INTRODUCTION TO THE MASS
The Second Vatican Council declared that the Mass is the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed, the fountain from which all her power flows. In the words of the Venerable Cardinal Newman, nothing is so consoling, so piercing, so thrilling, so overcoming as the Mass. Father Frederick Faber described it as the "most beautiful thing this side of Heaven".
For Catholics, it's the Mass that matters...the unbloody re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice on Calvary. And for two thousand years, Catholics have been obeying Our Lord's command at the Last Supper "Do this in memory of Me". The four accounts of the Last Supper, in Matthew, Mark, Luke and 1 Corinthians give us the nucleus of the liturgy in all subsequent Catholic rites.
In the earliest times, the Eucharist was celebrated with - but distinct from - a Christianised synagogue service. Over the centuries, the ceremony developed, with the prayers, formulae and movements crystallising into set forms.
Eventually the details of Eucharistic services in different parts of the world began to diverge. In the third century, the Church of Africa was the first to use Latin, while Greek continued to be used in Rome for another hundred years. Although there was no idea of a set pattern for the liturgy, the Eucharist gradually adopted a uniformity of outline. In many cases, the same words were used. Long formal prayers recur in the earliest writings.
>From the time of Constantine in the fourth century, complete liturgical texts are available of specifically different rites, based initially on the patriarchal cities of Rome, Alexandria and Antioch and on the Gallican usage of northern Europe.
>From the four parent rites, others developed and from the eighth century onwards, the Roman rite (as celebrated by the Pope) gradually displaced all other rites in the west - with the exception of the rites of Toledo and Milan.
But, over the years, additions crept in. Bishops allowed local modifications to the liturgy, large cities developed their own variations, many religious orders adopted their own liturgical customs. Then the Protestant reformers, in their opposition to the ideas of the Real Presence and Eucharistic Sacrifice, developed their own communion services.
The Council of Trent, in the mid-sixteenth century, opposed the anarchy of these new services and ordered that Mass should be celebrated uniformly everywhere.
In 1570, St Pius V published the new, restored Missal. But the rite established following the Council of Trent - the so-called Tridentine rite - was not a new form of the Mass. Pope Pius V's liturgy dates back essentially unchanged to the time of St Gregory in the sixth century...though that liturgy lasted a full three hours! The Bull Quo Primum granted priests the right to use the Tridentine rite forever, without scruple of conscience or fear of penalty.
With the exception of minor modifications, the Tridentine rite was essentially the rite used throughout the western Church until the introduction of the new Missal of Pope Paul VI in 1970 following the Second Vatican Council.
The Council itself had declared its desire to preserve and foster all lawfully acknowledged rites and, even after the introduction of the new Missal, permission was still given for the use of the old rite.
In liturgical matters, the Council said the Church had no wish to impose a rigid uniformity, though it directed that the use of the Latin language was to be preserved in the Latin rites. Elderly priests continued to be allowed to celebrate Mass in the old rite. Men like the Italian Franciscan stigmatist Blessed Padre Pio and Blessed Jose-Maria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, used the old rite until their deaths. Cardinal John Heenan of Westminster obtained special permission for the continued celebration of the Tridentine Mass for English and Welsh Catholics. Other groups, unhappy with the reformed liturgy, used the old rite with or without permission.
In 1984, the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship, in response to requests from Catholics around the world, granted a wider permission for the celebration of the Tridentine rite. Four years later, Pope John Paul II, in a binding papal document, decreed that respect must be shown everywhere for the feelings of all those attached to the old Latin tradition by wide and generous permission for celebration of the old rite.
In 1991, the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei - set up to monitor the implementation of the Pope's instruction - wrote to Bishops around the world informing them that, although it had the power to grant permission for the celebration of Tridentine Masses, it would prefer the Bishops to do so in their own dioceses.
The President of the Commission, Cardinal Paul Mayer, said Tridentine Masses could be celebrated in parish churches and the new calendar should not be imposed upon those traditional Catholics who wished to maintain the integrity of the old rite. The only requirement for priests celebrating the old rite should was that they should make it clear that they did not dispute the validity of the new rite.
So the Tridentine Mass celebrated today is recognisably the same as that celebrated for 14 centuries without a break throughout western Christendom - a rite whose roots are lost in the mists of Apostolic antiquity.
Today, the Tridentine Mass is once again celebrated widely throughout the world with the support and encouragement of the Vatican and many Bishops. But in many externals the old rite is different from the new. For priests used to celebrating the new rite - even those who used to celebrate the Tridentine Mass - the old rite can appear at once complicated and confusing. This text, which is also published in booklet form in conjunction with a video, aims to help priests and lay people learn all about the old rite of Mass - its history, its grace and the significance and importance of its rubrics.