Anyone who wishes to speak about the Tridentine rite must first clarify what meaning he exactly attributes to this term. Essentially the Trident rite is not an original and independent liturgy but a variant of the centuries-old Roman liturgy. Compared with this centuries-old tradition the first points that strike the eye are where the Tridentinum seems to be independent and different from everything else. In this case it will be declared to be a new branch of the Roman liturgy created 400 years ago. On the other hand, if you compare the Trident rite with liturgies other than the Roman one (e.g. with 17th—18th century “reformed” liturgies or with their spiritual offspring, the Bugnini liturgy) you will find that there are no important differences between the Tridentine usage and the main stream of the at least 1500-year-old Roman liturgy. In this respect the Tridentine rite represents the ancient Roman liturgy itself and not a 400-year-old custom.

Evidence on the liturgy of the first Christian centuries is sparse, and certainly not enough to justify any practical arrangement of the liturgy. Authentic sources survive sporadically from the 6th century onwards and in complete form from the 8th-9th centuries on. The liturgical arrangement as it is recorded in the 8th- to 10th-century sources could be traced back with careful consideration to the end of the 5th century at the latest. (Just think of the structural identity of the Office in the 9th—10th-century liturgical books on the one hand and in the Rule of St. Benedict on the other.) The main features of this liturgical usage were the same as those of the Roman church as followed — with slight differences — by the dioceses, provinces, religious orders up to 1970. There was no universal Roman liturgy that showed deviations depending on the location and the times of its use, in fact, these variants represented in their integrity the common essence of the Roman liturgy. The differences of the individual liturgies are historically extremely interesting and the details very clear if we examine them closely. However, the moment we look at them from the perspective of our time, they appear to constitute a uniform, characteristic liturgical family separated not only from the rite of the Eastern churches but from the liturgy of the other Latin rites (e.g. Mozarabic, Ambrosian, etc.), too. Unity and difference within this “Roman” liturgy (or liturgies) is not accidental, and the number and importance of the common features are greater than that of differences.

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


The Tridentine reform did not aim at creating a new, up-to-date liturgy. All it wanted to achieve was to prune off the wild shoots of the late Middle Ages, of humanism and Reformation. It meant to be a reform in the original sense of the word: the restoration of the “pure” forms of the Roman rite. The Trident rite is therefore a special form compared to the liturgy of Paris, Cologne, Prague or to that of the Dominicans, Premonstratensians. The Tridentine reform slightly impoverished the Roman liturgy and mutilated its integrity by disregarding these traditions. (It must be acknowledged, however, that it happened in spite of the original intentions since the norm of Trent was established to replace the 16th-century “modern” reform liturgies, and not the traditions having survived “from time immemorial.”)

These drawbacks, nevertheless, can only be discovered if we compare the Tridentinum with eminent representatives of the Roman liturgy. Compared with other rites outside the sphere of the Roman liturgy or with the Bugnini liturgy, the Tridentinum proves to be a member of the Roman liturgy. In this respect the Tridentine rite is identical with the centuries-old Roman liturgy, being one of its branches itself, while the Bugnini liturgy does not belong to the great family of the Roman liturgy.

In my opinion this distinction was neglected by no means innocently or by negligence. It was done with a purposeful manipulation. The reason why the Bugnini liturgy was introduced as if it differed not from the Roman tradition, but only from the Tridentine rite was to create the misleading impression that all we had to depart from was a 400-year-old “Baroque” tradition. In fact, viewed in the light of the essence of the liturgy, breaking with the Tridentine rite entailed a break with the entire Roman tradition up to that point. If the Roman liturgy is identical with the liturgical order documented from the earliest sources up to the year of 1970, then the Tridentine rite is definitely a member of this tradition, while the Bugnini liturgy is not.

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

When speaking of the Tridentine rite, we have to avoid, in my opinion, two misleading views. The Tridentine rite cannot be recommended as the only way to return to the authentic Roman liturgy. The Roman rite was rich in different traditions, and they all represented the same “Roman” rite. So Rome is not equal with Trident.

