The Alleged Antiquity of the traditional Latin Mass

What today is often termed the “TLM” or the “traditional Latin Mass” or “the Latin Mass” is simply the latest revision of the Tridentine Mass. This revision dates to 1962, when Pope Saint John XXIII revised the 1955 version of the Tridentine Mass. The word “Tridentine” refers to the Council of Trent, which taught on the holy Mass and on the Sacraments. The Council was held between 1545 and 1563 in Trent, Italy. Pope Pius IV approved the Council of Trent at its conclusion. The form of the Mass named after the Council was approved and promulgated in 1570 by Pope Saint Pius V. However, many substantial changes have been made since 1570, by various Popes, leading to the most recent edition of 1962.

Prior to the Council of Trent, there were many different versions of the Mass in Latin. The benefit of the Tridentine Mass of 1570 was a uniformity in the Mass across the many different nations and dioceses. Even so, Pope Saint Pius V permitted forms of the Mass with greater than 200 years antiquity to continue, so that the Tridentine Mass was not used everywhere in the Roman Rite. The Eastern Catholic Churches have their own forms of the Mass, and have never been compelled to use the Tridentine form.

The Novus Ordo Mass is the most common form of the Mass today in the Roman Rite (in the West as opposed to the East). This form was established by Pope Saint Paul VI in 1970, and is related to the Second Vatican Council in much the same way that the Tridentine form is related to the Council of Trent. This form of the Mass is said in the vernacular (the local language). Many parishes in the U.S. have Masses in English as well as in whatever is the most common second language in their area, such as Spanish or Portuguese, etc.

If the Novus Ordo Mass were celebrated in the Latin language, that form of the Mass would not be the Tridentine Mass, which is often today called “the Latin Mass”. So the term “Latin Mass” does not refer to any Mass in Latin. And for this same reason, the supporters of the Tridentine Mass cannot claim that this form of the Mass which they prefer dates to the beginning of the use of Latin in the Mass.

Christ said Mass only once with Himself as the celebrant — that is, without a priest standing in persona Christi — at the Last Supper. This form of the Mass began with a Passover supper, using the languages Hebrew and Aramaic. Now the Apostles were Jews, not Romans, and they had Aramaic as their daily language and Hebrew as their religious language (Acts 22:2). Jesus did not say Mass in Latin. Neither does any text of the New Testament propose that the Mass must or should be said in Latin.

Then the many different forms of the Mass used throughout the history of the Church have not been the exact form used by Christ, and for the most part have not much resembled that form of the Mass, EXCEPT in its essentials. What is required by Christ Jesus for the holy Mass of His Church, which Church He founded with His blood, which Mass He founded by His own celebration of that Mass, is determined by the Church. But the Church has never required every Catholic on earth to use Latin in the Mass — the Eastern Catholics and more than a few in the West can testify to this, even today. Neither did Christ ever teach that Latin must be used in the Mass. Jesus did not establish the Mass in immutable specifics. He only established the Mass in a general form, with certain required elements. But these required elements are found in every approved form of the Mass, not only in the Tridentine Mass.

So the claim is false that the “traditional Latin Mass”, meaning the Tridentine Mass, dates back 1500 plus years. Latin was used in the Mass more than 1500 years ago. But the 1962 form of the Latin Mass is already substantially different from the original 1570 Tridentine Mass. The Tridentine Mass dates to 1570, just over 450 years ago. Then the only way to justify the claim that this form dates to the fifth or sixth century is to call ANY Mass in Latin “the Latin Mass”, by which logic the Novus Ordo Mass in Latin would also qualify. Therefore, the TLM dates back only 450+ years, to 1570, and not much earlier.

A more serious problem arises from this claim, often implied and sometimes stated, that the traditional Latin Mass is the only acceptable form of the Mass for the Roman Rite. The Lord Jesus did not say Mass in Latin at all. He did not teach that the Mass must be in Latin. And the very early Church did not have a widespread form of the Mass in Latin, not until the Church adopted Latin a few hundred years after Christ. It is possible and even probable that Mass was said in Latin in the local Church at Rome, where Latin was the vernacular. But such a practice, if true, supports the use of the vernacular throughout the worldwide Church, more so that it supports a Latin-only discipline for the Mass. And such a hypothetical form of the Mass in Rome at an exceptionally early date certainly would look almost nothing like the Latin Mass today — EXCEPT that every valid approved form of the Mass has the same essential elements: prayer, Scripture, Eucharist, etc.

