November 30 marks forty years since the Novus Ordo Missae was unleashed upon the Catholic Church. I have been trying to work out for some weeks how I would mark this momentous occasion, and I figured that I would offend people no matter how I approached it. In the end, I thought I would just lay it on the line.
Did any good come out of all this? Sure– God is good and never abandons His Church. The Mass is inherently good, as it is the re-presentation of Calvary, however much is truth is obvious or hidden. But using an analogy, one could say that good came out of the protestant “reformation” because the Church was prompted to consolidate, enforce ecclesiastical discipline, promote and defend the faith, and vigorously engage in the battle for souls in a new way. Yet, the protestant revolution is not something to celebrate in and of itself.
Therefore, I will leave the silver linings for another day, and another post. Today, I just want to focus on the problems with a liturgical reform that has not borne good fruit, and which even began without accurately implementing the relatively modest changes contemplated by the Second Vatican Council.
Two Popes, two quotes
Pope Paul VI was the Pope who promulgated the New Mass. Pope Benedict XVI confirmed that the Traditional Mass had not been abrogated by the promulgation of the New. The forty year gulf separates the two. In preparing this post, I came across a passage from each that sums up what I feel on the occasion.
At Rorate Caeli, I found the following quote from Paul VI in a general audience preceding the release of the new missal:
We may notice that pious persons will be the ones most disturbed, because, having their respectable way of listening to Mass, they will feel distracted from their customary thoughts and forced to follow those of others.
Not Latin, but the spoken language, will be the main language of the Mass. To those who know the beauty, the power, the expressive sacrality of Latin, its replacement by the vulgar language is a great sacrifice: we lose the discourse of the Christian centuries, we become almost intruders and desecrators [intrusi e profani] in the literary space of sacred expression, and we will thus lose a great portion of that stupendous and incomparable artistic and spiritual fact that is the Gregorian Chant. We will thus have, indeed, reason for being sad, and almost for feeling lost: with what will we replace this angelic language? It is a sacrifice of inestimable price.
And, to bookend the issue from the perspective of the author of Summorum Pontificum, here is what Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote of the liturgical reform:
What happened after the Council was totally different: in the place of liturgy as the fruit of development came fabricated liturgy.
We left the living process of growth and development to enter the realm of fabrication. There was no longer a desire to continue developing and maturing, as the centuries passed and so this was replaced – as if it were a technical production – with a construction, a banal on-the-spot product.
While one would be tempted to claim that this lament is not for the Mass as promulgated, but rather for the abuse of it, this claim flies in the face of the language he uses, and the undeniably bureaucratic way in which the New Mass was devised. It was an on-the-spot fabrication– you can decide for yourself if it was banal, but I agree with the Pope.
The Ottaviani Intervention States the Obvious: “A striking departure”
Back when I first became familiar with the Traditional Mass, I came across one of the works dear to many traditional liturgy adherents– the famous Ottaviani Intervention. During the drafting of the Novus Ordo, some prelates had concerns about the product. Among these prelates were Cardinal Ottaviani and Cardinal Bacci, who sent their deep concerns to the Holy Father. It is a very sobering read. Here is the preface, in and of itself it hits the nail squarely on the head:
Letter from Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci to His Holiness Pope Paul VI
September 25th, 1969
Most Holy Father, Having carefully examined, and presented for the scrutiny of others, the Novus Ordo Missae prepared by the experts of the Consilium ad exequendam Constitutionem de Sacra Liturgia, and after lengthy prayer and reflection, we feel it to be our bounden duty in the sight of God and towards Your Holiness, to put before you the following considerations:
1. The accompanying critical study of the Novus Ordo Missae, the work of a group of theologians, liturgists and pastors of souls, shows quite clearly in spite of its brevity that if we consider the innovations implied or taken for granted which may of course be evaluated in different ways, the Novus Ordo represents, both as a whole and in its details, a striking departure from the Catholic theology of the Mass as it was formulated in Session XXII of the Council of Trent. The “canons” of the rite definitively fixed at that time provided an insurmountable barrier to any heresy directed against the integrity of the Mystery.
2. The pastoral reasons adduced to support such a grave break with tradition, even if such reasons could be regarded as holding good in the face of doctrinal considerations, do not seem to us sufficient. The innovations in the Novus Ordo and the fact that all that is of perennial value finds only a minor place, if it subsists at all, could well turn into a certainty the suspicions already prevalent, alas, in many circles, that truths which have always been believed by the Christian people, can be changed or ignored without infidelity to that sacred deposit of doctrine to which the Catholic faith is bound for ever. Recent reforms have amply demonstrated that fresh changes in the liturgy could lead to nothing but complete bewilderment on the part of the faithful who are already showing signs of restiveness and of an indubitable lessening of faith.
Amongst the best of the clergy the practical result is an agonising crisis of conscience of which innumerable instances come tour notice daily.
3. We are certain that these considerations, which can only reach Your Holiness by the living voice of both shepherds and flock, cannot but find an echo in Your paternal heart, always so profoundly solicitous for the spiritual needs of the children of the Church. It has always been the case that when a law meant for the good of subjects proves to be on the contrary harmful, those subjects have the right, nay the duty of asking with filial trust for the abrogation of that law.
Therefore we most earnestly beseech Your Holiness, at a time of such painful divisions and ever-increasing perils for the purity of the Faith and the unity of the church, lamented by You our common Father, not to deprive us of the possibility of continuing to have recourse to the fruitful integrity of that Missale Romanum of St. Pius V, so highly praised by Your Holiness and so deeply loved and venerated by the whole Catholic world.
A. Card. Ottaviani
A. Card. Bacci
Obviously, whatever the concerns of Pope Paul VI, and whatever misgivings he may have had, the New Mass was issued. Forty years later, the results are not good. The pews emptied, the families became smaller, religious vocations dramatically decreased, Churches and altars were desecrated, the faith was not passed on with vigor and, frankly, souls were likely lost that may not otherwise have been lost.
Forty years later, signs of hope reemerge. The Church has persevered in a hostile world. And no one can say what would have been if the traditional Mass had not been jettisoned.
Yet, I ask readers’ pardon if on this anniversary I do not celebrate.