THE HISTORY OF THE TRADITIONAL OR TRIDENTINE MASSRama P. Coomaraswamy, M.D.
"The work of our redemption is accomplished on the altar"
Secret, 9th Sunday after PentecostO God, Who hast sanctioned the diversity of offerings by the perfection of one sacrifice, receive thesacrifice offered Thee by Thy devoted servants, and sanctify it as Thou didst sanctify the gifts of Abel, thatwhat each one hath offered to the glory of Thy majesty may profit for the salvation of all Through our Lord...Secret, Seventh Sunday after Pentecost"Cursed be the man who performs to the work of God improperly" Jeremiah. XLVIII.10In tracing the history of the Tridentine Mass one can follow two possible courses. One can either follow events from the time of the Last Supper - not a development as many claim, but rather a "fleshing out" of thedivine outline, or one can look to the "pre-Christian" period and see how the Traditional Mass - the central rite of our faith, incorporates within it, and brings to fruition, all the sacrificial rites of the old dispensation, and indeed, of the entire world. While attempting to do both within the confines of a short essay, it is the latter aspect that will beemphasized. Finally I shall attempt to show how our participation in the traditional Mass is in fact our participationin the whole life of Christ - how through participation in the Mass we are baptized with Christ, die with Christ andare resurrected with Christ.Let it be clear from the outset that I am saying nothing original in what follows, unless of coursethere be errors in the exposition. The topic is, as Father Marmion says, "an ineffable subject... Even the priest, whomakes the Eucharistic Sacrifice the center and sun of his life, is powerless to put into words the marvels that the loveof Christ Jesus has there gathered up. All that man, a mere creature, can say of this mystery come forth from theHeart of God, remains so far beneath the reality that, when we have said all that we know of it, it is as if we had saidnothing. there is no subject the priest loves more and at the same time dreads more to speak of, so high and holy isthis mystery."
Let us begin with the traditional Mass as we know it. I say, as we know it, because it is essentiallyunchanged from the time of its establishment to the present day. As Father Barry said, should a Christian from thefirst century return to life, and walk into a Church where the Tridentine Mass was being said, he would recognize itas the Mass he was familiar with. This is why we call it the "traditional Mass" - the Mass which was literally"handed down" and again "The Mass of all times." I avoid the use of the phrase "Latin Mass," because this can refer to a variety of different rites including the
Novus Ordo Missae
.I would like you to imagine the situation in Palestine following the Pentecost. Shortly after St.Peter said the first Mass in the same room where Christ established the rite, the twelve Apostles dispersedthroughout the world, carrying with them, not the Bible, but rather that most precious of all precious things, our traditional Mass. They went to different parts of the world - St. James to Spain, Joseph of Arimathea - even thoughnot an Apostle - to England, St. Thomas to India, Peter and Paul to Rome and the others throughout the Middle East.And each of them brought with them the central and essential rite which we know as the Mass. Each of the Apostlesadapted the Mass to the nations in which they found themselves. Of course, it was within the perogatives of the1 Some claim that the word priest is not used in the New Testament. This is true. So long, namely as the bloody sacrifices of the Mosaic rites, together with the Aaronic priesthood, the temple of Jerusalem andthe various Jewish ceremonies were in evidence, the Apostles discreetly refrained from the use of suchwords as priest, sacrifice, altar, or church, so that by this contrast they might impress the faithful with thedifference between the Jewish religion and the Church of Christ. It was done that no one might think theApostles were imitating the Mosaic priesthood, abolished by Christ, when the new priesthood had beeninstituted in its place. But as soon as the temple of Jerusalem was destroyed, and the priesthood whichcould not sacrifice elsewhere but in Jerusalem ceased, the disciples began immediately to use such wordsas priest, altar, sacrifice. St. Ignatius, the disciple of St. John, was one of the first to use these words. After him, the erly Fathers of the Church such as Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose, Eusebius and Jerome, use thewords in all their epistles.1