Old Mass, New Mass. Traditional Latin Mass, Novus Ordo. This has been quite a controversial topic of late. Is one “right” and the other “wrong”? Or could they be mutually beneficial?
By Daniel Sute
7 January 2022
This is a two part blog post concerning the need for and the manner in which Sacred Tradition could be more faithfully reflected in the celebration of the Novus Ordo missal. In part one, the reasons for this effort are explained. In part two, practical steps are suggested.
In July of 2021, and again in December of the same year, Pope Francis published restrictions on the celebration of the Holy Mass according to the traditional customs of the Roman Rite. These actions were based on the belief that Traditional Latin Mass communities often embody “a rejection of the Second Vatican Council and its liturgical reforms,” which were equated with a rejection of the “Holy Spirit himself who guides the Church.” If the Vatican Mandates were followed verbatim, the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass would become virtually impossible, since bishops have been asked to forbid the celebration of the 1962 missal in parochial (parish) churches as well as forbid the establishment of chapels dedicated to the ancient customs. More recently, Traditional Latin Mass communities have been forbidden from advertising their liturgies. Interestingly, very few bishops in the United States have chosen to act on these restrictions, although half a year has passed after they were promulgated.
While much could be said about the fairness or unfairness of Traditiones Custodes or what might be inferred from it being ignored by so much of the episcopacy, it is also worth examining the idea of “unity” which stands at the center of the controversial motu proprio. For nearly sixty years, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity has attempted to achieve unity between the Catholic Church and the various Protestant sects and autocephalous Orthodox Churches. It would seem nonsensical to devote such massive bureaucratic efforts towards achieving unity with heretical and schismatic communities while we Catholics have invested such little effort in achieving intra-ecclesial unity between Traditionalists and the mainstream Church.
Pope Francis is, of course, correct that the liturgy is the center around which unity must be found. While traditionalist groups often do express reservations with this or that teaching of the Second Vatican Council, these teachings do not affect the faith of average Catholics as dramatically as does the Holy Mass. SSPX was formed, after all, only after the Novus Ordo was promulgated in Advent of 1969, and members of traditionalist communities are generally drawn to them firstly by their solemn liturgy rather than their personal beliefs about religious liberty or ecumenism. It is an obvious observation that the Catholic Church will remain divided as long as the Holy Mass is celebrated in radically different fashions from one parish to the next. The problem is the burden of liturgical conformity cannot be placed entirely on Traditionalists’ shoulders while those Catholics who celebrate the Mass in a novel or irreverent manner are expected to make no sacrifices at all.
The Hermeneutic of Continuity
While it may come as a surprise to some, Pope Benedict XVI valued the importance of the liturgical unity when he published Summorum Pontificum in 2007. To Benedict XVI, however, unity was needed bot just between today’s Catholic parishes but between today’s Church and the Catholic Church immemorial. To him, realizing a “hermeneutic of continuity” between the pre-conciliar and post-conciliar Church was a major goal of his entire pontificate. This meant that the Church’s beliefs and practices before 1962 must not be perceived as a different religious system that the beliefs and practices help by the Church after Vatican II. (Read more about the continuity of Catholic doctrine through the centuries.)
To many conservative Catholics, Benedict XVI’s “hermeneutic of continuity” meant that they needed to place an interpretative veneer of continuity over the Church of the post-conciliar era. As long as they said the Church after the 1960s was the same Church as the one before the 1960s, and they could think of clever justifications for the dramatic changes which any atheist could observe, the hermeneutic of continuity would have been achieved. The problem is that Traditionalist Catholics view this type of hermeneutic of continuity as about as artificial as Martin Luther’s “snow-covered dunghill” theory of justification. What is needed to accomplish an actual hermeneutic of continuity in the Church, as well as intra-ecclesial unity between trads and mainstream Catholics, are changes in the way that mainstream Catholics celebrate the Holy Mass.
The Traditional Latin Mass and the Novus Ordo – Mutually Beneficial?
In The Old Mass and the New, Bishop Marc Aillet argued that Benedict XVI hoped that Summorum Pontificum would generate a mutually beneficial exchange between the Traditional Latin Mass and the Novus Ordo. In other words, Benedict XVI hope that the celebration of the TLM would benefit from the strengths of the Novus Ordo missal by encouraging conscious participation by the use of hand missals or liturgical formation courses. Additionally, Benedict XVI may have hoped that the intelligent participation in the High Mass would become the central focus of TLM communities, whereas before Vatican II most Catholics attended low masses and few had much awareness of the meaning of the various aspects of the liturgy. Today, it could certainly be argued that most TLM communities benefit from the light that the Novus Ordo has shed on the Traditional Mass by encouraging active, conscious, and devout participation of the laity in the liturgy that the pre-Vatical II TLM did not enjoy.
