An Attempt to Place St. Pius X at the Origins of the New Mass

September 21, 2021
Pope St. Pius X celebrating Mass

The website has published a two-part study titled “The 'Modern' Mass Versus the Mass “of all time," which attempts to show that Paul VI's Mass was just as traditional as the Tridentine Mass. The arguments which are brought in to support this warrant a response.

The first argument brought forward is that of “active participation,” which appears eleven times in Sacrosanctum Concilium, the constitution on the liturgy of the Second Vatican Council. The article tries to bring its paternity to Pope St. Pius X.

But this attempt is based on a gross misconception. There is ambiguity - that is, a markedly different meaning - between what is expressed by St. Pius X, as well as Pope Pius XII, and the conciliar constitution.

It should be noted first that the Pope of the anti-modernist oath uses the term in the motu proprio Tra le sollecitudini of 1903 - which relates to sacred music. The holy Pope makes “active participation in the sacrosanct mysteries” “the first and indispensable source of the true Christian spirit.”

But to know what he meant by this expression, we must consider how St. Pius X is going to carry out this program.

Regarding the faithful, participation is addressed in two ways: by encouraging the restoration of Gregorian chant to make it accessible to the faithful; and by promulgating two decrees: one on the communion of children from the age of reason, and a second on frequent communion. Song and union with Christ through holy communion: this is what St. Pius X means by “active participation.”

Pope Pius XII also spoke on the subject in his masterful encyclical devoted to the liturgy, Mediator Dei, dated 1947. Faced with the deviations that were emerging, the Pope took care in his turn to characterize this “active” participation.

The angelic pastor encourages “all Christians” to “participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice ... not in a passive and negligent manner ... but with care and fervor which unites them closely to the High Priest.”

Pius XII goes on to show that this participation consists essentially in identification with Christ, citing St. Paul in particular: “Have in yourselves the sentiments which were in Christ Jesus.” This requires “that we mystically die on the cross, ... that we become, with the Immaculate Host, a single victim pleasing to the Eternal Father.”

This is why he encouraged the publication of Roman missals for the faithful, so that “united to the priest, [they] pray with him using the same words and with the same sentiments of the Church.”

And Pope Pius XII gives an explanation filled with common sense and pastoral solicitude which fixes the intention of the Church. He says first that “many of the faithful are unable to use the Roman Missal, even though it is written in the vernacular; and not all are capable of understanding correctly the liturgical rites and formulas.”

In this case, they can “lovingly meditate on the mysteries of Jesus Christ or perform other exercises of piety or recite prayers which, though they differ from the sacred rites, are still essentially in harmony with them.” 

In the conciliar text, the term “active” participation has a double meaning. For many bishops, it meant what Popes St. Pius X and Pius XII described and explained.

But for the innovators, it meant an “active” participation, by which the faithful are responsible for a more or less important part of the material realization of the ceremony: readings, acclamations, presentation of gifts, and even distribution of Holy Communion.

Thus, there is a rupture between the concepts of St. Pius X and Pius XII and the conciliar concepts. Direct proof of this fact can be adduced. A text by Paul VI from 1974 states: “However, it is a mistake to recite the Rosary during the celebration of the liturgy, though unfortunately this practice still persists here and there.” (Marialis cultus, no. 48, February 2, 1974).

What Pius XII praised as an attitude in all respects in accordance with the spirit of the liturgy, Paul VI condemns as an error.