Beginning in 1965, still during the Council, there was initiated the celebration of a Mass which foresaw many parts being celebrated in the vernacular tongue with the altars turned around to face the people. On March 7, 1965, Paul VI celebrated Mass in Italian in a parish in Rome and exhorted the parish priests to work together for the application of the reform. On March 4, 1967, the recitation of the Canon of the Mass in a loud voice and in the vernacular tongue was authorized. In Rome, as in other parts of the world, there was reistance to the liturgical reform, which saw its first expression in the foundation of the international Una Voce association to safeguard the Latin-Gregorian liturgy.
Una Voce Italia was founded in Rome on June 7, 1966. Its president was Duke Filippo Caffarelli (1801-1975) of an ancient Roman family, and its vice-president was the writer Eugenio Montale. On January 7, 1967, Caffarelli met in Paris with representatives of Una Voce from thirteen other countries to organize the Foederatio Internationalis Una Voce (FIUV). At this gathering Dr. Eric Vermeheren de Saventhem (1919-2005) was elected as president and Caffarelli was elected as vice-president. Eric de Saventhem lived in Clarens, Switzerland with his wife, the countess Elizabeth von Plettenberg (1911-2000), where each day they drove for an hour by car to assist at Holy Mass at the seminary of Ecône, but they were frequently in Rome to plead the cause of the ancient liturgy.
On April 3, 1969, the Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum was issued, which consisted of two documents: the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani and the new Ordo Missae itself. The texts had been formulated by the Consilium ad Exsequendam Constitutionem de Sacra Liturgia, established in 1964 by Paul VI, who had named as its secretary Bishop Annibale Bugnini, who is now known to history as the destroyer of the ancient Mass.
During those very same days, a group of theologians gathered in Rome to draw up a rigorous critique of the new liturgy entitled Breve esame critico del Novus ordo Missae. In October 1969 the text was sent to Paul VI with an accompanying letter from Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci. In their letter addressed to the Pontiff, they affirmed that “the Novus Ordo Missae [...]represents, both as a whole and in its particulars, a striking departure from the Catholic theology of the Holy Mass which was formulated in Session XXII of the Council of Trent, which, by definitively fixing the “canons” of the rite, erected an insurmountable barrier against any heresy which could attack the integrity of the mystery.”
Cardinal Alfons Maria Stickler wrote in a letter of November 27, 2004, occasioned by a republication of the Breve esame critico: “the analysis of the ‘Novus Ordo’ made by these two cardinals has not lost any of its valor or, unfortunately, its relevance. [...] The results of the reform, in the opinion of many, have been devastating, right up to the present day. To their credit, Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci immediately noted that that modification of the rites was leading to a fundamental change in doctrine. [...] It is therefore praiseworthy and useful to listen once again – as is your desire – to the voices of these two princes of the Church, defenders of doctrine, Catholic Tradition, and the Papacy.”
We should also recall a 1971 “memorandum” in which more than 100 distinguished people from all over the world requested that the Holy See “would want to consider with the greatest seriousness what a tremendous responsibility it would have before the history of the human spirit if it would not consent to allow the traditional Mass to live on perpetually.” Those who signed included: Romano Amerio, Jorge Luis Borges, Marcel Brion, Agatha Christie, Henri de Montherlant, Augusto Del Noce, Robert Graves, Graham Green, Julien Green, Yehudi Menuhin, Malcolm Muggeridge, and Bernard Wall.
