The “Old Western Rite”
As some readers may be aware, Fr. David has asked me to MC an “Old
Western Rite” liturgy on Ascension Day. I thought I’d put down a few
observations to put it into context, both generally, and at SMM.
First of all, the “Old Western Rite” is really a specific subtype of
the western rite as it used to exist: a slightly modified version of
the Tridentine Rite which was set in its main lines at the Council of
Trent and which was discontinued as the principal rite of the Western
Church with the 1970 Missal of Paul VI. In the meantime it had gone
through some minor changes (the “old rite” corresponds to the Missal of
Pius XII: really conservative sedevacantists appeal to the Missal of
We can identify the Tridentine Rite in a couple of ways: by comparing
it with what it replaced — the set of Mediaeval rites of the Western
Church — and with what replaced it. Let’s start with the former.
In its origins, the rite is that of the city of Rome, dating from
about St. Ambrose’s day (we have little evidence for the Latin Rite in
Rome before his time, although we do know that it replaced a Greek
rite at some point during the third or fourth century). It has some
very conservative characteristics (for example, the division of the
Canon of the Mass into separate prayers) compared to the other Latin
rites (Gallican, Ambrosian, Mozarabic) and has also been distinguished
from the beginning by its relative sobriety and terseness.
Textually, the Roman Rite can be considered essentially identical to
the Sarum Rite in the missal (there are greater variances in the
office), so in an Anglican context there isn’t a lot of textual
difference between the appeal to Anglican history (represented by, for
example, Percy Dearmer’s Parson’s Handbook) and the broader
appeal to Rome as the patriarchate of the West represented by the
Society of SS. Peter and Paul (which represents the SMM tradition at
least from Fr. Hiscocks day). Most of it had stabilized by the time
of Gregory the Great and that version was the one that was introduced
by Augustine of Canterbury to England; the later Gelasian Missal which
became the western standard in Charlemagne’s day was also received in
England (it had been, after all, put together by Alcuin, an Englishman).
Multiple minor variations of the Roman Rite developed during the Middle
Ages, of which the Sarum Rite was one; the Council of Trent produced a
uniform rite (generally by pruning away excesses which had developed
during the period from about 1000 to the time of the Council, and
using as a basis the relatively restrained mass as used by the
Franciscans, who had been less inclined to elaborate the rite in the
first place). However, in fundamentals, the liturgy as standardized by
Trent was essentially the Mass of the Twelfth Century.
This rite became the general rite of the west except in those areas
which had a rite older than 200 years and which wished
to retain it. A few places did retain their rites, notably Milan
(which has a rite which is sibling to, not derived from the Roman
Rite) and Lyons (which retained its rite until the 18th century) but
most locations voluntarily adopted the new missal. In this sense it
is the first rite which can really be called “Western” in the sense
that it was meant to (and did) cover the entire area of the Latin
The Anglican Prayer Book Communion rite is a descendant (via the 1549
version, which is in many ways a somewhat simplified paraphrase) of
the Sarum Missal. Dom Gregory Dix covers the process of derivation in
The Shape of the Liturgy and the result is analysed by Bouyer
in Eucharist, if anyone wants more details.
In about 1922 SMM adopted the Tridentine Rite as its normative mass.
It diverged in only a few ways from the rite of the Roman Missal:
- It was in “Prayer-Book” English; at various times the English Missal and the
Anglican Missal were used.
- It used the “interim rite” in place of the Roman Canon. This
substituted the 1919 “Prayer of Consecration” for a portion of the
Gregorian Canon, but retained the (silent) recitation of the opening
and latter parts of the Gregorian Canon. (For some low masses, the Gregorian
Canon was used)
- I have been unable to find any evidence that SMM ever used some of
the fussier observances of the Roman Rite, notably the osculata sacra
(kissing anything and kissing the priest’s hand before handing
it to the priest), which were among the later developments preserved by Trent.
The ritual has been described as “everything in the Sacred
Congregation of Rites except the Latin”, and varied at times between
the Anglican reference Ritual Notes (at the time of Garry Lovatt as
M.C.) and the Roman reference, Fortescue’s Ceremonies of the Roman
Rite (at the time of Ron Payne).
What we mean by the “old rite” now is a little fuzzier. At Rome, it’s
fairly clear: the new rite is that of the Missal 1970, and the old rite is that
of the Missal of Pius XII.
The major differences between the two rites are as follows:
- The vernacular is permitted (but not required) as the language of
- Westward-facing celebration is permitted (but not required)
instead of eastward-facing.
- The Synaxis, the part of the mass from the entrance to the
offertory, is now performed with the sacred ministers at the sedilia
rather than the altar.
- A three-year lectionary replaces the old (since at least 600 AD or
so) one-year lectionary. This Roman revision is the base of the
- Three additional prayers were licensed for general use along with
the Gregorian Canon, which itself was slightly modified to add an
acclamation in the Eastern style.
