McBrien and Novus Ordo refusers: on the same side?

Let me give you two "hooks" before we get into the meat of this entry.

First, some time ago I posted a question from a reader about some people who arrived at church thinking to find their usual TLM and, on discovering that the schedule had been changed, decided not to attend a Novus Ordo Mass, decided it would be better to neglect their Sunday obligation rather than go to a Novus Ordo Mass.

That entry provoked some discussion.

Second, I noted with horror a similarly scandalous attitude in a piece in NCR by Richard McBrien.  He takes  the same position as the hard-core traditionalists, above.  McBrien tells people that if they find a liturgy which is – how to put this – too traditional, too pre-Conciliar, too Catholic, not adequately progressive, insufficiently horizontal, then they should "take a vacation from Church".  That is, they should not go to Mass, not seek the sacrament of Penance, not be validly married in Church, etc.

In other words what happens in church must conform to our expectations.

In some ways there is a similiaritly between those who refused to attend the Novus Ordo because it wasn’t a TLM and those who refuse to attend the Novus Ordo that is insufficiently twisted.

I received this from a priest reader over a week ago and have just now gotten to it.  It was written for readers rather than for me.  My emphases.


If you wish to share it, here’s my comment on this subject–of "traditional" Catholics missing Mass because it’s "novus ordo"…

This idea fills me with sadness.

Here is my story and perspective, for what it’s worth. When I was 19, I had one of those powerful conversion experiences — but at that time, I was much influenced by Evangelical friends, and in their well intentioned zeal, they helped me come to believe I’d had an experience that meant my Catholic faith wasn’t so important: and I left the Catholic Church.

It was 10 years before, with the constant help of the Holy Spirit, I found my way back to the Catholic Faith. Ten years, until I came back to the sacrament of confession — and in about 10 minutes, I was absolved, reconciled, and free and welcome to receive the Holy Eucharist. Ten years without the Blessed Sacrament. I will never forget that.

I know a man who struggles to be a good Catholic. It isn’t easy for him, and because he struggles, he has had to refrain from the Eucharist. How hard that is! How hard it is to wrestle with that! But he does that, out of respect for the Eucharist – and yet it pains him deeply. Many are in that situation, whether because of their particular struggles with sin, or involvement in irregular marriages. My point is – they are not sharing in the Eucharist, and it deeply pains them.

Then I read about folks who could get in the car, and go to a church, and take part in the Sacrifice, and receive the Body and Blood of the Lord. And they are not people who fail to understand the awesomeness of this or their need for the Eucharist. They *know* this in their bones! AND YET THEY DO NOT GO!

I am truly sorry that priests celebrate the Mass with less fervor, or fidelity to the norms, then they ought. I am sorry for the state of affairs, that a priest who tries and wants to do so, is subject to all manner of trouble. You might consider that – it will surprise you perhaps, but it is true – that many priests face any number of problems if they try to be totally faithful.

You can say, they should just bull it through, and let the chips fall as they may, no matter what….but I will tell you it just isn’t that simple, and when you’ve walked in the shoes of a pastor, you will understand a little better why the shepherd doesn’t say, I really don’t care how many of the 100 wander off because they don’t agree with my approach. You might understand why the shepherd doesn’t say, well, this flock doesn’t appreciate me, so I will go find a good, solid, traditional flock who does–because if I leave this flock, who will come in my place? Will a wolf — in shepherd’s  clothing — take my place?

But, yes…there are priests who are just wrong on such things, and I am truly sorry for that. But: they are, however poorly, offering the Sacrifice.
Yes, they are. I know–you wonder if it’s a valid Mass. And yes, I know–I’m not there to tell you. But here is my particular experience.

Before I became a priest, I traveled quite a lot on business, visiting about  40 states. I attended daily or Sunday Mass in all these places, never knowing what I’d encounter. And, yes, at that time, I wasn’t particularly  sophisticated in my liturgical knowledge. But: I knew what made the Mass valid. And I can tell you, that in all that, only twice did I have reason to doubt the validity of the Mass I took part in. The other hundreds, whatever else they were, they were valid Masses–meaning, they were real, actual participations in the one, true Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary! And I was privileged to be there!

Saint Francis of Assisi was asked about taking part in the Mass offered by a sinful priest, and what he would think? He said, as I recall, he would receive the true Eucharist from the hands of that priest and be grateful.  And that sounds just right to me. I am amazed by those who seem so sure their judgment is better than that of Saint Francis. I do not imagine I am spiritually wiser than he, but — no doubt — some of you are.

Go to Mass! Go to Mass! I’m sorry for the failings of that parish. I truly am. If I can atone or offer penance, let me know. Many priests, more than you know, are sorry and we wish we could fix it. We’re trying.

But go to Mass! Just go! Swallow everything else and go.

If it really is as bad as you say – and however skeptical I may be, who am I to say you are wrong? Think of Saint Maximilian Kolbe. However bad it is for you, to be at that church, at that Mass – will you say it is worse than being  where he was? In Auschwitz? *That* was hell on earth, or as near enough. And yet, somehow, in that hell, he did not forget who he was, and he not only  *was* sanctified, he in turn sanctified that horrible place by his presence – yes, just by his presence. What if he had not been there?

