Rorate Caeli

Why Is the Liturgical Establishment Not Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Novus Ordo?

An article published at NLM last Thursday (“Lessons from the Sixties: Selective Synodality and Princely Protests”) begins thus: “It is actually astonishing how little of Paul VI’s liturgical reform, especially his Novus Ordo Missae, which he promulgated fifty years ago, is being commemorated this year.” That has been on my mind, too, for the whole of 2019.

It should strike us as exceedingly odd, at least prima facie, that liturgy committees, Vatican dicasteries, theology departments, chanceries, religious orders, and every other sort of postconciliar bureaucratic apparatus is not engaged in a huge song and dance about the golden anniversary of the new Mass promulgated by Pope Paul VI on April 3, 1969, and effective in most countries on the first Sunday of Advent of that year, November 30. (In the same way, Summorum Pontificum was promulgated on 7/7/07 but did not take effect until the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14).

Certainly, one might think, if there is anything postconciliar that deserves to be toasted, fêted, and proudly clapped on the back, it would be this monumental modern makeover. Yet the number of events, nay, the number of mentions on the part of the Pauline rite’s friends and supporters could be counted on one hand. The total number of events celebrating Summorum Pontificum’s rather modest anniversaries (5 years, 10 years…), in contrast, already go up into double digits. Perhaps the most high-profile piece — and it wasn’t particular high-profile — was an article in L’Osservatore Romano on April 6, 2019, by Fr. Corrado Maggioni, S.M.M., Under-Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, published in English at PrayTell on April 17. [1]

Can we understand this perplexing silence? I think the answer can be summed up in an alternative title that I considered using for this article: “Memory Hole: On the Destruction of the Knowledge of Tradition.”

What got me thinking along these lines was an interesting exchange at Facebook, of which I will now reproduce the most valuable segments. It began this way:

I have met plenty of people who call themselves Catholic who have never had the slightest idea there ever were any changes, and have no idea what the term “Novus Ordo” even means, the rewriting of history has been so complete.

Another fellow chimed in:

When I was first at University I was vaguely aware that before Vatican II Mass was in Latin, but I thought it meant the liturgy exactly as we had it in the Steubenville chapel, but in Latin. Then I went to a TLM just out of curiosity and discovered just how wrong that idea was.

The first person replied:

I assumed precisely the same thing. The idea that they would simply brazenly concoct something new by committee was something that I had to be forcibly convinced of. It wasn’t until I had put the two texts side by side that I began to realise how we had been utterly swindled all our lives. Then I started reading Michael Davies and it was all over.

A third person chimed in:

I converted from Anglicanism, having read my way to Catholicism. The Novus Ordo (though I didn’t know it was called that at the time or for many years) was a bit of a shock, but I just thought that’s how it was, and I had to get on with it. I never even knew the Latin Mass still existed. I lapsed, came back, and I will always believe it was no coincidence that the weekday Mass I happened to stay for after my confession was a TLM. Usual stuff after that — read Michael Davies, etc., went through the whole anger, “I’ve been cheated” thing — and out the other side. Praise God.

A question was raised: “Why among Catholics is there so much ignorance not just of history in general, but even of our recent history? Fifty years ago isn’t that much time… You’d think that a Church 2,000 years old would want its members to know how great it was that the bad old dusty-musty liturgy was replaced by a shiny new model.” And to it, there came this reply:

The answer to the puzzle is that there is no longer supposed to be any knowledge that the “Novus Ordo,” as such, exists at all. It is supposed only to be “the Mass,” full stop. The fact that there were ever any changes made to the liturgy is supposed to be sliding down the Memory Hole with each passing year. The people who remember the old Mass well, who would have known just how radically different the new is from the old, and who remember how violently the changes were made — these people are dying off. That is, the ones who didn’t simply give up and leave long ago. Catholics who still practice the Faith are not supposed to know there ever was an “old rite” or that there is a “new rite” at all. The entire project of the Revolution at this stage is to deny there ever was such a thing as the Old Faith.
          Anyway, all this is why they are as furious as a bag of feral cats that there are still Traditionalists, and that the traddie movement is gaining ground. That lot was supposed to have died out or been driven out, and the fact that there are new ones, people like me who never knew the old rite in the wild, and the families now having twelve kids and going to the Missa Cantata, and all the homeschooling and whatnot... Combine that with the internet’s ability to let everyone know what’s really happening, and plenty of beautiful pictures besides, and it must be making them absolutely apoplectic.

