Liturgical Diversity in the Third Millennium

The liturgy in the West, today, is far richer than that set forth in the liturgical books promulgated by Pope Paul VI.

In the 1970s, it was generally assumed that the liturgical reform, called for by Vatican II, had taken its final shape with the publication of the new liturgical books. Recent events have shown clearly, however, that the liturgy in the West, today, is far richer than that set forth in the liturgical books promulgated by Pope Paul VI.

Recent decisions regarding the extraordinary or older form of the Roman Rite, the Anglican Catholic Rite, and the ancient rites of religious orders, opened the door to a rich variety of rites. In the 1970s, however, most insisted that, outside of a few places in Milan, Spain, and Portugal, there was only one way to celebrate a Latin or Western Mass: the Roman Rite of Paul VI. The flexibility of the newer, or ordinary form, of the Roman Rite has proven to be an inadequate substitute for a variety of rites.

The most important alternative to the ordinary form of the Roman Missal, promulgated by Paul VI, is the extraordinary or older form of the Roman Mass. This form of the Mass has a much more extensive, richer text of its ordinary parts. It has fewer Gospels, Epistles, and Lessons. Unlike the newer form, there is never both an Epistle and a Lesson on the same day. The older rubrics are much more detailed and strict than the newer ones. There are more allowed variations in the newer form than in the older one. Unlike the very flexible newer rite, there are a very limited number of forms the older right can take. The flexibility of the newer rite has not always been completely positive. The alternatives to the newer form of the Roman Rite are described below, with special attention to the older form of the Roman Rite, which is the only alternative most pastors will encounter.

Many people currently misunderstand what distinguishes the two forms of the Roman Mass. One misunderstanding relates to language. Some think the older form is only celebrated in Latin, although in many countries, including the United States, the Leonine Prayers after Low Mass are in the vernacular. There is also a limited ability to use the language of the people in the Liturgy of the Word. Permission to celebrate in German was given briefly, and had long expired when the 1962 Missal was promulgated. Celebration in Greek lasted into the Middle Ages; the date it ended is uncertain. The newer form of the Mass is usually celebrated in the language of the people, but this form is also regularly celebrated in Latin. The older form is almost always celebrated with the celebrant facing the liturgical East, most of the time, while the newer form is usually celebrated facing the majority of the people. But both forms may be celebrated either way, especially when the architecture of the Church requires it. Vestments have changed over the years, but the newer form may be celebrated in the older vestments, and the newer gothic chasuble may be used in the older form as part of a complete set of vestments, as required in 1962.

The older extraordinary form is contained in the 1962 Missal. It is not the 1964 or 1967 Missal. The reforms of the Venerable Pius XII are part of the 1962 Missal. These include the suppression of the Confiteor immediately before communion, and the optional nature of the Leonine Prayers. There are three basic forms of the older rite, plus pontifical forms when celebrated by a bishop, and certain other prelates. Prior to the time of Pius XII, the ordinary form of the Missa Cantata, or sung Mass, was without incense, a master of ceremonies, and torches. The more solemn form of the Missa Cantata required an indult. Pope Pius XII made the more solemn form ordinary, which is the one we normally see today. The Missa Cantata is celebrated by a priest with a choir, and, ideally, with about ten altar servers, but can be celebrated with as few as three. The Epistle (or Lesson) can be chanted by a cleric (in cassock and surplice) other than the celebrant. This includes tonsured seminarians in a traditional seminary, but not seminarians from modern seminaries, below the order of Deacon.

