Integrity Check: Examining the Novus Ordo Missae

Holy Week is upon us, that time “when the most bitter sufferings of Jesus Christ are put before us by the liturgy” (Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei, 158).

This year, it is also a time of liturgical anxiety for many as Francis is rumored to be on the verge of adding teeth to Traditionis Cojones, thus bolstering his effort to extinguish the Mass of Ages in favor of the inglorious Novus Ordo. 

Several weeks ago, Catholic Family News launched a preemptive strike with an article written by its Managing Editor, Matt Gaspers, titled, Can the Pope Abolish the Traditional Latin Mass?

As those familiar with CFN’s orientation certainly expected, the answer given at the article’s conclusion was “a resounding no.” 

Despite the predictability of the conclusion, the article is valuable insofar as it provides a number of noteworthy pre-conciliar citations that focus on the nature of Catholic liturgy and the Church’s role in safeguarding its purity. 

These important traditional references serve as a severe indictment of the Novus Ordo Missae, the usurper service anointed by Francis as “the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite” (TC, Art. 1). At the very least, they give rise to some crucial questions about the so-called Mass of Paul VI, the answers to which have gravely serious implications.

That examination, however, is beyond the scope of Gaspers’ article. This being so, here we will take the next logical step by dragging the elephant in the room out of the shadows and into the light of tradition where it can be seen for what it truly is.

Before undertaking to write this article, I reached out to Matt Gaspers and CFN Editor-n-Chief, Brian McCall, for clarification, and they were kind enough to indulge me with numerous exchanges over the course of several days. I’ll share their most relevant responses later. 

Please bear in mind that my focus is not on them so much as on the commentary itself and the fact that it reflects the point of view of a great many persons who describe themselves as “traditionalist.” With that said… 

NB: Regardless of where you stand or land on the issues we are about to discuss, Matt and Brian deserve our greatest respect for having the integrity, sincerity, and good will to enter into a charitable, yet challenging, conversation, despite our disagreement on certain matters of importance. Truly, among all of the other personalities and outlets in so-called “traditional” Catholic media, I can think of none other willing to do likewise.  

One of the main themes that appears throughout Gaspers’ article concerns the notion that Catholic liturgical rites are, by definition, those that are “received and approved.” He offers a number of citations to this effect, most noteworthily from such revered sources as the Council of Trent, Pope Pius IV, Pope Pius IX, and St. Basil the Great. 

Gaspers summarizes as follows:

In short, a “received” liturgical rite is one that is rooted in “the tradition of the Apostles” and, as such, has been “preserved by the [Church] Fathers,” to quote St. Athanasius (d. 373). The approval and preservation of a given liturgical rite is a consequence of it having been “received” from apostolic tradition — it is “approved” and preserved precisely because it is “received”.

Surely, there is nothing whatsoever objectionable to be found in this assessment.

Gaspers moves on to “key passages from Mediator Dei” (Pope Pius XII, 1947), thus effectively demonstrating the constancy of the traditional doctrine on “the nature of the Church’s liturgical rites and the scope of her power over them.” For example:

Pius XII specifies that the Church’s “right of control over liturgical observance” is directly tied to her duty “to protect the purity of divine worship against abuse from dangerous and imprudent innovations,” which heretics invariably seek to introduce. Thus, the Church’s power over the liturgy is primarily one of preservation and “defense” of her “legitimate rites,” that is, her “received and approved rites” (Council of Trent).

Rephrasing this truth from an ecclesiological perspective, one can say that controlling liturgical observances in order to protect the purity of worship from any danger of defect is what the Church does. Keep this in mind, as we will return to this point later.

In this, Gaspers makes the connection – and rightly so, in my view – between a liturgical rite’s legitimacy, and its having been received and approved

Citing Pope Pius XII once more, he offers:

From time immemorial the ecclesiastical hierarchy has exercised this right [of defining doctrine] in matters liturgical. It has organized and regulated divine worship, enriching it constantly with new splendor and beauty, to the glory of God and the spiritual profit of Christians. What is more, it has not been slow — keeping the substance of the Mass and sacraments carefully intact — to modify what it deemed not altogether fitting, and to add what appeared more likely to increase the honor paid to Jesus Christ and the august Trinity, and to instruct and stimulate the Christian people to greater advantage. (Mediator Dei, 49)

Before we move on, rephrasing the above from the perspective of the head of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, the Roman Pontiff, we can say:

Organizing and regulating divine worship so as to enrich it with new splendor and beauty, keeping the substance of the Mass and sacraments carefully intact, to the glory of God and the spiritual profit of Christians, is what a pope does in exercising control over matters liturgical.

