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Michelo wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • Is it still legal to celebrate the Tridentine Mass?
  • Can you tell me a little bit about that Mass and the main differences between it and the Novus Ordo Mass?


  { Is it legal to celebrate the Tridentine Mass and what are the differences with the Novus Ordo? }

Mike and Rich gave the following team reply:

Hi, Michelo —

It has always been legal to celebrate the Tridentine Mass.

I think it is important to first give some historical background. I found these questions and answers from the Latin Liturgy Association. I believe they will assist you in a better understanding of the development of both liturgies.

Q. Is the Tridentine Mass another name for the Latin Mass?

A. No. The Tridentine Mass is so called because it is the form of Mass produced for the Western church after the Council of Trent, a town in northern Italy, whose name in Latin is "Tridentum". The Council lasted, on and off, from 1545 to 1563 A.D.
In its 22nd session (September 1562) the doctrine of the Mass was defined, as were things to be observed or avoided in its celebration. By a decree of the Council, the actual reform of the Mass rite was left to the Pope, then Pius IV, though it was actually his successor, Pius V who carried out, or at least supervised, the work.

The 'Tridentine Missal' (1570) was the result, and it remained in force for exactly 400 years until Pope Paul VI, when the present Missal came into use. Latin had been the language in use throughout the Western Church almost since its foundation (in the very early days it was Greek), but other languages are used in the Eastern Catholic Churches, for example, in the Coptic rite. So although the Tridentine Mass is always celebrated in Latin, Latin is not an essential aspect of it, and it could, in theory, be celebrated in the vernacular (though it has to be said that the Council of Trent itself rejected the idea of Mass in the vernacular at that time). Nowadays, when we talk about the 'Latin Mass', we mean Mass in any approved rite celebrated in Latin. The Latin Liturgy Association promotes the celebration of the Mass in all approved rites, principally the Tridentine Mass and the Mass of Paul VI (the Novus Ordo) in Latin, with the traditional music associated with the Roman Liturgy.

Q. Since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) the use of the vernacular has become very widespread in the liturgy of the Catholic Church. Given this, why should it be important to retain a place for Latin in the liturgy of today?

A. There are many reasons why Latin should still play an important part in the liturgy of today's Church. Vatican II itself envisaged the continued use of Latin:

"The use of Latin is to be preserved in the Latin rites."
(Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 36)

Latin has been used in the rites of the Western Church since at least the fourth century, if not earlier. It is not surprising therefore that the Novus Ordo introduced by Pope Paul VI in 1970 was composed in Latin. Vernacular translations followed, rather than preceded, the Latin original. The use of the Church's traditional language of worship has the following important benefits:

  1. It is a sacral language, associated with the single, exalted purpose of the worship of God. The use of Latin in this way should not surprise us for a sacral language is a feature of all the major world religions:
    • classical Arabic in Islam
    • Sanskrit in Hinduism and, of course,
    • Hebrew in Judaism - the language in which Our Lord would have prayed.
  2. Latin helps us overcome limitations of time and place, and helps us participate in the universal reality of the Catholic Church, linking us with the generations who have worshiped before us.
  3. The use of Latin in all countries and across the centuries is a powerful symbol of the Church's unity.
  4. The use of Latin enables also the use of the great liturgical music of the Church, particularly plainchant and polyphony. Vatican II said:

    "The treasury of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care." (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 114)

After Vatican II, in the United States, the celebration of Holy Mass in the vernacular was the norm. Nevertheless, there were many Catholics that desired a greater use of the Tridentine Mass.

in 1984, Pope John Paul II gave local bishops permission to allow Mass to be celebrated according to the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal; and in 1988, he urged them to

"make a wide and generous application"

of that permission, in order to meet the aspirations of people attached to the traditional forms of the liturgy. Below are on-line versions of the 1962 and 1970 version:

1962 Missal:

[ from]

1970 Missal:

Prior to July 2007, a priest had to get an indult or formal authorization from his bishop to say the Tridentine Mass in his diocese.

Since Pope Benedict's formal proclamation on July 7, 2007 for a wider use of the Tridentine Mass, any Catholic priest in good standing with the Church can celebrate the Extraordinary Form who:

  • knows Latin and the liturgical language, and
  • rubrics that accompany this liturgy.

Although approval from the bishop is no longer required, a priest in good standing with the Church will usually coordinate his desires with his local bishop.

The principal changes instituted in the 1970 edition of the Mass are:

  • the addition of options, such as the various choices for the Eucharistic Prayer
  • the addition of a third Scripture reading on Sundays
  • a new three-year schedule of Scripture readings
  • simplifying certain repetitive prayers
  • dropping or rearranging some parts in the entrance, the offertory, and the dismissal
  • permission for the use of vernacular languages
  • permission for the celebration of Mass "facing the people"

You can find more information about the traditional Roman liturgy at the following web sites:

  • Latin Liturgy Association
    They support both the old and new rites in Latin and the web site includes a directory of churches.
  • Una Voce
    Promotes the Tridentine Mass, in particular.

If you are reading this post, and interested in the development of the Holy Mass throughout the centuries check out our Mass and Adoration page. Rich assisted in providing the "Links of Interest" at the end, for the Tridentine, also known as the Extraordinary Form of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Hope this helps,

Mike and RC

Please report any and all typos or grammatical errors.
Suggestions for this web page and the web site can be sent to Mike Humphrey
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