Half a century ago, Pope Paul VI imposed a reform of the Mass that can be called “the Mass of Vatican II.” It was immediately criticized by two cardinals, and the opposition against it has not weakened. This sad anniversary is an opportunity to trace its history.
Before considering the liturgical reform of Paul VI and the new Mass, it is appropriate to go through the history of the Roman missal, because this reform claims to be the homogeneous development of the past. Which is absolutely debatable. The historical distance makes it easy to see.
The first part of this historical overview of the development of the Roman missal goes back to the eleventh century. A new decisive stage was the work of the Council of Trent and Pope St. Pius V, which we present in this second part.
From the 12th to 16th Centuries
The missal of the Roman Curia was well established in the eleventh century. Starting with the twelfth century, a spirit of “reform” was instituted to try to reduce the multiplication of compositions and to restrict certain customs, especially in the Divine Office. This movement could be seen in the religious orders - Carthusian, Citeaux, Premonstratensians - as well as with the secular. The liturgical reform of Cîteaux was the most notable. The aim of each Order was unification. This resulted in advancing the harmonization of the liturgy throughout the Roman world.
In the thirteenth century there were still several forms of the Roman missal in Rome itself: that of the Lateran, the Liberian Basilica, St. Mary Major, and others. It must be emphasized that the differences were very small. But finally the missal of the Curia would be the one that prevailed. And around 1230 the state of the Roman missal would be at the point of no longer being modified.
The discussions around transubstantiation, including the condemnation of the errors of Peter Abelard (1079-1142), and the expansion of the Eucharistic cult led to the elevation of the host—first in Paris at the beginning of the thirteenth century—then that of the chalice. The practice became widespread by the end of the same century. It was at this time that St. Thomas Aquinas composed the Office and the Mass of the Blessed Sacrament.
Innocent III (1198-1216) published an Ordo missae, the ordinary papal Mass, incorporating a ceremonial, i.e., a description of the gestures and movements of all the ministers. From that point on the Papal Chapel became the model and reference. And the widely distributed Curia books became the norm.
The first printed Roman missal is dated December 6, 1474. It was made in Milan. It is an almost identical reproduction of the missal published under Nicholas III in 1277. The printing press would be a new, stabilizing element of the Curia missal, and would allow an even wider diffusion.
However, certain liturgical abuses were due to ignorance, but were also affected by the influence of the Protestant Reformation, which introduced a spirit of free examination even into the remaining faithful clergy, would require a disciplinary clarification. This would be the role of the Council of Trent (1545-1563).
This council, which had set itself the goal of fighting against the Protestant heresy and which promulgated numerous dogmatic decrees, also issued important disciplinary decrees.
The dogmatic decrees of September 17, 1562 during the 22nd session, on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, to which is associated the decree On the Index of Books; on the Catechism, Breviary, and Missal, of the 25th session (December 4, 1563), are at the origin of the Tridentine codification of the liturgy.
The Council of Trent had prepared the revision of the liturgical books, but could not finish the work, not having the necessary documents on the spot. This is why it entrusted the pope with the accomplishment of this task. The solemnity of this assembly, the reaffirmation of the great dogmas on the sacrament of the Eucharist and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, would give a particular brilliance to this revision.
The work did not consist in composing a “new missal,” as did the authors of Paul VI’s missal, under the pretext of recovering ancient forms that had disappeared, by an “antiquarianism in liturgical matters” denounced by Pius XII in Mediator Dei ( 1947). The work of St. Pius V consisted in returning to tradition by establishing the best possible edition of the Roman missal by comparing the sources. He contented himself with suppressing some votive Masses, and restoring the Sunday celebration which was tending to be pushed aside in favor of the feast days. By the way, this restoration of the Sunday celebration would be resumed by the reform of St. Pius X.
The Dominican pope made the missal he published mandatory in all churches that could not prove a 200 year existence for their particular liturgies. Most bishops and chapters accepted the Tridentine Missal, even though they could establish the sufficient antiquity of their own texts and local liturgical usages. The “Saint Pius V” Missal thus became one of general usage. Many particular rites remained however, a source of future confusion. The missal was published in 1570.
This revision also specified the rubrics describing all the ceremonies to be performed during the Mass. This clarification was entrusted to the Congregation of Rites, who became the guardian of the missal, and gave valuable answers and many clarifications for four centuries. This codification of the rubrics, which remains the greatest contribution of the Tridentine missal, would contribute to the romanization of the entire Latin liturgy.
Finally, the diffusion of textbooks explaining the liturgical gestures to be used, based on the practice of the Curia, spread the Roman spirit throughout the Latin world.
The work of the Council of Trent was completed with the promulgation of the revisions of all the liturgical books between 1568 and 1614 – the breviary, the missal, the Martyrology, the pontifical, the bishops’ ceremonial and ritual, all Roman - which offered an easy access to the liturgical law under all its forms.