The older form of the Roman rite is alive and well

Observations on Rome’s permission for new saints and more prefaces in the usus antiquior.

Bishop Edward J. Slattery of Tulsa, Okla., celebrates a solemn high Mass in the extraordinary form at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington April 24, 2017. (CNS photo/Matthew Barrick)

Ending an after-dinner speech in an Oxford College refectory at a week-long training conference for priests wishing to learn how to celebrate the usus antiquior (the more ancient use) of the Roman rite in the summer of 2007, the episcopal guest of honor, reflected on the (then) recently promulgated Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, and specifically on the call of Pope Benedict XVI in his letter accompanying that legislation for mutual enrichment between the older and newer uses of the Roman rite.

“It’s pretty clear how the older form can enrich the new,” the bishop observed, “but quite how the new can enrich the old is beyond me,” he quipped.

What Pope Benedict had written, that “the two Forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching: new Saints and some of the new Prefaces can and should be inserted in the old Missal,” and that “the celebration of the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI will be able to demonstrate, more powerfully than has been the case hitherto, the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage,” had given rise to a certain amount of attention at the time. Was this the cue for the beginning of the long-expected ‘reform of the reform’ of the modern liturgical rites? Did it mean a new edition of the missal last published in 1962 was on the way?

Rome moves slowly as we know, and there is no sign as yet of the official enrichment of the missal of Paul VI by its predecessor (that of 1962 and the tradition it transmits) on the horizon—indeed, idolatristic partisans of the missal of Paul VI seem determined to quash any possibility thereof. Their generation may need to reach retirement before a calm study of the question can proceed and bear fruit. In Roman time, that will not be too long.

Now, however, a mere thirteen years after the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum—and numerous consultations and drafts later—we do have precisely that which the bishop could not envisage after dinner in Oxford that evening: the enrichment of the usus antiquior with some modern elements. Lest those who hold the ancient liturgical tradition dear become overly alarmed, it must be said that for the most part this enrichment has been done with care and sensitivity and can be welcomed without difficulty.

Hence, by means of a Decree of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (which absorbed the former Pontifical Commission ‘Ecclesia Dei’) dated February 22nd, the Holy See has established that in the usus antiquior it is now permitted to celebrate any of the saints canonized since 1960 on their respective liturgical feast day, or to celebrate a votive Mass of such a saint, according to the liturgical rules (“rubrics”) of the 1962 missal, and respecting a newly published list of saints whose feast days are thereby “protected” by reason of their universal importance. It is also possible to celebrate the Divine Office of the respective saint according to the same conditions. These celebrations are to use the liturgical texts already present in the older liturgical books, or those in a supplement prepared by the Holy See for the purpose but, most unfortunately, not yet published.

Without commencing a disquisition on the rubrics of the older liturgical books, we should note that this would not be possible on greater feast days (Easter, Pentecost, Christmas, etc.) which take precedence, or on the days of the saints listed as having priority. What the rules of the older liturgy often do permit, however, is the commemoration of a saint—the praying of his or her proper prayers after those of the day—a rather happy pastoral accommodation, sadly missing from the missal of Paul VI, which accords due priority to the greater feast and allows for devotion to the saint.

We should also note that the celebration of the feasts of saints canonized after 1960 is not required. Modern saints have not been imposed on the older missal. It may be used unchanged if the priest or religious superior judges this best. So too there has been no attempt to standardize or create a melange between the calendars of both missals. Legitimate diversity has been allowed to prevail—a reality long since alive and well in the particular calendars of older dioceses and religious orders.

One provision is for the reform of the requirement introduced in 1960 that saints whose feasts fall in Lent or Passiontide only be commemorated, meaning, effectively, that their whole feast day Mass could never be celebrated in ordinary parish circumstances if that day fell in Lent (as some always do). It had, rather, to be the Mass of the day of Lent with the commemoration of the saint. Such was the case for the likes of St Gregory the Great, St Benedict, St Thomas Aquinas, etc. The Holy See’s new legislation reverses this rule, permitting their celebration with the commemoration of the respective day of Lent or Passiontide. A small matter? Perhaps. But not without significance, of which more below.

