permission to reprint this
defining work was personally granted by
Father James F. Wathen, O.S.J. in 2001.
Chapter Three

Part Three


See EDITOR'S NOTE for an explanation of this work.

C. Pope St. Pius V, Quo Primum, and the True Mass

    We shall analyze Quo Primum in terms of those elements which are required for a valid law.

  • 1. The object of the law: The Missale Romanum is now the standard Missal of the Roman Rite. The Mass as it is codified herein is "normative;" it is the only Mass. Nor may there be any other; all other missals are proscribed from this day forward. The only exceptions to this rule are those missals which have been used continuously in certain placed and by certain communities for at least two hundred years. The obvious implication being made here is that it is impossible to "create" a new "rite" within the Roman Rite, since no such rite would have any continuity with the traditions of the Church.

       The prayers and ritual of the Mass as they are formulated in this Missal are in perfect harmony may be carefully preserved and that all danger of doctrinal corruption or ceremonial impropriety may be removed, this Missal is to be considered fixed and unalterable. No reason for making any major changes in it is envisioned. This decree condemns the idea that the Missal will ever need to be reformed. Consequently, any suggestion that a reform in it is necessary should be regarded as highly suspect and dangerous. Henceforth, this Missal will be one of the standards by which need for reform in the Church must be judged, and if the Church ever falls away from obedience to this decree, a liturgical reform will by that fact e called for, which will consist of a return to the use of this Missal.

       This is not to say that absolutely nothing can be changed in the "Missale." It will be for the Pope and him alone to make any changes in it which he may find necessary and advisable. However, since such changes can pertain only to details, it is out of the question that any changes at all could ever be described as absolutely necessary.

       In accord with the prescription, Pope Urban VII, for instance, arranged for a simplification and clarification of some of the rubrics of the Mass in his revision of 1634.21

      21. (Fortescue. Op. cit. p. 209.)
        It would seem, however, that even the slightest alteration made in the Canon of the Mass would be gravely contrary to a centuries-old liturgical tradition.22
      22. "The Robber Church" (Part 2). Patrick Henry Omlor. Interdum. Issue No. 7, May 31, 1971. Box R., Menlo Park, Calif. Pp 3-4.)
    Only slightly less grave would be a change in the Ordinary of the Mass, which includes all the prayers and rubrics fro the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar to the Last Gospel. With this decree, the Last Gospel was made an integral part of the rite. Latin is the liturgical language of the Roman Rite; the use of vernacular languages is forbidden.23
      23. (Enchiridon Symbolorum. Cc. Trid. Sess. XXIII, loc cit.: p. 411, No. 1759, Canon 9: "If anyone says that the rite of the Roman Church by which a part of the Canon and the words of Consecration are said in a subdued voice or that water should not be added to the wine in the chalice, which is to be offered, since it is contrary to the institution of Christ, let him be anathema." (Author's italics).
  • 2. The subjects of the law: This Missal must be used in all the cathedrals, churches, chapels, oratories, etc., of the Roman Rite. Again, the only exceptions are those places and communities granted the exemption mentioned above. The law binds all Catholics of the Latin Church, including all priests, both secular and religious, chaplains, canons, religious superiors, administrators, all prelates, including bishops and even cardinals. Not admonished to adhere to it scrupulously, neither omitting anything from it, altering it, nor adding anything to it, either by way of prayers or ceremonies.

       The full meaning of this ruling will be missed if the reader fails to recall that before this time, there was a great lack of uniformity in the manner of saying the Mass. This is not to say that there was doctrinal divergence; the variations were all minor and included prayers and ceremonies. Such variation is explained by the fact that there had never before been complete uniformity, such as this decree was then legislating; immemorial customs and special privileges and nationalistic influences explained the variety; and also, bishops of dioceses, heads of religious communities, even Catholic princes had been allowed some say in liturgical matters. The main effect of this decree was to deprive all who held authority over Catholics of such prerogatives, and to concentrate the right to legislate concerning the Holy Mass in the hands of the Supreme Pontiff himself.

       The attempt on the part of anyone to countermand this decree will be grossly sinful, scandalous, and gravely injurious to the Faith. Legally, it will be completely illicit, null and void, and bring on its perpetrators the heaviest censures. It is presumed that such an attempt would be made by one or ore men-a prelate, a council, a group of bishops, a king, some government, or the like-who might be thought to have the authority to do it, and who might be able to make it look right, good, necessary, and urgent. All the faithful should understand in advance that nothing could justify such an action, nothing could legalize it. He who attempts to abolish this Missal - probably by the substitution of a counterfeit, could have only the same kind of intentions that the Protestant "Reformers" have proved themselves to have, namely, subversion and desecration. To do such a thing, that person should be presumed to have the most sinister intentions and heterodox beliefs. His act will be judged by Almighty God and His Beloved Apostles as a direct assault on the Holy Mass and the True Faith. In a word, it will be a most terrible sin, a sacrilege, a brazen and wanton effort to destroy the Mass and the Church.

       Just as all those in authority are henceforth forbidden to change or replace the Missal, all their subjects are commanded to refuse any cooperation with the smallest gesture toward such a transgression. Priests particularly are directed to be ready to suffer ecclesiastical penalties for their refusal to "knuckle under." All cooperation must be regarded as participation and collaboration in this attack on the Mass and therefore gravely sinful, even sacrilegious. Obviously, if no one obeys such a command, the whole effort will be frustrated from the start, as well it ought.

        The violation of this law by any number of people, of whatever rank and prerogative, no matter how frequently, would never abrogate it or render it less binding on them and on all other Catholics, nor reduce in the least the gravity of the sin being committed. The only effects of a general defiance of it would be to call down from Heaven a most terrible punishment upon all such rebels.

  • 3. The penalties for violating of this law: To attempt to say Mass in a way different from that prescribed in the "Missale" is a serious sin of sacrilege. (A sacrilege is defined as the "violation of a sacred thing"). Further, to attempt to alter the Missal in an essential way is likewise a sacrilegious act. The ecclesiastical penalty for either of these sins is the incurrence of the censure of excommunication latae sententiae (i.e., the censure must be imposed by an ecclesiastical court after the sin has been proved).

  • 4. The tine of the law's implementation: The decree requires that all the priests of the Roman Curia begin to use the Missale Romanum within one month of the date of its promulgation (July 14, 1570); those on the Italian side of the Alps must begin within three months; those on the other side of the Alps within six months or as soon as they can procure the new Missal.

        The decree must be considered irrevocable, for so its author meant it to be: "This present document cannot be revoked or modified, but remain(s) always valid and retain(s) its full force." (Appendix I). Therefore no one may validly repeal or countermand it, the reason being, it imposes a moral obligation from which no Catholic can be dispensed. As Catholics, the successors of Pope St. Pius V will be morally bound to adhere to, uphold, and enforce this law.

       It may be argued that since one Pope does not have the power to enact a law which his successors may not abrogate, Quo Primum may be abrogated, as it is thought to have been by Pope Paul VI. It is true that a Pope may not pass a merely ecclesiastical law which His successors may not abrogate, but it is the office and duty of every Pope to enuntiate and specify moral obligations which are essential to the Christian life. In enacting the decree Quo Primum, St. Pius so specified the moral obligations of all Catholics. More than this, the Popes are expected to be the most perfect exemplars of the moral obligation so enuntiated by themselves and their predecessors, particularly such as pertain to the Divine Liturgy.

        The Missale Romanum is the codification of the Mass of the Roman Rite. It does two things therefore: it brings to an end the ritual development of the Mass, and it suppresses the use of all other missals. In effect, therefore, it identifies the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with the Mass of this "Missale", so that, henceforth, all Catholics are morally bound to direct the faith and reverence which are due the Holy Sacrifice, and all the doctrines expressed in and by it, toward the Mass of the Missale Romanum. Bear in mind, the Mass we are speaking of is, after all, essentially that to which the Council of Trent had reference in its decrees and solemn definitions, which definitions all Catholics must give obeisance if they would be saved.

        By the decree Quo Primum, Pope St. Pius put the Mass in the hands of his successors for its protection, in an effort to do all that a Pope might do to establish its form as inviolable and unalterable. He sought to strengthen his law further by binding all Catholics, under pain of mortal sin and the threat of excommunication, to refuse obedience to anyone, even to a Pope, who should attempt to alter the Missal substantially. Though no Pope may bind by law his successors, because of the moral principles involved, all Pope are bound to obey the prescriptions of Pope St. Pius' decree as anyone else, only moreso. The one exception to this truth is that, whereas no one else may make the slightest change in the rite of the Mass, a Pope may licitly make incidental and minor ones which may improve it and be of benefit to the worship of the faithful.

        Recall that, as we have seen, Popes are not infallible in the exercise of their legislative power; they are capable of enacting both foolish and bad laws, of commanding that which is foolish and that which is sinful. Quo Primum cannot remove the possibility that, at some future time, a Pope may attempt legally to alter the Mass radically, or even to abolish it. Its main concern is to repose the Mass in the hands of him who is least likely to because it or to allow others to do so.

        Neither when the great Pope issued this decree nor ever since, until very recently, has anyone questioned its validity. Many today, not understanding it clearly, have presumed to disregard its uncompromising language and claim that, as a "merely ecclesiastical law," it could be abrogated by any of the successors of St. Pius. Perhaps they will be checked somewhat in their offhandedness by being challenged to find an explicit admission from Pope Paul VI that he considers this law either revocable or to have been revoked by himself.

        It can also be said that no one of any stature has ever suggested that the Saint was over-reaching his Papal authority by codifying the ritual of the Roman Mass, or by doing so in such apodictic terms. No one was startled or surprised when he issued Quo Primum, and the Church in his day accepted the Missale Romanum without quarrel or difficulty. It is only since the issuance of the "New Mass" of Pope Paul VI that many Catholics, particularly priests, have begun to question its irrevocability. They have done so out of their need to reconcile Quo Primum with the "New Mass" and with the murmurings of their own consciences. Not being able to do so honestly, they argue that, indeed, Pope St. Pius spoke extremely; his words should not be taken literally. In other words, he made a mistake.

        If these people would only study the decree, they would realize that there is no reason for them to proceed in such a fashion, nor will it do them any good, for the simple reason that its irrevocability is intrinsic to the nature of its object and purpose. Its object is the Holy Mass, which it seeks to give a final and definitive form, and its purpose is to provide maximum protection for the Mass in order to keep it doctrinally pure and liturgically inviolable. Its method is to consign the Mass and the Missal to the hands of the Supreme Pontiff only. He alone may make whatever accidental changes and adjustments which future circumstances and the wisdom of experience dictate; he alone and no one else.

        Quo Primum takes for granted that neither the Pope nor anyone else may alter the "Missale" radically or replace it completely, for to do such a thing would necessarily violate the Mass itself and contradict all the traditions which gave it its form. There was never been a time when a Pope or anyone else had the right to design or create a Mass, since the formation of the Mass was the work of the Church over the centuries. A Mass must have evolved from the traditions of the Apostles themselves.

        The discussion which follows will in no way seek to prove the foregoing because any argument to the contrary is manifestly untenable. The question which now plagues the Church is to what extent Pope Paul VI has changed the Mass, whether in an essential way, or in merely secondary and non-essential details.

        The Great Sacrilege by Father James F. Wathen