A Synoptic Look at the Failures and Successes of Post-Vatican II Liturgical Reforms


With the promulgation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, the bishops at Vatican II enthusiastically and ardently hoped to renew the Eucharistic liturgy. While achieving much of what the Council desired, the postconciliar implementation of this renewal has also included many undesirable aspects and unforeseen distressing consequences. Since the close of the Council many of the faithful, clergy and laity alike, have expressed concerns regarding the way the liturgical renewal has been implemented. Often the liturgy has become a battleground between competing factions. With Pope Francis’s 2021 motu proprio Traditionis Custodes and the Congregation for Divine Worship’s subsequent clarifications in its Response to dubia, apprehensions regarding the liturgy have been heightened among many of the faithful. Since these documents strongly discourage and strictly limit the celebration of the Tridentine Mass (also known as the Traditional Latin Mass), this disquiet is particularly found among priests and laity who wish to celebrate that form of the Roman rite. The unease has not abated with Pope Francis’s most recent apostolic letter, Desiderio Desideravi, in which he provides theological and pastoral underpinnings for his earlier directives and also decries the liturgical aberrations that have marred the post-conciliar Church.

Concurrent with the growing liturgical tensions, the US bishops, deeply concerned about the loss of faith in Jesus’s real presence in the Eucharist among American Catholics, have launched a massive endeavor aimed at renewing Eucharistic faith and devotion. As the USCCB website states:

The Bishops of the United States are calling for a three-year grassroots revival of devotion and belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. They believe that God wants to see a movement of Catholics across the United States, healed, converted, formed, and unified by an encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist—and sent out in mission “for the life of the world.”

These three years will culminate in the first National Eucharistic Congress in the United States in almost fifty years. Almost a hundred thousand Catholics will join together in Indianapolis for a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage toward the “source and summit” of our Catholic faith.

In the light of Vatican II’s desire to renew the liturgy and the American bishops’ effort to revitalize Eucharistic faith, we wish to address the theological, liturgical, and pastoral issues that have arisen over time and that presently disrupt the unity and peace of the Church.[1] Our hope is that, in bringing some clarity to what has developed, both positively and negatively, a constructive way forward may be found.

Our treatment will proceed in eight sections:

1. The rise of the liturgical renewal

2. The state of the liturgy prior to Vatican II

3. The Council’s reforms as outlined in Sacrosanctum Concilium

4. The implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium

5. The movement to return to the Tridentine liturgy

6. The pastoral strategies of Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis

7. Theological and pastoral concerns with the Traditional Latin Mass movement

8. The way forward.

1. The Rise of the Liturgical Renewal

In the debate over Vatican II’s liturgical reform and its subsequent implementation, what is often overlooked is the rise of the liturgical movement prior to the Council. The desire for a renewal in the understanding and experience of the liturgy was fostered in various settings and comprised multiple components. A number of European Benedictine abbots and abbeys were most influential.

Dom Prosper Guéranger (1805–1875), the founder of the Benedictine abbey of Solesmes in France, is often considered the father of the liturgical renewal. He fostered the renewal by updating liturgical books, stressing the importance of the liturgical year, and promoting the revival of Gregorian chant. In 1903, Pope Pius X published Tra le sollecitudini, which contained directives for sacred music and underscored the importance of Gregorian chant in the liturgy, confirming the work of Guéranger. In these directives, Pope Pius encouraged the participation of the laity by employing for the first time the phrase “active participation” (actuosa participatio).

In particular, the laity are to actively participate in the liturgy through their singing of Gregorian chant. A century later, Pope John Paul II wrote: “The centenary of the Document gives me the opportunity to recall the important role of sacred music which St. Pius X presented as a means of lifting up the spirit to God and as a precious aid for the faithful in their ‘active participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church.’”[2] This emphasis on the importance of singing Gregorian chant finds it full expression, as we will see, in Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

The German abbey of Maria Laach, under the authority of Abbot Ildefons Herwegen, also played an influential role in the liturgical renewal during the first half of the twentieth century. Odo Casel (1886–1948), a monk of Maria Laach and an expert in ancient and medieval liturgies, became one of the most prominent proponents for liturgical renewal. In his chief work, The Mystery of Christian Worship, he states:

From thence it comes that the whole church, not merely the clergy, is to take an active part in the liturgy, each according to sacred order, in his proper rank, place, and measure. All members are truly, sacramentally conjoined to Christ their head; every believer, because of the sacramental character he received in baptism and confirmation, has part in the priesthood of Christ the head. This means that the layman does not merely assist with private devotion and prayer at the priest’s liturgy, but is, by his objective membership in Christ’s body, a necessary and real sharer in the liturgical fellowship.[3]

Here we again find the importance of lay participation in the Eucharistic liturgy, founded now upon the sacramental character of their participation in the priesthood of Christ. One’s inner participation in the liturgy is to be expressed perceptibly by one’s words and actions. Thus the priest and people together offer, each according to their proper sacramental role, the one sacrifice of the Mass, and together partake of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. 

Dom Lambert Beauduin (1873–1960) was a monk of the Benedictine Abbey of Mont César in Leuven, Belgium. He was greatly influenced by his prior, Columba Marmion (1858–1923), who fostered the renewal of the priesthood and liturgy. Although Beauduin opposed the use of the vernacular, he furthered the active participation of people in the liturgy by promoting bilingual missals in which they could silently pray along with the priest. He and the monks of Mont César also published liturgical and spiritual instruction manuals to educate the laity. Beauduin was thus very practical in his approach in furthering the emerging liturgical renewal.

The writings of Maurice de la Taille, SJ (1872–1933) also greatly influenced the movement, particularly his principal three-volume work Mysterium Fidei, published in 1921. In his extensive examination of the biblical, patristic, and Thomistic understanding, de la Taille brought a theologically fresh understanding of Christ’s saving sacrifice and its relationship to the sacrifice of the Mass. He demonstrated that there is an inherent harmony among Christ’s sacrifice initiated at the Last Supper, its consummation in his death and resurrection, and its continuing to be made present in the sacrifice of the Mass. Thus, de la Taille added theological depth to the liturgical renewal in the midst of its more pastoral qualities.

Mention must also be made of Fr. Pius Parsch (1884–1954), a member of the Augustinian Canons Regular at the Klosterneuburg Abbey in Austria. As a leading figure in the liturgical movement, he wrote popular works on the liturgy founded upon recent scholarship and pastoral developments, some of which were published in English, such as The Liturgy of the Mass. He promoted what he called the “People’s Mass,” which again fostered the participation of the laity. Surprisingly, this liturgical innovation comprised a free-standing altar where the priest faced the people. While unusual, such was nonetheless permitted prior to Vatican II. Little did he know that what he initiated would become the liturgical norm after Vatican II.

In the United States, probably the most influential contributor to the liturgical renewal was Virgil Michel (1890–1938), a Benedictine monk at Collegeville, Minnesota. Having studied in Europe he was knowledgeable of the liturgical movement and made it known to the English-speaking world, particularly in the United States. With the permission of his abbot, he set out to establish St. John’s Abbey as a center for liturgical renewal. To foster the renewal, he founded the journal Orate Fratres (later renamed Worship), as well as Liturgical Press. The European liturgical renewal thus became established in America.

Having briefly surveyed some of the chief architects of the liturgical renewal, it is also important to examine the response of the Church’s hierarchy. We already noted Pius X’s positive response to Guéranger’s initiative at promoting a revival of Gregorian chant. But it was Pius XII who firmly placed the liturgical movement within the heart of the universal Church. In 1947, he published his encyclical Mediator Dei on the sacred liturgy. In it he notes the revival of scholarly interest in the liturgy that began at the end of the nineteenth century. This movement, he confirms, has brought much fruit. He states: “We ourselves, in the course of our traditional address to the Lenten Preachers of this gracious city of Rome in 1943, urged them warmly to exhort their respective hearers to more faithful participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice” (§6).

Pope Pius was well aware of unapproved innovations that had crept into the liturgy, including “those who make use of the vernacular in the celebration of the august eucharistic sacrifice” (§59). Pius sees the use of Latin as “a manifest and beautiful sign of unity, as well as an effective antidote for any corruption of doctrinal truth,” but notes that “in spite of this, the use of the mother tongue in connection with several of the rites may be of much advantage to the people” (§60). At the same time, he warns that, although ancient liturgies are worthy of veneration,

Ancient usage must not be esteemed more suitable and proper, either in its own right or in its significance for later times and new situations, on the simple ground that it carries the savor or aroma of antiquity. The more recent liturgical rites likewise deserve reverence and respect. They too owe their inspiration to the Holy Spirit, who assists the Church in every age even to the consummation of the world. They are equally resources used by the majestic Spouse of Jesus Christ to promote and procure the sanctity of men (§61).

Pius XII thus acknowledges the need to venerate the ancient liturgies. Yet he insists that contemporary rites likewise deserve respect and reverence, for they too are inspired by the Holy Spirit and so freshly foster the sanctity of the faithful.

Pius XII also offers a doctrinal interpretation of the Eucharistic liturgy, stressing its sacrificial nature and the sacramental fruits produced by it—reconciliation with God and communion with the body and blood of the risen Jesus (see §§66–78). In this doctrinal context, Pius accentuates the need for the faithful’s active participation:

It is therefore desirable, Venerable Brethren, that all the faithful should be aware that to participate in the eucharistic sacrifice is their chief duty and supreme dignity, and that not in an inert and negligent fashion, giving way to distractions and day-dreaming, but with such earnestness and concentration that they may be united as closely as possible with the High Priest (§80).

While the priest, as an ordained minister, is the principal celebrant of the Eucharistic sacrifice, he does so in communion with and on behalf of the faithful, for “they participate, according to their condition, in the priesthood of Christ” (§88; see also §92). Although there have been some exaggerations, Pius is “very pleased to learn that this teaching, thanks to a more intense study of the liturgy on the part of many, especially in recent years, has been given full recognition” (§94).

In this doctrinal context, Pius XII praises those “who, with the idea of getting the Christian people to take part more easily and more fruitfully in the Mass, strive to make them familiar with the ‘Roman Missal,’ so that the faithful, united to the priest, may pray together in the very words and sentiments of the Church” (§105). Pius also commends those who foster ways for the laity to share in the liturgical act in an external manner, for example, by responses and by singing. He suggests the faithful “either answer the priest in an orderly and fitting manner, or sing hymns suitable to the different parts of the Mass, or do both,” including signing Gregorian chant (§105). To this end, Pius’s wish is that “in each Diocese an advisory Committee to promote the liturgical Apostolate should be established” (§109).

What we find in Pius XII’s encyclical is the highest magisterial endorsement of the liturgical renewal as found at that time. Pius is intent that the liturgical renewal be achieved properly, according to doctrinal and liturgical norms, but he wishes it to continue for the spiritual good of the people. He realizes that only as the faithful fully participate in the Eucharistic liturgy, in accordance with their priestly baptismal character, will they fully obtain its sacramental blessing.