On the converse, can it be said that most Novus Ordo parishes have benefited from the light that the Traditional Latin Mass has shed on the reverence and mysterious grandeur that are owed to each and every Holy Sacrifice? In some parishes, to be sure, the TLM has influenced Novus Ordo celebrations. A small minority of priests have begun to celebrate the Mass Ad Orientem. More laity are receiving communion on the tongue, or even kneeling. Young priests have often made sacrifices to purchase beautiful vestments which worthily adorn the dignity of their priesthood. All the same, considering the flexibility that the Novus Ordo general instructions allow, more can and should be done to bridge the gap between contemporary liturgical practice and the immemorial customs of the Holy Catholic Church. Whereas many such as the New Liturgical Movement and Robert Cardinal Sarah advocate for a “reform of the reform”, it should be first appreciated that much could be done to celebrate the 1969 reform in a more traditional manner.
Celebrating the “New Order” Missal in a Traditional Manner
Why should finding ways to celebrate the “New Order” missal in a traditional manner concern today’s pastors? For starters, if Benedict XVI was correct, the hermeneutic of continuity must be an essential goal of any who believe that the Catholic Church truly is what she claims to be. If the Church is in fact guided by the Holy Spirit, as Pope Francis has affirmed, we cannot justify celebrating Mass in a manner which is untethered from the liturgical traditions which the Holy Spirit guided our forefathers to preserve for well over a millennium. Whereas the Holy Spirit’s hand in liturgical innovations may be legitimately questioned, the Holy Spirit’s influence over liturgical customs which were preserved in the Catholic Church for most of its history cannot be doubted without seriously questioning the Holy Spirit’s ability to effectively guide the Church. As it stands, since Catholics believe that Sacred Tradition is a valid expression of the one Word of God, we are bound to agree with the Second Council of Nicaea which condemned “those who dare, after the impious fashion of heretics, to deride the ecclesiastical traditions, to invent novelties of some kind…or endeavor by malice or craft to overthrow any one of the legitimate traditions of the Catholic Church.”
Examples abound of traditional liturgical customs which most of today’s pastors ignore. Since at least the 4th century, for example, each ancient Christian Church has preferred to celebrate the liturgy facing the East in anticipation of the second coming of Christ. In the Roman Rite, the Latin language was preserved in the liturgy for one thousand four hundred years after it ceased serving as a vernacular language.
Additionally, Roman plainchant organically developed into the style of Gregorian Chant which Pius X, Pius XI, Pius XII and Vatican II each reaffirmed as the privileged form of music of the Roman Rite. Furthermore, the Roman Canon, or “Eucharistic Prayer I”, was deemed so sacred by Pope Innocent I in the early 400s that he refused to put the prayer to writing. Even the liturgical reformers of the 1960s did not initially intend to construct additional Eucharistic prayers which would ultimately eclipse the great Roman Canon. The innovative anaphoras were constructed only in response to the creation of illicit anaphoras by the Dutch clergy of the 1960s, who were in the process of leading their national church into one of the greatest generational apostacies in the history of Christianity. It was thought that by creating more options amongst the Church’s approved Eucharistic prayers, the desire to create illicit Eucharistic prayers would be curtailed in nations such as the Netherlands.
Today, however, the Roman Canon is hardly at all used at Novus Ordo masses. The shortest anaphora, Eucharistic Prayer II, is the most often heard Eucharistic prayer, for less than commendable reasons. While it may certainly be the case that the Holy Spirit was guiding the modern Catholic Church to adjust its liturgy in the 1960s, it seems questionable that the Holy Spirit would guide Christ’s Bride to abandon so many of her millennia old traditions all at the same time.
It is possible to honor many of the Holy Spirit inspired Catholic liturgical traditions within the rubrics of the 1969 missal by choosing not to display an apathy towards Catholic Tradition that leans towards a dangerous rejection of the Deposit of Faith and the Holy Spirit’s abiding presence in the Holy Catholic Church.
In part two, a series of suggestions as to how the Church’s objective liturgical traditions can be better reflected in the celebration of the Novus Ordo will be provided to any pastors or interested laity.
Daniel Sute is an elementary teacher and catechist in the Archdiocese of Detroit. He is currently pursuing his Masters Degree in History at Fort Hays State University. Daniel is happily married to his wife as of July, 2020.
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