Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Novus Ordo and Conversion


Following up on my last post about the problem of the "reverent Novus Ordo", it was brought up in the comments that perhaps the Novus Ordo as some usefulness as a "transitional" liturgy that might appeal to Protestants in the process of returning to the Church. The argument in favor of this would be that a great many Protestant converts (myself included, even though I am not technically a convert) came into the Church through exposure to the Novus Ordo. Thus, even if the Traditional Latin Mass were re-enshrined as the normative Mass of the Latin rite, perhaps the Novus Ordo could be retained as a sort of liturgical "lobby" that converts pass through on their way to the Traditional Latin Mass.

One could of course respond by citing the innumerable multitudes of Protestant converts who returned to the Church before the existence of the Novus Ordo, most of them because of the radical difference between the Traditional Latin Mass and their own worship. For anyone who wants to read some examples of this, I highly recommend Joseph Pearce's book Literary Converts, which chronicles in fascinating detail the veritable army of English converts that entered the Church between 1850 and the Second Vatican Council.

But I also want to appeal to my own experience here, because I am among those who came into the Church through exposure to the Novus Ordo. It made me question to what degree the Novus Ordo itself was an aid in my conversion. Do I have the Novus Ordo to "thank" for being Catholic today?

To examine this question, we must first take a necessary detour through some of my personal history:

I was baptized Catholic as an infant but never raised in the faith, by which I mean I was never taken to Mass, never made a First Communion, and so forth. I came to Christ when I was 19 through the evangelism of a Protestant friend of mine. My first real experience of Christianity was in the sphere of what I would call Protestant house-church Pentecostalism. I returned to the Catholic Church when I was 22 years old as a result of personal study and prayer. It would be laborious to catalog the various winding paths that led me to the Church, but I can sum them up in three points:

(1) Historical study convinced me that the early Church was Catholic, or at least nothing like the Protestant gatherings I was accustomed to

(2) I was frustrated with the subjectivism and anti-intellectualism inherent in Pentecostalism and Protestantism in general; the Catholic Church, on the other hand, possessed a rich intellectual tradition

(3) It became evident to me that no Protestant hermeneutic suited the Sacred Scriptures and that a Catholic hermeneutic seemed a much more natural and holistic way to approach the Bible.

I also had a few mystical experiences which seemed to aid my reason and push me back towards the Church, but I have no wish to write about those here. So setting aside mysticism, the primary reasons I found my way to the Church were intellectual—they had to do with facts historical or exegetical and were grounded in the assumption that faith and reason were meant to reinforce each other. Facts that I believed about the Church and had learned from my study.

As I began my journey towards the Church, I began going to Mass. My first experience of the Mass was of course the Novus Ordo, as I didn't even know the Traditional Latin Mass was a thing. But more importantly, I did not understand that the Novus Ordo was not the historical Mass.

As I was studying the history of the Church, everything I was reading about was of course in the time of the traditional liturgy. When I read about St. Philip Neri going into ecstasy at Mass, it was the traditional Latin Mass. Or the Mass that St. Isaac Jogues offered in the wilderness, suffered, and died to bring to the Iroquois. Or any of the great stories from our heritage. It was always the traditional Latin Mass.

I certainly did not know any of this. Pre-conciliar texts of course did not know there was going to be a Novus Ordo in the future, and hence they did not refer to the Mass of the ages as the "traditional Latin Mass", but simply "the Mass", as they had no conception there would ever be any other. And post-Conciliar texts—anxious to stress continuity between the pre and post-Vatican II Church—simply spoke of the Novus Ordo as if it were essentially the same Mass the Church had always celebrated. Since pre-V2 texts were unaware of future rupture and post-V2 texts were eager to downplay rupture, the result was that I studied my way into the Church without ever realizing there was a rupture. I had no understanding that the Novus Ordo was not the traditional Mass.

But, upon reflection, all of the reasons I wanted to be Catholic in the first place were due to what I read about the pre-Conciliar Church. Consider this: I knew from my historical studies that the language of the Church was Latin. I loved this. I loved the idea of the universal Church having its own sacred, universal language that could breach the gap of culture and geography and undue the division of Babel in the sacred tongue of Latin. I actually went back to college and studied two semesters of Latin because I thought I would need it to be Catholic. I smile when I think of my naivete then, assuming the entire Church still used Latin! Silly me. But that was the impression I got from my historical studies.

There's many other examples—Gregorian chant, missionaries who actually wanted to make converts, popes who stood up to the trends of the world instead of embracing them, religious orders who wore traditional habits and were still faithful to their orders' charisms, a biblical exegesis that took the Scriptures seriously, architecture that reflected the glory of God instead of the ugliness of modernity, lots of pious devotions practiced at the parish level. Yes, I know I am leaving out the biggest thing, that is, the Mass of the ages. But keep in mind, I was not yet aware that the new Mass and old Mass were different.