Before concluding our survey of the liturgical movement prior to Vatican II, reference must be made to two significant theologians whose influential writings contributed to the Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy: Fr. Romano Guardini (1885–1968), and Fr. Louis Bouyer (1913–2004).[4]

Guardini was one of the leading theologians of the early twentieth century. His major contribution to the liturgical movement was The Spirit of the Liturgy (1918; English translation 1930), in which he emphasized that liturgical prayer is composed of both words and actions, in a form that is unique to their sacredness. Moreover, the liturgy is communal, in that the liturgical words and actions are done in common by both the priest and the laity. The liturgy consistently uses “we” and not “I,” and thus the liturgical actions are done as one worshiping community. The priest in communion with the faithful offers the one sacrifice of the Mass, and they are bound together in partaking of the one bread and cup that are the body and blood of the risen Jesus. Guardini’s emphasis on the communal and participatory nature of the Eucharist was a judgment against the rampant autonomy of the individual that he perceived in contemporary Western society and even in the Church. His hope was that the liturgical renewal would help purge the Church of such individualism, and so render more perfect the unity of the body of Christ, which would in turn help transform secular society. Unfortunately, as we will discuss, the Council’s renewal of the liturgy, not in itself but by human causes, has given birth to divisions in the Church. Nonetheless, Guardini’s theological and spiritual vision of the liturgy did bear fruit at Vatican II—fruit that needs to ripen again today.[5]

A former Lutheran pastor, Fr. Louis Bouyer became Catholic in 1939 and subsequently joined the Oratory of Jesus and Mary Immaculate. Bouyer became one of the leading liturgical theologians prior to Vatican II. Like Odo Casel, Bouyer stressed the importance of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection in the liturgy, in that the Eucharist enacts these same mysteries. By participating in the sacramental act of the Eucharistic liturgy one is taken up into the saving acts that comprise the paschal mystery itself. For this reason, active participation in the Eucharist is essential, for in so participating one comes to partake of the benefits of the sacramental acts themselves—forgiveness of sins and new life in Christ. Such emphases can be found in his Paschal Mystery: Meditations on the Last Three Days of Holy Week and in Life and Liturgy. Of equal importance is his book Eucharist: Theology and Spirituality of the Eucharistic Prayer, where Bouyer treats the theological development of the Eucharistic prayer through the centuries. Bouyer was appointed to the consilium after Vatican II and in that capacity he was a theological consultant for the committee that implemented the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Bouyer was not entirely happy, during and especially after the Council, for he anticipated and later observed the subsequent liturgical aberrations, both theological and pastoral. At this point, an important conclusion may be drawn from this brief summary of the rise and growth of the liturgical movement.

Like almost all renewal movements in Church history, such as the rise of the Franciscans and Dominicans, the liturgical renewal movement was from the ground up. In this case, it was initiated and primarily grew from within a monastic setting, and its principal concern was to revive the laity’s active engagement in the liturgy, in union with the priest—thus the urging of active participation of the faithful in both words and actions. At the same time, this movement for liturgical renewal was guided, sanctioned, and encouraged by the Church’s hierarchy. Such ecclesial approval and support were given at the highest level by Popes Pius X and Pius XII. The liturgical movement thus needs to be acknowledged as an authentic work of the Spirit for the benefit of Christ’s Church. It was not free from weaknesses and errors, as Pius XII acknowledged, yet it cannot be denied that the Holy Spirit was guiding sinful and fallible people—the only kind he had to work with—to undertake this renewal that was desperately needed for the good of the Catholic faithful.

2. The State of the Liturgy Prior to Vatican II

Although the liturgical renewal had percolated for approximately sixty years prior to Vatican II, it had had little impact on the laity in the parish setting. The vast majority of Catholic faithful recognized that they were attending the all-holy sacrifice of the Mass, and that they were receiving the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion. The Mass did create an awe and reverence among the faithful. However, for the most part, they had the mindset of being observers of a great mystery. Only the priest (along with the altar boys) was seen as actively engaged in the Eucharist rite. Except at the consecration of bread and wine, when the faithful adored the elevated sacred species, accompanied by the ringing of bells, many of the faithful engaged in their own personal forms of prayer. They had little sense of asking forgiveness of their sins during the opening penitential rite, nor did they consciously offer themselves to the Father in union with Jesus during the offertory. There was little or no engagement with the scripture readings. Likewise, unless they were following along with a bilingual missal, which must be said was fairly popular, they would not be praying along with the celebrant, for they could neither hear him nor understand what he was praying in Latin.

The spiritual high point for the faithful was reverently receiving on their tongue Holy Communion, which they rightly believed was the body, blood, soul, and divinity of the incarnate and risen Son of God. However, they had little awareness that the privilege of receiving Holy Communion was founded upon their having participated in Jesus’s once-for-all sacrifice of himself to the Father for the forgiveness of sins and the outpouring of the divine life of the Holy Spirit. Significantly, while the faithful knew and believed that the one God is a Trinity of persons, their liturgical and personal prayer often primarily consisted of praying to the one (generic) God.[6] Only after Vatican II, with the revision of the rite and the use of the vernacular, did the faithful become more cognizant of the trinitarian nature of the liturgy and of their own ability to pray in a trinitarian manner. Although many, and probably most, of the faithful attended the liturgy with devotion, except in receiving Holy Communion, such devotion was not imbued with an informed understanding of the Eucharistic mystery.

Within this overall pastoral situation, a few particulars must be noted. First, while many priests celebrated Mass in a reverent manner, there were those who did not. The faithful were aware, and often pleased, that certain priests were able to “run through” the liturgy in fifteen or twenty minutes, especially on weekdays. A vivid description of the state of affairs prior to the Council is given in a blog post by Msgr. Charles Pope:

As for there being no abuses before 1970, dream on. All the old guys I trained under for the Latin Mass (back in the mid 1980s) told me that it was dreadful how the mass was celebrated in the old days: mumbled Latin, skipped prayers, half genuflections, not even waiting for the servers to finish before moving on to the next prayer; masses that should have taken a good 40 minutes to celebrate reverently were routinely done in 18 minutes. Communion was routinely distributed in larger parishes by priests, beginning immediately after the gospel, while the priest celebrant went on with the current Mass; sung liturgies were abhorred by most clergy and when they did sing them they were usually done in a horrible and tortured tone with indistinct pronunciation since they were not used to enunciating the Latin, but mumbling it. So when they sang, most just mumbled aloud. I have heard recordings from the time and can personally affirm that homilies were often skipped, even on Sundays. Most of the old guys said the Corpus Domini nostri prayer while they gave communion to as many as five people, mumbling it as a norm. The Liber Usualis had long been abandoned by most parishes and they used recto tono (usually 8th tone) chanting in its place . . . . People came late and left early and had legalistic notions that if they made it by the gospel they were safe. Leaving after communion was epidemic.[7]

Second, although the lectionary readings were read in the vernacular, the repertoire of readings was miniscule, especially from the Old Testament (only 1% of which appeared in the lectionary) and from the New Testament epistles, Acts, and Revelation (11%); even Gospel passages were limited (22%). One never obtained a sense of the entire Bible, nor of the individual Gospels. Scripture was foreign territory to most pre-Vatican II Catholics—Protestants knew their Bible, Catholics celebrated their Mass.

Third, sermons were almost entirely moralistic in nature, focused on the fostering of holy and virtuous lives. In one sense, such moral teaching was good and necessary, for it did encourage the keeping of the God’s commandments. However, what was often absent was mystagogical catechesis, that is, the bringing to life the mysteries of the faith—the Trinity; the Incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus; the outpouring of the Holy Spirit; the Lord’s coming in glory; and the nature of the sacraments, including the Eucharistic liturgy. Thus, most of the faithful never grew in their understanding of the doctrines of the faith beyond what they learned from catechesis as children. Part of the problem was that few priests themselves ever actually came to understand and marvel at the mysteries of faith. Christianity was reduced to living a moral life, without the full doctrinal foundation on which a virtuous life is established and fostered.

Fourth, both the priest and the people faced east, ad orientem, and many churches were built facing the east. However, while today much is made of such a liturgical posture, at the time prior to Vatican II, hardly anyone, even priests, were cognizant of its theological significance.[8] The faithful were unaware that they were facing east because it is from the east that the risen Jesus is to come at the end of time, and that in celebrating the Eucharist they were eagerly anticipating his glorious return. What the people were aware of was that the priest had his back to the people, and that he was enacting the Eucharistic mystery such that they could not see and often could not hear it.

Having outlined the inadequate theological understanding and deficient liturgical practice immediately prior to Vatican Council II, when the need for liturgical renewal was increasingly recognized, we can now examine the Council’s response.

3. The Council's Reforms

Given the momentum and the ecclesiastical approval already given to the liturgical movement, it is not surprising that the opening task of Vatican II was the renewal of the liturgy. The first document ratified by the Council was the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium (December 4, 1963). Because the Council desired to invigorate the Christian life of the faithful and to “adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change,” it saw “particularly cogent reasons for undertaking the reform and promotion of the liturgy” (SC §1).[9] The constitution proposed both the principles and the practical norms that were to govern the revitalization of the liturgy (SC §3). Particular notice should be given to the words “promotion” and “reform.” By reforming the rite, the Council judged that the liturgy could be more persuasively and credibly promoted, and so better achieve its sacred goal—the sanctification of the faithful. By its very nature, the Eucharistic liturgy is

the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the fount from which all her power flows. For the goal of apostolic endeavor is that all who are sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of his Church, to take part in the Sacrifice and to eat the Lord’s Supper (SC §10).

Because of the supreme importance of the Eucharistic liturgy, the faithful must approach the liturgy with a proper spiritual disposition, so that their minds and hearts are “attuned to their voices.” Therefore, pastors must realize that “when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and lawful celebration. It is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects” (SC §11).

In this context the Council makes its central assertion:

Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to the full, conscious, and active participation in the liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy, and to which the Christian people, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people” (1 Pet 2:9; cf. 2:4–5) have a right and obligation by reason of their baptism.

In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy the full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered above all else, for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit. Therefore, in all their apostolic activity, pastors of souls should energetically set about achieving it through requisite pedagogy (SC §14).

Later, the Council emphatically concludes:

Zeal for the promotion and restoration of the liturgy is rightly held to be a sign of the providential dispositions of God in our time, as a movement of the Holy Spirit in His Church. It is today a distinguishing mark of the Church’s life, indeed of the whole tenor of contemporary religious thought and action (SC §43).

While the Council Fathers recognize that the liturgy must be celebrated in a valid and lawful manner, their primary concern is that the faithful actively participate, for only through such active engagement in word and action do they reap the graces that flow from the Eucharist. In restoring and promoting the Eucharistic liturgy, the Council is convinced that it is obediently bearing witness to a distinguishing mark of the Holy Spirit’s work in the contemporary Church. Not to have borne such testimony would be a defiant denial of the Spirit’s activity.

Having expressed its desire and confirmed its allegiance to the Holy Spirit, how did the Council hope to achieve its intended goal? Although it is not possible to analyze the full range of decrees and norms enacted in Sacrosanctum Concilium, here we will examine what we consider the most salient points. After providing texts from the document, we will offer an interpretive commentary.

1. The Council notes that “the liturgy is made of up of unchangeable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change.” The changeable elements ought to be revised if they do not harmonize “with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become less suitable” (SC §21).

2. The regulation of the liturgy is under the sole authority of the Church, principally the Apostolic See, but also includes bishops’ conferences. “No other person, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority” (SC §22).

3. Thus, the Council decrees by its magisterial authority:

To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalms, antiphons, hymns, as well as by actions, gestures and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times a reverent silence should be observed (SC §30).

4. The liturgical rites, without losing their substance, “should be distinguished by a noble simplicity; they should be short, clear, and unencumbered by useless repetitions” so that the faithful may more easily comprehend their nature (SC §34; cf. §50).

5. The Council also decrees:

The treasures of the Bible are to be opened up more lavishly so that a richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s word. In this way a more representative part of the sacred scriptures will be read to the people in the course of a prescribed number of years (SC §51).

6. In the light of the expansion of the biblical readings, the Council speaks of the importance of the homily:

By means of the homily the mysteries of the faith and the guiding principles of the Christian life are to be expounded from the sacred text during the course of the liturgical year. The homily, therefore, is to be highly esteemed as a part of the liturgy itself. In fact, at those Masses which are celebrated on Sundays and holidays of obligation, with people assisting, it should not be omitted except for a serious reason (SC §52).

7. Regarding the use of Latin and of the vernacular, the Council provides the following norms:

The use of the Latin language, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin rites. But since the use of the vernacular, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or in other parts of the liturgy, may frequently be of great advantage to the people, a wider use may be made of it, especially in the readings, directives and in some prayers and chants (SC §36).

Nonetheless, care must be taken to ensure that the faithful may be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them (SC §54).

8. Because of its importance within the Eucharistic liturgy, the Constitution devotes an entire chapter to sacred music:

The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as a combination of sacred music and word, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy. Therefore, sacred music is to be considered the more holy, the more closely connected it is with liturgical actions, whether making prayer more pleasing, promoting unity of minds, or conferring greater solemnity upon the sacred rites (SC §112).

