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The Six Marks of the Novus Ordo Mass

Fr. Stephen Somerville

At the Good Friday trial of Jesus, Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, "What is truth?" To this day, people are still wondering about truth, and where to find it. When St. John the Apostle wrote the introduction to this Gospel, he said to us, "In the beginning was the Word, the Word of God ... and (this) Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we (Apostles) saw his glory ... full of grace and truth. Jesus, the Word of God, is full of truth. We must constantly refer to Jesus to know the Truth.

Pilate asks 'What is truth?'

Pilate asks Our Lord, "What is truth?"
Duccio di Buoninsegna, 13th century
In the very first prayer of the traditional Roman Canon of the Mass, we pray God the Father to bless our sacrifice which is offered for the whole Church, including all right-thinking believers and teachers of the Catholic and Apostolic Faith.

Thus in every Mass, we recall that Jesus is full of truth, and has given us a faith that makes us right-thinking believers. Let me remind you of one article of our Catholic Faith. This article or truth is spelled out in the Secret Prayer of a Sunday Mass after Pentecost. This truth is that God has enacted one perfect sacrifice, that of Jesus His Son, in place of all the victims that were sacrificed under the Old Testament before Christ. We pray God to receive this one perfect sacrifice and to sanctify it in order to help us all to attain salvation.

So, briefly: Jesus, full of truth, has given us a right-thinking Faith that says the Mass is a perfect sacrifice of Jesus' very Body and Blood, that replaces all the Old Testament sacrifices.

It is sad that the Protestants do not accept this notion that the Mass is a true, though bloodless, sacrifice of the real Body and Blood of Christ. For Protestants, the Eucharist is merely a religious meal that is a symbol and memorial of the Last Supper of Jesus. It is not a true victim-sacrifice offered by an actual priest. This contradiction of our Catholic faith means that we cannot expect Protestants to be right-thinking believers, even though we may pray for their conversion. What is more, you know that there are other notions or articles of the Catholic Faith that Protestants do not accept. Examples are the Seven Sacraments, the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Holy Mary, and the Infallibility of the Pope.

Max Thursian and Roger Schutz

Protestants Max Thurian, at left,
and Roger Shutz
But let us return to the Mass. In 1969, Max Thurian, an important protestant theologian, who helped found the ecumenical Taizé community in France, made this statement: "It is now theologically possible for Protestants to use the same Mass as Catholics." (1) Protestants offering the same Mass as Catholics? How is this possible? How can we all be right-thinking believers?

To answer these questions, remember that the Liturgy Commission set up by the Paul VI in early 1964 was mandated to prepare a reform of the Mass and all the other liturgy services of the Catholic Church. This commission, called Consilium, did in fact reform the Mass, quite promptly, and the Pope did approve and promulgate this new order or novus ordo of Mass on April 3, 1969. We have the English version of this new Mass that is used in Catholic churches thencefroth around the world. It is quite different in many respects from the Tridentine Latin Mass. How should right-thinking Catholic believers evaluate this new Mass of Vatican II? What should we, as Catholics, think of the novus ordo Mass?

JPII and monophysite heretics

JPII and a Monophysite heretic preside side by side at a ceremony in St. Peter's
To answer this serious question, let us briefly describe the new Mass in the language of expert theologians and liturgists.

First, they describe it as ecumenical. This means designed to foster unity and agreement with non-Catholic beliefs. Thus it becomes important to "accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative." One must emphasize what we believe in common, and tone down the beliefs we do not share. The new Mass has changed many prayers, especially the Collects, to speak less of Hell, less of eternal punishment, less of the world as the enemy of God, less of the need to fast, and so on.

The novus ordo Mass is next described as antiquarian. This means emphasizing the alleged early, original features of the Mass in the time of the Fathers, that is, the first four to six centuries of the History of the Church. It means recovering supposed early simplicity of worship, and other primitive qualities. It means diminishing or removing the enrichments of the Catholic Mass that were developed in medieval, baroque, and post-reformation times. It means a more austere, more bare-bones and elemental kind of worship.

The ugly Cathedral of Los Angeles

Above, the Cathedral of Los Angeles
looks like an office building. Below, the relaxed, community based "altar space" in San Francisco's Most Holy Reedemer Church
An 'altar space' chapel in San Francisco
Some of these simplifications include less bows or genuflections by the priest, shorter prayers, less use of bells and incense, less feasts of saints, less statues and holy water, and so forth. This then is the antiquarian aspect of the new liturgy.

