Question by Grace:
I was recently told that I’m risking going to hell if I don’t attend a traditional Latin Mass exclusively. Is this true?
I’ve encountered this on my travels through Catholic circles as well. Easy answer is no, this is not true. But let’s go a little deeper for those that may hold this opinion.
A little history
Before the second Vatican Council, the Mass was celebrated exclusively in Latin and according to the Tridentine Rite. The Tridentine Rite got its name from the fact that it was the Rite establishment by Pope Pius V at the Council of Trent in 1570.
A Rite is the ritual way in which a community celebrates the Eucharistic Liturgy. This is expressed differently among different churches, but always with the same elements existing from the time of the apostles; gathering, scriptural readings, instruction, prayers, and communion.
Prior to this reorganization of the Latin Church, there were several Rites in the western Church, just like there currently exists several different Rites in the Eastern Catholic Church. In 1570 all Rites that were less than 200 years old were suppressed in the Latin Church, this meant that only the Rites of some religious communities (like the Dominican Rite) and several local ancient Rites remained. The Mozarabic Rite in Spain, The Ambrosian Rite from Milan, and the Tridentine Rite.
After the Second Vatican Council, a new Mass was promulgated. This Mass became the official Mass of the Latin Church, and came into effect in 1970. This Mass came to be called the “Novus Ordo” or the Mass of Paul VI.
The Novus Ordo was the only Mass celebrated in the Latin Church for almost 40 years (except in limited places and circumstances, or by groups like SSPX who’s canonical status is either irregular or schism, depending on who you talk to).
Some of the biggest changes from the Trident Mass to the new Mass were the priest celebrating Versus Populum, or facing the people, and also the Mass was regularly said in the vernacular language.
In 2007 the situation changed with Pope Benedict XVI’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. Pope Benedict seen the desire of many Catholics to return to the traditional Mass, and he responded by allowing the Pre Vatican II Mass that was published in 1962 to be celebrated by any priest that desired to do so. He referred to this traditional Mass as “The Extraordinary Form” and to the Mass of Paul VI as “The Ordinary Form.”
Now, 11 years after Summorum Pontificum, some of the most vibrant parishes you’ll find (in the US at least) are parishes that celebrated the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. Young people are flocking to the EF parishes, because they want a Liturgy that feels like they are in heaven, participating in the heavenly Liturgy (CCC 1090).
So now we have two forms of the one Latin Liturgy of the Church, the Ordinary Form and the Extraordinary Form. Pope Benedict stressed that these aren’t two separate Rites, but two forms of the same Roman Rite Mass.
So we see that attending a traditional Latin Mass is an option for all Catholics, but the ordinary form is the regular way in which the Rite is celebrated. Does this mean one is more valuable to the Church than the other, or one more reverent than the other? No. Both are valid forms of the liturgy, and either may be attended to fulfill a Catholic’s Sunday obligation.
It’s my personal opinion that anyone who says “the Novus Ordo Mass is invalid” is walking a very dangerous path. They are essentially saying that despite declarations from Holy Mother Church, they know better. This position isn’t much different from the position taken by a certain German monk in 1517. The fact that Martin Luther and those who challenge the validity of the Novus Ordo Mass are in the same boat of questioning the moral and teaching authority of the Church is ironic.
Don’t get me wrong, I love traditional Liturgy, I love incense and Gregoria’s chant, and I prefer parishes that have very traditional liturgy, but to say the Mass is only valid if it’s the Tridentine Mass is just plain wrong.
The Church has spoken, and we are obliged to listen.
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