Rorate Caeli

Accept or Reject the New Mass?


By James Baresel

Just days after Pope Benedict XVI issued Summorum Pontificum, Italy’s Bishop Luca Brandolini—who had been a close collaborator of Archbishop Annibale Bugnini—stated, “This day is for me a day of grief. I have a lump in my throat and I do not manage to hold back my tears…Today, a reform for which so many labored, at the cost of great sacrifices…has been canceled.”

Hard as it may seem to avoid laughing at the absurdity of claiming that allowing the ancient form of the Roman Mass the rather second-class and exceptional status of an “extraordinary” liturgical usage while the Novus Ordo Missae remained in overwhelmingly predominant use couunts as "cancelation" of the latter, Bishop Brandolini’s statements point to the difference between a traditionally Catholic understanding of “accepting the reformed liturgy” and the way that same phrase is used by liturgical ideologues from Bugnini to Cardinal Arthur Roche.

For minds grounded in classic theology, “accepting the Novus Ordo Missae” is a rather modest business—mere recognition that it has been properly promulgated for use in the Church by a competent authority, contains all that is needed for the validity (matter and form) and integrity (offertory, anaphora and priest’s communion) of the sacrifice of the Mass and contains nothing that is in strict, technical contradiction of Catholic doctrine.

Most Catholics who attend the Tridentine Mass accept the Novus Ordo Missae in just that way and—together with numerous bishops, priests and writers who have no more than a pastoral interest in the ancient rite—have spent the last three years arguing until they are blue in the face that they do so and that claims to the contrary are absolutely false.

The problem is that the anti-Tridentine liturgical ideologues do not consider normal Catholic acceptance of the Novus Ordo Missae sufficient—do not even consider it sufficient for Catholics to believe that the Tridentine Mass should perpetually remain an “extraordinary form” used a relatively small percentage of the time with the Novus Ordo Missae as both the “ordinary” liturgical usage of the Roman Church in law and that preponderantly used in practice.

Roche, Brandolini and other such ideologue mean something rather different by “accepting the Novus Ordo Missae.” What they mean is accept its imposition to the absolute exclusion of the ancient tradition codified following the Council of Trent—perhaps not immediate exclusion, perhaps even not exclusion in two years rather than twenty or even in twenty rather than thirty, but ultimately, sooner or later, the complete replacement of one missal with the other.

When Roche tells bishops they must “implement programs to lead Catholics attached to the Tridentine Mass towards accept of the Novus Ordo Missae,” he does not mean towards accepting it as a rite of the Church or even that they must accept a perhaps temporary suppression of the Tridentine Mass by Pope Francis while actively working for a reinstatement of the Tridentine Mass by either Francis or a future pope. He means nothing short of “re-educating” Catholics to positively favor total and permanent elimination of the Tridentine Mass—preposterously insisting the Tridentine Mass contradicts Church teaching and ignoring that the contents of a liturgy in use so long and with such explicit papal approval provide a reliable guide to what Church teaching it.

Others reach the same practical conclusion without going to Roche’s extreme in their reasoning. Father Thomas Weinandy, John Cavadini and Mary Healy seem to accept that the Tridentine Mass does not contradict Catholic doctrine. They just imply that it does such a tenth-rate job of expressing Church teaching and putting it into practice that it should be eliminated. More “moderate” still, Archbishop Joseph Di Noia once supported use of the Tridentine Mass for the indefinite future—provided those attending it abandon the piety of centuries and of innumerable saints in favor of that concocted by the Liturgical Movement. Since Catholics devoted to the Tridentine Mass have generally refused to make that switch, Di Noia now favors suppressing it.

The reality is the exact opposition of these “moderate” views. Pope Paul VI insisted the Novus Ordo Missae did not change Church teaching on the Mass. Books of classic theology all agree that papally promulgated liturgies cannot be in technical contradiction of Catholic doctrine. Whatever impressions some may get from the new missal’s emphases, ambiguities and omissions, no such technical contradiction can be found in its texts, no technical incompatibility with the theology of the Tridentine Mass. All of which is all very well when it is a question of offering or attending the New Mass or of ecclesial indefectibility or of pointing out that the theology of the Church cannot and has not changed.

But none of that makes a difference when it is a question of the fact that Archbishop Annibale Bugnini held the same beliefs as Cardinal Roche or that some others who contributed to the reform shared some of the more “moderate” anti-Tridentine positions.

And when enemies of the Tridentine Mass insist that we must accept the new missal, they are not insisting that we accept that it meets all the essential criteria for a Catholic rite despite the beliefs of some of those who created it. They are insisting we reject the Tridentine Mass, along with the two millennia of dogma and the many centuries of authentic piety it represents.