The Fraternity and the Liturgy

The goal of the Fraternity of St. Peter is the sanctification of the priest through the exercise of his priestly function, principally by conforming his life to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass by the observance of “the liturgical and spiritual traditions” [1] of the Church. The use of the liturgical books in force in 1962 is granted to the members of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter as well as to other priests staying in the houses of the Fraternity or exercising their sacred ministry in the churches of the Fraternity [2].

The use of the “traditional” Roman rite (or “tridentine” or the “rite of St. Pius V”) [3] in the form in which it was current in the Latin Church prior to the reform of 1969 is a specificity of the Fraternity of St. Peter. It is therefore fitting to explain our reasons in brief for being attached to this rite which in general is so little known.

The Liturgy in the Church

“The entirety of the cult which the Church renders to God”, wrote Pope Pius XII in the encyclical Mediator Dei, “must needs be at once interior and exterior. Exterior certainly, because the nature of man, being a composition of soul and body, demands exteriority, for Divine Providence intended us to be drawn by the knowledge of visible realities to the love of invisible realities (…). But the essential element of the cult is the interior element, because it is necessary always to live in Christ, to be entirely devoted to Him, to give glory in Him, with Him and through Him, to the Father in Heaven [4]. Thus it is that the “realities of the senses become the place wherein are expressed God’s work of sanctification and man’s work of cult to God” [5]. The Church, Bride of Christ, guides the hand of Her children in the course of liturgical prayer.

The liturgy is then defined according to the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium “as the exercise of the priestly function of Jesus Christ in which the sanctification of man is signified by perceptible signs and realized in a manner proper to each; and in which the public cult is peformed in its totality by the mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is to say by the Head and Its members [6].

In the liturgical prayer the members of the Church are inserted in the cult rendered by the Son to the Father. “In consequence, every liturgical celebration, as the work of Christ the High Priest and His Body which is the Church, is the sacred action par excellence, to which no other action of the Church is equal in efficacity in the same way and to the same degree” [7].

The liturgical signs comprise both an essential sign, which is necessary to the sacramental validity, and secondary signs, which envelop and surround the essential sign. All these sacred gestures and words designate a reality of Grace, mysterious and transcendent, and at the same time make it present, efficacious, and fruitful.

“The mystery of the Mass transcends its manifold expressions in the liturgy. However legitimate or necessary they may be they remain inadequate by their nature. They represent truths which are only truths in part, which are in a relationship of internal tension the one to the other. Should one insist above all in the liturgy on the primordial rôle of the sacrifice of Christ which encompasses all others rôles and is sovereign in its efficacity? Or should one rather stress the secondary rôle which is played by the sacrifice of the Church and the participation of the faithful? (…) Should we adore in silence the ineffable mystery of the Redemption of the world made present in our midst? Or should we have it acclaimed by the multitude? One sees that the tensions

which have given rise to the different rites re-appear within the one rite. To the regard of faith and contemplation, the mystery of the Redemption continously made present in every Mass is one, perfect, immutable, infinitely simple, embracing in its horizon all time and space, and absolutely transcendent as to its liturgical forms, which in themselves can only assume a secondary importance. And yet to preserve and sustain the good order and life of the ecclesiastical community these liturgical forms are essential” [8].

The Traditional Liturgy

The Tridentine liturgy is one of the liturgical forms of the Church. Codified after the Council of Trent “in times of real difficulty where the Catholic faith had been put in question as to the sacrificial nature of the Mass, the ministerial priesthood, and the real and enduring presence of Christ under the Eucharistic species, the primary task of St. Pius V was to preserve a tradition which was relatively recent [9], and had been unjustly attacked: And this he did by introducing the least possible changes in the sacred rite.” Such is the manner in which the context of the Tridentine reform and consequently the assets of the Tridentine Missal are

described in the Institutio Generalis of the reformed missal (n. 7 of the preamble added in 1970). We may well then ask to-day, as faith and piety towards the Blessed Eucharist are diminishing, whether one way to counter contemporary theological, spiritual, and pastoral inadequacies is not the celebration of the Eucharistic mystery by means of the liturgical forms of the Missal of St. Pius V.

The traditional liturgy in fact gives acute expression to the Sacrifice of the Cross made present on the altar, orients the soul toward God, and witnesses our adoration of His Real Presence. Clearly the Mass should not be viewed as a theology lesson, but it’s prayers express a doctrine eloquent indeed, including the four finalities of the Holy Sacrifice: adoration, thanksgiving, propitiation, and petition.

It is only natural that the prayers of the Mass should be oriented towards adoration, because man’s first duty as creature is to acknowledge his total dependance on God. This, then, is the first finality of the sacrifice. Next we may observe that most of the prayers of the 1962 missal as well as the various prayers of the offertory and canon, are fervent petitions for God’s graces, the first being that God deign to accept the sacrifice. The prayers of the offertory manifest clearly the propitiatory character of the offering: Jesus Christ immolated for our sins in accomplishment of the Redemption. All this, amongst other things, is explicitly contained in the rich texts of the traditional offertory.

