Is Quo Primum Merely Disciplinary?

by Father Paul Kramer, B.Ph., S.T.B., M.Div., S.T.L. [Can.]

Editor's Introduction:

What follows is an edited transcript of a response to a question addressed to Father Paul Kramer during the 6th Annual Catholic Family News Conference, November 2000. In his response, Father Kramer explains that even if Pope Saint Pius V's Quo Primum were never written, the consistent teaching of the Church tells us that the Traditional Rite of Mass-----the Tridentine Mass-----may not be discarded and replaced with a "New Order" of liturgy.

Father Kramer's remarks are timely in light of the fact that the current Cardinal Prefect of the Vatican's Ecclesia Dei earlier this year, admitted that the Tridentine Mass has never been abrogated and is perfectly licit, but the Vatican does not want to say this publicly because it fears reprisals from many of the world's bishops. During the recent negotiations between the Vatican and the Society of Saint Pius X, Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos admitted reluctantly, "Okay, we recognize that the old Mass is not abrogated and is legitimate, but we cannot say it publicly because there will be too much of a rebellion, and difficulties with the bishops. We cannot say it publicly." [1]

Likewise, Catholic Family News has twice published the remarks of Vatican Cardinal Alphonse Stickler who explained that he was one of a nine-member Commission of Cardinals appointed by Pope John Paul II to study the question of the Tridentine Mass. The nine-Cardinal Commission concluded:

a) The Latin Tridentine Mass has never been abrogated;
b) All priests have the right to celebrate the Tridentine Mass. [2]

For a brief explanation of why the Tridentine Mass cannot be abrogated and remains licit, we publish the following comments of Father Kramer. We have also published the complete text of Quo Primum with this issue.


How do you respond to Catholics who claim that Quo Primum was a disciplinary decree and not infallible? Therefore, the creation of the Novus Ordo liturgy was permissible.

Answer by Father Kramer:

The first thing I would point out-----according to the approach that St. Thomas Aquinas used in his analysis in his various questions-----is that the question is not sufficiently formulated.

The claim that Quo Primum was a "disciplinary decree" strongly seems to suggest that it was entirely, essentially and merely a disciplinary decree and therefore, not infallible.

First of all, for the sake of argument, let us assume that it was something merely disciplinary. It would not follow logically, therefore, that the creation of the Novus Ordo was permissible. Because the Church's doctrine regarding liturgy is formulated in many pronouncements-----infallible pronouncements-----before Quo Primum was ever issued.

It was the Council of Trent that solemnly declared anathema-----that is, it is a heresy-----to say that any pastor in the Church, whosoever he may be, has the power to change the traditional rite into a new rite. This is found in Session 7 Canon 13 on the "Sacraments in General:"

"If anyone says that the received and approved rites customarily used in the Catholic Church for the solemn administration of the Sacraments can be changed into other new rites by any pastor in the Church whosoever, let him be anathema."
For six hundred years, the Popes made a solemn profession at their Coronation, a public and solemn profession, that they did not have the power to change the liturgy. Then they invoked the wrath of God upon themselves if they should dare to change it or allow anyone to change it.


The 1565 Profession of Faith of Pope Pius IV, also known as the "Tridentine Profession of Faith," binds the Catholic to his traditional rites, to the "received and approved rite." One must embrace and adhere to the received and approved customary rites of the Church. This is the faith. Therefore, the creation of the Novus Ordo is contrary to the defined dogma of the faith, contrary to the faith solemnly professed in the profession of the Popes, contrary to the Tridentine Profession of Faith.

We cannot say that Quo Primum is merely a disciplinary decree. It is disciplinary, of course, it refers to discipline. But it is a disciplinary decree based on dogma. It is rooted in dogma and therefore, it has a much greater force than something merely disciplinary.

It has been perpetually the teaching of the Church that Catholics are bound to their customary rite. That is why, in the controversy regarding Greek versus Roman rite, which was settled by the Council of Florence under Pope Eugene IV, the Council solemnly defined that the Greeks are to confect the Sacraments of the Eucharist according to their customary rite and therefore, they must use the leavened bread. In the Roman Church they must follow their customary rite of their ritual church, which is the proper rite of the Roman Church.

