Finally, it behooves us to recall that the Proper chants of the Mass are linked to the liturgical seasons and times, not just in a general fashion, but quite specifically, by virtue of their content. The oldest choir-books of the Roman liturgy eloquently testify that the overwhelming majority of these chants belonged to fixed days, and these assignments remained untouched up until 1968. The same texts were written in the Missals, and if they were not sung, then the priest prayed them. In doing so, the Church clearly expressed her desire that each chant stand in a fixed position, which simply means that on this day, at this liturgical position, this is the chant, and not any other.

Exactly when and how this “properization” of the Mass chants was achieved is an altogether different question. At this point, we are not interested in this question, nor in deciding whether or not the numerous speculations are true concerning the justification of the given position of a chant and its interrelationships with other parts of the daily liturgy through historical facts or spiritual reflections. We simply accept the fact that in the minds, hearts and memories of faithful Catholics there gradually emerged, over a period of 1200 years or more, a network of associations between the experience of a particular liturgical day and the chants “proper” to that day. Such associations were truly “catholic,” in other words universal within the Latin liturgy. All felt a part of it, anyone at will referred to it: the Sundays were named after their Introits (e.g. Laetare, Gaudete, Quasimodo); people dated their private letters by referring to the same chant; composers created music not to texts, but to the Offertory or the Introit of a given day. For a Christian who lived in and with the liturgy of the praying Church, this order of chants coalesced with the full liturgy of the day, and it contributed to the high degree of constancy in the Mass Propers (as opposed to the frequent variations in the Divine Office). So it is by no means an accident that certain chant forms were excluded from this uniformity. In spite of the unchanging stability of Introits, Graduals, Offertories and Communions, the Alleluja and the Sequence presented a wide field of opportunity for the creative forces of various geographic regions (tropes, sacred polyphony).

This universality and continuity in space and time bore rich fruit, and brought great blessings. Over and above the psychological associations, such universality nurtured a feeling of stability and promoted the reverence of which a long tradition is worthy. It radiated, and thus taught, discipline; it made palpable a kind of “impersonal anonymity” which cannot be achieved simply by concealing the authors’ names. My university students were always shocked to open Dom Hesbert’s Antiphonarium Missarum Sextuplex or the 11th-century Gradual of the Roman basilica of St. Cecilia, only to find there, on the same days, the same Proper chants than the ones printed in the Liber Usualis of 1950. And without any coaching from me, their first question after the initial surprise was, “Then why should we sing different ones instead of these?”

Why, indeed…?

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

Points 3 and 4 above appear to be important not only for the present moment, but also with reference to the challenges which face us in the near future. We should be prepared to make changes: organic changes that, remaining within the Roman (“Tridentine”) tradition, are yet necessary for improving the liturgy and making it more effective in the future.

1. Careful analysis can generate serious proposals, e.g. for providing greater opportunity to incorporate Roman traditions — which are more universal than the “Tridentine” one is; or for making the liturgical forms more worthy; or to vivify them by a wise accommodation to the demands of the day or to different situations. These kinds of changes could be prepared by experts who know and love the traditional Roman rite, and are familiar with the procedure of obtaining official juridical approval.

2. In the event that current efforts to maintain the “Tridentine” rite would lead to a more extensive use of the Roman rite, we foresee a situation in which rites coexist within the Catholic Church. Other considerations lead to the same conclusion. For example, those communities of the Episcopal Church which desire communion with Rome would probably preserve the right to maintain their tradition which is based upon the Salisbury rite (or Sarum use), as transformed during the centuries of separation, but in some respects is of at least the same value as is the Roman liturgy today. Though during the past 400 years we have grown accustomed to total conformity in the liturgy, the coexistence of rites is by no means unknown in the Church. Unity is harmed not by the coexistence of clearly named, defined and controlled rites, but by confusion and individualization within the illusion of unity. The Roman and Ambrosian rites coexisted over centuries within the Catholic Church; even the Roman rite existed with local variations up to the 16th century. One and the same community may use more than one rite: an example is the Byzantine liturgy with its orders linked to the names of St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom etc., or the Episcopal Church today with clear differentiation of the A or B order in given services.

3. If the Ordo Antiquus and Novus will coexist with equal rights, then individual churches congregations and priests must be prepared to use both. If this is impossible — the differences between the two are surely greater than in the Byzantine examples mentioned earlier —, the Ordo Antiquus needs some organization to provide liturgical instruction, books, and a control mechanism. If all this can be realized quietly, without any struggle and under the direction of Rome; if unity is preserved in doctrine and discipline, and if a precondition of any approval be the acceptance of the other rite, then one need not fear any danger of schism.

