Since my conversion to Catholicism years ago, I had been told the New Mass was created by the Second Vatican Council. Many times, a friend had to remind me that “the Novus Ordo was not created by the Council.” At the time, I thought that whatever infallibility means when you parse it out, it surely means you can trust decisions made at councils by the bishops speaking with “one voice.” In the new film, The Mass of the Ages Episode II, viewers learn the bishops at Vatican II hadn’t composed or approved the text of the New Mass during the council. It was created by a Consilium (the commission that revised the Mass) that took place apart from Vatican II.
The Mass of the Ages II spends a lot of time describing the changes that were made to the text of the Traditional Latin Mass. Quoting the lead architect of the New Mass, Annibale Bugnini, the main reason for changing the text was to remove any obstacles that would prevent our Protestant brethren from joining the Church. For example, though it’s not explicitly discussed in the film, the word “absolution” was removed. A while ago, I was attending TLM and noticed the absolution prayer in the text. After the Confiteor, the priest says, “May the Almighty and Merciful Lord grant us pardon, absolution, and remission of our sins.” At a Mass in an FSSP parish, he says this prayer again during the Canon.
The word “absolution” is familiar, because it is what Catholics seek when they go to Confession, but why is it important to be absolved during the Mass? The same reason Purgatory exists. Even little children understand that to be in the presence of God, say, in heaven, a soul must be made absolutely pure. Why would it be any different when you consume God in the Eucharist? Before Christ can enter the body and soul, all mortal sin must be cleansed by confession and absolution. But whether a parishioner went to confession that morning or a week ago, he still carries the impurity of venial sins. In the TLM, the absolution prayer makes it clear that venial sins have been removed.
This absolution prayer is not in the New Mass. It was replaced with three options for the “Penitential Act.” Though Form A is actually quite beautiful, none of the new prayers use the word “absolution,” which uncoincidentally is not a concept in most Protestant sects. In addition to absolving the sins, the use of the word “absolution” reminds parishioners of the necessity for confession and the need to be cleansed of all sin before receiving Communion. Most Protestants don’t use the sacrament of Confession or believe in Holy Communion as the grace-giving, real body and blood of Jesus.
These are the types of changes illustrated in The Mass of the Ages Episode II. So many changes were made to the text of TLM that the film shares this quote by Pope Benedict XVI: “… it is simply a fact that the council was pushed aside. Today, we might ask: is there a Latin Rite at all anymore?” The extent of these changes must be seen to be believed, and the film does wonders by illustrating visually the full massacre of the text. It is baffling.
On that note, much of the film relies upon illustrations. The illustrator, Chris Lewis (Baritus Catholic Illustrations), deserves credit for one of the stronger elements of the movie. The visuals, some of which are on the film’s website, helped simplify a lot of complex information on the Council and the Consilium that might have overwhelmed the viewer. The images also made the film easier to share with my 7-year-old and my 10-year-old. I almost doubled the film’s length by pausing on illustrations, which helped them understand why our family has attended two Masses that are so different from each other.
One helpful illustration in the film is a sprawling tree. Its limbs represent the elements of the Mass that have grown up around the words of consecration that Christ left the apostles at the Last Supper (“Take this, all of you, and eat of it…”). One limb is the preface, one is the creed, another is the readings, the Lavabo, the Lord’s prayer, and so on. At the end, most of that beautiful tree’s limbs have been chopped off. This sort of storytelling is one of the most compelling components of the film.
My biggest criticism of The Mass of the Ages Episode II is that the film focuses too much on one man: Annibale Bugnini, a trusted friend of Pope Paul VI and the pope’s main point of contact with the Consilium. We see that Pope Paul VI was lied to by Bugnini, that the real opinions of the pope’s trusted men were kept secret from him, and that he was falsely led to believe they all agreed on the Mass revisions. Several influential books also lay the blame on Bugnini, but the film leads me to believe there were other influential actors of whom I’d hoped to learn more about.
The film claims that two cardinals brought Pope Paul VI some “upsetting documents,” which prompted him to remove Bugnini to Iran and to open a 3-year investigation into the operations of Freemasons inside the Church. Who were those saboteurs, and if the pope suspected corruption in the process of revising the Mass, why didn’t he stop the promulgation of the New Mass? The answer the film gives is old age; the pope became too weak to do anything about it.
There isn’t a release date yet, but I am anxious for Episode III to clarify what leading Traditional Catholics believe would fix the situation in the Church. Of course, not all traditional Catholics hold the same views on how to deal with the existence of two forms of the Mass, so answers will naturally vary. The film seems to be arguing that there was a textual rupture between the Latin Mass and the New Mass. It is unclear if the filmmakers believe the New Mass can be repaired in its current form. It seems no matter how reverently it is said, or whether Gregorian Chant is sung, Latin is prominently used, or those attending receive on the tongue and on the knees, the main problem may be the text itself.
Traditional Catholics are up against a lot: the discomfort of clergy and laypeople who understandably take offense at being told to reassess their worship, the fear of being cancelled if they support the Latin Mass, and ignorance, which this film goes a long way toward helping. Currently, the most pressing concern is the suppression of the Latin Mass entirely. What The Mass of the Ages Episode II did, as all good documentaries do, is tell a story succinctly and compellingly, giving its proponents a clear way of communicating their vision so they can share it with others. This film should be seen by anyone who has ever questioned wearing a veil, why there are two forms of the Mass, why some Catholics distrust the hierarchy, or the long distances their friends drive to Mass when there’s a parish down the street. The film is already being shown at Catholic youth groups. It is available for free on YouTube.
The majesty and mystery of the Latin Mass is a powerful experience, which The Mass of the Ages puts on full display. Whether they attend the Latin Mass or not, I hope Episode II will convince New Mass Catholics to stand with traditional Catholics by coming to understand their shared history.
Theoni is the author of The Woman in the Trees (TAN Books), a novel based on a decade of her research on America’s first approved Marian apparition. She has an MA in International Journalism, and before having a family, she travelled to 10 countries, reporting on religion and culture. She homeschools and writes from Houston where she lives with her husband and three children (four in heaven). Theoni is currently finishing a picture book on baby loss for grieving families. Donate to her work here.