Tuesday, November 24, 2009

40 Years of the Novus Ordo Missae

This weekend the 40th anniversary of the institution of the Novus Ordo Missae by Pope Paul VI, which was instituted on the First Sunday of Advent in 1969.

For several years now, since I began this blog in fact, I have identified myself as a "traditionalist", inasmuch as I not only love and revere the traditions of the Catholic Church (which, by the way all Catholics ought to do), but that I think that the Church has in many ways abandoned much of her tradition in the past several decades and would do better to reconnect with it. This disconnect with tradition is what many refer to as the "liberal crisis" in the Church. There are many different positions within a traditionalist spectrum, and I certainly disavow any positions that are of a more radical nature - I think sedevacantism is crazy. I do not think it is okay for Catholics to go to SSPX chapels if they are in a state of schism (I say if, because apparently there is some ambiguity involved). I completely acknowledge the NO as a legitimate expression of the Latin Rite and adhere to everything taught in the CCC, Vatican II and the papacy. The pro multis/for all debate is a non-issue for me. My family wears head coverings but I don't get bent out of shape at people who don't (although I think there is a strong argument to be made that women are supposed to be wearing them still). I attend a parish where the NO is celebrated reverently, ad deum and with most of the fixed parts in Latin. I'm not what is popularly referred to as a "rad trad." I try to be optimistic, remembering the virtue of hope and the promise of Christ that He would guide and protect His Church.

I have gotten some opposition in the past for making use of labels which are perceived as unhelpful and divisive. I do think that labels are a good thing - they help us to draw distinctions and see order in things. I have argued that labels are necessary, and that if they didn't fulfill a valuable function nobody would in fact use them (see here). An interesting thing about labels is nobody minds labelling other groups but seems to get upset if they are labelled. Mainstream conservative Catholics have no problem identifying a particular parish or liturgy as "progressive." Homeschoolers are labellers, very quick to group kids kids according to whether they go to public school or are homeschooled and make decisions about who their own kids can fraternize with accordingly (and I, of course, a homeschooler and do this myself and think there is nothing wrong with it). These practices are not wrong, and those who engage in them consider them quite necessary. Of course not all public school kids are bad influences, but because nobody has the time to examine each case individually, we make a blanket judgment using a label that helps us to draw practical conclusions without having to delve into each individual case.

Back to the liberal crisis. I think one issue that kind of distinguishes the conservative from the traditionalist is how one deals with the liberal crisis. Everyone knows and acknowledges that liberals infiltrated the Church hierarchy and seminaries in the 40's and 50's and managed to hijack the implementation of the Second Vatican Council. Here I think a person like myself and most mainstream Catholic apologists would be in total agreement. The difference comes (in my opinion) in how one deals with this crisis. I feel that not only has the Church been crippled by a liberal crisis, but that the Church's response to liberalism has also been tainted or weakened by compromise with liberal principles.

In the 1960's, the Church faced an onslaught from the rising anti-Christian sentiment of that worst of all decades. In America Mass attendance was strong, but in Europe, still recovering from the economic and moral catastrophe of World War II, Mass attendance was already very low - I read somewhere that it was down to 2% in Spain in the 50's? Don't know if that is true, but it is a fact that Europe was already dying when the American Church was still vibrant.

Many in the Church, for various motives, believed that one reason the peoples of the West seemed disenchanted with Christianity was a perceived inaccesibility in the Church's worship. The celebration of the Mass was too distant and irrelevant to the daily turmoil of the average Christian, and so, they reasoned, in order to involve the laity better in the Christian life it would make sense to bring the Mass down to a level they could more easily grasp and identify with. To be fair, many of the reformers thought this would be an even trade: sure, there would be a simplification of the Church's liturgical rites, a "dumbing down," but most of the reformers who were sincere believed that in simplifying the liturgy they would attract much more interest and participation of the laity, who would then reinvigorate the worship of the Church and cause the liturgy to be more satisfying spiritually and intellectually. Some of the reformers (de Lubac, et. al) later saw the dangers inherent in this view, but at the time it was seen as a positive good by many to simplify the liturgy. This was viewed in terms of "restoring" the Roman rite to its pristine and antique dignity. Of course, this revised liturgy ultimately became the Novus Ordo Missae of Pope Paul VI.

The status of the Novus Ordo is an important bone of contention between traditionalists and more mainline conservative Catholics. There is, of course, much more to traditionalism than just disputes about the Novus Ordo, although that is usually front and center.

