I do not recall hearing the phrase “Novus Ordo” used to describe the editions of the Missale Romanum of Pope Paul VI until rather recently and yet, within the past few years, I have heard it used quite frequently, not only by those who wish to critique this Missal but even by those who defend it. As one who teaches liturgical history I find this development rather interesting and my question, then, is, simply, from where did this designation arise? It is certainly not the official term for the Missale Romanum, which by the way, is the official term for what Paul VI promulgated, the third edition of which appeared during the pontificate of John Paul II and under his authority. The term does not appear in any version of the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, and I am unaware of it appearing anywhere in any official Roman document. If anyone can produce such a document I for one would find that most helpful in my teaching.

From where, then, does the term “Novus Ordo” come as a description for what is now the Ordinary Form – forma ordinaria – of the Roman Rite? The only place I know where the term appears in any document is in a 1976 address by Pope Paul VI himself to new cardinals in Rome, where he simply refers to the recent Missal as that decreed and commanded by Vatican II ( “Novus Ordo promulgatus est, ut in locum veteris substitueretur post maturam deliberationem, atque ad exsequendas normas quae a Concilio Vaticano II impertitae sunt”). But other than this reference, which is little more than what anyone might say in passing about a “new” hymnal, “new” worship book, etc., the term is not an “official title” and if anyone would take the time to compare the Ordo Missae of the Missal of Paul VI and the Ordo Missae of the seventh-century, “Gregorian” and papal Ordo Romanus Primus, it would be very hard to use the word Novus at all as a descriptive modifier of Ordo today. Indeed, for those who wish to use ‘The Gregorian Rite” as a way to describe the “Novus Ordo” or new Missal of the Council of Trent, which by the way, according to Pius V’s Quo primum of 1570 made use of liturgical “experts” to produce (“Quare eruditis delectis viris onus hoc demandandum duximus”), the Missal of Paul VI actually merits that title more clearly. But I digress.

The widespread use of the term Novus Ordo represents far more than a description of the Missal of Paul VI. Especially by critics, the term implies much more than liturgy, though liturgy is the starting point. In fact, we have all heard that the “Novus Ordo Service, “ not even called the Mass, of course, has a “Protestant-Masonic-Pagan Nature,” which in turn, has led to a “Novus Ordo Church,” which is no longer Catholic but has basically sold out Catholicism in order to be more favorable to Protestantism (e.g., less emphasis on the sacrificial nature of the Mass to be replaced by a meal emphasis), and, which, of course, really has Masonic roots.

How anyone can make that claim after reading the sacrificial language in all of the Eucharistic Prayers of the Roman Rite, especially the anamnesis of Eucharistic Prayer IV, is beyond me.

The use of Novus Ordo, which even some Catholic parishes now use in their bulletins to designate a Latin Mass in the forma ordinaria, is a term probably best to be avoided by all of us, given its implications. Though innocent enough when Paul VI used it in 1976, the term brings with it all kinds of baggage, associated with particular attitudes and agendas, both political and ecclesiastical, which others unwittingly acknowledge by the use of such terminology. I suspect that just as there is no Novus Ordo Catholic Church, there is also no such thing as a real Novus Ordo Mass on which to base it. There is only the Roman Rite, whatever form of that which is used. Please, if someone knows something different than this and can find it in official Church documents and teaching, please let me know. For the time being, if you like to use Latin phrases in your speech, and we liturgiologists love to do so with things like “lex orandi,” “lex credendi,” and “Novus Ordo” so easily rolling off our tongues, maybe you might be saying much more than you intend to say.

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