The Tridentine Mass in the Church Today

In 1984 Pope John Paul II asked for a report on the acceptance of the New Mass (Novus Ordo) or its rejection.Based on the feedback world wide, the Holy Father sent out the Indult, Quattuor Annos, granting to all dioceses the right to offer the Tridentine Mass with certain conditions based on a fear of possible disrespect for the authority of the Church to introduce the Novus Ordo and that these groups, although preferring the Tridentine, do not deny the True Presence of Christ in the Novus Ordo.The text of Quattuor Annos is below.

This is no more than the conditions the Church asked of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, and his Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X.His refusal to accept the True Presence of Christ in the Novus Ordo, is the only reason the Archbishop and his followers have incurred the grave penalty of excommunication envisaged by ecclesiastical law.

As a result of Quattuor Annos many of Marcel Lefebvre's followers came back into the Church forming new fraternities of priests who celebrate only the Tridentine Mass but do not deny the Novus Ordo as a legitimate Mass.  But this did not end such disobedience not only by the Fraternity of St. Pius X but new groups popped up everywhere, mostly individual priests who were not allowed to continue the Tridentine and went out on their own, separating themselves and their followers from the unity of the Church, which implies in practice the rejection of the Roman primacy and constitutes a schismatic act. Much of this can be explained but not justified.  Explained because of the massive abuse in the liturgies of the Novus Ordo throughout the world and a total disrespect and irreverence for Christ in the Eucharist.  Not justified because the greatest tradition in the Church is obedience to the Holy Father.  Part of what drove these priests out of the Church was that, for the most part, the bishops of the world did not follow the request of the Holy Father in Quattuor Annos, allowing some Tridentine Masses.  In the few cases when did supply the Latin Mass, they  created unexpected difficulties for the worshipers, typically small or out-of-the-way chapels, fine but elderly priests (and hence unable to build up a parish life). Other problems were practical, such as inadequate parking, celebrations after 12:00 PM - in a word - almost anything to show that few people really wanted the old Mass.  Yet, despite this, many flocked to the Tridentine Mass, and continue to flock.  Most important of all is that many were saying that no bishop had the right to deny the Tridentine. By introducing the Novus Ordo, Pope Paul VI had no intention of eliminating or even marginalizing, the Latin Mass..

The Tridentine Has always been legal

So in 1986 Pope John Paul II asked the question. He wanted to know if in fact - 1) Pope Paul VI actually forbid the celebration of the traditional Mass, and - 2) does the priest have the right to celebrate the traditional Mass in public or private without restriction, even against the will of his bishop.  He called together a small Commission of Cardinals to answer this question. The result was unambiguous - no one, priest or laity, can be denied the Tridentine Mass.(History of this report below.)

However, there was some practical problems to making this known.  First of all, as is true of all schismatics, many of these (what has become to be known as) traditionalists have fallen into many other heresies, Feenitism, sedivicantists, etc. For me - and I call myself a traditionalist - I have sadly realized that some even good people have adopted better-than-you attitudes, an attitude which I find un-Christian.  In fact, although some of these do not say it openly, many I feel are contemptuous of the Novus Ordo, not just the palpable abuses of the Novus Ordo.. However, on the other side, the Holy Father anticipated with sadness that  freely allowing all priests to say the Tridentine anywhere in the world, at any time might bring  a result of confusion or even disunity in parishes. Thus, the Holy Father constrained himself in his apostolic letter, using careful  language, hoping to prevent this potential.

The Tridentine should be given to all who want it

So, in 1988 he issued "Ecclesia Dei" and designated it motu proprio. In this letter (shown below), the Holy Father expresses his firm wish that anyone who is attached to the Latin liturgical tradition of the Roman Missal of 1962 should be allowed to have this Tridentine Mass available for them.

Correcting Novus Ordo abuses

This year on March 25, 2004 again Rome put out a document trying to correct the abuses of the Novus Ordo.  This document is called Redemptionis Sacramentum - "On certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist."

