Rorate Caeli

"All the Elements of the Roman Rite"?

Dispelling the Myths of the Post-Vatican II Liturgical Reforms

Over the last decade in particular, the figure of 17% has been quoted as the proportion of prayers that survived intact from the traditional Roman Missal into the novus ordo of Paul VI. [1] However, in the wake of Traditionis custodes, with renewed attention being given to the comparison of ‘forms’ of the Roman Rite as well as the canonical and theological controversy over what counts as its lex orandi[2] it seemed opportune to build on some of my previous efforts and revisit this percentage through a careful and exhaustive analysis of all the orations. By doing this, not only can we arrive at a definitive number, but we can also now have all the relevant data freely and easily accessible in the public domain, so that everyone can see which prayers were preserved, edited or discarded. [3]

The result of this work not only vindicates the labours of those such as the late Rev Fr Anthony Cekada, but it also shows the figure to be too generous. For the actual number, unbelievably, is only 13%.

Yes, a mere 13% (165) of the 1,273 prayers of the usus antiquior [4] found their way unchanged into the reformed Missal of Paul VI. Another 24.1% (307) were edited in some way before their inclusion. A further 16.2% (206) were centonised with other prayers - effectively combining parts of multiple prayers together into a new oration. Fully 52.6% (669) of the prayers in the traditional Roman Rite have been excised from the modern liturgy, memory-holed by the Consilium ad exsequendam[5] How has this happened? And how did so few notice at the time?

Figure 1: Orations of the 1951/1962 Missal in the 1970/2008 Missal
(duplicates excluded)

Since its promulgation, the Catholic faithful have frequently been assured by popes and scholars that the post-Vatican II Missale Romanum is an enrichment, enhancement and fulfilment of the Missal that came before it. In addition, it is often claimed that the liturgical reform has faithfully preserved almost all of the preceding tradition, revising and correcting the texts of prayers on the basis of our much-improved knowledge of the sources while only introducing new prayers for modern needs. A few examples, with my emphases:

[I]t has similarly become clear that the formulas of the Roman Missal need both to be somewhat revised and also to be enriched with additions… In this restoration of the Missale Romanum, not only have the three parts We have already mentioned been changed, namely the Eucharistic Prayer, the Order of Mass, and the Order of Readings, but the others in which it consists have been revised and notably modified, that is: the Temporal, the Sanctoral, the Common of Saints, the Ritual Masses, and the Votive Masses, as they are called. Among these, particular care has been taken with the orations, which have not only been increased in number, so that new prayers respond to the new needs of these times, but also the most ancient prayers have been revised to accord with the ancient texts. [Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum, 3 April 1969]


What has always been true throughout the varied and progressive development of the Roman liturgy, from the ancient sacramentaries to the revered post-Tridentine Missal of St Pius V, is true also of the new Roman Missal. While preserving the treasure of tradition, it has been rearranged and enhanced in consequence of the directives of Vatican Council II. [Jean-Marie Cardinal Villot, Letter to Bishop Carlo Rossi on the occasion of the 22nd National Liturgical Week of Italy, 30 August 1971]


What exactly is the Missal of Paul VI, if not that of St Pius V adapted, enriched, completed? If we were to engage in a line-by-line comparison, we would find in the Missal of Paul VI three-quarters if not nine-tenths of the content of the original Missal of St Pius V. [Dom Guy Oury, La Messe de S. Pie V à Paul VI (Solesmes, 1975), p. 30]


Lest there be any misunderstanding, let me add that as far as its content is concerned (apart from a few criticisms), I am very grateful for the new Missal, for the way it has enriched the treasury of prayers and prefaces, for the new eucharistic prayers and the increased number of texts for use on weekdays, etc., quite apart from the availability of the vernacular. But I do regard it as unfortunate that we have been presented with the idea of a new book rather than with that of continuity within a single liturgical history. In my view, a new edition will need to make it quite clear that the so-called Missal of Paul VI is nothing other than a renewed form of the same Missal to which Pius X, Urban VIII, Pius V and their predecessors have contributed, right from the Church’s earliest history. [Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1986), p. 87]


The new Missal has eighty-one prefaces and sixteen hundred prayers, or more than twice as many as in the old Missal. Almost all the texts of the old Missal have been used, revised if need be to harmonize them with the reform and the teaching of Vatican II. [Annibale Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1990), p. 398]


