The Tridentine Reform


From Lux Occidentalis, by Fr. John Connely
Used by permission.

One of the myths presently circulating about the Rite of St. Gregory the Great is that it is "Tridentine"—i.e., it is no older than the Council of Trent [1545-1563]. This criticism is made by those who know nothing about either this Rite or the Council of Trent or the Missal of Pius V [1570]. In fact, all that was done at Trent, liturgically speaking, was to standardize the worship of the West. This was done principally in two ways:

First, the Council (together with Pope Pius V) suppressed all Western Rites that did not have a continuous history of at least two hundred years. This effectively eliminated all but the Ambrosian Rite of Milan, the Mozarabic Rite of Toledo, Spain, and the Gregorian Rite of the City of Rome itself, sometimes therefore called the Roman Rite. [* Simple variations within the Roman Rite, such as existed among the Benedictines, Dominicans, etc., were permitted to remain, but have lapsed since the liturgical reforms of the 1960s.] In the 16th century the Gregorian or Roman Rite already had a continuous documented history of more than 1000 years. It therefore became the standard Rite of most of post-Schism Western Christendom. Session XXII [17 Sept. 1562] of the Council issued a series of definitions on the sacrificial doctrine of the Mass, but no change in the actual text of the Rite.

Secondly, the Council of Trent standardized the rubrics of the Gregorian Rite. This meant that when and how the celebrant and other ministers bowed, genuflected, turned to the faithful, etc., was no longer left to the whim or personal style of the individual clergyman. For the sake of propriety, detailed instructions about how to actually celebrate the liturgy were drawn up and imposed upon the whole of the Western Church. Most of these rubrics were not new inventions, however. They were mostly adopted from the customary rubrics of the cathedrals and parish churches of the City of Rome and its surrounding countryside towns and villages. This was logical because Rome was the de jure center of Western Christendom. Thus, by the 16th century even the rubrics already had a long and venerable history and were hardly an innovation of the Counter Reformation.

In the words of Fortescue:

"Essentially the Missal of St. Pius V is the Gregorian Sacramentary; that again is formed from the Gelasian book which depends on the Leonine collection. We find the prayers of our Canon in the treatise de Sacramentis and allusions to it in the fourth century. So our Mass goes back, without essential change, to the age when it first developed out of the oldest liturgy of all. It is still redolent of that liturgy, of the days when Caesar ruled the world and thought he could stamp out the Faith of Christ, when our fathers met together before dawn and sang a hymn to Christ as to a God. The final result of our enquiry is that, in spite of unsolved problems, in spite of later changes, there is not in Christendom another rite so venerable as ours."1

The point is: the Rite of St. Gregory was not "created" by the Council of Trent. Furthermore, as used in Orthodox Christianity today, this Rite contains a few corrections and amplifications unknown to the earlier generations of Roman Catholics; these were imposed in modern times by the wisdom of the Orthodox Church in order to bring the Rite fully into harmony with the intent and current practice of Byzantine liturgical theology. With the exception of new Propers introduced to commemorate various saints of the post-schism Eastern calendar, the Rite remains essentially identical to that which was already ancient by the time of Trent.

 

The Revd. John Connely is a graduate of the University of Colorado and holds the degree Artium Magistri Religionem from Yale University. He is Pastor of St. Mark's Parish, Denver, Colorado and Dean of the Central States Deanery, Western Rite Vicariate, The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.


1 A. Fortescue, The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy (London, 1917). p. 213.