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

The Novus Ordo will remain the dominant rite of the Roman Catholic Church during the years to come, and we owe respect and obedience to it. Besides, we have the right given by papal decrees to celebrate the “Tridentine” liturgy with regular frequency. In order to increase its effectiveness, I think we have to aim for the following goals.

1. The celebrations according to the “Tridentine” rite should be maintained, stabilized and held regularly, but not in a “secondary” form as was earlier the case with the missa lecta, but possibly as the primary form of celebration, the missa solemnis. Continuing these efforts, the sphere of its use could be expanded. A necessary and logical further step would be to obtain approval for complementing the “Tridentine” Mass with the regular and public “Tridentine” Office.

2. Every effort should be made to promote the “full, conscious and active participation” of the faithful (SC Art. 14) in the “Tridentine” rite, too. To this end “a more explicitly liturgical catechesis should also be given” (SC Art. 35/3) and the ministers, lectors and singers should also “be deeply imbued with the spirit of the liturgy” (SC Art. 29). Aiming at a worthy celebration, one must foster and gather everywhere a well-trained and educated group of assistants, and thus avoid transforming the liturgy into the priest’s missa privata — in the presence of the faithful. We need well-made bilingual altar and hand Missals with correct and artistically valuable translations. Written and spoken forms of instruction, meditation and information should allow the content of the liturgy to penetrate the catechism, spirituality, religious literature and indeed the whole life of the Church.

3. Theoretical work should be encouraged to reveal the content of the liturgy on the level of theology, history, spirituality, and pastoral activity. In arguing both on behalf of the “Tridentine” liturgy and criticizing the Novus Ordo, combative or propagandistic elements should be eschewed. However, research built upon objective facts and analysis, reported in an appropriate tone and published in the right sphere, should not be excluded. A principal subject for analysis might be a multifaceted investigation of individual parts and themes of the liturgy which could promote the extension of the “Tridentine” into the Roman liturgy on the basis of solid and reliable arguments.

4. The “Tridentine” movement has to preserve and defend above all its communion with the Church and with Rome, as well as fraternal charity toward those using the Novus Ordo. This would be much easier if an authentic organ were assigned within the Curia to promote, patronize, and guide the life and development of the “Tridentine” rite. It could be either the Commissio Ecclesia Dei or a member of the Congregation de Culto Divino who would be appointed to deal with these questions not only in their disciplinary but also their strictly liturgical aspects. It is also desirable to have a bishop as patron or “protector” of the Tridentine rite within the episcopal conference in all lands where its use is requested.

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

1. One should insist on the clergy learning Latin well and using it regularly. We have reached a point where many a priest is incapable of correctly pronouncing a Latin text. Lack of practice causes serious problems with correct pronunciation and accentuation. Formation of candidates for the priesthood must include introduction to the liturgical texts in Latin (with the support of the vernacular), not only in their ritual aspects but in spiritual and dogmatic terms as well.

2. One should insist on the weekly frequency of a full Latin Mass (where possible, Missa Solemnis) in the worship order of each community. This would make the traditional Mass permanently present in real life, and at the same time give to the clergy the proficiency in Latin which they need as theologians, priests and liturgists. Moreover, this system offers the faithful a chance if they wish to celebrate the Mass in Latin according to the will of Rome and their own needs and wishes.

3. An exact and worthy translation of the full liturgy is urgently needed. The majority of translations from the Novus Ordo was inspired by an incorrect relationship to the Liturgy, and enshrines this flawed concept. And of course most of them can be sternly criticized on the basis of the best contemporary principles governing the art of translation. A translation is meant to serve. Its task is not to speak to the reader or the listener in great lines something similar to the original, but rather to reproduce, in the new language and in the fullest possible measure, the content of the original with all its complexities, its coherence and its nuances. The grammatical structure of the text must be accurate, using a logically consequent and theologically elaborated terminology. The structure of the text must also be faithfully represented according to the possibilities presented by the new language, since the logical links are also parts of the thought. The style calls for cultic elevation and stylization, even by means of a modest archaisation. These characteristics help to assure that the translation will not be worth less than the Latin.