Another Decree of the Congregation also dated February 22nd has permitted the use of seven additional prefaces in Masses celebrated in the usus antiquior. Once again, they are permitted, not imposed—and quite wisely given that liturgical sentiments that can be quite brittle and uncritical at times. The seven prefaces are for the Angels, St John the Baptist, Martyrs, for Nuptial Mass, for all Saints and Patron Saints, of the Blessed Sacrament and for the Dedication of a Church.

The last three of these are already in use in the usus antiquior in some parts of the world where prior to the Second Vatican Council they formed part of the proper texts of many dioceses in France and Belgium. In these dioceses they are mandatory to this day. They are printed in the altar missal published by the Fraternity of Saint Peter in 2012, together with the similar preface for Advent. There is also one for Holy Thursday and, in some places, one for St John the Baptist.

The omission of the preface for Advent amongst those newly permitted is truly odd, for the 1962 missal and its antecedents do not contain one. This must be regarded as a sadly missed opportunity. It would have greater use than some of the others approved. (It could be observed that the season of Advent is the ‘poorer sister’ in the older missal, not having proper Mass formulae for each day, as does Lent. Indeed, there is scope for careful future development here.)

Advent aside, the facultative worldwide extension of the use these three prefaces to the usus antiquior may indeed be regarded as a welcome and proportionate enrichment of the tradition for those who wish to avail of it. There is nothing new here: after all, new prefaces were added to the missal in 1919 and 1925 also. So too, historically Western liturgical tradition includes a very large number of prefaces.

The other four prefaces, however, ‘come from’ the missal of Paul VI. Their central texts (the “embolism”) in the versions approved for use now in both new and old missals are practically identical. They have various origins, some quite ancient. But each of these texts as they appear in the missal of the usus recentior (the missal of Paul VI) and which are now permitted for (but which are not imposed on) the usus antiquior, have passed through the ideological sieve of the same study group (18b) of the Post-Conciliar Consilium which substantially edited and evacuated the theological content of the prayers of the missal (the collects, prayers over the gifts and postcommunion prayers), as the painstaking work of Professor Lauren Pristas (The Collects of the Roman Missals, 2013) has more than adequately demonstrated.

In respect of the four prefaces in question a detailed comparative study of their sources and content is necessary. That is impossible here (Anthony Ward and Cuthbert Johnson’s The Prefaces of the Roman Missal, 1989, is an exemplary resource for this). The prefaces of St John the Baptist and of Martyrs are “centonised” texts, that is effectively new compositions of the study group drawing on fragments of older ones. That is to say, they do not appear in liturgical tradition before 1970 in anywhere near the form given them by the Consilium which they now have. The preface of the Angels has an ancient precedent but is nevertheless an edited version of the traditional text. The preface for the Nuptial Mass is also edited, though less severely, without substantially altering the integrity of text.

Pope Benedict’s intention in 2007 was, without doubt, to enrich the usus antiquior with further prefaces. There is nothing wrong with that in principle. However, I very much doubt he intended to visit ‘products’ of the Consilium upon the older missal. It could easily have been augmented with the integral texts found in liturgical tradition. This would avoid the highly likely disdaining of the texts of these latter prefaces because of their at least perceived ‘tainted’ origin or editing in the post-conciliar Consilium. The lack of pastoral care and sensitivity here—seemingly sacrificed for the sake of an unnecessary textual uniformity between both missals—is regrettable and may well jeopardize the intent of the project, at least in part. So-called “traditionalists” can be hyper-sensitive. Offering the addition of at least three of these four texts may well offend those sensitivities.

Others have been deeply offended, indeed outraged, that the Holy See would think it appropriate to dignify the usus antiquior with its attention in this way. “It no longer makes sense to enact decrees to ‘reform’ a rite that is closed in the historical past, inert and crystallized, lifeless and without vigor,” it has been argued by some liturgists in an “Open Letter” calling for the immediate rescinding of the 22 February decrees of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. One writer has even regurgitated the ‘Summorum Pontificum is in no sense compatible with the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium’ mantra, calling once again for the comprehensive winding down of all the 2007 Motu Proprio’s provisions.