(The complete document can be found on my web site at )

Abuses on the right and the left

If you have eyes to see, but do not see, let me try to shed some light on how we reached a place where we had a neglected, almost suppressed the 'Old' Mass - and a "New' Mass in forms undreamed of by both the Council and Paul VI . The last four popes have tried with everything they could do to bring schismatic Protestant and Orthodox sects back into the Church by granting concessions to them on many things. There was, of course, no concession on doctrine nor the need to be united to the Holy Father for unity.  I refer to a document by Pope John Paul II called Ut Unum Sint for which this web site is named.  Not withstanding good intentions, these concessions caused two unexpected things to happen. 1) heretics within the Church abused this 'loosening up' to promote their own agenda, chiefly diluting the faith and pluralizing everything we hold sacred.  And 2) the ultra-traditionalists, seeing the abuses and impatient with the lack of remedy, split from the Church, using the same ill-logic which the Orthodox used in 1054 AD, that the Church was no longer orthodox.

But as you can see by the four documents above, Rome has bent over backwards to keep the Unity of Faith, both between the liberals and the traditionalists.  At the same time Rome has continued to try and correct the abuses of the faith, without seeming  dictatorial (which would not help the ecumenical movement) and to encourage the traditionalists to remain loyal, since they have no ecumenical spirit at all.

The problems

Since the Liturgy (the Mass) is the heart of the Church, the source of all sanctification, the presentation of the Crucifixion, it is in the Liturgy that the future of the Church will be rediscovered.  Hence, correction of all abuses on the right and the left of true faith must be achieved. The problem as I see it is that the far left is trying to take down the faith by making it into a social democratic faith or more likely into whatsoever anyone wants to believe. This has, of course, been promoted openly.  On the far right, we have those who advance their own interpretation of truth based on egghead readings of tradition. I am aware that the communists and Masons have tried to destroy the Liturgy, but people like the Norbatines have managed to do great Liturgies with the Novus Ordo.  Frankly, I freely admit my own preference for the Tridentine mass, and I just as freely insist that it takes a very holy priest to do a Novus Ordo with reverence and honor to God. On the other hand, even a 'bad' priest does a good job with the Tridentine.  However, it takes much more holy people in the pews to participate well in the Tridentine than it does with the Novus Ordo when said by a holy priest. 

I have often thought what I would do if I had some authority in the Church regarding the Liturgy.  For one thing, I cannot say that the Holy Spirit is wrong, when in fact the Holy Spirit was with Vatican II, even if there was an attempt at Vatican II to change the Church.  Even if the Masons and Communists tried to destroy the Liturgy, they could not have been successful with the heart of the Church, the Mass, or the Church would already have failed, which is impossible.

The solution 

I think the perfect solution to these problems derives from St. Thomas' magnificent assertion: "In matters of faith, unity, in devotion, diversity, and in everything else, love." All priests all over the world would say both the Novus Ordo Mass and the Tridentine Mass each and every day for everyone. Therefore everyone could have his or her choice in Liturgies in each and every Church throughout the Latin Rite. Every priest should be able to say any Mass in Latin and by doing this priests could travel all over the world without a local limitations due to custom or language typical of the Novus Ordo.

This is my dream, but then it is quite impossible isn't it?  I thought so, but now I find that this is exactly what one group of people decided to do.  And now we have an order of priests who have done just that but much more. I personally believe that this order is going to restore the Liturgy by example and teaching. They are the:

Society of Saint John Cantius

The Society of St. John Cantius was founded in 1998 by Fr. C. Frank Phillips, C.R. as a Roman Catholic religious community of men dedicated to a restoration of the sacred in the context of parish ministry. Its mission is to help Catholics rediscover a profound sense of the sacred through solemn liturgies, devotions, sacred art, sacred music, as well as instruction in Church heritage, catechetics, and Catholic culture. This mission is reflected in the Society's motto:  Instaurare Sacrum (Restoration of the Sacred).

The purpose of the Society of St. John Cantius is the formation of a Roman Catholic men's diocesan institute, which shall form and train men to be priests and brothers. On December 23, 1999, the memorial of St. John of Kenty (Cantius), Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., Archbishop of Chicago, issued a "Decree approving the statutes and erecting the Society of St. John Cantius as a public diocesan association of the Christian faithful with juridic personality." On January 31, 2002, he gave his approval to the recently completed Spiritual Directory and Book of Customs as the local provisionary rule for the Society of St. John Cantius—the next step toward approval of constitutions for the Society as a diocesan institute. At that time, clerical members of the Society of St. John Cantius will become the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius and will have full faculties to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI (Novus Ordo) in both Latin and English, as well as the Missal of 1962 (Tridentine). 

