What is Latin Mass? Meaning of Tridentine, or traditional mass explored

Olivia Olphin July 16, 2021
What is Latin Mass? Meaning of Tridentine, or traditional mass explored
Photo by Vatican Pool/Getty Images


According to Vatican News, Pope Francis has recently allowed bishops in local diocese to prevent priests from celebrating traditional Latin Mass. Local priests will have to ask for permission to celebrate this old, or traditional form of worship. This sudden change was issued by a papal decree on Friday. We explain what this new ruling means and exactly what Latin Mass entails.

What is Latin Mass?

Latin Mass is also known as Tridentine Mass, or Traditional Latin Mass. It is the Roman Rite of Mass in the Catholic Church and is a service which is performed completely in Latin.

Tridentine comes from Tridentinus in Latin, which refers to the city of Tridentum where the Council of Trent was held. It was due to this council that Pope Pius V made the 1570 Roman Missal mandatory.

The content of this mass is very different from the modern Catholic mass of today, which was introduced in 1970. The traditional liturgy was used from 1570 to 1962.

Traditional, or Latin Mass was much more about the role of the Priest, with the Eucharist being performed by the priest. Some of the traditions of this worship include an altar rail, and the priest facing east with his back to the congregation.

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Photo by Vatican Pool/Getty Images

However, modern services have centred more around the community aspect of religion, and are often performed in many different languages, not just Latin.

Why has it been banned?

Fourteen years ago Pope Francis’ predecessor Pope Benedict declared in his letter Summorum Pontificum that both forms of the Roman Rite could be used because they would work to “enrich one another”.

This meant that local priests could perform Mass in the form of the Roman Missal of 1962, which is all in Latin.

However, an apostolic letter, or Motu Proprio, was issued on Friday 16 July by the Vatican stating that local priests had to ask for permission to practise Latin or Traditional Mass. With the statement saying that the Bishops now have:

“Exclusive competence to authorize the use of the 1962 Roman Missal in his diocese, according to the guidelines of the Apostolic See”.

Therefore, these celebrations can only take place on certain dates and times that have been approved by the Bishops, and the Vatican.

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This appears to be a movement from Pope Francis to embrace the modern, forward-thinking direction that the church has taken in recent years. It also stops any rejection of the modern form of mass for the Traditional Latin Mass.

Pope Francis wrote in his statement that his predecessor’s ruling had been:

“Exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division”.

What is the meaning of Traditionis custodes and Motu Proprio

The decree sent out by the Vatican today was also named as a Motu Proprio, or a Traditionis custodes, but what does this mean?

A Motu Proprio is a document that is issued personally by the pope to the rest of the Roman Catholic Church.

Traditionis custodes is another way of referring to a Motu Proprio, and literally means “Guardians of the tradition”.

Photo by VINCENZO PINTO/AFP via Getty Images

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Olivia Olphin is an English Literature graduate and a film and literature fanatic. She has many years of reviewing experience, recently working as accredited press for the London Film Festival. She has also written widely about culture and sex education, as well as LGBTQ+ and women's issues.