The mind of the Church on the ‘Novus ordo’

At Catholic Culture, Jeff Mirus makes a very good point about the reformed liturgy of Paul VI: in the mind of the Church, it is the normal, ordinary form of the Catholic liturgy. The ‘extraordinary’ form is permitted and one may prefer it, but one should not denigrate the Church’s normal, ordinary liturgy. Nor may one misuse the comments and opinions of Cardinal Ratzinger, especially when they are taken out of context, as if they are now the teachings of the Magisterium.

This is something that breaks my heart: the liturgy of the Church, the “source and summit” (SC 10) of the Church’s life, is regularly criticized and denigrated and attacked and mocked – and this by practicing Catholics. I appreciate Dr. Mirus’s comments.



  1. This is a very good article and I wholeheartedly concur with the sentiments written. At the same time, given the fact that the Church has entered a new liturgical era with the allowance of the EF Mass as precisely that, an extraordinary option, neither should it be denigrated by those who value the Ordinary Form of the Mass as precisely that, the regular, normal, ordinary way in which the Mass is celebrated. Honestly admit that one prefers the OF Mass without denigrating the EF Mass. Both should be celebrated properly, reverently and according to the mind of the Church, i.e. rubrics and options available.

  2. “Both should be celebrated properly, reverently and according to the mind of the Church, i.e. rubrics and options available.”

    It’s a careful point to limit “the mind of the Church” to “rubrics and options.” Unfortunately for the Church, there is also the small matter of Sacrosanctum Concilium.

    Is it a point of denigration to suggest the 1962 Missal is in need of reform today as much as it was in 1963? When do we arrive at the point where faithful, honest, and prayerful Catholics can assess liturgy and continue reform so as to best achieve the goals of the Council? Despite all the heat liturgy generates in tought and speech, we truly live in timid times.

    1. I’m not sure I see your point. The NO is the result of the reform. Why would one need to do something else with the 1962 Mass?

      1. Good point John. In a sense because the EF is “extraordinary” it has become a “museum piece” but still can be celebrated well even if Vatican II called for its reform, but giving no real specifics. What we have now in the OF is a product of a commission and papal approval and thus legitimate and beyond question the norm of the Church. Pope Benedict has said that the 1962 missal was not suppressed by Vatican II but the reform of it by subsequent powers to be have now made room for two uses of of the one Roman Rite, the old order of Mass and its reformed version, “new order”, a novelty to be sure, but a part of opening the windows of the Church. It is now not a matter of either/or, but both/and. We might like it or not, but we have two forms of the Mass, the ordinary and the extraordinary. Get use to it and don’t denigrate either unless liberties that are not prescribed in either are taken–denigrate the liberties.

      2. Again, those were addressed and implemented in the reform. You don’t see those items in the Ordinary Form.

    2. +JMJ+

      Of course, Todd. “[I]n order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain. Pastors of souls must therefore realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.” (SC 11)

      I do believe such pastoral sensitivity is possible in the as-yet-unreformed E.F.

  3. What Todd says is true. Pope Benedict has made it clear, it seems, that Sacrosanctum Concilium will be applied to the EF, and it already has with the allowance of the scripture readings in the vernacular. I can imagine that we will see more applications of SC to the EF in the coming years as the two forms “enrich each other”.

    The same goes for the OF, which by no means is a completed product. This is why I dislike the term “reformed” liturgy. “Reformed” is past tense, implies a sense of completeness, but the MInd of the Church seems to be saying pretty clearly that the reform of the liturgy is far from over. In many ways it has only begun.

    1. Adam, another good point, there are options for the EF Mass that were not envisioned in 1962 and options for the OF Mass, such as ad orientem which only recently seems to be gaining some credence. Depending on your point of view, it is very exciting or very disconcerting. I’ve always loved “new and improved” even if it is on old and decrepit. I have a new clergy shirt and I look marvelous!

  4. I agree fully with this posting. Pope Benedict has made clear that the Novus Ordo (it’s not really Novus after 40 years but anyway) is the ordinary form. The older rite he properly terms the Extraordinary Form. I have no wish to see it replace the Ordinary Form. I realise and accept that it will always be a minority interest in the Church and that’s fine – I just wish it to be available for those of us who want it.