The third quality is to be community-based. Now the community is the horizontal dimension, that is, around us. The alternative is the vertical dimension, that is, above us. It means pointing to God, to heaven, to the angels. The novus ordo tends to emphasize the community more than God, here more than hereafter, goodness in human society rather than in the mystical body of Christ. Notice that new churches, that is, mass buildings, are wider and lower, with little or no tower that points up. Notice the big entrance lobby for people to meet and chat, horizontally, rather than to pray to Heaven, vertically. Notice the new sign of peace, when the congregation has a surge of hand-shaking. The new Mass, then, is community-based.

The next quality is that of a democratic church. This means literally government by the people, rather than by priests and Bishops and Pope, which is hierarchic, not democratic. It means that the Mass should be led not just by the priest, but by many lectors or readers taking turns, by many communion ministers, including women and even teenagers, by many ushers or so-called ministers of hospitality, and above all by a parish liturgy committee that decides the style and structure of the various Masses. The cantor or song leader is another player on the team of the democratic liturgy.

A fifth trait of novus ordo is to be desacralized. This means rendered less sacred. It means signs of reverence or mystery, of transcendence or heaven should be reduced to a minimum or removed. Some of these eliminations in the Mass were mentioned earlier, under the antiquarian quality of keeping the gestures of only the early age of the Church.

Other trimmings of the sacred: we see in no more communion railing, no more Latin language, simpler less ornate vestments, and in priests who do not even wear some of the proper vestments, but remain more casual. Many priests no longer wear clerical attire even outside the Mass. They celebrate Mass facing the people, not God. They act more as a chairman or president of a meeting, rather than as a sacred minister before God. This is the desacralized liturgy.

The sixth and last adjective to describe the Vatican II Mass is Protestantized, that is, harmonized more with Protestant views and practices. This is a theological area, that is, it touches on what we are taught and do believe about God, the Sacraments, the Church and so forth. Because of the ecumenical urge, and also the urge of the Modernist heresy, the designers of the new liturgy have certainly made Catholic worship more Protestant in tone and content. We could call this quality deviance, because liturgists are deviating from traditional Catholic belief. Here are some specific examples:

The Tabernacle of a Paulist Chapel set in a side wall

In a Paulist Chapel the Tabernacle is set off on a side wall
A doctrine that is toned down is that of the real presence, the reality of Our Lord’s Body and Blood under the appearance of bread and wine. Thus the Tabernacle is off in a corner or even in a separate room out of sight. One receives Communion not kneeling and on the tongue, but standing and in the hand. One must fast not three hours or from midnight, but only one hour. The word transubstantiation is omitted from documents on the Mass.

The practice and doctrine of Confession, almost unknown among Protestants, is surviving less and less among Catholics, and the risk of sacrilegious communions is now chronic, that is, Holy Communions received in the state of mortal sin or without prior absolution by the priest.

The ministerial role of the priest is much diminished as mentioned in the democratic emphasis in the new Mass. The priest is actually a man chosen apart and made sacred for a holy task of offering worship and sacrifice, even if only few faithful are present.

Communion distributed by a lay woman

Communion distributed by a lay woman
at WYD, 2002
But the new concept of priest is more that of a functionary, an elected or appointed official, a president or master of ceremonies, even sometimes an entertainer. No wonder there are few young men today answering the call to such an uninspiring, humanist kind of priest.

We already noted that the sacrificial character of the Mass has been largely lost. The Mass is merely a "sacrifice of praise" now, an offering of holy words to God. One quality of true sacrifice is to be propitiatory, that is, appeasing God's anger over our sins. If we believe that God is too kind and loving to demand atonement for sin, or if we believe that God is too magnificent to be offended by our puny sins, then we have lost the Catholic Faith, and, in this case, a propitiatory sacrifice would make no sense.

These are the six qualities of the new order of the Mass: ecumenical, antiquarian, community-based, democratic, desacralized, and Protestantized. By contrast with Catholic tradition up to Vatican II, it features numerous changes, reversals, and opposites, and it is hardly a Mass for right-thinking believers. It makes us understand why a strong and holy movement to preserve and restore the traditional Latin Catholic Mass sprang up after Vatican Council II.

I hope the reader will follow up this short meditation by prayer and study, so that we all become or remain right-thinking believers, and faithful disciples of traditional, Catholic Truth.


Blason de Charlemagne
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1. D. Bonneterre, The Liturgical Movement, p.100. To this writer the present article also owes the schema of six marks of the new Mass.

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