Frequently Asked Questions
The simple answer is that they recognise its value. Pope Benedict expresses it like this in the Letter to Bishops which accompanied the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum:
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.
The 'riches' are to be found in every aspect of the Missal: in the proper prayers as well as the ordinary, in the rubrics, the lectionary and the calendar, and they are reflected in the special spirituality of Low Mass as well as in the more splendid sung and solemn forms of Mass, and the special ceremonies found at particular times of year, such as Easter. The most immediate impression many people gain of the Traditional Mass, which attracts them to it, is referred to in the Letter to Bishops which accompanied Summorum Pontificum: 'the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage.' The Traditional Mass makes immediately clear that what is taking place is something sacred.
The Traditional Mass also has an important place in the wider life of those Catholics attached to it. Summorum Pontificum puts it like this:
...in some regions, no small numbers of faithful adhered and continue to adhere with great love and affection to the earlier liturgical forms. These had so deeply marked their culture and their spirit that in 1984 the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II, moved by a concern for the pastoral care of these faithful, with the special indult Quattuor abhinc annos issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship, granted permission to use the Roman Missal published by Blessed John XXIII in the year 1962.(SP, preface)
The Traditional Mass was for many the central plank of their Catholic culture and spirituality: this was especially true in those 'regions' referred to, where it was the Mass, rather than extra-liturgical devotions such as the Rosary, processions and so on which was the focus of Catholic piety. One such 'region', of course, was England and Wales, which was the first place where the Traditional Mass was explicitly permitted for public use by a papal act, the 'English Indult' of 1971.
Pope Benedict refers to this culture and spirituality as a positive thing: its continuation is important enough to justify Pope John-Paul II's act, and by implication subsequent papal acts. It is a genuine, living and life-giving way of life which is not only characteristic of certain 'regions' at a certain historical period, but can be taken up anew by fresh generations of Catholics all over the world. It can be seen today in the many thriving communities of Catholics in England and Wales attached to the Traditional Mass. Cardinal Catrillon Hoyos described it in this way, in an interview:
I don't like, indeed, those views that would like to reduce the traditionalist 'phenomenon' to only the celebration of the ancient rite, as if it were a stubborn and nostalgic attachment to the past. ... In reality, what we frequently find is a Christian view of the life of faith and of devotion - shared by so many Catholic families that frequently are enriched by many children - that has special characteristics, and we can mention as examples: a strong sense of belonging to the Mystical Body of Christ, a desire to maintain strong links with the past - that wishes to be seen, not in contrast with the present, but in a line of continuity with the Church - to present the principal teachings of the Faith, a profound desire for spirituality and the sacred etc
2. Does the promotion of a particular form of the liturgy imply disloyalty to the bishops or the Pope?
Pope Paul VI, Pope John-Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have all made clear that the 'older form' of the Roman Rite could continue to be said after the 'newer form' had been promulgated. It is surprising, therefore, how often those who avail themselves of the right to attend or celebrate the Traditional Mass have been accused of 'disloyalty' to the hierarchy. Far from disloyal, the work of the Latin Mass Society has been to petition the Church's legitimate authorities for clarification of the status of the Traditional Mass, and then to seek the implementation of the resulting rulings. It is those who ignore such documents who are disloyal, not those who make use of them.
Until the promulgation of the 2007 motu proprio, each public Traditional Mass had to be explicitly permitted by the local bishop. It was frequently the task of the Latin Mass Society to seek these permissions. The entire development of the provision for the Traditional Mass was, accordingly, under the close supervision of the Bishops of England and Wales, and there could be no question that those celebrating or attending these Masses were acting in disobedience to them, or to the Popes who had established and maintained this legal situation.
Since the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum several bishops in England and Wales have publicly said the Traditional Mass, and indeed the LMS's two annual Masses in Westminster Cathedral are now invariably said by bishops, usually auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese of Westminster. English bishops confer the sacrament of Confirmation, according to the 1962 Missal, each year, in a ceremony organised by the LMS. And the LMS's priest training conferences have in different ways been endorsed by our bishops: the very first one in 2007 was opened by Archbishop Nichols, at that time of Birmingham, in whose diocese the conference took place.
It has always been the mission of the Latin Mass Society to promote the Traditional Mass in harmony with the Church's law and the hierarchy, and that will always be the case.
