Learning the Tridentine Mass

Richard Salbato 5-16-2007


Pope Benedict XVI is understood to have signed an "indult", or permission, that would allow Roman Catholics worldwide to celebrate the Tridentine Rite whenever they wished. At present, the old rite can be said only with special permission from a diocesan bishop.  According to Alice Von Hildebrand this indult will be released this May.  This is what Pope Benedict XVI told her face to face in Brazil.  Rumor has it that it may contain some cop-out for bishops but pray that that is not true.  I don’t think this could be true because it would be no different than Pope John Paul II’s indult which is mostly ignored by bishops.

In order to prepare my own family for the return of the Tridentine Mass, I sat down with my children and grandchildren and explained to them what to expect and how to attend the old Mass.  Then we went to their first Tridentine Mass and although it was almost a two hour drive each way, all my grandchildren were so impressed that they want to make the trip every week from now on. 

They were worried about not being able to speak or read Latin and not knowing what to do.  However, with a little explanation ahead of time, they were quite comfortable and impressed with the difference.  It is because of this very small preparation I gave them and because of some emails I have had from priests that made me see a need for this Newsletter.  At least 11 priests have written to me after my newsletter, “Get Ready for the Tridentine Mass”.  http://www.unitypublishing.com/liturgy/TridentineInWeek.htm

They wanted information on what to do to prepare for the Tridentine and how to learn to offer it.  None of these priests ever learned Latin.  I am going to show here that the people do not need to understand Latin at all and the priest only needs to be able to read it.

Preparing Your Church

Because of some of the architectural changes made to churches, there might be some physical changes to the church that will have to be made in order to offer the Tridentine Mass. 

1. The most important thing is that the priest must face the altar (the back wall) so he must be able to stand in the front of the altar.  In many cases the way the altar has been altered he cannot do this now because the steps are too close for the priest to stand in front.  This altar must be moved back at least far enough for the priest to stand in front. Since the Novus Ordo will probably also be offered in the same church, there should be room for the priest in the front and the back.  However, in the Novus Ordo you do not have to face the people, so if the altar were moved to against the back wall (where it should be) it would not be a problem.

2. The altar rail should be replaced so that people can receive communion kneeling.  Even for the Novus Ordo, I cannot think of any logical or religious reason for removing it in the first place.

3. Vestments, altar clothes, candles, a crucifix, patents, etc. are strictly outlined in the Rubrics, so a priest should check on these things before offering the Mass.

4. The Tridentine Mass is more visual than verbal, so all that can be done to decorate the altar should be done: candles, statues, flowers, etc.  St. Francis believed in poverty but he never spared the gold for the altar.  

5. If your church now allows the choir to be on the altar, it must be removed and completely out of sight, either in the back of the church, up in the choir loft, or in a side altar.  No one but the priest and altar boys should be on the altar.

6. If possible you should move the Pulpit off the altar, so that even the readers do not go on the altar.  I prefer that this be raised up high so that the priest can see into the eyes of everyone as he talks.

7. A patent needs to be held by the altar-boy when passing out communion, so if the church does not have patents it needs to buy them. 

8. Although not required, an altar rail cloth should hang from the back side of the altar rail.  Just before communion this cloth is flipped over the altar rail and when people come up for communion they put their hands under the cloth.  This is added protection in case a host or peace of host drops past the patent.

9. Start recruiting more altar-boys (no altar girls) because it is traditional to have four or more altar-boys at each Mass.  This will also increase vocations to the priesthood because this is where God touches boys with this grace.  If your altar is big enough, there is nothing wrong with having 10 or 12 altar-boys. 

10. Having the Tabernacle on the altar would be a great blessing because you will now be facing the altar, and in truth, you should face the altar even in the Novus Ordo.    

What the priest needs to learn

I have at the end of this document the Latin and English of the Tridentine Mass.  A priest only needs to have to be able to read the Latin of the Mass as he can see the English translation and knows what he is saying.  In time he will know the meaning as he says the words over and over.  It would be better to learn Latin but at first it is not necessary.

1. Be able to (at least) read Latin

2. Study the Rubrics of the Tridentine Mass

3. Watch videos of the Tridentine (on the internet or DVDs available – see below) to see movements and postures

4. Do not shout prayers like you do in the Novus Ordo, but speak to God.  It does not matter if the people hear you. Only the altar-boys have to hear the words.

5. After washing you hands in holy water, hold your forefinger and thumb together, not touching anything with them except the host and chalice. Turn the pages of the Sacramentary with your small fingers.

5. Do not pass out communion in the hand or with someone standing.  Always wait for the altar-boy to have the patent under the chin of the communicant.