Let us note too that the Tridentine rite, after the fashion of incense rising towards Heaven, elevates our souls to God, and, as it draws us from the realities of the senses to the eternal mysteries, permits us, already on earth, to unite our voices to those of the Blessed. This is the goal of all the gestures and of all the ceremonies. The orientation of the altar, the gestures of adoration, the sacred language, the mystery and the silence which surrounds the consecration: all these aspects manifest the sacrality of the Mass.

Is it not because he is minister of the Church, as we have said above, that the

priest employs for example in the course of his sacred ministry a language which is not his mother tongue, but rather the language of the Church for whom he is acting as ambassador? The language of the Tridentine rite is of course Latin [10]. Most of the prayers of the Mass date from the first centuries of the Christian era. It is a matter of general agreement to-day that the Canon (the central prayer of the Eucharistic Sacrifice) was fixed almost definitively by the end of the fourth century [11]! In 1570 Pope St. Pius V did not thus “compose” a new missal: he simply harmonized the prayers and rites which antedated it by a long period.

Silence is in itself the finest expression of our adoration of the God who descends upon our altars, and most expressive of the mystery which is enacted there. As St. Ignatius of Antioch teaches us, silence accompanies mystery: “The Virginity of Mary, the birth and death of the Lord are three resounding mysteries which God worked in silence.” The silence during the Canon is the most ideal means for fostering a truly profound, personal, and interior participation in the mystery of the altar.

Music also holds a supereminent position in the classical liturgy: gregorian chant and sacred polyphony have developed in the course of the centuries in order to serve and to embellish it.

A Heritage…to pass on

The liturgy of the priests of the Fraternity of St. Peter is, in a word, a heritage, it is, as its origin shows, the expression of the piety and sanctity of the Church. Innumerable are the saints who have known it, and its benefits are still visible to-day: every day its riches surprise anew those who celebrate it. It is a precious guide for the whole length of our pilgrimage here below towards God. Pope John Paul II in a message addressed to the plenary Assembly of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments held in September 2001 at the Vatican, declared: “The people need to see in the priests and deacons an attitude full of reverence and dignity, capable of helping them penetrate invisible things, even without a multiplication of words or explanations. In the Roman Missal, known as the Missal of St. Pius V, as well as in the various oriental liturgies one finds very beautiful prayers by which the priest expresses a very deep sentiment of humility and reverence in the presence of the Holy Mysteries: these sentiments reveal the essence of all liturgy.”

Here then in a few words – and in a very summary fashion – are the reasons that the Fraternity of St. Peter is attached to the classical Roman rite. We have spoken essentially of the liturgy of the Mass, but in fact the members of the Fraternity of St. Peter have at their disposition all the liturgical books that were in force at 1962 (The Missal, Breviary, Ritual, Pontifical, and Ceremonial of Bishops). This liturgy contains riches which the Church has entrusted to the Fraternity as a treasure. Following the example of the good steward of the Gospel, their desire is to defend it, to live by it, and to hand it to future generations.


[1] Constitutions of the Fraternity of Saint Peter, Art. 8; see also the Apostolic Letter “Ecclesia Dei” Motu Proprio of H.H. Pope John Paul II, 2nd July 1988.

[2] Decree of Erection of the Fraternity of St. Peter, 18th October 1988.

[3] Pope St. Pius V (1566-1572), applying the decrees of the Council of Trient, that had desired the revision of the liturgical books, published an editio typica of the Breviary (1568) and of the Missal (1570). The Pope’s design, faithful to the intentions of the Council,was not to compose new liturgical books, but to bring the prayer of the Church back into conformity with the ancient tradition of the Fathers and to establish unity in the celebration of the rites.

[4] Pius XII Encyclica Mediator Dei, 20th November 1947 (23).

[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church (1148).

[6] Second Vatican Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium (7).

[7] Second Vatican Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium (7).

[8] Cardinal Charles Journet, The Mass: Presence of the Sacrifice of the Cross, DDB 1961 (p. 317-9).

[9] Pope Paul VI in the Constitution Missale Romanum which precedes this text nevertheless traces its origin back to St. Gregory the Great!

[10] The language of the Church must be not only universal but immutable. If in fact the Truths of the Catholic Church were entrusted to certain or several human languages, subject, as they are, to change, and none of them having greater authority than any other, then such a variety would ensue that the sense of these truths would be neither sufficiently clear nor sufficiently precise for all.” Bl. John XXIII, Veterum Sapientiæ, 1962.

[11] Revd. Joseph-A. Jungmann S.J., Missarum Sollemnia, Aubier, 1951 Vol. I p. 81.