[UPDATED: See end of article]
There are many superb treatments of the liturgical revolution that occurred after the Second Vatican Council, some of which are included in our Top Forty Reading List.
This article is not one of them.
Rather, it will consist of a series of short responses to questions that I once held, and continue to encounter upon proposing to good Catholics that the best possible practice they can adopt immediately, for the salvation of their souls and their families, is to relocate from their Novus Ordo parish and insert themselves into a community where the Traditional Latin Mass is offered exclusively, along with the other classical rites, orthodox catechesis, and sound moral teaching.
Such communities continue to multiply and flourish across the United States, the most well known perhaps being the FSSP, the ICKSP, and the SSPX (although decades of bad press and perhaps habituated overemphasis on “what they’re against” has made some Catholics leery of the SSPX, I have yet to find any sound argument as to why they should not be listed among communities of orthodox faith and worship).
I am increasingly convinced that the storm is darkening ahead for the Church in our days; and in any event, the time for our conversion is ever pressing. Thus I offer the following dialogue, culminating in an analogy regarding the 1969 Mass of Pope Paul VI, also known as the Novus Ordo Missae and the New Mass. It’s an analogy that I find quite challenging, and truth be told, I haven’t yet worked it out myself. I welcome any comments, and although every analogy limps, this one bears serious consideration.
Dialogue With A Good Novus Ordo Catholic
I love our Catholic Faith. I follow the Pope, I go to Mass and the Sacraments regularly, I volunteer at our parish, I have a daily prayer life… I like to think I’m a good Catholic.
Fantastic! Even if you’re in the minority these days, you’re just the type who will benefit tremendously from switching over to a parish exclusively offering the Traditional Latin Mass – care to join us for Mass next Sunday?
Woah, slow down. I like all the smells and bells, but I just don’t get that much out of the Latin Mass… it really isn’t for me.
Yes, this is a great starting principle: The Mass isn’t for us – it’s for God, right? As in: Jesus established the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and commanded that it be offered by his Church in just such a way, and forever, because there is a certain way that God wants to be encountered and worshipped, and that way is the Mass.
Of course! The Mass is the center of our Faith.
The Saints would all agree with you. Padre Pio would add: “It is easier for the earth to exist without the sun than without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”
He’s one of my favorite Saints! But anyways, now that there are two forms of the Mass, or two uses, or whatever – two versions for us to choose from…
Kind of strange, isn’t it? That whole “two versions” thing, I mean. Unprecedented, in fact. One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism… but two Masses. Did you know that there’s never been more than one Roman Mass in all of history? Then suddenly in 1969…
Oh boy, here comes the Vatican II rant. Look, isn’t the Holy Spirit always guiding the Church, just as Christ promised?
Yes, of course, but Christ never promised that the Church’s earthly members (even Priests, Bishops, Cardinals, and Popes) wouldn’t do imprudent or even wicked things during her earthly sojourn… newspaper headlines should tell you that much. This is so even in matters of doctrine and praxis, as any read of Church history can demonstrate. Even Saint Peter denied the Lord and led the faithful into error (and that after Pentecost!), needing a public rebuke from a fellow Bishop to prompt his reform. So can we agree not to “play the Holy Spirit card,” as though we could somehow absolve the Church’s members of their responsibility to act justly?
Fair enough, but an Ecumenical Council called for changes in the Mass – how can you object to an infallible Council?
First of all, Councils aren’t infallible just because they’re Councils – revisiting a Catechism may reward the effort there. Besides, Vatican II never called for sweeping change in any of the liturgical rites, much less the creation of a New Mass; quite the opposite. Plus, when you read interviews with the Council Fathers, you find that during the Council itself, not one of them ever dreamed that within four years, they’d be called upon to offer an entirely new rite of Mass, a Novus Ordo.
Hold on, this is still the Roman Mass we’re talking about here – just the latest edition, right? Like all the other previous editions of the Roman Missal?
Far from it. One of the priest-scholars influencing the creation of the New Mass even wrote in 1976: “The Roman Rite as we knew it no longer exists. It has been destroyed.” Pope Benedict XVI also clarified in Summorum Pontificum that the Latin Mass had never been abrogated, necessarily identifying the New Mass as simply that: something new, something added, and not a later edition of the same Roman Rite.
