Mass of the Ages – Part I

The Altar is ready for Mass, at the close of 40 Hours Devotion. The veiled chalice is in the center, and the Missal at the left, with edges towards the cross. Six tall candles are burning, three on each side of the tabernacle.

Six candles are burning on the high altar, three on each side. The chalice is veiled, centered in front of the tabernacle, and beneath the cross. An open Missal is seen to the right on a bookstand. The relics of many prominent Saints are placed on the altar, enthroned in their reliquaries, so as to have full view of the site where the sacrifice will take place.

The bell rings.

As the sanctuary becomes filled with the majestic sound of the pipe organ emanating a beautiful processional piece from the storehouse of sacred music, the priest, donned with his heavily embroidered chasuble and biretta, enters. He is lead first by the thurifer, then acolytes with their candles, and finally the master of ceremonies. All process slowly and with the greatest reverence to the foot of the high altar.

As the processional comes to a close, all make a profound genuflection while facing the altar. The acolytes remain kneeling, and make their responses as the celebrant begins to pray from Psalm 42, the Júdica Me. As reflected in this Psalm, we, with the prophet David, aspire after the temple and altar of God, seeking to praise, honor, and worship Him.

Simultaneously the Schola begins to sing an ornate selection according to the day from the Liber Usualis, the usual book. Within this book are found the Church’s most treasured sacred antiphons and responsorials known as Gregorian Chant, which easily transcend more than 1,000 years of Church history. Gently flowing and uninterrupted, the text and music blend to become what is certainly a very heavenly, solemn prayer worthy of the highest regard, and effective in raising the mind and heart to the awareness of the presence of God.

After the celebrant and the servers have prayed that we might be purified before we approach God in the Confiteor, and the prayers of absolution are said, it is then the priest ascends the steps of the altar to incense it, and begin the Mass…

It was this particular form of the Mass described above which Pope Benedict XVI spoke of in his Apostolic Letter on July 7, 2007, naming it the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite. In his letter, echoing the sentiments of his predecessor Pope John Paul II, the Holy Father gave immediate and worldwide permission for the extraordinary form to be celebrated by any priest both privately and publicly, and also within religious communities. In addition, it is now manda tory for pastors to provide for the celebration of the extraor dinary form when a stable group of faithful requests it.

To understand this substantial event in the history of the Catholic Church and the reason for the Apostolic Letter, it is important to begin by studying the origin of the Roman Rite itself.

What is the extraordinary form?

The extraordinary form of the Roman Rite was given to the Church by Pope Pius V in 1570, and became mandatory throughout the western Church at the request of theCouncil of Trent for a more uniform liturgy in his bull Quo Primum:

“…it’s most becoming that there be in the Church only one appropriate manner of reciting the Psalms, and only one rite for the celebration of Mass. … These men consulted the works of ancient and approved authors concerning the same sacred rites; and thus they have restored the Missal itself to the original form and rite of the holy Fathers. … Let all everywhere adopt and observe what has been handed down by the Holy Roman Church, the Mother and Teacher of the other churches, and let Masses not be sung or read according to any other formula than that of this Missal published by Us.This ordinance applies hence forth, now, and forever, throughout all the provinces of the Christian world. … Therefore, whosoever is permitted to alter this notice of Our permission, statute, ordinance, command, precept, grant, indult, declaration, will, decree, and prohibition should know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.”

The establishment of this Missal normalized the primary prayer and sacrament of the Church. It made sure that no matter where you went, the Mass was the same, and the faithful knew what to expect when they went to Mass. Every element of the Mass was spelled out in black and white, with very little flexibility offered to the celebrant. Having a formal Missal also protected against elements of the Protestant Reformation, which began with Martin Luther’s actions in 1517, from infiltrating and taking hold in the liturgy.

The language used in this bull clearly shows that Pope Pius V sought to establish the Roman Missal as a permanent part of the Church, to be preserved for all time. As such, from that time forward, in keeping with the irrevocable command of the Holy See, onlyrevisions would be made to this Missal in order to bring it up to date, such as adding new feast days for newly canonized Saints, changes to the rubrics, and to the liturgical calendar. There were seven official editions from 1570 to 1962. The version of the Roman Missal as it existed in 1962 is now the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite.

