Interview with Gianni Baget Bozzo on the Traditional Mass (‘Tridentine Mass’)

Recently, the Italian priest and writer Gianni Baget Bozzo, for many years a close collaborator of Giuseppe Cardinal Siri of Genoa (who was twice almost elected Pope), raised the issue of the restoration of the liturgy in the Italian press. In an article in the newspaper Il Giornale on 26 August 1998 entitled "Why the Latin Mass is Not a Rite for Nostalgics Only," Bozzo set forth the arguments in favour of the "old Mass" which an increasing number in Rome are beginning to find compelling.

"There has been an increase, in many dioceses, of the permission granted to the faithful to celebrate the traditional Catholic Mass, which dates back 1,800 years," Bozzo began. "The Mass is called the Mass of St. Pius V because it was this Pope who codified its authentic text. It is also known as the Tridentine Mass after the Council of Trent. It is in Latin, and so starting to celebrate it again has up until now been seen as the longing of a club of nostalgics for the past in an age of globalization."

But the desire for the "old Mass" is more than just nostalgia and anxiety in the face of modernity, Bozzo argues.

"The groups in favor of the Mass of St. Pius V which sprang up immediately after the introduction of the reformed liturgy in 1970 following the Second Vatican Council loved the beauty of the Latin language and of Gregorian chant, and so they wanted the Mass in Latin because it was in Latin," he writes. "But those who are interested in the Mass of St. Pius V today are not attracted by the Latin alone, but rather by the text of that Mass, independent of the language."

It's not just the Latin and the chant that is at issue, but the content of the Mass, Bozzo argues.

"The post-conciliar reformed Mass is a different thing from the traditional Mass," he says. "It is certainly orthodox, but it does not have the mystical spiritual quality of the ancient Mass. The old Mass has a personal tone. The earthly celebrant is the priest, who feels himself to be a sinner who, as such, asks forgiveness. The people feel the same thing, and seek forgiveness in a personal self-accusation, not in a communal one. Each person is a sinner; collective sin does not exist. The word 'we' appears only after the end of the penitential part of the Mass."

"Finally," he writes, "the entire old Mass is dominated by the proclamation of the real presence (not metaphorical or symbolic) of Christ under the appearance of bread and wine. The signs of the cross over the bread and the wine which accompany the Canon, indicate... the renewal of the sacrifice of the Cross. The kisses of the altar express a form of tenderness.

"There are great things in the Mass of St. Pius V that are not found in the Mass of Paul VI. The Mass of Paul VI is marked by an affective sterility... It is a cold Mass, to which guitars are added as an extraneous sound, with words without doctrine and music sometimes devoid of beauty.

Could it be that there is some connection between the great crisis that invested the Church in the 1970s and the change in the Mass? Could it be that the crisis in priestly vocations stems from the loss of the sacrality of the priest, well-expressed in the ancient Mass?

"If the custom of celebrating this Mass should flourish once again among Catholics, even if only alongside the monopoly, rigorously imposed, of the reformed liturgy, it would be a good thing," Bozzo sums up. "The Council recognized the religious freedom of non-believers and multiplied the liturgical forms. Can there not be freedom in the post-conciliar Church to celebrate the Mass of the Tradition?"

It is a good question, and one that the Pope is clearly pondering.

Postscriptum: As of 7 July 2007 the Supreme Pontiff Pope Benedict XVI, with his Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio ‘Summorum Pontificum’, has set free from the approval of the local Bishop the Liturgy of the Mass, the Sacraments and the Divine Office; has declared that the classical Roman Rite, sometimes referred to as ‘Tridentine’ (called in this Motu Proprio ‘the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite’) never has been abolished or forbidden and must be held in honour; and has decreed that each and every priest, in the celebration of  the Holy Mass, the Sacraments and the Divine Office, may make free use of the liturgical books which were in use before 1970. Let us pray, that, in spite of misinformation spread by a great part of the secular and the official Catholic press, and in spite of the attempts of many Bishops to thwart also this Motu Proprio, as they have for many years thwarted the Motu Proprio ‘Ecclesia Dei’ issued by Pope John Paul II in 1988, that the Catholic Faithful will be able to claim what is rightfully theirs, and that the Mass of the Tradition once again shall be offered upon every altar  – ‘ad laudem et gloriam Nominis Sui, ad utilitatem quoque nostram, totiusque Ecclesiae Suae sanctae.’ (‘to the praise and glory of God’s Name, as well as for our own welfare and that of all His holy Church!’)         

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