Drawing from the liturgical renewal that preceded the Council, the Constitution states that “the Church recognizes Gregorian chant as being specially suited to the Roman liturgy. Therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.” Nonetheless, other forms of sacred music are permitted, “especially polyphony” (SC §116). The Council recognizes that

In certain countries, especially in mission lands, there are people who have their own musical tradition, and this plays a great part in their religious and social life. For this reason, their music should be held in proper esteem and a suitable place is to be given to it, not only in forming their religious sense but also in adapting worship to their native genius (SC §119).

Finally, “the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem in the Latin Church.” However, “other instruments also may be admitted for use in divine worship,” provided they “are suitable, or can be made suitable for sacred use” (SC §120).

Vatican II thus magisterially promulgated a proper and authentic renewal of the Eucharistic liturgy. The Council not only embraced the Spirit-inspired liturgical renewal, but also brought this renewal to its mature and authentic culmination. All of the Council’s decrees and norms bear upon its governing principle—that of promoting the faithful’s active participation in the Eucharistic liturgy. In so doing, the Council Fathers confirmed and secured the rightful exercise of the faithful’s baptismal priesthood.

It is crucial to recognize that the Council Fathers never thought in terms of rescinding the Tridentine Mass, precisely because it was that rite that they were revising and rejuvenating. If they had suppressed the old rite, it would mean that they were creating an entirely new rite. They would then be employing a hermeneutic of discontinuity. Rather, they were engaging in a strong hermeneutic of continuity: the old rite was to continue in a revised form. Because of this hermeneutic of continuity, they never considered the possibility of the unrevised rite continuing to be celebrated. Such an option would have never entered their minds. For the Council, the revised Eucharistic liturgy would simply be the Roman rite of the Catholic Church.[10]

To oppose the Council’s intent as expressed in Sacrosanctum Concilium is implicitly, if unintentionally, to fault the overarching principle of the entire Council, aggiornamento—not the creating of a new Church but the renewing of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Such opposition also inherently denies the validity of the liturgical renewal as a genuine work of Holy Spirit in the contemporary Church. That being said, the practical implementation of Vatican II’s liturgical renewal included, as we will now see, both achievements and disappointments.[11]

4. The Implementation of Sacrocanctum Concilium: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

While making clear that the doctrinal integrity of the liturgy is to be maintained, the Council purposely and enthusiastically initiated legitimate modifications to the Tridentine liturgy that would enhance and restore the proper participation of the laity.[12] The liturgical reform was, therefore, principally enacted on behalf of the faithful. Following the directives of the Council, the first typical edition of the Roman Missal was published in 1970, followed by second and third editions in 1975 and 2002. What then do we find in the postconciliar implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium?

Active Participation

First and most importantly, the active participation of the faithful was heightened in a myriad of ways: in their vocal responses in the Penitential Rite, in the restoration of the Prayer of the Faithful, in the restoration of the offertory procession in which the faithful bring forward the bread and wine, in their response to the priest’s invitation to pray that his sacrifice and theirs would be acceptable to God, and in other responses and acclamations. The role of the altar servers became less prominent. At the same time, many of the prescribed rubrics in the Tridentine liturgy were either dropped or simplified, especially in the new Eucharistic canons. By simplifying the rubrics while simultaneously providing for the laity’s active participation, the reformed rite (known popularly as the Novus Ordo) made the theological character and liturgical significance of the Eucharist more accessible, not only for the laity but also for the presiding priest.

These changes embody one of Vatican II’s enduring and most important achievements: the recovery of the Scriptural and patristic doctrine of the priesthood of all the baptized. As the Council states in Lumen Gentium, “Christ the Lord, high priest taken from the midst of humanity (see Heb 5:1-5), made the new People of God a kingdom of priests to his God and Father (Rev 1:6).” In baptism the faithful are “consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood” charged with offering spiritual sacrifices, presenting “themselves as a sacrifice, living, holy and pleasing to God (see 1 Pet 2:4-10; Rom 12:1)” (LG §10). This vocation can be perfectly fulfilled only by participating in the Eucharistic sacrifice, and therefore the ordained priesthood was instituted by Christ to permit the priestly people to fulfill their baptismal vocation. “Though they differ essentially and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are none the less interrelated . . . . The faithful, by virtue of their royal priesthood, share in the offering of the Eucharist” (LG §10). “Both in the offering and in holy Communion in their separate ways . . . all have their own part to play” (LG §11).

The renewed liturgy empowers the baptized to enact more fully their indelible baptismal character. As the Catechism states: “Incorporated into the Church by Baptism, the faithful have received the sacramental character that consecrates them for Christian religious worship. The baptismal seal enables and commits Christians to serve God by a vital participation in the holy liturgy of the Church and to exercise their baptismal priesthood by the witness of their holy live and practical charity” (CCC §1273). The Eucharist is the most perfect enactment of the baptismal priesthood, made possible by the ordained priest who acts “in the person of Christ the Head.” In it the faithful complete the spiritual sacrifice to which their baptism calls and empowers them (see Rom 12:1; Heb 13:15-16). As the Council taught in its Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests,

The Lord Jesus whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world (John 10:36) gave his whole mystical body a share in the anointing of the Spirit with which he was anointed (see Matt 3:16; Luke 4:18; Acts 4:27; 10:38). In that body all the faithful are made a holy and kingly priesthood, they offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ . . . .

Through the ministry of priests, the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful is completed [Per Presbyterorum autem ministerium sacrificium spirituale fidelium consummatur in unione cum sacrificio Christi], in union with the sacrifice of Christ the only mediator, which in the Eucharist is offered through the priest’s hands in the name of the whole church in an unbloody and sacramental manner until the Lord himself shall come (see 1 Cor 11:26).[13]

Jean-Pierre Torrell comments on this passage as follows:

The indispensability of the priestly ministry is highlighted by the fact that it is only in the Eucharist that the offering of the spiritual sacrifice reaches its fulfillment . . . . With Presbyterorum Ordinis now we can say specifically that, with this spiritual sacrifice being accomplished by the ministers in the name of all the baptized, the ministers have the lofty role of contributing by their ministry to the completion and perfection of the spiritual sacrifices. Without the sacrifice of the Eucharist the spiritual sacrifices themselves would be deprived of their final flowering.[14]

The Council’s promotion of the faithful’s “full, conscious, and active participation” in the liturgy means that “Christ’s faithful, when present at the mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers and silent spectators. On the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action, conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration . . . . Offering the immaculate victim, not only through the hands of the priest but also together with him, they should learn to offer themselves” (SC §48).

The Language of the People

Second, what facilitated this intelligibly conjoined liturgical action of priest and laity was the use of the vernacular. Without the vernacular, the active, vocal, intelligible participation of the faithful would have been impossible—at least for the vast majority. Here it is evident that the postconciliar implementation went further than what the Council decreed. As we have seen, the Council Fathers desired that the Latin language be preserved, especially in the people’s responses, although they readily acknowledged that the vernacular was frequently advantageous to the people. What they did not anticipate was the enthusiasm with which the vernacular was accepted by clergy and laity alike. Bishops’ conferences around the world voted to expand the use of the vernacular and requested and received permission to do so from Rome. So widespread was the use of the vernacular that the Vatican decreed in its 1970 General Instruction on the Roman Missal, Cenam Paschalem:

Since no Catholic would now deny the legitimacy and efficacy of a liturgical rite celebrated in Latin, the Council could now concede that “the use of the mother tongue can frequently be of great advantage to the people” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 36), and it gave permission for such use. The enthusiastic welcome given in every country to this permission has in fact led to the situation in which, under the guidance of the bishops and of the Holy See, all liturgical functions in which the people take part may now be celebrated in the vernacular so that the mystery being celebrated may be the better understood (§12).

The vox populi had spoken and had been affirmed by the Church—vernacular it would be.[15] This ecclesial affirmation undercuts one of the most common arguments against the Novus Ordo: that the wholesale adoption of the vernacular, and the reformed liturgy more broadly, is illegitimate because it went beyond what the Council intended. What this fails to note is that Church’s magisterium, in the persons of Paul VI and John Paul II, confirmed these developments, judging them to be authentic liturgical developments that were in accord with the aims of the Council, even if the Council had not explicitly called for them. This is in stark contrast to the popes’ condemnations of certain theological currents and liturgical practices that claimed to be in continuity with “the spirit of Vatican II” but in fact betrayed the Council; for instance, the denial of the unique saving mediation of Christ, or the practice of ad-libbing the Eucharistic Prayer.  

However, a very unfortunate development occurred with regard to the English editions of the Missal: the translations produced by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) were not fully in accord with the Latin original.[16] Many biblical references and allusions were obscured, and the collects and other prayers were rendered in a prosaic manner, losing their spiritual and theological beauty. Moreover, the Eucharistic canons were translated loosely in a way that devalued the sacrificial nature of the Mass. These translations reflected much of the dubious theology that had arisen subsequent to Vatican II. What is even more unfortunate is that the American bishops approved such inadequate translations and the Vatican itself confirmed them.[17] What the Council actually decreed was not fully taken into account. Instead of being taught the proper nature of the Mass through the liturgy itself, as Vatican II intended, the faithful were now deprived of its full theological content.

This unfortunate situation was finally rectified after Pope John Paul II published the third typical edition of the Roman Missal in 2002, and a more faithful English translation was approved by the USCCB in 2010. Nonetheless, the years of unsatisfactory liturgical translations had contributed to the dissatisfaction of many of the faithful.

An Enriched Liturgy of the Word

Third, one of the most pastorally advantageous changes in the reformed liturgy, following the directive of Sacrosanctum Concilium (§51), was the expanded lectionary. The new three-year cycle for Sundays and two-year cycle for weekdays were published in English from 1970 to 1972. This revised lectionary offered the faithful a vastly broader range of readings from the entire Bible, providing them with a rich banquet of God’s word.[18] As the Council Fathers recognized, the proclamation and explanation of the Word of God are not incidental but essential to the liturgy, in order that the faithful may fully appropriate all that is given to them in the sacrament. In the liturgy of the word Christ is proclaimed; in the liturgy of the Eucharist the faithful enter into intimate communion with the Christ they have come to know through his word.[19] Thus the Council teaches that “the Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the Body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God’s Word and of Christ’s Body” (Dei Verbum §21). As the Introduction to the Lectionary explains, “Through the readings and homily Christ’s Paschal Mystery is proclaimed; through the sacrifice of the Mass it becomes present” (§24). The expansion of the lectionary in turn prompted a ferment of biblical study among the faithful, with the formation of numerous parish Bible studies and biblical study aids.

With the new lectionary, priests were afforded more biblical passages on which to base their homilies. Although the Council declared that the homily is an integral part of the Eucharistic celebration in which “the mysteries of the faith and the guiding principles of the Christian life are expounded from the sacred text” (SC §52), unfortunately many homilies continued to be almost entirely moralistic, with little attention given to the mysteries of faith. Celebrants were fond of telling personal and humorous stories, thinking the congregation would find these more entertaining than the exposition of Scripture. In 2013, the USCCB, acknowledging the widespread dissatisfaction with the quality of homilies, issued a new document that stressed the importance of evangelistic, biblical, and doctrinal preaching in the Sunday homily.[20] In 2015, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published its Homiletic Directory in response to the request of bishops gathered for the Synod on the Word of God in 2008, a request that Benedict XVI made his own in his apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini (§60). The Homiletic Directory (especially §9–15) accentuates the responsibility of the homilist to focus on the Scriptures and provides helpful guidance on how to connect them with the Paschal Mystery made present in the liturgy.

Sacred Music

Fourth, Sacrosanctum Concilium had confirmed that the Church’s musical tradition is an inestimable treasure and that music forms an integral part of the liturgy. In order to enable the faithful’s active musical participation, “religious singing by the people is to be skillfully fostered” (SC §52). The Council maintained that Gregorian chant continues to hold pride of place, but also acknowledged the need for incorporating vernacular singing and the musical traditions of various cultures.[21] The implementation of these mandates was decidedly mixed. Instead of teaching Gregorian chant to the faithful, many parishes abandoned it. In most parishes, the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei were now recited or sung solely in the vernacular. The loss of the Church’s musical tradition tended to undermine the heavenly solemnity and gravitas of the Mass—something that the Council wanted to preserve when it affirmed the importance of Gregorian chant, which had germinated and blossomed from within the liturgy itself. It must also be remembered that the Spirit’s first inspiration in inaugurating the liturgical movement was in the monastic renewal and promotion of Gregorian chant, and Vatican II wished to maintain that Spirit-inspired stimulus.