While at the Council’s behest further texts were to be added in order to reflect better the riches of the Church's tradition and in response to the needs of the people, and while some existing texts were to be corrected to reflect more accurately the gains of textual scholarship, the lines and substance of the missal of 1970 remain unmistakably those of 1962. The missal of 1970 is the missal of 1962, reinvigorated, enriched, and endowed with new lustre, like a precious stone whose perennial beauty is enhanced by being ensconced in a new setting. [Cuthbert Johnson & Anthony Ward (eds.), Missale Romanum anno 1962 promulgatum (Rome: Centro Liturgico Vincenziano, 1994), p. vi]


[I]t can be noted how the two Roman Missals, although four centuries have intervened, embrace one and the same tradition. Furthermore, if the inner elements of this tradition are reflected upon, it is also understood how outstandingly and felicitously the older Roman Missal is brought to fulfilment in the later one. [General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 3rd edition, 2002, n. 6]


The desire of both the Council Fathers and Saint Paul VI was that the liturgy should be simplified in order to make it more accessible. While the Missal retains the basic structure of that of Saint Pius V, together with ninety percent of the texts of that Missal, it removes a number of repetitions and accretions and simplifies the language and the gestures of the liturgy. At the same time, it uses more sacrificial vocabulary than was the case in the 1570 Missal. Opinions to the contrary are false. [Archbishop 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]


Such quotations could quite easily continue to be piled up. However, for the most part, they can be summarised as follows: even if parts of it could be improved, the reformed Missal is one of the major pastoral and scholarly triumphs of the Second Vatican Council. After all, if it is a faithful enrichment of the traditional Roman Rite, preserving almost all of it yet also carefully adapting it for modern times, how could it be anything but a triumph? Indeed, in his accompanying letter to Traditionis custodes (16 July 2021), which itself claims the novus ordo is "the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite" (art. 1), Pope Francis describes this liturgical reform as "willed by Vatican Council II", going as far to say that:

[T]he instrumental use of Missale Romanum of 1962 is often characterized by a rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Vatican Council II itself, claiming, with unfounded and unsustainable assertions, that it betrayed the Tradition and the “true Church”… To doubt the Council is to doubt the intentions of those very Fathers who exercised their collegial power in a solemn manner cum Petro et sub Petro in an ecumenical council, and, in the final analysis, to doubt the Holy Spirit himself who guides the Church… Whoever wishes to celebrate with devotion according to earlier forms of the liturgy can find in the reformed Roman Missal according to Vatican Council II all the elements of the Roman Rite


In a sense, these words of the Pope are the culmination of all the claims made about the reformed Missal - claims which, it should be noted, have rarely if ever been substantiated with any evidence. Dom Hugh Somerville-Knapman refers to this "elephant in the room" of the liturgical reform, asking the question:

[H]ow truly do the current liturgical books conform to Vatican II’s decrees? Rather than blindly accepting, in post hoc ergo propter hoc fashion, that simply because this is what the Consilium ended up producing they must necessarily express the lex orandi articulated by the Council, let this be demonstrated clearly and plainly. If Rome wants people to accept with willing heart the liturgical reform as delivered, let it demonstrate how it expresses the will of the Council. It is not self-evident.


Sadly, post-Traditionis custodes, the likelihood of the Holy See or the Roman Curia doing this is basically nil. Rather, it almost seems in some circles as if any critical examination of the reformed rites is now synonymous with the "rejection" of an ecumenical (and pastoral) Council. Those who have legitimate questions and concerns about the reform are dismissed out of hand as "radical traditionalists", "quasi-schismatics", "extremists", and so forth. 

Yet, as Dom Alcuin Reid has reminded us, legal positivism cannot change historical facts. An assertion that is not true cannot just be declared to be true by fiat, even if it is the Pope himself who attempts to do so. 

The welcome pack given to each peritus of the Consilium
(artist's impression)

So, are "all the elements of the Roman Rite" present in the reformed books? Faced with the statistics and data about the prayers in the reformed Missal as compared to its predecessor, it is exceptionally difficult to see how this assertion can possibly be accurate. It is, in truth, an oft-repeated myth about the reform, and one that the Church urgently needs to leave behind. [6] To reiterate:

- 52.6% (669) of the prayers in the Missal of the usus antiquior do not occur in the Missal of Paul VI at all;


- 24.1% (307) of them have been used somewhere in the reformed Missal, but edited in some manner - with 86 of these prayers receiving only minor edits;


- 16.2% (206) have been 'centonised': this was the term used by the Consilium to refer to the combining of parts of two or more orations to create what is effectively a newly-composed prayer; [7]


- only 13% (165) of the prayers of the usus antiquior made it through the process of reform intact.