The latest or eighth revision of this Missal, made more than 400 years after it was formally canonized, came when Pope Paul VI issued his Apostolic ConstitutionMissaleRomanum in April of 1969, in response to the revisions requested by the Second Vatican Council in Sacrosanctum Concilium:

“The rite of the Mass is to be revised in such a way that the intrinsic nature and purpose of its several parts, as also the connection between them, may be more clearly manifested, and that devout and active participation by the faithful may be more easily achieved. … For this purpose the rites are to be simplified, due care being taken to preserve their substance; elements which, with the passage of time, came to be duplicated, or were added with but little advantage, are now to be discarded; other elements which have suffered injury through accidents of history are now to be restored to the vigor which they had in the days of the holy Fathers, as may seem useful or necessary.

The edition of the Roman Missal published as a result remains the current revision used today, and is now known as the ordinary form of the Roman Rite, as specified by Pope Benedict XVI.

One and the Same Rite

Summorum Pontificum states that these two forms are a twofold use of one and the same rite, and that they in fact do not contradict:

“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.

However, after examining the way this latest revision of the Missal was implemented across the United States and other parts of the world, the changes appear to be much more drastic than Pope St. Pius Vintended. The question arises whether or not the result was possibly a departure from the past norms, rather than an organic development of the liturgy codified by the Council of Trent. Because the continuity of the Magesterium is guaranteed us as a doctrine of Faith, we know there must be more to the story. The answer lies in examining what changes were really called for by Pope Paul VI, and how accurate we have been in obediently following them. What can be quite enlightening is to find out what is actually contained within the primary document concerning the liturgy promulgated by the Second Vatican Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium.

Latin to be Preserved

The most noticeable, dramatic change present in the Mass of Paul VI is that the vernacular all but replaced Latin. So, did the Council abolish Latin? Here is an excerpt from Sacrosanctum Concilium:

“… the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites. … In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and “the common prayer,” but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people…Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.

It is clear that Vatican IIintended Latin to remain a strong part of the liturgy. As a matter of fact, most Church documents are published in Latin before any other language. To develop the concept of retaining Latin further, we need to look at what the Church had in mind regarding Gregorian chant — the union of Latin with music.

Gregorian Chant has Pride of Place

It may come as a surprise to many that Gregorian Chant is actually explicitly prescribed by Vatican IIto have pride of place in the liturgy:

“The Church acknowledges Gregorian Chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services. … But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action. … The typical edition of the books of Gregorian Chant is to be completed; and a more critical edition is to be prepared of those books already published since the restoration by St. Pius X.

We read from the above that not only are parishes supposed to be using Gregorian Chant in the liturgy, the task of compiling books for its use was also to be commenced and completed, extending upon of the work of Pope St. Pius X.

Pope St. Pius X took as his motto Instaurare Omnia in Christo, or “to restore all things in Christ.” He worked to restore Gregorian Chant to prominency, and also battled through vigorous condemnation of what he termed ‘modernists’ and ‘relativists’ who endangered the Catholic faith. Perhaps the most controversial aspect of his papacy was his Oath Against Modernism, requiring many in the Church to swear by it.

The Pipe Organ

Use of Organ is Esteemed

In addition to Gregorian Chant, Vatican IIhad some very specific things to say about instruments and text for hymns at Mass as well:

In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man’s mind to God and to higher things.

While there is the allowance for other instruments to be admitted into the liturgy, there are conditions upon which they be used, namely, that they be made suitable for sacred use:

“This may be done, however, only on condition that the instruments are suitable, or can be made suitable, for sacred use, accord with the dignity of the temple, and truly contribute to the edification of the faithful.

“The texts intended to be sung must always be in conformity with Catholic doctrine; indeed they should be drawn chiefly from holy scripture and from liturgical sources.

It can safely be said that this is one of the most abused areas of the liturgy, and that much of the music being heard in parishes today do not live up to these standards.


Statues of The Holy Family

Importance of Sacred Art and Sacred Furnishings

Many of us have noticed that the statues, art, altar rails, and other sacred objects have largely disappeared from our parish. Let us consider what Sacrosanctum Conciliumhas to say about sacred furnishings:The practice of placing sacred images in churches so that they may be venerated by the faithful is to be maintained. … Ordinaries must be very careful to see that sacred furnishings and works of value are not disposed of or dispersed; for they are the ornaments of the house of God. … Along with the revision of the liturgical books, there is to be an early revision of the canons and ecclesiastical statutes which govern the provision of material things involved in sacred worship. These laws refer especially to the worthy and well planned construction of sacred buildings, the shape and construction of altars, the nobility, placing, and safety of the eucharistic tabernacle, the dignity and suitability of the baptistery, the proper ordering of sacred images, embellishments, and vestments.

