Thursday, September 6, 2018

Traditional Latin Mass vs. Novus Ordo, Part 1: A brief history

Our editor, Mary, will be taking a leave of absence for the next month or so. While she is gone, my good friend Kermit (no relation to the frog of the same name) has graciously agreed to take her place.

Over the past few months on this blog, I have described the sacred liturgy according to its traditional form, the form that has been used by the Church for centuries. This liturgical tradition, especially the traditional Latin Mass, has nourished Holy Mother Church and kept her strong even through the worst times of war, persecution, and hatred. It has kindled the faith of thousands of holy saints and inspired some of the greatest acts of faith, hope, and charity. As Jesus promised, the gates of hell can never overcome the Church of God (Matthew 16:18). The sacred liturgy is one of the Church's most powerful weapons against the gates of hell.

However, the traditional forms of the Mass, Divine Office, and sacraments are not what most Catholic parishes use today. Instead, they use revised forms that were written in the 1960s and 1970s as part of a major liturgical reform in the Church. These revised forms are collectively known as the Novus Ordo, which means “New Order.” This comes from the original title of the revised form of the Mass, Novus Ordo Missae (“New Order of the Mass”). Over this next series of articles, I will be describing the Novus Ordo and how it differs from the traditional liturgies. Although the Novus Ordo Mass, Divine Office, and sacraments are completely valid and established by legitimate ecclesiastical authority, they are inferior in form to the traditional liturgies. I will begin with a brief history.

Modernism is a heresy that became widespread around the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century. It is, in a nutshell, the belief that there is no absolute truth. Modernists suggest that we cannot truly know God, because we can only know what we can perceive. Instead of acknowledging eternal and divinely revealed truth, they rely on their own religious feelings and sentiments. The Church dogmas, they say, should freely change and evolve to match people's religious sentiments, instead of being infallible and unchangeable truths. Anytime you hear someone say, “The Church needs to get with the times,” you know you are speaking with a Modernist. The idea of infallibility is reviled and mocked. Intellectualism is considered outdated and no longer relevant. In short, Modernism is the idea of liberation from the Church's infallible teachings.

In 1907, Pope St. Pius X issued an encyclical letter (a formal letter from the Pope to the bishops of the world) entitled Pascendi Dominici Gregis, which formally condemned the heresy of Modernism. (You can read the full text here.) St. Pius X called Modernism the “synthesis of all heresies,” because whereas other heresies attack specific dogmas, Modernism attacks the concept of dogma itself. In the Modernist world, anything goes. In the Modernist world, Protestantism is just as acceptable as Catholicism. St. Pius X published an Oath Against Modernism, which all clergy, members of religious orders, and teachers at Catholic schools were required to profess. (You can read the oath here.) Because Modernism was so pervasive and so damaging to the Catholic faith, St. Pius X did everything he could to fight against it. Unfortunately, Modernism kept spreading, and it remains extremely common amongst Catholics today, even amongst priests.

Throughout his papacy, St. Pius X worked to encourage the laity to unite themselves with Christ through a meaningful participation in the sacred liturgy. His motto was Instaurare Omnia in Christo (“Restore All Things in Christ”). He encouraged daily reception of Communion, and in 1911 he issued the decree Divino Afflatu, reforming the Divine Office to restore the tradition of singing all 150 psalms in one week. A few decades later, Pope Pius XII also strove to help the faithful through liturgical reform. For example, he allowed Mass to be said in the evening so that more people could attend Mass, and he restored the Easter Vigil to its more logical place in the evening.

However, mixed in with these positive reforms was a complete overhaul of the Holy Week liturgies in 1955. The primary author of these new Holy Week liturgies was Father Annibale Bugnini, an Italian priest whom Pius XII appointed in 1948 to be Secretary to the Commission for Liturgical Reform. Bugnini became one of the most prominent figures in the twentieth century liturgical reform. Under Bugnini's authorship, Modernism began to influence the sacred liturgy by taking focus away from God and placing it on the people, making the sacred liturgy less reflective of the true Catholic doctrine, and generally taking away much of the beauty of the sacred liturgy. Bugnini's changes to Holy Week included were having the priest face the people while blessing palms on Palm Sunday and removing eight of the twelve prophecies from the Easter Vigil.

On October 11, 1962, Pope St. John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council, also called Vatican II. It was the twenty-first ecumenical council of the Catholic Church, the first being the Council of Jerusalem described in Acts 15. More than two thousand bishops and priests from all over the world came to Vatican City for the council. St. John XXIII intended the council to continue the work of St. Pius X in helping the faithful devote themselves to God. In his opening address, St. John XXIII said, “What is needed at the present time is a new enthusiasm, a new joy and serenity of mind in the unreserved acceptance by all of the entire Christian faith, without forfeiting that accuracy and precision in its presentation which characterized the proceedings of the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council.” He explicitly condemned creativity in the sacred liturgy. It is clear that he was strong in faith, well-intentioned, and totally opposed to the Modernist heresy.