It should also be stated that these figures, stark as they are, still do not give the full scale of the changes made by the Consilium ad exsequendam in the name of Vatican II. Even for those prayers that have been retained intact, there is often a change in where they are used in the reformed Missal. For example:

Br 7: previously the collect for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, this prayer was moved to Friday in Week 5 of Lent, as one of two options for the collect.

Br 154: previously the collect for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, this prayer was also moved to a Lenten weekday - this time, Tuesday in Week 2.

Br 183: previously the collect for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, it has been moved to the "Masses and Prayers for Various Needs and Occasions" section of the reformed Missal, acting as one of two options for the third formulary of the Mass "In Any Need" (n. 48).

Br 661: previously the collect for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost, this prayer does not occur in the first (1970) or second (1975) editions of the reformed Missal, only appearing in the third edition (2002/08) as the sixth option for the super populum prayers given in the appendix to the ordo Missae.

Br 893: previously the secret for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, this prayer was moved to the "Masses and Prayers for Various Needs and Occasions" section, becoming the super oblata for the third Mass formulary "For the Priest Himself" (n. 7), which is the one given for use on the anniversary of ordination. 

For the prayers edited before their inclusion in the reformed Missal, there are some definite patterns that can be seen, some quite concerning. For example:

"Fasting" language is frequently removed from Lenten orations, due to the changes in discipline made by Paul VI in the wake of Vatican II: e.g. ieiunium quadragesimale (Br 143: Monday in Week 1 of Lent) becomes opus quadragesimale in the reformed prayer (used on the same day); Inchoata ieiunia (Br 643: Friday after Ash Wednesday) has been changed to Inchoata poenitentiae opera (used on the same day), etc.

The intercession and merits of the saints are often edited out: e.g. angelico pro nobis interveniente suffragio (Br 623: St Michael, 8 May and 29 September) is changed to angelico ministerio in conspectum tuae maiestatis delatas (Ss Michael, Gabriel & Raphael, 29 September); eius intercessione from the pre-1950 postcommunion for the Assumption of the B.V.M. (Br 676) was deleted before this prayer was used on the Vigil of the Assumption in the reformed Missal; the gloriosa merita of St Mary Magdalene (Br 697: 22 July) are omitted amidst the numerous changes to this prayer in the reformed Missal (used on the same day), etc.

The word anima is frequently deleted from the prayers used in Masses for the Dead: e.g. animabus patris et matris meae becomes only patri et matri meae in both the collect (Br 407) and postcommunion (Br 106) of the Mass for the priest's parents; animabus is deleted from the collect for the first Mass on All Souls (Br 567), which the reformers also moved to the fourth formulary in the "Masses for the Dead: Various Commemorations (For Several Deceased)" section of the reformed Missal, etc.

Some notable changes have been made to language that could be considered "negative", whether to eliminate it entirely or soften it in some way: e.g. in tot adversis is deleted from the collect of Monday in Holy Week (Br 192), used on the same day in the reformed Missal; quos perpetuae mortis eripuisti casibus (Br 364: 2nd Sunday after Easter) is changed to quos eripuisti a servitute peccati (14th Sunday per annum); humanis non sinas subiacere periculis, the end of the postcommunion for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost (Br 947) now reads a te numquam separari permittas (34th Week per annum), etc.

Many more examples are highlighted in the full document. Some edits and changes can be justified when one looks at the manuscript history of the prayer, and to facilitate this research, reference numbers for the Corpus orationum have been given where possible. For example, the change from misericordiam (Br 418: 10th Sunday after Pentecost) to gratiam (26th Sunday per annum, collect) is a restoration of the Gelasianum Vetus text and, in this instance, the majority of manuscripts. However, more often than not, the changes made by the Consilium are entirely novel, with no basis in the manuscript tradition - all of the above examples of changes, for instance, are entirely without precedent!

In an address to the Consilium on 13 October 1966, Paul VI advised its members that:

No predisposition to change everything without reason must govern this investigation [into the liturgy], nor a hastiness, typical of the iconoclast, to emend and revise everything. The guides must be a devout prudence and a reverence combined with wisdom.