The use of the vernacular did give rise to the composition of vernacular hymns and new sung Masses. Some of these were of high biblical and theological quality and skillfully composed, but others were banal and sentimental, with moralistic lyrics, often focused on celebrating the congregating community rather than worshiping Christ. Many were devoid of any mention of the mysteries of the faith, the exaltation of the Holy Trinity, Jesus as the Son of God incarnate, his saving death and glorious resurrection, the new life in the Holy Spirit, or the marvel of the Eucharist. The lyrics of such hymns possessed little biblical or theological correlation to the liturgy itself and were not conducive to entering into the liturgical celebration. Likewise, some of the melodies possessed a liturgical quality, a sacred eminence that would not be found in contemporary secular music. Others, however, sounded like Broadway rejects—a poor combination of “spiritual” words with the tune of contemporary musicals.[22]

With the introduction of vernacular hymns, the use of musical instruments in the liturgy became an issue. In many parishes the guitar became the instrument of choice, often accompanied by other appropriate instruments such as the piano, cello, violin, and flute, all of which can lend beauty to the liturgy and aided the faithful’s participation. Although some had good reason to complain about “guitar Masses,” their distress was sometimes overwrought, fueled by an elitist mentality.

Facing Together—Facing Christ

One other liturgical development that took place after Vatican II deserves discussion in its own right: the placement of the altar with the priest facing the people. Although this change was not anticipated by the Council, once it occurred it was fully embraced by the magisterium. Although either orientation is permitted, we hold that the celebration of the liturgy with the priest facing the faithful is pastorally and theologically more congruent with the reality of the liturgy as “an action of Christ the Priest and of his Body, which is the Church . . .  a sacred action surpassing all others” (SC §7).[23] Unfortunately, as will be discussed below, many priests took this innovation as an opportunity to wreak havoc in the sanctuary. Here we enumerate some of the pastoral and theological advantages of the priest and people facing one another.

Sacrosanctum Concilium did not address either the position of the altar in the sanctuary nor whether the priest should face the congregation. Nonetheless, once free-standing altars were introduced, it seemed logical that the priest should face the people for the very reason that the Council promoted the liturgical reform—the full participation of the faithful in the liturgy. Thus the 1970 General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) prescribed that a church “should have a fixed and dedicated altar, freestanding, away from any wall, so that the priest can walk around it and can celebrate facing the people. It should be in a position such that the entire congregation will naturally focus their attention on it” (262). Likewise the revised 2002 GIRM states: “The altar should be built separate from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible" (229). Unlike altars prior to Vatican II, which were attached to a wall, the altar now is to be “freestanding” in order for the priest to face the people during the Mass. It is to be positioned such that it can be the focus of both the priest’s and the people’s singular attention. On that altar, in communion with Christ the great high priest, the priest and people together celebrate and offer the one saving sacrifice of the Mass.

That the priest and the faithful face one another during the Eucharistic canon gives full meaning to what Jesus himself declared and enacted at the Last Supper. The priest, in persona Christi, takes the bread and declares to “all of” the faithful that they should “take” and “eat of it, for this is my body, which will be given up for you.” Likewise, the priest takes the chalice and again declares that the faithful should “take” and “drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” All of the faithful present are invited to behold the bread and wine, and are to take, eat, and drink, for in so doing they are incorporated into Jesus’ one saving sacrifice offered to his Father. In eating Jesus’ Spirit-filled, risen-given-up-body and drinking his Spirit-filled, risen-poured-out-blood, they become one with their risen Lord and Savior, and so reap the benefits of new and eternal covenant—everlasting union with the Father in communion with the Holy Spirit. By the priest facing the people, the faithful themselves are drawn into the very mystery they are celebrating together with him. In the elevation of the consecrated bread and wine, Jesus’ own words are fulfilled: “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). Although the priest and people are not facing ad orientem, they are, as at the Last Supper, facing Jesus, and in communion with Jesus, they are offering the perfect sacrifice of praise to their heavenly Father.[24]

The Eucharistic liturgy is, moreover, the renewal and enactment of the everlasting spousal covenant between Christ and the Church. As John Paul II noted,

Christ is the Bridegroom because “he has given himself”: his body has been “given,” his blood has been “poured out” (cf. Luke 22:19-20). In this way “he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). The “sincere gift” contained in the sacrifice of the cross gives definitive prominence to the spousal meaning of God’s love. . . . The Eucharist is Sacrament of our Redemption. It is the Sacrament of the Bridegroom and of the Bride.[25]

In the liturgy, the priest most fully carries out his task of acting in persona Christi: he is the visible sign of Christ the divine Bridegroom, who gives himself entirely to the Church his bride. A bridegroom faces his bride.[26]

Unfortunately, some presiders over the Eucharistic liturgy introduced a grave distortion. Thinking of themselves as being renewal-minded, they assumed the role of an entertainer. Their desire was to make the congregation feel welcome and joyful in order to be fully engaged in the worship experience. However, such priests took liberties that were liturgically inappropriate and even doctrinally erroneous. The entertaining celebrant became the focus of the Eucharistic assembly, leading to a new form of clericalism. Instead of speaking and acting in persona Christi, the priest was in effect speaking and acting in his own person. Some celebrants even improvised their own Eucharistic canons. The result was that instead of the liturgy being renewed and the faithful more actively engaged, it became muddled and banal.

Now, it must be said that many, perhaps most, pastors did their best to implement the Council’s liturgical renewal properly. Nonetheless, it was the misconceived liturgical aberrations that came to symbolize and stigmatize the reform’s implementation. Such deviations were primarily found from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s. By the 1990s most of them became passé, although grave problems remain in some parishes and dioceses. Nonetheless, the postconciliar liturgical deviancies became a catalyst for provoking discontent among some of the faithful, fostering a desire to return to the pre-Vatican II liturgy.

In sum, the implementation of the Council’s reforms had profoundly positive results as well as some inadequate and sometimes harmful effects.[27] The latter were not for lack of ecclesial guidance. In 1964 the Sacred Congregation of Rites issued an Instruction on the Proper Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. It stressed that only competent ecclesial authority could regulate and implement the liturgical reform.[28] But as witnessed in the above narrative, this document seemed to have had little effect, for deviations continued and even increased. The ultimate cause for why the implementation was not as successful as it could have been, and why so much confusion ensued, is found in the bishops and pastors who were primarily responsible for ensuring its success. The Vatican and bishops either responded to liturgical transgressions after the fact, or in some cases seem to have completely lost control of what was happening on the ground. Few positive measures were taken to correct the liturgical abuses and few disciplinary actions were taken against those who perpetrated them.

Authentic renewal was furthered during the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. John Paul II, while applauding all the good that had been accomplished in the liturgical renewal over the thirty years since Vatican II, could still lament that “not all of the changes have always and everywhere been accompanied by the necessary explanation and catechesis; as a result, in some cases there has been a misunderstanding of the very nature of the liturgy, leading to abuses, polarization, and sometimes even grave scandal.” He told a group of American bishops that there was a need to foster “the contemplative dimension of worship, which includes the sense of awe, reverence and adoration which are fundamental attitudes in our relationship with God.” For this reason, “it is so important that liturgical law be respected. The priest, who is the servant of the liturgy, not its inventor or producer, has a particular responsibility in this regard, lest he empty liturgy of its true meaning or obscure its sacred character.” John Paul further encouraged active participation of the laity “through gesture, word, song and service,” as well as “silence, stillness and listening.” He noted that “conscious participation calls for the entire community to be properly instructed in mysteries of the liturgy, lest the experience of worship degenerate into a form of ritualism.” Moreover, he observed that “the use of the vernacular has certainly opened up the treasures of the liturgy to all who take part, but this does not mean that the Latin language, and especially the chants which are so superbly adapted to the genius of the Roman rite, should be wholly abandoned. If subconscious experience is ignored in worship, an affective and devotional vacuum is created and the liturgy can become not only too verbal but also too cerebral.” For John Paul, the Roman rite strikes “the right balance between a spareness and a richness of emotion: it feeds the heart and the mind, the body and the soul.”[29]

We have now traversed the liturgical reform, beginning with its origins in the nineteenth century, as it progressed to Vatican II. We have critically narrated the history of the Council’s reform and the implementation of the new liturgy. We saw that a great deal was accomplished, especially concerning the full participation of the faithful. The implementation was not without its weaknesses, missteps, irregularities, and even aberrations. Nevertheless, we are convinced that the Holy Spirit was present and active throughout this implementation process, even in the midst of anomalies that were not of the Spirit. From the outset of the liturgical renewal to the present, the Church was following the lead of the Holy Spirit and bearing witness to the Spirit in its teachings and actions. To deny the good fruit that the liturgical movement has brought forth during this process would be to deny the Spirit’s enduring infallible guidance. Rather, as John Paul II stated in 1988, on the 25th anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium,

we should give thanks to God for that movement of the Holy Spirit in the Church which the liturgical renewal represents; for the fact that the table of the word of God is now abundantly furnished for all; for the immense effort undertaken throughout the world to provide the Christian people with translations of the Bible, the Missal and other liturgical books; for the increased participation of the faithful by prayer and song, gesture and silence, in the Eucharist and the other sacraments; for the ministries exercised by lay people and the responsibilities that they have assumed in virtue of the common priesthood into which they have been initiated through Baptism and Confirmation; for the radiant vitality of so many Christian communities, a vitality drawn from the wellspring of the Liturgy.[30]

In this light, we must now take up the topic of the return to the Tridentine Mass among some clergy and laity in recent times.

5. The Movement to Return to the Tridentine Liturgy

Because of the rather chaotic manner in which the liturgical reform was implemented, and particularly because of deviations and irregularities perpetrated by some priests, the desire gradually grew among some priests and faithful to return to Tridentine Mass (often called the Traditional Latin Mass). Although the number is relatively small, the number of those who now attend that form on a regular basis has increased significantly over the years, particularly among young Catholics. One can understand and sympathize with the motives for such a return.

There is a desire that the Mass be celebrated properly, in a way that manifests its transcendent reality, so that the liturgy possesses a solemnity that promotes the elevation of one’s heart and mind to worship the Father through the Son in communion with the Holy Spirit. The liturgy itself ought to create a holy and peaceful ambiance in contrast to the hustle of daily secular life. Ultimately, the faithful ought to encounter at Mass a sanctifying communion with the most blessed Trinity. Some of the faithful maintain that they find all of the above more fully realized in the Tridentine Mass than in the Novus Ordo.

Although one can empathize with these concerns, we believe that a return to the Tridentine Mass is liturgically unfortunate and doctrinally unacceptable. As noted earlier, such a return is contrary to the entire Spirit-anointed liturgical renewal that culminated in Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Although the argument is proffered that the Council never rescinded the Tridentine form of the rite, the reason for this lack of an explicit abrogation, as noted previously, is precisely that the Council Fathers saw themselves as revitalizing the Roman rite, and thus they did not anticipate the continued celebration of its unrevised form. What is often overlooked is the notification issued by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, Conferentiarum Episcopalium (October 28, 1974), addressed to the episcopal conferences throughout the world, which states:

With regard to the Roman Missal: when an episcopal conference has determined that a vernacular version of the Roman Missal—or a part of it, such as the Order of Mass—must be used in its territory, from then on Mass may not be celebrated, whether in Latin or in the vernacular, save according to the rite of the Roman Missal promulgated by the authority of Paul VI on 7 April, 1969.

With regard to the regulations issued by this sacred congregation in favor of priests who, on account of advanced years or infirm health, find it difficult to use the new Order of the Roman Missal or the Mass Lectionary: it is clear that an ordinary may grant permission to use, in whole or in part, the 1962 edition the Roman Missal, with the changes introduced by the Decrees of 1965 and 1967. But this permission can only be granted for Masses celebrated without a congregation. Ordinaries may not grant it for Masses celebrated with a congregation. Ordinaries, both religious and local, should endeavor to secure the acceptance of the Order of the Mass of the new Roman Missal by priests and laity. They should see to it that priests and laity, by dint of greater effort and with greater reverence comprehend the treasures of divine wisdom and of liturgical and pastoral teaching which it contains. What has been said does not apply to officially recognized non-Roman rites, but it does hold against any pretext of even immemorial custom.

