This question is about proper use of terminology within the Roman Catholic church today. As a non-Catholic I am sometimes bewildered when the 6 terms "liturgy", "rite", "order", "form", "mass", and "missal" are modified by

  • species-differentiating adjectives such as "Roman", "Tridentine", "Latin", etc.
  • function-differentiating adjectives such as "Requiem", "Solemn", "High"/"Low", etc.

It would be nice to have a short answer that serves as a glossary (with examples) to clarify:

  1. The primary meaning of each noun. Example:

    • "missal" seems to refers to the book containing the words (plus music notation?) for a mass, to be differentiated from "sacramentary", "breviary", and "lectionary" (the distinction between the 4 is clear enough to me)
    • "mass" refers to the performance of a specific liturgy / rite
  2. The precise aspect that the combination of adjective and noun refers too.

Maybe defining the terms using the Latin roots of each of the 6 words will help. BUT an answer would be really unhelpful if it says "liturgy" and "rite" is interchangeable; rather it should identify the circumstances where using one term over the other is NOT interchangeable.

Example usages that an answer might want to clarify:

  1. What of the distinction between "liturgy" and "rite"? Wikipedia article on Roman Rite starts with a sentence:

    The Roman Rite (Latin: Ritus Romanus) is the primary liturgical rite of the Latin Church, the largest of the sui iuris particular churches that comprise the Catholic Church.

    and the Wikipedia article on Pre-Tridentine Mass starts with:

    Pre-Tridentine Mass refers to the variants of the liturgical rite of Mass in Rome before 1570, when, with his bull Quo primum, Pope Pius V made the Roman Missal, as revised by him, obligatory throughout the Latin Church, except for those places and congregations whose distinct rites could demonstrate an antiquity of two hundred years or more.

    In both articles the terms "liturgy" and "rite" are conflated together.

  2. If "rite" is the prescription, why do we hear "High Mass" a lot but not "High liturgy" or "High rite" even though the prescription for celebrating the mass is different?

  3. What's the connotation of "order" in "Novus Ordo Missae (New Order of the Mass). Why not say "New liturgical rite of mass"?

  4. What's the connotation of "form" as in "Extraordinary Form" that seems to be used synonymously with "Traditional Latin Mass" or "Traditional Rite" (see the first sentence of this article)?

1 Answer 1


Liturgy: via Latin liturgia from the Greek word λειτουργία (leitourgia) literally means "the public work done for the benefit of the people." It generally refers to the ceremonies and related details of public acts of worship. By extension it can refer to an individual particular act of public worship; e.g "This week the cathedral hosted 3 solemn liturgies"

Mass: from the Latin missa is the name of the primary act of liturgical worship in the west. The east doesn't use the term "Mass"; various other names are used but one common name in the East is "Divine Liturgy." The Mass is the liturgical act consisting of readings, hymns, chants, often preaching, and the Eucharistic sacrifice/sacrament and communion. A Mass might be described as "High" or "Solemn" (more typically when referring to the traditional or Tridentine Rite) which indicates the degree of ceremony attached to it. Only Mass is called "High" but "Solemn" is occasionally attached to other rites like Vespers. The difference between a Solemn or High Mass and Mass in general has to do with the amount of singing, the number and variety of ministers and other secondary characteristics like number of candles on the altar. The actual texts involved are not different.

Missal: the book containing the principal texts of the Mass, both the parts that are the same for all Masses (the "Ordinary of the Mass") and the parts that vary according to the feast or other occasion (the "Propers" or "Commons"). The term follows a convention that "-al" indicates a book related to the root term. Hence, a missal contains texts related to Missae (Masses); a hymnal contains hymns, a vesperale contains texts related to Vespers, and a Rituale contains texts related to other rituals (rites).

Rite: This term is used in 2 main ways

  • The "family" or particular tradition of the ceremonies and texts used in liturgical worship; e.g Roman vs Byzantine. Sometimes this term is used for a smaller variation otherwise called a "Use" for example, the "Dominican Rite" is a variation of the Roman Rite as used historically by the Dominican Order.
  • The order of liturgy of a particular ceremony; e.g. "the rite of baptism"

By extension, "rite" can also refer to a jurisdiction. If someone says they are a Byzantine (Rite) Catholic or a Catholic belonging to the Byzantine Rite, this usually means they are under the jurisdiction of a bishop who celebrates that rite and whose ministry is for those Catholics, not Catholics of other rites.

Form: a term coined by Pope Benedict XVI to indicate the reformed liturgy (as promulgated by Paul VI) and the traditional liturgy belonged to one Rite.

Order: an institute of men or women who live according to some rule or constitution usually under vows and a superior. Some of the older Orders have their own variants of liturgical rites (e.g. the Dominicans have the Dominican Rite, the Carmelites had the Carmelite Rite)

Order can also be used similar to rite meaning the way particular pieces are sequenced, so the "New Order of the Mass" (Novus Ordo) means effectively "New (liturgical) rite of the Mass" would.

In sum, Christian liturgy consists of various liturgical rites (families of customs and texts) with many rites (individual acts of worship), the primary of which is the Mass. These rites are contained within books such as the Missal.

  • The contrast with the eastern use of "divine liturgy" and the jurisdiction aspect of a Rite is very helpful. So why do I hear Catholics often say "Mass of Paul VI replacing Tridentine Mass" instead of "Rite of Paul VI replacing Tridentine Rite"? The use of adjectives "Form" and "Order" is confusing too, although I forgot to add them to the question. Aug 28, 2022 at 18:43
  • 1
    The expressions don't contradict. "The Mass of Paul VI" and the "Tridentine Mass" refer to the Mass according to the Rite of Paul VI or according to the Tridentine Rite; rite in this case meaning the "family" of liturgical ceremonies.
    – eques
    Aug 28, 2022 at 18:47
  • Thanks, so looks like the right technical term would be "Tridentine Rite" while the celebration of it is TLM. But what about "order" as in "New order of mass", why not say "New liturgical rite for mass"? What connotation does "order" or "form" tries to communicate? Aug 28, 2022 at 18:52
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    Updated to mention Order and Form. The TLM is a part of the Tridentine Rite, but there are other things in the Tridentine Rite which is not a TLM -- like Vespers or baptism
    – eques
    Aug 28, 2022 at 18:59
  • Thanks, appreciate the edit. Will wait a few days before accepting, in case others would like to submit their answers too. Aug 28, 2022 at 19:14

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