The low Mass is another form of the older rite. Pius XII allowed, and encouraged, teaching the congregation to participate, viva voce, in the Low Mass, Vatican II encouraged this, as well. The low Mass, however, can also be celebrated in a more traditional way, with the responses given only by the altar boys, or, in the absence of altar boys, by only one or a few members of the congregation, or by the celebrant himself. The Congregation is permitted to participate in the responses.  In 1962, in congregations that had not been taught how to participate verbally, trained altar boys sometimes joined in for the responses.  In convents, it was a traditional practice for Mass to be celebrated, without altar boys, but with all of the nuns, or a few of them, giving the responses.  The low Mass is celebrated by a priest with one or two altar boys, with a larger number of servers allowed. One feature of all three forms of the older Mass, which is particularly apparent in the low Mass, is that much of it is celebrated secreto, or in a tone of voice that is inaudible to the great majority of the congregation. In the 1964 and 1967 Missals, the Cannon was no longer prayed secreto, but the 1964 and 1967 practices are no longer allowed. There are variations in the low Mass if one of the altar boys is a cleric, but this does not include seminarians from modern seminaries, below the order of Deacon.

The third form of the older Mass by a priest in a parish church is the Solemn High Mass. This requires a fully vested deacon, and subdeacon, along with a number of other ministers, as well as three liturgical books, incense, a master of ceremonies, torches, and a humeral veil. A cleric-seminarian in a traditional institute under the jurisdiction of the Commission Ecclesia Dei may replace the subdeacon, but a seminarian-lector, or seminarian-acolyte, in an ordinary seminary may not. If the subdeacon is replaced by a person not in major orders, he does not wear a maniple, or touch the chalice with his hands.

Most questions about how the extraordinary rite is to be celebrated are settled in an Instruction of April 30, 2011. This makes it clear that there is an obligation to make reasonable accommodations for those who want the older form; with instruction being offered in the seminaries. The Instruction makes it clear that the two forms of the Roman Mass cannot be mixed at all. The Mass is to be celebrated the way it was intended to be celebrated: under the 1962 Missal. It is not, however, to be a museum piece, frozen in time. The addition of new saints and new prefaces is anticipated. At low Mass, the Gospel and Epistle (or Lesson) may be proclaimed in Latin alone, in Latin and then in the language of the people, or in the language of the people only. This is not intended as a change in the existing rules. This seems to imply that when the readings are repeated in the vernacular, this is part of the Mass, and the maniple does not need to be removed, as was the frequent practice in 1962. Since Vatican II treats preaching as part of the Mass, it is not necessary to remove the maniple to preach.

In some churches, the altar boys kiss the celebrant’s hand at certain points in the Mass. This practice was in the rubrics, but over a generation before 1962, it died out. This indicates that it is not required. Many clerics and seminarians wear birettas at the older form of the Mass. They should remove them, and put them back on, according to the 1962 rubrics. Monks and friars seldom wear birettas, and never wear them with a cowl. Women are more likely to cover their heads at an older form of the Mass, than at a newer one. The manner of distributing communion in the older form of the Mass must conform to the 1962 practices, and not the more modern ones.

There are certain questions that may arise which were never anticipated in 1962. For example, if there is a microphone on the altar, common sense favors turning if off, at least from the offertory until the last Gospel. In 1962, nobody anticipated that a mixed military unit of men and women would attend Mass in the same military formation. Again, common sense suggests that the men remove their caps in unison, while the women leave theirs on, although this may offend some feminists.

The special Ember Day form of the Mass, traditionally celebrated in a small number of European churches, was never allowed in the United States. On Ember Days, however, the older form of the Mass must be celebrated with the prayers and genuflections in the 1962 Missal.

The April instruction makes it clear that the ceremonies of the sacred triduum may be celebrated according to both forms of the Roman Rite in the same church.

Other rites that will now enrich our liturgical life are the ancient ones of orders of friars and monks, especially that of the Dominicans. The question of the Dominican rite has been discussed in the Order of Preachers for some time. The April instruction makes it clear that individual friars and monks can celebrate the older rite of their order, without the need of permission. This is even clearer in the Latin text than the English one. We should now see not only the older form of the Roman Rite, but also the Dominican Rite.

The third major alternative to the newer form of the Roman Rite is the Anglican Rite. At the time of Saint Pius V, all the dozens of rites of the British Isles were suppressed. New priests had to be trained in seminaries outside of Britain, and be secretly sent back to Britain, risking  their own lives in doing so. The only practical way to do this was to use only the Roman Rite. The largest of the suppressed rites was the Salisbury, or Sarum, Rite.

