Featured Image
Latin MassAllison Girone

May 11, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — What exactly is “solemnity”? The etymology of the word offers some clues. As Anthony Lo Bello writes in Origins of Catholic Words (p. 453):

The Latin adjective sollemnis is the combination of two words, sollus, an Oscan form of totus meaning whole, and annus, which means year. Sollemnis means that which recurs annually. Such recurring occasions were considered especially holy. From this adjective there was formed the noun sollemnitas for the name of such a festivity.

Implied in this derivation of the word is the religious sense that worshipers have of the special nature of recurring observances like the Annunciation, Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Corpus Christi. Each of these is not just a recollection of a past event, but a making present anew of the mystery and power of the event, as our souls are plunged into it by the grace of the liturgy and the sacraments. For this reason, the term sollemnitas came to be applied not only to the “high” occasions such as the ones listed, but even to the commemorations of minor saints and to the fullest manner of offering the daily Eucharistic Sacrifice, which we call the Missa sollemnis or “solemn (high) Mass,” with priest, deacon, and subdeacon, acolytes and cantors. The term solemnity, therefore, describes at once the liturgy offered, the occasion of the offering, and the manner of its offering.

Accordingly, St. Thomas Aquinas writes about the Holy Eucharist: “Because the whole mystery of our salvation is comprised in this sacrament, it is therefore performed with greater solemnity than the other sacraments” (Summa theologiae III, qu. 83, art. 4). Here, he uses the noun to refer not to a rank of day, but to a quality that should never be absent — not a minimalist checking-off of “form and matter” as criteria of validity, but a certain fullness of form and matter, as criteria of fittingness and authenticity.

Yet has not the word, and even the concept, of solemnity more or less vanished from the Catholic landscape in the past half-century? It is rare to find people who would understand St. Thomas’s point, let alone make it their own. We can no longer assume that its truth will be evident — especially (alas) to the professional caste of liturgists, who have a remarkable tendency to write off past concerns for maintaining a proper stance toward the sacred as “superstitious,” “magical,” “mechanical,” or “unenlightened,” and who even go so far as to deny the distinction between sacred and profane. To see why Aquinas is correct, we must define the term he uses. In this way, we can more effectively reclaim it in our conversations and, above all, in our practices.

Solemnity is seriousness about the sacred. It is defined objectively by ceremoniality and subjectively by humility and reverence.

When we approach the sacred, we do so using handed-down cultic forms that we have neither invented nor would dare to modify at whim. They are stable, impersonal, collective, venerable, precise, and lofty in style. The one using them sees himself as a recipient, transmitter, instrument, “mouthpiece” for the performance of inherited cultic forms, which he respects as the property of another, and as an act of homage to God who must be approached with faith and fear.

Deviations are thus possible in regard to any of these qualities. For example, a minister could use the cultic forms without deviation, but do so in a rapid-fire way that suggests he does not truly grasp the magnitude of what he is saying and doing. Instead of doing something divine that makes him tremble, he seems like a newscaster reading the news or an auctioneer managing bids. This is a lack of due subjective disposition, and therefore a failure in solemnity, regardless of the “propriety” of what is done.

On the other hand, a priest who is pious, sincere, and reverent can err by acting toward God in the sphere of public liturgy as if he is simply praying in the privacy of his room: using colloquial language, inventing things as he goes along, essentially dragging the congregation through his personal devotions, presuming and projecting an intimacy that may or may not be real, and which is certainly not appropriate for the reenactment of the mysteries of salvation. The liturgy is not the time for my or your intimate life to be put on display (much less for my or your feeble attempts at expressing the inexpressible), but for Jesus Christ to be put front and center before all of us, in the mysteries of His life, death, resurrection, and ascension as conveyed in the precise and poetic language of tradition. The “sincere priest” who makes the liturgy a vehicle for his personal devotion fails in the objective dimension of solemnity.

Returning to the Mass in particular: The objective and subjective dimensions of solemnity come together when, and only when, the Mass is understood to be — and is therefore treated as — the unbloody representation or renewal of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, which unites man and God, earth and heaven, time and eternity. In this sacrifice, the Lord Jesus is present in His glorified state, risen, immortal, reigning forever — which is part of the reason we celebrate the liturgy not as if in mourning over one who is dead, but rejoicing spiritually in one who is indestructibly alive. We honor and glorify Him as our King with solemn splendor and devout decorum, sparing no extravagance. Something analogous is true of a Low Mass piously offered: it is a pure homage of prayer, verging on contemplation. It is not a seeking of the dead, but of the living God (cf. Lk 24:5). The liturgy does not have to be “animated” from without, since it already contains Life and the source of all life; in that way it is impossible for traditional liturgy ever to become a “dead thing,” contrary to the opinions of liturgists.

— Article continues below Petition —
PETITION: Call for Vatican to rescind restrictions on private and traditional rite Masses at St. Peter's
  Show Petition Text
19347 have signed the petition.
Let's get to 20000!
Thank you for signing this petition!
Add your signature:
  Show Petition Text
Keep me updated via email on this petition and related issues.
Keep me updated via email on this petition and related issues.

A senior Church prelate is strongly opposing a new Vatican proposal to ban private Masses and restrict traditional rite Masses at the world's premier church, St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Cardinal Raymond Burke said that the new directions, issued by Pope Francis’ Secretariat of State, should be "rescinded" since they are "contrary to" and in "direct violation of" universal Church law.

