Rorate Caeli

On the 55th Anniversary of the Novus Ordo: "The Problem with Judging a Book by its Cover" -- by Fr. Richard Cipolla

Suppose a new edition of a famous novel was published with great fanfare, including press conferences, new releases, and all the other public manifestations of an important event. We can use a classic like Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield as an example.  The talking heads in the media would speak about the meticulous scholarship that this new edition reflected and the joy of making this great novel more accessible to a readership that perhaps thought of Dickens as a great author but definitely part of a past that may be inaccessible to postmodern man. Some would be confused by the claim of renewed accessibility and what this could possibly mean.  That would be answered by those in charge of the press conference that would have been covered by the media in all the English-speaking countries of the world.  The chief spokesperson would explain that the novel had been revised so as to speak to a new generation that were living in a time very different from the mid-nineteenth century when Dickens wrote David Copperfield. The revision, she would explain, was done by literary experts who understood the important task they were chosen to take on.  And although only 38% of the original text remained in the new edition, there should be no fear that this new edition was not completely faithful to the edition of 1850. The reaction upon publication would be swift and vociferous: this new book is NOT David Copperfield!

April 3 was marked with little fanfare, no notice taken even by the Church, that it was the 55th anniversary of the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Missae by St. Pope Paul VI. The title of the Apostolic Constitution promulgating the Novus Ordo Mass is Missale Romanum. The subtitle is Missale Romanum ex decreto Concilii Oecumenici Vaticani II instauratum promulgatur.  The official Englaish translation of the subtitle is “On New Roman Missal”. My English translation of the official subtitle is: “The Roman Missal as renewed in accordance with the decree of the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council is (hereby) promulgated.” 

To translate instauratum one needs to look at the origins of its meaning as “renewed”.or even “restored”. The Ancient Roman term instauratio referred to the redoing of a ceremony that was not done correctly the first time.  The use, therefore, of instauratum in the subtitle of the Apostolic Constitution would seem to imply that the Roman Missal in use was no longer effective as the basis of Catholic worship; it no longer did what it was supposed to do. This is supported by the Pope’s own words about the need for the Mass  to be brought up to date, so to speak, to the people of the 1960s. This is quite different from what St Pius V wrote in his Apostolic Constitution of 1570 that established the Missal promulgated in that year.  The driving force for the Missal of 1570 was the perceived need for  liturgical uniformity in the Church in the crisis caused by the Protestant Reformation.

The first part of St. Paul VI’s commentary on the Novus Ordo begins with a paragraph referring to the Missal promulgated by St. Pius V.  He ends the paragraph referring to the Pian Missal and its prior history “whose general arrangement goes back, in essence, to St. Gregory the Great.” Pope Paul VI does not discuss the nature of the development of the Roman Missal up to the Missal of 1570. The nature of that development was organic, that is, a development within the womb of the Church herself in hidden and sometimes haphazard ways, all under the mysterious presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit, a development that had nothing to do to making the Mass the product of a rationalism that would stifle the eventual maturity of its development. Organic development is stifled not only by rationalism but also by a romantic view of the past, a looking back to an imaginary time when things were simpler and therefore better. 

A comparison of the content of the St. Paul VI Missal and that of the Roman Missal even up to 1962, the last Roman Missal to be in basic continuity with the Missal of 1560, --although that Missal already bears the scars of the hubris of the cultured despisers of the Roman Missal of the Tradition—is striking. In the past thirty years much fine scholarship has been exercised in behalf of comparing the actual content of the Roman Missal of 1962 and the Paul VI Missal of 1969. We are greatly indebted to these scholars, among whom are Lauren Pristas, Gregory DiPippo, William Hazell, Nicola Bux, Láslò Dobszay, Klaus Gamber, Alcuin Reid, Uwe Lang, Jonathan Robinson and Peter Kwasniewski, all of whose work is based not on theory or conjecture or personal prejudice but rather on an objective analysis of the actual Mass texts, including the Collects and prayers,  the Lectionary, the rubrics and ceremonial. 

One does not have to be a great mathematician to take the findings of these scholars to arrive at the conclusion that only 38% of what is contained in the Roman Missal of 1962 was retained in some form in the Missal promulgated by St. Paul VI. That this was the intent or expectation of the revision called for by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council has no basis in Sacrosanctum Concilium. It is a fact that to call the Missal promulgated in 1969 as continuous with the previous books called the Roman Missal up to 1962 is an affront to reality under the cover of cynical nominalism. 

The Missal promulgated by St. Paul VI is the product of the members of the Consilium appointed by the Pope to carry out the revisions to the Missal asked for by the Council Fathers. Much has been written about the members and work of this Consilium, headed by Annibale Bugnini, the architect of the radical reconstruction of the Holy Week Rites promulgated in 1955.  It would be a gross understatement to say that what resulted from the Consilium was the product of shoddy scholarship du jour, incompetence, a romanticism about the early Church and a disregard for the organic integrity of the Roman Mass within the Catholic Tradition.  The form of the Roman Mass that resulted is a snapshot of a particular decade in Western history. Its relevance to the postmodern world is increasingly irrelevant.  The history of the Catholic Church in the past fifty years speaks for itself.  The laity who remain in the Church and continue to practice the Faith: they are the real evidence of the divine nature of the Church against which the gates of Hell cannot prevail. These faithful men and women do not confuse the Holy Spirt with the “Spirit” of Vatican II.

To be clear about an important point:  there is no question of the validity of the Paul VI Missal.  It is valid, it is worship, the Sacrifice is made present and the Sacrament is confected. God does not abandon his Church because of the foolishness and pridefulness of those called by Him to lead his Church.  If the existence and reality of the Church were at the mercy of le trahison des clercs, then the gates of Hell would have indeed prevailed long ago against Her. Without any denigration of the role of the papacy in the Catholic Church, we must remember  St. Paul’s words:  He is the head of the body, the Church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.” And that He--is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.