Friday, May 01, 2020

Best One-Volume Scholarly Introduction to the Traditional Mass, Now in English

I am delighted to announce the publication by Angelico Press of Michael Fiedrowicz’s masterful work The Traditional Mass: History, Form, and Theology of the Classical Roman Rite (first published in 2011, and now in its third German edition).

Having been blessed with the opportunity to read this book twice and really absorb its content, I can confidently say that there is nothing comparable to it in the English language, in its comprehensive scope, depth of research, and insight into every aspect of the liturgy. It is a compelling apologia for the old rite at every level and on every head. The author’s judgments are judicious, polished, sober, and clear; there is not a touch of exaggeration or unfairness. The result is both triumphant and devastating.

In these strange times, when we see the number of traditional Masses at an all-time high (thanks to a proliferation of private Masses), the CDF issuing decrees that precisely imply the permanence of the usus antiquior in the future of the Church, and an ominously-worded questionnaire sent out to bishops about the implementation of Summorum Pontificum, we may have many questions and a few anxieties, but we also enjoy a towering certainty: interest in and adherence to the traditional Mass will not subside. On the contrary, it will continue to grow, seminarian by seminarian, priest by priest, and even quite possibly bishop by bishop as the champions of rupture retire and churchmen with less rigid ideas about the “success” of the liturgical reform and the “outdatedness” of our heritage take their place.

Fiedrowicz’s work arrives, therefore, at exactly the right moment. If you are going to read just one serious book on the TLM, this is the one. In addition, I recommend purchasing copies for every priest you know who already offers the usus antiquior — indeed, for every priest who is, or may be, interested in learning more about the very Roman rite for which he was ordained.

Table of Contents

In the following excerpt from the book (pp. 58-61, minus the footnotes), Fiedrowicz applies Newman’s theory of development to the classical Roman rite:
The organic, homogenous unfolding of the traditional rite of the Mass can similarly be illustrated on the basis of the seven criteria identified by John Henry Newman in his work Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845) in order to show how the changes witnessed in the form of the Roman Catholic Church over the course of centuries are the expression of a continuous and seamless development.
       The first criterion is the “Preservation of Type,” which deals with the protection of the original form and proportions. With all of the changes to the outward form, the Eucharist’s sacrificial character in the traditional rite of the Mass remained decisive, while the meal aspect of the action of the sacrifice is subordinate and secondary.
       The second criterion is “Continuity of Principles.” Theocentrism and never anthropocentrism has been part of the inner basic policy of the classical rite, which manifests itself in the outward form. The traditional form of the liturgy does not consider itself as a parish assembly, but rather as the performance of worship with two dimensions, the glory of God (latreutic goal) and the sanctification of the people (sacramental-soteriological goal).
       “Power of Assimilation” constitutes the third criterion of organic development, which derives its vitality from the adoption of outside and foreign elements, without losing its own identity. A concrete example of this is the so-called Roman-Frankish mixed liturgy, in which the original form of the Pontifical High Mass incorporated elements of monastic piety—such as private prayers of the priest—and was embellished through rich ceremonial forms and gestures.
       The fourth criterion, “Logical Sequence,” consists in recognizing, in retrospect, an inner coherence between the earlier and later stages of development. In this sense, the later silent prayers of the priest come up as the spiritual interpretation of the liturgical action that was already previously done without accompanying prayers (e.g., oblation, incensing, and washing of the hands). In the same way, the prayers at the foot of the altar are only the later organic development of the earlier acts of preparation (silent pauses or prostrations before the altar, apologia, and the praying of psalms belonging to the entrance ritual).
       The fifth criterion, “Anticipation of Its Future,” demands that later occurrences are not completely new; rather, future developments must already be suggestively present in some form. Thus, for instance, Communion in the mouth, accepted during the Middle Ages, was already anticipated in earliest times in those original gestures of Communion that manifested veneration (e.g., obeisance, veiled hands, and genuflection).
       “Conservative Action on Its Past” demands, as the sixth criterion, that previous achievements may not be overturned and abandoned by further developments. An indication of organic development is continuity, not breaking with the past. The classical rite of Mass perfectly satisfies this criterion, when, for example, elements of the original pontifical liturgy, such as processions, have been preserved in principle, even in the simple private Mass, although in a reduced form, such as a turning of the celebrant’s body or a change from one side of the altar to the other.
       The seventh and last criterion is “Chronic Vigor.” In contrast to many ideas and innovations that, after a sensational beginning, quickly grew old or completely vanished, genuine development can be identified by permanence and unspent vitality. The classical Roman rite organically and continually evolved from its core components over the course of 1,500 years. Its chronic vigor is apparent not least in the fact that on the eve of Vatican II, neither the laity, nor the parish clergy, nor the bishops were demanding profound changes to the liturgy. Its chronic vigor is also further demonstrated by the fact that it is just those monasteries, communities, and seminaries that have preserved the traditional rite, or at least maintained it alongside the newer form of the liturgy, that have found growing attention and increasing numbers of entrants in recent decades and years.
       Succisa virescit—having been cut down, it flourishes [again]: this motto of the Benedictine Abbey of Monte Cassino, which after afflictions and destructions was invariably rebuilt, can also be applied to the classical rite of the Mass, which despite exterior adversity over the course of history has proven and will continue to prove its chronic vigor.
*       *       *
Publisher’s Description