These voices, which are also those who decry any possibility of the reform of the liturgical reform, seem to be oblivious to the reality in the life of the Church at the beginning of the twenty-first century that usus antiquior is a living liturgical rite in which people—indeed significant and growing numbers of young people—participate fully, actually, consciously and fruitfully in a manner that would have brought great satisfaction to the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council and to the pioneers of the twentieth century liturgical movement which preceded it. They are oblivious to the fact that because the older form of the Roman rite is alive and well and bearing good fruit in the life of the Church, and because participation in it is growing numerically, it is more than appropriate that the Holy See—with the explicit approval of the Holy Father, Pope Francis—has made provision for the use of newly canonized saints and more prefaces (the reservations expressed above notwithstanding).

There is another element of this reform, alluded to earlier, that is not without significance. As already mentioned, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has judged it apposite to permit the celebration of the Mass of saints whose feasts fall in Lent with the commemoration of the Lenten Mass, reversing the relevant provision of the 1960 code of rubrics published in the missal of 1962. Hitherto the Holy See has not derogated from the liturgical books in force in 1962 in a manner that ‘corrects’ previous reforms. But through this small provision it has happily shown that it is possible to recognize that not everything in the liturgical books in force in 1962 is set in stone: the correction of unfortunate elements present in them is possible. The permissions given in recent years for the use of the pre-1955 Holy Week rites (to be sure, at the correct times) show a similar, healthy openness, for which the Holy See must be praised.

“In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture,” Pope Benedict wrote in 2007. “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place,” he insisted.

The possibility of the celebration of new saints and of the use of more prefaces in the usus antiquior of the Roman rite is, overall, an example of such growth and progress. That their use is facultative means that they will find their proper place in worship according to the older rites, or not, according to the pastoral judgement of those responsible, avoiding any rupture with the past. Regardless of some of the particulars, the authoritative recognition these measures bring to the fact that the older form of the Roman rite is alive and well and has its rightful and proper place in a healthy diversity in the liturgical life of the Church of our times is something for which we may be very thankful indeed.

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About Dom Alcuin Reid 8 Articles
Dom Alcuin Reid is the founding Prior of the Monastère Saint-Benoît in the diocese of Fréjus-Toulon, France, and a liturgical scholar of international renown. His principle work, The Organic Development of the Liturgy (Ignatius Press, 2005) carries a preface by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.


  1. [Pope Benedict’s intention in 2007 was, without doubt, to enrich the usus antiquior with further prefaces. There is nothing wrong with that in principle. However, I very much doubt he intended to visit ‘products’ of the Consilium upon the older missal. It could easily have been augmented with the integral texts found in liturgical tradition. This would avoid the highly likely disdaining of the texts of these latter prefaces because of their at least perceived ‘tainted’ origin or editing in the post-conciliar Consilium.]

    Does the CDF not have any proper liturgical scholars on its staff or at least consult with them?

  2. Dom Alcuin Reid has it right. Within his preferential limits as nuanced in his quote, “It’s pretty clear how the older form can enrich the new the bishop observed, but quite how the new can enrich the old is beyond me”. That begs the question of any value whatsoever of the Novus Ordo. That suggestion of itself is narrow and damaging [nor let us forget that the NO contains the Roman Canon I that some of us use]. As much as I venerate liturgical tradition the constant suggestion that the NO is the cause for our current malaise damages unity, distancing ‘traditionalists’ from the majority of practicing Catholics. Many of us who offer Mass in accord with the new form, especially that revised under Benedict XVI offer with veneration. And with deep love of Christ’s Real Presence. It’s more the universal lack of faith and drift away from the reality of serious sin erroneously mitigated by theologians as if committing serious sin were virtually impossible. There’s cause to believe that churches being shut down, Laity shut out and clergy constrained from ministry is divine retribution and importantly appeal to return to faithful practice. The Sacrifice of the Mass whether traditional or Novus Ordo must be offered with deep faith and reverence. That lack can and must be remedied interiorly not simply externally.

