Whose Rite? A Response to E. Tyler Graham

Recently, E. Tyler Graham wrote an article for this publication1 which called for a greater attentiveness to “shepherding the faithful out of the 1962 missal.” In this article, while there were several valid points, there was also much that was flawed and ultimately missed the point. I don’t identify myself as a “traditionalist” per se, but I have attended the Extraordinary Form fairly regularly over the past several years, so I have a great love and appreciation for it. I also recently completed my Master’s in Theology, in which my appreciation for the Second Vatican Council was deepened. In this article, then, I wish to offer a counter-proposal to what Graham suggests, and to highlight the one key point that seems to be missing from current discourse on Traditionis Custodes.

Will the real Roman Rite please stand up?

Central to Graham’s thesis, as well as to Traditionis Custodes, is the idea that the Missal of Paul VI is now “the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.”2 This point has been emphasized constantly in the discourse surrounding the motu proprio. Yet it also overlooks a fairly massive question: namely, can the Missal of Paul VI really be called the Roman Rite in any substantive way? Some, such as the current head of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Archbishop Arthur Roche, say yes, and support their claim with assurances that “the Missal [of Paul VI] retains the basic structure of that of Pius V, together with ninety percent of the texts of that Missal.”3 However, this claim can scarcely be supported.

For starters, one wonders what Archbishop Roche means when he says that the Missals of Pius V and Paul VI have the same basic structure. If he is referring to a very general outline, such that they both have an entrance, penitential rite, etc., the claim is true, but trivial. For this doesn’t address the question of what makes the Roman Rite its own rite. All of the various rites of Christendom, considered in the most general way, have the same basic structure of entrance, penitential rite, readings, etc. The question here is what makes the Roman Rite to be Roman, and does not appear to be addressed by Archbishop Roche. Additionally, this claim does not address the fact that significant elements of the structure of the Missal of Pius V are lacking in the Missal of Paul VI, such as the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, the Last Gospel, elements of the offertory, etc.

Moreover, if Archbishop Roche’s claim about structure refers also to the liturgical year, then the divergence becomes even more striking. Gone are the pre-Lenten season, Passiontide, the Ember and Rogation Days, the (very ancient) Octave of Pentecost. The season now labeled Ordinary Time represents a departure as well, as it is no longer reckoned on the basis of the cardinal feasts of Epiphany and Pentecost.

If next we consider the claim that “ninety percent” of the texts of the Missal of Pius V are included in the Missal of Paul VI, we once again see that this is simply untrue. The bulk of the texts in whatever missal are contained in the orations and the readings. As Matthew Hazell has shown at New Liturgical Movement, only a mere 13% of the orations of the Missal of Pius V survive unchanged in the Missal of Paul VI. (The number is slightly higher if edited and re-ordered prayers are considered, but the figure is nowhere near ninety percent.)4  52.6% of the prayers of the Missal of Pius V, by his estimation, are unused in any way in the Missal of Paul VI.

The readings don’t fare much better. The claim is often made that the new lectionary is better because the faithful have more access to Scripture and, over the course of the three-year cycle, most if not all of the Bible is read. The reality, however, is much different. As Roseanne Sullivan noted in her review of Matthew Hazell’s book Index Lectionum: A Comparative Table of Readings for the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite, only about 13.5% of the Old Testament and 71.5% of the New Testament is read over the three-year cycle.5 To be fair, the lectionary of the Extraordinary Form uses considerably less Scripture (being on a one-year cycle rather than three), and the inclusion of more Old Testament readings, I think, is a good thing. But many passages of Scripture of the Old Rite were either removed, edited, or moved to different days.

To borrow from scholastic terminology, if the structure of the Missal is considered the form, and the content the matter, it is difficult to see how the Missal of Paul VI can be called the Roman Rite in any substantive way, since neither form nor matter is the same between either of them. Thus, with scholars such as Laszlo Dobszay,6 I argue that, while perhaps the Missal of Paul VI can be called the Roman Rite by a very loose analogy (insofar as it is the rite currently in use by the Roman Church and promulgated by the same), it simply cannot, it seems, in good faith be called a reform or continuation of the Missal of Pius V.

What Did Vatican II Actually Say?

Graham goes on to discuss the oft-repeated accusation that the Missal of Pius V seems to be tied to a rejection of the Second Vatican Council. The remedy to this, he argues, is to shepherd people back to the “Mass of Vatican II” and thus bring about greater unity in the Church and greater acceptance of the Council. In particular, he argues that the continued use of the 1962 Missal is contrary to the wish of Vatican II to reform the liturgy.

Here, I would agree with Graham, but with qualifications. I used to be of the opinion that the way forward liturgically was to “reset the clock” to the 1962 missal (or perhaps the pre-55 Missal), and then leave it alone to organically develop. However, now I am of the opinion that the way forward is not going back, but going forward, in line with what Vatican II actually wanted, which is the key point missed in current discourse. It is ironic (and, frankly, exhaustingly frustrating) to hear the constant tut-tutting and hand wringing that those attached to the older missal are going against the wishes of Vatican II, when the vast majority of parishes today are in the same predicament.