    I have little in common with those who denigrate the Ordinary Form – my issue with it is that, all too often, it is accompanied by liturgical abuse – unauthorised additions or subtractions. If they are authorised, fine: whether I like them or not is irrelevant. But this denigration of forms is not a one way street. My take is that all Catholics should stick to church law and norms, whatever their preferred form. If they don’t like them, they can respectfully state their reasons, but they should abide by the final outcome. I do not agree with those who simply left for the SSPX, for example: I have only attended EF Masses authorised by the Church.

    The EF speaks to me spiritually; I probably would not have reverted without it. If the OF, whether teen life, mariachi, or whatever, speaks to others, I am very happy for them.

    The test, surely, is what makes us better Christians, in our attitude to God and our neighbours.

    1. None of the EF masses you have attended has been ” accompanied by liturgical abuse”?

      I have not been to an EF in 40+ years, but the ones I attended as a child were rife with liturgical abuse. If that has changed, Thanks be to God for delivering us.

      1. Jim – I don’t doubt you (and that bears out my older relatives’ experience) but I have no experience muself of the EF prior to the mid-1990’s. I think that nowadays the choice of EF is such a personal one that liturgical abuse is less likely in it – the whole point is it attracts people who want to say the black and do the red without any personal creativity, Deo gratias.

  5. If I may be permitted a second bite at the cherry: Pope Benedict is clearly more conservative than many here would like but he is very committed to the Ordinary Form. It is best to read him in the original and not to rely on quotations which may or may not be accurate or in context. Now, he clearly thinks some reforms accompanying the Ordinary Form went too far and some were never even authorized or mandated (and liberals don’t like to hear that) but he is very clear that the Ordinary Form is here to stay and is the normal form of the Mass (and conservatives do not like to hear that). I think his liberalizing of the EF was intended to do 3 things (whether one likes them or not):

    1. Try to heal the rift with SSPX
    2. Try to inspire priests who say the OF to the transcendent by showing them an example to bear in mind when they say Mass in the OF
    3. Try to show the Orthodox Church that we did not jettison tradition
    so that corporate unity or at least intercommunion might become a reality in our lifetimes

    So, I know this blog is largely more OF-friendly and EF-suspicious but….we may rightly criticise some of the abuses/attitudes that often (but not always) accompany one form or the other but we should all respect both forms while keeping, and making known, respectfully, our preferences, and our difficulties with, the ‘other’ form.

    Anyway, this will not be “either/or” as between the EF and OF soon when Anglicanorum Coetibus becomes established.

  6. The Mirus post is persuasive in identifying authority’s chief concern not with NO as such but with deficiencies in its execution.

    Though I was only a child during Vatican II, my memories as an altar server assure me that in an ordinary urban British parish the pre-conciliar Mass was not celebrated particularly well or lovingly. However, one thing in favour of the EF (and I say this as one who deplores its resurgence) is that its deficient execution impinges on the community a lot less, and is therefore less harmful. In the Paul VI liturgy, the presider’s personality and skill are crucial to effective celebration. Priests don’t have the option of effacing themselves; their only room for manoeuvre is whether they use their personalities well or badly. A messed up priest will preside in a way that communicates to the assembly, whereas in the ‘good old days’ he didn’t. The new liturgy requires presiders who have professional skills in public presentation, and who are reasonably together as people and as believers. The burden may be too heavy for the generality of those whom we currently think we can ordain. This may be a reason why restorationism seems so attractive. Even I, someone who thinks Vatican II was not nearly radical enough, can see that there’s a problem here.

    1. Fr Endean – your post is, as usual, intriguing. I think that there would have been much less interest in the EF if a lot of the old rubrics in the OF hadn’t been made optional. For example, I prefer not to attend a Mass without sanctus bells as the presence of sanctus bells reassures me (rightly or wrongly) that the priest isn’t slippery when it comes to transubstantiation at the consecration. Not scientific I know but people’s liturgical preferences are very personal no matter where on the spectrum we lie.
      My quesiton is why does the OF place such a burden (both on the priest and on the captive audience congregation) by relying on the priest’s – or anyone’s – personality. Is it simply the option to celebrate versus populum? Or the number of options he is given? Would it be solved by a return to ‘ad orientem’ worship with few options? Is there an ‘it’ to be solved here?