Pope Saint Pius V imposed the 1570 Tridentine Mass on the whole Roman Rite, with exceptions for forms of the Mass in use for more than 200 years. Similarly, Pope Francis has imposed the Novus Ordo Mass, in the vernacular, on the whole Roman Rite, with some exceptions, as for the FSSP and as permitted by local Bishops and the Apostolic See. The authority of Christ exercised by these two Popes is the same authority. There is no basis for rejecting the authority of the latter as if the former were still in office.

And the 1570 form of the Tridentine Latin Mass has been changed many times, substantially, since that date, up to the current 1962 form of the Tridentine Latin Mass. How many changes were made to the Tridentine Mass? Here is a detailed summary of the changes at Wikipedia.

The opponents of the Novus Ordo Mass often complain that the post-Vatican II liturgical calendar reduces the number of feasts. But Pope Saint Pius V himself severely reduced the number of feasts. Then his successors added to the number of feasts, restoring several, until Pope Clement VIII in 1604 restored many feasts, while making various changes to the Tridentine Mass. “In the course of the following centuries new feasts were repeatedly added and the ranks of certain feasts were raised or lowered.” [Wikipedia]

New typical editions of the 1570 Tridentine Mass were made by successive Popes: Clement VIII in 1604, Urban VIII in 1634, and Leo XIII in 1884. Then in 1911, Pope Saint Pius X ordered significant changes in the form of the Mass via the bull Divino Afflatu. But these changes were not completed and instituted until the new typical edition of 1920 under Pope Benedict XV.

“This 1920 edition included a new section headed: “Additions and Changes in the Rubrics of the Missal in accordance with the Bull Divino Afflatu and the Subsequent Decrees of the Sacred Congregation of Rites”. This additional section was almost as long as the previous section on the “General Rubrics of the Missal”, which continued to be printed unchanged.”

“Pope Pius XII radically revised the Palm Sunday and Easter Triduum liturgy, suppressed many vigils and octaves and made other alterations in the calendar (see General Roman Calendar of Pope Pius XII), reforms that were completed in Pope John XXIII’s 1960 Code of Rubrics, which were incorporated in the final 1962 typical edition of the Tridentine Missal” [Wikipedia]

Some changes were made in 1955, and again in 1962, which latter form is the current Mass termed “the Latin Mass”. Today’s “traditional Latin Mass” has been changed very substantially since the Tridentine 1570 form. And it is odd that the proponents of “Latin Mass only” for the Roman Rite insist on every single point of form, as if any change from the 1962 version would be a grave error, while in fact this version is very different from the Tridentine Mass of 1570, on which the current version is based and which constitutes the justification for the current version.

Why did the Church choose Latin for Her documents and for Her Mass? The reason was largely that Latin was the vernacular language at the time. The Roman empire brought Latin to many nations, and so a very large portion of the faithful in the West knew Latin as a first or second language. So the change to the “vernacular” languages for the Novus Ordo Mass is entirely in keeping with the ancient decision of the Church to hold Mass in the vernacular language of that time, Latin. Such a decision, choosing the vernacular language of an age, does not establish Latin as an essential and immutable aspect of the holy Mass — which was established by Christ without use of Latin.

Moreover, the same authority exercised by Pope Saint Pius V, by which he causes the new 1570 edition of the Mass, the first Tridentine form of the Mass, to be used throughout most of the Church in the West (the Roman Rite), was exercised also by some of his successors, to change either the liturgical calendar, or the form of the Mass itself, sometimes substantially. This same authority is possessed by each and every Roman Pontiff. And no Pope has the authority to reduce the authority of his successors, by making a decision of discipline or of liturgical form which is supposedly unable to be changed. Thus, Pius V had the authority to establish the Tridentine Mass, and his successors have the authority to change that form, or even to replace it with the Novus Ordo Mass.

As Pope Saint Paul VI explains:

“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.” [Secret Consistory of the Holy Father Paul VI for the Appointment of Twenty Cardinals, Monday, May 24, 1976, n. 2]

Likewise, Pope Francis has the same authority as Pope Saint Paul VI and Pope Saint Pius V over the Mass. Just as Pius V made the 1570 Mass compulsory, and just as Paul VI made the Novus Ordo Mass compulsory, so also can Pope Francis do the same. But notice that all three Popes have made exceptions for some persons.

1. Some of the faithful attend the Tridentine Mass as their preferred form. They accept Pope Francis as Roman Pontiff, and they do not reject Vatican II, nor the recent Popes. They do not accuse the Council or recent Popes of heresy. And if the Latin Mass is not available to them, they attend the Novus Ordo Mass, which they do not reject. They do well, and they are largely the reason that some local Bishops and the Roman Pontiff have allowed the continuation of the older form of the Mass.