Members of the Society of St. John Cantius live in common according to the Rule of St. Augustine and their local Rule of Life. Members dedicate themselves to the recovery of the sacred in living the common life, striving for personal sanctity and by seeking the salvation and sanctification of all. In order to achieve these ends, special emphasis will be placed upon the study and implementation of the sacred rites of the Latin Church in their various approved manifestations.

The laity can also affiliate themselves with the Society of St. John Cantius as Associate Members. These may be men who are considering a religious vocation to the Society or individuals, male or female, married or single, who wish to help the advancement of the Society of St. John Cantius in their capacity as a member of the laity.

Along with its founder, the community presently includes three priests, two deacons, three seminarians, one priest in canonical novitiate and six members in formation.

For more information about the Society of St. John Cantius, contact us by e-mail or by letter at: Society of St. John Cantius, 825 North Carpenter Street, Chicago, Illinois 60622.




Indult "Quattuor Abhinc Annos"

on October 3, 1984,

by the Congregation for Divine Worship,

to the Presidents of the world's various Episcopal Conferences.

Most Rev. Excellency:

Four years ago, by order of the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II, the bishops of the whole Church were invited to present a report:

- concerning the way in which the priests and faithful of their dioceses had received the Missal promulgated in 1970 by authority of Pope Paul VI in accordance with the decisions of the Second Vatican Council;

- concerning the difficulties arising in the implementation of the liturgical reform;

- concerning possible resistance that may have arisen.

The result of the consultation was sent to all bishops (cf. _Notitiae_, n. 185, December 1981). On the basis of their replies it appeared that the problem of priests and faithful holding to the so-called "Tridentine" rite was almost completely solved.

Since, however, the same problem continues, the Supreme Pontiff, in a desire to meet the wishes of these groups, grants to diocesan bishops the possibility of using an indult whereby priests and faithful, who shall be expressly indicated in the letter of request to be presented to their own bishop, may be able to celebrate Mass by using the Roman Missal according to the 1962 edition, but under the following conditions:

a) That it be made publically clear beyond all ambiguity that such priests and their respective faithful in no way share the positions of those who call in question the legitimacy and doctrinal exactitude of the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970.

b) Such celebration must be made only for the benefit of those groups that request it; in churches and oratories indicated by the bishop (not, however, in parish churches, unless the bishop permits it in extraordinary cases); and on the days and under the conditions fixed by the bishop either habitually or in individual cases.

c) These celebrations must be according to the 1962 Missal and in Latin.

d) There must be no interchanging of texts and rites of the two Missals.

e) Each bishop must inform this Congregation of the concessions granted by him, and at the end of a year from the granting of this indult, he must report on the result of its application.

This concession, indicative of the common Father's solicitude for all his children, must be used in such a way as not to prejudice the faithful observance of the liturgical reform in the life of the respective ecclesial communities.

I am pleased to avail myself of this occasion to express to Your Excellency my sentiments of deep esteem.

Yours devotedly in the Lord.

+Augustin Mayer, Pro-Prefect
+Virgilio Noe, Secretary.

In 1986, the Holy Father appointed a commission of nine Cardinals to examine the legal status of the traditional rite of Mass, commonly known as the "Tridentine Mass". The commission of Cardinals included Cardinals Ratzinger, Mayer, Oddi, Stickler, Casaroli, Gantin, Innocenti, Palaz-zini, and Tomko was instructed to examine two questions:

1) Did Pope Paul VI authorize the bishops to forbid the celebration of the traditional Mass?

2) Does the priest have the right to celebrate the traditional Mass in public and in private without restriction, even against the will of his bishop?

The Commission, the account stated, unanimously determined that Pope Paul VI never gave the bishops the authority to forbid priests from celebrating the traditional rite of Mass.

Regarding the second question: The Commission stated that priests cannot be obligated to celebrate the new rite of Mass; the bishops cannot forbid or place restrictions on the celebration of the traditional rite of Mass whether in public or in private.

