The cover of Monsignor Annibale Bugnini‘s classic work, The Reform of the Liturgy, 1948-1975 (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1990). Bugnini lived from 1912 to 1982 (link). Here is a link to a brief biography (link). Bugnini was for almost 30 years, from 1948 to 1975, the key Vatican figure in organizing the reform of the liturgy, which became the “new Mass”

    Pope Pius V (1504-1572), born Antonio Ghislieri (from age 14 known as Michele Ghislieri, O.P.), standardized the Holy Mass by promulgating the 1570 edition of the Roman Missal. Pius V made this Missal mandatory throughout the Latin rite of the Catholic Church, except where a Mass liturgy dating from before 1370 AD was in use. This form of the Mass remained essentially unchanged for 400 years until Pope Paul VI‘s revision of the Roman Missal in 1969–70, after which it has become widely known as the Tridentine Mass

    Upon assuming the papacy, Ghislieri (Pope Pius V) immediately started to get rid of many of the extravagant luxuries then prevalent in the court. One of his first acts was to dismiss the papal court jester, and no Pope after had one. He forbade horse racing in St. Peter’s Square. Severe sanctions were imposed against blasphemy, adultery, and sodomy. These laws quickly made Pius V the subject of Roman hatred; he was accused of trying to turn the city into a vast monastery. He was not a hypocrite: in day-to-day life Pius V was highly ascetic. He wore a hair shirt beneath the simple habit of a Dominican friar and was often seen in bare feet.” —the entry “Pope Pius V” in Wikipedia (link)

    This ordinance applies henceforth, now, and forever, throughout all the provinces of the Christian world.” —Pope Pius V, in his Apostolic Constitution Quo Primum (“From the very first”), issued on July 14, 1570, 451 years and one week ago. The text is often understood to mean that, by the authority of this Pope, the liturgy of the old Mass — which this text codified — is valid in the Catholic Church “now and forever.”

    Letter #58, 2021, Tuesday, July 20: Reflections on Guardians of Tradition and Pope Pius V (link)

    As I undertake to begin an exploration of what prompted the decision of Pope Francis last Friday, July 16, 2021, to repress the celebration of the old Latin Mass, I realize there are many points of information that must be gathered and presented so that readers may have a better sense of the context of this decision.

    As I wrote yesterday, the “way of praying” (lex orandi) determines the “way of believing” (lex credendi).

    I argued that the different rites of the Mass, or even the different ways of celebrating one rite, can, over time, alter the faith of those who celebrate or participate in those rites.

    For example, a prayer, a Mass, can focus more on God, or on man… more on Christ and His life, death and resurrection, or more on the social issues, the social injustices, of the present time.

    I argued that the reality of Christ, the memory of Christ, the encounter with Christ, is the essential characteristic of Christian prayer; that Christian prayer is “Christocentric” and that this type of prayer protects and deepens and gives strength to Christian faith (lex orandi, lex credendi).

    Implicit in my argument was that the protection and deepening and strengthening of this faith, through Christocentric prayer, through Christocentric liturgy, through a Christocentric Mass, would bear the “good fruit” of a desire for social justice, of a sincere love for neighbor, which those who favor a “human-centric” liturgy say they seek.

    In other words, I was arguing that the better way to true and effective action for “social justice” passes by way of true and profound contemplation of and encounter with Christ.

    Also implicit in this way of argument was the posing of a question: had the Church, or the Church’s leaders, perhaps made a miscalculation when, in 1969-1970, they embraced the “new Mass,” saying they hoped to spark a renewal of commitment to social justice and human brotherhood, by setting the aside the “old Mass”?

    It was a question, not an assertion.

    It was a question prompted not by emotion, or religious fervor, or fanaticism, but by observing varying pieces of evidence.

    One such piece of evidence is the fact — seemingly incontestable — that millions upon millions, tens upon tens of millions, of Catholics have ceased attending regular Sunday Mass since 1970, when the “new Mass” was promulgated throughout the world.

    In the decades prior to the 1960s (and I realize that I may be thinking of a limited historical period, and that prior to the 20th century the situation may have been different) Catholics in many places were assiduous in attending Mass every single Sunday, if possible; so that it was not uncommon that a quite large percentage of Catholics in a parish or diocese, perhaps 50%, perhaps 75%, perhaps still more, would attend Sunday Mass.

    But in many places today, Mass attendance has dropped to 30 percent of all Catholics, or 20 percent, or 10 percent, or even to a smaller percentage.

    Church officials may insist that we call our time a “new springtime” in the liturgical life of the Church.

    But if this is a new springtime, then it is an odd, harsh springtime, marked by bitter frosts which have left wilted plants.

    Men may repeat hopeful phrases as often as they wish, but when those phrases are contradicted by actual evidence, evident to all, we may be in a situation similar to that of the boy in the fable who, when the king, who had been told by his courtiers that his garments were of the finest cloth, strutted by contentedly, cried out: “But the king has no clothes!”

