It’s been over 50 years since the Novus Ordo became the Ordinary Form of the Mass. The Sacred Liturgy changed after Vatican II and the change has been a bone of contention ever since.
Some Catholics strongly feel the Traditional Latin Mass is still the best way to worship God. Other Catholics, however, like the Novus Ordo. And so we have what has been referred to as “the liturgy wars.”
As George Weigel said in an article at First Things, “the liturgy wars broke out in earnest” on November 30, 1969. This is when “the Catholic Church marked the First Sunday of Advent with the universal implementation of the revised Roman Rite of the Mass, approved by Pope Paul VI in response to the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.” And, he added, “They have not abated since. If anything, they’ve intensified in recent years.”
Examples of strong, even intense opinions abound. I recently read an opinion by a lay person in a comment section on an article that someone attending a Traditional Latin Mass receives more graces that someone attending a Novus Ordo Mass. And, of course, Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, at 1P5, is an outspoken proponent, along with others, of the Latin Mass. He strongly opposes the Novus Ordo (Example here, in a counter argument to an article by Dr. Mary Healy on the Novus Ordo).
On the other side of the spectrum, however, are the wacko views expressed by people such as Zita Ballinger Fletcher:
“The Latin Mass fosters clericalist structures in the church. The liturgy — spoken in an ancient language no longer in modern vernacular usage — places all power in the hands of the priest. The priest keeps his back turned to the people for most of the ceremony. Aside from making occasional responses, the congregation plays no active part in worship. . . . The priest is at the center of the spectacle. He is separated from the people he is supposed to serve by an altar rail — a barrier that gives him privileges. To receive the Eucharist, people must kneel at his feet.”
The opinions expressed by both the EF proponent commenter and Ms. Ballinger Fletcher are, of course, complete nonsense. But they do serve to point out the strong opinions held on the subject. Some pro-Novus Ordo (the Ordinary Form, or OF for short) folk would like to see the Traditional Latin Mass completely done away with. At the same time, some pro- Traditional Latin Mass (the TLM, Usus Antiquor, the Extraordinary Form, or EF for short) folk would like the OF abolished. And apparently never the twain shall meet.
The Third Camp
But there is most certainly a third camp as well. This camp is made up of what may be the majority of Catholics. The Church says both forms of the Mass are valid and that is all many Catholics need to know.
These Catholics may or may not have an in-depth understanding of the intricacies of the Mass but they have been going to Mass regularly all their lives. They are Catholic and they believe what the Catholic Church teaches. They know that the Mass is where, as Weigel says, we “encounter the real presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity.” Life does not get any better than that.
In all likelihood Catholics who do go to Mass every week, and even daily, understand that the Sacred Liturgy is “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed.”
[Note: There is a wonderful new seven-minute video on the Mass-produced by a group called “The Veil Removed” that depicts what is taking place at every Mass. It’s well worth watching. Here is a link to the organization and video. When the site comes up, click on the button next to “Play the Film.”]
For the record, I prefer the EF to the OF. I wish my parish offered EF Masses but it does not. I’ve even asked our Pastor to consider offering one EF every weekend. His response was that he doubted there is a priest anywhere in the area who knows how to celebrate an EF Mass. (This was most likely a not-well-thought-out, off the cuff remark, since there are three parishes within a 30 mile radius of ours that offer EF Masses.)
I did not press the issue with our Pastor because, more likely than not, at 60-something years of age he is comfortable saying OF Masses. What’s more, he has the complete support of a liberal parish Worship Commission. Our parish’s Worship Commission no doubt honestly thinks that a ‘welcoming and friendly’ OF Mass, with modern ‘hymns’ played on keyboard and guitar, along with hi-tech projection equipment, will draw more people than an EF Mass.
The Extraordinary Form
I do understand that for some Catholics the EF was/is mysterious and maybe even boring. Perchance this is because the Mass was never properly explained to them. Or maybe it is just that they want to more actively participate in the Mass in some way that is more meaningful to them. For such Catholics, participation in an EF Mass may be difficult because participating in the EF often means praying silently while the priest/celebrant does all the heavy lifting.
But the silence that is part of the EF is there for a reason. As explained by the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius at their Sancta Missa website, the silence is a “hushed awe in which the faithful render thanksgiving unto the Father for the mystery of Christ’s supreme sacrifice made present again on the altar.”
For the most part, during an EF Mass, the congregation stands or kneels in silent reverence while the priest prays, sometimes quietly, sometimes a bit louder, and sometimes loudly enough for all to hear. And, of course, the priest does pray (or chant) in Latin.
Participating by Being Present
The opportunities, if you will, for the congregation to pray out loud along with the priest or offer responses during an EF Mass are not as numerous as during an OF Mass. And if the EF Mass is a High Mass, someone who does not really understand what is taking place may feel quite lost, even alienated.
But whether it’s a Low EF Mass or a High EF Mass, the priest/celebrant leads the congregation in celebrating the Sacrifice of the Mass. In one respect he is like the leader of a parade or a marching band – he is leading the congregation in persona Christi and the congregation follows along behind him as he ascends Calvary.
As the leader of the congregation, the priest faces east, along with the rest of the congregation, toward the altar, where the miracle of the Eucharist takes place. But even though the congregation is actively participating in a meaningful way during an EF Mass, it is not like the active participation that takes place during an OF Mass. During an EF Mass, the congregation participates by praying and primarily by being present.
Reverence and Silence
The periods of reverential silence that is a quintessential attribute of the EF is one of the things I and many others appreciate most about it. The reverent silence affords those present the opportunity to silently pray in the presence of God. This is why one often sees people silently praying the rosary throughout the Mass.