This notification is very straightforward. Once an episcopal conference approves a vernacular translation of the 1969 Roman Missal, it must be used. The only exception granted at the time is for elderly or infirm priests, who may celebrate Mass according to the 1962 Missal, but without a congregation present. Ordinaries are to ensure the acceptance of the new rite and promote a greater understanding and reverence for it. In so doing, they help both priests and laity to grasp the treasures contained in the Novus Ordo. Importantly, the Congregation states that these directives do not apply to non-Roman rites, but emphatically adds that they do hold against any pretext of “immemorial custom,” i.e., of the Tridentine Mass. 

Some who promote the Tridentine Mass argue that it is the “Mass of the Ages” and is therefore sacrosanct. What they fail to realize that 400 years is not a long time in ecclesial terms. Do they really expect that hundreds of years from now the Tridentine Mass will still be celebrated, even unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ at the end of history? The Novus Ordo will undergo its own renewal in coming centuries, and more than likely there will then be some who want to return to the “Vetus Ordo.” The Church’s tradition, of which the liturgy is a constitutive element, is not frozen in time but is a living tradition that develops with the help of the Holy Spirit, in fidelity to the deposit of faith.[31]

The Church’s doctrinal and moral teaching is unchangeable, but, as history testifies, the rubrics and language of the liturgy can change and have changed, precisely for the benefit of the faithful.[32] The Tridentine Mass was itself a reform. Earlier, the Mass came to be celebrated in Latin in the western Church not because it was a sacred language but because it was the vernacular of its day; likewise, earlier still, with Greek. Jesus himself employed Aramaic, the vernacular of his time and place. If he had not, the apostles would have had no clue as to what he was doing at the Last Supper, nor could they then have actively participated in that first Eucharistic liturgy. The same holds true for the faithful today.

Others contend that the Tridentine Mass could not have been in need of reform because it was the liturgy celebrated by thousands of saints through the centuries. In fact, all liturgies celebrated prior to the eschaton are in a sense “flawed,” in that they have not achieved their heavenly perfection. They are, however, not flawed in that they enact their intended purpose: participating in the one saving sacrifice of Jesus and becoming one with him in Holy Communion. Thus, many of the faithful became saints prior to the Tridentine Mass, beginning with the apostles. And many today have already become saints in celebrating the Novus Ordo, including John Paul II and Mother Teresa. Just as the Church grows in her understanding of doctrine, including liturgical doctrine, so her enactment of that truth in the liturgy becomes more fully actualized.

Moreover, to return to the unreformed rite is to return to a rite that systemically, and not simply as an abuse, positioned the faithful as “silent spectators.” It is to revert to a more limited and less adequate ecclesiology, one that makes it appear that the Mass is essentially the provenance and activity of the priest.[33] He alone celebrates, at a distance from the onlooking faithful as though the offering were not theirs too. Such a rite, though unintentionally, undermines the doctrine that the ordained priesthood is ordered to the service of the baptismal priesthood of the faithful.[34] To return to the Tridentine Mass is, then, to lose or obscure a foundational dimension of the Church and her worship. This is the case even if the revised rite has suffered abuses during its implementation. We now need to examine the Church’s pastoral response to the upsurge in popularity of the Tridentine Mass.

6. The Pastoral Strategies of Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis

Pope John Paul was faced with a pastoral issue not of his making—that of the continued use of the Tridentine Mass. Although he was not pleased by this development, he realized that, as the supreme shepherd of God’s flock, he needed to address it pastorally. At his behest, in 1984 the Congregation for Divine Worship issued a circular letter to bishops, Quattuor Abhinc Annos: Indult for Use of the Roman Missal of 1962. This letter notes that four years previously the pope invited the bishops of the whole Church to present a report addressing three issues:

  • the way in which the priests and faithful of their dioceses had received the 1970 Missal promulgated by Paul VI in accord with the decisions of Vatican II,
  • the difficulties arising in the implementation of the liturgical reform, and
  • possible resistance that may have arisen.

The Congregation had noted at the time (1980) that “On the basis of [the bishops’] replies it appeared that the problem of priests and faithful holding to the so-called ‘Tridentine’ rite was almost completely solved.” However, in 1984 John Paul recognized that this problem persisted. Thus, Quattuor Abhinc Annos states:

Since, however, the same problem continues, the Supreme Pontiff, in a desire to meet the wishes of these groups grants to diocesan bishops the possibility of using an indult whereby priests and faithful, who shall be expressly indicated in the letter of request to be presented to their own bishop, may be able to celebrate Mass by using the Roman Missal according to the 1962 edition, but under the following conditions….

Significantly, John Paul sees himself addressing a pastoral “problem,” not encouraging and supporting a development that he wishes to bless. That such is the case is found in the conditions he places on celebrating the Tridentine Mass. First, it must “be made publicly clear beyond all ambiguity that such priests and their respective faithful in no way share the positions of those who call in question the legitimacy and doctrinal exactitude of the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970.” Second, these celebrations “must be made only for the benefit of those groups that request it; in churches and oratories indicated by the bishop (not, however, in parish churches, unless the bishop permits it in extraordinary cases); and on the days and under the conditions fixed by the bishop either habitually or in individual cases.” Third, such celebrations “must be according to the 1962 Missal and in Latin,” and fourth, there “must be no interchanging of texts and rites of the two Missals.” Lastly, every ordinary “must inform this Congregation of the concessions granted by him, and at the end of a year from the granting of this indult, he must report on the result of its application.” The circular letter concludes: “This concession, indicative of the common Father's solicitude for all his children, must be used in such a way as not to prejudice the faithful observance of the liturgical reform in the life of the respective ecclesial communities.”

Subsequently, in response to Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s schismatic act of ordaining bishops for the Society of Saint Pius X, John Paul granted further concessions to those who wished to celebrate the Tridentine liturgy, lest they be attracted to Lefebvre’s fraternity. In his 1998 apostolic letter Ecclesia Dei, John Paul stated 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.” Again, John Paul responded pastorally to the situation that now confronted him.

Pope Benedict XVI undoubtedly has a great personal affection for the Tridentine Mass. Because of this fondness and because of its continued rise in popularity, in 2007 he promulgated his apostolic letter Summorum PontificumOn the Use of the Roman Liturgy Prior to the Reform of 1970. Recalling the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi, Benedict surveys the many popes who were instrumental in developing the Roman Missal, beginning with Gregory the Great. He praises the liturgical renewal that culminated at Vatican II and was admirably implemented by Paul VI and John Paul II. Nonetheless, he is aware that “not a few of the faithful continued to be attached with such love and affection to the earlier liturgical forms.” After listening to the views of cardinals, and “having reflected deeply upon all aspects of the question,” he promulgates further norms for the celebration of the Tridentine Mass. He states:

The Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI is the ordinary expression of the lex orandi (rule of prayer) of the Catholic Church of the Latin rite. The Roman Missal promulgated by Saint Pius V and revised by Blessed John XXIII is nonetheless to be considered an extraordinary expression of the same lex orandi of the Church and duly honoured for its venerable and ancient usage. These two expressions of the Church’s lex orandi will in no way lead to a division in the Church’s lex credendi (rule of faith); for they are two usages of the one Roman rite.

Benedict thus decrees that both “the ordinary expression” and “the extraordinary expression” of the liturgy are permitted, as two distinct usages existing simultaneously in the Roman rite of the Latin Church. However, his hope that these two rites will not lead to a division in the Church now appears overly optimistic. Benedict concluded:

It is therefore permitted to celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass following the typical edition of the Roman Missal, which was promulgated by Blessed John XXIII in 1962 and never abrogated, as an extraordinary form of the Church’s Liturgy. The conditions for the use of this Missal laid down by the previous documents Quattuor Abhinc Annos and Ecclesia Dei are now replaced.

It is true that the 1962 Missal promulgated by John XXIII was “never abrogated.” However, such a statement disregards the reason Vatican II never abrogated what is now termed the “extraordinary form,” which is that the Council was reforming the rite with the intention that it would no longer be celebrated in its older form. For the Council Fathers, what is now termed the “ordinary form” would become the sole form of the liturgy celebrated in the Roman rite of the Church. Pope Paul VI solemnly declared the same in the apostolic constitution that established the reformed Missal, giving it the lengthy title, “Promulgation of the Missale Romanum Renewed by Decree of the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican.” In the constitution itself, he states, “We decree that these Our laws and prescriptions be firm and effective now and in the future, notwithstanding, to the extent necessary, the Apostolic Constitutions and Ordinances issued by Our Predecessors nor other prescriptions, even those worthy of particular mention and derogation.”

In the subsequent articles, Benedict in effect normalized the Tridentine liturgy in the life of the Church. A priest could now, without permission from the Apostolic See or his own bishop, “use either the Roman Missal published in 1962 by Pope John XXIII or the Roman Missal promulgated in 1970 by Pope Paul VI on any day, with the exception of the Easter Triduum” (Art. 2). The faithful are free to attend such liturgies, and pastors should accede to requests that the Tridentine Mass be made available to them (Art. 4; 5.1). Requests to use the older rites for other sacraments should likewise be permitted (Art. 5.3; 9.1; 9.2). Local ordinaries are permitted to erect “personal parishes” for celebrations “according to the older form of the Roman rite” (Art. 10).

Although Benedict cannot be faulted for his loving pastoral concern for the faithful who wish to participate in the pre-Vatican II liturgy, it may be questioned whether such benevolence was wise. The entire thrust of the Spirit’s work of renewing the liturgy, from its origins to Vatican II and beyond, was to ensure that the faithful would participate fully in the sacred liturgy in accord with their baptismal priesthood. The Novus Ordo is directed to this precise end. Benedict’s accommodation of the Tridentine liturgy, while pastorally motivated, undercut the fundamental principle of the liturgical renewal, for the faithful who now attend that liturgy have little opportunity for active participation. The priest is once more the focus of attention; the liturgy is no longer the uniting of priest and people to offer, each in their own proper manner, the one sacrifice of the Mass.

The objection is sometimes made that those who attend the Tridentine Mass do participate fully, in a silent and prayerful manner. However, a purely silent, passive participation does not correspond to the reality of human nature as inseparably corporeal-spiritual, nor to the biblical and traditional understanding of worship as involving both interior acts and their outward expression in word, gesture, and song (Ps 47:1-6; 1 Tim 2:8; cf. SC §30). Moreover, it must be pointed out that those who attend the Tridentine Mass are a self-selected group of highly motivated, attentive worshippers, many of them (ironically) nurtured on Vatican II sensibilities about full, conscious, active participation. The vast majority of liturgies, on the other hand, are populated by a whole range of attention levels and buy-in. The question is which rite is intentionally structured to elicit and emphasize active participation, to educate, and sensitize people to its importance and to help all to grow in their communion with Christ in his saving mysteries.

Moreover, in the extraordinary form, the faithful are deprived of the incomparably fuller lectionary promulgated after Vatican II. This deficiency is a great loss, and at a time when the popes—especially Benedict—have urged Catholics to become more familiar with the Bible. Although Pope Benedict would not interpret his actions in this light, one could conclude that he was attempting to make the best of a pastoral situation that was objectionable from the outset.

In normalizing the Tridentine Mass, Benedict undermined the principle by which, as he himself insists, Vatican II must be interpreted: a hermeneutic of continuity. This principle rightly recognizes that what was liturgically and doctrinally indispensable in the previous rite is carried over into the renewed ordinary form of the Roman liturgy. By reestablishing the extraordinary form, Benedict unwittingly employed a hermeneutic of discontinuity, as if the revised rite were not in continuity with the old. Significantly, some traditionalists argue precisely this: that the principle of discontinuity necessitates the reinstatement of the Tridentine Mass, because the Novus Ordo wrongly exceeded the Council’s mandate to reform the liturgy—or, as some argue, the Council’s reform was a break with ecclesial tradition in the first place.