With Laszlo Dobszay, I make a distinction between what the Council wanted concerning the liturgy, and what Bugnini and the Consilium actually did. In Sacrosanctum Concilium, we read that: Latin is to be retained, with some usage of the vernacular,7 the “traditional customs and disciplines of the sacred seasons are to be revised or restored” to fit the needs of modern times,8 and Gregorian chant is to be given “pride of place in liturgical services.”9

On these three counts, most modern parishes fail. The calendar, as mentioned above, was not preserved but rather substantially changed. Most parishes no longer use Latin in any capacity, and Gregorian chant is rarely heard outside of Extraordinary Form communities. In short, the basic practice of most parishes does not conform to the explicit wishes of Vatican II. With Dobszay, I would argue the way forward is to actually implement what Vatican II wanted, with the 1962 Missal as a starting point.

Dobszay gives very practical suggestions in his The Restoration of the Roman Rite for how this would be carried out. For example, he proposes adding additional Old Testament readings to the one-year lectionary for Advent and Lent, adapting Gregorian chant to allow smaller parishes to sing the Mass, as well as translating the proper texts into the vernacular, etc. But the basis for such changes would be the 1962 missal, since the fathers of Vatican II did not call for a new rite. If it is true, as Dobszay and others argue, that the Missal of Paul VI is not the Roman Rite, then Bugnini and his Consilium are just as guilty of rejecting Vatican II as the traditionalists.

True Tradition

Graham brings his article to a close by discussing his worries that traditionalists are gravitating toward a Protestant spirit. In this spirit, he argues, traditionalists are in danger of developing a constant skepticism (and sometimes rejection) of the Church’s authority and exalting “tradition alone.” Indeed, there is a vocal minority among traditionalists for whom this is true. I stress, however, that it is a minority. At least from my experience, most people in the pews who attend the Extraordinary Form do not hold any kind of animus against the authority of the Church, nor do they cling to “tradition alone.”

However, it is admitted even by the most ardent “spirit of Vatican II” types that there are many statements in the Council that are ambiguous, and this ambiguity has been exploited by many to promote ideas antithetical to both the Council and to tradition as a whole. Most EF attendees are simply looking for clarity and an explanation of Vatican II that accords with tradition. In addition, many attendees have been hurt and traumatized by bad liturgy, and by clergy who wrote off their concerns as “backward, old-fashioned, against the Council” and so on. For them, the issue is primarily liturgical, not theological. If the Church were to implement what Vatican II actually wanted, reform the Roman Rite, and then do it by the book, the Extraordinary Form could be eventually left behind without much more ado.


The Second Vatican Council brought about much-needed developments for the Church. In particular, it called for a rediscovery of the riches of the Church’s liturgical life. Many Catholics, however, have not seen the fruits of the Council manifested in the Missal of Paul VI and its celebration in many places. As such, they have turned to the riches contained in the Missal of Pius V. The solution to this problem is not to urge them back into the Missal of Paul VI simpliciter, but to take another look at whether the reform initiated at Vatican II actually did its job, and to correct whatever is lacking. By thus correcting the lex orandi, the Church will again find unity in its lex credendi and its lex vivendi.

  1. E. Tyler Graham, “Shepherding the Flock Out of the 1962 Missal,” Homiletic and Pastoral Review, November 2021, www.hprweb.com/2021/11/shepherding-the-flock-out-of-the-1962-missal/.
  2. Motu Proprio Traditionis Custodes, art. 1.
  3. Arthur Roche, “The Roman Missal of Saint Paul VI: A witness to unchanging faith and uninterrupted tradition,” Notitiae 597 (2020), pp. 248–258, at p. 251, quoted in Matthew Hazell, “Mythbusting: How much of the 1962 Missal is Actually Used in the Post-Vatican II Missal?” New Liturgical Movement, July 14 2021, www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2021/07/mythbusting-how-much-of-1962-missal-is.html#.
  4. Matthew Hazell, “‘All the Elements of the Roman Rite?’ Mythbusting Part II” at New Liturgical Movement, October 1 2021, www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2021/10/all-elements-of-roman-rite-mythbusting.html#.
  5. Roseanne Sullivan, “Index Lectionum: Scripture Usage in Roman Catholic Masses Before and After Vatican II, A Book Review” at Homiletic and Pastoral Review, www.hprweb.com/2017/01/index-lectionum-scripture-usage-in-roman-catholic-masses-before-and-after-vatican-ii/.
  6. See his books The Bugnini Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform and The Restoration of the Roman Rite.
  7. Sacrosanctum Concilium, art. 36, no. 1.
  8. Sacrosanctum Concilium, art. 107.
  9. Sacrosanctum Concilium, art. 116.
Alex Erickson About Alex Erickson

Alex Erickson is a recent graduate of the Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul, MN. After spending time with the Central Province Dominicans last year, he now works as a Faith Formation Coordinator at a parish in the Twin Cities. His theological interests include liturgy, sacramental theology, Thomism, and Ecclesiology.