Unfortunately, the Second Vatican Council did not go according to St. John XXIII's plan. The schemata that he and his advisors had prepared were thrown out in the first session. As St. John XXIII was dying in 1963, he cried, “Stop the council! Stop the council!” Bugnini served as an advisor to the Conciliar Commission on the Sacred Liturgy, which, in 1963, produced the document Sacrosanctum Concilium. Although Sacrosanctum Concilium is never explicitly damaging or heretical, its critical fault is being extremely vague and allowing itself to be interpreted in wildly different ways. For example, it opens with a statement that the liturgy needs to “adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times.” In paragraph 50, it calls for liturgical reform, saying, “The rite of the Mass is to be revised in such a way that the intrinsic nature and purpose of its several parts, as also the connection between them, may be more clearly manifested, and that devout and active participation by the faithful may be more easily achieved.” What does “active participation” mean? In paragraph 116, it says, “The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.” What things being equal? What does “pride of place” mean?

Vatican II was closed by Pope Paul VI on December 8, 1965. In the few years following Vatican II, the Mass was changed to accommodate the recommendations made by Sacrosanctum Concilium. It was said mostly in the vernacular, Psalm 42 was omitted at the foot of the altar, new “prayers of the faithful” were added after the Gospel and Credo, and the Last Gospel was omitted. Around 1967, it became common for the priest to face the people across the altar. However, despite all of the changes, it was still fundamentally the same liturgy. Those accustomed to the traditional Latin Mass would still be able to follow along just fine. In addition, it is interesting to note that, of these changes, only the use of the vernacular was mentioned in any document of Vatican II. Already, liturgical reform had begun to take advantage of the vagueness of Sacrosanctum Concilium and to alter more than it was supposed to.

The liturgical reform of the twentieth century reached its climax in 1969, when Pope Paul VI published the Novus Ordo Missae. The Novus Ordo Mass was composed by Bugnini, assisted by a committee that included six Protestants. Bugnini and his committee completely rewrote the Mass from the ground up, leaving very little resemblance to the traditional Mass. They interpreted Sacrosanctum Concilium very broadly and added significant Modernist influences.

The Novus Ordo Mass was published in the 1970 Roman Missal. New editions with slight revisions were published in 1975 and 2002. (As an interesting side note, the 1970 and 1975 editions make Paul VI the only Pope to ever publish two editions of the Roman Missal.) The 2002 Roman Missal is the one currently in force in most Catholic parishes. The currently used English translations took effect in 2011.

The Novus Ordo Mass intends to place greater emphasis on the people and make the Mass more similar to Protestant liturgies. The faithful's sentimentality becomes more important than infallible doctrine. Although it would be slander for me to suggest that Church authorities espoused the heresy of Modernism, there is clear Modernist influence in the Novus Ordo Mass. Another stated goal of the Novus Ordo is to imitate the Mass of the early Christians. However, the Novus Ordo Mass does not in any way resemble the Mass of the early Christians, and even if it did, Pope Pius XII explicitly condemned the idea of reverting to ancient practices and disregarding the organic development of the sacred liturgy guided by the Holy Spirit.

In summary, genuine efforts to reform the liturgy by Popes St. Pius X and Pius XII got tangled up with Modernist influence, a lot of which came from Fr. Annibale Bugnini. The Second Vatican Council issued a very vague document on the sacred liturgy, which Bugnini took advantage of to write the Novus Ordo Mass, which has strong Modernist influence in its focus on the people and its intentional similarity to Protestant liturgies.

I want to make it extremely clear that St. John XXIII, Paul VI, and their successors, up to and including our current Holy Father, Pope Francis, are valid Popes with legitimate ecclesiastical authority. Although I believe that some of their decisions, especially regarding liturgical reform, are misguided and even damaging, this does not mean that they do not have the authority to make such decisions. I attend a parish of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, which, by the grace of God, offers the traditional forms of the Mass, Divine Office, and sacraments with full approval of the Holy See. Additionally, the views expressed here are my own. I do not claim to speak on behalf of my parish, the FSSP, or any Church authorities.

New terms
  • Novus Ordo – The revised forms of the Mass, Divine Office, and sacraments that were published around 1970.
  • Modernism – A heresy condemned by St. Pius X that suggests, among other things, that there is no absolute truth and that Church teachings are changeable.
  • Second Vatican Council or Vatican II – An ecumenical council of the Church held in Vatican City from 1962 to 1965, addressing the reform of the liturgy, the devotion of the faithful, and the response of the Church to contemporary developments.

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