Some years ago on this blog I made the following statement:

"I used to defend Vatican II by saying, "I know there have been abuses done in the "spirit" of Vatican II, but the Council itself was necessary,"; now I believe the entire Council was utterly unneccesary and...wish to God it would have never occured."

I still believe that the Second Vatican Council was unneccessary and most of the legitimate reforms envisioned by the Council Fathers probably could have been carried out without the necessity of calling a Council. How do we know this? Because most of the changes in the past 40 years have indeed come after the Council. If radicals could cause so much chaos in the aftermath of the Council by committees, diocesan bureaucracies and the like, don't you think any legitimate reforms of the Church's life that would not have been so drastic could have likewise been carried out without a Council?

I also made the following statement:

"The Novus Ordo, while being a valid form of the Mass validly promulgated by the legitimate Second Vatican Council, was nevertheless a terrible idea. Not only the abuses but the Mass itself are wrought with grave omissions and ambiguities. The Traditional Mass of Pius V should be the normative Mass of the Roman Rite . . The surest route to a true restoration of Catholic Tradition is to restore the Rite of St. Pius V (ie, of Gregory the Great) as the missa normativa of the Roman Rite."

Like many traditionalist minded bloggers who took up blogging to vent their frustrations about the state of the Church, my earlier posts (this was from Nov. 2007) were partially motivated by anger and discontent, which are not good dispositions to have when you go posting stuff online! Had I written this post today, I would not have used such strong language, such as "wish to God [the Council] would have never occurred." However, I still believe that the Second Vatican Council, while I acknowledge everything it taught, represents a error in the prudential judgment of those running the Church in 1958.

Is this heresy? Dissent. I don't think so. To look at a fact of Church history and say "things would have been better had such-and-such never occurred" is not dissent or heresy - it is a judgment about the prudence of something, and we are all free to debate whether certain actions of the Church or hierarchy are prudent or not. I am faithful to the Church's discipline, and discipline says that communion can be received in the hand. I therefore have no right to deny what the Church allows - but I can say that the decision to make this allowance was a mistake, and even go so far as to say that it would be better had it never happened. While some may disagree with me on these types of arguments (and I think with regard to this most orthodox Catholics are on the same page at least), but we don't need to accuse each other of infidelity or dissent when we are simply giving our informed opinions on prudential decisions.

The Novus Ordo and Vatican II are obviously much broader topics, but I think the same principle applies. The timing was bad, despite the intentions of the Fathers. The mood of the Council was permeated by liberalism and the orthodox schemata were all systematically scrapped by a theologically progressive body of periti. Remember, the chaos following the Council was the result of implementation after the fact, but the liberal agenda was there from the first meetings of the first session.

The implementation of the Council was sloppy and confused and many of the documents, either of the Council itself or those that followed, were ambiguous (Davies' "time bombs"). There was a general mood in the entire Church of a radical break with the past, and I don't think it is a stretch to say that this mood came into the mainstream as a result of the Council. Regardless of the intent of the Council Fathers or Pope John, the result was that Catholics world wide thought the Council signified a throwing off of restraint, a view the implementers of the Council sought to strengthen. Consider this excerpt from an article on the history of my current parish, found in a parish-produced history pamphlet dated 1981:

Until recently, the forms of worship adhered to the Tridentine dictates of the Roman Catholic Church and reflected the Tridentine spirit of the church under siege by heretics...Happily, in the 1960's Pope John XXIII declared that the war and the siege were over.

Vatican II was perceived and still is perceived as a new beginning for the Church, completely cut off from what came prior. Not only did error and abuse creep in after Vatican II, but in the example above Vatican II is cited as the reason for these abuses. We can't go on forever just saying that the Council was "hijacked" after the fact - anybody who knows the history of the Council itself knows that the hijacking began on day one of the Council, not after it was closed. The silencing of Cardinal Ottaviani, the throwing out of the original schemata, the restructuring of the way the members of the committees were chosen - all of these occurrences point to a hijacking of the Council itself and occured in the very opening of the Council.

The proposed revision of the liturgical rites was part and parcel of this hijacking. I completely believe in the legitimacy of the Novus Ordo, but given what occurred prior to, during and after Vatican II, I have no regret in saying that this Council should never have been called. This new liturgy should have never been promulgated. Whatever good intentions or hopes the liturgical movement and the Fathers of the Council had for these things has been swallowed up in a sea of confusion, discord and abuses. Trent solidified and consolidated the ranks of the Church - why did Vatican II destabilize them? Let's say, for the sake of argument, we may have needed some liturgical reform - could it not have been brought about in a more gradual, organic way than the way it was? Was a Council necessary?

