The Roman Missal of AD 2100

The core of this post is pure speculation. I have to say that up front, but it’s speculation based on what I think are fairly sound premises.  One thing that’s clear is that our current liturgical perch, with the Roman Rite divided between the “ordinary” form (the novus ordo or, in Gamber’s phrase, the ritus modernus) and the “extraordinary” form (the usus antiquior, TLM, Tridentine Mass, whatever term one prefers), is temporary. Somewhere down the line, we should expect a reunified Roman Rite; Kurt Cardinal Koch has said it; Raymond Cardinal Burke  told us so just the other week. And we can infer a little about the shape of that rite, too: It will draw some elements from the usus antiquior. We know that because the Holy Father could have achieved a unified Roman Rite simply by revoking the indults and Ecclesia Dei, and supressing the usus antiquior; that he instead chose to reinvigorate and liberalize its use tells us that Benedict anticipates that the next Roman Missal will be a true blend of the two forms. So what’s the gameplan?

I will tell you my own view, and I think that Benedict has something similar in mind. First, I fully embrace the Council’s desire for reform of the usus antiquior; I think their concerns were well-taken and one cannot simply ignore the council. And why would be ignore it anyway? The situation that we have today is not the result of executing Sacrosanctum Concilium—Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy—but rather the result of its hijacking and use as a battering ram to force through a great number of liturgical changes of which it said nothing. And that’s the next point to make: Second, I think that the execution of Sacrosanctum Concilium was horribly botched; as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in an introdution to Msgr. Klaus Gamber’s Reform of the Roman Liturgy, “after the Council[,] … in the place of liturgy as the fruit of development came fabricated liturgy. We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and development over the centuries, and replaced it … with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product.” Moreover, whatever the merits or shortcomings of the novus ordo itself, the era introduced a number of problems that are found nowhere in its text—the comprehensive vernacularization of the Mass, versus populum, etc. And third, we must recognise that the novus ordo is not going to simply disappear.

The upshot is that we have a bifurcated liturgy that is problematic on both forks: The unreformed MR1962, in which perdures all the issues that led the Council to ask for reform, and the ritus modernus, which bears little resemblance to the Mass envisioned by the Council and which has real problems in both its platonic form and especially in the ars celebrandi that has grown around it. How do we move forward?

I think (and as I’ve said, I don’t know but I suspect that Benedict has something similar in mind) that in the long term, the way forward is to actually implement Sacrosanctum Concilium—basically, to have a do-over. 1 But what does that look like? In practice, it means reforming MR1962 in line with Sacrosanctum Concilium, incorporating the legitimate reforms of MR1969 while purging the problems that came with it and that were added to it by a deeply flawed culture in the ars celebrandi. Before one can do that, however, the usus antiquior has to be healthy enough to survive the operation, which means that it has to be returned to the point where it’s a healthy, living liturgy in widespread use, which ordinary Catholics encounter in their parishes. We are decades away from that point, but in Summorum Pontificum, Benedict has begun the process.

And after what is really a lot of prologue, we now turn to the pure speculation part. What will the Mass look like in nine decades?

My bet would be that we’d see an opening rite lifted almost whole from the usus antiquior, but with the congregation giving the responses in the manner of the novus ordo (“V. Deus, tu convérsus vivificábis nos. R. Et plebs tua lætábitur in te,” etc.). I don’t speculate on what language that part will be in, but I’ll speculate that the priest will face the same direction as the congregation. We’ll then have a liturgy of the word very much like the novus ordo, in the vernacular and versus populum. There would follow a hybrid liturgy of the eucharist in either latin or the vernacular depending on the parish, celebrated versus apsidem, but with an audible canon (most likely the additional EPs from the novus ordo will stay), usually sung and in latin. Postcommunion will probably be short and versus populum after the pattern of the novus ordo. The propers throughout will be in the vernacular.

That’s pure guesswork—and in truth, my predictive powers are colored by what I’d like to see—but if I had to put money on it, because that’s what I think the council’s vision was, that’s what I’d bet the liturgy celebrated by the first bishop of Olympus Mons will look like. The current situation isn’t stable, and I wouldn’t bet against seeing such a synthesis in my twilight years under a Pope who may not even have been be born yet.


  1. In the short term, the way forward is to first begin celebrating the novus ordo according to its text and then to celebrate it according to those traditional  liturgical norms that still apply. That is to say, first we have to fix the translation, which has now been done, and then we have to recover an authentic ars celebrandi, which includes music, posture, and so on.

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