Discovering a Church in Crisis: How Would a Saint Treat the Novus Ordo?

Editor’s note: The following is Part II of a four-part series. Read Part I, Part III, and Part IV at the links.

The Sacred Liturgy

“Lex orandi, lex credendi.” The order of Mass expresses and teaches Catholic doctrine. The changes to the Mass, sadly, are an example of a break from tradition – a “hermeneutic of rupture” from the past – even if many earnestly desire to see continuity. The prayers of the Mass, use of the vernacular, the priest facing the people, the “sign of peace” among the people, calling the priest a “presider,” changes to the altar and sanctuary, changes to the Lectionary, the multiplication of “Eucharistic Prayers” – any one of these innovations would have been a major change in the Mass. Taken together, the new Mass is fundamentally different from the old Mass. For years as a new Catholic, I had no clear understanding that the Mass is a sacrifice. This reality was not explained during my catechesis, and it is not very well communicated or reinforced by the new order of the Mass itself. Therefore, it remained hidden for a long time.

Some have asked: if a saint of old were to visit a typical modern Catholic church on Sunday, would he recognize the activities there as Catholic? Within the same parish church, you can have a 9am Sunday Mass in Latin with chant and the priest distributing Holy Communion to people kneeling, and at 10:30am a Mass in English with rock music, female altar servers, women as lectors, children standing around the altar, and extraordinary lay ministers giving Holy Communion in both kinds, in the hand to standing communicants – completely different experiences of Roman Catholicism, completely different practices that communicate to the people completely different concepts of what the Mass is and therefore of the Faith itself.

Just imagine: tomorrow, the pope could decide to redesign the Mass. He could authorize a committee to rewrite prayers and reorder the Mass any way he wants, and technically the end product would probably still be a “valid Mass.” But the idea of a committee making huge changes to the liturgy is unknown in the history of the Church, and “why fix what ain’t broke”? But that is just what happened in the 1960s. Was the old Mass so bad that it had to be remade? The Vatican II document on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, said Latin and chant should be retained. It said nothing about the priest facing the people. But it contains loopholes, such as provisions for inculturation and above all the principle of “full and active participation by all the people,” which “justified” the changes made in the Mass of Paul VI. But again, if the pope tomorrow rewrote the Mass, even though he has the authority to do so, I would ask, “Why?” It would be a fabrication of a committee, which is an un-Catholic way of revising the liturgy, which until Vatican II was only by a very gradual, organic process over centuries.

That’s why I see seeking out the Tridentine Latin Mass and avoiding the Novus Ordo not as a matter of personal preference, but rather as a choice motivated by a desire to worship God rightly. Take the shift of the priest celebrant’s orientation from ad orientem to versus populum. This changes the meaning of the Mass. When the priest faces the people, the liturgical action (bolstered by the newly worded prayers of the N.O.) now focuses on the people rather than God – based on Modernist “assembly theology.” The Mass becomes a meal, a “love feast.” The meaning and role of the priest change. The role and relation of the people change. The altar rail is ripped out, and women now enter the sanctuary as lectors and even servers. Laypeople distribute Communion in both kinds to people, in the hand. Such changes are not just cosmetic or a matter of preference.

The new Mass was designed to “Protestantize” worship and remove distinct and historical expressions of the Catholic faith. Consider the differences between the traditional offertory and the new “prayer over the gifts.” Abp. Annibale Bugnini, leader of the liturgical reform, said the new Mass was engineered “to strip from our Catholic prayers and from the Catholic liturgy everything which can be the shadow of a stumbling block for our separated brethren, that is, for the Protestants.” The faith of millions, probably virtually all Catholics today, has been influenced by these new practices. The result is an altered understanding of the Mass, of the Eucharist, of the priesthood, of Catholicism.