The normalization of the extraordinary form came to an abrupt halt on July 16, 2021, when Pope Francis promulgated Traditionis Custodes and its accompanying letter to bishops. Francis begins by affirming that “the bishops in communion with the Bishop of Rome” are “guardians of the tradition.” Such is the case not only in the proclamation of the Gospel, but also “by means of the celebration of the Eucharist.” Francis acknowledges the solicitude of John Paul II and Benedict XVI toward those who participate in “earlier liturgical forms.” Nonetheless, in the light of a consultation with bishops carried out by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Francis feels obliged, for the sake of ecclesial unity, to establish new norms for the Tridentine Mass.

Francis states his governing principle in Article 1: “The liturgical books promulgated by the saintly Pontiffs Paul VI and Saint John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of Vatican Council II, are the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman rite." Since these liturgical books embody the Roman rite, Francis proceeds to restrict the use of the 1962 missal in terms similar to those of John Paul II in Quattuor Abhinc Annos. Bishops, as guardians of the liturgical life in their dioceses, must ensure that those who use this missal “do not deny the validity and legitimacy of the liturgical reform” decreed by Vatican II and the popes (Art. 2; 3.1). Bishops are to designate the locations where such groups may celebrate the Eucharist, though they are forbidden to use parochial churches or to establish “new personal parishes” or “new groups” (Art. 3.2; 3.6). Priests who already celebrate according to the 1962 missal must request continued permission to do so; those who newly wish to do so must formally request permission from their bishop, and the bishop must consult the Holy See before authorizing such permission (Arts. 4 and 5). “Previous norms, instructions, and customs that do not conform to the provisions of the present Motu Proprio are abrogated” (Art. 8).

In his accompanying letter to the world’s bishops, Francis explains his reasons for the restrictions. Although John Paul II and especially Benedict wished to accommodate those who desired to celebrate the Tridentine Mass, Francis has discovered, by means of the survey carried out by the CDF, that these provisions were “exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division.” Some not only reject the liturgical renewal but also Vatican II itself, claiming that the Council “betrayed the Tradition and the ‘true Church.’” For these reasons, and in response to the bishops’ requests, Francis again states that he is abrogating “all the norms, instructions, permissions and customs that precede the present Motu proprio.” He again declares that the missals promulgated by Paul VI and John Paul II are “the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman rite.” Francis’s hope is that such constraints will encourage those who participated in the Tridentine liturgy to return to the lex orandi of the Roman rite, and so advance unity in the Church.

Following upon the publication of Traditionis Custodes and the accompanying letter, various dubia were sent to the CDW. These questions primarily expressed extenuating circumstances that would render some of the strictures impossible, concerning the location where the Tridentine Mass could be celebrated or the priests who officiate at these liturgies. The Congregation published its responses to the dubia on December 4, 2021. The content and tenor of these responses was to ensure that the prohibitions enacted in Traditionis Custodes would be strictly followed insofar as possible. The overriding principle was that those who used the 1962 missal were not to be perceived as part of the local parish’s life and worship. If such became the case, parishioners could conclude that the older usage was being endorsed and promoted. They could be attracted to such liturgies or assume they could regularly participate in them instead of in the parish’s own Eucharistic celebration according to the Novus Ordo.

Although Traditionis Custodis addresses legitimate concerns, it does so in a way that many perceived as less pastoral in approach than it could be, and therefore not as helpful as it could have been in fostering the desired end of liturgical and ecclesial unity. Some felt that the letter gave the impression of wanting to drive the faithful who celebrate the Tridentine Mass to the peripheries of the Church, almost as though they were beyond pastoral care. Whether or not this was intended, it was perceived this way, and this has, for some, strengthened rather than weakened their resolve to participate in the Tridentine Mass. The recent letter Desiderio Desideravi, which takes a more pastoral tone and explains the underlying reasons for the restrictions, may have been intended to address these hard feelings. More of such overtures are needed on the diocesan and parish levels.

7. Theological and Pastoral Concerns with the Tridentine Mass Movement

In this section, we will outline the concerns that Traditionis Custodes and Desiderio Desideravi attempt to address. It is important to note that while some of the pope’s doctrinal and liturgical criticisms apply to the Tridentine Mass and the movement itself, others pertain only to certain individuals or groups in the movement. We understand that many who participate in the Tridentine Mass are obedient to the regulations set by competent Church authority and do not intend to upend Vatican II or to boycott ordinary liturgies or question their value. The concerns stated here are not intended to call into question the sincerity of such people or to subject them to the same critique as those who are more determined to undermine Vatican II and who reject the reformed liturgy as an authentic expression of the Roman rite.

In his recent book, Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright: The Genius & Timeliness of the Traditional Latin Mass, Peter Kwasniewski implicitly reveals the distinction between the two. He not only describes the beauty of the Latin Mass but is dismissive of the liturgical reforms of Vatican II. Throughout the book, he speaks disparagingly of the reformed Mass, advising adherents of the traditional liturgy to avoid the Novus Ordo:

If at all possible, we should avoid participating in a form of prayer that deprives the Lord of the reverence that is due to Him. The Novus Ordo systematically does this by having removed hundreds of ways in which the Church showed her profound reverence for the Word of God and the holy mysteries of Christ.[35]

Such critiques presume that the reformed rite must be an occasion of significant irreverence; there is little appreciation of the many celebrations of the reformed liturgy with profound reverence, feeding the souls of countless members of the faithful in parishes throughout the world. Across the continent of Africa, for example, celebrations of the Mass that are both vibrant and reverent attract thousands of people to the Church. Critiques such as this also imply a rejection of the Council and its subsequent magisterial reception, which is to set oneself up as an alternative magisterium.  

Bearing this distinction in mind, a primary concern of the recent documents on the liturgy, following Vatican II itself, is the full expression of the baptismal priesthood of the faithful. There is an irony in the fact that many of those who participate in the Traditional Latin Mass today do so out of a postconciliar mindset. They are Vatican II Catholics who attend the Tridentine Mass. They want what Vatican II has taught them to want, an experience of active participation in something of surpassing beauty, namely, the Eucharistic sacrifice. Could it be that their experience of worshipping together, albeit with a self-selected group of enthusiasts who share the same ideal, is a large part of what it means to participate in the Traditional Latin Mass movement? But the liturgy, both the older form before the Council and the reformed rite now, is meant to accommodate all comers, no matter what their level of interest, faith, or attention span. There is bound to be a feeling of less intensely uniform participation. It can be easy to romanticize the celebration of the Tridentine Mass prior to the Council because of discontent over how the Novus Ordo has been celebrated. But those who remember know that generally, hardly anyone, including priests, thought in terms of participation, transcendent mystery, majestic rubrics, and reverential silence. Such may have been present to a degree because of the very nature of the Eucharist, but these aspects did not realize their full potential. The Mass had become very routinized and in many instances almost mechanically celebrated.

What was and still is absent in the Tridentine Mass is the full expression of the baptismal priesthood and its corresponding liturgical interaction with the ordained priesthood. The Tridentine Mass risks accentuating the ordained priesthood while undervaluing the priesthood of the faithful, so that neither the celebrant nor the laity fully enact their rightful liturgical roles in relationship to one another. The reforms of the Second Vatican Council must be understood as a retrieval of this common priesthood grounded in the single priesthood of Jesus Christ. In an ad limina address to bishops of the United States (1998), St. John Paul II stated, “The sharing of all the baptized in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ is the key to understanding the Council’s call for full, conscious and active participation in the liturgy.”[36] When the priest and the congregation offer together the one sacrifice of the Mass, both celebrate in accord with their distinct indelible priestly spiritual marks. This is what the entire liturgical movement fostered and what Vatican II, in its renewal of the liturgy, ardently sought to restore. Benedict XVI in his Sacramentum Caritatis certainly warned the Church about confusing lay participation with that of the priest, but he also forcefully emphasized the importance of greater involvement of the lay faithful in the sacrifice of the Mass.[37]

A second concern of the recent papal documents, especially Desiderio, is the nature of “mystery” when predicated of the Eucharistic liturgy.[38] The mysteries of the faith have been divinely revealed so that we are able to know them. For example, the mystery of the Incarnation is that the only begotten Son of God exists as man, and the mystery of the Trinity is that the one God exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, we do not fully comprehend the mysteries that we know; they infinitely transcend human understanding. The Mass is the sacramentally enacted mystery wherein Jesus’ once-for-all saving sacrifice is made present anew and we partake of its benefits.[39] The reform of the liturgy was intended to make this mystery more available to the people, more indelibly imprinted on their hearts through prayers they themselves say in their own language and prayers they can hear and understand as the sacrifice unfolds. It is by entering more deeply into that mystery that the faithful directly and actively exercise the priesthood proper to their baptism. Priest and faithful together come to an ever more intimate acquaintance with the depths of divine love that the sacramental re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary expresses and makes present. Without prejudice to other approved rites and forms of celebration, it nevertheless seems to us that by beholding the sacramental signs through which the mystery is enacted on the altar, the faithful are more effectually drawn into the mystery as it is enacted.

Liturgical rubrics, by their very nature, are intended to allow the mystery that is being enacted sacramentally to teach and inspire and to draw the faithful into participation and communion. It is true that a less-reverential celebration of the Eucharist can distract from this aim, but it is also true that one can confuse a reverential and highly aesthetic ceremonial for the transcendence and mystery that properly pertains to the sacrifice itself. It can happen that the ceremonial itself and its meticulous observance take on a life of their own, as though they were the focus and source of the feeling of transcendence. The rubrics then lose their inherent purpose—to highlight the mystery of salvation that Christ the Head of the Body is enacting and in which we, as his members, are participating, and to engender in the faithful a holy wonder and reverential awe, not at our ceremonial but at the actions of Christ. As Sacrosanctum Concilium noted, many of the rubrics in the Tridentine Mass were superfluous, dated, or overly repetitive, and thus unnecessarily distracted from the mystery of the Eucharist itself. In the Novus Ordo, the rubrics are simplified in a manner that better allows the Eucharistic mystery to be expressed and enhances the faithful’s meaningful participation in it.

A final and paramount concern has to do with ecclesial unity. No matter what “camp” one might be in, there can be a danger of loving a form of the Mass more than one loves Jesus, whose saving sacrifice is made present and whose risen body and blood we receive. It must be recalled that the very “res” of the Eucharist, the “thing” of which it is the efficacious sign when duly celebrated by a priest in communion with the local bishop, is the unity of the body of Christ: “The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being.”[40] This means that to love the Eucharist is to love that of which it is an efficacious sign, the unity of the Church—not the ideal Church as we might abstractly imagine it or wish it to be, or a self-selected group of like-minded people within the Church, but the concrete, hierarchically organized Church as it exists locally and universally. Love of the unity of the Church means submission to duly constituted authority, particularly the local bishop, and to his directives, liturgical and otherwise. If one loves a particular rite at the expense of the unity of the Church, one does not have the proper “disposition” that allows the grace of the sacrament to bear its proper fruit in one’s life (see CCC §1128).

Some Catholics have come to identify themselves by rite preference, as “Latin Mass goers” in opposition to “Novus Ordo Catholics,” often with the implication that the latter are lesser Catholics than those who identify with the traditionalist movement. They tend to offer the worst caricature of the reformed rites, blaming the adoption of the Novus Ordo for the decline in religious vocations, the prevalence of divorce, and the rise of disaffiliation. The documentary film The Mass of the Ages, for example, makes the case that the “Novus Ordo” is the source of the Church’s present decline. The implication from the documentary is clear: either come join the real Mass of the Ages or continue attending a liturgy that has contributed to the destruction of the Church and world alike.[41] The film shows little awareness of the actual state of liturgical practice prior to the Council, nor the vibrant Catholicism of the reformed liturgy existing in many parts of the world now, nor the vastly broader cultural, spiritual, pastoral and intellectual currents contributing to the present state of the Church in the West. The Savior, the cure for all that ails the contemporary Church and the world, is not a particular rite, but Jesus. 

