Both Masses of the Roman Rite are Tradition

Both Masses of the Roman Rite are Tradition

As is usual in articles about the liturgy, there was division in the comments on my articles about devotion to the old Mass and about participation in the Mass from people who prefer the Extraordinary Form and from those who prefer the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. This is my attempt to find a balance between the two sides, and be open to the whole of the Church’s traditions.

The novel A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. begins 600 years after a nuclear war that destroyed the bulk of civilization. The story opens upon a monastery were books are being hidden and preserved. They are being hidden because after the war, there had been a movement known as the Simplification, where masses of people went around destroying books and killing anyone who tried to keep books hidden. They were afraid of knowledge, because it had led to the awful war. A man, Leibowitz, started a secluded monastery to preserve surviving books and history. The monks spend their days copying and memorizing the books and trying to relearn much of what was lost. Many of the books are so piecemeal, that they cannot understand them. Catholicism has developed over 600 years in a world hostile to knowledge and shaking from the effects of mass destruction. The traditions that have been passed down must be interpreted for the people of their present time. Some of the old traditions they cannot make sense of and some of them are very exaggerated. The sense of liturgical time and the liturgical ceremonies are much more intense than they were before the war, but they suit the people of the time.

Photo by Lawerence OP.

Photo by Lawerence OP.

I sometimes feel, as a generation that is rediscovering old traditions, that we are doing the same thing. There are things in the Church that were simplified, and when we discover the more ancient traditions and try to take part in them, it is different than it was 50 years ago. There was something lost in all those changes that we cannot get back, but that does not mean that we cannot carry the traditions on. We are relearning them, and applying them to our lives now.

Thanks to Pope Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificam in 2007, which allowed wider use of the old Mass, now called the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, following up on Pope Blessed John Paul II’s allowance in 1988, many more are discovering the older traditions that are such an essential part of the liturgy. Many have hoped that the old traditions would have an effect on the new traditions, and that the new Mass, the Ordinary Form, would be reworked to be less unlike the EF. Lately, on the New Liturgical Movement, there has been a lot of discussion on whether this “Reform of the Reform” is dead; those who hold this position believe that organic growth, the way that the liturgy developed from the time of Christ to Vatican II, of the new Mass is not possible. I would propose that the Church will not remain stationary when it comes to the liturgy, but that the changes will continue to happen slowly. They will take time, much more time than many would like. (There is an informative and interesting five part discussion of the state of the Reform of the Reform by Joseph Shaw on his blog.)

We were given the new Mass, put together by some Council Fathers, a little over 40 years ago. It was a break from the organic development that the old liturgy had come from, but the new Mass is a part of our tradition now. It is all that two generations have known, and only recently, have these generations been exposed to the older traditions of the Mass. Some have embraced it and seek out the Extraordinary Form, but most younger people go to the Ordinary Form. Those born since 1970 have been formed by and in the new liturgy; it is apart of their formation as Catholics. Even those born in the late 50s and 60s have very little memory of the old Mass. The New Mass is now rooted in the body of the Church.

The changing of the liturgy is not going to happen now; it is not going to happen next year. Those who prefer the Ordinary Form, need not fear that it is going to be taken forcefully from them, and those who prefer the Extraordinary Form are being given a chance to attend it in more and more places. They are both available to the faithful.

Is having the two forms in one rite necessarily a problem? Is it a situation that is harmful to the Church? I say not. While maybe it is unprecedented to have two Masses in one rite, a diversity of liturgies is nothing new to the Church. And as Pope Benedict XVI said in Summorum Pontificum, the old Mass was never juridically abrogated. The tension of the two forms of the Roman Rite was put there from the earliest implementation of the New Mass. In the earliest centuries of the Church, there was a different rite in most cities. The Ambrosian Rite of Milan still exists to this day, not to mention all of the Eastern Rites and their unique liturgies. In the Middle Ages up to Vatican II, many Roman Rite religious orders had their own liturgical rites, for example, the Dominicans and the Franciscans. Now we have the Anglican ordinariates in the Roman Church, which have their own liturgy. We are living in a time of liturgical tension, but we must carry on and see what traditions stay with the Church over the next several centuries. Maybe in 500 years, every city will have its own rite again, and the liturgies will be variations of the two Roman Rite Masses. It will still be the Sacrifice of the Mass united with Christ at Calvary.

My husband and I often look at all the Church traditions, the various spiritualities, and the many liturgies and want to take part in them all. We make a point to attend Eastern Rite liturgies occasionally, and read a variety of spiritual books. Why not let oneself be influenced by all of them? I think of the story told by St. Thérèse of Lisieux in her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, where her sister Léonie offers a basket of playthings to Thérèse and Céline:

“One day Léonie, thinking no doubt that she was too big to play with dolls, brought us a basket filled with clothes, pretty pieces of stuff, and other trifles on which her doll was laid: “Here, dears,” she said, “choose whatever you like.” Céline looked at it, and took a woollen ball. After thinking about it for a minute, I put out my hand saying: “I choose everything,” and I carried off both doll and basket without more ado.”

St. Thérèse applies this to her call to give herself entirely over to God; it can also be applied to the Church and her liturgy. The Church can have all of the traditions, and live with them. They may, in time, merge together into one liturgy, or maybe having two forms of a rite will not be seen as such a problem in the future. I cannot predict what will happen. Only God knows.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI seemed to have a similar thought in Summorum Pontificum when he said:

I think of a sentence in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, where Paul writes: “Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide.  You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections.  In return … widen your hearts also!” (2 Cor 6:11-13).  Paul was certainly speaking in another context, but his exhortation can and must touch us too, precisely on this subject.  Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.

