Earlier today, I was engaged in a discussion on Facebook in which, after saying something about the “Novus Ordo Paradigm,” someone asked me, rather indignantly, what that phrase means.
I did my best to explain it, and I’d like to expand on it here in greater depth.
I want to say at the outset of this post that one of the complaints we sometimes get at 1P5 has to do with our treatment of the liturgy. I recently asked our readers for testimonials, and one fellow, despite being a fan, came back to me with that same concern:
I agree with articles about the Extraordinary Form versus the Novus Ordo. However, I think you can alienate the 99.9% of Catholics who don’t have practical access to the EF on a regular basis — by reminding us (pretty frequently) how deficient it is.
I understand that this poses a problem for some people, and though I’m pretty sure I’ve said it before, I’m going to say it again here: if you’re stuck going to the Novus Ordo, we don’t look down on you. If you’re deeply involved in a Novus Ordo parish and can’t bring yourself to leave, we get it. If the closest TLM for you is over an hour away at a terrible time, we’re sympathetic to how hard that can be — sometimes even impossible.
And further, if you have access to nothing but the Novus Ordo, if it is all that you have ever known, that means you are the victim of a crime. No, it’s not your fault. You have had something precious stolen from you that is your birthright, your inheritance, something to which you are entitled as the most sublime act of worship you can offer to your Creator. And worse, you have been brainwashed, through form and repetition, to find true Catholic worship alien and inaccessible, and as such, you have been subjected to a grave injustice — I would go so far as to say a grave evil.
You didn’t ask for this. And if you’re still not sure what the big deal is, you can’t know what you don’t know.
I know all of this from experience, because for the better part of 30 years, I was in the same boat. I spent my life parish-shopping for the best Mass I could find. At times where I had no access to good Roman Rite liturgy, I took refuge in the Eastern Rites, which I loved and admired, but where I never felt I truly belonged.
It took a priest in my family who was discovering all of this himself to open my eyes. I fought him on it. He asked me simply to read some things and reach my own conclusions. I did, ready to fight more.
Instead, I found my objections melting away in the light of truth. All the things I had been wrestling with in the Church — the abuses, the times I had nearly lost my faith because of how unserious my experience of Catholicism had been, the lack of true Eucharistic reverence, all of it — was addressed by those who had opposed the implementation of massive, unprecedented changes to the central act of worship in the Church.
And so, fueled by this conviction, for the past 15 years, I’ve stuck by the decision that I will no longer subject myself or the people I love to the tyrannical abuse of power that was inflicted upon us. Despite a strong propensity to second-guess myself, it’s a decision I’ve never regretted. And although the anger I felt when I first discovered what had been carelessly discarded has mostly faded, I still find it infuriating that there is a Catholic parish less than five miles from my house where I know I will never belong, because the religion that is practiced there is so irreconcilably different from the one I’ve come to know that it makes me physically uncomfortable to be there.
Instead, I have to drive 30 miles to get the same Catholic experience that would have been found in every parish in every backwater town across the globe less than a century ago. And that’s pretty easy compared to what many people have to do!
Novusordoism and Catholicism — Not the Same Religion
The phrase that heads this section was popularized by my longtime friend, 1P5 contributor Hilary White. She’s written about and explained it herself at length more than once. Here’s just one example:
Years ago, in fact, about 2003, as the culmination of a long period of research (on the religious life) I realized that the rift in the Church was worse than I had been led to believe from what we then categorized as the “conservative” Catholic writers. This was the uncomfortable moment that I “tradded,” and though I’ve never wished I could go back to not knowing what I know, the understanding hasn’t come without a cost. I’m not a Trad because I want to be. I’m a Trad because I can’t ever un-know things I now know.
I had started from a position of believing in the simplistic conservative narrative. It goes something like this: there had been a group of “liberal” prelates at the Council and afterwards who had tried to “hijack” the conciliar documents and the subsequent acts for their own purposes. This had met with quite a lot of success and things had been pretty bad until the 80s and 90s, particularly with the bad bishops under Paul VI. But then the “conservative” pope John Paul II thwarted them, “cleaning up” seminaries and appointing (mostly) “conservative” new bishops. The attempt to hijack the Barque had, in the main, failed and things were returning slowly to the natural course of the Church. There were lots of signs that this younger “conservative” movement — particularly among seminarians — was the future. New(ish) Catholic colleges were consciously self-identifying as “Ex corde ecclesiae” colleges; parishes and some whole dioceses were getting rid of the bongos and retiring the guitars and puppets and balloons in the Mass… it was all slowly returning to normal.