Most of the new liturgical translations began from false axioms and they bear witness to serious deficiencies in treating both Latin and the vernacular. The interpretation of liturgical Latin is much too complex for being left to the local staff of many countries. The best experts should establish the authentic interpretation to be summed up in the local translations. As we know from the research of Christine Mohrmann, for example, or the studies published in Odo Casel’s Jahrbuch fur Uturgiewissenschaft, the texts of Christian Antiquity cannot be understood in terms of the later patterns of subsequent devotional Latin. Since only a tiny minority of translators is familiar with this literature, the meaning to be passed on to the faithful must be transmitted to those translators. Many of the presuppositions that influenced the translations are, in the light of a true knowledge of the vernaculars, simply fictions. For example, the German and English texts of our own day are teeming with passive structures, while the liturgical translations reject them as terrible Latinisms. While the newspapers use compound sentences without any trouble, the translations destroy the logic of the Latin orations by breaking them up into short phrases.

It is a trendy slogan to adjust the thoughts of the liturgy to the level of contemporary man by using the language of the market place, while linguistics has splendidly proven the existence and importance of linguistic layers. The producers of the new texts aim to avoid Latinisms, though vernacular languages have always been able to be enriched by the influence of other languages, (just as many languages today are by English) to the (at least stylistic) benefit of the recipient language. The texts are simplified for the sake of pastoral efficiency, and the result is a banal, tedious devotional collection, which scarcely impresses the substantial, sometimes astonishing but always noteworthy message of the original text upon the minds of the faithful. There is no reason to be fearful of producing “slavish” translations – the translation has to serve.


Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

Any attempt to summarize this matter in a balanced way would include points such as these:

1. History testifies to the existence of a sacred language, just as it attests to changes in the liturgical language. The Eastern churches, for example, were able to preserve their Liturgy in great vigor while using vernacular tongues. Since it is plain that today’s intellectual and religious environment is not propitious to the precondition of ‘fidelity’ in the process of translation, we must think long and hard about the postulata, the munimina and the subsidia of authentic and congenial translations, following the lead of the Holy See’s Instructio Quinta De Usu Linguarum Popularium in Libris Liturgiae Romanae Edendis” (March 28, 2001).

2. If in the minds of believers and of churchmen there is once established the equation “Latin = Ordo Antiquus, Vernacular = Ordo Novus,” then there is no chance at all for the traditional rite to be widely accepted, and it will remain the private hobby of some few groups. Good translations of the content of the Roman rite are much more important than any eventual reproach for insensitivity — but only on condition that the use of Latin is simultaneously safeguarded, in the sense of Vatican II and the wise provisions of e.g., SC 36 and 54, which should be followed in preference to what occurred after the Council.

3. Analysis of the various elements of the Liturgy allows us to differentiate the varying degrees of difficulties in linguistic accuracy, a) Most difficult (or impossible?) is an equivalent translation of the Sacramentary (Eucharistic Prayer, Prefaces, Orations). If these are kept in Latin, and good translations are made available for the congregation, then the essence of this dogmatically most sensitive part of the Liturgy will be safeguarded. b) A much easier task is the translation of the Bible based upon sensible principles, meaning that the chants and lections can be translated when and where necessary, without harm to the liturgical content. One need not think in terms of the chants and readings being delivered in the mother tongue at all Masses. A correct and balanced proportion can be found, c) The Mass Ordinary presents a twofold aspect. On the one hand, it is easy to translate and to provide appropriate melodies. On the other hand, since these texts remain unchanged, they are easy to learn also in Latin. The best solution in the case of the Ordinary may perhaps be a regular alternation of Latin and the vernacular.

4. Since the Divine Office consists almost exclusively of biblical texts, it could be translated without difficulty, provided that this be done with intellectual honesty. But here, another factor must be taken into account, namely, that the clergy will come to feel at home with the Latin chiefly by regularly praying the Office in that language. 

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

In the oldest Missals and in the most ancient Graduale (up to 1970) we find the series of Introits to be identical in ninety percent of cases. It is true that the Mass Propers were created independently of the other elements in a given daily formulary; the 20th century meditations or reflections on the “theme” of a given Sunday, for example, with comparable prayers, pericope and chants, is historically incorrect. (In the 7rh-9th centuries the order of pericopes varied somewhat; in many points the Chants follow the numerical order of the psalms – which of course excludes any thematic “selection.”)

The decisive factor in the selection was not so much the individual day and the other parts of its formulary such as the readings and prayers; rather, it was the liturgical season whose influence predominated. However, in spite of this the prayers, readings, and chants of a given day co-existed over the course of centuries and (as the history of religious culture m western Christendom shows) in the mind of the Church and of the individual faithful they became very strongly linked to the particular day and the other elements of its liturgy. We may refer to this as the “psychological or associative coherence” of the parts of a day’s liturgy, and it produced rich fruits both intellectually and emotionally. How frequently it happens that a given Introit becomes attached in our minds and memory to a certain Sunday after Pentecost (for instance) and to its Gospel, collect, etc. This “context” is of high liturgical value, and it should be preserved. But on the other hand, if such an Introit is merely read by the priest (and in the best of cases also by the congregation using its missalettes), then the Introit is in fact changed: it is no longer a chant, but simply one of the readings.