I have heard of Catholics rumaging around in dumpsters after new pastors arrive, pulling out beautiful statues to preserve, and good families having entire altar rails in private storage for the day that a new pastor will return them to their rightful place.

Did you notice the importance placed on the nobility and placement of the tabernacle? How often do you have difficulty in finding the tabernacle after you enter, in order to genuflect when visiting a church? Hiding, removing or otherwise obscuring the tabernacle is clearly another change completely opposed to the Council instructions.

Typical Posture is Ad Orientem

Contrary to popular belief, the Council documents do not even mention building new altars nor the direction the priest faces at the altar during Mass. From the first revision of the Missal, through and including the Missal of 1970, the ad orientem posture has been the typical norm. It is true, however, that in 1970, there is an option for facing the people. However, it is just an option, and several instructions in the General Instruction specify when the priest should turn to face the people, implying that there are those times when he is not. Actually, who we are really facing is the Lord, and the priest and the people face Him together in the ad orientem posture. The fallacy that his back is towards them is a surreptitious way for those infatuated with being entertained during Mass to shed negative light on what is otherwise a holy, and very traditional act of reverence to the Blessed Sacrament. The Holy Father had this to say when asked about the restoration of the ad orientem posture:

“…I would say could be a help because it is really a tradition from the Apostolic time, and it’s not only a norm, but it’s an expression also of the cosmical dimension and of the historical dimension of the liturgy. We are celebrating with the cosmos, with the world. It’s the direction of the future of the world, of our history represented in the sun and in the cosmical realities. I think today this new discovering of our relation with the created world can be understood also from the people, better than perhaps 20 years ago. And also, it’s a common direction — priest and people are in common oriented to the Lord. So, I think it could be a help. Always external gestures are not simply a remedy in itself, but could be a help because it’s a very classical interpretation of what is the direction of the liturgy.

Benedict XVI Sees the Deformity

It is very interesting to note that our Holy Father had much the same concern in his letter which accompanied the Motu Proprio regarding how well the new Missal was followed, which sheds much light on his reasoning behind issuing it:

“Many people who clearly accepted the binding character of the Second Vatican Council, and were faithful to the Pope and the Bishops, nonetheless also desired to recover the form of the sacred liturgy that was dear to them. This occurred above all because in many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear. I am speaking from experience, since I too lived through that period with all its hopes and its confusion. And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.

When asked directly about the implementation of the Second Vatican Council as Cardinal Ratzinger, he stated the following:

“Generally, I would say it was not well implemented; the liturgical reform, because it was a general idea. Now, liturgy is a thing of the community. The community is representing itself and so with the creativity of the priest or of the other groups they will create their own liturgies. It is, more the presence of their own experiences and ideas than meeting with the Presence of the Lord in the church. And with this creativity and self-presentation of the community is disappearing the essence of liturgy. Because in essence we can go over our own experiences and to receive what is not from our experience, but is a gift of God. And so, I think we have to restore not so much certain ceremonies, but the essential idea of liturgy – to understand in liturgy, we are not representing ourselves, but we receive the grace of the presence of the Lord with the Church of the heaven and of the earth. And the universality of the liturgy, it seems to me, is essential. Definition of liturgy and restoring this idea would also help to be more obedient to the norms, not as a juridical positivism, but really as sharing, participating what is given to us from the Lord in the Church.”

The Need to Reform the Reform

It is this need that our Holy Father mentions, that is to curb the liturgical innovations and begin to repair the damage caused by decades of deformations which may have inspired him to write his Motu Proprio. As one can see from the previous examples, the Mass according to the 1962 Missal, with its use of Latin, Gregorian Chant, pipe organ and sacred music, additional prayers, traditions and reverences, and other external signs and symbols of the spiritual realities of the sacrifice perpetuated is in many ways much more the Mass of Vatican IIas is the Mass many of us experience on Sunday. Thus, a reform of the reform is necessary. It appears to the author that the Holy Father is bringing forward an example to follow in the extraordinary form, to use as a guide and shining light in terms of bringing the ordinary form into congruence with the Council.

It must be said that there are those parishes where the Mass of Paul VI is celebrated reverently, and according to the true spirit of Vatican II, which was not one of modernization and liberalizing the Church. There are even some parishes having at least one Mass during the week when the Latin translation of the new Missal is used, or when Latin is used for the ordinary (Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei).

