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)

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)

The failures of the Tridentine movement…

6. Thus far we have scrutinized the 1962 form of the “Tridentine” liturgy and its permitted use as related to its past. This did not reflect an archeological or antiquarian approach, but rather an effort to preserve and restore the liturgical values. This is not to say that a reform of the liturgy was inappropriate at the time of the last Council. And yet I do not wish to exclude the possibility that a true fidelity to the Roman Office demanded reforms going even farther than did the Council’s reforms. I fear that if we confine ourselves exclusively to fighting for the use of the unchanged 1962 Missal, the results would only contribute to the satisfaction of a narrow, standoffish circle, while the life of the Church as a whole would simply go on without deriving much useful benefit. The conciliar reforms surely contain legitimate points warranted by the Church’s life and by the liturgy itself, and no adherent of the “Tridentine” liturgy can be insensible to them. The essential difference is that the adherents of the “traditional Roman liturgy” would have preferred, or would now promote, a reform in the true sense of the word without producing a completely new liturgy. The Council’s will was that “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). Applying this principle to the traditional Roman liturgy, we ought to think of a reform that aims at increasing its efficacy instead of altering the liturgy itself. In what follows, I wish to point out only a few possible features of such a reform.

7. Though 1 despise slogans of this kind, it cannot be denied that the admirable richness of the Roman liturgy was the function of a clerical celebration. The problem is not sociological but purely practical. The well-developed Roman liturgy was celebrated by the bishop surrounded by priests, lower ranking clerics, lectors, psalmists, etc. The available personnel made it possible to celebrate the liturgy in its entirety day after day; schools and theologians labored to understand it, to assimilate it, and to apply it to the spiritual life. Financial resources were at hand to keep the whole system alive and maintain it without interruption. This liturgical “network” was very important, efficient, and its beneficial effects also reached the congregation both directly and indirectly. As these conditions began to diminish, the very celebration of the Opus Dei began to shrink as well. Supplementary partial solutions were offered in order to maintain the spiritual values of the liturgy, but these proved insufficient to sustain its radiant solemnity or to manifest its true inner nature. The final stage of this evolution is the “Tridentine” silent Low Mass and the priest’s personal obligation to the private reading of the Breviary.

I will demonstrate this process of erosion by one single case. A decisive element of the daily liturgy is the Introit, a chant identical in the earliest sources, which even if it was not originally coordinated with the other parts of the Mass, gradually became inseparable from the daily liturgy.

Nothing prevented the chanting of the Introit since a solo psalmist, a “choir”, i.e. a well-trained ensemble of clerics and school-boys, or later, paid musicians, were provided for that purpose. When such singers were not present for at least some of the Masses, the Introit was transformed into the silent prayer of the priest, whilst the congregation in some parts of Europe sang vernacular hymns not directly related to the liturgy. Where parish choirs existed, only a few of them were able to sing week after week the proper Introit of the Mass on its Gregorian melody. True, the singers could perhaps be taught to sing the words of the liturgy on simpler tunes, even if not a different one for each Sunday of the year. This, however, was not permitted. And so the chanting of the Introit ceased, except at the High Mass of some larger churches.

Thus the memory of the Introit was maintained until the 1962/65 Council only in the prayer of the priest quietly recited while the congregation occupied itself with the singing of vernacular hymns. The damage was somewhat mitigated by the use of bilingual or vernacular congregational Missals, transmitting the spiritual message of the Introit; the liturgical chant, however, was omitted. The postconciliar rubrics offered three remedies: a) the Introit remained in principle a part of the Proper; b) but in actual practice it is most often replaced by alius cantus aptus, “some other appropriate song” (during which the Introit itself is not even prayed by the priest anymore); c) and the mere reading of the Introit — as a kind of pious epigraph — in Masses without any singing. A true reform must and can find a solution to this situation, the more so since literacy today is not restricted to the clergy.