On June 28-29, 1970, groups of Catholic traditionalists from all over the world converged on Rome to take part in a pilgrimage of prayer and expiation. On the morning of June 28 Holy Mass was celebrated at the Colosseum. In the afternoon the pilgrims gathered at the Basilica of Saint Mary Major where they swore fidelity to the Tridentine Mass at the tomb of Saint Pius V. Then, as they recited the Rosary and held their banners high, they processed to the tomb of Saint Pius X at St. Peter’s Basilica. These faithful pilgrims passed the night of June 28-29 in St. Peter’s Square, praying under the window of the Holy Father. Una Voce Italia reported the news of this first pilgrimage of Tradition to Rome, reporting the opinion of a theologian, who said “the Church by her mission and by her divine nature is always above the men of the Church, who are fallible and ephemeral ministers, dispensers of the mysteries of God who are called, before everything else, to be faithful to their mission. Therefore, let us not call heretics and schismatics those who oppose themselves to this betrayal and against the machinations of the wolves: they are, like Athanasius, Hilary, and their imitators, the true representatives of the authentic Church.”
Three international pilgrimages took place in Rome with the purpose of reconfirming fidelity to the traditional Mass and the catechism of Saint Pius X. The most famous was that of Credo in 1975, led by the French writer Michel de Saint-Pierre (1916-1987). Beginning in January of that year an “antimodernist” publication called “Sì sì, no no” directed by the priest Francesco Maria Putti (1909-1984) was widely distributed in the Vatican, mercilessly documenting those ecclesiastics with “conciliar” sympathies who were responsible, while its editor Giovanni Volpe, who was also an assiduous promoter of the traditional Mass, made known in Italy the writings of the best French authors against the new liturgy, from Jean Madiran to Louis Salleron.
On June 6, 1969, the bishop of Fribourg [Switzerland], Msgr. François Charrière, had authorized Msgr. Lefebvre to open an international boarding school in his episcopal see. Faced with an increasing demand for admission, the French bishop acquired a second house at Ecône in the Valais, which became the formation center of the International Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X, canonically erected on November 1, 1970 in the Diocese of Lausanne-Geneva-Fribourg. The Holy See warned Msgr. Lefebvre not to ordain his seminarians. But on June 29, 1976, before a group of the faithful gathered from all over the world, the French archbishop ordained 13 of his seminarians to the subdiaconate and another 13 to the priesthood, incurring by this act a suspension a divinis. His meeting with Paul VI at Castel Gandolfo on September 11, 1976, did not lead to any solution to the problem.
Princess Elvina Pallavicini (1914-2004), who received a bronze medal for military valor for her commitment to support the monarchist partisans during the German occupation of Rome, had made her Roman palace on the Quirinal hill an important meeting place for the ecclesiastical, political and aristocratic world of the capital. In 1977 the princess invited Msgr. Lefevre to her historic palace in Rome to explain the reasons for his position. This conference drew the attention of the world to the existence of a group of Roman patricians and nobility, still very much alive, of which Princess Pallavicini was the most combative expression. Along with her we recall the name of the Marquis Luigi Coda Nunziante (1930-2015), who was an untiring promoter of the traditional Mass, to which he remained faithful until his death.
During those years, Fr. Antonio Coccia (1914-1998), a distinguished theologian and patrologist, celebrated the Holy Mass according to the traditional rite each day at the Franciscan convent of San Giacomo and on Sundays at the Oratory of San Girolamo della Carità near Piazza Farnese, with the encouragement of Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, who often went to see him personally. Father Coccia was a Pentientiary of St. Peter’s Basilica, a confessor and spiritual director. He kept the traditional Mass alive in Rome, and it was publicly celebrated by him and many other priests in numerous Roman churches (the churches of Our Lady of Loreto near Trajan’s Column, San Salvatore in Lauro, the church of the Madonna della Luce in Trastevere, San Nicola in Carcere, Gesù e Maria al Corso, SS. Quirico e Giulitta, the Oratory of Caravita). During all of the very difficult first twenty years after the council, and still more so during the following years, their commitment permitted the faithful of Rome to enjoy a plurality of Holy Masses on both ferial days and feast days, although they had to wander from church to church many many times for the solemn celebrations of Christmas night and the Paschal Triduum.