These parishes are hard to find, but when they are available, it is a great blessing. The pastors of these parishes should be greatly encouraged, and much gratitude for their perseverance in this time of great trials for the Church should be shown to them. Remember, priests need your prayers too! They are under extreme pressures at times, and being a holy, devout priest is not easy in today’s world.

Some parishes in certain dioceses where they have a generous Bishop had already had Mass being offered according to the 1962 Roman Missal. A list of these parishes, which is not all-inclusive can be found on the Una Voce website at

Universal Permission

Previously, explicit permission was required from the local ordinary to celebrate this Mass. The letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments in 1984 Quattuor abhinc annos granted this faculty to Bishops, and was later affirmed by the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei adflicta of Pope John Paul II in 1988. The problem with this has been getting the Bishops to actually follow through on the call for“wide and generous application of the directives” as most Bishops were reluctant to allow it out of fear, lack of understanding, or at times even disdain for the old Missal and its high standards.

The new Motu Proprio allows the use of the extraordinary form to all. The hope is that in having more access to the Mass of the Ages, and all the other sacraments available in the extraordinary form, both expressions of the one Roman Rite will grow closer to one another to more authentically teach and transmit the Catholic Faith for the good of mankind.

In closing, I’d like to share with you two of the many reasons to attend a Mass in the extraordinary form. Both deal with the effect our life of faith has on our daily struggle to attain holiness.

The Need for Silence

The angels love silence. It is in silence that one can listen, and hear the voice of God and the good holy angels. Sr. Lucia of Fatima said of the visit from the Angel that “the very apparition itself seemed to impose silence on us. It was of such an intimate nature that it was not easy to speak of it at all, even to each other.” In Eucharistic Adoration, we sit in awe and silence.

Since our world today is full of noise, and our lives are without a moment of peace at times, one aspect of the extraordinary Mass worth mentioning is the effective use of silence during the Canon. According to the 1962 Missal, from the moment of the first words of the “Sanctus,” if recited, or after the Sanctus is sung, the church is to remain in utter silence, in preparation for the consecration. Only for the Pater Noster (Our Father) is the silence lifted. During this extended time, the only sounds heard are the bells, rung three times during the consecration of the Body, and then the Blood of Jesus, to indicate the divine presence of the three Persons in the Blessed Trinity. This time very much resembles the environment of an adoration chapel, and rightly so, as the Son of God becomes present during these moments. If you’re looking for a moment of peace in your busy lifestyle, the extraordinary Mass will provide you with a weekly chance to experience God in silence, in honor of His true presence in the Eucharist.

“Lex orandi, lex credendi.”

Extinguishing Candles

Loosely translated, Lex orandi, lex credendi is Latin for “to the law of prayer is the law of belief.” In other words, as we pray, we live. This truth explains that it is only through a healthy prayer life that our temproal life can flourish —  that one is always a reflection of the other.

If it is a healthy prayer life we desire, we must ask, what is the heart of Christian prayer? It is the Mass —  the supreme prayer of all prayers, and the most perfect offering to the Father —  that of Jesus Himself. At Mass we present to the Father all of the merits gained by our Savior, which He freely gave out of love on our behalf. It is for this reason that the Mass needs to be the cornerstone of our prayer life, and that it be well done.

The focus on prayer in the extraordinary form is unmistakable. First and foremost, the environment created by the reverence shown to the Eucharist is immensely prayerful. For this reason, this Mass may take you a little bit closer to heaven, where the angels are in perpetual worship and adoration.

Doing more to learn how to actively pray the extraordinary Mass, rather than a passive subsistance as spectators, will change your relationship with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. He will become personal to you, through the heightened awareness of the sacred brought to you by the sights, sounds and smells of the extraordinary liturgy.

Then, through worthily receiving this sacrament, preceeded by ample prayer and reflection, and as period of silent adoration, the graces for resisting temptations and making choices in accord with God’s holy will shall flow. Knowing and living in the will of God is our true destiny, and will surely lead us to heaven.

So that we may live to be more holy, and better equipped to “fight the good fight,” let us pray for the full restoration of the Roman liturgy, and thus our ability to pray, through which we approach the immense font of God’s grace.

In Part II of this series, we will develop more completely the specific symbolisms and rituals unique to the extraordinary liturgy.

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