First Things meets WDTPRS

I read with interest a piece on the “On The Square” blog of First Things.   It is by Richard Upsher Smith, Jr., Professor of Classics and Chairman of the Department of Classics at Franciscan University of Steubenville. The Excellence of the Latin Novus Ordo.

Prof. Smith has taken a page from WDTPRS and done a great job looking at a Preface in the 2002MR.

You should read the whole article over there, but here is a taste with my emphases and comments:

The Excellence of the Latin Novus Ordo
Jul 15, 2011Richard Upsher Smith, Jr.

As a convert to Roman Catholicism [I, too, am a convert.] from old Prayer Book and High Church Anglicanism, [Not I.] I resolved to tolerate the current translation of the Novus Ordo [We have our crosses.] (the Latin Mass as revised after Vatican II) because it was the Church’s, not because it was edifying or beautiful. After recently translating the Ordo Missae for use at Christ the King Chapel at Franciscan University of Steubenville, I have become convinced that the Novus Ordo contains much that is beautiful and edifying.

The language of the Novus Ordo is robust, the rhetoric persuasive, [In Latin… In Latin…] and the theology a complement to the “revitalization” of Catholic thought aimed at by the theologians of ressourcement before Vatican II. [NB…] All this despite the fact that Archbishop Annibale Bugnini’s “euchological pluralism and rubrical flexibility” (his prodigality with forms of prayer and his leniency with liturgical rules), advocated over a supposedly rigid “fixism,” displaced the traditional collects from the Mass, promoted a radically simplified ceremonial that tires the eye and deadens the imagination, and introduced a three-year lectionary that contains too much spread out over too long a period to shape a pious memory effectively.  [Bull’s Eye!]

A paragraph from the Third Preface of the Nativity of the Lord illustrates these points.

Per quem hodie commercium nostrae reparationis effulsit, quia, dum nostra fragilitas a tuo Verbo suscipitur, humana mortalitas non solum in perpetuum transit honorem, sed nos quoque, mirando consortio, reddit aeternos.


Through whom flashed forth today the transaction of the healing of our nature, because, when our frailty is received by thy Word, not only does human mortality pass across to everlasting honor, but it also, by a wonderful fellowship, renders us eternal.

The first clause in this passage is particularly striking, as commercium, a commercial term, is a jarring word to apply to our salvation. Effulsit, too, is vigorous, and in combination with commercium—“the transaction flashed forth”—creates an impressive concept for the mind. At the end of the passage, too, the phrase mirando consortio—“by a wonderful fellowship,”—implying as it does a community of goods, reinforces the notion of exchange that gives this passage its vitality.


The rest is good!  Look at it.

Apparently Prof. Smith has a book coming out soon, entitled: “Vade Mecum,” A Handbook of Terms in Grammar, Rhetoric and Prosody for Readers of Greek and Latin. I shall be sure to put it on my wish-list if only I can learn when it will be published.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Arieh says:

    Dr. Smith is an excellent professor, scholar, singer (gregorian schola), and all around fine person. I am privileged to call him a friend.

  2. contrarian says:

    Really great article. I’m glad he also mentioned the fact that the three-year lectionary pales in comparison to the one-year lectionary. As a convert myself from a confessional Lutheran church, I thought for a long time that our lectionary was a Lutheran invention, and that the three-year lectionary was the long-standing one. It was only when I started reading this blog that I learned otherwise.

    The other arguments in the article about the persuasive language of the NO are really great.

  3. benedetta says:

    I am interested in reading the full article. I agree that a reverently celebrated NO Mass is beautiful and transcendent. And there is great hope in that it is happening more and more in a variety of different places.

  4. The corrected new English translation of the quoted paragraph from Preface III of the Nativity of the Lord:

    For through him the holy exchange that restores our life
    has shone forth today in splendor:
    when our frailty is assumed by your Word
    not only does human mortality receive unending honor
    but by this wondrous union we, too, are made eternal.

  5. salve95 says:

    This is only slightly relevant, but I live in Steubenville and Christ the King Chapel is one of the ugliest churches I’ve ever seen. :S

  6. Charivari Rob says:

    I am gratified to hear that he finds beauty and edification in the N.O. There are too many out there who reject the possibility out of hand.

    I would disagree with him regarding the lectionary, however. In my opinion, the 3-year cycle and expanded use of Scripture is one of the great aspects of the N.O.

  7. John Nolan says:

    The Latin N.O. has few friends. The ‘spirit of Vatican II’ brigade dislike Latin, traditional music and objectivity, whereas traddies say, sniffily: “Why make Bugnini’s Mass resemble the TLM when you can have the real thing?”

  8. Andrew says:

    What is the point here? That the NO contains copies of prayers, sometimes rehashed, from various older sources?

  9. Anonymous Seminarian says:

    One or two nice “new” things does not a justification for the NO make. The willy-nilly ‘editing’ of the 3 core prayers, the Eucharistic Prayers 2-4 (and the others!), the complete recreation of the rest of the sacraments and the breviary cannot be redeemed by a nice passage here or there.

  10. flyfree432 says:

    salve95, another non-sequitar from a Traditionalist. Franciscan is not as horrible as the traditionalist camp makes it out to be. Yes, the chapel is horrid. The university is aware of it too and would agree with you as would virtually all of the students, but it had the unfortunate fate of being built at the wrong time. Call it a penance until such a time as a new one can be built. Thankfully St. Peter’s is nearby and many students and professors go there. Did you know they celebrate the EF on campus? I have been a student there for 6 years now and it is one of the finest universities in the country. Dr. Smith is one of their best professors, along with Dr. Almieda, Dr. Hahn, Dr. Hildebrand, and Dr. Miravalle, and Father Pattee in the theology department.