Suppose I go for a trip to the grocery store. Suppose on the way to the grocery store, I get in a car accident and trash my vehicle. Seeing the calamity that befell, I muse to myself, "It would have been better had I never made that trip. I should have stayed home." Is the trip itself bad? No - there's nothing wrong with going to the store. But regardless of whether or not it was okay to go to the store, the destruction that ensued as a result of me making the trip is enough to justify my assertion that it would have been better had I stayed home.

Once the Pope convokes an ecumenical Council, we are bound by its decrees. I have no qualms with that - but I don't have to acknowledge that the calling of that Council was in itself good, nor that the Novus Ordo which came afterwards was a great idea. In the 1985 "The Ratzinger Report", our Holy Father stated:

"Whoever accepts Vatican II, as it has clearly expressed and understood itself, at the same time accepts the whole binding tradition of the Catholic Church, particularly also the two previous councils . . . It is likewise impossible to decide in favor of Trent and Vatican I but against Vatican II" (The Ratzinger Report, San Francisco: Ignatius, 1985, 28-29, 31).

I cite this passage because it was once produced against my opinion to try to show that you cannot be a good Catholic and at the same time say that Vatican II was prudentiall a bad idea. I see no conflict with the Cardinal's statements and agree one thousand percent, if we are speaking on the level of authority. Vatican II is an ecumenical council the same as Trent. But two things need to be pointed out - the fact that all Councils are equal in authority does not mean all produce equally good results and that we need equally acclaim all Councils as equally good and prudent. Lateran IV is called the greatest council of the Middle Ages, and rightfully so. Nobody implies that other medieval councils somehow have less authority than Lateran IV, but Lateran IV clearly has a pride of place. It is because of the great success and fruits of Lateran IV that it is accorded this honor, without meaning to detract from the authority of other councils. Is Lateran IV more authorative than Lateran III? Not at all - but Lateran IV was much more successful and bore better fruits than Lateran III, which is virtually forgotten.

Second, we have to remember that, despite their close association, the Novus Ordo and Vatican II are not the same thing. The Novus Ordo was not promulgated until Advent of 1969. It is not part of the Council. The Council called for a revision of the liturgical books and laid the path for the Novus Ordo, but it is nevertheless distinct from the Council itself. This means, as far as I can tell, that one is free to call into question the prudence of the Novus Ordo without in any way impugning the authority of Vatican II, which ended four years before the Novus Ordo was promulgated.

I really and truly think that, despite whatever problems may have been lingering in the Church in 1958, things would have turned out better had the Council never been called and had the Church simply stuck with the traditional Mass. Once a liturgy is promulgated by the lawful authorities, we are bound to accept it - but we are not bound to accept the prudence of the decision to promulgate that liturgy in the first place. I for one would like to see some acknowledgement of this fact by those who tend to lump all traditionalists in with the Sedes and SSPX. The Holy Spirit guides the Church and protects it from promulgating error as truth; He doesn't protect it from making sloppy administrative or pastoral decisions, and there is nothing wrong with pointing this out.

So, forty years of the Novus Ordo this weekend. I can give the Novus Ordo its due, mind you. I have seen some extraordinarily reverent celebrations of the NO, at my own parish for starters. All the formative years of my faith have been in the NO and my spiritual life has been nourished by it. But witness the amazing transformation that it taking place today in the Church, three years after the Traditional Mass was unleashed with Summorum Pontificum! Traditional Latin Masses are sprouting up all over the world, bishops are starting to stand up for the faith, there is a renewed interest in Catholic identity, a better translation of the Mass texts and the fruits of Benedict XVI's thought on the liturgy are spilling over into more reverent celebrations of the NO all over the world. This is the type of renewal we need - and Benedict didn't need to call a Council to get it either (this is a fruits argument I can go for)!