I didn’t know that… so why was the New Mass even created in the first place?
Books have been written on that subject, but one of the main driving factors was the concerted effort of so-called “liturgical experts” who determined that modern man could no longer understand the timeless worship of the Church (as if that’s what Mass is for in the first place), and that instead we needed something more conventional. So they set to work drafting a new rite, despite pleas from a number of Catholic theologians, priests, bishops, and cardinals (even the Vatican’s longtime Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Faith, Cardinal Ottaviani, termed the New Mass “an incalculable error” and begged the Pope not to impose it). There is no Catholic precedent for such an occurrence. In fact, the only event in history even remotely similar was the imposition of the new Anglican prayer book on English Catholics after the schism of Henry VIII… the civil government knew that the best way to make the people lose their Catholic Faith was not to teach them into error, but to make them pray their way into error – lex orandi, lex credendi.
Even so, the Latin Mass did have problems in it… you know, outdated elements, errors, excesses and whatnot.
Woah there. It’s worth mentioning first that the Council of Trent set infallible Canons on the Mass and the Sacraments and declared as anathema the very claim you just made. But even beyond that, what Saint in history would have dared to say such a thing? Do we really have the gall to stand over and against the Mass of Ages, our most glorious and sacred heritage as Catholics, the mystical patrimony of Saints and Doctors like Teresa of Avila, who herself said “I would die a thousand deaths before I would violate even the least ceremony of the Church”? Besides, when did we suddenly become “too modern” for the Mass, too up-to-date for this timeless act of Heavenly worship – a form given in the Apostolic Age and preserved essentially unchanged while centuries pass?
Point taken. But haven’t there been countless changes to the Mass since the first century?
There’s change and then there’s change – organic and artificial. Prior to 1969, adjustments made to the Mass came across centuries with glacial pace, and never in matters concerning its essential form and content (above all in the Canon). Furthermore, adjustments were only ever made by codifying what had already come before, what had already been given in the prayer of the Church: this has always been the mark of that Spirit-led process whereby the Church is guided in true development of her authentic worship, from that seed first planted in her by Christ – much the same as how her dogmas unfold over time. Contrast this with what happened in the liturgy after Vatican II, and the best description is perhaps offered by one of the experts present at the Council, later to become Pope Benedict XVI:
“…What happened after the Council was something else entirely: in the place of the liturgy as the fruit of development came fabricated liturgy. We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and development over centuries and replaced it, as in a manufacturing process, with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product.”
Wow. But wait, wasn’t the New Mass drawn up because the lay faithful were clamoring for changes: the vernacular, more lay involvement, etc.?
Nope. In the years leading up to the Council, there were no petitions on the map asking for changes to the rite, no widespread experimentation with new liturgical forms at parishes… such a thing would have been unthinkable. In fact, quite the opposite was present: a growing movement had already sprung up among the faithful seeking to better mine and expound upon the great riches of the Mass as it had ever been, not to radically alter it. The explosion of print materials at the time readily demonstrates this: embellished personal missals, supplemental prayer aids, catechetical materials, etc…
But weren’t the changes made so that people could participate more fully and get more out of the Mass? It was all for pastoral reasons, right?
This is certainly the justification given over and over again, and it’s a laudable intention. But remember, when it comes to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, “what we get out of it” is so radically secondary that it approaches non-importance. The Mass is not for us. Furthermore, those prompting (or defending) the changes tend to overlook the evidence that the Latin Mass in fact elicits superior participation, often measuring “participation” by external involvement in observable activity (singing, speaking, moving about, etc.), which is just nonsense. Try explaining it to a cloistered contemplative. And in any case, how has it all worked out for us, fifty years later? Less than a quarter of U.S. Catholics even go to Sunday Mass, and half don’t believe Jesus is present in the Eucharist.
Wait a minute, that’s a false conclusion. Those issues are due to bad catechesis and our toxic culture, not the fault of the New Mass.