The Commission also recommended that the Pope issue a Papal decree based on the Commission's findings and it was the Pope's intention to issue this decree in November of 1988, but the decree was never issued, due to pressure placed on the Pope from opposing Cardinals.

On May 20, 1995 Alfons Cardinal Stickler gave an address entitled "The Theological Attractiveness of the Tridentine Mass".[2] During the question and answer session after his speech, His Eminence was asked about the Nine Cardinal Commission of 1986 regarding the Tridentine Mass.

It is worth noting that the questions and answers were written down. The Cardinal was free to choose the questions he wanted to answer and he chose to reply to this one.

His Eminence began his remarks by recounting an incident where Eric de Saventhem (former head of Una Voce in Europe) asked explicitly if the Tridentine Mass had ever been forbidden. Cardinal Benelli never answered ... not yes, not no. Cardinal Stickler explained that Benelli "... couldn't say 'yes he (the Pope) forbade it'. He can't forbid a Mass that has been used not only for centuries, but has been the Mass of thousands and thousands of Saints and Faithful." The Cardinal continued, "the difficulty was that he (the Pope) could not forbid it, but at the same time, he wanted that the new Mass be said ... be accepted. And so, he could only say 'I want that the new Mass be said'."

"I was one of the Cardinals"

Cardinal Stickler then addressed the issue of the Commission. He related, "Pope John Paul II asked a commission of nine Cardinals in 1986 two questions:

First, "Did Pope Paul VI or any other competent authority legally forbid the widespread celebration of the Tridentine Mass in the present day?"

The Cardinal explained, "I can answer because I was one of the Cardinals."

He continued, "the answers given by the nine Cardinals in 1986 was 'No, the Mass of Saint Pius V (Tridentine Mass) has never been suppressed'."

The Cardinal also confirmed the incident regarding the Papal decree.

He related that of this commission of nine Cardinals, eight Cardinals were in favor, and one was against, a general permission to be drawn up making it clear that everyone could choose the old Mass as well as the new.

The Cardinal explained that the Pope seemed willing to promulgate this sort of announcement, but a few National Episcopal conferences who found out about the "danger" of this permission, came to the Pope and said "this should not be absolutely allowed because it would be the occasion or the cause of controversy in the people of God -- in the faithful themselves ... one against the other, and so on." Cardinal Stickler explained that in the face of this argument, the Pope abstained from signing this decree.

In answer to the second question, "Can any bishop forbid any priest in good standing from celebrating the Tridentine Mass?", Cardinal Stickler replied, "the nine Cardinals unanimously agreed that no bishop may forbid a Catholic priest from saying the Tridentine Mass."



1. With great affliction the Church has learned of the unlawful episcopal ordination conferred on 30 June last by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, which has frustrated all the efforts made during the previous years to ensure the full communion with the Church of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X founded by the same Mons. Lefebvre. These efforts, especially intense during recent months, in which the Apostolic See has shown comprehension to the limits of the possible, were all to no avail.(1)

2. This affliction was particularly felt by the Successor Peter to whom in the first place pertains the guardianship of the unity of the Church,(2) even though the number of persons directly involved in these events might be few. For every person is loved by God on his own account and has been redeemed by the blood of Christ shed on the Cross for the salvation of all.

The particular circumstances, both objective and subjective in which Archbishop Lefebvre acted, provide everyone with an occasion for profound reflection and for a renewed pledge of fidelity to Christ and to his Church.

3. In itself, this act was one of disobedience to the Roman Pontiff in a very grave matter and of supreme importance for the unity of the church, such as is the ordination of bishops whereby the apostolic succession is sacramentally perpetuated. Hence such disobedience - which implies in practice the rejection of the Roman primacy - constitutes a schismatic act.(3) In performing such an act, notwithstanding the formal canonical warning sent to them by the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops on 17 June last, Mons. Lefebvre and the priests Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta, have incurred the grave penalty of excommunication envisaged by ecclesiastical law.(4)