      I have seen plenty of reverent OF Masses where the priest goes with the default options ‘versus populum’ and successfully keeps his personality out of it. I certainly am not at Mass to learn more about him or have him learn more about me (as a product of a good Irish Jesuit education I am a bit prickly rather than cuddly in my worship style).

      But you say the priest doesn’t have the option of self-effacement. Doesn’t he? Should he? I believe you have got to the crux of the matter – as that is what (I believe) drives many people to the EF. I would go to a reverent, by the book, no or few non-default options OF without any complaints but going to an OF for me is too much of a crap shoot so I go to the EF because I want stability and reliability.

      As priests, do you or others here want to project your personality onto the Mass? Would you prefer not to have to? Do you think your congregation wants it? If not, why have we got it?

  7. To be clear, I see quite a bit in the Roman Rite that should be considered for reform. (We need MR4 for starters.) That discernment for the future of Catholic worship needs to be broad, wide, and careful.

    To be equally clear, I don’t ever recall reading or hearing from a progressive, pro-V2 liturgist that we have or had arrived at some sort of liturgical steady state. Translations and refinements in the rites were always on the way, anticipated beforehand and welcomed afterward (at least till 2002).

    In contrast, advocates of the TLM seem to show more a taste for the hermeneutic of obstruction than of continuity. SC applies no less to any western rite in union with Rome. You might find an occasional TLM supporter advocate for reform in academic circles. Suppose the Ecclesia Dei commission announced it was undertaking a ten or twenty-year process to bring the OF into alignment with Vatican II. What do you suppose the reaction would be?

    And if we would discern (probably rightly) that TLM advocates are in few ways predisposed to conciliar reform, why do people seem to think that English-speakers are significantly different as the MR3 looms near?

    While appreciative of Orthodox-Catholic ecumenism, and the outreach to schismatics, I wonder why the Vatican has been so one-eyed in its recent approach to reconciliation. The world is full of schismatics, and the Vatican has a convenient ecumenical stance bereft of millions of separated western Christians.

  8. Because, Todd, in the eyes of the Catholic Church, unlike our (partially) separated Western brethren, the schismatics and Orthodox have apostolic succession, and thus valid orders, and thus we recognise the Real Presence in their celebrations of the Eucharist. Thus, in the short term, intercommunion with them is far more likely with them in our lifetimes since the distance is so small on these issues. It may be greater on other issues but these are the issues that count for intercommunion. The distance was small enough with the Anglicans until recently, and far greater the further out you go from churches which follow, in their own way, liturgical tradition. From example, the evangelicals would be furthest from us in terms of bridges to gap. The Anglicans have chosen to move away from where they were, as is their right, but they have now increased the gap between us. Meanwhile, the Orthodox seem willing to move towards rather than away from us – it is not odd that we reciprocate.

    “Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Vatican’s Council for Christian Unity, told the Church of England that to consecrate women as “bishops” would make unity “unreachable” and shared Communion impossible” –

  9. I’m aware of those distinctions. And yet, it’s sort of like a reverse parable of the talents. Rome had ten when it parted ways with the Orthodox in 1054, and returns with only five.

  10. +JMJ+

    For what it’s worth, I “support” the Extraordinary Form, but I expect it will undergo a reform eventually. I don’t expect the outcome of that reform to be identical to the Ordinary Form.

    That is because — and if this is what Fr. Anthony was referring to when he spoke of people “criticiz[ing] and denigrat[ing] and attack[ing] and mock[ing]” the Ordinary Form, I do sincerely apologize for it — I think there were parts of Sac. Conc. that were overlooked, parts that were a bit too zealously applied (e.g. the number of elements of the 1962 Missal that were considered to be “duplicated [or] added with but little advantage” (SC 50)), and some innovations that may not have been necessary.