Maybe. But consider this: No previous Pope or Council in history ever sought to “create” a Mass; Trent declared anathemas on all who would dare to contemn or change the rites of the Church’s public worship; Vatican II called only for a process of careful study and minor adjustment within Tradition (and only if the express good of the Church “genuinely and certainly required” it)… yet somehow we ended up with a totally different Mass, invented by disjointed committees and imposed on the universal Church practically overnight. Doesn’t that bother you?
Actually, yes. But even if it was weird how it came about, the New Mass was still validly promulgated by Pope Paul VI, right?
Maybe. But even if it was, that would be like saying that since something is legal, that makes it good; an obvious error. And I’m telling you, legal or not, the New Mass at the very minimum can never be as good as the Traditional Latin Mass.
But our parish has such a devout young pastor offering the New Mass… that’s why we go there and not to Saint Crazy’s down the street.
It’s the very fact that a Saint Crazy’s Mass is possible down the street that shows the problem for what it is. The sacred character of the Holy Sacrifice must never depend on the arbitrary choices of the celebrant (or worse, a parish liturgy committee); yet the multitude of inbuilt “options” in the very structure of the New Mass makes it such that this must always be the case. It’s not simply a problem in the user, it’s a problem in the thing itself.
But it’s not just that we’re avoiding Saint Crazy’s. Our parish is doing amazing things, with great formation programs, real service…
Yes, and those things are wonderful! That’s why they must remain secondary. God is always working things for the good of those who love Him, so the question is: How much do we love Him? Are our parishes chiefly about Him or about us? Are they for offering right worship above all, or for something else? The main thing has to be the main thing, and the main thing is the Mass. Get this thing right, and the rest follows with it: just ask the great missionaries and martyrs of American history.
But how can you say that the New Mass is never as good as the Latin Mass? Isn’t Jesus present at every Mass?
For Jesus to be present, you at least need a valid consecration. But among the major problems in the New Mass were changes to the Canon and the removal of nearly every reference to offering sacrifice – something the priest must intend in order to confect the Eucharist. This would be like writing a recipe for cake without including “flour” in the ingredients, and almost completely omitting it from the cooking instructions but for a few veiled references! And if the chef only knows cake from his study of the recipe (as priests chiefly learn the Mass from the rite) and keeps strictly to the letter of the text while baking (“say the black, do the red”), he may not make a cake at all. In such an event, I’m not sure what he would make… but it wouldn’t be cake. Similarly, the New Mass does utter little to fix the sacrificial intention of the priest – and if the priest lacks this intention, he will not confect the Eucharist.
That’s a bit unsettling… But just for the sake of argument, let’s assume a valid consecration at every New Mass – isn’t this all that matters?
Only if conception is all that matters in a marriage.
I don’t follow.
Determining “all that matters” in the Mass by reducing it to a valid consecration is a tragic debasement. This is a disintegration that turns the Mass into nothing but a Sacrament-production machine, a true Deus ex machina, an arbitrary manufacturing process that “makes” the Eucharist. Such an approach would be like reducing marriage to a fetus generator. Although procreation and child-rearing is certainly the primary end of marriage, it cannot be reduced to an egg-fertilization field: this would strip the sacrament of its own inherent unity and integral nature as a sacramental state of lifelong, sanctifying self-offering necessarily ordered to procreation.
Furthermore, if the marital act were simply a manufacturing process for zygotes, why should there not be other legitimate ways to achieve the same end? Why must something like in vitro fertilization meet with such strong condemnations in natural, divine, and ecclesial law if conception were truly “all that matters”?
The answer of course is that conception isn’t all that matters. The ends do not justify the means, and the good end of conception must be linked to the means of the marital act, which holds its own inherent nature and inviolable laws inscribed by God. Furthermore, Divine Wisdom has seen fit to join this marital act to the marital state, decreeing that conception should only ever occur within the confines of a lifelong relationship of mutual, self-giving love. Conception must only take place in a marital act, and marital acts must only take place in marriage. What God hath joined, let not man put asunder.
Similarly, a valid consecration must not be severed from its “natural setting,” as though the beauty and integrity of a full and complete liturgical action, handed down from Apostolic use as a single, sacred unicity, could be regarded as something arbitrary or optional. Hacksaw liturgical experts have no more right to replace the Roman Mass with their own artificially concocted Bible-Study-Plus-Communion-Service “New Mass” than do masked lab technicians replacing the marital act with the cold science of a petri dish.