2. But others, wolves among the sheep, not only prefer the Latin Mass, but also attack the Novus Ordo Mass, claiming that it is gravely erroneous and harmful to the faithful and the Faith. They do not accept Vatican II or Pope Francis as having authority from Christ over doctrine and discipline, including over the Mass. They make themselves the judges over what is and is not acceptable in the Faith, and so they act as if they were judges over Popes and Councils. They accuse Pope Francis of heresy. They attack Vatican I as well as Vatican II. They implicitly — but very severely — reject the indefectibility of the Church and the never-failing faith of the Roman Pontiffs.

These are two very different groups of Latin Mass adherents. The former are faithful. I do not think the Church will or should take the Latin Mass from them. The latter are heretics and schismatics, who are condemned for their pride, rejection of faith, rejection of Church authority, and malice toward the Pope and the Bishops.

The Council of Trent seems to have considered having Mass in the vernacular. Chapter VIII of the 22nd Session states:

“And though the Mass contains great instruction for the faithful people, even so, it did not seem expedient to the Fathers that it should be celebrated everywhere in the common tongue. For this reason, the ancient usage of each church, and the rite approved by the holy Roman Church, the mother and teacher of all churches, should be retained in each place.”

So the fathers of the Council of Trent considered having Mass be celebrated “everywhere in the common tongue”, but decided it was not “expedient”. They did not decide that the vernacular Mass was evil, or contrary to the Faith, or anything of the kind. Rather, it was simply not fitting for the times in the 16th century, when Latin was still in widespread use.

Notice that the Council also states that “the rite approved by the holy Roman Church, the mother and teacher of all churches, should be retained in each place”. There is no principle or argument that can be used to refuse the authority of the holy Roman Church to approve rites and to institute them in each place and in all churches. For the Apostolic See, that is the See of Peter, is “the mother and teacher of all churches”.

Council of Trent: “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.” [22nd Session, Chapter IV]

The Mass instituted and approved by the Catholic Church — and this text above refers to the Mass prior to the 1570 Tridentine form — is pure and holy; it is above reproach. And this teaching is true not only of the Mass in Latin, not only of a certain form of the Mass, but of every Mass instituted and approved by the Church, from the Latin supper and the earliest Masses, to the Novus Ordo Mass of today. For every Mass has the essentials of Sacred Scripture, the sacrifice of the Mass, the Eucharist, prayers and the rest.

Then the source of the Mass is the words of the Lord Jesus, the traditions of the Apostles, and “the pious institutions of holy Pontiffs”. It is not possible, then, for a single Roman Pontiff to institute a form of the Mass which subsequent Pontiffs cannot change or replace. The exterior points of liturgical form which distinguish the 1962 Tridentine Mass from the Novus Ordo Mass are non-essential and are under the authority of the Roman Pontiffs.

Therefore, it is false and contrary to the teaching of the Council of Trent to claim that the institution by Pope Saint Pius V of the Tridentine Mass is unable to be changed or abrogated in favor of another form, with the same essential elements. Moreover, the indefectibility of the Church and the never-failing faith of the Roman Pontiff guarantee that every approved form of the Mass will necessarily always have those essential elements: prayer, Scripture, the sacrifice of the Mass and the Eucharist, etc. But Latin has never been an essential element, and the form of the Tridentine Mass has changed repeatedly since the original form from 1570.

Council of Trent: “Since, therefore, either through the corruption of the times, or through the carelessness and wickedness of men, many things already may be seen to have crept in — things which are foreign to the dignity of so great a sacrifice — [and] so that the honor and service owed to it may be restored, for the glory of God and the edification of the faithful people, the holy Synod decrees that the Ordinary Bishops of places shall use attentive care and be required to prohibit and take away from the midst all those things which either avarice, [which is] a service of idols, or irreverence, which is hardly able to be separated from impiety, or superstition, which is a false imitation of true piety, may have introduced.”

It is often claimed today, by those who are both adherents of the Latin Mass and opponents of the Novus Ordo Mass, that the many examples of corrupt or impious behavior by priests and others at the Novus Ordo Mass are proof that this form of the Mass itself is a grave error. They also say that these problems would be solved if the Church would return to Latin Mass only (in the Roman Rite). But notice what the Council of Trent says, that in the Latin Mass of that time, there was also corruption and impiety. It happens because of the corruption of the times, i.e. of society, or from the carelessness or wickedness of men. It is not due to the use of the vernacular language, which the Council of Trent merely called not expedient.

The internet permits anyone to find errors in Masses held throughout the world. This makes any problems found seem common, when they are rare. I have attended the Novus Ordo Mass for many years, and have seldom seen any problems worth noting. The problems cited by opponents of the New Mass are usually from various diocese and even from other nations. And these are put together to make it seem like these problems are far more common than they are.