Therefore, we ask you to SIGN and SHARE this petition, which is directed to Pope Francis and the current and just retired Archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica (Cardinals Mauro Gambetti and Angelo Comastri, respectively), and which asks them to rescind the new directive banning private Masses and restricting traditional rite Masses at St. Peter's.

On March 12th, the Vatican’s Secretariat of State circulated a note with details of new dispositions restricting all “individual” Masses in Saint Peter’s, with special, even more restrictive measures for the traditional rite.

The note, which was unsigned, stated among other things that "individual celebrations are suppressed."

In response, Cardinal Burke said the new rules cause the faithful, and above all, priests, the "deepest concerns."

In particular, he addresses the celebration of private or "individual" Masses at the Basilica, something that the new document appears to target, writing:

The document imposes concelebration upon priests who wish to offer the Holy Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica, which is contrary to universal Church law and which unjustly conditions the primary duty of the individual priest to offer the Holy Mass daily for the salvation of the world (can. 902).

In what church more than in the Basilica of Saint Peter would a priest desire to offer the Holy Mass, which is the most perfect and fullest way in which he carries out his priestly mission? If an individual priest wishes to offer the Holy Mass in the Basilica, once the directives in question are in force, he will be constrained to concelebrate, in violation of his freedom to offer the Holy Mass individually.

Quoting from the Council of Trent, Burke then emphasized the fact that the whole Church benefits spiritually from every Mass that is said, whether with people attending or without, stating:

The holy council would certainly like the faithful present at every Mass to communicate in it not only by spiritual devotion but also by sacramental reception of the Eucharist, so that the fruits of this most holy sacrifice could be theirs more fully.

But, if this does not always happen, the council does not for that reason condemn as private and illicit Masses (can. 8) in which only the priest communicates. Rather, it approves and commends them, for they too should be considered truly communal Masses, partly because the people communicate spiritually in them and partly because they are celebrated by a public minister of the Church, not for his own good alone, but for all the faithful who belong to the body of Christ’ (Session XXII, Chapter 6).

Please SIGN now and support the call to Pope Francis and the current and just retired Archpriest of St. Peter's to rescind the new directives which would severely restrict priests from offering private and traditional rite Holy Masses at St. Peter's Basilica.


Cardinal Burke: Vatican’s ban on private Masses in St. Peter’s Basilica should be ‘rescinded’ -

**Photo Credit:

  Hide Petition Text

Tragically, the Novus Ordo, symbolic of our age of decadence, has undone both the magnificence of High Mass and the prayerfulness of Low Mass, dealing a death blow to the causes and effects of solemnity. Instead of bringing us to bow down before the Lord of Glory, raising us up to sit with Him in the heavenly places (cf. Eph 2:6; Col 3:3), it ritually crowns Him with thorns and offers Him mock homage by taking the focus of the Mass off of His mystery and placing it on the celebrant and the community, “the presider and the people.” It is as if the Mass, in its populocentric busywork, boredom, noise, and verbosity, its lack of nobility and of palpable devotion, is the best plan its architects could devise to ensure that the Lord’s heavenly glory will not be perceived or confessed, and that He will remain, as it were, nailed to a tree, powerless and lifeless. This should not be tolerated by Catholics.

Because the whole mystery of our salvation is comprised in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, it is — or it surely ought to be — performed with great solemnity. In company with the Angelic Doctor, we will not only maintain and profess this fundamental truth, but we will do our utmost to worship in accordance with it, and to find a community built upon it. Never before has it been more important to guide ourselves not by convenience or by what’s “good enough” (for whom? for what?), but by the righteous offering of holy ceremonies that honor the Lord with humility and reverence.

Featured Image

Peter Kwasniewski, Thomistic theologian, liturgical scholar, and choral composer, is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College in California (B.A. Liberal Arts) and The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC (M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy). He taught at the International Theological Institute in Austria and the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria Program, then helped establish Wyoming Catholic College in 2006. There he taught theology, philosophy, music, and art history and directed the choirs until leaving in 2018 to devote himself full-time to writing and lecturing.

Today he contributes regularly to many websites and publications, including New Liturgical Movement, OnePeterFive, LifeSiteNews, Rorate Caeli, The Remnant, and Catholic Family News, and has published thirteen books, including four on traditional Catholicism: Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis (Angelico, 2014, also available in Czech, Polish, German, Portuguese, Spanish, and Belarusian), Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness (Angelico, 2017), Tradition and Sanity (Angelico, 2018), and Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright: The Genius and Timeliness of the Traditional Latin Mass (Angelico, 2020). His work has been translated into at least eighteen languages.

Kwasniewski is a scholar of The Aquinas Institute in Green Bay, which is publishing the Opera Omnia of the Angelic Doctor, a Fellow of the Albertus Magnus Center for Scholastic Studies, and a Senior Fellow of the St. Paul Center. He has published over a thousand articles on Thomistic thought, sacramental and liturgical theology, the history and aesthetics of music, and the social doctrine of the Church.

For news, information, article links, sacred music, and the home of Os Justi Press, visit his personal website,


Commenting Guidelines

LifeSiteNews welcomes thoughtful, respectful comments that add useful information or insights. Demeaning, hostile or propagandistic comments, and streams not related to the storyline, will be removed.

LSN commenting is not for frequent personal blogging, on-going debates or theological or other disputes between commenters.

Multiple comments from one person under a story are discouraged (suggested maximum of three). Capitalized sentences or comments will be removed (Internet shouting).

LifeSiteNews gives priority to pro-life, pro-family commenters and reserves the right to edit or remove comments.

Comments under LifeSiteNews stories do not necessarily represent the views of LifeSiteNews.