But if we seriously apply your analogy, we’d have to conclude that the New Mass isn’t only “not as good” – it would be something inherently bad.
The term you’re looking for is sacrilegious – and in fact many theologians, priests, and bishops have held that position from the beginning. I haven’t sorted this one out myself, but their position is essentially thus: The New Mass, albeit validly imposed, is of itself a violation of the integrity of the Catholic Faith and a deformation of right worship; it is therefore inherently offensive to God, and while those who celebrate it or attend it in good faith may not be guilty of the sin of sacrilege, this would not change the illicit nature of the act itself, any more than ignorantly undergoing IVF would make it a morally good action.
The New Mass a sacrilege? I will have to pray and research some more before I accept that conclusion.
This would be preferable to shrugging it off, but consider: even if this were a false theoretical premise, should your practical conclusion be any different? IF the Mass is the most important thing in the universe, then this is the most urgent matter in your life right now. IF there is even a remote possibility that the above position is correct, then it’s all the more pressing. And IF the Traditional Latin Mass is eminently pleasing to God (as declared by countless Saints, Doctors, Martyrs, Popes and Councils), whereas the New Mass is at least deficient, then prudence would dictate that you take the surest road: switch to the Latin Mass immediately, and then sort out your questions afterward.
In any event, Mass is absolutely the center of my life.
Hurrah! Come savor its highest and noblest form, come joy in the richest treasure of our Faith, the delights of the holy: the traditional Roman Rite, the Mass of Ages, the Mass of the Saints, the Latin Mass reverenced through centuries of devout use among all our forebears across the globe, the most ancient and venerable rite in all of Christendom, the most beautiful thing this side of Heaven!
A Call to Quit the New Mass
As a child, I greatly enjoyed pineapple.
Of course, being a child of the Midwest, the only way I could in fact acquire pineapple was from an aluminum can. Dole was my typical preference.
And although my love for pineapple never wholly departed, it diminished somewhat in the ensuing years. Perhaps it was the maturation of the palette, who knows – but over time, every sampling began to betray a faint but detectable metallic hint, a flavor of “produced-ness.”
Then, many years later, something unexpected happened.
While in Jamaica for a brief stint, one of the locals offered me a pineapple from their backyard as a common courtesy. I will never forget that first bite. Sadly, in describing it I can only appeal to the understanding of those who have had the good fortune of tasting a pineapple picked fresh from a tree in the Caribbean. As the almost overwhelming panoply of flavors came through, shockingly exotic albeit vaguely familiar, I found myself exclaiming aloud: “What… what is this??”
“Easy mon. ‘Sa pineapple, mon.”
What can I say? After a life of canned pineapple, this was like tasting a different thing.
For Catholics who have fixed Christ in the Eucharist as the center of all their affections, it will be cause for the greatest rejoicing to discover the Traditional Latin Mass. For here, far from a “banal, on-the-spot fabrication,” a thing produced by self-appointed “experts” in all the bland sterility of a 1960’s committee room scented with rationalism and pop-psychology, the Mass of Ages stands as that true and timeless act of right worship, grown organically and supernaturally from the living Tree of Catholic Tradition, from the very heart of Christ’s Mystical Body at prayer. To those yearning for worship in spirit and in truth, the Latin Mass comes as a revelation.
Furthermore, this act of worship was formed by the Holy Spirit through the ages in part to correctly orient the human person in all his faculties. Its structure and formulae are focused and ordered to deepening the spiritual, intellectual, affective, and moral conversion of its participants; thus its abiding stability, clarity, and precision offer timely and pressing healing and strength against the growing fracture, confusion, and infidelity witnessed even among the shepherds of the Church today.
It’s all about the Mass.
So, calling all good Catholics:
Quit the New Mass, and take up the Traditional Latin Mass.
The soul you save may be your own!
[DISCLAIMER: I am not convinced that offering or attending a Novus Ordo Mass is an intrinsically evil act; neither do I disparage Catholics who presently do so, while seeking right worship in good faith. I identify with these folks, and believe they will benefit greatly from the kind of conversation pursued here. Furthermore, given the gravity of the matter, every Catholic must feel himself obliged to investigate.]