Had the post-conciliar liturgical reforms stayed within these bounds, perhaps we would be having very different debates and conversations in the present day. But among themselves, the periti of the Consilium were quite candid about their intentions. For example:

It is often impossible to preserve either orations that are found in the [current] Roman Missal or to borrow suitable orations from the treasury of ancient euchology. Indeed, prayer ought to express the mind of our current age... [Coetus XIII, Schema 306 (De Missali, 52), 9 September 1968, p. 7]


Revising the pre-existing text becomes more delicate when faced with a need to update content of language, and when all this affects not only the form, but also doctrinal reality. This is called for in light of the new view of human values, considered in relation to and as a way to supernatural goods. The Council clearly proposes this, and it was kept in mind when the temporal cycle was revised. It could not have been ignored in the revision of the sanctoral cycle... An entirely new foundation of eucharistic theology has superseded devotional points of view or of a particular way of venerating and invoking the saints. Retouching the text, moreover, was deemed necessary to bring to light new values and new perspectives. [Carlo Braga, "Il 'Proprium de Sanctis'", Ephemerides Liturgicae 84 (1970), pp. 401-431, at p. 419]

Suffice it to say, this is not the language of continuity, or fulfilment, or even authentic renewal. The data and statistics for the orations in each Missal - which are now possible for any interested party to easily see and compare - do not justify the assertions that the older Missal is substantially contained in the newer one; in fact, if anything, the situation is closer to the opposite. 

In conclusion, if only 13% of the orations in the Missal of the traditional Roman Rite have been kept intact with more than half of them completely discarded, it does not seem possible to say in anything approaching a meaningful way that "all the elements of the Roman Rite" are present in the reformed liturgical books, let alone that the lex orandi of this rite has been properly preserved. There are a number of serious issues present and questions that need to be answered about the supposedly "irreversible" liturgical reform, and they cannot continue to be ignored. In the final analysis, as Dom Alcuin Reid reminds us:

Questioning the continuity of the modern liturgical books with liturgical tradition, and with the sound principles laid down by the Council is not denying the Council or its authority. It is, rather, to seek to defend the Council from those who distorted its stated intentions.

[This article was originally published at New Liturgical Movement.]


[1] Rev Fr Anthony Cekada, whose 17% figure has been cited numerous times over the years, was the pioneer in this regard: see The Problems with the Prayers of the Modern Mass (Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1991) and Work of Human Hands: A Theological Critique of the Mass of Paul VI (West Chester, OH: Philothea Press, 2010), pp. 219-245. 

[2] Lists of the many and varied reactions to the motu proprio can be found here and here.

[3] It should be noted that much of the underlying work, such as compiling lists of sources, examining the prayers of each Missal side-by-side, etc., was done in the 1970s and 1980s, before the Internet, before most people had access to personal computers, and also before vital tools such as the Corpus orationum existed. We are fortunate enough to live in an age where, thanks to the work of many diligent scholars as well as huge improvements in technology, this kind of research is easier than it has ever been before!

[4] The figure of 1,273 orations is made up of all the prayers in the Missale Romanum as it was in 1951 (1,191), plus those orations added between 1951 and 1962 (82). Due to the Holy Week and calendar reforms of 1955 onwards, this number is not exactly representative of the 1962 Missal, but as prayers from some suppressed celebrations were repurposed in the post-Vatican II Missal, it seemed fairer to include them in the overall total. I am also defining "orations" as the collects, secrets/super oblata, postcommunions and super populum, as well as other orationes contained in the Missal (e.g. the solemn intercessions on Good Friday, those that follow the readings at the Easter and Pentecost Vigils, blessings on particular days such as Palm Sunday, Candlemas, etc.). All the prefaces, as well as hymns and sequences, are excluded from this analysis.

[5] These percentages total more than 100% because some orations are duplicated in each category. For example, Br 120 (9th Sunday after Pentecost, Secret) is preserved intact but is also used in a centonisation; Br 235 (Wednesday in Week 2 of Lent, super populum) is preserved intact and also edited for use elsewhere.

[6] In what follows, the abbreviation "Br" refers to the "Bruylants number" of a given prayer. As part of the reference system for his work Les oraisons du Missel Romain: texte et histoire (Louvain: Centre de Documentation et d'Information Liturgiques, 1952, 2 vols.), Dom Placide Bruylants arranged all the prayers of the Missale Romanum in alphabetical order, then progressively numbered them starting from 1. This reference system is still often used by scholars and liturgists. A useful online list and concordance, minus Dom Bruylants's text-critical and source information, can be found here.

[7] For the purposes of this analysis, I have kept edited and centonised prayers in separate categories, and have made no attempt to examine centonised orations. Though centonisation would count as "using" an oration, the way in which parts of different prayers were stitched together by the reformers can be quite complicated, and deserves its own dedicated analysis in the future.