History of the Tridentine Mass
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE ROMAN MASS
by Michael Davies
The Missal of St. Pius V was compiled and published in obedience to the Fathers of the Council of Trent. Their intentions were well expressed by Fr. Fortescue:
The Protestant Reformers naturally played havoc with the old liturgy. It was throughout the expression of the very ideas (the Real Presence, Eucharistic Sacrifice, and so on) they rejected. So they substituted for it new communion services that expressed their principles but, of course, broke away utterly from all historic liturgical evolution. The Council of Trent ( 1545 1563), in opposition to the anarchy of these new services, wished the Roman Mass to be celebrated uniformly everywhere. The medieval local uses had lasted long enough. They had become very florid and exuberant; and their variety caused confusion!
The first priority of the Council of Trent was to codify Catholic Eucharistic teaching. It did this in very great detail and in clear and inspiring terms. Anathema was pronounced upon anyone who rejected this teaching, and the Fathers insisted that what they had taught concerning the Eucharist must remain unmodified until the end of time:
And so this Council teaches the true and genuine doctrine about this venerable and divine sacrament of the Eucharist, the doctrine which the Catholic Church has always held and which She will hold until the end of the world, as She learned it from Christ Our Lord Himself, from His Apostles, and from the Holy Ghost, Who continually brings all truth to Her mind The Council forbids all the faithful of Christ henceforth to believe, teach or preach anything about the most Holy Eucharist that is different from what is explained and defined in the present decree.
In its eighteenth session, the Council appointed a commission to examine the Missal, to revise and restore it "according to the custom and rite of the Holy Fathers." Doctor Fortescue considers that the members of the Commission established to revise the Missal "accomplished their task very well":
It was not to make a new Missal, but to restore the existing one "according to the custom and rite of the holy Fathers," using for that purpose the best manuscripts and other documents.
He makes particular mention of the liturgical continuity which characterized the new Missal. The Missal promulgated by St. Pius V is not simply a personal decree of the Sovereign Pontiff, but an act of the Council of Trent, even though the Council closed on 4 December 1563, before the commission had completed its task. The matter was remitted to Pope Pius IV, but he died before the work was concluded so that it was his successor, St. Pius V, who promulgated the Missal resulting from the Council, with the Bull Quo Primum Tempore, 14 July 1570. Because the Missal is an act of the Council of Trent, its official title is Missale Romanum ex decreto sacrosancti Concilii Tridentini restitutum ("The Roman Missal Restored According to the Decrees of the Holy Council of Trent"). This was the first time during the one thousand five hundred and seventy years of the Church's history that a council or pope had used legislation to specify and impose a complete rite of Mass.
Msgr. Klaus Gamber, one of the greatest liturgists of this century, asks in his book, The Reform of the Roman Liturgy, a very pertinent question concerning the motivation of the reform which followed Vatican II, but was in no way mandated by the Council:
Was all this really done because of a pastoral concern about the souls of the faithful, or did it not rather represent a radical breach with the traditional rite, to prevent the further use of traditional liturgical texts and thus make the celebration of the "Tridentine Mass" impossible - because it no longer reflected the new spirit moving through the Church?
Thanks be to God, the Tridentine Mass is not simply "the most beautiful thing this side of heaven" but the Mass that will not die. Just as the faithful of Milan refused to allow the Ambrosian Mass to be replaced by the Roman Mass, so the faithful of the Roman Rite have refused to abandon the Mass that is redolent of the liturgy "of the days when Caesar ruled the world and thought he could stamp out the faith of Christ, when our fathers met together before dawn and sang a hymn to Christ as to a God." Its renewed use is spreading throughout the world with every day that passes, and each year m,ore and more younbg priests are ordained who are resolved to celebrate Mass only according to the Missal of St. Pius which is as certain to be the Mass of our children as it was the Mass of our fathers.
O God, who for the overthrowing of the enemies of Thy Church, and for the restoring of the beauty of Thy worship, didst choose blessed Pius as supreme Pontiff: grant that we may so cleave unto Thy service, that overcoming all the snares of our enemies, we may rejoice in Thy eternal peace.