At any rate, the simple point is this: the Church I read myself in to was the pre-Conciliar Church

And as an aside, have you ever noticed that many classical Protestant objections to Catholicism also all presume the pre-Conciliar Church? Like, objections about Marian veneration, use of Latin to "keep people from reading the Bible", belief in the Real Presence, veneration of statues, etc. Following historical precedent, today's Protestants generally attack a Church that no longer exists. They expend so much effort attacking the veneration of statues which the vast majority of parishes removed or relegated to mere decoration. They publish long, impassioned rebuttals to belief in the Real Presence—a belief that 69% of Catholics no longer hold. It seems to be the case that, just as I read myself into a pre-Conciliar Church, so do Protestants attack a pre-Conciliar Church. Either the NuChurch does not threaten them, or perhaps, being outsiders, they are simply unaware of how much things have changed in our household. Who knows.

Now, when I actually got into the Catholic Mass and started experiencing the Novus Ordo, it did actually move me deeply. But the reason it impressed itself upon me was not anything particular to the Novus Ordo, but merely the fact that there was a liturgy at all. Coming from a Pentecostal background, the mere existence of a structured liturgy, liturgical year, fixed readings, a Eucharistic rite, etc. were deeply impressive. But upon reflection, what impressed me most was just liturgy qua liturgy, not anything special about the Novus Ordo. 

After I got into the Church, I obviously noticed the dearth of Latin immediately. And the absence of chant. And bad music. And many other things that we associate with what is loosely called "Novus Ordoism" these days. This was disappointing, but at the time I thought this state of affairs was peculiar to my parish. Eventually I found a parish that did what I called a "reverent Novus Ordo" and I thought things were fine.

As happens with many converts, it was only when I started to realize how little the current rite resembles the old rite than my mind changed. After I had been Catholic for five years, I of course had learned about the Second Vatican Council and the Novus Ordo and everything, but I assumed that the Novus Ordo was basically the same as the Traditional Latin Mass. I assumed that perhaps 90% was the same and the changes only superficial. Crazy, I know! But, in my defense, this was pre-Summorum Pontificum, and I had very little opportunity of ever actually experiencing a traditional Mass for myself. And, as I mentioned above, every piece of contemporary literature on the subject—generally from the Catholic Answers-New Springtime-EWTN quadrant of Catholic intelligentsia—stressed pre and post-V2 continuity. It was stressed to a degree that, in retrospect, I now find ridiculous at best and deceptive at worst. But the end result was that I was ignorant of the true depth and breadth of the rupture. 

Eventually I met another Catholic, just a DRE at the time but now the eminent Dr. John Joy, who gave me copies of Klaus Gamber's The Reform of the Roman Liturgy and Michael Davies' Liturgical Timebombs. These books finally opened my eyes to how much had actually been gutted from the Tradition. How the prayers were changed. The calendar. The sacraments. Literally everything. The Pauline Reform was not a cosmetic make-over. It was almost an entirely new edifice.

Around that time I also got a hold of the actual day books of the Second Vatican Council. The day books were essentially the daily logs of the day-by-day proceedings of the Council: what bishops spoke on what days, the subjects they spoke about, the exact vote tallies on the different proposals and documents, and so forth. In reading these, I was astonished by the way the liberal faction had dominated the procedures of the Council. I couldn't believe the unplugging of Cardinal Ottaviani's microphone during his speech actually happened. And many other instances of chicanery. Yet there it all was. This led me to Ralph Wiltgen's The Rhine Flows Into the Tiber, which helped make sense of what I had read in Council day books and pulled the entire history of the Council together in a cohesive narrative. 

At a certain point, it dawned on me that the sad state of affairs I had lamented in some of my local parishes was not confined to to those parishes. It was, in fact, the state of the Church globally. This was an incredibly depressing realization, but it ultimately led me to the study of the Traditional Latin Mass, which at that time was still only offered under the Indult. When I was able to compare the prayers of the TLM to the Novus Ordo, the difference was night and day. "Why wouldn't anyone want to pray like this?" I thought to myself in astonishment at the obvious superiority of the old prayers. 

The curtain finally fell when I had the following realizations:

(1) The Church I had fallen in love with through study was the traditional Church, which for all intents and purposes no longer existed.

(2) Whatever it was that had replaced the traditional Church was not only different, but also inferior to it in every way. Those things I liked about the contemporary Church were precisely those facets of traditional Catholicism that had survived despite the rupture of the Conciliar era. 