A few years ago, when several parishes of Anglicans rejoined the Catholic Church, they were allowed their own liturgy, which has many elements derived from the Sarum Rite. The Church is now in the process of erecting prelatures for Anglican Catholics in many English-speaking countries. This process may increase the number of priests celebrating the Anglican Rite in the United States, from a handful, to about a hundred.

Finally, there is some speculation that the Mozarabic Rite may someday be authorized for Spanish-speaking Americans. This liturgy is quite different from the other Western rites, in that it completely escaped the standardizing pressures of the Carolingian period.

In summary, contrary to the expectations of the 1970s, we are likely to have at least three major forms of the liturgy. One of these will be the ordinary and most common one, but the others will be ancient and rich, appealing to those who appreciate their beauty. The extraordinary rites will continue to attract seminarians and congregations in great numbers. Perhaps, we all need to ask ourselves if we trusted that the Holy Spirit was preparing something beautiful when he inspired the Second Vatican Council to call for liturgical renewal.

Charles G. Mills About Charles G. Mills

Charles G. Mills received his bachelor of arts degree in Latin and Greek from Yale in 1962, his law degree from Boston College in 1967, and his L.L.M.(Masters of Law) from Touro College in 2002. He served in the United States Army from 1962 to 1964. He is the "Judge Advocate" or general counsel to the New York State American Legion. He has published two law review articles; he has also published articles in numerous bar association publications on the law of veterans' benefits. His L.L.M. required advanced, independent study of both the law of veterans' benefits and constitutional law.


  1. In a world that is increasingly ‘globalized’ one is suprised to find the reverse having happened in the Church since the 60’s. We went from one standard and ancient rite for the majority of Catholics (the other rites were relatively small in comparison) to now having at least two offical rites within the Latin rite itself and don’t forget that the Novus Ordo is so open to changes and special considerations that it can’t really even be called a rite (properly understood), not to mention the fact that most priests do whatever they want anyway.
    My final comment is simple: the official worship of God in the Church is a big mess, and until the issue of uniformity and orthodoxy in the liturgy is addressed, the faithful will remain scattered.

    • Avatar Jonathan says:

      You missed the whole point of what he said. There is unity in diversity. The word catholic. The world is bigger than your own experiance. And so is GOD>

      • Hear hear !! :)

        I have to admit to be wholly confused by the article. I don’t understand why the Mass has to be made sound like rocket science.

        However I agree that there is unity in diversity as diversity in unity. Three in One and One in Three.

        Ut unum omnes sint.

  2. I can only reiterate what was mentioned above. “the official worship of God in the Church is a big mess, and until the issue of uniformity and orthodoxy in the liturgy is addressed, the faithful will remain scattered”.

  3. In the 1960’s early I wanted to be an altar boy. A nun tried to teach some of the latin and I had truoble saying the words and the nun said that I could not learn latin. It is good that mass is said in the vernacular english. When I watch ewtn mass when the priest start saying the mass in laitn from english I turn the channel. If mass was still said in latin i would have left the church. Some people can not learn or speak latin.

    • Avatar Jonathan says:

      Thanks very much Gary, I’m glad you spoke up for the majority of hard working simple people who are the majority of the people in these United States. Jesus never spoke Latin, and the first Mass, the Last Supper wasn’t in Latin. The first consecration, the Last Supper, wasn’t in Latin. So Gary thanks for speaking up for us little people.

      • Yes thank you Gary for speaking common sense too. If people wish the Mass in Latin, then they can have that. Or French, German, Dutch, Italian or even Aramaic.

        I went to a Latin Mass in our parish last month. I spent so much of the time trying to follow the priest with my head, trying to follow and understand what he was saying, when I could even hear him with his back to us – that my heart could not do what it has been doing for years – trying to live the experience; belief of being ‘present’ at Calvary, offering the self and all creation, fallen as we are, with Christ Crucified, through Him, with Him and in Him to the Father – and receiving the power of Jesus Glorified – Body. Blood Soul and Divinity. Communion.