It sounds great. Good guys win. The trouble is that it wasn’t true. The foundation of “normal,” that is, of “orthodoxy,” was in fact a false floor. The reality of the Church was that under that false floor there was a vast edifice, a lost Church, that had been buried and nearly forgotten, and about which it was strictly forbidden to talk. Moreover, that false floor was movable.
At the time she became aware of all of this, Hilary had been doing research and also exploring religious orders of nuns. What she found had left her disappointed and confused. And that was when the other shoe dropped:
I went to see a priest I knew — who had been trying to tell me that my search was going to be in vain — and told him what I had found. He was sympathetic but asked me, “Hilary, what did you expect to find?” I told him what I had expected and to my surprise, he laughed. “You don’t imagine you’re a conservative, do you?” I was taken aback, and said something to the effect of, “What else is there to be?” He said, “You have told me that you can’t support the argument that everything is fine under John Paul II, that the Church is getting back on course. This visit has confirmed that what you have been suspecting all along is actually true. Hilary, I’m sorry to have to tell you; you’re not a conservative. You’re a Traditionalist.”
I literally didn’t know what he was talking about. He emailed me later with some things to look up on the internet and a few book recommendations. I’m a pretty quick study, and it quickly became clear that this position — the most despised and persecuted within the Church, as it turns out — is the only one that fits all the observable facts. I was quite depressed by this revelation, mainly because it meant that I was (again!) not going to be an easy fit in any of the institutions of the Church.
But it was inescapable: there was and is a vast cleavage in the Catholic Church that amounted to a de facto schism. A new and false religion was being produced, like the toxins from a bacterial infection that sickens the body, inside all the institutions of the Church, and hardly anyone had noticed. It was a hidden schism that had been nesting within the Catholic institution entirely uncorrected, since the close of Vatican II. Neo-modernism had succeeded in replacing authentic Catholic teaching to the point where to hold the doctrines of the Faith in certain areas and profess them out loud was enough to have you ostracized from this “conservative Catholic revival”. The New Modernism had, in fact, become the new conservatism.
“It took a long time,” Hilary goes on, “a lot of reading, a lot of talking and thinking and visiting and learning to understand all this, but when I did, it was like being pulled out of the Matrix. The entire universe of Catholicism was, in reality, nothing at all like what I had thought.”
The question is, if Catholicism isn’t anything like what we thought it was, then what is it?
Well, it’s not “novusordoism.” And this brings me back to this morning’s discussion.
The Novus Ordo Paradigm
What is the “Novus Ordo Paradigm?” Well, the Novus Ordo Paradigm is more than just the New Mass. It’s a reconfiguration of the entire Catholic religion in such a way that it would be largely unrecognizable to our Catholic great grandparents.
One thing I agree with Ann Barnhardt about without reservation: The Novus Ordo (and all that came with it) was conceived in malice.
Now let’s get this out of the way, because I can hear the objections coming: yes, offered according to the rubrics, the Novus Ordo is valid. What does that mean? It means that the Eucharist is confected, and the bread and wine become Our Lord’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity during that liturgy.
But too many people stop there.
Technically, a priest has the power to consecrate the Eucharist anywhere. It’s legally forbidden, but he can do it. He can sit at a bar, drunk, and consecrate bread and wine if he says the right words with the right intention. He could even do the same thing at a satanic Mass for the purposes of desecration. After reports that Cardinal Bernardin participated in such blasphemous liturgies, one can’t help but recognize that some other priests, terrifyingly, must do the same. (A few years back, an American satanist said the consecrated host he was planning to use for a black Mass was intentionally given to him by a Catholic priest.)
So validity alone isn’t enough for us to say, “Ah, well, it’s good enough for me.” We need to be concerned about what the liturgy expresses and how it helps us to understand and be receptive to the mysteries it makes present and invites us to contemplate.
We should, if we’re there for the right reasons, also be asking ourselves if the liturgy is first and foremost pleasing to God. (If you think He looks at all acts of worship similarly, you may have missed the story of Cain and Abel.)
Sadly, the Novus Ordo was purposefully designed to strip the Catholic liturgy of sacredness, of its sacrificial aspect, and its pedagogical power. The histories of those who led the liturgical “reforms” of the ’60s make that much clear, as does the effect that Mass has had on the faithful. What a tragic irony that a liturgy that makes Christ truly present simultaneously abuses or distracts from Him, damaging the faith of those who come to be nourished by His Body and Blood.
Then again, they say the devil is a consummate legalist. Influencing liturgical development in a way that makes it both valid and toxic seems like a signature move to me.
