I got this email excerpt from the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church emailed to me today.

  1. Is everything immutable in the liturgy?

In the liturgy, particularly in that of the sacraments, there are unchangeable elements because they are of divine institution. The Church is the faithful guardian of them. There are also, however, elements subject to change which the Church has the power and on occasion also the duty to adapt to the cultures of diverse peoples.

What are some examples of the "elements which are subject to change" and how have they done so over the years? Has this change increased or remained steady since Vatican II?

2 Answers 2


Reform of the mutable aspects of the liturgy* has occurred throughout the Church's history. Pope St. Pius V standardized the Roman Rite in his 1570 bull Quo Primum, and Pope St. Pius X reformed the breviary in his Divino afflatu. John XXIII was the first in 1½ millennia to change the Roman Canon prayers of the Mass when he added St. Joseph's name to it.

For there to be a valid Mass, the form of consecration ("For this is my body…" and "For this is the chalice of my Blood…") cannot ever change. Defects that occur in the Mass (which may or may not render the Mass invalid) are summarized in Pope St. Pius V's De defectibus.

That the liturgy must "adapt to the cultures of diverse peoples" is a novelty since Vatican II. Liturgical reform prior to Vatican II has always been about better conforming the liturgy to God's liturgical law, transmitted via tradition through the Church. Just as the Old Testament Jews had ceremonial precepts* in which God prescribed exactly how they are to worship Him, so too does the New Law include liturgical law.

*Ex. 32:17-19 (false worship of golden calf) shows how angry Moses got when the Jews violated liturgical law. They had good intentions (they thought the calf was a likeness of God and that they were honoring God by worshiping it), but they violated how God commanded they worship. They were so irreverent (shouting, singing, dancing) that Aaron thought there was a battle going on!


  • > That the liturgy must "adapt to the cultures of diverse peoples" is a novelty since Vatican II. That's not 100% although certainly it has become more commonly used as a justification since Vatican II. Historically adaptations were more limited but included a handful of cases of using languages other than Latin (eg. Church Slavonic, Hebrew or Chinese), and adaptations for cultural norms (like a particular headwear for Chinese priests due to cultural connotations of a man without a hat).
    – eques
    Jan 19, 2021 at 14:03

What kinds of things are mutable in Latin Rite Catholic Liturgy?

Not everything is immutable in the Sacred Liturgy of the Roman Rite.

What are some examples of the "elements which are subject to change" and how have they done so over the years? Has this change increased or remained steady since Vatican II?

In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the words of consecration are immutable as well as the matter used in the Mass. That is to say a priest priest must used bread of wheat grains and wine. We can not use rice wafers or sake for example, since that constitutes invalid matter for the act of consecration at Mass.

However, the wine itself can be red or white. I suppose the colour of the wine does not matter. In fact I believe the wine could be of any colour: rosé, orange or even black for that matter.

For there to be a valid Mass, the form of consecration ("For this is my body…" and "For this is the chalice of my Blood…") cannot ever change, but the language in which it is said may change with ecclesiastical approval.

Since Vatican II, the liturgy can be said in any language that has been approved by Rome. In the Extraordinary Form of the Mass the Mass was almost exclusively said in Latin. However exceptions were permitted:

Although Latin prevails in the West as a unified liturgical language, in the face of certain circumstances the Roman church has made exceptions to provide a language in the Liturgy more familiar to the people. It is in the ninth century among the Slavic nations that we find a departure from liturgical Latin in divine worship. A privilege was first granted to Sts. Cyril and Methodius, by Pope Hadrian II in 869, and again by Pope John VIII in 880 to use the vernacular (Slavonic) in the Liturgy.

Another example of the flexibility of which the Roman rite is capable is the privilege granted for the use of Chinese as a liturgical language. History records in the fourteenth century that the first Franciscan missionary to China, John of Monte Corvino, used the vernacular in the Liturgy.26 Pope Paul V, in a brief of June 27, 1615, granted the same privilege to Jesuit missionaries. As recently as 1949, the privilege to use the Chinese literary language in the Liturgy was granted by the Holy Office.

Still further concessions have been granted:

a) During the fourteenth century the Roman Liturgy in its Dominican variant was translated into Greek for use by the Dominican missionaries in Greece.

b) Permission had been granted to celebrate the Dominican Liturgy in the Armenian classical language in Armenia.

c) At the end of the sixteenth century missionaries of India of the Latin rite were allowed to celebrate Mass in Syriac.

d) In the seventeenth century the Discalced Carmelites were granted permission to use Arabic in their mission foundation in Persia.

e) In the seventeenth century the Theatine Clerics were granted permission to use Georgian or Armenian in their mission foundation in Georgia.

f) In the nineteenth century the Franciscans in the Holy Land were granted permission to use Arabic.

g) In 1958, an indult was granted India to use Hindi.

h) Five Latin priests in the Holy Land were granted permission to use Hebrew.

i) In 1959, the Holy See renewed Germany's privilege to use the vernacular (German) in the Epistle and Gospel after they are recited in Latin. - Liturgical Languages

Portions of the liturgy were even permitted to be celebrated in Native American vernaculars

The feast days of saints may change from time to time due to a variety of reasons. St. Dominic’s feast day for example was changed from August 4 to August 8. He had died on August 6, 1221 which is the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord. On August 4, 1856 the now famous Curé d'Ars, St. Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney died. Due to his popularity, his Feast Day is now on August 4, while St. Dominic celebrates his on August 8. Again the Church is always growing liturgically speaking.

In the Mass of Pope St. Paul VI, the sign of peace was introduced into the liturgy and as such remains optional in this Rite.

Communion may be received kneeling or standing and on the tongue or on the hand in the New Rite. But Rome is free to reverse this freedom and impose that it should be done as in the Old Rite: kneeling and on the tongue. The liturgy is never stagnate, but is constantly developing to the needs of the Church. It is the organic development of the liturgy.

At High Masses in both Latin Rites, incense is permitted to be used, but what incense used is left to the discretion of the one in charge of the liturgy. As for myself, I prefer the Damascus Rose on the feasts of Our Lady.

The Rituale Romanum allows for some special blessing on specific feast days in both Forms of the Mass. Although somewhat more popular in bygone days they are still somewhat in vogue amongst more traditional region around the world. Unfortunately most Catholics of the Latin Rite do not even know these liturgical blessings exist.

Several different formulas now exist in the Rituale Romanum of Pope St. Paul VI, but they are an awesome way to enhance our devotion to the liturgy, tradition and sacramentals. Many of these blessings are said around the Mass, either before, during or after Mass according to the circumstances and norms layer down in the Roman Ritual.

Many more similar blessings exist which could be incorporated into our liturgical prayer life if we just look hard enough. Some are even reserved for the Pope.

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