4. The root of this schismatic act can be discerned in an incomplete and contradictory notion of Tradition. Incomplete, because it does not take sufficiently into account the living character of Tradition, which, as the Second Vatican Council clearly taught, "comes from the apostles and progresses in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on. This comes about in various ways. It comes through the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts. It comes from the intimate sense of spiritual realities which they experience. And it comes from the preaching of those who have received, along with their right of succession in the episcopate, the sure charism of truth".(5)

But especially contradictory is a notion of Tradition which opposes the universal Magisterium of the Church possessed by the Bishop of Rome and the Body of Bishops. It is impossible to remain faithful to the Tradition while breaking the ecclesial bond with him to whom, in the person of the Apostle Peter, Christ himself entrusted the ministry of unity in his Church.(6)

5. Faced with the situation that has arisen I deem it my duty to inform all the Catholic faithful of some aspects which this sad event has highlighted.

a) The outcome of the movement promoted by Mons. Lefebvre can and must be, for all the Catholic faithful, a motive for sincere reflection concerning their own fidelity to the Church's Tradition, authentically interpreted by the ecclesiastical Magisterium, ordinary and extraordinary, especially in the Ecumenical Councils from Nicaea to Vatican II. From this reflection all should draw a renewed and efficacious conviction of the necessity of strengthening still more their fidelity by rejecting erroneous interpretations and arbitrary and unauthorized applications in matters of doctrine, liturgy and discipline.

To the bishops especially it pertains, by reason of their pastoral mission, to exercise the important duty of a clear-sighted vigilance full of charity and firmness, so that this fidelity may be everywhere safeguarded.(7)

However, it is necessary that all the Pastors and the other faithful have a new awareness, not only of the lawfulness but also of the richness for the Church of a diversity of charisms, traditions of spirituality and apostolate, which also constitutes the beauty of unity in variety: of that blended "harmony" which the earthly Church raises up to Heaven under the impulse of the Holy Spirit.

b) Moreover, I should like to remind theologians and other experts in the ecclesiastical sciences that they should feel themselves called upon to answer in the present circumstances. Indeed, the extent and depth of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council call for a renewed commitment to deeper study in order to reveal clearly the Council's continuity with Tradition, especially in points of doctrine which, perhaps because they are new, have not yet been well understood by some sections of the Church.

c) In the present circumstances I wish especially to make an appeal both solemn and heartfelt, paternal and fraternal, to all those who until now have been linked in various ways to the movement of Archbishop Lefebvre, that they may fulfill the grave duty of remaining united to the Vicar of Christ in the unity of the Catholic Church, and of ceasing their support in any way for that movement. Everyone should be aware that formal adherence to the schism is a grave offence against God and carries the penalty of excommunication decreed by the Church's law.(8)

To all those Catholic faithful who feel attached to some previous liturgical and disciplinary forms of the Latin tradition I wish to manifest my will to facilitate their ecclesial communion by means of the necessary measures to guarantee respect for their rightful aspirations. In this matter I ask for the support of the bishops and of all those engaged in the pastoral ministry in the Church.

6. Taking account of the importance and complexity of the problems referred to in this document, by virtue of my Apostolic Authority I decree the following:

a) a Commission is instituted whose task it will be to collaborate with the bishops, with the Departments of the Roman Curia and with the circles concerned, for the purpose of facilitating full ecclesial communion of priests, seminarians, religious communities or individuals until now linked in various ways to the Fraternity founded by Mons. Lefebvre, who may wish to remain united to the Successor Peter in the Catholic Church, while preserving their spiritual and liturgical traditions, in the light of the Protocol signed on 5 May last by Cardinal Ratzinger and Mons. Lefebvre;

b) this Commission is composed of a Cardinal President and other members of the Roman Curia, in a number that will be deemed opportune according to circumstances;

c) moreover, respect must everywhere be shown for the feelings of all those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition, by a wide and generous application of the directives already issued some time ago by the Apostolic See for the use of the Roman Missal according to the typical edition of 1962.(9)

7. As this year specially dedicated to the Blessed Virgin is now drawing to a close, I wish to exhort all to join in unceasing prayer that the Vicar of Christ, through the intercession of the Mother of the church, addresses to the Father in the very words of the Son: "That they all may be one!".

Given at Rome, at St. Peter's. 2 July 1988, the tenth year of the pontificate.

Joannes Paulus PP. II

Richard P. Salbato