    The boy was young, so he spoke the truth.

    Meanwhile, all the courtiers of the king told him lies, and he believed them.

    Who was disloyal to the king? The boy who told him the truth, so that he could awaken from an illusion and clothe himself? Or the courtiers, who had no real interest in protecting the king from his embarrassing nudity, and the consequent amused mockery or pity of all who looked upon him?

    The boy was in fact loyal.

    In fact, the only one who was loyal.


    I think it is necessary to create the preconditions for a reasoned discussion of these matters by providing some texts.

    It is not possible easily to give 2,000 years of history in a handful of email letters. Yet perhaps a few “fragments” may be helpful in “setting the stage” to prepare for a close reading of Monsignor Annibale Bugnini‘s book on the “reform” of that “new liturgy” of which he was the chief architect.

    Therefore, below, I have given a “cornerstone” text: the Apostolic Constitution Quo Primum (“From the very first”), promulgated by Pope Pius V in 1570.

    As I try to introduce that text, I apologize in advance for any over-simplifications. I am trying to sketch quickly, in broad strokes, in haste, in order to give a glimpse, not an exhaustive photograph. My goal is to reach forward to our present impasse as quickly as I can, though it may take a bit of time…


    The year of Quo Primum, 1570, was about 50 years after Martin Luther launched the Protestant Reformation (in 1517).

    Part of that “reformation” had been a new understanding of the Mass, of the sacraments, of prayer, and therefore (again, lex orandi, lex credendi) of Christian faith itself.

    The Church, and Europe, split apart.

    King Henry VIII ordered St. Thomas More (and Bishop John Fisher) to be beheaded in 1535.

    So the theological debates ended in the shedding of blood, the taking of the lives of holy men, and holy women…

    The sorrow for these events remains after centuries…. and urges us not to repeat such tragedies.


    The division came, more or less, along a line that ran horizontally through Europe, with the north going Protestant and the south remaining Catholic.

    My professor, Dr. Jaroslav Pelikan, a Lutheran who converted to Greek Orthodoxy in his later years — and who always encouraged me to try to find some way to mend, if possible, the torn fabric of Christendom — remarked with a chuckle (to make clear that he understand the words were whimsical): “Wherever they drank beer, they became Protestant; wherever they drank wine, they remained Catholic.” Perhaps it is a helpful way to catch at least a general glimpse of an extremely complex picture.

    The Catholic Church spent the middle decades of the 1500s attempting to confront the consequences of the Protestant Reformation.

    The Council of Trent (1545-1563, link) was “open” for… 18 years.(!)

    In a sense, it was the “Vatican II” of that century.

    And just as Vatican II attempted to chart a course for the Church in the wake of the colossally bloody First and Second World Wars, so the Council of Trent sought to chart a course in the wake of violent Protestant-Catholic clashes.


    The Catholic Church leaders of the 1500s could see that a single Christian culture in Europe which had (more or less) ruled the continent for 1,000 years(!), was now multiple.

    Unity had been lost, with many political powers embracing one or another reformer, one or another Protestant denomination, until religion and politics led to terrible religious wars which raged on until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.

    That experience — of Protestant and Catholic armies slaughtering one another — was the source of the belief that “religious pluralism” was preferable to religious war, and underlay the belief of many in the ecumenical movement of the 20th century that Catholics and Protestants ought to “reason together” and recover a certain unity rather than fight with one another.

    Just after the close of the Council of Trent — which created an architecture of Church teaching against Protestantism we may perhaps liken to a massive fortress, or a stony castle on a windy hilltop, able to withstand hurricane winds of thought, speculation, heresy… an edifice, a castle, which stood for 400 years, until Vatican II, when some of the walls began, intentionally, to be dismantled, with varying results — Pius Vattempted to bring “unity” by promulgating a decree establishing the Roman rite of the Mass for the entire Roman Catholic Church.

    What he decreed was the celebration of… the old Latin Mass.

    The Mass many of us attended as children (I myself did).

    The old Mass Paul VI agreed to revise, or reform, relying principally on… Monsignor Bugnini (whose book we will soon study).

    The old Mass which Pope Benedict revered and tried to protect in 2007.

    The old Mass which Pope Francis has now, in 2021, announced he has decided is “divisive” and must be repressed — evidently, he wishes it to slowly disappear completely.

    It is my opinion that Pope Francis in this has been guided to some degree by others.

    I say this because in July 2013, on the airplane returning from Brazil, Francis in a press conference — the same press conference where he said “who am I to judge” — gave a glowing testimony of respect to… the Byzantine liturgy(!)… which is very intricate, very ancient, very “vertical,” deeply “Christocentric,” and profoundly beautiful…

    So I have some difficulty understanding why Francis, acting on his own, would have launched this uncompromising war on the old Roman Mass, which is the Latin counterpart to the Greek (Byzantine) liturgy, sharing in its antiquity, its Christocentrism, one liturgy Latin, the other Greek).

