, one at the epistle corner, one in the centre and one at the gospel corner of the altar: "ln missa solemnia... ter benedicat populo, primo a cornu Epistolae dicens, Pater, secundo ante medium altaris dicens, Et Filius, tertio a cornu Evangelii dicens, Et Spiritus Slanctus.." In the new missal of 1604 this was also suppressed and triple blessings reserved for prelates.

The calendar of Pius V's missal was, as already stated, basically, the Roman calendar of the eleventh century. A great number of medieval saints had their feasts removed and the whole thing only contains about half a dozen or so saints who had been canonised in the previous four centuries. The great Eastern Doctors, SS Athanasius, Basil, John Chrysostom, Gregory Nazianzen had their feast days raised to the rank of doubles to balance the four Doctors of the West; SS Gregory I, Augustine, Jerome and Ambrose. The Eastern Doctors are not actually described as such but have the same Mass common, In medio, as their Western brethren. Saints such as SS Anthony of Padua, Nicholas of Tolentino, Patrick, Joachim, Francis of Paula, Bernadin, Anne, Elizabeth of Hungary had their feasts removed from the calendar. The end result was a very spartan calendar in marked contrast to what had preceded Pius's missal and what was to follow. Prominence was given to ancient Roman martyrs and there was a general tendency to lower the ranks of saint' s feasts in order that Sundays and the ferias of Lent and Advent would be celebrated. After Pius' death subsequent popes would return saints to the calendar who Pius had removed as well as add new feasts as a result of subsequent canonisations. Anatomical feasts were entirely absent from the calendar. What is of great interest is the suppression by Pius V of a proper Mass titled the "Immaculate Conception" for December 8th. Most pre-Trent missals have this Mass formula (e.g. Missale Romanum, Venice, 1481, B.L. Cat IA19880.) and give the introit Egredimini and the same collect as in the Mass proper Pius IX was to authorise three centuries later. In Pius V's missal no mention of "immaculate" appears and in most of the early editions of the missal a proper is not even printed on December 8th for Our Lady's Conception instead a rubric directs the celebrant to use the formulary given for the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin on September 8th and change the word "nativity" to "conception" in the collect.

Pius V's missal has a very streamline and elegant feel to it. It is in marked contrast to what was to follow in the Baroque and Romantic periods. One cannot but wonder whether the missal of Pius V would be welcomed by those Catholics who claim to attend the "Tridentine" Mass today. Certainly for all the supposed prohibition Quo primum put on subsequent change the actual rite promulgated by Pius V lasted no more that thirty four years. (In fact not even that long . Many missals from the mid-1580's incorporate some rubrical changes regarding the Canon and rules for the blessing along with the return of the feasts for some of the saints Pius V suppressed e.g. SS Anne, Anthony of Padua, the Presentation of the BMV etc.) The rite of Clement VIII with some further rubrical changes and a fuller calendar was essentially republished by Urban VIII in 1634, the most noticeable feature being better worded and clearer rubrics. It was really Urban VIII's missal which survived, with the addition of many more saint's feasts, to 1920 when a further revised missal was published by authority of Benedict XV. This missal incorporated the numerous changes to the calendar and rubrics introduced by Pius X which affected the Mass - e.g. the colour of vestments within octaves; the number of Masses to be sung in Cathedral and Collegiate Churches when a feast and major feria coincided; rules regarding the choice of preface; the choice of Mass formulary in Lent etc. Perhaps the most apparent change was that of Sundays "going green". Hitherto on most Sundays when a feast occurred the festal Mass was said with the Sunday being commemorated, the colour of the vestments being red or white. After Pius X's changes the majority of Sundays out ranked feasts and the familiar green vestments were seen Sunday after Sunday. Actually Pius X had appointed a Commission to make a thorough revision of the liturgy (E.g. vide: Burton & Myers "The New Psalter and its Use", Longmans, 1912; Vinck, Essai de réforme générale du bréviaire par Pie X en 1913, Revue d'Histoire Ecclesiastique, 73, pp 69-74.) but for various reasons this did not take place, although the Breviary was radically reformed.

The modern phase of liturgical reform really got re-started when, in 1948, Pius XII appointed members to a similar Commission to undertake a reform of the entire liturgy. (Vide: SRC Sectio historica 71: Memoria sulla riforma liturgica.) This Commission, whose secretary was Fr Annibale Bugnini, was responsible for the new Holy Week rites approved by Pius XII in November 1955. The new Holy Week rites were the most radical change in the Roman missal for a millenium or more. The services were completely restructured in a sort of trial run for many of the reforms that came after Vatican II. The Commission was also responsible for other drastic changes under Pius XII and John XXIII. Some of these changes were concerned with the calendar - e.g. suppression of most Of the vigils and octaves, whilst others directly effected the rite of the Mass - e.g. the suppression of the prayers at the foot of the altar and last gospel on certain occasions; ritual gestures of the celebrant being altered; the celebrant not reading himself those parts of the Mass proper to other ministers etc. The overall effect was of a watering down of the rite. The idea of the Commission was to allow existing liturgical books to be used until a complete reform of texts was accomplished. These, and other, changes were incorporated into a new edition of the missal published in 1962 and it is this rite many people, quite wrongly, describe as "Tridentine". Pius XII's Commission asked all Metropolitans and Archbishops for their views on reform and many of their replies were in favour of radical change to the liturgy. (Vide: SRC Sectio historica 97: Memoria...Supplemento IV: In this anthology of the various Archbishops' replies Mgr Mannix of Melbourne, for example, proposes turning Vespers and Compline into something which would have resembled Anglican Evensong (Reply no. 90) and whilst Marcel Lefebvre, then Abp of Dakar, gives a more conservative view (no. 60) he knew reform was underway although he would later deny it.) The idea, rather in vogue in some circles today, that the Council Fathers were unaware of what was being planned is rather fanciful to say the least. Indeed John Paul II spells out all of the above in his Apostolic Letter marking the 25th anniversary of the promulgation of The Constitution on the Liturgy. (Vide: Vicesimus quintus annus, AAS 81, pp 897-918: note Section 3 and footnote 9 (p900 in AAS) in particular.)

Pius V's short-lived missal and Quo primum were the first instance of a pope excercising authority over local bishops with regard to the liturgy for a major section of the Church. Before this time each diocesan bishop was responsible for what went on in his own territory. Quo primum was aimed at bishops, not future popes, and reserved to the papacy the authority to make changes to the liturgy. Those who are so vociferous about the "Tridentine" rite often fail to appreciate this point. With the Second Vatican Council and the general move away from centralisation in the Church it will be interesting for our descendants to look back at the period we are now living through and examine the changes that will inevitably be made to Paul VI's missal, just as so many were made to that of Pius V.