Apoplectic, perhaps; but also strangely silent. How many websites are there that pursue a strongly reformist line? Not that many. Maybe just one: PrayTell. How many websites pursue a strongly traditionalist line? Quite a few. It seems, in short, that the progressives have run out of steam, or run out of confidence, or run out of on-board personnel, or think that talking about it too much risks introducing still further Catholics to the forbidden subjects — and thence, to possible defections.

A reader of OnePeterFive wrote to the editor:

I was already looking for God when I went to school, but the fullness, reality, and beauty of the Church and her Tradition was unknown to me until I discovered 1P5 … I say my encounter with Tradition was a second conversion because my experience immediately following my baptism and confirmation within Francis’ church was segregated from any knowledge that the Church before the 1960’s had been different than it is today.

Exactly. The success of the “transformation of all forms” ultimately depends on as many people in the Church not knowing what came before 1969, or thinking that our worship and our life could, or should, be any different from that which the Vatican, the USCCB, the chancery, or [fill in the blank] would have us think it must be.

At the moment, I am copyediting a manuscript of a translation of a very fine book by Michael Fiedrowicz, Die überlieferte Messe: Geschichte, Gestalt und Theologie des klassischen römischen Ritus, which will be published by Angelico under the title The Traditional Mass: History, Form, and Theology of the Classical Roman Rite. The following paragraph eloquently summarizes the points I have been making:

The celebration of the liturgy in its traditional form thus constitutes an effective counter-weight for all levelings, reductions, dilutions, and banalizations of the Faith. Many who are unfamiliar with the classical liturgy and are acquainted only with the re-created form believe that what they see and hear there is the entirety of the Faith. Scarcely anyone senses that central passages have perhaps been removed from biblical pericopes. Scarcely anyone notices if the Church’s orations no longer expressly attack error, no longer pray for the return of those who have strayed, no longer give the heavenly clear priority over the earthly, make the Saints into mere examples of morality, conceal the gravity of sin, and identify the Eucharist as only a meal. Scarcely anyone even knows what prayers the Church said over the course of centuries in place of the current “preparation of the gifts,” and how these prayers demonstrated the Church’s understanding of the Mass as a sacrifice, offered through the hands of the priest for the living and the dead.

As I discovered the traditional Latin Mass in my late teens and early twenties, I distinctly remember stumbling on important truths of the Faith — truths taught by the Bible, the Church Fathers, the Councils, and, of course, the Tridentine missal — that had become muted, invisible, or even extinct in the Novus Ordo. And subsequent study has only confirmed the extent of that systematic bias. This is why I like to say (admitting it’s a bit of an exaggeration): “my daily missal made me a traditionalist.”

Catholics who do not give themselves trustingly to the 2,000-year tradition of the Church will not be in contact with the whole doctrine and morality of Catholicism. This is hard to hear, but so is much of the teaching of Our Lord: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt. 16, 24). The same is true, in a way, of tradition: we have to deny our modern prejudices, take up the blessed burden of our tradition, and follow it, in order to be integrally Catholic.

Joseph Ratzinger famously and repeatedly said that forgetfulness of God is the major problem of the West. In his Foreword to Dom Alcuin Reid’s The Organic Development of the Liturgy, he wrote:

If the liturgy appears first of all as the workshop for our activity, then what is essential is being forgotten: God. For the liturgy is not about us, but about God. Forgetting about God is the most imminent danger of our age. As against this, the liturgy should be setting up a sign of God’s presence. Yet what is happening, if the habit of forgetting about God makes itself at home in the liturgy itself, and if in the liturgy we are only thinking of ourselves?

The same theologian, as Pope Benedict XVI, wrote in his letter concerning the remission of the excommunications of the four SSPX bishops:

In our days, when in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel, the overriding priority is to make God present in this world and to show men and women the way to God. Not just any god, but the God who spoke on Sinai; to that God whose face we recognize in a love which presses “to the end” (cf. Jn 13:1) — in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. The real problem at this moment of our history is that God is disappearing from the human horizon, and, with the dimming of the light which comes from God, humanity is losing its bearings, with increasingly evident destructive effects.

It is still difficult for many in the Church today to realize — either because they are totally ignorant of the past (as the revolutionaries intended), or because, being aware of it, they are afraid to do their homework and connect the dots — that the changes in the liturgy have actually contributed, profoundly and lastingly, to the crisis of our forgetfulness of God, and that the primary cure for this amnesia will be the restoration of the classical Roman rite.

From the ordination of a priest of the Fraternity of St. Peter in 2017

(cross-posted from New Liturgical Movement)