- Some, but not all, of the later additions to the rite (mainly
post-1200) were eliminated. These included the second/third collects,
the Last Gospel, and various private prayers of the priest. On the
other hand, many developments from this period were retained, such as
the censing of the altar at the introit and the priest’s prayers at
The use of the order of the subdiaconate was discontinued; to
replace it two offices (lector and eucharistic minister) were
added or expanded. This essentially meant that for a normal parish
there is now no distinction between the Sung Mass and the Solemn Mass.
- Many special services (such as Ash Wednesday, Candlemas, Ember
Days (actually abolished)) were shortened and simplified. The Holy
Week services, which had already been updated in 1956, were updated
- The preparatory rite at the steps of the Altar became a somewhat
watered down penitential rite at the beginning of the liturgy which could take
the place of the Asperges me.
However, at SMM the changeover was gradual and in fact has never (from
a Roman point of view) been complete.
When the 1959/1962 Prayer Book was introduced, the revised Prayer of
Consecration (derived fairly directly from the English 1929 BCP)
replaced the interim rite. This text had not been particularly well
thought of by Anglo-Catholics (notably Gregory Dix) but it was
official, and SMM had tended to keep broadly technically correct in its
observation of BCP rubrics.
At about the same time, it was becoming apparent that pressure for
change was growing at Rome as well — Jungmann’s study of the Roman
Rite tends to be quite critical of many of the more mediaeval elements
in the mass — and Fr. Crummer introduced changes which technically
mark the end of the “Old Western Rite” before he left the parish:
notably, he removed the full celebration of the low mass by the priest
at the altar. A couple of years later, during the interregnum between
Fr. Crummer and Fr. Hutt, Fr. Fairweather shifted the (High) mass from
Eastward-facing to Westward-facing. Garry Lovatt (as he put it) “choreographed”
the changes involved in moving from eastward to westward-facing
celebration; as this was done before the full imposition
of the 1970 Missal it’s fair to say that our “modern rite” is a sibling, not a copy,
of the Roman Novus Ordo.
However, SMM retained use of the old lectionary for twenty years,
until 1986, and various other items were changed in bits and
pieces. In some cases old uses were retained — our Holy Week services
are broadly variants of the 1956 revision, not 1970, and we have
retained the use of subdeacons; in others changes did not follow the
Missal 1970 but diverged from it (at some point between 1970 and 1983
SMM changed to follow the Missal 1970 in having the
- Libera nos
said aloud after the Lord’s Prayer, but this was dropped by Fr. Harold
in 1986, despite the fact that it is retained in the Missal 1970; this is also
true of the Lord, I am not worthy at the communion). At
the time when the “old rite” was first revived for Dedication, in
1971, there would have been no textual difference between the
old and the new rites, but that is no longer the case.
The old rite presents some of us with a bit of a dilemma. The attitude
towards it had been pretty well universally unenthusiastic among liturgiologists
prior to its replacement; Louis Bouyer went so far as to compare it to
“a corpse preserved in amber” in Liturgical Piety; Jungmann’s
treatment of the mediaeval traits preserved in the Tridentine Rite after
the Council of Trent is distinctly negative. However, after its
replacement, the same figures reacted even more negatively to the
revision that did take place (Bouyer referred to the 1970 liturgy as
“decomposing”, having resigned from the commission dealing with the Missal
in frustration; Jungmann ended his days in the Imperial Chapel in Vienna
where the old rite was preserved by special indult.) There was a good deal
of politics around the development of the new missal, and much of it seems
to have been driven by members of the Curia with agendas rather than
by the guidance of the liturgiologists who were consulted.
At a distance, the new rite looks very much like an attempt to get back to
the mass at the time of Gregory the Great. However, it preserves many features
which are distinctly later than that time, and it abolishes many items of genuine antiquity.
It shows little sensitivity to the historical grounding of the parts of the rite (in
particular in its attempt to shoehorn what were previously separate occasional
rites such as the Ash Wednesday rite or the Palm Sunday mass of the palms) into
the structure of the mass (the extreme example being its wholesale reworking
of the Great Vigil of Easter). The addition of “alternate” prayers to the Gregorian
Canon has led to the effective supplanting of it in many parishes (usually because
it is longer than the other choices). Many details of the new rite make systematic
sense only within the old rite, but remain in place suspended in air.
The most visible difference between the two rites is that in the Tridentine Rite –
and every western rite going back to antiquity — prayer is always to the east, and
the focus of the eucharist as an offering and a sacrifice thereby is emphasized. Although
eastward-facing celebration is allowed in the new rite, in practice it is almost always (except for some low masses) replaced by westward-facing celebration, which has the
rationale of representing the meal-like character of the Eucharist (going back to
the Agape of the very early Church).
The other major concern is that the old rite, which preserved internally many of the marks of its development, reflected the deep grounding of the Church itself in historical particularity. The ways in which the new rite was changed, however, have led to a far more “abstract” grounding, as though in an attempt to work towards an ideal a great deal of the particular had been jettisoned. One gets the sense that the reworkers were more interested in abstract consistency than in concrete particularities.