In view of ever deepening interest in the traditional form of the Roman rite of Mass — which, according to Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum, demands “due honor for its venerable and ancient usage”—a comprehensive but concise introduction to its history, form, and theology is more than ever desirable. In contrast to conventional explanations of the Mass that offer practical or allegorical explanations of particular moments in the rite, the present work attends to the organic process by which the Roman rite was built up from its foundations into a magnificent structure, marked by the accumulated riches of each age through which it passed, and characterized by order, beauty, and piety in its texts, gestures, rubrics, chants, and calendar — ranging from the major elements to the most minute details. Treated as well are the reality of the sacred and how it is encountered, the irreducible role of ritual action, the eastward direction of prayer, the formation and value of a specialized sacred language, and liturgical participation correctly understood.

Product Details

History/Politics, Liturgy, Theology
350 pages
6 × 9 in
978-1-62138-523-3 (paper)
978-1-62138-524-0 (cloth)
Available at all Amazon outlets

Praise for The Traditional Mass

“Readers will find here much with which to grow in their appreciation of Pope Benedict XVI’s insistence that, in respect of the older liturgy: ‘What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.’ The publication of this English translation marks another important step towards achieving that goal.” — DOM ALCUIN REID

“This historically rigorous and theologically informed book is indispensable for anyone who cares about Pope Benedict XVI’s liturgical vision. I am delighted that this outstanding introduction to the traditional form of the Roman Mass is now available to Anglophone readers.” — FR. UWE MICHAEL LANG

“Michael Fiedrowicz here accomplishes something well-nigh miraculous: a comprehensive introduction to the elaborate history, complex structure, and sublime theology of the traditional Latin Mass — supported by abundant scholarship — all within the scope of a single highly readable volume. Quite simply, this is the best one-volume work on the classical Roman Mass published since the Second Vatican Council.” — PETER A. KWASNIEWSKI

“I am pleased that Angelico Press has made available in English translation Prof. Fiedrowicz’s substantive achievement — the fruit of careful research, orthodox faith, and reverence for the riches handed on in tradition.” — FR. THOMAS KOCIK

“The Roman Church has been rendered a great service with the publication of The Traditional Mass. Whereas previous tomes on the Roman Liturgy have often been too technical to appeal to the average Catholic, Fiedrowicz’s style — simple, informative, yet profound — grips and guides the reader from the outset. I heartily recommend this masterpiece to all Catholics who desire to better understand and appreciate the traditional Roman Mass.” — LOUIS J. TOFARI

About the Author

Michael Fiedrowicz, born in Berlin in 1957, is a Roman-Catholic priest of the archdiocese of Berlin. He studied Theology, Philosophy, Latin Philology, and Patristics at Berlin, Paderborn, and Rome universities. Since 2001 he has been Professor of History of the Early Church, Patrology, and Christian Archeology at the Theological Faculty of Trier. His many works include Apology in Early Christianity, Theology of the Church Fathers, Handbook of Patristics, and Ecclesia militans.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: