Sunday, August 13, 2023

On the Superior Merit of the Traditional Mass

[Aug. 13, 2023] I just reviewed an old article by Fr. Chad Ripperger entitled "The Merit of a Mass." The article originally appeared in the Summer 2003 edition of the Latin Mass Magazine.

The article concerns the question of the "merit" of the two forms of the Roman rite. Fr. Ripperger concludes that the Traditional Rite of Mass is objectively more meritorious. He argues that
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 basis his conclusion upon a clear distinction between the intrinsic and extrinsic value of a Mass. The intrinsic value a Mass refers to the value in the Mass as a work of God, particularly in the ex opere operato graces present in the Eucharistic sacrifice. The intrinsic value of any valid Mass is therefore 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, inasmuch as the infinite value of the Eucharistic sacrifice is present in both forms.

That is not the only consideration, however, for we must account for the extrinsic value of the Mass. The extrinsic value or "merit" pertains to what mankind brings to the Mass and is finite. This extrinsic value can vary tremendously. 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." This does not relate to the validity of the sacraments in a Donatist sense, but rather to degree of efficacy of the priest's prayers and intentions in offering the Mass. The prayer of a holy priest praying, "vouchsafe to send Thy holy Angel from heaven, to guard, cherish, protect, visit and defend all that are assembled in this place," will be more fruitful than the same prayer uttered by a lackadaisical 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. This refers to the way the faithful receive grace ex opere operantis, that is, according to their own dispositions. A pious, attentive Catholic prepared for communion by prayer and fasting will reap much from their communion. 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." In other words, the right aesthetics better dispose us to prayerfully contemplate the heavenly realities of the Mass, and as the aesthetical qualities of a traditional liturgy are better than the Novus Ordo, the traditional liturgy facilitates a better disposition and hence makes greater merit possible. (I highly recommend 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.) Simply put, the aesthetics of the Traditional Mass are better crafted to elevate the heart and mind.

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." We could also include here the vast amount of prayers included in the old Mass that are absent from the new. If we believe that prayer actually matters and yields objective results, then the reduction of prayers in the Novus Ordo is an objective detriment to its merit. The converse is also true: the prayers retained by the Traditional Mass render it more objectively meritorious. "Ask and ye shall receive" (Matt. 7:7).

Taken together, Fr. Ripperger concludes that the rite of the Traditional Mass is structured in such a way as to enable a greater disposition of prayerfulness and piety, which in turn means the graces we reap from the traditional Mass can be objectively greater than those available in the Novus Ordo—without denying the validity of the New Mass, nor calling into question that "Christ is there" in the Eucharist of the Novus Ordo. One need not question the validity of the Novus Ordo to understand that, objectively, the framework of the traditional Mass opens up the possibility of a greater merit when considered extrinsically.

This is why we should never simply shrug our shoulders about the restriction of the Traditional Mass. Its disappearance has and will continue to have objective negative consequences in the order of grace.


If you'd like to get a copy of any back issues of the Latin Mass Magazine, email your request to them at  This article is an expansion of a smaller piece Dr. John Joy wrote for this blog over a decade ago. 


Anonymous said...

All I know is that the prayers in the church’s traditional St Andrews missal convey so much on many levels, the prayers and associated sentiments go to the heart and mind on many levels- the historical references for one. When reads about the drama of the lives of the saints, it’s not just their lives, it’s also a snapshot of history- where they lived, who also lived during that time.

I read the missal in the pew And it’s just bland milk toast with diffuse references, it’s so vague and also seems deficient in something I can’t put into words- something is just not there.

And as a church, we are becoming less acute. There was a national request last month to recite the litany of the sacred heart- instead with great fanfare the litany of the holy name was sung- and even there, much was omitted and the last request for mercy was not even mentioned- was this by design I wondered.

I have read, that sin causes stupidity and dullness, perhaps that explains the error by design or inadvertently.

It was only because I had the St. Andrew missal in hand that I identified the error.

Athelstane said...

I agree with Fr R's analysis on all points.

Of course, this leads naturally to the next question: Why would God permit His Church to create and make normative (for multiple generations now) an objectively, extrinsically inferior liturgical rite? And worse, to place as many obstacles in the way of the celebration of objectively superior liturgical rites?

I can think of some possible answers, but I cannot say I am fully persuaded by any of them just yet.