(3) Finally, this displacement of tradition was not some accident of history, but was a very deliberate act of erasure—of intentional cultural warfare waged against the Church by one of her own factions. 

The Church I had read my way into simply did not exist. It's hard to explain the degree of frustration I felt. Not just frustration, but, a sense of having been robbed. Yes, robbed; for to intentionally cut off the great stream Tradition is to commit the sin of theft against future generations, who are thereby deprived unjustly of a heritage they ought to have inherited. Destroying tradition is to commit theft against future Catholics.

Was the Novus Ordo responsible for bringing me back to the Church? Only in an indirect way, in the sense that I found a few scattered remnants of tradition within the contemporary Church that nourished me enough to secure me in the faith. I do not therefore think the Novus Ordo is a good "transitionary" Mass for people who were in my situation. The fact that God used it to my advantage does not mean it would be to the Church's advantage in general. To use another example, I came into the Catholic Church through the bridge of Pentecostal Protestantism. Pentecostalism was the step God used to bring me to the Catholicism, which was a good thing. But that God used Pentecostalism for my good does not mean I view Pentecostalism as an objective good that I would recommend.

God can bring good out of anything, but it does not follow that those things are goods.

8 comments:

Marissa said...

I've heard the argument of "many Protestants converted in the latter half of the twentieth century because the NO was familiar to them". I think there are several issues. First, there's no evidence there were more converts from Protestantism at this point than an any other point in time. I'd be willing to wager the West saw fewer conversions from any other religion or unbelief in that span of time. Second, it ignores Catholics who left the Church because of the NO. That's inexcusable but it's there. Third, it's inexcusable for people who know they should convert but don't because they dislike the liturgy (find it inaccessible).

I used to think it was a strong argument for the NO, that it was milk for the new Catholic who would then seek out the meat of the TLM. It doesn't seem to have panned out that way.

I am a convert from atheism and converted at a FSSP parish. I've been to the NO a handful of times and I'm grateful it hasn't been more than that.

LJTradcat said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article, thank you!

Marissa, I had the same experience as yourself - atheist/New Ager, converted thanks to the TLM at our local FSSP (Deo gratias!)
I'd been to the NO a few times before then, but it was the opposite of a conversion experience; rather, it reinforced my perception of Catholicism being vapid and vaguely ridiculous. But the very first TLM at which I assisted...I was on my knees and weeping floods about 5 minutes after the Introit :-) Went in neo-pagan, came out Catholic.
I wonder how many people have genuine Damascus-style conversion experiences through the NO. God can use anything He wishes to call us to Him, of course, but I can't help feeling there can't be as many as through the TLM. The Mass of Ages has been converting pagans for over 2000 years, after all, and I can vouch for the fact that it still does!

Mona Lisa said...

I came back to the Catholic church 5 years ago. Fortunately for me the priest said the Latin Mass very early on Sunday Mornings. The thing that made the Novus Ordo bearable at the parish was the priest. He had been traditionally trained in the TLM and so he didn't take any short cuts with the Novus Ordo. The gentleman who expressed its usefulness as a "transitional" liturgy that might appeal to Protestants in the process of returning to the Church should run as fast as he can away from the Novus Ordo to the TLM before it's too late! Don't support it at all if you can help it. The Novus Ordo is highly unlikely to produce saints because among many of its problems, the Novus Ordo is people focused and it seems to fashion a mentality in them that they are doing God a favour by turning up to mass and "participating" in it with their robotic and distracting responses!
It is unjust for Catholics who want the TLM to have only one option for it in an Archdiocese. I hear we should be grateful for that! I can't see it as practical for families to be able to immerse themselves in a TLM parish when it's an hour away. Are they able to consistently go to mid week Holy Hours or assist at other special occasions and to follow the liturgical cycle? I think a parish should be close by and that is under attack now with the merging of parishes. Where I am, we can't travel more than 5kms from our home because of Covid-19. That wouldn't be so bad if my local parish said the TLM like it used to, when the traditionally trained priest was there, but the priest has gone. The Seminary in the Archdiocese is not teaching TLM.
The majority of parishioners don't care about losing the Latin Mass but I am heartbroken over it! It's probably what many traditional Catholics went through in the late 60's, early 70's perhaps? I see that traditional Catholics are sometimes branded as negative or critical. I can understand why.
"The reverent Novus Ordo is like putting lipstick on a pig." This comment with similar sentiments came from a seminarian who was learning both rites of mass. He left the seminary because he didn't want to continue to say the Novus Ordo.
Some people in the Novus Ordo parish say they want an orthodox priest. How can a priest be orthodox if he is just saying the Novus Ordo? I cannot see how that is possible.
I most likely would not have remained at the Parish around 5 years ago if there was just the Novus Ordo, especially if the mass was being said the way the majority of Novus Ordo priests are saying it. I honestly don't know how some Catholics that have been assisting in it for many years can stand it! And yet it is a grace to be able to love the TLM. I am no better than my Novus Ordo friends but I want what's best for my friends and that is the TLM. Conversion is a continuous process. Catholicism, TLM and everything that goes along with it, produces saints. It is the Church of the martyrs.

c matt said...