6. After communion, sit down in private prayer for at least 5 minutes.  Only soft music is appropriate at this time.

7. Come in and out of the church from the vestibule and do not great the people after Mass.  If you have a separate building for coffee or breakfast, you can meet the people there. 

8. Train altar-boys to keep their hands folded like Our Lady of Fatima and to bow down low at each elevation of the Body and Blood of Christ. The people will have the same reverence as the altar boys. 

9. Never pass out the Blood of Christ except in weddings to the bride and groom.  The bread is the Body and Blood of Christ.  So what is the logic in it?

10. Never, ever use extraordinary ministers (so-called Eucharistic Ministers).  See Papal teaching –


11. Except for personal friends, do not get too personal with the parish because it makes it harder for them to go to confession with you.  You are in Persona Christi and should make sure there is respect for you and your hands.

12. Pick a choir by ability to sing and not because someone thinks they can sing.  Have them learn to sing Gregorian Chants in Latin and preferably without microphones.  Never use twangy instruments or music with any kind of beat.  Music with a beat alters minds and does not calm the soul. None of the old church music has a beat. 

What the people need to know

The first thing people need to know about the Tridentine Mass is that it’s emphasis is silent prayer and quiet reflection.  This means that from the moment you walk into the church, you change all your actions from social to prayerful. 

Movements should be reverent and slow. Absolutely no talking, not even a “Hi!”  Treat the Mass is if you were at the foot of the Crucifixion of Christ, silently watching Him offer is sacrifice for your sins, because that is what the Mass is, even the Novus Ordo Mass. Treat the Tabernacle is if you were being presented face to face with the Triune God in Heaven for the first time, because that is who is in that Tabernacle. Christ said to Saint Gertrude: “One idle word in church is worth a hundred years in Purgatory.”  Of course, “idle” means unnecessary but what words are necessary?

1. Dress as if you have died and were about to see God face to face in Heaven.

2. Men should never go to Mass in shorts or short sleeve shirts.

3. Women should dress modestly and feminine (not like men)

4. Women should use veils as is traditional but not mandatory. See “Woman, God’s Last Creation” for the reason.


5. As for standing or kneeling during Mass, just follow the other people or the altar-boys.

6. Music should be sung like a whisper.  The choir is taught to sing to God and not to the people. Unless the church is very large, even speakers are not used because the music should sound like Heavenly background to prayer and not something that beats up the ears and brain, preventing prayer.  If there is a choir there is no reason to sing along with them.  They should be well trained and any singing along should be done very quietly so as not to interrupt the trained singers. 

7. Follow along with the mass in the Missal that is placed in the pews (English on one side and Latin on the other).  If the church has not purchased the missals yet or cannot afford them, you can buy them on the internet.  See below! 

8. After reading the words of the Tridentine (see below) you will see that most of the Mass is the priest praying to God and only when he turns and faces the people does he speak to the people.  This is the high priest (Christ) praying to the Father for us.  It is Christ offering His sacrifice for us, and we are just there watching and thanking God.

9. Remember that people are there to pray, so do not fidget with your rosary or make sounds or movements that would distract others from prayer.  Just use common Church etiquette, which means making others comfortable around you.

10. When going to communion stay in line and go to the next space at the altar rail and kneel down and wait for the priest to come to you.  If there is a communion cloth over the altar rail, but your hands under it. The priest will say, “May the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve your soul unto everlasting life.” You will receive communion on the tongue, bow your head a moment and get up and go back to your pew. Remain kneeling until the priest starts the final prayers of the Mass. 

11. After Mass leave the church without talking because a great many people will remain inside praying and you do not want to interrupt God.  After some distance from the front door, it is time to socialize and share your faith with others.  It would be good if the church has a dinning hall with coffee and donuts because Catholics should get to know each other but not in church.  In the past everything was done at the church and boys and girls met there, husbands and wives met for the first time at church.  Friends were made there.  Faith was shared and taught at the church.  Socialization builds a parish but prayer builds faith. 

12. If you want to teach the parishioners an easy way to share the faith with non-Catholics or fallen away Catholics, write to me and I will show you how to do it even if you do not know your faith well or think that you cannot talk. Future Newsletter!

Best Reference source



IPSO, Information Piety Society of Orthodoxy http://ipsopa.com/  Sign up for free Newsletter.

Comparison of Tridentine and Novus Ordo


Latin-English Translation of Tridentine


Location of Tridentine Masses


Tridentine Web Sites:

The Vatican  benedictxvi@vatican.va  

The Papacy of Pope Benedict XVI

Fraternitas Sacerdotalis Sancti Petri 


Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest

Rev. Fr. John Trigilio, Jr's Website

Confraternity of Catholic Clergy

Coalition in Support of Ecclesia Dei   

Una Voce America

Understanding the Mass