Benedict XVI comments on this situation:

We have a liturgy which has degenerated so that it has become a show which, with momentary success for the group of liturgical fabricators, strives to render religion interesting in the wake of the frivolities of fashion and seductive moral maxims. Consequently, the trend is the increasingly marked retreat of those who do not look to the liturgy for a spiritual show-master but for the encounter with the living God in whose presence all the ‘doing’ becomes insignificant since only this encounter is able to guarantee us access to the true richness of being.1 From Cardinal Ratzinger’s preface to the 1992 French translation of Reform of the Roman Liturgy by Monsignor Klaus Gamber. (

A valid Mass can be illicit or even sacrilegious, and it is worth asking: even if some new liturgical activity is permitted, does that mean that it is good? Based on my personal experience, I can reasonably expect that any Novus Ordo Mass I attend will have questionable things being said and done. I do not want to participate in anything that may be offensive to Our Lord.

Benedict XVI further elaborates on why seeking out the TLM is not just a matter of preference:

While there are many motives that might have led a great number of people to seek a refuge in the traditional liturgy, the chief one is that they find the dignity of the sacred preserved there. After the Council there were many priests who deliberately raised ‘desacralization’ to the level of a program … Inspired by such reasoning, they put aside the sacred vestments; they have despoiled the churches as much as they could of that splendor which brings to mind the sacred; and they have reduced the liturgy to the language and the gestures of ordinary life, by means of greetings, common signs of friendship, and such things … That which previously was considered most holy – the form in which the liturgy was handed down – suddenly appears as the most forbidden of all things, the one thing that can safely be prohibited. It is intolerable to criticize decisions which have been taken since the Council; on the other hand, if men make question of ancient rules, or even of the great truths of the Faith – for instance, the corporal virginity of Mary, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the immortality of the soul, etc. – nobody complains or only does so with the greatest moderation.2 The translated text of an address to the bishops of Chile by Cardinal Ratzinger on July 13, 1988, in Santiago, Chile. (

If we are to judge by fruits, it seems the reforms of Vatican II have been disastrous.

Benedict XVI continues his analysis of the relationship between the change from the old Mass to the new, and problems in the Church:

I was dismayed by the banning of the old Missal, seeing that a similar thing had never happened in the entire history of the liturgy[.] … The promulgation of the banning of the Missal that had been developed in the course of centuries, starting from the time of the sacramentaries of the ancient Church, has brought with it a break in the history of the liturgy whose consequences could be tragic[.] … The old structure was broken to pieces and another was constructed admittedly with material of which the old structure had been made and using also the preceding models[.] … But the fact that [the liturgy] was presented as a new structure, set up against what had been formed in the course of history and was now prohibited, and that the liturgy was made to appear in some ways no longer as a living process but as a product of specialized knowledge and juridical competence, has brought with it some extremely serious damages for us.

In this way, in fact, the impression has arisen that the liturgy is ‘made,’ that it is not something that exists before us, something ‘given,’ but that it depends on our decisions. It follows as a consequence that this decision-making capacity is not recognized only in specialists or in a central authority, but that, in the final analysis, each ‘community’ wants to give itself its own liturgy. But when the liturgy is something each one makes by himself, then it no longer gives us what is its true quality: encounter with the mystery which is not our product but our origin and the wellspring of our life[.] …

I am convinced that the ecclesial crisis in which we find ourselves today depends in great part upon the collapse of the liturgy, which at times is actually being conceived of etsi Deus non daretur: as though in the liturgy it did not matter any more whether God exists and whether He speaks to us and listens to us. But if in the liturgy the communion of faith no longer appears, nor the universal unity of the Church and of her history, nor the mystery of the living Christ, where is it that the Church still appears in her spiritual substance? [Too often] the community is only celebrating itself without its being worthwhile to do so.3 Quotation from Cdl. Ratzinger’s autobiography, Milestones: Memoirs, 1927-1977 (Ignatius, 2005). (

To sum up: according to Benedict XVI, there is a crisis in the Church today. The crisis is connected with the new liturgy. The new liturgy is a fabrication that is a break from history and is commonly a degenerated show. The former pope does not say it, but based on my own experience of liturgical abuses, I conclude with a heavy heart: avoid the new liturgy.

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1 From Cardinal Ratzinger’s preface to the 1992 French translation of Reform of the Roman Liturgy by Monsignor Klaus Gamber. (
2 The translated text of an address to the bishops of Chile by Cardinal Ratzinger on July 13, 1988, in Santiago, Chile. (
3 Quotation from Cdl. Ratzinger’s autobiography, Milestones: Memoirs, 1927-1977 (Ignatius, 2005). (