Sometimes critics of those attached to the older liturgical tradition, unable to show what dogmas of the faith or ecclesiastical laws have been violated, have appealed to the 'Spirit of Vatican II'. The Traditional Mass is contrary to this 'Spirit', which usually turns out to be an amalgam of theological ideas fashionable from the 1950s to the 1970s. The authentic spirit of the Second Vatican Council, however, is to be found in its actual documents, where we find statements such as these:
Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority. (Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC) 22.3)
...there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing. (SC 23)
...the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites. (SC 36.1)
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. (SC 116)
Furthermore, there is not the slightest indication in Council documents that Mass should be said 'facing the people', that churches needed to be 're-ordered', that the canon of the Mass should be said aloud or in the vernacular, that communion should be given in the hand, that lay people should read readings during Mass, that lay people should distribute Communion, or that girls as well as boys should serve at the altar.
It should be remembered that Mass according to the Missals of 1962 and 1964 was said every day while the Second Vatican Council was sitting. The statements of the Council on the liturgy need to be read in the context of that form of the Mass. One must resist the temptation to read back into them liturgical changes which took place later, many of which were not foreseen by the Council Fathers.
Sacrosantum Concilium, the Council's document on the liturgy, again and again bases its call for liturgical reform on pastoral considerations. There is never any suggestion that the existing Missal was in any way theologically problematic. And yet critics of the Traditional Mass sometimes argue that the Traditional Mass should not be allowed even when there is a clear pastoral need, because in their view it is theologically suspect. This turns the position of the Council upside down, and really defies logic. How can the Mass said for centuries by Popes, Bishops, saints and Doctors of the Church be theologically suspect?
On the contrary, the Traditional Mass reflects and encapsulates the immemorial and unchangeable teaching of the Church, notably on the Blessed Sacrament and the nature of the Mass as Sacrifice; which was defined by the Council of Trent. It is a sad fact however, that this teaching has come under consistent attack, even from supposedly Catholic theologians, since the Second Vatican Council. Before his election as Pope, Joseph, Cardinal Ratzinger, then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, cited a number of such criticisms of the Tridentine doctrine of the Sacrifice of the Mass before making this remark about those who oppose the Traditional Mass:
It is only against this background of the effective denial of the authority of Trent, that the bitterness of the struggle against allowing the celebration of Mass according to the 1962 Missal, after the liturgical reform, can be understood. The possibility of so celebrating constitutes the strongest, and thus (for them) the most intolerable contradiction of the opinion of those who believe that the faith in the Eucharist formulated by Trent has lost its value.
(A lecture by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, delivered during the Journees liturgiques de Fontgombault, 22-24 July 2001.)
The theological content of the Traditional Mass is, in fact, a powerful reason to preserve it, and to make it available to all Catholics, because it makes it impossible for us to ignore the Church's authentic teaching on the Mass as Sacrifice.
4. Doesn't the use of Latin and 'ad orientem' worship undermine the participation of the congregation?
The greatest lesson taught us by the Church's liturgical tradition, which needs to be learnt again by many Catholics, is that the Mass is an act of worship offered to God. The participation of those present at Mass is a participation in this act of worship: they participate by uniting themselves to the Victim, Our Lord Jesus Christ offered to the Father on the Cross. This is relevant to the 'liturgical orientation', and also to the use of Latin.
On the use of Latin, it is because the Mass is an act of worship that the priest wears special clothes (liturgical vestments), a special form of music is used, Gregorian Chant and certain forms of polyphony, a consecrated church building is employed (a building not used for secular purposes) and frequently incense is used, again not something used in a non-liturgical context. In the liturgical tradition of the West, Mass is also said in a sacred language, a form of Latin consecrated exclusively for sacred use. All of these things serve to emphasise that what is taking place in the Mass is something different from ordinary human life: it is a communication with the divine.
When lay Catholics go to Mass, what helps them participate in this act of worship, and what hinders them? The outward signs that one is entering a sacred building and a sacred period of time are important, because these things help one focus on the act of worship in hand, and leave one's worldly distractions behind. The vestments and things such as incense and special rituals help the use of Latin helps in exactly the same way, as do the periods of silence in the Mass.
As a matter of fact all of these things are still to be found in the 1970 Missal and the norms which accompany it. In practice, and even in theory, however, the 1962 Missal is much more emphatic in creating a sense of the sacred; in its ritual, the content of its prayers, its vestments, and above all in its use of Latin. Pope Benedict refers to 'the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage.' This greater emphasis assists those present at Mass to enter into its spirit and participate in it fully, which is to say spiritually.
It is true that the prayers and readings of the Mass are and should be highly edifying to the faithful, but this is a secondary effect of the Mass. It cannot be emphasised enough that the prayers of the Mass are not addressed to the people, but to God: it is to God that the Victim is offered, and it is God who will effect the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In practice, however, all the texts of the Mass are available in translation to anyone with a hand missal, and all are free to follow them during the Mass, or to read and meditate upon them in advance or afterwards. The Epistle and Gospel are usually read in English after they have been read in Latin, and one of the functions of the sermon is to explain the readings and the liturgy of the day.
Worship 'ad orientem', 'to the East', is a very graphic way of making the same point: that priest and people are together worshiping God. There is a grave danger, in Mass celebrated 'versus populum' ('facing the people') that it appears that it is the priest who is the centre of attention, rather than God, of whom we should be reminded by the Crucifix over the altar.
Before his election as Pope, Joseph, Cardinal Ratzinger, wrote powerfully on the dangers of Mass said 'versus populum'. Speaking of the changes after the Council, he writes:
In reality what happened was that an unprecedented clericalisation came onto the scene. Now the priest...becomes the real reference point for the whole liturgy. Everything depends on him. We have to see him, respond to him, to be involved in what he is doing. His creativity sustains the whole thing. Not surprisingly, people try to reduce this newly created role by assigning all kinds of liturgical functions to different individuals... God is less and less in the picture. More and more important is what is done by human beings who meet here and do not like to subject themselves to a " pre-determined pattern". The turning of the priest towards the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle. In its outward form, it no longer opens out on what lies ahead and above, but is closed in on itself.
(The Spirit of the Liturgy, pp79-80)
 Letter to Bishops accompanying the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum
5. Do I have to know Latin to go to a Latin Mass? How can people understand what is going on otherwise?
It follows from what has just been said, that the use of Latin is valuable in creating the sense, and the reality, of worship offered to God in which the people can truly participate. The fact that Latin is not in everyday use is not an inconvenient fact, it is part of what makes it suitable as a sacred language: a language set apart for sacred uses. When the Mass was originally composed, Latin was more widely spoken, but the Mass was celebrated in Latin even in those parts of Europe and Africa where Latin was not understood by the people, and in any case the Latin actually used was not designed to be readily understood by ordinary Latin speakers. It was never the 'language of the people': the Latin of the Mass and of the Vulgate Bible is characterised by words and turns of phrase borrowed from Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew, and it makes great use of archaic and newly created words, with poetic and sometimes legalistic phrasing, to such an extent that it might almost be called a special sacred dialect. Like the English created by Cranmer for the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the Church created what did not exist previously, a distinctive register of Latin which is specifically sacred and specifically Christian, but by the same token not particularly easy to understand. The Orthodox Church still uses a sacred language - Old Church Slavonic - which is not the day-to day language used today.
This, however, does not mean that Mass is or has ever been something which ordinary Catholics could not understand. Understanding what is happening in Mass is not a matter of understanding individual words, but of having an appropriate grasp of the meaning of the whole and its component parts. This is conveyed by the drama of the Mass, the atmosphere, the ritual, and the memorable phrases, which can then be explained more deeply by catechesis and study. The priest washing his hands, the Elevation of the Host, the phrase 'nobis quoque peccatoribus' said aloud in an otherwise silent prayer, the Kyrie, the Agnus Dei and so on, are all instantly comprehensible to Catholics with any degree of familiarity with the Traditional Mass and even a limited liturgical catechesis. Today, of course, almost all Catholics attending Mass in Latin on a regular basis will have a missal which will give them a translation of all the texts, with which they will become more and more familiar as time goes on.
Does having Mass in English help people understand what is going on? This question may well be asked, since many Catholics today are sadly lacking in their understanding of such fundamental concepts as sacrifice and transubstantiation, without which the Catholic Mass is truly incomprehensible. The fact is that the Traditional Mass, with its Latin and ritual, does at least as good a job of conveying to those assisting at it what it is all about.
The first Catholics who petitioned for access to the Traditional Mass, in 1970, were naturally familiar with it from before the liturgical reforms. Time has thinned the ranks of those who were adults, or even children, in the 1960s, and a new generation of people have discovered the Mass and now wish to attend it regularly. Some have discovered it as adults, others have been brought up in it by parents who themselves were attached to it.