For many of these Latin Mass-goers their entire persona is constituted by this distinguishing characteristic, which demarcates and separates them from their fellow Catholics. They become an idiosyncratic liturgical camp within the Church. Pope Francis is rightly concerned about this kind of division. John Paul II was also fearful of such a rupture and, although Pope Benedict generously accommodated the Tridentine Mass, he too hoped that it would not be divisive. By exploiting Pope Benedict’s benevolence for its own agenda of proselytizing others to their liturgical cause, the more radical elements in the movement have, unfortunately, undercut Benedict’s wish that there be no division in the Church. Benedict XVI wrote in Summorum Pontificum, art. 1:

The Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI is the ordinary expression of the lex orandi (rule of prayer) of the Catholic Church of the Latin rite. The Roman Missal promulgated by Saint Pius V and revised by Blessed John XXIII is nonetheless to be considered an extraordinary expression of the same lex orandi of the Church and duly honoured for its venerable and ancient usage. These two expressions of the Church’s lex orandi will in no way lead to a division in the Church’s lex credendi (rule of faith); for they are two usages of the one Roman rite.

Benedict XVI was clear: Those who celebrated the Extraordinary Form needed to recognize not only the legitimacy of the Missal of Paul VI but its “ordinary” status. Fidelity to Summorum Pontificum required that a Catholic who desired to attend the Latin Mass also give credence to the reformed rite. Further, those who participate in the Novus Ordo should also not see those who participate in the pre-1970 rite as separated from them. After all, Pope Francis himself allows for some limited use of the pre-conciliar Missal, provided that such groups recognize the validity of the liturgical reform.[42]

And yet, as the documentary Mass of the Ages shows, some who attend the Tridentine Mass regard themselves as separate from other Catholics, sometimes even to the point of thinking that they belong to a “different Church.” Thus, “Church” is now defined by which Eucharistic rite one attends. This has led to strange moments such as the ordination of Alcuin Reid, a traditionalist who once happily relied upon the papal authority of Benedict XVI, by an anonymous bishop in 2022 in disobedience to the local ordinary. The desire to celebrate the pre-conciliar rite led Reid to pursue ordination outside of canonical norms, in essence establishing his monastery as a church apart from the Church.  This act not only manifested a certain elitism, in which traditionalists possess a higher liturgical culture than those who, in their spiritual mediocrity and liturgical ignorance, participate in the “new vernacular Mass.” It was also an act of disunity, ripping apart the communion of the Church in order to celebrate the pre-conciliar rite.

Of course, none of this is to deny that a reverse elitism is also possible, when those who prefer the pre-1970 rite, without intending to disobey liturgical authority, are scorned as having no legitimate concerns about the way that the liturgy is often celebrated. At times, there is a very real banality to the celebration of the reformed rite. For this reason, in the final section, we turn to what needs to be done to respond to these concerns, bringing the entire faithful to a deeper sacramental maturity desired by the Second Vatican Council.[43]

8. The Way Forward

Given the present state of liturgical practice in the American Church, we would like to propose some positive ways forward. As our study has demonstrated, the initial implementation of Vatican II’s renewal of the liturgy was far from perfect. It had both positive and negative results. Perhaps it was impossible for the liturgical renewal to be implemented in an entirely satisfactory manner. The broader doctrinal and pastoral turmoil in the Church at the time, which reflected the social chaos in the world at large, did not provide an environment well disposed to facing the challenges that such a liturgical revival entailed. Some sixty years later, having grappled with the pastoral challenges, the American Church has matured in its approach to the liturgical reform. The time may now be ripe to make a new concerted attempt at implementing more fully the renewal that Vatican II so much desired. What would this new endeavor entail?

First, the liturgical revival ought to be set within the broader context of Vatican II, for the Council sought the renewal of the entire Church. This goal is particularly found in the Council’s two dogmatic constitutions: on the Church, Lumen Gentium, and on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum. The major themes in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, should also be noted, for the renewal of the Church was for the purpose of enabling it to proclaim the gospel more effectively in the contemporary world. Thus, we suggest that dioceses, seminaries, bishops and pastors provide catechesis on Vatican II. The generation of faithful who were alive during Vatican II have aged or have died. The succeeding generations know little concerning the Council, its teaching, and what it hoped to achieve. In the absence of catechesis, many of them are being led astray by those who denigrate the Council or even deny its legitimacy. This ignorance is especially found among those of the younger generation who are tempted to join the Tridentine movement. This impulse is completely contrary to the Council, and to act upon it is to impugn, even if unintentionally, the universal and ecumenical authority of the Council and its reception in the magisterial teaching of every subsequent pope. If bishops and pastors do not reclaim and promote the authentic teaching of Vatican II, the theological and liturgical vacuum will continue to be filled by those who promote the Tridentine liturgy as a way of disparaging the Council.

Second, in the context of catechesis and the teaching of Vatican II, bishops and pastors need to call the faithful to a deeper conversion—a more whole-hearted commitment to and love for Jesus and his Church. Without this profound conversion, the goal of a more vital participation in the Eucharist will always remain elusive, for the revitalization of the liturgy is not merely a matter of “doing it right,” but is predicated on the spiritual renewal of the hearts and minds of all involved—clergy and laity alike. Thus, a mystagogical catechesis on the doctrines of the faith is necessary in conjunction with a mystagogical catechesis on the Eucharistic liturgy itself.[44] Yet even this will not suffice without a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the whole Church—the “new Pentecost” for which all the popes from John XXIII to Francis have ardently prayed. Only the Holy Spirit can awaken in the faithful the “Eucharistic amazement” that will enable them to enter fully into the liturgy and be transformed by it. The Eucharistic prayers themselves express this renewed descent of the Spirit in the epiclesis, by which the Holy Spirit is invoked not only on the elements of bread and wine but on the whole assembly, so that they may be transformed into Christ. “The Church therefore asks the Father to send the Holy Spirit to make the lives of the faithful a living sacrifice to God by their spiritual transformation into the image of Christ” (CCC §1109).

Third, this mystagogical catechesis should involve a presentation of the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Eucharist in their relationship to one another. Particularly important is the fact that the Mass makes present Jesus’ one saving sacrifice, a mystery of inexhaustible depth and richness that is revealed through the whole of salvation history and made known to us in the Scriptures. In communion with Jesus the great high priest, priest and people together offer the one sacrifice that he himself is, and so reap its saving benefits—forgiveness of sins and new life in the Holy Spirit.[45] In this context, emphasis should be given to the priesthood of the faithful, for we have yet to appreciate fully the priesthood that was conferred upon us at baptism. Having participated in Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice of himself, the faithful are able to partake of his risen-given-up body and his risen-poured-out blood so as to abide in him and he in them. In this communion, the faithful are taken up into the very life of the Trinity itself as the Father’s Spirit-filled children. Equally, they must be taught that the present Eucharistic liturgy is a mystical participation in the liturgy of heaven and a foretaste of the wedding banquet of the Lamb that will one day be celebrated in the new Jerusalem (Rev 4–5; 21:1–7).[46] The faithful need to be reawakened to the eschatological orientation of the liturgy itself and of the Christian life—to the fact that we are not at home in this world but are only sojourners, eagerly awaiting the coming of our King and the transformation of the whole cosmos. On that day we will be fully in communion with him, and so share perfectly in his risen glory, and thus be conformed into his true likeness as the Father’s Spirit-transformed children. The Eucharistic Revival promoted by the bishops will have limited success if it focuses too narrowly on getting the faithful to believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, without grounding it in the liturgy as a whole and in the all-encompassing divine mystery into which the liturgy leads us. Sufficient time and theological preparation are needed for such mystagogical catechesis to be fruitful. We suggest that adult classes be offered in parishes and that Sunday homilies attend to this for a designated period of time each year, in conjunction with the Eucharistic Revival.[47]

Fourth, given the need for a deeper interior conversion, such conversion can be fostered by greater attention to the “ars celebrandi” (the art of celebrating) on the part of both ordained ministers and the laity.[48] Priests need to ensure that every aspect of the Sunday liturgy—from the music to the vestments to the comportment of clergy and lay ecclesial ministers—enables the faithful to experience the beauty of the liturgy. Clergy and laity alike should be encouraged to show appropriate acts of reverence for the Eucharist. Upon entering the Church prior to the sacred liturgy, all should be encouraged to genuflect reverently before the tabernacle and keep a respectful, prayerful silence before Mass begins and during the parts of the liturgy in which the rubrics call for silence. Welcoming chatter should be limited to the vestibule or to the outer gathering space. Communicants should be taught to receive the Eucharist not casually but reverently—bowing or genuflecting before receiving their Lord and Savior. The laity should also be urged to wear clothing that is in keeping with the sacred Eucharistic banquet, avoiding immodest or overly casual attire that would never be considered appropriate for a wedding reception or social banquet (there may be legitimate exceptions, for instance wearing sport clothes when on vacation at the beach or a resort). While clothing and gestures may appear to be minor in themselves, they express an interior attitude—whether of unthinking casualness or of solemn reverence for the most sacred act that one can perform here on earth. Both clergy and laity must take personal responsibility for the sacred ambiance that surrounds the Eucharistic celebration. The cumulative effect of all these small “rubrical” acts would be that the whole congregation bears witness to one another that they are presently engaged in what pertains to the heavenly realm, and not to the mundane activities of this world. At the same time, we need to guard against the perennial temptation to so focus on external gestures that they become a substitute for true reverence of heart that God desires (see Matt 23:5–7, 25–28).

Under this category, we should mention some specifics. Language about the Eucharist (for example, in hymns and homilies) that emphasizes its character as a banquet should be balanced by language that emphasizes its character as a sacrifice, and that the table of the Lord is also, and predominantly, an altar. A steady diet of hymns that emphasize table fellowship to the exclusion of language about offering the sacrifice erodes a sense of the priesthood, both of the ordained and of the baptized, since priesthood is not needed for table fellowship per se, but for sacrifice. The riches of the expanded lectionary are also too often squandered by allowing lectors to read who cannot be heard or understood, or who seemingly have no understanding themselves of the word they are proclaiming. The reading might as well be in a foreign language. The same goes for responsorial psalms, where often one cannot understand what is being sung. Pastors do not take responsibility often enough. Also, while the worst of the iconoclasm that followed Vatican II, displacing statues from the sanctuary and throwing out racks for devotional lamps, has ebbed away, we should be doing more to recover the iconography and devotional furnishings that nourish the devotional life and help to localize it in place and time. One can understand the impulse to leave behind the reformed liturgy if the very reasons for which it was reformed are continually subverted by bad hymnody, incomprehensible Scripture reading and psalmody, and the seeming negation of the possibility of devotion, especially to Mary, to which Lumen Gentium exhorted us.

Fifth, as the Eucharistic revival progresses in dioceses and parishes, we recommend a renewed emphasis on the relationship between the liturgy and evangelization.[49] As Vatican II taught, the Eucharist is “the source and culmination of evangelization.”[50] Understood rightly, the liturgy is inherently evangelistic, not in the superficial sense that unbelievers ought to be introduced immediately to the Mass, but in that the liturgy reveals and makes present the heart of the gospel, the saving passion and resurrection of Christ.[51] The faithful’s desire and ability to carry out their vocation of proclaiming Christ and imbuing the secular sphere with the spirit of the gospel springs from their active participation in the Eucharist, which conforms them to Christ in his self-emptying love. One way to foster this understanding would be by providing an opportunity for the faithful to bear public witness to their love for the Eucharist, perhaps in one or two brief testimonies after communion. While such testimonies may need to be monitored and even rehearsed, they would not only benefit the congregation but would also confirm more strongly in the speakers their own love for the Eucharist.

Finally, we hope that what we have suggested above contributes to the American bishops’ admirable initiative for fostering a greater Eucharistic faith. In light of the bishops’ proposals and Pope Francis’s Desiderio Desideravi, we hold that it is time for those who have become part of the Tridentine liturgical movement to reconsider their position, and time for those responsible for overseeing the celebration of the Eucharist to get much more serious about reforming the reform, about addressing the legitimate concerns of those attracted to the Tridentine rite instead of turning a deaf ear to their complaints. Their concerns are often shared by those who frequent the ordinary form of the liturgy. If it is incumbent on those in the Tridentine movement, for the well-being of the Body of Christ, to return to the Church’s ordinary liturgical form, it is also incumbent on those who would receive them to work constructively to address their legitimate concerns. Now is the time for them to make their own significant contributions to the present liturgical renewal, a renewal that has been inspired by the Holy Spirit throughout the past century and a half. Now is also the time for us to receive them. Bishops and pastors should encourage the return of those who have been attending the Tridentine liturgy and wholeheartedly welcome them back encouraging a shared determination to continue the movement to contribute to the ars celebrandi and the dignity of the Mass.