The vitality of the traditional liturgy was also witnessed to by many illustrious cardinals. On November 11, 1995, Cardinal Stickler celebrated a solemn traditional Mass in the church of Santo Spirito in Sassia in suffrage for Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, who had died in San Paolo in Brazil on October 3 of that year. On May 24, 2003, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos (1929-2018) celebrated in his own turn a pontifical Mass in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. Among other figures who remained ever faithful to the traditional Mass was Archbishop Custódio Alvim Pereira (1915-2006), who initiated the practice of the celebration of Mass at midnight at the beginning of the new year on January 1, 2000, in the church of San Gregorio dei Muratori. Other priests often celebrated the Tridentine Mass at the Pallavicini Palace on the night of Christmas, among whom was Abbé Emmanuel Taveau du Chalard of the Fraternity of Saint Pius X. The priory of the Fraternity of Saint Pius X in Albano, a few kilometers outside of Rome, remained, and is still today, a point of reference for many traditionalists.
The indult of Quattuor abhinc annos (1984) and the establishment of the Ecclesia Dei Commission (1988) assured the liberty of the use of the liturgical books which were in force in 1962. The Motu Proprio of Benedict XVI Summorum Pontificum (2007) reiterated that the ancient Roman Rite was never and never could have been abrogated and confirmed the right of every priest to celebrate it. In the City of Rome this was realized practically in the erection of the personal parish of Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini (2008) and in the celebration of the solemn pontifical rites in this and and in other Roman churches by numerous bishops and cardinals. Among the churches which further remained faithful to the traditional rite are San Giuseppe at Capo le Case and Gesù e Maria al Corso, which today is administered by the Institute of Christ the King of Gricigliano. Over the last fifty years, the celebration of the traditional Mass has never been interrupted in Rome. To those priests and laity who remained faithful to it we may apply the words which Cardinal Ottaviani addressed to the associates of “Una Voce” on April 13, 1969, in the church of San Girolamo della Carità. Recalling the episode of Saint Thomas the Apostle, who lacked faith when Jesus appeared to him after His Resurrection, he said: “The Lord then praised those who have believed without having seen, but who believed in the word of the Gospel, in the word of the Tradition. In those words: ‘Blessed are those who have not seen me and yet believe,’ there is contained the praise of the Catholic Tradition.”
From San Salvatore in Campo to San Girolamo della Carità to Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini, one thing which all of the Roman churches where the ancient Rite is celebrated have in common is that they are all linked to Saint Philip Neri. “The defense and preservation of the ancient Roman Liturgy, a true work of the Counter-Reform, were and are all providentially placed under the protection of the co-patron of Rome,” observed Filippo Delpino, who for many years was the secretary of the Roman branch of Una Voce (“Una Voce,” June 2016, Spes contra spem: l’ardua difesa della Liturgia Romana).
In the Eternal City, from 1969 to the present day, the traditional Mass has always been celebrated regularly, by numerous priests, either incardinated in the diocese of Rome or simply spending time in the Eternal City. But not one priest has ever been officially sanctioned for refusing to celebrate the Novus Ordo or for celebrating the Mass usu antiquior. Every Sunday the traditional Rite is celebrated in Rome in at least five different churches and, daily in many other churches, including St. Peter’s Basilica. Thus it is in Rome [Romanità], even liturgically speaking, that the visible face of the Mystical Body of Christ is summed up, so to speak. For this reason we ought to continue to love the City of Rome, which brings the Church down to earth and makes it concrete in time and space, in a specific place and in an historical memory.
Translated by Giuseppe Pellegrino
Remnant Editor’s Note:
Here’s a blast from the past. I can’t imagine what I kind of a camera I was using for this (probably an old smart phone that wasn’t quite so smart), but even though the quality of this is less than great, for the record this video captures scenes from one of the early Summorum Pontificum pilgrimages in Rome-- one for which, by the way, the late Dario Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos celebrated the Traditional Latin Mass in the Basilica of St. Peter. May he rest in peace. MJM