    I completely accept the O.F. as a legitimate form of worship — otherwise I wouldn’t be attending it virtually exclusively — but I don’t see the harm in talking about its need for reform (and how successfully Sac. Conc. was applied in producing it), anymore than I see harm in talking about the E.F.’s need for reform, either now or 50 or 60 years ago.

    1. I agree. The things that bug me the most about the how SC was implemented are the little things: shortening the Confiteor; reducing the number of Kyries; reducing the number of Domine Non Sum Dignus; shortening the Lavabo. These small changes, more so than the larger structural (e.g., eliminating the prayers at the foot of the altar) or the more controversial changes (e.g., the offertory prayers) reveal a fetish for change. Inevitably people will argue that these small changes are just that, small and not something to get worked up over. But that argument cuts both ways: why make such minor changes in the first place?

      1. I think the scholars who carried out the reform have documented well why they made all these changes.

      2. +JMJ+

        Fr. Anthony, could you recommend documentation? I know of Bugnini’s massive tome, but haven’t read it yet, so I don’t know if he goes into detail on each such change.

      3. I read the book and found that there really wasn’t much in it. A quick read – nothing like O’Malley’s careful study. It’s certainly not the ‘smoking gun’ it’s billed to be. It’s just one liturgist who pretty much supported the reform but wouldn’t have gone quite so far on some things – the book is so thin, he really doesn’t give reasons. I came away underwhelmed.

  11. What can we do Todd? We keep good relations, much better than before with our Protestant brothers and sisters, but we have to respect their choice to move outside the Tent, so to speak. So, when you speak of “convenience” of ecumenism, it seems sense to pursue the possible first before tackling what has become the impossible. Should we put off talks with the Anglicans on the basis that reunion with the Baptists is far off? No. So, should we put off reunion with the Orthodox now that the Anglicans have chosen to move further away from us? Surely, no. Anyway, right now we have our hands pretty full trying to “reunite” the Catholic Church – look at the disagreements on here!

    1. Technically speaking, most Protestants and Orthodox never lived in the Roman tent to begin with.

      I’m not saying I would agree with my Orthodox friend from long ago who wryly commented that the West should get its act together before they come back to the East. I’m just saying that though it might seem to be more difficult, maybe it shouldn’t be put off.

      I’m not sure I “dread” reform2 so much as I view it as a political rather than a theological movement. The liturgy should be the prime focus of reform and renewal, not the triumphs and errors of a previous generation.

      1. Todd- my reference to “Tent” was a reference to the Tabernacle – I was trying to refer to valid apostolic succession but failed! The liturgy is the focus of reform and renewal – why do you think His Holiness has given such urgent attention to it?

      2. By Tent, Todd, I didn’t mean Rome – I meant valid apostolic succession. Sorry I wasn’t clearer. And His Holiness is cleaerly very focussed on renewal of and via the liturgy.

    2. The goal of ecumenism is mutual respect. This would not be achieved by having Anglicans hide their willingness to ordain bishops, and whatever leads to that. Nor would it be served by having the Romans hide their opposition to women bishops. Ecumenism is served by advancing the truth as each side sees it, and looking for the Lord who alone can unite us.

      NB Anglicans were once in the Roman tent, 500 years ago. Even without resolving the problems that led them to ‘leave’, their situation is different from that of the Orthodox.

  12. Fr. Endjean – excellent summary. Think there is a lot of wisdom in what you have said and potentially a motivation for those who have experienced poor liturgies and presiders.

    LIke you, have serious concerns about any future liturgy given the deficiencies that are all too obvious at most parishes – foreign priests who are barely able to speak english much less absorb the liturgical responsibilities that VII/SC envisioned; poorly educated priests liturgically and scripturally resulting in lack of enthusiasm or skill in preaching, proclaiming, etc.
    We have also had over the last 15 years the growing phenomenon of newly ordained priests who are enamored with the EF and have spent little time understanding liturgy – look at any seminary theologate in the US and see how many hours are spent on liturgy; how many hours are spent on public speaking/preaching, are they even required to take a course on how to lead the sacramental liturgies – there are some excellent exceptions but, overall, the prospects are dismal. Even more, how often is feedback and continuing education required of priests in their first five years after ordination.
    In many ways, the MR changes completely miss the point – if some feel that this will improve liturgies, they have not experienced the typical parish in the US. And this does not even begin to touch on budgets, supporting choirs, parish music programs, etc. (another topic for another day)

  13. “the growing phenomenon of newly ordained priests who are enamored with the EF and have spent little time understanding liturgy”

    Bill – you write is if those are mutually exclusive. If only they’d embrace their inner puppet/clown/wymynpriest Mass….