But, on the other hand, Trident was not something basically different from the traditional Roman liturgy, it was not a 16th-century innovation. The Tridentine liturgy was identical in all essential elements with the Roman tradition – already a 1000 or more years old at the emergence of the Tridentine rite.

The first error is much less harmful, but both come from the same misinformation or (in the second case) a purposeful and tendentious falsification. The Tridentine Breviary was not declared obligatory: the local rites representing at least 200 years of tradition could be maintained in the future. In spite of this “right of long-standing tradition” they were abandoned almost everywhere, and the Tridentine Office gained universal acceptance.

The wave of reforms finally abated and only unessential changes were introduced during the subsequent three centuries. Nevertheless, the “rationalistic” reform-endeavors did not cease in the period. In France almost each diocese had its own Neo-Gallican Office, though their destructive influence (severely attacked 150 years ago by Dom Prosper Gueranger) remained confined to a narrow sphere.

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

I do not deny that a reform of the Roman liturgy was topical at the end of the 20th century. Neither do I claim that a reform should have been based on the Tridentine rite by all means. Yet in reality it should have started from the Tridentine rite as a status quo and a liturgical order worth honoring, yielding much fruit in the life of the Church even in our century, a cult deeply rooted in the hearts and connected with the piety of the people. But the Tridentine rite is no more than one and perhaps not the most perfect form of the Roman liturgy. In a true “reform” the medieval traditions of the dioceses and the orders, the relics of the Old Roman rite and, of course, certain requirements of our age should have been taken into consideration. All this could have been achieved without abandoning the domain of the “Roman liturgy.”

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

The Latin liturgical language also has a pedagogical effect. The Latin word symbolizes and inspires the presence of objective validity. The substance of the liturgy exists above and independently of ourselves; it has a canonic power — we serve and assimilate, but we do not command it. The introduction of the vulgar tongue transformed first of all the mentality of the clergy: from this point onward, priests began to regard liturgy as an article of consumption, as a means. If the Latin had remained, the clergy would not have succumbed to temptation and would have been incapable of “dominating” the liturgy, of sitting in judgment upon it and submitting it to their whimsical improvising during the liturgy. This psychological effect is true not only for the texts but also, by metastasis, for all the parts and indeed for the whole of the liturgy. The language, the vocabulary, the linguistic discipline of the Latin could also have helped maintain purity and accuracy of diction amongst preachers and theologians. It would be helpful if the obligation to learn Latin could preserve the intellectual capacities and the theological discipline of the clergy.

When the “Tridentine” movement adheres to the Latin Mass, it adheres to something that is more than the language of celebration. Latin should be present in the Church in its full strength, and that not only in cathedrals and at international gatherings, but also in each parish church, in the seminaries, in the communities of laymen, in the religious culture of all persons: priests, monks, ecclesiastical ministers and individual faithful. In an age of general literacy when learning languages has become universal, it is false to say (more so than any time before) that one cannot learn and keep in everyday use a modicum of ecclesiastical Latin. The use of Latin could conjoin both individuals and communities, by links visible and unseen, with orthodox Catholicism. Let us recall the example of the traditional Jewish communities: Hebrew is the symbol and the means of adherence to religion, to the Torah, and to the nation. Jewish children learn to read and cantillate the Scripture in Hebrew from an early age, and thus are introduced into the religious life of the community. 

But on the other hand, it cannot be denied that for very many today, to say or sing the entire material of the liturgy “exclusively in Latin, has become very problematic. In the last century it became even for many a priest rather a symbol of obedience and devotion, than a real source of liturgical spirituality.

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

In fact, the Tridentine liturgy is but one – and not the most successful one – of the branches of the Roman liturgy; one which existed in many variants, side by side in remarkable orderliness. Thus our point of departure will not be the Tridentine but the Roman liturgy as it appears in the variety of forms found in various localities, religious orders and historical periods. Once we know this tremendously rich system of variants, and even in spite of this knowledge, we can scarcely include the Bugnini liturgy in the category of the Roman liturgy, since it is arbitrary to such an extent that we can neither regard it as something developing organically from the older liturgies, nor can we claim that its innovations were called into life by the “real and genuine” spiritual interests of the Church.

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