But I said it’s about more than just the new Mass, and it is. They didn’t stop there. They changed all the sacraments. They removed critical things like the exorcisms given at baptism. They neutered blessings, derogated indulgences, swapped out or functionally eliminated devotions. They changed the entire Divine Office.
They also introduced non-mandatory but now near universal practices like Communion in the hand, altar girls, versus populum, lay ministers of the Eucharist, and fully vernacular liturgies, all of which served to diminish belief in the Real Presence, nourish humanist ideology, and turn the Catholic liturgy into something that looks a great deal like Protestant (or self-) worship instead.
Our collective sense of the sacred has taken a serious blow, as has the ontological reality of the ordained priesthood (and with it, vocations), our understanding of our place in the Church, and the fundamental theology conveyed by participating in the authentic sacramental life.
Holy water isn’t even holy water anymore. Ask any exorcist if he uses the new blessing for water. They all say they don’t, because it has zero efficacy. One priest I knew said that he heard a gruff voice come out of a possessed woman sprinkled with water blessed conventionally that said, “Faithless priest! That’s not holy water!” That same priest — himself a lifelong celebrant of the Novus Ordo, told me he immediately went out and found an old book of blessings and began using the old blessing for holy water from that moment on. “Industrial-Strength Holy Water” is what he called it.
And of course Fr. Gabriel Amorth, arguably the world’s most famous exorcist, long lamented the new rite of exorcism itself — stripped of its power to do much of anything, leaving the exorcist vulnerable and helpless.
In performing a before-and-after comparison, we can see that everything about the post-conciliar Church is watered down, diminished, or practically destroyed. The results are clear: collapse in Mass attendance, loss of faith in the Eucharist, over 90% of Mass-going Catholics polled saying that they think contraception is just fine, a massive uptick in support for things like “gay marriage” among Catholics, and so on, and so forth, down the line.
Does God still work through this new paradigm? Of course He does. But it is my conviction that He does so despite what has been done, not because of it. He loves His children and wants to see them in Heaven. And there are not a few good priests out there doing their best with what they have to work with. Martin Mosebach discusses this in his excellent book, The Heresy of Formlessness:
I have described my conviction that it is impossible to retain reverence and worship without their traditional forms. Of course there will always be people who are so filled with grace that they can pray even when the means of prayer have been ripped from their hands. Many people, too, concerned about these issues, will ask, “Isn’t it still possible to celebrate the new liturgy of Pope Paul VI worthily and reverently?” Naturally it is possible, but the very fact that it is possible is the weightiest argument against the new liturgy. It has been said that monarchy’s death knell sounds once it becomes necessary for a monarch to be competent: this is because the monarch, in the old sense, is legitimated by his birth, not his talent. This observation is even truer in the case of the liturgy: liturgy’s death knell is sounded once it requires a holy and good priest to perform it. The faithful must never regard the liturgy as something the priest does by his own efforts. It is not something that happens by good fortune or as the result of a personal charism or merit.
Archbishop Lefebvre gave a talk in 1965 in which he discussed why Martin Luther attacked the Offertory of the Mass — the same Offertory that the “reformers” ultimately stripped when they issued the Missal of Paul VI:
Certainly for a few years Luther said a valid Mass, while he was still not against the idea of Sacrifice, while he was more or less a Catholic; but later, when he rejected the Sacrifice, Priesthood and Real Presence, then his Mass was no longer valid. But how can a Mass be thus equivocal? It can’t happen with the old Mass because the old Mass is so clear. The whole of the Offertory expresses what it is that we are doing. The Offertory is a definition of the Sacrifice of the Mass. That is why Luther was so opposed to the Offertory, because it was too clear, and for the same reason he made those changes in the Canon, so as to make it uncertain whether it was a reading or an action. And we know that the Consecration is a sacrificial action.
So even though there are many good Catholics, both priests and laity, still stuck in the Novus Ordo paradigm — if you’re reading this, you may very well be one of them — the contrast between the beliefs of Catholics who attend the traditional Latin Mass and those at the Novus Ordo were made abundantly clear in a recent survey. Sadly, it’s difficult to adequately poll Latin Mass Catholics because they are so ghettoized and far-flung. In many cities, it’s easier to find a polka or mariachi Mass than the Mass of the Ages. That’s just where we are, even 12 years after Summorum Pontificum.