There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal.  In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture.  What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.  It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place. “

As Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 called his bishops to open their hearts to allowing for the use of the old Mass, Catholics now can see this as a call to open their hearts to both Masses. Whether you prefer one or the other, they are both apart of the Church’s tradition. The universal nature of the Church allows for this. While there are many kinks to be worked out, for example, the differences of liturgical calendars of both forms, it is okay to have the tension. It does not mean that the Church is divided; it just means that she has opened herself up “for everything that the faith itself allows.”


  1. Dear Susanna

    I respectfully disagree.

    Summorum Pontificum (NB not Pontificam) did not actually “allow” wider use of the old Mass. Rather, and as you later say, it said that the the old Mass was never juridically abrogated. In other words, the de facto ban on the old mass from 1969 to 2007 was in fact an abuse of the law. (An abuse which, incidentally, JPII perpetuated in 1984 and 1988 when he maintained that special permission was needed to celebrate the old mass.)

    The new mass is thus objectionable (to put it mildly) as follows:
    1. As you say, it was a break from the organic development that the old liturgy had come from; in other words – a revolution. Revolutions are not God’s way.
    2. In order to make this revolution prevail, the old mass had to be suppressed and its adherents subjected to all kinds of vilification (which continues even post-Summorum Pontificum).

    The tragedy of the new mass is that it is not necessarily invalid – if it were it could be ignored as some kind of pantomime. But instead, every valid new mass brings about the Real Presence in a revolutionary setting that is thus unworthy.

    Devout Catholics (such as your good self) would do well to reject the new mass totally, and attend the old mass (or one of the pre-Vatican II eastern rites) exclusively.

    God bless

    • Paul, if you click on the first link in the article in the first paragraph, you will learn that I do prefer the old Mass. I do often wish that the Mass had never been changed. But the fact is that it has, and it is a major part of the faith for many Catholics. To reestablish old traditions, it will have to be done slowly and not as in a revolution, as you explained is not God’s way.

      Thank you for your thoughts.

      • Susanna,
        Don’t buy the no revolution line too quickly. Simply love both Masses sans ignoring Christ’s call for the old and the new. Christ in Mt.13:52 said “Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.” When Christ made a whip and drove the moneychangers out of the temple, He was not being typically traditional. When He cured a man and told him to carry his mat on the Sabbath, He was not being traditional. When He let his disciples pick grain on the Sabbath, He was not being traditional unless you hopped with Him centuries back to David’s example of eating the loaves of proposition under great hunger. Christ called for both tradition and newness. When Christ said in a parable that a Samaritan could be better in behaviour toward a victim after a mugging than religious Jews, He was not talking traditional. The Samaritans had obstructed the building if the temple after the exile and had refused hospitality to Christ in Luke 9. Yet Christ was new again by pointing out that the only leper of ten that thanked him was a Samaritan.
        When He said the scribes were circumventing the 4th commandment by calling too many things corban, Christ was being traditional. He was both old and new. We Catholics argued for centuries about usury with the Dominicans accusing the Franciscans of usury in their fees in their pawn shops. A Council settled it on the Franciscan side. The issue now is near invisible. Both those orders accused the Jesuits of being too new and heretical on their spinning of the Chinese ancestral rites into respect for elders who might be in heaven…much later a Pope agreed with the Jesuits unlike Popes of that time. Christ called for the new and old. Don’t forget the passage by Him I began with. There are millions we are not converting because of these constant controversies. And when this one fades like usury did after centuries if arguing, another issue will appear. New and old. New and old.
        Christ said it….new and old. I had six years of Latin. I don’t want it. I affirm the right of others to have it. New and old.

          • Thank you, Bill, for your comments. I did see that article, which was one of the reasons I decided to write on the two forms. The Church has never stood still, but has always been understanding truth at a new level. That is where the old and the new come together.

  2. Wonderful article, thank you! I am glad that, in encouraging fellow Catholics to be open to the whole of the Church’s traditions, you mentioned the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (& during this season of the Great Fast, the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great) which Catholics ought to avail themselves of in order to “breathe with both lungs, East & West” (as Bl. John Paul II called all Catholics to do in his Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen). God bless!

    • We are blessed to have one in San Diego where I am stationed! As one with Orthodox roots, I am grateful to God for the Byzantine Churches!

  3. Good piece, ma’am.

    What saddens me about the Ordinary Form is that it doesn’t flow much with the conciliar documents of Vatican II. Of course it is the Eucharist, but by simply reading the documents of the council and then attending a regular Sunday Mass, it leaves me wanting what the Council actually offered!

    During every liturgy discussion, I urge traditionalists to offer a vision and press for the use of the actual Mass of Vatican II, what the Council actually presented to the world. Predominant use of vernacular but with the use of Latin, Gregorian chant and polyphony given their place of honor, the priest and the people facing God together ad orientum, among other organic liturgical traditions.

    Heck, I encourage fellow Catholics who prefer the OF to return to the texts of Sacrosanctum Concilium and promote the Mass as the Council intended.

    We have become a Church of onliyists- Latin among a few folks, tambourine and guitar onlyists among the predominant party. The actual Mass of Vatican II would unite all Catholics, traditional and contemporary. Thank you for your time and God bless.


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