Let us now turn our attention toward the beast, the Novus Ordo Missae, and the questions that one may be moved to ask, as was I, in light of Gaspers’ article. 

To be perfectly clear, as I relayed to Matt and Brian, my focus in this exercise is mainly on our readers. I believe that the many well-chosen citations in Matt’s article, if examined and applied in good faith to the situation at hand, may lead sincere persons to greater clarity. May it please God to make this so!

With this in mind, among the questions that are invited by the traditional teachings cited above are the following:

  • The traditional teaching in the article calls into question the Novus Ordo’s claim as a “legitimate” rite. Is it, or is it not, legitimate? 
  • Does the Novus Ordo rite “keep the substance of the Mass and sacraments carefully intact” with “the integrity of her doctrine safeguarded”? (Pius XII as cited in the article) 

Getting closer to the very heart of the matter:

  • Is the Novus Ordo a “received and approved” rite of the Holy Catholic Church?

In response to the first question, the answer given is perfectly plain:

“It is the editorial position of Catholic Family News that the Novus Ordo Missae is illegitimate because of aspects intrinsic to the Rite.”   

As for the second question, the responses received amount to another resounding no: 

The Novus Ordo “has defects.” It is, “as a whole, a Protestantized Rite.” The Novus Ordo, therefore, “is a danger to one’s faith and should be avoided.”     

With regard to the third question, Matt’s initial response read: 

“The Novus Ordo is ‘approved’ insofar as Pope Paul VI and his successors have approved it (though I don’t think it was legitimate for Paul VI to attempt to impose a new rite on the Church); however, it is not entirely ‘received’ since it deviates in significant ways from what Pope St. Pius V called in Quo Primum ‘the original form and rite of the holy Fathers,’ which is precisely what his 1570 Missal restored and codified in a definitive manner.”

I accept blame for this response being less than satisfying insofar as the question could have been more to the point. As such, I rephrased it: 

  • Is the Novus Ordo Missae a Catholic rite or not? 

After a bit of back and forth, Brain provided a much-appreciated answer:

“The adjective ‘Catholic’ describes the nature of the Rites.  Are they consistent with Catholic belief and tradition? I agree with Archbishop Lefebvre that, although a few elements of it do, as a whole, it is not a Catholic Rite.”  

I presume it is now abundantly clear to readers why Matt and Brian deserve our greatest respect. Yes, we disagree on some major points, but insofar as the responses given in the course of our correspondence are concerned, we certainly agree on the following: 

The Novus Ordo Missae is an illegitimate, intrinsically defective, Protestantized rite that departs from Catholic belief and tradition and, as such, it is a danger to the faith.

That, my friends, is some serious common ground, and it is established upon more than just personal opinion, but rather upon the Magisterium of the Church as cited throughout Matt Gaspers’ article.

At this, rather than delving into less agreeable matters in detail, I will conclude the present article by imploring you to ponder the following questions for yourself:

  • Based on the understanding that the Novus Ordo Missae is not a Catholic rite (defective, dangerous, inconsistent with Catholic doctrine, etc.), what does this say about a church for which it is the predominate liturgy? 
  • What does this assessment of the Novus Ordo say about a claimant to the Office of Peter who would approve of such a rite, inviting the faithful to participate in it, and anointing it as “the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite,” i.e., is this what a pope does? 
  • Is it really possible for the Church as our Holy Mother to dispense such a poisonous rite to her children, thus endangering them, i.e., is this what the Church does? 

Pondering these questions may very well lead to others, and though we may not have all of the answers, Catholic tradition – the teaching of venerable councils, holy popes, Saints, Doctors, and eminent theologians – provides many. As you search for answers, rely not on just personal opinion, but rather upon the Magisterium of the Church.

If you have friends and family that do not read this blog, but do enjoy CFN, The Remnant, Taylor Marshall or other such outlets, forward this article to them. Challenge them to act with the same integrity demonstrated by Matt Gaspers and Brian McCall by virtue their willingness to explore difficult questions with sincerity.

We will pick up the discussion in my next article.

Until then, a most blessed Passiontide to you and yours.