I don't know what the future of the NO is. My gut tells me it is probably permanent. But no matter what, tradition will not be stopped. It is creeping back from the places it was driven in the 60's and 70's, reclaiming its rightful place in the Church, and many who in the past considered themselves mainstream Catholics but were ignorant of tradition are starting to have a real love for Catholic Tradition awakened in them. I began this post by talking about labels and their usefulness. Sometimes I draw distinctions between traditional Catholics and mainstream conservative Catholics (although I admit this distinction can be blurry, overlapping and not always helpful). Nevertheless, for my own personal experience, I say that the transition from being a mainstream orthodox Catholic to being a traditionalist came when I started to see tradition not only as a preference ("I happen to prefer Gregorian Chant to Haugen and Hass", as if they are both equally valid choices) but as a vital necessity. Those who do not call themselves traditionalists may disagree with this distinction, but those who have experienced this change first hand understand that there is a real shift in emphasis when one starts to become a traditionalist. One recent blurb in my combox read:

Boniface...I must say that your blog has been absolutely instrumental to my progression from Catholic conservatism to being a traditional Catholic...I've been able to read your reasoning on this blog and then see the practical reality and truth of your points when attending the TLM. So for that, I would like to say thank you and that you're in my prayers :)

Why do I cite this? There are those who say that orthodox, conservative Catholics and faithful, obedient traditionalists are really just the same thing. I'm not going to repeat my past mistake of trying to make generalizations about this, but in my own case, and in the case of this person quoted above, there is a definite difference between the two, one that one perhaps only notices once one starts to identify themselves as a traditionalist. I like the way the commentor calls it a "progression"; that's really what it is. There is a spectrum, and as long as the TLM exists at one end it will continue to influence the NO and everything else along that spectrum - including the persons who move along that spectrum.

My view of the Church is much more optimistic now than it was when I began this blog - the changes in three years have been amazing. The NO will remain, but it will probably look a lot different in the future. My guess is that over time the NO will take two divergent routes - one the one hand, the faithful will continue to explore the riches of tradition and the NO will gradually start to look more and more like the TLM; reverent celebrations of the NO will become the norm. Somewhere way down the line, it may be phased out or perhaps even merged with the TLM into something new. I don't think that would be ideal, but hey, it's happened before. On the other hand, those Catholics who hate tradition will continue to celebrate Masses irreverently, especially moreso as the Church rediscovers her identity. Their celebrations will finally become so irreverent as to become invalid and these branches will have to be supressed.

These are my prognostications for, I'd say, the next one hundred years. In the meantime, happy fortieth birthday Novus Ordo. The NO is starting to do what all people do - though liberal and radical when they are young, as they get older they see the wisdom of their forefathers and begin to become more conservative and traditional. That's the way I see the NO going in the future.


F. Gustav Ahlman said...

Would you say that the current pope is a mainstream orthodox Catholic or a traditionalist?

Boniface said...


I'm not goign to label the pope or try to figure out where he lays...he would of course say that he is both, and in fact we have to think differently when discussing the pope himself since he is often the reference point for what is considered mainstream and/or orthodox.

For example, under JPII it could be argued that those who favored the loosening of restrictions on the TLM were a traditionalist minority. Since BXVI has made this a reality, those who still feel this way are now more mainstream.

We gotta be careful about trying to place the pope.

Anselm said...

I'll go ahead and say it, though. I think that "orthodox conservative" label fits the pope way better than the "traditionalist" label.

Anonymous said...

I know you don't care about it, but here in Argentina the NO is getting worst every day.
The bishops don't hear the Vatican. It's seems they laugh about pope's directives.

sarahraegraham said...

IMO, "orthodox conservative" is much more fitting. Communion within and throughout the Body of Christ is front and center in importance for Benedict, so it only logically follows that he will utilize tradition as a means to that end, and rightly so. Tradition is what brings families together, and the Church is no different. To exclude modernity or traditionalism completely would alienate many of our brothers and sisters. Truth in love, love in truth. He's doing very well so far, imo.

My husband and I slide farther on the spectrum toward the traditionlist label every day. I'm only 26 now, and I wonder where on earth I will be in another 20 years, I mean, how much more conservative and traditional can I get? :)

I appreciate your thoughts on the NO. Great post.

Anonymous said...

When you say "But no matter what, tradition will not be stopped.." I would like to suggest you to read the Catechism point #83, and then maybe take a class with professional guidance that can help you have a deeper understanding on the differentiation between Traditions with capital T and traditions with minuscule t.

I think it could help you give a more educated answer to readers specially those who are Catholics and have questions but do not know where to look for the correct answers. I do sincerely agree that there are some things that could be improved in NO as well as LTM. But I would like to exhort those who are reading and are looking for answers to take Theology and Scripture classes, always accompanied with the willingness of being guided by the Holly Spirit, without him we can be misguided. If there is any controversy in the church we must pray, fast and ask God for guidance. Make sure to not have poision and judgement in your hearts, because if we have it the Holly Spirit cannot act. Be careful when you read anything , make sure is from a neutral source, otherwise most of the information can fall into bias.