Although the Mass is always perfect in its sacramentality, it is never perfect in its earthly celebration, for it is celebrated by those who, though saved, continue to struggle in their frailty and sin. Nevertheless, the renewal of the liturgy starts not with someone else out there whom I can blame for its demise and for our divisions, but with myself. If I want reverence in the liturgy, I have to start by putting it there myself, by a deeper and more absolute dedication to Christ and by entering into the mystery at every Mass with all the faith, love, reverence, and devotion I can muster. Such witness is my responsibility first and foremost. This is how cultural change begins.

At the same time, it must be kept in mind that the sacred Eucharistic liturgy here on earth only finds its perfection in the heavenly liturgy. Then, all nations, peoples, and languages will together, in communion with the glorious Lamb who was slain, give perfect Spirit-imbued praise and glory to the Father, forever and ever, Amen!

Editorial Note: This presents a joining together of all five installments (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5) of our series on the renewal of the liturgy.

[1] Since none of the authors is a canon lawyer, we will not address any juridical issues that have arisen.

[2] Chirograph of the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II for the Centenary of the Motu Proprio "Tra le sollecitudini” on Sacred Music (2003).

[3] The Mystery of Christian Worship and Other Writings, ed. Burkhard Neunheuser (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1962), 48. Casel also writes: “The co-offering of the faithful rest first of all on the objective sacramental engrafting of every Christian into the body of Christ by baptism. What the body does, the members do in company with it. The more conscious this participation is, the more deeply it is experienced, the more intensive the participation. This explains the necessity of active participation in the liturgical celebration and in its external form; the external strengthens what is within” (23, n. 3).

[4] Josef A. Jungmann and his work The Mass of the Roman Rite, Dom Gregory Dix’s The Shape of the Liturgy, and Jean Daniélou’s The Bible and the Liturgy are also deserving of mention.

[5] Pope Francis draws from Guardini to make several key points in Desiderio Desideravi (see §34, §44, §50, §51).

[6] The faithful of course prayed the Our Father on their own. However, in the Tridentine Liturgy, only the priest recited the Our Father, with the server reciting the final petition, “sed libera nos a malo,” followed by the priest’s “Amen.”

[7]When Liturgy Goes Off the Deep End,” June 19, 2011.

[8] See Larry Chapp, “An ‘ad orientem’ Church in An Age of Horizontalism,” Adoremus (March 24, 2022).

[9] All quotations from Vatican II and subsequent magisterial texts up to 1975 are, unless otherwise noted, taken from A. Flannery (trans. and ed.), Vatican Council II, vol. I, The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, New Revised Edition (Northport, NY: Costello, 1975).

[10] This is why it is misleading to argue, as do some promoters of the Tridentine Mass, that this rite has never been abrogated. We return to this point later.

[11] For a more ample theological assessment of Sacrosanctum Concilium and its reception since the Council, see Jeremy Driscoll, “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” in Matthew L. Lamb and Matthew Levering (eds.), The Reception of Vatican II (Oxford University Press, 2017), 23–47.

[12] The Council entrusted the implementation of its principles and decrees to the pope, who in turn established in 1964 a commission devoted to the details of this task (cf. SC §25): the Council for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, informally known as Consilium. Consilium revised the liturgical books and issued several instructions on various aspects of the liturgy. By 1969, when most of its work was completed, Consilium was integrated into the Congregation for Divine Worship.

[13] Presbyterorum ordinis §2. The Flannery translation is misleading here; the Gonzalez edition (used on the Vatican website) has “is made perfect” instead of Flannery’s pallid “is completed.”

[14] A Priestly People: Baptismal priesthood and Priestly Ministry (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2013), 179.

[15] It should be noted that celebrating the liturgy in the vernacular is in no way incompatible with the people learning to sing the responses in Latin (or Greek)—the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation, and Agnus Dei.

[16] The English translation of the new Roman Missal of 1970 was approved for use in the United States by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and confirmed by the Congregation of Divine Worship in 1973. The English translation of the second typical edition of the Roman Missal (1975) was approved for use in the United States in 1985.

[17] See Jeremy Driscoll, “Conceiving the Translator’s Task: The Roman Missal and the Vernacular,” in USCCB Ad Hoc Committee on the Forum on the Principles of Translation (ed.), The Voice of the Church: A Forum on Liturgical Translation (Washington, 2001), 49–95; Uwe Michael Lang, The Voice of the Church at Prayer: Reflections on Liturgy and Language (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2012).

[18] Within the Sunday readings, 41% of the New Testament and 4% of the Old Testament is now proclaimed over the three-year cycle. If the daily readings are included, the percentages rise to 72% and 14% respectively. Critics have rightly pointed out, however, that the new lectionary contains numerous selectively trimmed passages that exhibit a tendentious pattern of omitting unpopular, morally demanding, or “difficult” biblical passages.

[19] The pattern of a liturgy of the word to which people respond in faith, followed by a liturgy of sacrifice and sacred banquet, appears throughout salvation history, e.g., in Israel’s covenant at Mount Sinai (Exod 24), in the renewal of the covenant under King Josiah (2 Kings 23), in Jesus’ encounter with two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13–32), and in the earliest liturgies of the Church (Acts 20:7–11).

[20] See United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Preaching the Mystery of Faith: The Sunday Homily.

[21] In 1967 the Congregation for Sacred Rites issued an Instruction on Music in the Liturgy, Musicam Sacram. It again acknowledged that Gregorian chant has a special place in the Roman rite, while equally noting that vernacular singing is of great benefit to the people. For a later statement on the importance of Gregorian chant, see the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship’s Letter to the Bishops on the Minimum Repertoire of Plain Chant, Voluntati Obsequens (April 14, 1974).

[22] See USCCB Committee on Doctrine, “Catholic Hymnody at the Service of the Church: An Aid for Evaluating Hymn Lyrics” (Sept. 2020).

[23] Those arguing in favor of ad orientem often claim that it continues the ancient and medieval practice. However, textual and archeological evidence shows that the position of the altar and the direction in which the liturgy was celebrated varied widely in the ancient Church. See Robin M. Jensen, “Recovering Ancient Ecclesiology: The Place of the Altar and the Orientation of Prayer in the Early Latin Church,” Worship 89 (March 2015), 99–124.

[24] Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who preferred celebration ad orientem, nevertheless argued against making it the norm again. Instead, he proposes that the altar crucifix “can serve as the interior ‘east’ of faith . . . . In this way we look together at the One whose death tore the veil of the Temple—the One who stands before the Father for us and encloses us in his arms in order to make us the new and living Temple.” Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, trans. John Saward (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2000), 83–84.

[25] John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem §26.

[26] For a further examination of the biblical and theological aptness of celebration facing the people, see Mary Healy, “The Gift of the Liturgical Reform,” Homiletic and Pastoral Review (Jan. 18, 2020).

[27] It must also be acknowledged that the revisions of the liturgical books themselves were not without flaws. See, for instance, the critique of Lauren Pristas, Collects of the Roman Missals: A Comparative Study of the Sundays in Proper Seasons before and after the Second Vatican Council (T&T Clark Studies in Fundamental Liturgy; London: T&T Clark, 2013); “Theological Principles that Guided the Redaction of the Roman Missal (1970),” The Thomist 67/1 (2003) 157–95; and “The Orations of the Vatican II Missal: Policies for Revision,” Communio 30/4 (2003) 621–53.

[28] Instruction on the Proper Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Inter Oecumenici (Sept. 26, 1964).

The Congregation issued a second Instruction on the Proper Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Tres Abhinc Annos, on May 4, 1967. This instruction, in the light of ever-burgeoning chaos within the liturgy, stressed that no one, not even the priest, is permitted to make changes to the Eucharistic liturgy. Moreover, it emphasized that Ordinaries have the obligation before the Lord to ensure that all liturgical practices are in conformity with ecclesial law.

Shortly thereafter the Congregation issued an Instruction on the Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery, Eucharisticum Mysterium (May 25, 1967). Taking into account all the previous instructions, this Instruction provides a lengthy discussion on how the Eucharist is to be celebrated.

[29] All of the above quotes are taken from Pope John Paul II’s discourse to a group of American bishops at their Ad Limina visit on October 9, 1998.

[30] John Paul II, Vicesimus Quintus Annus §12. See Driscoll, “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” 25.

[31] See Dei Verbum §8; CCC §1124.

[32] See USCCB, “Roman Missal”; and “The Theological Vision of Sacrosanctum Concilium and the Roman Missal." See also Uwe Michael Lang, The Roman Mass: From Early Christian Origins to Tridentine Reform (Cambridge University Press, 2022).

[33] As Pope Francis notes in Desiderio Desideravi §31, tensions concerning the liturgy are not merely “a simple divergence between different tastes concerning a particular ritual form. The problematic is primarily ecclesiological.”

[34] Cf. Francis, Desiderio Desideravi §36: “Ordained ministers carry out a pastoral action of the first importance when they take the baptized faithful by the hand to lead them into the repeated experience of the Paschal Mystery. Let us always remember that it is the Church, the Body of Christ, that is the celebrating subject and not just the priest.”

[35] Peter Kwasniewski, Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright: The Genius & Timeliness of the Traditional Latin Mass (Brooklyn, NY: Angelico Press, 2020), 220.

[37] See Benedict XVI, Sacramentum caritatis, nos. 52–55.

[38] See Francis, Desiderio Desideravi §25: “The astonishment or wonder of which I speak is not some sort of being overcome in the face of an obscure reality or a mysterious rite. It is, on the contrary, marveling at the fact that the salvific plan of God has been revealed in the paschal deed of Jesus (cf. Eph 1:3–14), and the power of this paschal deed continues to reach us in the celebration of the ‘mysteries,’ of the sacraments.”

[39] See Jeremy Driscoll, What Happens at Mass, rev. ed. (Liturgy Training Publications, 2011), 1–7.

[40] CCC §1325, citing Congregation of Rites, Eucharisticum mysterium §6.

[42] Pope Francis, Traditiones Custodes §3.

[43] Such maturity is the wish expressed by Pope Francis in Desiderio Desideravi, which calls for “a serious and vital liturgical formation” (see especially §27–47).

[44] In Desiderio Desideravi, Pope Francis calls for more comprehensive liturgical formation of the faithful in two senses, “formation for the Liturgy and formation by the Liturgy” (§34–47).

[45] See GIRM 78, 79, and 85.

[46] For attentive worshippers, the eschatological orientation of the liturgy is evident throughout: in the Creed (“He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead”), the Memorial Acclamation (“we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again”), the Our Father (“your kingdom come”), and the celebrant’s prayer after the Our Father (“as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ”).

[47] There are numerous excellent resources to aid in this endeavor. See, for instance, Driscoll, What Happens at Mass (LTP, 2011); Timothy O’Malley, Becoming Eucharistic People: The Hope and Promise of Parish Life (Ave Maria, 2022); Edward Sri, A Biblical Walk through the Mass (Ascension, 2011).

[48] See Francis, Desiderio Desideravi, §48–57.

[49] See Francis, Desiderio Desideravi §37: “A celebration that does not evangelize is not authentic, just as a proclamation that does not lead to an encounter with the risen Lord in the celebration is not authentic.”

[50] Presbyterorum Ordinis §5.

[51] See Jeremy Sienkiewicz and Celina Pinedo, “The Liturgy and the New Evangelization,” Homiletic and Pastoral Review (Sept. 25, 2014); and David L. Schindler, “Toward a Culture of life: The Eucharist, the ‘Restoration’ of Creation, and the ‘Worldly’ Task of the Laity in Liberal Societies,” Communio 29 (2002), 679­–90.

Featured Image: Arnaldo Pomodoro, Sphere Within a Sphere, Vatican Gardens: Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD.  


John Cavadini, Mary Healy, Thomas Weinandy

John Cavadini is the McGrath-Cavadini Director of the Institute for Church Life and a professor in the department of theology at the University of Notre Dame.

Mary Healy is professor of Sacred Scripture at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.

Thomas G. Weinandy, OFM, Cap., is a theologian and scholar who has published widely in academic presses and journals.

Read more by John Cavadini, Mary Healy, Thomas Weinandy