Saturday, August 04, 2007

Old Mass is More Meritorious than the New!

I just read an excellent article by Fr. Chad Ripperger, F.S.S.P., entitled The Merit of a Mass. The article appeared in the Summer 2003 edition of the Latin Mass Magazine. I have always found Fr. Ripperger's work to be scholarly and compelling (see Sensus traditionis for more of his work) and this article is no exception.

The import of the assertion that the Traditional Rite of Mass is objectively more meritorious than the new is frankly staggering:
"Since one of the primary obligations of those in authority in the Church is the glory of God through the salvation of souls, they have the obligation to encourage, and, in some cases, require the ritual of the Mass which is most efficacious."
Before anyone panics, let me add that Fr. Ripperger makes at the outset a clear distinction between the intrinsic and extrinsic merit of a Mass. The intrinsic value of any valid Mass is infinite, since it is Christ's own infinitely valuable sacrifice to the Father. Intrinsically, then, the New Rite of Mass is just as efficacious as the Traditional Rite or as any other valid Rite.

However, the extrinsic value or "merit" of the Mass is finite. This is so because man, a finite creature, is incapable of receiving infinite effects. That is, the fruit of any particular Mass, the benefits derived from its being offered, can be more or less depending on a number of different things, which Fr. Ripperger goes on to enumerate.

A) The Church: the Mass is the public sacrifice of the Church as a whole, and since the holiness of the Church depends (in part) on the holiness of her members, the less holy the Church is in her wayfaring members in any given epoch the less (extrinsically) meritorious is the sacrifice She offers. "The moral and spiritual depravity of this moment in history has gravely affected this aspect of merit in the Church. This is why the pope and bishops have a grave responsibility for moral reform of the clergy and laity."

B) The Priest as Public Servant of the Church: the priest acting in persona Christi can gain fruit for those for whom he offers the Mass regardless of his personal sanctity.

C) The Priest as Private Person: neverthless, the holier a priest is the more efficacious will his prayers be. (cf. James 5:16). "This is why the holiness of the clergy has a direct impact on the life of the Church... This is also why the faithful have a certain sense that it is better to have a holy priest rather than an unholy priest offer the Mass for their intentions. The fact is that the Mass said by a good priest is better and more efficacious that the Mass said by a bad priest."

D) The Faithful: as for the priest as private person, so for the faithful. The holier the congregation, the more they will be able to benefit from the Mass. The reverse, though, is also true. "If [members of the congregation] are receiving Holy Communion in a state of mortal sin, they detract from the goodness of the Mass extrinsically and in this way affect everyone else... The fact that the vast majority of Catholic couples are either using or have used contraception as well as the general moral and spiritual decay among the faithful in virtually all areas has left this aspect of merit regarding the Mass anemic, to say the least."

E) The Decora: "If we use objects that do not fit the majesty and the exalted nature of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we can actually detract from the extrinsic merit. Ugly things please God less and thus merit less." (See Fr. Ripperger's article God and Aesthetics addressing the cogency of the argument that the Old Rite is more pleasing to God than the New Rite based on its superior beauty. It is available in the Fall 2002 edition of the
Latin Mass Magazine.)

F) The Merit of the Ritual Itself: one of the ways in which "one ritual can be more efficacious than another is that it is offered with greater solemnity or, as Gihr puts it, pomp. The solemnity and pomp give greater glory to God, and are eminently suited to Him since He is the Majesty or Ruler of the whole universe. He is greater than any earthly king and therefore deserves a greater ritual than any earthly king." Another way in which one ritual can be better than another is the degree to which it flows from the virtue of charity. "The ritual of the Mass ought to be ordered to God and not to man, except insofar as man is served in order to worship God. In other words, God is the end of the ritual, not man. This follows from the order of charity in which we love God and our neighbor for the sake of God. The ritual should not have man for its finality, but God, for if it has man for its finality, it goes contrary to charity, which has God as its end. It will also go contrary to justice since one will not render to God through the prayers of the ritual what is due to Him."

So, is the Traditional Latin Mass more meritorious than the Novus Ordo? I'll allow you to read Fr. Ripperger's article to see his conclusion, but I for one am convinced that it is.

P.S. I found it very easy to aquire back issues of the Latin Mass Magazine by emailing my request to them at


Anselm said...


I am mailing you a copy of this most excellent article. I hope you find time to read it and perhaps even pass it around the office (at your discretion of course).


Mara Joy said...

I admit I didn't thoroughly read the article, but it appears that this is comparing the Novus Ordo with the TLM as they *currently* are, not as they *ideally* should be, and wouldn't that change most of these things around?

Anselm said...

Certainly in sections A-D and even somewhat in E, things could be greatly improved even in the Novus Ordo. But in the last section, dealing with the merit of the ritual itself, Fr. Ripperger deals with the actual prayers and rubrics of the ritual. And it is here that he maintains compellingly that the Traditional Latin Mass is an objectively superior ritual to the New. I hope you get a chance to read the article in full.

Unknown said...

For certain, Catholic tradition calls for more devotion and proven sacrifice. How can one better express his love for the Eucharist but through charity and mortification?. The beauty of the chants born through hours of getting that note just right, or the Latin pronuciation right on. The meticulous determination to detail and dress, so that Christ will be pleased and present with us. The special form of ritual presentations all carefully executed to ensure a humble entry to God's altar. As we enter we hear the touching pleas of group Rosary, the prayers in hope they can obtain intercession for their undeserving lot.

The homilies are unambiguous and can be placed in the appropriate context. It is not politically correct. If the priest's flock is prone to error, he will ensure his congregation knows the proper path.

The congregation itself speaks volumes. Happy faces everywhere, and 4 year olds setting examples of piety to all of us. This is just a few reasons God favors his familiar traditional rituals.

Lastly, one comes away with something wonderful, the Holy Spirit touches the hearts of these
loyal and determined Catholics, and his one desire is to return again and again.