History of the Catholic Mass

The Catholic Mass' history, from the Last Supper to the present day, is one of meticulous care and organic development.

Early Growth

On Holy Thursday, Christ instituted the Holy Sacrifice of Mass, commanding His disciples to offer it as well.1

The earliest Masses had the character of the Last Supper, with readings from Holy Scripture and the offering of the Holy Sacrifice. During these earliest liturgies, the priest sat at one end of a U-shaped table with the faithful sitting beside him, as it was at the Last Supper.2

With these essentials in place, with the Holy Ghost in the life of the Church, and with care from the Bishops of Rome, the form of the Mass in the West took on a Roman character, which established its everlasting beauty. Latin became the universal language of the Church. Gregorian chant, adopted from the chants in the old Synagogue3, became standardized and used throughout Mass.

Council of Trent and the "Tridentine" Mass

With the rise of Protestantism, some had sought to change the Mass, even those faithful to the Catholic Church. This caused the Council of Trent to call for its restoration (this is why the Traditional Latin Mass is sometimes called the "Tridentine" Mass). This restoration was carried out under the authority of St. Pius V in 1570, who "restored the Missal itself to the original form and rite of the holy Fathers."4

This same form of Mass, which nourished so many souls since the beginning of the Church, can be experienced today in the Traditional Latin Mass. "What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too . . . 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."5

Classical Latin Mass in Our Modern Day

After the Second Vatican Council, a new form of Mass was introduced. During this time, the Traditional Latin Mass could be offered with permission. Among many others, St. Padre Pio and St. Josemaria Escriva, two popular saints of our modern day, used this permission to continue to say the ancient Mass.

In 1984 the Vatican allowed for bishops to permit the Traditional Mass, and in 1988, Pope John Paul II asked that there be great application of this permission.

Now, in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI has given all priests and faithful the right to offer and attend the Traditional Latin Mass, without seeking any special permission, with his milestone document, "Summorum Pontificum."


  1. 1 Corinthians 11:23-25.
  2. Louis Bouyer, qtd. in Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Spirit of the Liturgy, (Ignatius Press). For excerpt, see http://www.ignatiusinsight.com/features2006/ratzinger_altareast_jan06.asp.
  3. Father Joseph Fessio, SJ, "The Mass of Vatican II," IgnatiusInsight.com, http://www.ignatiusinsight.com/features2005/fessio_massv2_1_jan05.asp.
  4. Pope St. Pius V, "Quo Primum," http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Pius05/p5quopri.htm.
  5. Pope Benedict XVI, Letter to Bishops Accompanying "Summorum Pontificum".