    There is a generational shift going on. It is not unprecedented or restricted to religion.

    Children often take more after their grandparents than their parents as a natural reaction against their parents.

    If the grandparents were liberal, the children rebel by being liberal. If the parents are liberal, the children should be grateful and become even more liberal, eh, no. They rebel by becoming more conservative. Their children in turn will be more liberal and so on ad nauseam till the Second Coming.

    So, for all who dread the reform of the reform, it is not the end of the reform, for it in turn will be reformed by some future generation reforming the reform of the reform.

    (Yup, definitely too long in the CA sun today.)

  14. Some of what you posit is obviously true. But, when it comes to supporting priestly vocations, the seminary formation process, etc. then, you have a whole host of other outside elements that come into play – for instance:
    – JPII/B16s choices of bishops – litmus test – these “orthodox” (by a specific pope’s determination not necessarily the church’s) then have a significant impact on how a local seminary is run; the candidates it chooses and encourages, etc.
    – could relate numerous stories about the last five years of ordination classes in STL in which folks such as Burke gave undivided attention to those ordinands who imitated his piety, his liturgical style, etc. What this has to do with ordination to serve the people of God; serve parishes that have had 40 years of an evolving parish liturgy, etc. – well, it creates tension
    – in reality, recently attended a 1st mass that was ridiculous in the extreme – a mixture of EF & OF – it was obvious that they barely knew their school boy latin; the use of sub-deacon; not allowing concelebration; exclusive males only in the sanctuary, etc. – it came across as play acting; not a communal worship – there was not one person in the parish who was involved in this celebration beyond sitting in the pew and watching the two+ hour extravagna.

    You are right – we go through generational cycles but when one extreme is being ordained, not sure that their own generation necessarily agrees with their liturgical expression or choices.

  15. We’re just getting away from one extreme, more towards the middle. We’re not going back to the other extreme, in my view. A better way to look on it is a lot of people here thought we’d only begun going in one direction; in fact, in the view of others, we overshot the mark. And this is all on the part of those who supported Vatican 2. There is also the much smaller anti-Vatican 2 crowd who were against any reform at all. But I haven’t seen them post here.
    “Play acting” is a bit of a harsh endictment of others’ piety, no? I offer it up for my sins my discomfort when I see people do not only the orans position but link hands during the Our Father but I’ve seen how meaningful it is to some of those who do it so I’d never suggest doing anything about it.

  16. One of the traits of Cardinal Ratzinger’s criticisms of the O.F. in his writing before his papacy was that they were generally grounded in pastoral concerns. In other words, he’s not just interested in ad orientem posture because it is the traditional one, but he concerns himself with the effects of such posture or its opposite on the faithful. His concerns are not those of a rubricist or historian but those of a pastor. This concern for the liturgical experience of the faithful is clearly motivates him to criticize the O.F. in much the same way that he has always criticized the E.F. He also makes the point that although one cannot reasonably maintain that liturgical forms are immune from reform, he also thinks that major reforms should not happen in rapid succession; the faithful have a legitimate expectation of a generally stable liturgy. My belief is that one of the reasons he gave wider latitude to the E.F. was because he did not want to subject the faithful to even more reforms to the O.F. Those who are displeased at the wider use of the E.F. should perhaps consider what the alternative could have been.

  17. One alternative is to pray the Roman Rite in Latin, in “traditional” architecture, with “traditional” gesture, music, and peripherals. But that’s never been very attractive for most Catholic traditionalists. Schismatics made the use of the 1570/1962 Missal their rallying flag.

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