Steve - it's interesting that you had the notion the NO was not any different from the TLM, or there even was a TLM coming from the "outside" so to speak. I had the exact same notion and I am a cradle Catholic (post-65 though). I probably went to a TLM up until 3 years old, but couldn't recall anything other than the NO, and didn't even know there was such a thing as the TLM until my 30s! Same thought - when I first learned about the TLM, I just thought it was the NO in Latin. No one really spoke about it. It was not until I had a co-worker who was Bahai who tried to sort of "proselytize" me that I started thinking, hmm - I really don't know all that much about my own faith, maybe I should have a looksie at my own before I take any others too seriously. As bad as the internet may be for some things, I have to credit the vast resources on Catholicism available on it with exposing me to tradition. Probably starting with Ottaviani, then actually reading the V II gibberish (and comparing it with the clarity of pre-conciliar documents), etc. and so forth.

My reaction was much like yours - I felt ROBBED!!!

Catholic Mission said...


(1) The Church I had fallen in love with through study was the traditional Church, which for all intents and purposes no longer existed.

True, it was the same for me. I realized that the Church that I would read about no longer existed even in Rome. This was a disappointment here.
I then fell for the trad propaganda and would attend Mass in Latin here offered by the FFSP priests in Rome.
But I was still disappointed. There were no public homilies affirming the strict interpretation of EENS. Even after I informed them about it they would not speak out in Church. I refer to Mons. Ignacio Barreiro, Fr. Kramer FSSP etc.
I realized that the Latin Mass today was not the same as the Traditional Latin Mass. The theology was not there any more.
Then I discovered that it was the false premise in the interpretation of Vatican Council II which was the common problem at the Novus and Latin Mass.
Since then this view has been confirmed.
-Lionel Andrades

Mona Lisa said...

@ Catholic Mission

"I realized that the Latin Mass today was not the same as the Traditional Latin Mass. The theology was not there any more."

Would you mind explaining this comment?


Noucvnt said...

thank you for the worthy post, and the personal commentary that helps illuminate it. i agree, and if anything suggested a "transitional NO" as very limited strategy for easing converts in in certain regions, like the Ordinariate or the Uniate Eastern Churches.

that said, considering the encyclical released today, it seems all the "bridge" talk and diverse ways of retail-marketing-like strategizing to each schismatic/heretic faction eventually end up as wishful thinking, built on rickety V2 foundations that fall to the sea. because added to the post-V2 confusion about those other Western and Eastern rites' validity and whether they add to unity of faith and doctrine, there's also the post-V2 confusion i mentioned earlier about whether the Church is really united in faith and doctrine if (as an example) Fr Altman and Fr Martin can both claim to be theologically orthodox and united in faith with Rome.

idk if the sedes are right or not, but one needn't be a hair-splitting Feeneyite like a commentator above to notice that V2 led all the way to Frattelli Tutti...

at any rate,
Saint Francis, poverello, Seraphic Patriarch, pray for us and all who need godly charity and belief.
Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, Little Flower, pray for us and for all missions and conversion efforts, both to those fallen away from within and born and scattered without the Faith.
Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us, defend us in this spiritual and existential battle.
Our Lady of the Rosary, Our Lady of Victory, pray for us through your Immaculate Heart, which will triumph.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, through Your Precious Blood, and Real Presence in the Host, have mercy on us now and in the last day.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful, and enkindle in them the wisdom and fire of Your love.
Glory Be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever will be, world without end, amen+.

Watcher said...

I can relate to your story. I was raised Catholic but didn't have much interest until I was 15. My father had a number of "old" Catholic books that I read and associated with what I experienced on Sunday. Except nobody talked that way or seemed to think that way.

More recenly I've read Iota Unum, Wiltgen's book, and others dealing with the post-Vatican II era, as well as Pascendi, the Vaticsn II documents, and blogs such as yours. One question I don't recall anyone asking is: Why did God allow the Novus Ordo and all the other changes? There must be something providential happening through it all. Did Catholics not value the old Mass enough? Weren't they faithful enough? The '50s are often potrayed as a kind of Catholic apogee, at least in the US. Was something else going on?

What did we do to deserve it?