It’s because of all this that people say things like “novusordoism and Catholicism are not the same religion.” It’s not to be offensive, and it’s not just about the Mass. It’s simply an honest assessment about almost everything in Catholic life. It’s the intentionally hidden Church buried beneath Hilary’s false floor. Like siblings who barely look alike, there’s just enough crossover between the traditional Catholic paradigm and what exists today to tell they’re related. Kind of. If you squint hard enough.
And I’ll say this again: everyone — every single person — who says, “The vast majority of us attend Novus Ordo Masses. That’s all we have…” has been brutally robbed of his birthright. You are the victim of an unspeakable crime, and you deserve to be made whole, because God wants you to be made whole, so that you can grow in faith, grace, and virtue, and come to know, love, and serve Him the best you can.
The men who did this manifestly didn’t want you to have that. If they had, they would not have stolen from you the means that have proven most efficacious to so many countless saints over the centuries to help souls get to Heaven. The men who continue to push this agenda, seeking to marginalize, dismiss, or suppress the any growth or zeal in Catholic Tradition are no better. (And yes, most of those men are ordained clergy.)
So which master do they serve?
The Bitter Fruits
We are seeing the bitter fruits of this ecclesiastical revolution bear out in the crisis in the Church today. The loss of the sense of the sacred is clear from the abuse crisis alone — which began, just as the revolution did, before the Council and the new Mass but saw its fruition there. Theologically, the attempted erasure of mortal sin, adultery, Hell, priestly celibacy, all-male Holy Orders, the unique role of the Church as the means of salvation provided by God, and the Church as a divinely instituted body concerned primarily with the salvation of souls (and not an environmental, pro-unrestricted immigration, pro-socialist NGO) is all part and parcel of this. We don’t get here without everything that took shape in the ’60s and was left unchecked ever since.
That’s what the Novus Ordo paradigm is. It’s this entire mess of ersatz Catholicism that was foisted on us as in the hopes we’d forget what came before.
For a while, it worked. But God had other plans.
When I go to Mass at a traditional chapel, it’s the next closest thing I can experience to hopping in a time machine. Everything is different, from the theology at the pulpit to the form of the sacraments to the devotions fostered to the advice in the confessional. It’s all strikingly dissimilar to what happens when I have cause to pop into the local parish down the street.
And I mean any local parish down any street. If you’ve ever been traveling and needed to get to confession or Mass, you know that feeling of dread that comes with picking a Catholic parish out of a phone book or Google search and having literally no idea what you’re going to get, and how far out in left field the experience is going to be. It’s enough to give you hives.
Sadly, there are no easy solutions for this. For me, it became clear many years ago that I would have to make whatever sacrifices were necessary to get my family to a parish that is authentically Catholic. Dressing up new Masses to look like old Masses wasn’t going to cut it anymore. There were times when we drove 70 miles one way, or took exhausted, fussy babies to afternoon Masses where we never so much as got to sit in a pew. At Novus Ordo parishes that shoehorned in a TLM, we at times felt very unwelcome, as though we were an obstacle to normal parish life, and they couldn’t wait for us to go home. Still, we’ve made the proximity of a good Mass a non-negotiable requirement of every single move. We have absolutely crossed off places to live if they don’t have it, even if they have other things we really want.
There have been times when, admittedly, I grumble about these sacrifices. Even though I know things could be worse, and that truly, I could never go back.
I’m a Trad because I can’t ever un-know things I now know.
We also don’t think it’s a good idea to mix up our kids by trying to keep feet in both worlds. I once took one of my daughters to an evening Novus Ordo because that Sunday we had something going on that we absolutely had to take care of that morning. It was, I’d wager, an average parish experience, with altar girls and guitars. On the outrageous scale, it didn’t rank particularly high. It reminded me of a Steubenville Mass. But my daughter, who was 12 at the time, got up early on and stormed out. When I followed her, she told me in an outraged voice with eyes full of tears that she didn’t know what was going on, but it “isn’t Mass!”
I don’t think she and I had ever had a single liturgical discussion at that point in her life. She wasn’t particularly interested in theological topics. She had just never known anything but the TLM. The contrast, for her, was so jarring that it upset her deeply.
Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. Even if you’re a kid.
I understand how hard this topic can be for people who feel judged, or for people who want more and better but simply have no way of getting to it. And I’m sorry about that, because it’s tough, and I know it.
But it’s still true. And it matters, very, very much. And many people still just don’t know anything about it, because they don’t have anyone in their lives who can tell them what they’ve missed.
So we’re going to keep writing about it here, and we hope you’ll take that in the spirit it’s offered. It’s important for all the good folks waking up to the nightmare in the Church to be told what they’ve been missing out on.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.