    Here is what Francis said on that occasion:

    “In the Orthodox Churches, they have retained that pristine liturgy, which is so beautiful. We have lost some of the sense of adoration.

    “The Orthodox preserved it; they praise God, they adore God, they sing, time does not matter. God is at the centre, and I would like to say, as you ask me this question, that this is a richness.

    “Once, speaking of the Western Church, of Western Europe, especially the older Church, they said this phrase to me: Lux ex oriente, ex occidente luxus. [“Light from the East, from the West, luxury”].

    “Consumerism, comfort, they have done such harm. Instead, you retain this beauty of God in the centre, the reference point.

    “When reading Dostoevsky – I believe that for all of us he is an author that we must read and reread due to his wisdom – one senses what the Russian soul is, what the eastern soul is. It is something that does us much good.

    “We need this renewal, this fresh air from the East, this light from the East. John Paul II wrote about this in his Letter.

    “But many times the luxus of the West makes us lose this horizon. I don’t know, but these are the thoughts that come to me.”


    One important point to note: many say, wrongly, that the old Latin Mass “dates from 1570,” the year Pius V promulgated it.


    The old Mass dates at least to Pope St. Gregory the Great (590-604) a thousand years(!) before Pope Pius V, and, arguably, at least in part — and I realize details of this point are debated — all the way back to the Apostles, and so, to Christ Himself.

    In other words, the Mass that Francis has decided — advised, I suggest, by his courtiers — to suppress, is the Mass of the Catholic Church since the beginning.

    That is why it seems old — because it is old, very old.

    And that is why I believe that Francis, if he were in coming weeks or months to reconsider his July 16 decree, reflecting on the value of old Mass as a counterpart to the Byzantine liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (composing it in about 400 A.D., but drawing on liturgical traditions dating back to Christ Himself)… might amend his decree.


    I say this also because of a personal experience.

    Once, when staying in the Domus Santa Marta where Pope Francis lives, my sons and I were guests in his house.

    One morning after Mass, we three — my sons and myself — were alone in the Chapel before the Blessed Sacrament.

    Francis came into the chapel.

    There were no other guards, or priests, no one else at all.

    Francis sat down a few feet from us, perhaps 10 feet away.

    He bowed his head in prayer.

    He prayed for 20 minutes, in silence.

    We three quietly stood up and went out of the chapel. Francis remained alone in prayer.

    After a few minutes, he came out and spoke kindly to the boys, who had just traveled on the Trans-Siberian railroad, and he asked them what they had seen in Russia and Ukraine, and they told him.

    (This was in 2013, in the summer, just after the trip to Brazil mentioned above.)

    Here is the text of Quo Primum, issued by Pope Pius V on July 14, 1570, in which he says that the “old Latin Mass” is to be considered a Mass that may be celebrated by priests of the Roman Catholic Church “forever.”


    Quo Primum (“From the very first”)
Promulgating the Tridentine Liturgy

    By Pope Pius V
July 14, 1570


    From the very first, upon Our elevation to the chief Apostleship, We gladly turned our mind and energies and directed all our thoughts to those matters which concerned the preservation of a pure liturgy, and We strove with God’s help, by every means in our power, to accomplish this purpose.

    For, besides other decrees of the sacred Council of Trent, there were stipulations for Us to revise and re-edit the sacred books: the Catechism, the Missal and the Breviary.

    With the Catechism published for the instruction of the faithful, by God’s help, and the Breviary thoroughly revised for the worthy praise of God, in order that the Missal and Breviary may be in perfect harmony, as fitting and proper – for its most becoming that there be in the Church only one appropriate manner of reciting the Psalms and only one rite for the celebration of Mass – We deemed it necessary to give our immediate attention to what still remained to be done, viz, the re-editing of the Missalas soon as possible.

    Hence, We decided to entrust this work to learned men of our selection.

    They very carefully collated all their work with the ancient codices in Our Vatican Library and with reliable, preserved or emended codices from elsewhere.

    Besides this, these men consulted the works of ancient and approved authors concerning the same sacred rites; and thus they have restored the Missal itself to the original form and rite of the holy Fathers.

    When this work has been gone over numerous times and further emended, after serious study and reflection, We commanded that the finished product be printed and published as soon as possible, so that all might enjoy the fruits of this labor; and thus, priests would know which prayers to use and which rites and ceremonies they were required to observe from now on in the celebration of Masses.

    Let all everywhere adopt and observe what has been handed down by the Holy Roman Church, the Mother and Teacher of the other churches, and let Masses not be sung or read according to any other formula than that of this Missal published by Us.

    This ordinance applies henceforth, now, and forever, throughout all the provinces of the Christian world, to all patriarchs, cathedral churches, collegiate and parish churches, be they secular or religious, both of men and of women – even of military orders – and of churches or chapels without a specific congregation in which conventual Masses are sung aloud in choir or read privately in accord with the rites and customs of the Roman Church.

    This Missal is to be used by all churches, even by those which in their authorization are made exempt, whether by Apostolic indult, custom, or privilege, or even if by oath or official confirmation of the Holy See, or have their rights and faculties guaranteed to them by any other manner whatsoever.

    This new rite alone is to be used unless approval of the practice of saying Mass differently was given at the very time of the institution and confirmation of the church by Apostolic See at least 200 years ago, or unless there has prevailed a custom of a similar kind which has been continuously followed for a period of not less than 200 years, in which most cases We in no wise rescind their above-mentioned prerogative or custom.

    However, if this Missal, which we have seen fit to publish, be more agreeable to these latter, We grant them permission to celebrate Mass according to its rite, provided they have the consent of their bishop or prelate or of their whole Chapter, everything else to the contrary notwithstanding.

    All other of the churches referred to above, however, are hereby denied the use of other missals, which are to be discontinued entirely and absolutely; whereas, by this present Constitution, which will be valid henceforth, now, and forever, We order and enjoin that nothing must be added to Our recently published Missal, nothing omitted from it, nor anything whatsoever be changed within it under the penalty of Our displeasure.

    We specifically command each and every patriarch, administrator, and all other persons or whatever ecclesiastical dignity they may be, be they even cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, or possessed of any other rank or pre-eminence, and We order them in virtue of holy obedience to chant or to read the Mass according to the rite and manner and norm herewith laid down by Us and, hereafter, to discontinue and completely discard all other rubrics and rites of other missals, however ancient, which they have customarily followed; and they must not in celebrating Mass presume to introduce any ceremonies or recite any prayers other than those contained in this Missal.

    Furthermore, by these presents [this law], in virtue of Our Apostolic authority, We grant and concede in perpetuity that, for the chanting or reading of the Mass in any church whatsoever, this Missal is hereafter to be followed absolutely, without any scruple of conscience or fear of incurring any penalty, judgment, or censure, and may freely and lawfully be used.

    Nor are superiors, administrators, canons, chaplains, and other secular priests, or religious, of whatever title designated, obliged to celebrate the Mass otherwise than as enjoined by Us.

    We likewise declare and ordain that no one whosoever is forced or coerced to alter this Missal, and that this present document cannot be revoked or modified, but remain always valid and retain its full force notwithstanding the previous constitutions and decrees of the Holy See, as well as any general or special constitutions or edicts of provincial or synodal councils, and notwithstanding the practice and custom of the aforesaid churches, established by long and immemorial prescription – except, however, if more than two hundred years’ standing.

    It is Our will, therefore, and by the same authority, We decree that, after We publish this constitution and the edition of the Missal, the priests of the Roman Curia are, after thirty days, obliged to chant or read the Mass according to it; all others south of the Alps, after three months; and those beyond the Alps either within six months or whenever the Missal is available for sale.

    Wherefore, in order that the Missal be preserved incorrupt throughout the whole world and kept free of flaws and errors, the penalty for nonobservance for printers, whether mediately or immediately subject to Our dominion, and that of the Holy Roman Church, will be the forfeiting of their books and a fine of one hundred gold ducats, payable ipso facto to the Apostolic Treasury.

    Further, as for those located in other parts of the world, the penalty is excommunication latae sententiae, and such other penalties as may in Our judgment be imposed; and We decree by this law that they must not dare or presume either to print or to publish or to sell, or in any way to accept books of this nature without Our approval and consent, or without the express consent of the Apostolic Commissaries of those places, who will be appointed by Us. Said printer must receive a standard Missal and agree faithfully with it and in no wise vary from the Roman Missal of the large type (secundum magnum impressionem).

    Accordingly, since it would be difficult for this present pronouncement to be sent to all parts of the Christian world and simultaneously come to light everywhere, We direct that it be, as usual, posted and published at the doors of the Basilica of the Prince of the Apostles, also at the Apostolic Chancery, and on the street at Campo Flora; furthermore, We direct that printed copies of this same edict signed by a notary public and made official by an ecclesiastical dignitary possess the same indubitable validity everywhere and in every nation, as if Our manuscript were shown there.

    Therefore, no one whosoever is permitted to alter this notice of Our permission, statute, ordinance, command, precept, grant, indult, declaration, will, decree, and prohibition.

    Would anyone, however, presume to commit such an act, he should know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.

    Given at St. Peter’s in the year of the Lord’s Incarnation, 1570, on the 14th of July of the Fifth year of Our Pontificate. 

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