        You have a simple heart felt faith, you are blessed in that and keep it that way. :-)

        The Mass is an experience of faith, of the heart – not something for spiritual obsessive compulsives who care more about ‘Latin and rubrics’ than the faith filled and heart felt worship of God – in spirit and truth. :-)

  4. ” If mass was still said in latin i would have left the church.”
    So much for the Real Presence then.

    “Some people can not learn or speak latin.”
    Which is why there were, routinely, easy-to-read English translations.
    Also, the ash judgment of a harsh nun is hardly proper grounds for assessing much.

  5. Avatar Fr. Peter J. DiMaria says:

    I am intrigued by the fact that the Mr. Mills makes a distinction between “clerical” seminarians and lector/acolyte seminarians as to their function at an EF Mass. Is this his opinion or does this distinction exist in some document? Since Paul VI abolished minor orders in favor of lector/acolyte ministries and stated that the clerical state begins with ordination to the diaconate, are those seminarians who are in a traditional seminary really clerics or are they simply observing a previous custom with no canonical effect? If the traditional seminarians are not really clerics (as it would seem to me), then it would seem that the seminarians who received the ministry of lector and acolyte could function in those capacities at the EF.

  6. i think there should be one language for catholic liturgical worship. catholic church is God’s kingdom on earth.
    so in this kingdom there should be one king, one language of worship, one form of worship, sunday gospel reading must be the same all over the world. means uniformity is always from God. diversity is from world. ( look at other religions: wherever muslims live they worship in arabic only. wherever hindus live they worship in sanskrit only. why God’s children worship in all different languages in differnt forms. God wants us to be one through worship ( in every means).
    Refer. St. Bede: on the tabernacle
    ST.Bede: on the temple

    • Avatar Jonathan says:

      Where do you find God saying he wants ONE FORM of worship. Where does that come from?

  7. Avatar Sallie Roberts says:

    The Vatican II liturgy mess is a problem. How to get back to one choice, unless a priest has a special reason for another rite, is supposedly a concern the pope is undertaking. Let’s pray he manages to give us all the same basic liturgy and also to turn the priests back around to the altar. Somehow choice in such a serious matter as having a common liturgy is a very protestant idea and leads to confusion in my opinion.
    The beauty of Roman Catholicism is that we have guidance and not choice — as a convert, I appreciate that more than cradle Catholics who may be convinced the church is often dictatorial.
    There is much comfort in unity and it is lost in the Vatican II liturgy to me. Latin seems more serious and unifed in our common prayer to God in worship. It makes it stand apart as a special language of prayer to God.
    I hope we get one liturgy back , the priests facing the altar, and the old lLatin text– it iwas more inspiring…. and comforting!

    I hope we return to it –the translations on the lefthand side were fine to me when I first encountered the Mass.

    • Avatar Jonathan says:

      You may attend that Mass if you want, that’s your option. But please don’t force that option on every one. The church in her wisdom invites unity in diversity. If it makes some people uncomfortable, so be it.

  8. Mr. Mills with all due respect,- to your statement “if we trusted the Holy Spirit was preparing something beautiful when he inspired the Second Vatican Councilto call for liturgical renewal” is a gross over statement. The PROGRESSIVE/LIBERAL’s “inspiration”, NOT the Holy Spirit ,in the Second VC destroyed the mass. I personally know many Catholic’s who no longer attend mass because of all the outrageous changes. As Pope Paul 6th once said…the smoke of satan has entered thru the cracks in the church.!! It began with the Second VC.

  9. Avatar Fr. Frank Bass says:

    The article is an interesting one. However, there is what must be a repeated typographical error. There is no such thing as the “Salem Rite.” The Salisbury recension of the Roman Rite is the Sarum, not the Salem, Use.

    • HPR Site Admin HPR Site Admin says:

      Thank you for catching the mistake on “Salem” vs. “Sarum” Rite. It has been corrected.
      -HPR Managing Editor


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