Above: the Catholic Church known as Die Wotrubakirche in Vienna. Photo by Stefano Perego.
Cardinals Arthur Roche and Raniero Cantalamessa indirectly acknowledged (perhaps unintentionally) what critics of Paul VI’s Novus Ordo Missae have said for over fifty years: The new rite corresponds to a new theology that “represents, both as a whole and in its details, a striking departure from the Catholic theology of the Mass as it was formulated in Session XXII of the Council of Trent.”
On March 19, 2023, when British compatriots on BBC radio questioned the restrictions on the celebration of the traditional Latin rite, Cardinal Roche, prefect of the Dicastery for Divine Worship, stated:
You know the theology of the Church has changed. Whereas before, the priest represented, at a distance, all the people. They were channeled, as it were, through this person who alone was celebrating the Mass. It is not only the priest who celebrates the liturgy but also those who are baptized with him. And that is an enormous statement to make.”
A few days later, during the fourth Lenten sermon for the Roman Curia, Cardinal Cantalamessa, Preacher of the Papal Household, said:
The Catholic liturgy underwent a transformation from an action with a strong sacred and priestly imprint to a more communal and participatory action, where all the people of God have their part, each with their own ministry. . . .
At the beginning of the Church and for the first three centuries, the liturgy was truly a “liturgy,” that is, the action of the people (laos—people—is among the etymological components of the word leitourgia). From St. Justin, from the Traditio Apostolica of St. Hippolytus, and other sources of the time, we obtain a vision of the Mass that is certainly closer to the reformed one of today than to that of the centuries behind us. What happened? The answer is an awkward word which, however, we cannot avoid: clericalization! In no other sphere was it more conspicuous than in the liturgy.
Christian worship, and especially the Eucharistic sacrifice, underwent a rapid transformation, both in East and West, from being an action of the people into being an action of the clergy.
Is it according to Catholic dogma to say that the Eucharistic sacrifice is an action of the people and that it became an action of the clergy through improper “clericalization”? It is not. In the Holy Mass, the celebrant is not a mere “president of the assembly” but the only sacerdos offering the sacrifice in persona Christi.
To dispel any doubt, it is enough to read what Pius XII teaches in his encyclical Mediator Dei:
Only to the apostles, and thenceforth to those on whom their successors have imposed hands, is granted the power of the priesthood, in virtue of which they represent the person of Jesus Christ before their people, acting at the same time as representatives of their people before God (no. 40).
Therefore, in the Holy Mass,
the priest acts for the people only because he represents Jesus Christ, who is Head of all His members and offers Himself in their stead. Hence, he goes to the altar as the minister of Christ, inferior to Christ but superior to the people (Saint Robert Bellarmine, De missa II c.l.). The people, on the other hand, since they in no sense represent the divine Redeemer and are not mediator between themselves and God, can in no way possess the sacerdotal power (no. 84).
Undoubtedly, the faithful present must participate in the sacrifice of the priest at the altar with the same sentiments that Jesus Christ had on the Cross, and “together with Him and through Him let them make their oblation, and in union with Him let them offer up themselves” (no. 80).
To avoid misunderstandings, Pius XII reiterates, “The fact, however, that the faithful participate in the eucharistic sacrifice does not mean that they also are endowed with priestly power” (no. 82).
Pope Pacelli’s insistence was necessary because already back then, some people erroneously claimed “that the command by which Christ gave power to His apostles at the Last Supper to do what He Himself had done, applies directly to the entire Christian Church. . . . Wherefore, they look on the eucharistic sacrifice as a ‘concelebration,’ in the literal meaning of that term” (no. 83).
To counter this error, Mediator Dei taught that
the unbloody immolation at the words of consecration, when Christ is made present upon the altar in the state of a victim, is performed by the priest and by him alone, as the representative of Christ and not as the representative of the faithful (no. 92).
Hence, private masses without the participation of the people cannot be condemned, nor the simultaneous celebration of several private masses at different altars, wrongly alleging “the social character of the eucharistic sacrifice” (no. 96).
These excerpts from Pius XII’s great liturgical encyclical show that, despite Cardinal Cantalamessa’s lament, the mocked “clericalization” of the Holy Mass did not result from human deterioration through history but from a divine design. Jesus instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice and the ministerial priesthood simultaneously and granted His ministers the exclusive privilege of renewing it on the altars in an unbloody fashion until the end of time.
The Capuchin Preacher of the Papal Household further sank into quicksand when he stated that the early Christian communities had “a vision of the Mass that is certainly closer to the reformed one of today than to that of the centuries behind us.” If this were true, there would be two possibilities:
- In the best-case scenario, the vision of the Mass embodied in the New Mass of Paul VI would represent a theological regression because from the early third to the second half of the twentieth century, there was an “organic development” of the deposit of faith concerning the priesthood and the sacrifice of the altar—i.e., their better theological understanding. Indeed, “going back from a relatively recent past to a more ancient and original one” is not an “enrichment,” as Cardinal Cantalamessa stated, but an impoverishment since it deprives the Church’s vision of the Mass of the light coming from the dogmatic definitions of the Second Nicaea, Fourth Lateran, Florence, and (mainly) Trent Ecumenical Councils, as well as the insights of many giants of theology and Eucharistic devotion, like Saints Thomas Aquinas, Robert Bellarmine, Leonard of Port Maurice and Peter Julian Eymard.
