What shall we call the pre-Vatican II Mass now?

In Summorum Pontificum (2007), Pope Benedict created the term “Extraordinary Form” for the pre-Vatican II Mass celebrated with the Missal of 1962. Now that SP is entirely abrogated, but such Masses will continue under more restrictive conditions, what should they be called? It’s an interesting question. Several candidates present themselves.

Maybe “Extraordinary Form” will remain in use though Summorum Pontificum is no longer in effect. The strength of this term is that it makes clear that there is not really parity between 1970 and 1962 – one is normative and the other is exceptional. On this point, Francis follows Benedict.

“Traditional Latin Mass,” though widely used, doesn’t quite work. It implies that 1962 is more traditional than 1970. But Pope Paul VI repeatedly made clear that the liturgical reforms are traditional, are a legitimate development of the Church’s tradition. (In another context Francis has written eloquently on the evolutionary nature of tradition.) Strictly speaking, it is the 1970 Missal which provides the traditional Mass for Catholics. The middle word, “Latin,” is accurate as far as it goes, but risks obscuring that the 1970 Mass can be celebrated entirely in Latin (I have done so), and that such celebrations are, literally, the “traditional Latin Mass.”

“Tridentine Mass” is not entirely wrong but seems to have fallen out of favor. This is because the Missal issued in 1570 is mostly a codification of the Mass in its late-medieval state and isn’t really based on particular prescriptions of the Council of Trent. It is not the Mass of Trent in the way that 1970 is the Mass of Vatican II.

“Mass of the Ages” and “Mass of All Times,” despite their appeal for some, are just plain wrong. They have a whiff of fundamentalist anti-modernism about them. Fundamentalism always wants to ignore historical evolution and pretend that things never changed. Any cursory study of liturgical history shows otherwise. In a sense, there is only one Mass and it has been celebrated for 2000 years now, and so every celebration of the Eucharist is the “Mass of the Ages.” In this sense the term would include the eucharistic celebrations of early centuries which were part of a meal around a table as well as post-Vatican II Mass in all their variety. The problem is that the people who use the term don’t understand it that way.

“Gregorian rite” has been used by some as if to imply that there is a more or less stable rite from the time of Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) until Vatican II, which is contrasted with the Vatican II rite which is thought to be an alien construction. But Pope Gregory did not know of the prayers at the foot of the altar or the 1570 offertory prayers or the Last Gospel; he used leavened bread and distributed Communion under both forms; he used the same language for the sermon as for the eucharistic prayer – the vernacular, albeit stylized and elevated; he did not genuflect or elevate the elements at the consecration; the decree of the Council of Nicaea still held which prohibited kneeling on Sunday; Gregory’s Sunday Mass had no Nicene creed and probably no introit… this list could be extended. (See the previous entry on ahistorical fundamentalism.)

“Indult Mass” was used under John Paul II when he began the development of undoing Paul VI and allowing the pre-Vatican II Mass in public. But he required that the priest get an indult from the bishop. This term says that use of the pre-Vatican II Mass is a concession, not a right. Pope Francis has retrieved and reinforced this truth, but his motu proprio doesn’t speak of an “indult” and perhaps the term will not come back into use.

“Mass with the 1962 Missal” might be a good, accurate term. In fact, one is speaking of the “temporary Missal of 1962,” for it is packed with little adjustments to the previous Missal which anticipate the liturgical reform that Pope John XXIII knew was coming. And of course its Holy Week rites are in the massively reformed version of Pius XII – rites reformed so drastically that some of it was scaled back after Vatican II. Though it is perhaps not known by all those who worship with the 1962 Missal, this missal is by nature transitional and unstable.

Maybe the most accurate term might be “Pre-Vatican II Mass.” But I suppose that’s a rather inelegant term.

Various terms enter into common usage for all sorts of reasons – it’s the way vernacular languages work. (The “Black Hills” in South Dakota are neither black nor hills.) If the handy term “TLM” remains in use I won’t be entirely surprised, but I’ll always feel uneasy about it.

Now is a good time to think about what terminology we want to to gain currency going forward. Consciously or not, we’re making all sorts of theological claims with the words we choose to use.