Celebrating the Pontifical Mass at the Throne Print
What's That All About
Thursday, Feb. 04, 2016 -- 12:00 AM

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

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

In this short series, we are looking into what Bishop Robert C. Morlino has been doing with the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

You will occasionally see a news story about him celebrating a “Pontifical Mass at the Throne.”

You might not be familiar with that. In the first article, we had a whirlwind explanation of what the Roman Rite is. Now we must drill more deeply.

Novus Ordo

According to the prevailing way Holy Mass is celebrated these days (according to the Novus Ordo or also Ordinary Form), there are optional elements which can be added to make the occasion more solemn.

These vary widely, according to the tastes of bishops, priests, and liturgists.

According to the older, traditional, Extraordinary Form, what is to be done at every level of Holy Mass is carefully spelled out.

The rubrics (the red letters in liturgical books which describe the actions to be performed) developed over many centuries and they were lovingly codified.

St. Teresa of Avila said that she would rather die a thousand times than break the least rubric of the Church’s ceremonies (Life 33.6).

Some of the most beautiful music ever composed in Western civilization was written to enrich more solemn celebrations of Holy Mass.

Our great cathedrals and churches, with the precious art that fills them, were created to house and foster Mass in the older, traditional form.

The ancient form of the Roman Rite is what shaped and nourished the lives of all of the saints and martyrs whom we venerate today.

Traditional form

The Novus Ordo, found in most of our churches now, is mostly based on the traditional form. This is why it is important for all Catholics to know both forms of their Latin Church’s Roman Rite.

If you don’t also know the Extraordinary Form, then you have a big gap in the knowledge of your Catholic heritage. It’s like knowing your siblings, but not your parents or any or your own family’s story.

As Pope Benedict wrote:

“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.”

Occasionally one of the readers of my blog (fatherzonline.com) accuses me of nitpicking digressions. We must drill into all these details and the history to help us understand who we are.

Our liturgical worship of God, especially in the celebration of the Eucharist, is known as the “source and summit” of who we are as Catholics.

Deep roots

Our ancient liturgical worship is rooted deeply in the perennial pondering of man’s great questions about God, the cosmos, and our place before both.

The words of Holy Mass, the gestures, and the details themselves, are treasures. They were carefully weighed and finely polished, handed down with centuries of love by our forefathers . . . to you.

Every spoken syllable and sung note belongs to you. Each exquisite detail is your millennial patrimony. Never let it be denied to you.

It almost was taken away from you, by the way.

The older, traditional form of the Roman Rite was nearly completely suppressed in the years that followed the Second Vatican Council.

Thanks to the vision and legislation of Pope Benedict XVI, it is now returning as a great treasure and tool of Catholic spiritual life.

But what about Bishop Morlino and those “Pontifical Masses?”

That will have to wait for the next installment.


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.