This is an inevitable consequence of the Traditional Mass being regularly available, as the various papal rulings have indicated it should be. In the minds of some, however, those rulings were intended to cater only for those who had known the Mass as adults before 1970, as a concession to the difficulty they had in adjusting to the reforms. It is certainly true that many Catholics suffered greatly over the reforms, and they benefitted from the opportunity to attend it again after 1970 when this was made possible. But none of the papal documents even mention the age of the people attending the Traditional Mass.
So persistent did the idea of an age-limit become, however, that an Australian layman, John Gresser, felt moved to write to the Ecclesia Dei Commission to have the matter clarified. On behalf of the Commission Mgr Perl, then its Secretary, wrote as follows (referring to the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei Adflicta of 1988):
The Motu Proprio does not speak of any restrictions, including age limits, on those who aspire to worship according to the liturgical books of 1962. Neither does it state that only those who had previous experience of the Latin liturgical tradition could have such an aspiration.
(Mgr Camille Perl, 5th September 1995)
Today, congregations attending the Traditional Mass are frequently young, with many of the LMS's projects being specifically directed towards the needs of young people and families with young children. The great Chartres Pilgrimage, to give just one example, is a gathering of around 10,000 people to walk the 70 miles from Paris to Chartres over three days, and is largely made up of young people who join it from all over Europe. Young people, unaffected by the disappointed idealism and polemics of the 1960s, are sometimes the most open-minded on liturgical matters, and are bringing a new vigour to the Traditionalist movement.
The Eucharist is rightly called the 'sacrament of unity', and the worry has often been voiced that a disunity in the liturgy will lead to, or reflect, a disunity of belief. This is a concern which Pope Benedict XVI dismisses as 'quite unfounded' in the Letter to Bishops which accompanied the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum. As he says, '[t]here is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal.'
The reality is that the unity of the Church has never been understood to require uniformity of Rite indeed, it is not even desirable that everyone should use the same Missal. The Church has preserved the liturgical heritage of the Eastern Rites among those in full communion with the Holy See today, a number of Eastern Rites are celebrated in England and Wales for the benefit of communities historically associated with them. Even in the Latin West, there have always been more than one Rite: in addition to the Roman Rite, the foremost examples are the Ambrosian Rite (of Milan) and the Mozarabic rite (of Spain), both of which are extremely ancient and have independent lines of development from the Roman Rite used in most of Europe. These are still in use, and reformed versions of them were produced after the Second Vatican Council.
In addition to these, there are a number of Missals containing what are properly 'uses' of the Roman Rite, variations on the Roman Rite which are quite distinctive. These have historically been used by religious orders, such as the Dominicans, the Premonstratensians (Norbertines), and the Cistercians. Dominicans and Norbertines have often run parishes in England and Wales, and their parishioners would have experienced these distinctive forms of the Mass on a daily basis.
It is worth mentioning also the variations in the calendar proper to religious orders and even to individual dioceses, and the big differences between the Roman Office, said by diocesan priests and used in their parishes, and the Office said by Benedictines and other religious orders, both before the period of liturgical reforms and after it. All in all, it would fly in the face of reality to suggest that the unity of the Church is imperilled by Catholics in different places celebrating a different feast on the same day, having different psalms at Vespers, or having different ceremonies and prayers at Mass. All these variations are approved by the Holy See, and it is the task of the Holy See to determine that all liturgical forms (the Church's lex orandi) are in accordance with the Church's faith (the lex credendi).
The Second Vatican Council stresses the value of this variety:
in faithful obedience to tradition, the sacred Council declares that holy Mother Church holds all lawfully acknowledged rites to be of equal right and dignity that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way.(SC 4)
As for the future, the Council envisaged more liturgical variety, not less:
Provisions shall also be made, when revising the liturgical books, for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions, and peoples, ....Even in the liturgy, the Church has no wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not implicate the faith or the good of the whole community (SC 37-38)
Although the Latin Mass Society has focused on the Traditional form of the Roman Rite (the 'Tridentine Mass') our remit is the promotion of all Traditional Rites and Usages, and the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum liberated all simultaneously, as has been clarified by Mgr Camille Perl, then Vice President of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, in a letter addressed to those interested specifically in the Ambrosian Rite:
While it is true that the Motu proprio of the Holy Father does not expressly cite the Ambrosian rite, it doesn't exclude the other Latin rites if the will of the Holy Father asserts for the Roman rite, considered superior in dignity, consequently much more for the other Latin rites, including the Ambrosian rite.
