Rorate Caeli

Can the existence of two rites fracture unity?
Cardinal Ratzinger explains why not

We have already explained in a more "practical" level why the arguments of liberal critics of a possible papal document restoring the Traditional Latin Mass to its place of honor do not make much sense.

We now turn to the words of the then-Cardinal Ratzinger, the gloriously reigning Supreme Pontiff, answering these specific criticisms.

It is good to remember ... what Cardinal Newman affirmed when he said that the Church in all her history has never abolished or prohibited orthodox liturgical forms (forms which express the true faith) which would be totally foreign to the spirit of the Church.

The authority of the Church can define and limit the use of rites in different historical situations. She never prohibits them purely and simply! The Council, therefore, ordered a reform of the liturgical books, but it never forbade the previous books. The criterion which the Council enunciated is both vaster and more demanding. It invites everyone to self-criticism! ...

One must examine the other argument which pretends that the existence of two rites can fracture unity. One must distinguish, here, the [1] theological from the [2] practical side of the question.

[1] Theologically and fundamentally one has to realize that several forms of the Latin Rite have always existed and that they retreated but slowly only as Europe was unified. Up to the Council, there existed along side the Roman Rite, the Ambrosian Rite, the Mozarabic Rite of Toledo, the Rite of Braga, the Rite of the Carthusians and the Carmelites and the best known: the Dominican Rite; and perhaps other ones which I do not know. Nobody was ever scandalized that the Dominicans, often when present in parishes, did not celebrate like parish priests but rather had their own rite. We had no doubt that their rite was both Catholic and Roman. We were proud of the richness of having several rites.

[2] The free space which the new order of Mass gives to creativity, it must be admitted, is often excessively enlarged. The difference between the liturgy with the new liturgical books, as it is actually practiced and celebrated in various places is often much greater than the difference between the old and new liturgies when celebrated according to the rubrics of the liturgical books.

An average Christian without special liturgical formation would be hard-pressed to distinguish a Sung Mass in Latin according to the Old Missal from a Sung Mass in Latin celebrated according to the New Missal. The difference, by contrast, can be enormous between a liturgy faithfully celebrated according to the Missal of Paul VI and the concrete forms and celebrations in the vernacular with all the possible freedom and creativity! With these considerations we have already crossed the threshold between theory and practice where matters are naturally more complex ... .

If the unity of the faith and the unicity of the mystery appear clearly in the two forms of celebration, this can only be a reason for all to rejoice and thank God. In so far as we believe, live and act on these motives, we can also persuade the bishops that the presence of the ancient liturgy does not disorder or injure the unity of their diocese, but rather it is a gift destined to build up the Body of Christ of which we are all servants.

So, my dear friends, I would like to encourage you not to lose patience - to remain confident- and to exercise in the liturgy the necessary courage to bear witness for the Lord in our times.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Conference on the Tenth Anniversary of the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei
Rome, October 24, 1998.
(Translation made available by the FSSP website, with corrections; numbers in brackets not in original text)


  1. Judging by the continued evidence of systematic and ritualised abuse of the NO service, admirably and abundantly attested to on this site and elsewhere, it would appear, on the contrary, that it is this modernist liturgy which has caused division and confusion among the faithful. It is directly responsible for encouraging inculturation, false doctrines and all unsightly manner of un-Catholic norms and values.

    The Holy Father is absolutely correct to advance his cause and reestablish The Latin Mass of all times.

    Cor Jesu Sacratissimum - Miserere nobis.

  2. There is indeed much that need to be known about the liturgical reform implemented after the II Vatican Council. We don't know the string of events that lead to the almost extinction of other Latin rites: the Dominic, the Benedict, etc, because what happened is that the Novus Ordo took the place of all the Latin Rites, therefore becoming a "totalitarian" rite that extinguished the diversity of Latin Rites.

    This is why I call the 1960's the most autocratic and totalitarian period of life in the Catholic Church. It seems as if totalitarianism really infected the life of all Europeans, even Catholics, even the Pope.

    I hope that you may have information that may shed light on a dark period in the life of the Church, whose effects the Church is still reeling from. The Church then failed to shed light on a wounded world.

  3. One cannot agree more with the emphasised text from, the then, Cardinal Ratzinger. As authors such as Crouan have admirably demonstrated there is a massive gulf between the rubrics of the Pauline rite and the way it is actually celebrated/abused in most parishes.

    Tolerance for an authentic liturgical plurality was once a characteristic of Rome that was in marked contrast to some of the Eastern patriarchates. One of the saddest elements of modern reform has been the virtual disappearance of the rites of Religious Orders and other usages that threw themselves before the 'unity is uniformity' bandwagon.

  4. Tribus candelis,

    What book would you recommend on liturgical intolerance in the Eastern patriachates? Is there something that covers the ground as "The Banished Heart"? Thanks!

  5. Thanks to His Holiness for making a distinction not so much between "Old Mass" and "New Mass," but between "New Mass" celebrated properly and "New Mass" celebrated in watered down fashion on the local parish level.

    Sadly, many priests consider it a given that they can improvise all sorts of nonsense instead of following what's in the missal. Enough, please, of "The Lord IS with you," "a reading from the gosepl according to the tradition of John," "and protect us from all needless worry," and worst of all, "Have nice day" followed by "You, too, Father."

  6. Yes, the NO is often accompanied with horrible abuses. The reform of the reform seeks to eliminate these abuses (as well as to promote the use of options that increase the reverence and beauty of the NO).

    All well and good, but eventually the Church must deal with the NO itself, sans abuses, offered as well and as beautifully as it can be offered. The NO itself is flawed. Valid, but flawed. The official Latin texts of many of its prayers are ideologically bowdlerized.

  7. Considering all of the Easter Catholic Rites we have it is pretty hard to sustain that this has fractured unity.

  8. Bedwere,

    If memory serves me correctly then Fortescue's work on the Eastern Church is a good starting point.

    Not Constantinople but Moscow, and much fresher in my memory, is Meyendorff's 'Russia, Ritual and Reform' which examines changes and schism caused by the adoption of a revised order in seventeenth century Moscow. Critics then just vanished or were burnt.

  9. To claim that use of previously authorized liturgical texts fractures the unity of the Church reveals one's discomfort with Catholic history. In a way, they are asserting a break in the Church, whose identity transcends distinction of time.

    If the 1962 or 1570 Missal are now considered "factitious," what are we saying about our relationship with the good popes who approved these Missals and the good Catholics who celebrated them?

    To claim that only the 1970 Missal is acceptable would be to cut off Pope Paul VI from the source of his authority, which is the Petrine succession. The successor has only as much apostolic authority as is given him through the predecessor. In other words, to denigrate the predecessor is to cut the legs out from under the successor.

    I think this is at the heart of all this balking we are hearing about the supposed factitiousness of the traditional liturgy.


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