  1. One specific example of “lectionary and calendar tampering”, if I may call it that, is the breakup of the family of “epiphany feasts” that is celebrated in the 19th century poem “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise.” The trio of feasts commemorates the Epiphany to the Gentiles (Jan 5-6), the Baptism of the Lord (a week later) and the Wedding Feast of Cana. All have been moved to a nearby Sunday, but the trio is only celebrated together in lectionary year “C” which is the current cycle. Losing the first miracle of Jesus, catalyzed by the Mother of Jesus, Mary, the scene that is reprised in John’s account of the giving of Mary to the Church on Calvary, is a major omission in two-thirds of the lectionary years.

  2. Bravo. The idea of going back to square one and doing things according to Vatican II is the way we should proceed. But I would add another suggestion as we move forward. Let us be careful to render well any Latin to be translated, being always careful to use elevated, poetic language (not NAB-like flattened wording). Look to the Anglican English Mass for an example of translation without diminishment of reverence and power.

  3. Avatar Tom McGuire says:

    I totally agree, Vatican II helped with the “rediscovery of the riches of the Church’s liturgical life,” and there is always room to learn from what the Pius V. However, as one who has lived in six diocese and visited many others throughout the world, the riches of the liturgy is often missing. Not because of the details mentioned in the article, but because of poor liturgical practice.

    I grew up with the Pius V liturgy, all in Latin. How much the Scripture was used in the liturgy did not matter. It was all in Latin, which we did not understand. You mention the prayers at the foot of the alter. I knew the responses, but had no idea what they meant.
    As an altar boy, I remember, how much we appreciated the 15 minute Mass. Many Catholics prayed the rosary during Mass, while the priest did his part.

    When we began using the Paul VI liturgy, we did not improve liturgical practice in most parishes. Some priests continued to race through the words of the liturgy, in Latin or in local language, not comprehensible to the people. Today, there are some younger priests who have tried to be faithful to the rubrics. Too often, what is communicated is the attempt to adhere to the rubrics, while communicating little of the mystery of Eucharist.

    Years ago, I participated in a Japanese Tea Ceremony. There I learned what liturgy could be. Every gesture in a silent ceremony communicated with the participants. To rediscover the richness of the liturgy, Would it not be more important for all Catholics to learn to participate in liturgy as a way to experience communion in the Paschal Mystery?

  4. Avatar Mary Schneider says:

    The Consilium and the conferences of bishops in the decades following Vatican II went far beyond the reforms promulgated by Sacrosanctum Concilium. If the Church were to reform the liturgy again along the lines of what this document wanted, eliminating changes and abuses that the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council never envisioned, such as Communion in the hand or the elimination of Latin, it would greatly improve the Missal of Paul VI and make it an organic and authentic reform of the Missal of Pius V. Whether the Church will do so is another question, especially when many bishops and the Pope continue to believe in the noxious “spirit of Vatican II” which has caused so much wreckage and division in the Church. Meanwhile, the Pope should stop persecuting the priests who say and the lay people who attend the Latin Mass.

  5. Avatar Gail McCallum says:

    I am pleased that the Author is joining the Dominicans. He will be a blessing to our Church with his sharp mind and clear sight. It is very true that what most experience in the average Mass at the average Parish in the Mass is not the intent of the Second Vatican Council at all. I’m no expert, not by a long shot, but I’ve read the Documents, and nowhere does it say Latin itself is to be discarded like an old rag in favor of a Vernacular-only Liturgy yet that is exactly what we have. Where is the Unity and the harmonizing of what we believe with what we experience? Why if Latin is banned are we calling it the Latin Rite? Truth is it isn’t and those who say so misrepresent the Council and her Fathers desires. God bless.

    • Avatar Alex Erickson says:

      Hi Gail,

      That’s actually an old bio. I had been in the Dominicans this past July-Nov but discerned it wasn’t for me.

  6. Avatar Gary P, S, says:

    The damage the implementation of VII has done to the the Catholic Church are almost innumerable. Start over again with the missal of 1962 leave it alone except to add the new saints. A reform of the reform is like fixing the rusted out frame of an old car. It can be done but it is not worth the effort.

    • Avatar Therese G. says:

      Isn’t that precisely the author’s point, though–that Vatican II wasn’t implemented, that if it had truly been implemented there would have been no violence done either to the liturgy or to the Church as a whole? Even, perhaps, that if the Council’s true intent were to start being implemented now, we might start to finally see some healing of the wounds and decline from which the Church has been suffering all these decades? That seems to me to be well worth it.

  7. Avatar anthony brankin says:

    The author should be wary of praising too highly the expanded lectionary of the VII Mass. This would be fine if the Mass were to be understood as a teaching moment: “And now for the next three weeks we will have this or that section of the Bible to study.”
    This understanding of the lectionary derives from the 18thCentury Enlightenment theory of Mass (cf. Aidan Nichols O.P. “Looking at the Liturgy”). Those early day liturgists took offense at mystical texts and arcane rubrics and candles and dark and holy wells and holy bells and Body and Blood and beads.
    For them, the Mass was to be a clear and reasonable exposition of what we believe– a teaching and learning moment. But that is catechism– not an act of worship. If we believe in the objective reality of the supernatural–the Mass of 1962– is the worthiest exponent.
    Fr Anthony Brankin