As the reform of the liturgy got underway in the 1960s, concerns began to be expressed about the loss of the Church's traditions. A letter in The Catholic Herald (22 January 1965) by Hugh Byrne, called for the establishment of "a national Latin Mass Society ... which will aim at campaigning for at least one Latin Low Mass in every church on Sundays." The Society's founding meeting was on 10 April 1965 the first President was the Catholic apologist and skiing pioneer Sir Arnold Lunn. This was before the 'novus ordo missae' began to be said publicly on the First Sunday of Advent 1969, and before the publication of the new Missal in 1970. (Una Voce France had been founded the previous year, and with other groups they were the founding members of the International Federation Una Voce.)
In one respect the request of the campaign was immediately accepted, since a large number of older priests requested, and were granted, the right to continue to say Mass using the old Missal. An attitude developed, however, not least among bishops, that the 1962 Missal had to be kept within strict limits, and was not for widespread public usage. It was against this attitude that the Latin Mass Society, and other organisations around the world, successfully argued for a series of Papal documents making clear that the use of the 1962 Missal for the benefit of those lay people who desired it, as well as for older priests who wanted to say it, was to be permitted and even encouraged.
First, following an appeal by Cardinal Heenan, Paul VI issued the so-called 'English Indult' in 1971, making it clear that the Bishops of England and Wales could permit the use of the 'former Roman Missal' at the request of groups asking 'for reasons of genuine devotion'. In 1984 Pope John-Paul II issued a letter Quattuor Abhinc Annos, which extended the permission given to the English Bishops to the whole world, and specified the 1962 edition of the Missal as the one which should be used. Bishops used these two 'indults' (permissions) only cautiously, however, and they were followed in 1988 by a much more emphatically worded document, a motu proprio of John Paul II, Ecclesia Dei Adflicta, which refers to the 'rightful aspirations' of those desiring the Traditional Mass, and tells us that:
respect must everywhere be shown for the feelings of all those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition, by a wide and generous application of the directives already issued some time ago by the Apostolic See, for the use of the Roman Missal according to the typical edition of 1962.
This motu proprio was occasioned by the failure of the Holy See's negotiations with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, and the latter's ordination of four new bishops without Papal permission. (For this illicit ordination Archbishop Lefebvre and the four bishops he ordained were excommunicated. Archbishop Lefebvre died in 1991, but the excommunication of the four bishops was lifted by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009). As well as making the point about the availability of the Traditional Mass, it also welcomed the incipient creation of religious orders, in union with the Holy See, devoted to the Traditional Mass, of which there are now many, and created the Pontifical Council Ecclesia Dei to oversee the developing situation.
Finally, in 2007 Pope Benedict XVI issued his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. In response to reports from around the world that permission to say public Masses according to the 1962 Missal was still often difficult to obtain, it declared boldly that permission was not, in fact, necessary. Although the directives of 1971, 1984 and 1988 were presented as 'indults', that is permissions to depart from the Church's law for a special reason, Pope Benedict declared that the Missal of 1962 had never been abrogated, and every priest of the Latin Church has the right to say it (although not all have the necessary training) (SP Art. 1 and Art. 2). Furthermore, the Holy Father praised the 'former liturgical traditions' as containing 'riches' for the Church, and criticised the attitude which rejects them entirely, saying that 'what earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too'. In a theme anticipated in many of his writings published before his election as pope, Pope Benedict exposed the absurdity of the Church insisting one on form of the Mass for centuries, and then suddenly treating it as though it were suspect or even dangerous.
The Latin Mass Society tried, like other organisations and interested individuals around the world, to widen the availability of the Traditional Mass over the decades from 1971 to 2007, but although there was progress, it was slow. As time went on the number of active priests trained before 1970 began to dwindle, and in a situation of widespread hostility to the Traditional Mass many younger priests did not wish to be publicly associated with it. The situation began to brighten after 1988, with among other things the prospect, and then the reality, of priestly members of two new Traditional Orders, the Fraternity of St Peter and the Institute of Christ the King, exercising their ministry in England and Wales. The motu proprio of 2007, however, has permanently transformed the situation, with priests much more willing to learn the Mass and to say it in their parishes, and much of the suspicion of the 'earlier liturgical traditions' being dispelled by the document itself.
Regular Sunday Masses, once a rarity, are now established in many parts of the country, and in several parish churches in London. Full Easter Triduum services, once almost impossible to put on because of their demanding nature in terms of time and manpower, are now said regularly in more than half a dozen centres in England and Wales. Much remains to be done, but the legal and psychological barriers to progress have been immeasurably lessened by this great personal act of Pope Benedict.