In my many years on this earth, I have a lot to be thankful for to God. But even after all those years I still need a lot of help in becoming a better, more Christ-like person. So during the periods of silence at an EF Mass, I offer prayers of thanks, and I pray for God’s continued help and guidance. I also pray for loved ones, the clergy, and the souls of the departed. I also kneel or sit or stand in reverent awe, in anticipation of the miracle that takes place during the Consecration.
The Ordinary Form
OF Mass proponents, however, probably think Sacrosanctum Concilium, and Pope Paul VI’s subsequent introduction of his New Rite of Mass in 1969, was the best thing to hit the Catholic Church since Bingo. They like ‘the new Mass’ and they like being able to actively participate in the Mass in a way that is meaningful to them. For these Catholics, Vatican II’s goal of “full, conscious, and active participation” in the Mass was achieved with the introduction of the OF.
OF aficionados also like that the Mass is in the vernacular. They may like the new ‘hymns’ being played on guitars and pianos (or keyboards), and they like seeing what the priest is doing at the altar as well. And some certainly like being able to participate by bringing up the gifts, by being lectors or being Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. They may even like the fact that there are only a very few moments of silence during an OF Mass.
For OF proponents, the post-Vatican II Mass allows them to be more vocal in their worship. And there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as the proper reverence is present and the rubrics of the Mass are followed.
Unfortunately, in far too many OF Masses the solemnity and reverence that still should be present is often replaced with less desirable characteristics. And sometimes additions are made that are not in keeping with the rubrics. The blame for this, I think, can be laid firstly at the feet of liberal bishops. But parish Worship Commissions and parish priests who let their parish Worship Commissions stray too far from the General Instruction of the Roman Missal also bear the blame.
A Protestant-ized Mass?
In some ways, some (certainly not all) Catholics who prefer the OF remind me of a non-Catholic Christian friend of one of my sons. My son invited his friend to attend an OF Mass one Sunday. After Mass, my son asked his friend what he thought of the Mass. My son’s friend replied that it was much too subdued for his liking.
The Sunday service at his church, my son’s friend said, is very lively. The preaching is more animated and engaging and the congregation is very vocal in shouting out “Amen” when the minister makes a good point during his sermon. The songs of praise too are more upbeat. This is what praise and worship should be, he said.
So even the OF Mass is too subdued. for my son’s friend. It is not lively enough to suit him. He would probably feel very uncomfortable at an EF Mass! But then again, since he does not believe in the Real Presence, he did not understand that Jesus Christ was physically present during the Mass. Had he understood this I have to wonder if he might not have been struck with a sudden attack of piety, reverence, and awe?
Joyful Praise and Worship
Now, there is nothing wrong with joyful worship. All Catholics should look forward to going to Mass with joyful anticipation. It is, after all, the most important thing we do each week. The only thing that I can think of that could possibly be better than hearing God speaking to us in the Liturgy of the Word and becoming one with Him in through the Eucharist is experiencing the beatific vision.
But at the same time, this joy is tempered by the reality that the Sacred Liturgy commemorates our Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection. We are, after all, sinners. Remembering the suffering and painful death Jesus Christ endured to open the gates of heaven for us should rightly evoke a mixture of sorrow, penitence, piety, reverence, and awe in us. And even though the ‘new mass’ is meant to bring the communal Passover meal more to mind, we need to keep in mind that Our Lord’s Passover meal was not exactly a joyful occasion either.
Four years ago in an article here at CS, I offered this observation:
“Whether the Novus Ordo Mass was part of a grand scheme to secularize the Church, a dumb idea from the start, a good idea gone wrong, or something else altogether is a debate that is still going on, and since I’m neither a Vatican insider nor a theologian I will stay out of it. Maybe the Mass did need to be updated because a number of good Catholics I know say they do prefer “the new Mass” to the TLM. But maybe a compromise of some sort might not have been a bad thing from the start – like allowing parishes to offer both the Novus Ordo and the TLM in some kind of alternating arrangement.”
My opinion has not changed. I still prefer the EF Mass, and I dearly wish that more parishes would offer EF Masses along with OF Masses.
Active Participation vs. Solemnity and Awe
Some Catholics feel a need to more actively participate in the Mass. They prefer the OF Mass. But some Catholics want the reverent silence, solemnity, and awe that are part of the Extraordinary Form.
Active participation means different things to different people. It’s too bad more bishops do not recognize this.
It’s sad that the liturgy wars exist. If all parishes offered both OF and EF Masses we could put the liturgy wars behind us and move on to more important things. This is a simple solution to the liturgy wars.
This solution is, of course, not easy-simple. Seminaries will have to train tomorrow’s priests on how to say both forms of the Mass while many parish priests will require instruction in the Usus Antiquor. Deacons, altar servers and probably a large number of bishops would require instruction as well. A number of churches built during the last 30 or 40 years may also have to reconfigure their sanctuaries.
So while the solution is simple it is not easy-peezy. But such an undertaking is not sending-a-man-to-the-moon complex either. It is certainly do-able. It would also bring about an end to the liturgy wars.
About the EF . . .
If you are interested in learning more about the Extraordinary Form of the Mass you can do so by visiting the Sancta Missa website [use the link previously provided].
Clicking on “Rubrics of the Missale Romanum 1962” takes you to the complete set of rubrics for the Traditional Latin Mass – the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.
Also, by clicking on the heading “Spirituality of the Tridentine Mass” you open a page with links to 16 different documents relative to the Latin Mass, including:
- Explanation of the Prayers and Ceremonies of Holy Mass, by Dom Prosper Guéranger, O.S.B., Abbot of Solesmes;
- The Attractiveness of the Tridentine Mass, by Alfons Cardinal Stickler;
- The Case for the Latin Mass, by Dietrich Von Hildebrand, and
- Ten Years of the Motu Proprio, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
There is also a Frequently Asked Questions section with some of the more common questions about the EF.