    • God bless you for that, Father Morello. It is the Body of Christ and we are all in the boat together. Love and praying for one another and to stop condemning. It’s painful to be shut out especially Holy week. For the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, let us pray for a new holy Pope and that the Lord will deliver us from all evil. Blessed holy week!

    • Please Father, the absence of Latin, maybe not intentional, scatters us like the builders of The Tower of Babel. Because Latin is a dead language there can be no ad hoc comments for their entertainment value, as is so prevalent in the NO.

      • Thomas the unfortunate truth is Vat II never intended Latin to be dropped entirely. That occurred because of bishops, clergy who refused to use Latin and the vernacular intermittently. I have offered the NO in Latin and offer it in Latin for my private Masses. Benedict’s revised NO corrected the omissions, irregularities. If it were my choice entirely I would offer Mass in Latin exclusively and in English per request [Most Laity by now prefer the vernacular]. So I have to do the best with what’s available to me.

    • Father you are absolutely correct. I would qualify as a Conservative or Traditional leaning Catholic and would love to attend the TLM but it is not available where I live. As an Altar Server I help in the celebration of the Mass and try to help make it as reverent as possible. Those who say it is all worthless and NO parishioners are Protestants are not helping, and remind me of Fr Chad Ripperger warning about some in the Traditional Community who have embraced what can be termed as a form of Gnosticism. The NOM may have indeed started out as a lemon, but many priests have managed to make lemonade and turn it into something beautiful, as anyone who has watched a live Mass on EWTN can attest to.

  3. The liturgical revisions spawned by Vatican II were made hastily, with little appreciation for the importance of continuity with the past. The ensuing effect was a needless “future shock” for the faithful. Catholics, whether they realize it or not, are living with the consequences.

  4. “Usus antiquor”, Extraordinary Rite”, etc. The Roman Mass is the only Mass for the Roman Rite. It has not been supplanted by the Novus Ordo Missae, which comes from heresy and leads to heresy.

  5. samtom909, if you want respect you must show it and earn it. Your sarcastic attack of Joseph Kretschmer contributes nothing to the discussion but does reveal the limit of your intellect and character. If you do not agree with Mr. Kretschmer’s comment then please provide us with an intelligent retort. But I doubt that you are capable of that.

  6. I’m so glad I found the Ordinariate of the Chain of Saint Peter. Ad Orientum, English, and out of the hands of roving revisionists. Divine Office is a blessing from God. Thank You Pope Benedict.

  7. The image accompanying the article, from Matt Barrick’s excellent still photography, was taken at the pontifical traditional Mass at the National Shrine celebrated by Bishop Edward Slattery (Tulsa) in 2010, not 2017. That Mass was organized and arranged by The Paulus Institute for the Propagation of Sacred Liturgy. It was the first traditional Mass said at the High Altar of the Shrine’s Upper Church in 45 years. The EWTN video did not appear on YouTube until 2017 (thus the confusion), and now has almost 90,000 hits. The excellent commentary was provided by Fr. John Zuelsdorf and Fr. Calvin Goodwin, FSSP. His Eminence William Cardinal Baum, R.I.P., participated in choro at that Mass. The EWTN video of the April 28, 2018, pontifical traditional Mass at the Shrine, also organized by The Paulus Institute, was celebrated by Archbishop Alexander Sample (Portland in Oregon). That video on YouTube has almost 80,000 hits. The commentary was provided by Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth and Msgr. Charles Pope. Both commentaries mentioned here are excellent for their catechesis on the traditional Mass as it has been offered throughout the millennia.

    The Paulus Institute has scheduled a 3rd pontifical Mass at the Shrine High Altar for Saturday August 22, 2020, the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The celebrant will be Archbishop Thomas E. Gullickson, papal nuncio to Switzerland and Lichtenstein. All are invited, especially those new to the traditional Mass.

    Paul King, President, The Paulus Institute

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