Blaming the Novus Ordo Mass itself for such problems with the Mass is a lie. There is nothing erroneous, corrupt, or impious in the vernacular Mass established by Pope Saint Paul VI. It is holy and pure from beginning to end. Neither is it an error that the Novus Ordo Mass does not contain each of the prayers and rubrics of the 1962 form, which has changed greatly since the original 1570 Tridentine Mass.

The Latin Mass today is celebrated and attended largely by conservatives. So it seems better to conservative Catholics to have the Latin Mass as the sole Roman Rite. But if that were to happen, then liberal and moderate priests and laity would be in attendance, and the Latin Mass would no longer be the gathering place for conservatives that it is today. Then the errors that are found in some Novus Ordo Mass would also occur in the Latin Mass, for the same priests who authored or allowed those errors would be celebrating the Latin Mass. So again the problem is not with the form of the Mass, but with certain individuals.

Does this mean that Novus Ordo-saying priests are bad, and Latin Mass-saying priests are good? Some of each are good, and some of each are bad. More than a few Latin Mass priests have committed public formal schism and public formal heresy by rejecting the authority of Vatican II and Pope Francis (and sometimes other Popes and Councils), and by rejecting the dogmas of the indefectibility of the Church and of the never failing faith of every successor of Peter. Latin Mass priests are not better or holier merely because they say the Latin Mass exactly as written; such a claim is Pharisaical.

Council of Trent: “Nether shall they suffer this holy sacrifice to be performed, either by any Seculars or Regulars of any kind in private houses, or at all outside of a church and those oratories solely dedicated to divine worship, which are to be designated and visited by the same Ordinaries — and, even then, only if those who are present will have first shown, by their decently composed bodily appearance, that they are present, not only in body, but also in mind and with devout affection of heart.”

The Council of Trent ruled that the holy sacrifice of the Mass is not to be performed “at all outside of a church or those oratories…designated and visited by the same Ordinaries”. Therefore, it is not permissible for the Mass to be offered by the SSPX, nor by any group or individuals who are not in communion with the Roman Pontiff and the Bishops who are the local Ordinaries of the various dioceses. The celebration of Mass in any form is not permissible, says the Council of Trent, outside of those churches and oratories designated and visited by the local Bishops. Such places do not include the places used by schismatic groups or individuals, who reject the Second Vatican Council, the recent Popes, and Pope Francis.


The traditional Latin Mass of today is the 1962 version of the Tridentine Mass. It has changed repeatedly and very substantially from its original form. It does not date to 1500 plus years ago, but only to about 450 years ago. What is common to both the Masses before the Council of Trent and those of the Tridentine forms are also common to all holy Masses. And the mere use of Latin does not mean that the form was the same, prior to Trent. Then, during those 450 years, multiple Popes made many various changes to the Latin Mass, including general revisions and substantial alterations. This authority is retained by the Popes since Vatican II, who have the same authority to change the Mass, and to institute the vernacular Mass in the Novus Ordo form.

The Mass of the Ages is any holy Mass in any language and in any form approved by the Church. There is no right given to the faithful to follow what one Pope decides about the Mass, while rejecting what the current Pope has decided. Each Pope has the same supreme authority over the Mass, the liturgical rites, the rest of the disciplines, and over doctrine.

If the Roman Pontiff makes the Tridentine Latin Mass available to the faithful, they may attend. But if such a Mass is not available, the faithful must attend the Novus Ordo Mass. They cannot each act as if they were their own Pope, issuing their own judgments about the Mass.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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3 Responses to The Alleged Antiquity of the traditional Latin Mass

  1. Matt says:

    Off topic:

    Blessed Virgin Mary Message,
    February 25, 2022

    “Dear children! I am with you and we pray together. Help me with prayer, little children, that Satan may not prevail. His power of death, hatred, and fear has visited the earth. Therefore, little children, return to God and to prayer, to fasting and to renunciation, for all those who are downtrodden, poor, and have no voice in this world without God. Little children, if you do not return to God and His Commandments, you do not have a future. That is why He sent me to you to guide you. Thank you for having responded to my call. ”

    Ron, this is one of the strongest messages from the Blessed Virgin Mary in Medjugorje that I ever read in the nearly 41 years of apparitions there!

  2. King Robert the Bruce says:

    Very worrying developments in Ukraine I have been watching the news all day the invasion by the Russians there are also reports that Putin has threatened Finland and Sweden not to join NATO. you may be right Ron regarding the Warning and tribulation it is surreal watching this unfold in Europe worrying times indeed.

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