What ‘Quo primum’ says and what it doesn’t say

At his engaging blog Mutual EnrichmentFr John Hunwicke has a good note about Pius V and Quo primum.  He points out a common error or two about that famous Apostolic Constitution.

Quo primum was the instrument of promulgation of the first “Tridentine” missal, the 1570 Missale Romanum, which – with alterations – is in use today in the form of the 1962 edition (the Extraordinary Form).

Fr. H says (in part):

There is a myth which is endlessly repeated … I groan every time I read it … about the liturgical reforms of S Pius V. It goes like this:

(1) He wished to standardise and centralise. So he ordered everybody to use his new edition of the Roman Missal (but he did permit those with rites more than 200 years old to keep them).

This is pretty well the opposite of what his legislation ordered. He:

(2) Ordered those with such old rites to keep them. But, if they positively wanted to adopt his new edition instead, he permitted them to adopt it AS LONG AS THE BISHOP AND THE UNANIMOUS CHAPTER WERE IN AGREEMENT.

If you don’t want to believe me, I suggest you read the actual TEXT of Quo primum yourself and find out. DO NOT READ SOMEBODY’S SUMMARY OF THE BULL, BECAUSE THAT WILL (almost certainly) JUST TELL YOU THE MYTH.


Fr. H has more on Pius V HERE

In 2009, I did a PODCAzT about Quo primum which included a reading of the whole document.  HERE

BTW… Pius V did not intend with Quo primum to make the 1570 Missale Romanum the Latin Church’s missal “forever”.   Often claimed.  Wrong.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. pseudomodo says:

    This is suspiciously like the way some of the curia works after Vatican II!!

    “You should keep all the liturgical norms we have been used to for centuries since there is no good reason for change at all, however, if there is a real and legitimate, pressing need to make some slight modifications to some very limited liturgical practicies and if there is sufficient reason that the faithful will not be disturbed or scandalized, then, with the approval of the local ordinary, some minor tweeks may possibly be implemented after very clear instructions to the faithful have been completed.”

    …..This is the part where we hear the jackhammers in the distance and the statues and fiddlebacks being thrown into the skiff.

  2. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Again, Fr. Z, indulges his dangerous predilection for looking into what important documents actually say. A life of ill-informed opinions, in contrast, is so much more fun than is sticking to the facts. And Fr. Z is obviously against anyone having fun.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  3. jacobi says:

    Quo Primum is a papal Bull, [it’s an Apostolic Constitution issued in the form of a Bull] with the personal seal and therefore signature of the Pope. It is a matter of expression of doctrine, as prayed in the Mass, addressed to the whole Church and is therefore binding. I have read it carefully.

    It did “standardise” the Mass and was intended, and ordered, to be the Mass of the Western Church, that is as he put it ‘ but remain always valid and retain its full force’.

    Certain exceptions were allowed and permitted to continue, but, and this is important, if the Orders preferred the new Pius V Missal and, if their bishop or head of Chapter was agreeable, they could use the Pius V Missal. That in no way disqualified the old permitted rites for those who preferred to use them, therefore the Ambrosian, Mosarabic etc., are valid permitted rites to this day.

    Alterations were not forbidden. Pius himself did so.

    The matter of new rites was not dealt with so presumably the New Mass and the Anglican Liturgy are not forbidden by this document.

    However what is clear is that the Mass of Saint Pius V is the established , normal, Mass of the Western Catholic Church to this day.

    Quo Primum is a Document we should be hearing much more about instead of the ‘coy’ attempt by so many to bury it.


    Dr Peters, given the shambolic mess the Church is in today, overwhelmingly caused by, or using, liturgical change, I personally don’t see much room for fun

    [Hmmm… that’s a little sour!]

  4. Sid Cundiff in NC says:

    Pope St Pius V did a good job with the Mass, except for the bad lectionary; he did a bad job with the Office.

    Bugnini did a bad job with the Mass, except for the good lectionary, and disobeyed the Council; he did a good job with the Office and obeyed the Council.

    Time to put the good together and to throw away the bad.

  5. The Masked Chicken says:

    Did Bugnini really do a good job with the Office? Essentially, he cribbed the Anglican Office (he says so in his memoir). Yes, it is shorter, but there were Renaissance versions of the Office that were similar and disapproved by the Church. How is it that St. John Vianney could pray the old Office, as busy as he was, but modern clergy can’t? I like the idea of going through all 150 psalms in a week. Vatican II did not rule this idea out. They just wanted the Office simplified.

    The Chicken

  6. greenlight says:

    Seems like Dr. Peters is always getting the gold star! It’s not fair!

  7. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    What can I say, greenlight, but that talent will out?

    Chicken, 150 psalms in week is too much for secular priests (and yes, guys, I know all about Patrick reciting 150 each night). A month is too much, I grant, but a week is too little. Life in this Valley of Tears.

  8. frival says:

    I must protest Dr. Peters getting the gold star. He failed to mention that Fr. Z hates Vatican II and thus must be disqualified from gold star status – perhaps a silver star, or a gold star with an asterisk.

    I’m concerned that we believe the older breviary to be too much for priests, even secular priests. That tells me that something is quite out of whack given that the overall time difference between the two is actually minimal even accounting for the extra office of Prime. After all, we’re likely talking about simple reading of the Psalms, not chanting them in most cases.