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

The failures of the Tridentine movement…

4. The Tridentine movement and the papal concessions seem to focus mainly on the celebration of the Mass, and there is very little discussion about the problems relating to other important areas of the liturgical life. The Roman liturgy or in particular its “Tridentine” form, suffered much greater loss as regards the Office and the administration of the Sacraments. The Council was quite right when it urged Catholics to make at least parts of the “priestly” Breviary into the prayer of the whole Church in accordance with the pristine practice of previous periods. If the arguments on behalf of the “Tridentine” Mass can be taken seriously, they are even more cogent for the maintenance of the “Tridentine” or Roman Office, and that not only in private recitation by the clergy, but in public celebration as well.

5. At the same time, the protagonists of the Tridentine liturgy should admit the fact that the current edition of the Liturgia Horarum is but the final denouncement in the drama of abolishing the Roman Office. It is painful to admit but the principles of the Roman Office were first violated by the reforms of St. Pius X. Moreover, the two events are related: the clergy that accepted the Liturgia Horarum had no personal experience of the Roman Office for at least three generations, and precisely for that reason was unable to recognize and understand the essential features of this Office; indeed of the Office in general. Going farther: even the unblemished ”Tridentine” Office used before the reforms of St. Pius X was but one variant of the Roman Office. The Roman Office itself lost a great many of its values already as a result of the “Tridentine” reforms, and the task of an intelligent reform would have been to restore them on the basis of sound and sensible considerations, instead of giving up the Roman Office even in its “Tridentine” form.

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

The failures of the Tridentine movement

1. Pope John Paul 11 permitted the public celebration of the traditional Mass according to the 1962 Missal. We know, however, that this Missal is not identical with the “Tridentine” liturgy. Some of the changes introduced during the intervening decades and centuries are reasonable, others are less fortunate. To mention only one example: according to the “Tridentine” rite and the earlier Roman rubrics, the Paschal candle is set up in the church, and it is consecrated by the Exsultet (Consecratio cerei). The change made fifty years ago moved the blessing of the candle to an area outside the church, and it is then brought into the church by procession. (The Paschal candle, as we see it depicted on the old Exsultet rolls, was a huge column of light that could be lit only by the deacon climbing several steps to reach it.) With the change, the Exsultet, formerly a Preface producing a sacramental, was turned into a “Praeconium” or announcement of Easter. I do not believe that the fate of the Roman liturgy depends on this or any similar detail, but there is no doubt that this modification adversely affected the theological and liturgical content of the ceremony.

2. We have already noted that the “Tridentine” liturgy is not identical with the Roman rite, rather it is only one representative of it. Its outward appearance reflects the private liturgy of the Curia Romana and consequently, when compared with the medieval cathedral liturgy which originates in the celebrations of the ancient Roman basilicas, it proves to be poorer in many respects. If the reform of the “Tridentine” liturgy was desired after the last Vatican Council, it would have been preferable to go back to this richer Roman heritage at many points. Such a course of action could also re-open a path to certain values of the medieval liturgical development which were extirpated during the Tridentine reforms. To mention again but one example: fortunately the “Tridentine” Missal preserved the Sequences of Easter, Pentecost, Corpus Christi, and of the Requiem Mass, yet a set of beautiful and doctrinally rich Sequences for solemnities of equal importance (Nativity, Epiphany, Ascension, Marian feasts) was rejected.

3. The Council of Trent did not prohibit the peaceful survival of the long-lived and precious local variants of the Roman rite. In spite of this, dioceses and religious orders abandoned, one after the other, their valuable liturgical heritage, motivated perhaps by a ultramontanist tendency in the Counter-Reformation era. Since the need for healthy pluralism in the sense of a well-ordered variety of rites, and the preservation of individual traditions were emphasized time and again in the sessions of Vatican II (e.g. Sacrosanctum Concilium 38), one could reasonably entertain the hope that after the Council these particular values would peacefully coexist within the essential unity of the Church. We know of religious orders and dioceses where initiatives were launched for reestablishing their proper traditions. And in fact, one had every reason to expect that if pagan peoples have the right to bring their traditions into the liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium 37), then the same rights would also be conceded to communities with long centuries of Christian history and culture. But in reality a very strange situation emerged: on one hand, the Bugnini commission (established to implement the will of the Council) was successful in attaining a dictatorial uniformity never known in the Church before, on the other hand, the practical result of the “reforms” could best be described as a scene of the greatest confusion, a disorder ensuing from the arbitrary decisions of individual priests. The “Tridentine” rite is a good counterpoint to both the confused diversity and the dictatorship of the Novus Ordo. But it cannot blind us to the fact that the rightful varieties and traditions of the dioceses and religious orders that formerly existed within the unity of the Roman liturgy, have not recovered their juridical existence.