- In the worst-case scenario, the vision of the Mass embodied in the Novus Ordo Missae of Paul VI would represent a theological departure from those dogmas of faith defined during “the centuries behind us,” and which undergird the supposedly “clericalist” vision of priesthood and the Eucharist informing the traditional Latin Mass—whose structure, until Pope Paul VI’s 1969 Novus Ordo Missae remained practically unaltered after the changes made by Pope Saint Damasus I (d. 384), and Pope Saint Gregory I (d. 604).
Arthur Cardinal Roche seems to adopt this worst-case scenario. For him, “the theology of the Church has changed.”
Unfortunately, the New Mass of Paul VI embodies a change in theology not only about this aspect of the ancient liturgy’s alleged “clericalization.” Following Desiderio desideravi, I wrote that the principles Pope Francis invoked to defend liturgical reform clash with Mediator Dei in several respects. I highlighted especially the following:
- A systematic inversion between the primary end of worshiping God and the subsidiary end of sanctifying souls;
- Obscuring the centrality of the redemptive Passion to the benefit of the glorious Resurrection;
- Emphasizing the memorial to the detriment of the sacrifice; and
- Lowering the status of the priest celebrant to “president of the assembly.”
In light of these radical changes, I wondered if the New Mass of Paul VI corresponds to the Faith of always. Cardinals Roche and Cantalamessa have acknowledged that it embodies a different “vision” of the liturgy because the Church’s theology of the Mass has supposedly changed.
In advance of these illustrious cardinals, two conspicuous representatives of French progressivism, Alain and Aline Weidert, declared the same. They wrote a column in the newspaper La Croix praising Pope Francis’s motu proprio Traditionis custodes, which they expressively titled “La fin des messes d’autre ‘foi,’ une chance pour le Christ!” (The end of the Masses of another faith, a chance for Christ!).
They did not address the supposed “clericalization” of the perennial liturgy to the detriment of the people. Instead, they focused on the Mass’s transition from a propitiatory sacrifice to a Eucharistic and jubilant celebration of the Covenant:
Without discernment, the spirit of the liturgy of another “faith,” its theology, the norms of yesterday’s prayer and Mass (the lex orandi of the past), can no longer continue to be the norms of today’s faith, or its content (our lex credendi). . . . .
. . . A faith that would still derive from yesterday’s lex orandi, which made Catholicism the religion of a perverse god who causes his son to die to appease his wrath, a religion of perpetual mea culpa and reparation, would lead to a counter-testimony of faith, a disastrous image of Christ. . . .
Unfortunately, our [traditional] Masses are always imbued with a strong “expiatory” sacrificial character, having a “propitiatory” purpose to annihilate sins (mentioned 20 times), to bring about our salvation and save souls from divine vengeance. “Propitiation,” which Ecclesia Dei communities defend tooth and nail together with their priest-sacrificers, who are formed to use the words the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, a true immolation. . . .
If we want to be able to offer a tasty Christian faith and practice in the future, we must venture, by reflection and formation, to discover an as yet unexplored (untapped) font of salvation opened by Jesus, not first by his death against (“on account of”) sins but by his existence as Covenant. “For His humanity, united with the person of the Word, was the instrument of our salvation” (Vatican II, Sacrosanctum concilium, no. 5). The choice is clear! It is not between different religious sensitivities and aesthetics but between endless sacrifices to erase sins and Eucharists [sic] that seal the Covenant/Christ.
Pope Francis was correct when he wrote in his apostolic letter Desiderio desideravi that “it would be trivial to read the tensions, unfortunately present around the celebration, as a simple divergence between different tastes concerning a particular ritual form.”
Cardinals Roche and Cantalamessa have just concurred, willy-nilly, with radical modernists like the Weidert couple in considering the traditional Latin Mass rite of Saint Pius V to be the Mass of “another faith.”
Thus, the Vatican cannot be surprised that fidelity to the deposit of the Faith obliges traditional Catholics to resist unwaveringly illegitimate liturgical legislation that aims to impose an artificial liturgical construct (in the words of Cardinal Ratzinger) and which departs on essential points from the dogmas defined in the Council of Trent while consigning to gradual extinction a holy rite of the Mass that developed organically over the centuries.
 “Letter from Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci to His Holiness Pope Paul VI” (presenting the Critique of the Novus Ordo Missae), Sept. 25, 1969, accessed Apr. 8, 2023.
 Raniero Cantalamessa, “Mysterium Fidei! On the Liturgy—Forth Lenten Sermon 2023,” Cantalamessa.org, Mar. 24, 2023.
 Cantalamessa, “Mysterium Fidei!”
 Aline and Alain Weidert, “La fin des messes d’autre ‘foi,’ une chance pour le Christ!” La Croix, Feb. 10, 2022. (Our translation.)
José Antonio Ureta is a senior member of the Plinio Correa de Oliveira Institute of Sao Paulo and the author of Pope Francis’s “Paradigm Shift”: Continuity or Rupture in the Mission of the Church? An Assessment of His Pontificate’s First Five Years.