Hence there would seem to be three tasks here: 1) to maintain the given Introit sung to its Gregorian melody whenever possible; 2) to create a series of Introits, worthy of the liturgical heritage but capable of being chanted by a schola or the congregation even in the smallest country parish church (Cf. e.g., Graduale Simplex); 3) to invent a combination that recalls the “proper” Introit of the day while allowing the schola and congregation to sing a seasonal Introit on a fine but simple tone, instead of singing alius cantus aptus. Or, more correctly: to create a series of liturgical alius

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

The failures of the Tridentine movement…

8. Pars pro toto, this example also serves to demonstrate another problem. Taking for granted that the Introit is meant to be chanted and only in extraordinary cases be read, the first question is: given today’s conditions what are the obstacles to the regular chanting of the Roman (or “Tridentine”) Introit? The answer is twofold: the first obstacle is the fact that except for the priest, the Mass is celebrated with the assistance of volunteers. In most places this is also true of the singers, and even more true if the liturgical chant is based only upon the actual diminishing memory and knowledge of the congregation. The remedy, of an organizational rather than liturgical nature, would be to establish a system to recruit liturgical assistants from amongst the layfolk, not as haphazard volunteers, but for a regular and obligatory service. The ancient traditional organization of chapters (capitula) could be revived and adapted to the contemporary situation, in a more modest form, even at the smallest parish church. This would be very much a “reform” achievement.

The second obstacle is that as far as the singers are concerned, only professionals are able to learn the Introit and other items of the Proper for every week, or every day. Congregations are surely unable to do that. The last Council tried to provide a more limited collection of liturgical chants for the smaller churches (Graduate Simplex). But how can the full set of Introits of the Roman liturgy then survive? The combination of a seasonal and a daily Introit is a musical task, just as it is a musical task to place easier liturgical tunes alongside the Gregorian ones. If we examine the musical questions, it is clear that we need variant solutions for one and the same liturgy, possibilities which can be selected according to the conditions. ‘”Variant,” I say, but not “anything appropriate”! The fixed order of the “Tridentine” liturgy has great value as a powerful stabilizing factor. But how can this advantage be combined with a kind of flexibility that preserves rather than renounces the liturgical heritage? The question is discussed in Chapter 4; for now, it suffices to stress that a Roman liturgy reformed in the good sense of the word, should offer solutions for choice within its sphere, and not ‘in general’ (“anything appropriate”).

9. At this point it will be useful to return to the example of the Office. The last (“Pastoral”) Council regarded the praying of the Roman Office – even after the reduction of St. Pius X — as too burdensome. Therefore the post-conciliar Commission constructed a new Office, adapted to the lowest standard. Quite the contrary, the Eastern Church preserves her traditional Office unchanged in its entirety, though it is, celebrated in this fullness only by some monasteries, while the parish churches pray parts of the Office, arranged according to customary practice. The principal Hours are retained, but there are also obligatory and optional parts within an Hour; “We omit this or that part,” reports one of the faithful. A similar distinction can also be observed in the West. The Roman liturgy is the liturgy of the Church, and yet in its full traditional form, contained in the editio typica, it is celebrated in certain cathedrals, in many monasteries, and in some assigned churches. These celebrations should be carried out according to certain well-regulated concessions or reductions according to the circumstances. In one place the full Office is prayed, in another only some Hours, or they sing the Vigils (Matins) on fixed solemnities of the year, or Lauds are celebrated with three psalms instead of five, or a priest with pastoral commitments prays only one Sunday Nocturn of the three, or seasonal items are sung instead of those from the day’s liturgy, etc. If all this occurs not out of arbitrariness or because of laziness, but according to general rules adapted by the individual churches or persons with ecclesiastical approval, then the integrity of the Roman liturgy can be preserved. Participation in its entirety demands effort, but it should be a realistic obligation even under varying conditions. The rite of the universal Church lives in a regulated way in the customs of this Church.

10. This kind of genuine reform of the Ordo Antiquus is justified by the survival of the Roman tradition. But it is justified also by recalling that this is the only chance for long-term survival today alongside the Novus Ordo. 

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)