So you can say, your local parish is horrible, terrible, awful, just the worst place in the world. Well, maybe–but I think Auschwitz was worse. And Saint Maximilian received–and served to bring–grace there. I think you can both receive–and bring–grace to any parish where you choose to take part in the Mass. Maybe they need you to be there, for their sake–just as that
man, in Auschwitz, needed Father Maximilian, to offer his life in his place.


Fraternally in Christ, …

I think I will leave the combox closed, for I sense that the knuckle-heads are waiting in the wings.  People with something thoughtful to say can e-mail me and I might post it.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Linking Back, Mail from priests and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. From a reader (my emphases):

    Dear Fr. Zuhlsdorf,

    Refusing to attend the Novus Ordo can, for some, be a very thorny issue.  I’ve been there and done that for a number of years, and only recently came to see the error of my ways.  I want to share a few thoughts that might be at least a little helpful in addressing this problem.

    I think there is an essential distinction that must be made first: those well-meaning Catholics who refuse to attend the Novus Ordo generally do not do so because of a profound dislike, but rather because of the conviction that attendance would be wrong, dangerous, or sinful.  In all my years living in and amongst exclusively “traditional Catholicism”, I did not meet a single person whose primary motivation for refusal was that of dislike.  In every single case, it was a matter of conscience.  That was certainly the case for myself.  I recall a few times when I stayed home on a Holy Day of Obligation.  I remember truly wishing I could just attend the local parish, but after having read a number of studies on the New Mass (The Ottaviani Intervention, The Problem of the Liturgical Reform, etc.) , I felt morally obligated to abstain.

    Thus, encouragements to just “go and grit your teeth through it if necessary” are completely unhelpful.  If the person were to do this, despite still believing it to be wrong, the effects would arguably be disastrous.  I know some friends who attended despite their conscience and left feeling far more confused, muddled, and convinced of the evil of the New Rites than before.  Considering this, I would never encourage someone to just go if I believed their conscience was really set against it.  It is not a matter of will here, it is a matter of intellect.  Impetus is not needed, persuasion is.

    I think what is sorely, sorely needed is catechesis on this topic for those who have come to the erroneous conclusion of the heterodoxy of the new Mass.  Long tomes have been written seeking to prove the heterodoxy of the New Mass.  Unfortunately, there are precious few defenses against the charges laid out by the traditionalists on this point.  These defenses are desperately needed!  The attacks on the orthodoxy of the New Mass are very persuasive and convincing–there are still many which I feel utterly incapable of answering.  Ironically, for me, the book got me thinking that I might be wrong about the issue was a book called I Am With You Always by Michael Davies–the same author who wrote a 700 page critique of the New Mass. However, the book is not at all comprehensive and only addresses the issue from an a priori manner, arguing based on the doctrine of disciplinary infallibility.

    We sorely need reasoned, intellectual defenses of the fundamental orthodoxy of the New Mass.  The only ones that I have encountered thus far have either been terribly naive, very short, heterodox, or have suffered from a tremendous tendency to whitewash the issue and ignore all problems with the liturgical reform.

    If we can convincingly argue for the fundamental orthodoxy of the New Mass, then attendance would follow.  It would not be enthusiastic (for me, it is still agonizing, but if the necessity arises, I no longer feel impeded–only saddened).  But then, it doesn’t need to be enthusiastic, does it? 

    I hope this provides food for thought.

    In Christo et Maria,

    Good thoughts.

    Here is a link to the Michael Davies book he mentions.


  2. From a priest reader (my emphases):

    Dear Father,

    I was a bit confused by the comment from a reader you posted after the McBrien and Novus Ordo refusers entry in your blog.    I agree that we need a good solid argument for the orthodoxy of the Ordinary Form of the Mass – we need always to be prepared to defend the faith.  But the author says “If we can convincingly argue for the fundamental orthodoxy of the New Mass, then attendance would follow.”  Basically the position advocated is the same as those who say that until the Church can convince them – by convincing argument – of the rightness of the Church’s teaching on birth control, they’re not going to follow it.

    I have great sympathy for those, especially the elderly, who say that their heart breaks at the Ordinary Form.  I have great sympathy for those of all ages who suffer abuses foisted on them during the Liturgy. But I have difficulty with those who deny the grace of the Holy Spirit in the Ordinary Form as such.

    Could you perhaps please explain further why you thought those were “good thoughts”?  thanks.

    They are good thoughts in the sense that the person is trying think this through.  Yes, we need to have good and convincing reasons why the Novus Ordo is valid and not automatically spiritually dangerous, as some claim.  No, we can’t simply tell people to “gut it out”.

    I don’t necessary agree with the writer of that comment that if arguments are good, then attendance will follow.  There are a lot of factors involved.  You can’t always just argue people into doing something.

Comments are closed.