This is what the faith dictates and decrees. That is why it has always been regarded as an act of schism if even a Pope were to attempt to change the rites, to alter the ceremonies of the liturgy. The Popes have solemnly professed for so many centuries that this is not within their power. This is also taught by the official designated theologian of the Council of Basel [which eventually moved to Florence and became the Council of Florence]. This theologian, Cardinal Juan de Torquemada, was the theologian responsible in the formulation of the doctrines that were defined at Florence, as the one I mentioned earlier. Torquemada explains that if the Pope were to change the rites, or attempt to change the rites, he would be committing an act of schism.

Thus, regardless of Quo Primum, it had been a well established teaching of the Catholic Faith that the Roman rite cannot be trashed and replaced with a new rite. To do so is contrary to the law of God as defined by the infallible Magisterium of the Church.

Beyond that, however, when we look at Quo Primum, we see that Pope St. Pius V refers to the Roman rite as that rite "which has been handed down in the Roman Church." He was clearly designating that the rite in the Missal that he codified is precisely that rite which is the customary rite, "the received and ap- proved rite customarily used in the solemn administration of the Sacraments." [Trent, Sess. 7, Cn. 13]

Therefore, the so-called Tridentine Rite of Mass is the only lawful rite that can ever exist in the Roman Church. The Tridentine Rite is the Roman Rite. And just as it would be considered absolutely outrageous for anyone to try to impose a new rite [or even the Roman rite] on the Greek Church, likewise, it is an outrage for anyone to impose a new rite on the Roman Church.

Ironically, even the 1983 Code of Canon Law upholds the right and the duty of Catholics to adhere to their customary rites. As Roman Catholics, our customary rites are the Roman rites, the ceremonies of the Roman Rite. The Popes have professed and the Church has solemnly taught that this cannot be taken away from us. We may not defect from that rite and embrace a new rite without violating what has been taught as a doctrine of the faith in the Church down through the centuries. Quo Primum is entirely based on this teaching. It is an application of this teaching.

In general, the formulation defined by the Church is that we adhere to our own customary, received and approved rite. What Pope Pius V points out in Quo Primum, is that the rite in this Missal, this Roman Missal, is the received and approved rite of the Roman Church. Therefore, it is a particular application of the dogmatic teaching taught by the Council of Trent in Session 7 Canon 13 formulated in a different manner, on a different point, previously by the Council of Florence.

Thus, we cannot say that Quo Primum is merely a disciplinary decree. It is disciplinary, of course, it refers to discipline. But it is a disciplinary decree based on dogma. It is rooted in dogma and therefore, it has a much greater force than something merely disciplinary. We are not dealing with merely ecclesiastical laws because it is the application of Divine law as has been solemnly defined by the Church's infallible Magisterium.

Being fully aware of this, Pope St. Pius V did not shrink from saying "by our Apostolic authority . . . we order and declare . . . that this present Constitution can never be revoked or modified, but shall forever remain valid and have the force of law." He declared solemnly and definitively that Quo Primum cannot ever be revoked or modified.

Why did he do this? Because it is an application of the Divine Law as defined by the Church regarding the Roman Rite specifically, the Roman Church specifically. So it is not merely disciplinary , it is a disciplinary decree rooted in the doctrine of the faith. There are other legal formulations used in other decrees saying "henceforth in perpetuity" but we are not dealing with something so simple as this. We are dealing with a very explicit pronouncement wherein he says, "by our Apostolic authority . . . we order and declare . . . that this present Constitution can never be revoked or modified, but shall forever remain valid and have the force of law."

However, even if the Pope had never issued Quo Primum, the doctrine of the Church had been previously defined. The proper liturgy of the Roman Church is the Roman Rite. This is the faith. This is the teaching of the Church. So even if Quo Primum never existed and even if Pope Pius V had not codified the Missal, Catholics would still be bound their customary traditional rites, the so-called Tridentine Rite, and other similar variations of the same. This is the doctrine of the faith and it can never change.

Father Paul Kramer further develops this thesis in his soon-to-be-released book, The Suicide of Altering the Faith in the Liturgy. Catholic Family News will announce the availability of book when it is published,  this year it is hoped.

1. See The Angelus, April 2001, p 16.
2. "Cardinal Stickler Confirms Tridentine Mass Never Forbidden,"  Vennari, Catholic Family News, reprint #22 for $1.75 US. The article is not archived.

Reprinted from the June 2001 Issue of Catholic Family News.

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