Tomorrow on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross Pope Benedict XVI's Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum officially takes effect and makes explicit the right that all Catholic priests have say the traditional "use" of the Roman Rite (i.e., the traditional Latin Mass that traces its lineage back to the original Apostolic Mass).
Many people date the liturgical reform to the Second Vatican Council's Dec. 4, 1963 promulgation of Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy). But the changes actually implemented had the vaguest connection with the Council's decrees (as you can see from the actual document) or even unstated intentions (according, for example, to the recollections of someone who was actually there).1
Pope Paul VI actually promulgated the "new Mass" with his Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum on April 3, 1969. This means the current Holy Father is correcting a misunderstanding of nearly forty years.
The Israelites spent forty years in the desert before entering the Promised Land. I don't think that it is an accident that we've spent nearly forty years in the liturgical wasteland. While I certainly wouldn't have willed this period of desolation, but our Lord is able to draw good out of our worst failures. It is clear in retrospect that it was part of God's Providence: among other benefits it allows us to better appreciate the traditional Mass (we never seem to know what we've got until we lose it), as well as our utter inability to draw life from any source except that our Lord gave us through his Apostles—the Liturgy grows by evolution, not revolution.
Now I need to say that I don't believe the return of the old Mass will bring the Church to some sort of idyllic state of perfection. First, as we all know perfection is impossible this side of heaven. Second, even the Israelites after returning had to fight to take possession of their heritage.
The difference the Motu Proprio makes is that tomorrow, we can stop wandering and begin to fight. Deo Gratias!
1. Really the concrete form of the reform Archbishop Annibale Bugnini was realized according to Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, a man who was exiled in July 1975, not long after his liturgical vision was promulgated to an unwary Church. (I understand that he was exiled after convincing evidence surfaced that he was a Freemason—an avowed enemy of the Church.)
Alfons Cardinal Stickler, "Recollections of a Vatican II Peritus," The Latin Mass Winter 1999.
Here's a whole blog devoted to the Motu Proprio, its consequences, and surrounding issues: Summorum Pontificum.
An entertaining and somewhat insightful take on the old rite from a convert: What I think about the "Tridentine" Mass by David Palmer.