See also past Guest columns.

The different Rites of the Latin Church Print
What's That All About
Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016 -- 12:00 AM

What's That All About column by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

The first in a series by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf about the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

“Bishop Morlino did what? What’s that all about?”

You may have seen notices and articles over the last year or so about Bishop Robert C. Morlino celebrating “Pontifical Mass at the Throne in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.”

It is possible that some of you, seeing “Throne,” and “Pontifical,” and “Extraordinary,” might say “What’s that all about?” as you turn the page.

In a short series over the next few issues of the Catholic Herald, let’s drill into “what that’s all about.”

The Latin Church

I suspect that 99 percent of you reading this belong to the Latin Church, that is, the Catholic Church in the West, rather than Eastern Catholic Churches.

The Latin Church properly celebrates its sacred liturgy in Latin. Yes, Latin.

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) intended that most of the Mass and other rites we celebrate should remain in the Latin language.

That’s not what happened, however. How it came to pass that Latin was nearly obliterated in our Latin Church is a whodunit for another day.

Different Rites

That aside, the Latin Church has different Rites, that is, the forms and manners of religious observance of organized groups and the systems of words and actions for performing acts of religion.

Some cities and regions have ancient Rites (such as the Mozarabic Rite in Spain or Ambrosian Rite around Milan). Some orders of Religious have theirs (Dominicans, Cistercians, and Carthusians).

There is, more recently, a new Anglican Rite, mostly in English, for Anglicans (Episcopalians) who have sought unity with the Catholic Church.

The Roman Rite

The dominant Rite in the Latin Church is, by leaps and bounds, the Roman Rite.

The Roman Rite goes back to the earliest days of the Church. It was already well-formed and regulated long before the era of Pope St. Gregory I, “the Great” (+604).

Over the centuries, the Roman Rite absorbed elements of other Rites, such as those found in Gaul.

When the Protestant theological revolt was tearing Christendom limb from limb, the Council of Trent ordered that for the sake of unity, there should be a revision and standardization of the Roman Rite.

Thus, in the 16th century, the so-called “Tridentine” (from Trent) liturgical books were issued in 1570 for use of the Roman Rite everywhere in the world (with a few ancient exceptions such as those local and religious Rites mentioned above).

The Roman Rite was from then on, in constant use by the Western, Latin Catholic Church through the entire world until about 1970, when it underwent massive changes.

Only some of those changes were actually mandated by Vatican II, but how we got what we have today is part of the aforementioned whodunit.

Traditional form

To make a long story short, since Vatican II, in little pockets, the traditional form of the Roman Rite, sometimes called “Tridentine” was maintained, even though the Novus Ordo (“new order”) of the Roman Rite took over nearly everywhere.

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI determined that all the priests of the Latin Church had permission also to use the liturgical books as they were before Vatican II.

He also determined that, as far as the law was concerned, there is only one Roman Rite, but in two different “forms,” the Ordinary (the Novus Ordo which started in 1970) and the Extraordinary (1570 to now).

When you read about Bishop Morlino, other bishops, and many of the priests of the Diocese of Madison and other places, celebrating Mass with the “Extraordinary Form,” that’s what’s going on.

But wait! There’s more. In the next installment, we’ll get into why we Catholics need all this stuff.


Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, “Father Z”, a Catholic priest ordained by St. John Paul II, has a background in classical language and patristic theology and worked in the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei.” He has been a weekly columnist for The Wanderer and the UK’s Catholic Herald and runs his award-winning blog (fatherzonline.com). He lives and works in the Diocese of Madison and travels, giving talks, conferences, and retreats.