Traditional Latin Mass History

It goes by many names—Traditional Latin Mass (TLM), Extraordinary Form (EF), Usus Antiquior ("Ancient Use"), 1962 Missal, Missal of St. Gregory the Great, Mass of the Ages, Tridentine Mass, Classical Mass. It has formed the Church's saints for two millennia and has been passed down faithfully through the ages with no substantial changes. The NWI Latin Mass Community works to preserve it in northwest Indiana for future generations.

Development & Preservation

Pope St. Gregory the Great celebrates Latin Mass
Pope St. Gregory the Great

After Pentecost, the apostles spread throughout the world. The bishops of the metropolises of Rome (the pope), Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Constantinople each maintained their own forms of liturgy. Though originally Greek, the language of the Roman church changed to Latin around the second century. For Roman Catholics, the Traditional Latin Mass descends from this period. Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman remarks, the Traditional Latin Mass is "virtually unchanged since the third century."1

In the sixth century, Pope St. Gregory the Great codified the Mass, especially "Gregorian" chant, which takes its name from him. In the eighth century, the Roman Emperor Charlemagne helped to better standardize prayer books for use across the Empire.

During the Protestant Revolt, abuses crept into the Mass in many places. In an effort to restore the Mass, Pope St. Pius V wrote "Quo Primum" in 1570 and declared, "We grant and concede in perpetuity that...this Missal is hereafter to be followed absolutely...and may freely and lawfully be used." Since his restoration occurred shortly after the Council of Trent, the Traditional Latin Mass is sometimes referred to as the "Tridentine Mass" or the "Missal of St. Pius V."

Second Vatican Council

Pope St. John XXIII celebrates Latin Mass
Pope St. John XXIII offers TLM at Vatican II

The Traditional Latin Mass is the only form of Mass that was celebrated at Vatican Council II.

The Council Fathers approved the constitution "Sacrosanctum Concilium" concerning the Sacred Liturgy. It doesn't call for any major reforms. Instead, it requires that Gregorian chant maintain "pride of place" and that "use of the Latin language is to be preserved." It makes no mention of removing beautiful high altars, Communion rails, or stained glass windows; it didn't call for beautiful paintings to be painted over or statues to be removed; nor does it call for re-orienting the priest to face the people rather than a common direction toward our Lord. It made no changes to the ancient practice of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue while kneeling from a priest.

The loss of these traditions in most places almost led to the complete loss of the Traditional Mass during the tumultuous 1970's.

God Works through the Saints

St. Josemaria Escriva offers Traditional Latin Mass
St. Josemaria Escriva offers the Traditional Latin Mass

Three of the most popular saints of the 20th century kept the Traditional Latin Mass alive. At first, the Vatican issued a limited number of "indults," allowing particular priests and places to offer the TLM. St. Padre Pio and St. Josemaria Escriva2 were among the very first to obtain these indults.

Padre Pio saying a Latin Mass
St. Padre Pio during a Traditional Mass

Intellectuals, scholars, artists, and authors from across Europe petitioned the Vatican to make the Traditional Mass more available in England. The Vatican granted their request in what is sometimes called the "Agatha Christie Indult," after the famous mystery writer and signatory to the petition.

In 1984, Pope St. John Paul II issued "Quattuor Abhinc Annos," asking bishops throughout the world to generously permit celebrations of the Traditional Latin Mass to groups requesting it. He followed it in 1988 with "Ecclesia Dei Adflicta," which called on bishops to be even more generous in offering the TLM. This legislation sought to heal the wounds caused by the liturgical changes but unfortunately weren't respected in every diocese.

Pope Benedict XVI "Frees" the TLM

Cardinal Ratzinger offers Traditional Latin Mass
Then-Cardinal Ratzinger celebrating the Traditional Mass

With the growth of the Traditional Latin Mass throughout the world over the following quarter century, especially among young people, Pope Benedict XVI issued the landmark legislation "Summorum Pontificum" in 2007 with an accompanying explanatory letter to bishops, completely "freeing" the Ancient Liturgy and clarifying that the new form of Mass didn't in any way abrogate the ancient form.

Every Roman Catholic priest may now celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass without seeking permission from his bishop. Furthermore, pastors are required to allow for its celebration whenever a group of people requests it. If a pastor is unable to fulfill their wishes, the bishop must provide a suitable solution; if the bishop does not provide a good solution, a special Vatican commission named "Ecclesia Dei" becomes involved. The document "Universae Ecclesiae" was issued afterwards to clarify, enforce, and protect various points of this momentous legislation.

  1. Newman, J. H. Callista. 1901.
  2. Kwasniewski, P. "Reclaiming St. Josemaria Escriva for the New Liturgical Movement." Sept. 19, 2016.