The Council of Trent on the form of the Mass

Council of Trent
Chapter IV
On the Canon of the Mass

“And since it is fitting that Holy things be administered in a holy manner, and out of all things this sacrifice is the most holy, [and] so that it may be offered and received worthily and reverently, the Catholic Church instituted, many years ago, the sacred canon, so pure from every error that nothing is contained in it which is not, to the greatest extent, redolent of a certain sanctity and piety, and [thereby] raises up to God the minds of those who offer [it]. For it is composed from the very words of the Lord, then from the traditions of the Apostles, and also from the pious institutions of holy Pontiffs.”

The Council of Trent was held from 1545 to 1563. The Council ended about 458 years ago. But we are told by the papal accusers today that the traditional Latin Mass (TLM) goes back in time 1500 years. So certainly what the Council of Trent says about the Mass applies to that form of the Mass. But the papal accusers, who despise the Novus Ordo Mass, claim that the TLM cannot be changed by the Roman Pontiffs. The Council of Trent says otherwise. The Council taught that the Canon of the Mass (the form of the Mass) is composed from the words of the Lord, the traditions of the Apostles — which is before the alleged start of the TLM in the 600s AD — and “also from the pious institutions of the holy Pontiffs.” Thus, the Roman Pontiffs have the authority, acknowledged by the Council of Trent, over the Canon of the Mass.

And surely the traditions of the Apostles did not start in the 600s AD, which is when some supporters of the Latin Mass claim the TLM began. So after the words of our Lord and the traditions of the Apostles, the latter being subject to the supreme judgment of the Roman Pontiff and the Ecumenical Councils, there is nothing required for the Canon of the Mass except “the pious institutions of the holy Pontiffs.” Notice that the Council of Trent does not put the Canon above the Roman Pontiffs, but under their authority.

But is it the case, as contended by some, that once the TLM has been instituted, it cannot be changed or replaced? No. For the authority of every Roman Pontiff is the same authority given to Peter by Christ, for the sake of the Church, and is handed down to every Roman Pontiff without diminution or alteration in that divine and supreme authority. Therefore, no Roman Pontiff has any more or less authority over the Mass.

If it were the case that one Roman Pontiff could institute a form of the Mass, such as the TLM, and ALSO prevent any subsequent Pontiffs from altering or abrogating it, then that one Roman Pontiff would have authority over all subsequent Popes, and the subsequent Popes would have less authority than Christ gave to each Peter. This would contradict the divine will of Christ to have each Roman Pontiff be a true successor of Peter with equal authority. Therefore, no matter how a document is worded on a matter of discipline or liturgy, subsequent Popes are not bound by that decision, and can make changes even to the extent of replacing one discipline with another or one form of the Mass with another.

This truth is asserted in Mediator Dei by Pope Pius XII, and by Pope Saint Paul VI:

Paul VI: “It is so painful to notice it: but how can we not see, in this attitude — whatever the intentions of these people may be — that they place themselves outside of obedience to, and communion with the Successor of Peter and therefore the Church?”

“Since this, unfortunately, is the logical consequence, that is, when it is argued that it is preferable to disobey on the pretext of keeping one’s faith intact, of working in one’s own way for the preservation of the Catholic Church, while denying it effective obedience. And it is said openly! Indeed, they do not hesitate to assert that the Second Vatican Council lacks binding force; that faith would also be in danger because of the post-conciliar reforms and orientations, which one has the duty to disobey in order to preserve certain traditions.”

“What traditions? It is this group of men — but not the Roman Pontiff, not the Episcopal College, not the Ecumenical Council — who wish to become those who establish a binding decision on which of the innumerable traditions are to be held as norms of faith! As you see, our venerable Brothers, this attitude speaks as if it were judge over that Divine will which placed Peter and his successors at the Head of the Church, so as to confirm his brethren in the faith and so pasture the universal flock (Lk 22:32; Jn 21:15 ff.) and thus establish him as guarantor and custodian of the deposit of the Faith.”

“And this is all the more serious, in particular, when division is introduced, precisely where congvegavit nos in unum Christi amor [the love of Christ gathers us as one], in the Liturgy and in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, refusing respect for the norms defined in the liturgical field. It is in the name of Tradition that we ask all our children, all Catholic communities, to celebrate the renewed Liturgy in dignity and fervor. The adoption of the new “Ordo Missae” is certainly not left to the discretion of the priests or the faithful: and the Instruction of June 14, 1971 provided for the celebration of Mass in the old form, with the authorization of the ordinary, only for elderly or infirm priests, who offer the Divine Sacrifice sine populo [without the people]. The new Ordo was promulgated to replace the old one, after mature deliberation, following the requests of the Second Vatican Council. Likewise, our holy Predecessor Pius V had made the reformed Missal compulsory under his authority, following the Council of Trent.”

“We demand the same availability, with the same supreme authority that comes from Christ Jesus, to all the other liturgical, disciplinary and pastoral reforms that have matured in recent years in application of the conciliar decrees. Any initiative that aims to hinder them cannot assume the prerogative of rendering a service to the Church: in fact it causes serious damage to it.”

As for the Novus Ordo Mass, it is relatively new, and will undoubtedly undergo the same process that the Latin Mass experienced, being updated by various successive Pontiffs over the years. No form of the Mass is written in stone. This is clear from the Council of Trent and the teaching of Pius XII and Pope Saint Paul VI.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

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3 Responses to The Council of Trent on the form of the Mass

  1. Robert L Fastiggi says:

    Thank you very much for this article, Ron. As we know, some Catholic devotees of the older Missal have used this passage from Trent to claim that St. Paul VI lacked the authority to make changes to the Canon of the Mass. You show that the actual text from Trent argues against this claim.

  2. The Great Kabuki says:

    Where can I find the above quote from Pope St. Paul VI?

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