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

The decrees approving the use of the “Tridentine” Mass referred at first to the fulfillment of spiritual needs amongst priests and faithful. In more recent statements there appears also the thought of preserving the traditional liturgical values of the Roman Church. I think the partial permission to use the 1962 Roman Missal cannot solve the problems but rather prepares a path toward the solution. I regard this movement as a transitional phenomenon with its own merits and anticipated fruits. But we must speak of its shortcomings as well.

1. The first advantage of celebrating the “Tridentine” Mass is that the ancient Roman liturgy, or at least part of it, can survive in this form: it can be shown and offered as a possibility to the faithful. Thus the “Tridentine” Mass also offers the possibility of discussing the Novus Ordo and its effects on the basis of experiences gained within the context of the “Tridentine” Mass. 

2. It is even more important that the “Tridentine” Mass does or is at least able to maintain the correct approach to the liturgy. The most harmful consequence of the Novus Ordo was that the thinking of many priests (and their followers) about the liturgy has been radically changed. The liturgy in the practice of many priests is not a holy, divine action, an actio praecellenter sacra, performed by the priest as the servant of the Church according to the order given by the Church, not something which enlivens, preserves and transmits certain objective values… No, it is rather an event organized by the priest (often by a specific group from the congregation), and its value can be measured by its effect on the given members of the congregation. No doubt, the liturgy had or might have effects on the mind and psyche in the Ordo Antiquus, too. But it did so not by reason of a direct intention, but through an invisible formative power whose content is defined not by the celebrant or a liturgical committee but by the fixed liturgical norms. In the long run the “Tridentine” Mass can become an asylum or refuge and a catalyst for the spirit of respect and discipline, of devotion and discretion, of stylization and maturity in the Church — even for the followers of the Novus Ordo! — in an age of neglect and arbitrariness, of agitation and manipulation, of naturalism, improvisation and informality.

3. The Tridentine movement may also help to make the liturgy the summit and source of the Church’s life, as the last Council phrased it in complete fidelity to Catholic tradition, (SC 10: culmen simul et fans). But what more often than not happens in the ecclesia in mundo hujus temporis is practically the exact opposite. How many Catholics today are preoccupied with social responsibility and activity, or external appearances, or the internal mobilization of crowds in the style of some sects — all to be achieved, of course, by the arbitrary use of the liturgy! According to the traditional approach of Holy Mother Church, however, there are three primary means of redemption in the life of the Church: the truths of Revelation grasped in faith, God’s mercy and grace received in the sacraments, and personal devotion manifested in the ascetic struggle to live a moral life. Each of these factors is more or less hidden from the eyes of the world, concealed in the womb of the Church community (sancta mater ecclesia!) and in the hearts of the faithful as part of the profound interior relationship between the individual soul, the Church as the Bride of Christ, and our God the Father. All else is but the consequence or outward manifestation of this faith, these sacraments, that moral life: fraternal charity, the obligations of our state in life as regulated by the cardinal virtue of justice, the external actions which flow from these virtues. And do we not find an apt symbol of this hierarchy of elements in the Church as domus Dei? In the innermost sanctuary dwell faith, sacraments, morals: the faithful in the nave participate in these goods of the sanctuary; and outside the church edifice lies the world in which the faithful live their lives and work their jobs – while the sanctuary itself remains untouched — culmen simul et fons. In this sense the Tridentine movement and its reverence toward dogma and the divine Offices of the ecclesia orans, can help to maintain and safeguard this hierarchy of elements in the life of the Church and individual souls.

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