  9. jacobi says:


    On reflection I would say it is realistic.

    There is a time for fun and a time for honesty. Now humour, that’s a different matter. That comes in when things are really desperate – and we’re not there yet?

  10. jhayes says:

    Fr. Hunwicke’s is, of course, right that that churches that had an established form of Mass that had been officially authorized more tham 200 years before or had been consistently used for those 200 years could keep on using it. However, everyone else was required to use the new Missal

    This new rite alone is to be used unless approval of the practice of saying Mass differently was given at the very time of the institution and confirmation of the church by Apostolic See at least 200 years ago, or unless there has prevailed a custom of a similar kind which has been continuously followed for a period of not less than 200 years, in which most cases We in no wise rescind their above-mentioned prerogative or custom. However, if this Missal, which we have seen fit to publish, be more agreeable to these latter, We grant them permission to celebrate Mass according to its rite, provided they have the consent of their bishop or prelate or of their whole Chapter, everything else to the contrary notwithstanding.

    All other of the churches referred to above, however, are hereby denied the use of other missals, which are to be discontinued entirely and absolutely; whereas, by this present Constitution, which will be valid henceforth, now, and forever, We order and enjoin that nothing must be added to Our recently published Missal, nothing omitted from it, nor anything whatsoever be changed within it under the penalty of Our displeasure.

    We specifically command each and every patriarch, administrator, and all other persons or whatever ecclesiastical dignity they may be, be they even cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, or possessed of any other rank or pre-eminence, and We order them in virtue of holy obedience to chant or to read the Mass according to the rite and manner and norm herewith laid down by Us and, hereafter, to discontinue and completely discard all other rubrics and rites of other missals, however ancient, which they have customarily followed; and they must not in celebrating Mass presume to introduce any ceremonies or recite any prayers other than those contained in this Missal.

  11. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    I won the Readers’ Bee six weeks in a row in second grade, till Sr. Sweetness told me to go outside and clap erasers during the next contest. “But! But! But!” I protested, to no avail. I developed a permanent dust allergy that afternoon, and came back in looking like Casper the Ghost.

  12. Elizabeth D says:

    Dear Dr Peters, maybe that is kind of what happened to Cardinal Burke. He always had all the right answers, so he was made to go out and clap erasers.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  13. Elizabeth D says:

    By the way, I was also going to say earlier that Fr Z hates Vatican II, which taught that that we no longer have to look into what documents really say, as long as our consciences interpret their spirit.

  14. MasterofCeremonies says:

    What am I missing? I’ve read Quo Primum, and it seems to me that Pope St. Pius V is clearly communicating two things:

    1. He intended the new Missal to be the *standard* liturgical text for the Catholic Church;

    2. Churches praying approved rites older than 200 years were exempt from this standardization, but those churches also had the *option* of adopting the new standard text if they were so inclined.

    Fr. Z, I am an avid follower of your blog, have great respect for your liturgical scholarship, and want only to serve Our Lord and His Holy Catholic Church. I do not understand how Fr. H. came to his conclusions from reading the text of Quo Primum. I humbly ask for your guidance on these points.

  15. Norah says:

    MC, as far as I am aware: equals can’t bind equals i.e one pope can’t bind another pope.

  16. The Masked Chicken says:

    “MC, as far as I am aware: equals can’t bind equals i.e one pope can’t bind another pope.”

    I must, respectfully, disagree. I think that Pope Benedict could, easily, bind Pope Francis in a fair fight, as long as the rope were long enough.

    The Chicken

  17. Imrahil says:

    I wouldn’t suppose 150 psalms is too much, assuming the priest is allowed to pray quickly. (I do think someone who prays reverently but quickly, oh and let’s just pray another Ave, will we, is a sympathetic Catholic figure. I can’t quite warm myself up to them who, like charismaticals, won’t say a word of prayer unless they can load it with full emotion. But then, I’m a Catholic and I don’t know how much of that is cultural.)

    I am right now trying to pray the (old) Office, though, as I’m not bound by any obligation to pray it, I do it by reading over the texts, not necessarily actually reciting them. This way, it takes about half an hour – all in all, of course: about a quarter of an hour Matins and a quarter of an hour daytime-hours. I don’t know, of course, how much it takes if you recite all the things (some say a priest is obliged to do that, some I read on this website stating he isn’t).

    But we’re talking about priests, and I think the danger today is rather their getting to little time of personal prayer apart from any pastoral work. The Breviary obligation may be a good “excuse” for that, if nothing more.

  18. Priam1184 says:

    THANK YOU FATHER. I have seen that canard about the Mass of Saint Pius V being the only legitimate Mass forever and all ages in saecula saeculorum so many times and am always happy to see that nonsense refuted.

  19. Priam1184 says:

    Has anyone who wants to praise the new Divine Office as being better than the old noticed that, in the new Office, the Psalms are edited? The verses in Psalm 110 about the Lord judging nations, filling in ruins, and smashing heads in the land of the multitudes has just disappeared. Not to mention the massacre of the Psalm 137, By the waters of Babylon…

    These are just two of a multitude of examples. Who in their right mind would choose to censor the Holy Spirit?

  20. Reconverted Idiot says:

    I love Father Hunwicke. His blog is great and I love that too.

    That’s all I have to say really.

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