  11. Widukind says:

    I find this article educational and uplifting. Thank you for the positive direction
    it gives. Regardless of the sniffers’ and snooters’ dismissal of the NO, the fact is that
    it is here and it will stay. The new translation, or restoration, of the texts will go a long way
    to disprove the rantings of the sniffers and snooters. I am truly edified by the new translation, and find in it a great depth of thought and meaning. When praying the present Opening Prayers, I have often said to myself – “What in the hell did I just pray for??? I hope no one askes me cause I won’t be able to tell them.” That will no longer be the case. Are there some things in the NO that I would like to see changed, etc? Yes, I do. Are there some things in the TLM that I would like to see changed, etc.? Yes, I do. But I do not denegrate either one because of that.
    I did not know that the NO was Bugnini’s Mass, I always thought it was the Church’s Mass? Is it too not the real thing, in whatever language it may be?
    With the new translation we enter a carafax. Which way will we turn? Before us is a wonderful opportunity to allow ourselves to be enwrapped (or is it enrapt ?) anew by the Sacred Liturgy.
    An openness to what is, will draw us to a kairos moment. If we close ourselves off to what is, we will “loose the little that we have” whithering into spiritually desecated mummies. Sniffers and snooters, please embrace a little humility, for we may not be as erudite as you, so do not rob us of this “brick” in our liturgical journey.

  12. Gail F says:

    I too found this article interesting, and I too get tired of the bashing of the N.O. as if it had NOTHING to offer. I have more faith in the Church than that. Like some of the posters, I also find the 3-year cycle to be good, although I am younger and so never experienced the 1-year cycle and I have nothing to compare it to. I don’t know what the readings were or how they worked. So maybe it was great; I would not presume to say.

    The present translation is so banal it is frequently infuriating. But then, I tell myself, the Church made do for centuries with very bad Latin translations of the scriptures — so bad they were one of the things that kept St. Augustine away — before the masterful Jerome worked his magic. I hope very much this translation will be similar; but I’ve only seen a few snippets and can’t say. However, as a revert who figured out the liturgy only gradually, I can say that I never even noticed the collects before stumbling on this blog. They are so short, and so dull, that for years I really assumed they were the same one prayer that I never paid attention to. Interestingly, I discussed this with a deacon who preaches frequently and he told me that though it might be nice for the collects to be beautiful (!) he thinks the new ones will get in the way of effective preaching because only one is permitted — there are no alternates — and they are (I’m paraphrasing) too fancy. Considering that I went for a long time without noticing their existence, I don’t see how the ones now HELP preaching in any way. But it was an interesting insight into what the folks his age regard as good.

    In this piece, the author say he was “translating the N.O. for use at the… Franciscan University of Stuebenville.” Are priests allowed to make their own translations? I thought they could only use the one approved by Rome.

  13. Geoffrey says:

    My personal preference is actually for the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite in Latin with chant and faithfulness to the rubrics. Sadly, such liturgies seem to be rare when they should be the norm. How can we change that?

    I do not mind the 3-year lectionary for Sundays / 2-year for weekdays. The Second Vatican Council called for more Sacred Scripture in the liturgy, but did not specify how to do this. Why not have Year I using the “traditional” lectionary, and then a Year II with different readings?

  14. Maltese says:

    The problem with the Novus Ordo goes far beyond what may be considered by some to be a few “beautiful” prayers. It is one of diminishing the Sacrificial nature of Mass. Theologian Msgr. Gherardini writes:

    In all truth Modernism hid itself under the cloak of Vatican II’s hermeneutic…The new rite of Holy Mass practically silenced the nature of sacrifice making of it an occasion for gathering together the people of God…the eucharistic gathering was given the mere sense of sharing a meal together…

    This is a sentiment shared by the FSSPX, who write a book length treatment on the subject, which can be found here, titled The Problem of the Liturgical Reform:

    …we believe, that the “theology of the Paschal mystery,” to which the door was
    left open at the occasion of Vatican II, is the soul of the liturgical
    reform. Because it minimizes the mystery of the Redemption, be-
    cause it considers the sacrament only in its relation with the “mys-
    tery,” and because the conception that it makes of the “memorial”
    alters the sacrificial dimension of the Mass, this “theology of the
    Paschal mystery” renders the post-conciliar liturgy dangerously
    distant from Catholic doctrine…

  15. anilwang says:

    I don’t understand the objection to a 3-year lectionary. Is it a fundamental issue or is it a problem of the N.O. implementation of the 3-year lectionary?

    I don’t know the reason for a 3-year lectionary (does anyone know?), but a 4-year lectionary make sense since there are 4 gospels.

    Conceptually, I think a 4-year lectionary is better than a 1-year lectionary for the simple reason that each year has the same cycles so a 4-year lectionary would repeat the same material in the same order, but from a different perspective. Not all perspectives resonant with all people. That’s why good speakers tend to explain the same things different ways. It’s no different with the gospels and why all attempts to merge the 4 gospels into one have been rejected. So in the 4-year lectionary, one year would focus on Jesus as God addressed to Christians (John), the next on Jesus as Man addressed to Greeks(Luke), the next on Jesus as servant addressed to Romans(Mark), and the next on Jesus as King addressed to Jews(Matthew).

  16. Johnny Domer says:


    There are a lot of reasons certain more traditionally-minded Catholics dislike the three-year lectionary. Just so you understand where those of us who dislike it are coming from, let me give a few.

    First, because it was a total innovation that violates any sort of idea of “organic liturgical reform.” Never in history, in any rite of the Church, East or West, has there been a multi-year lectionary cycle; it’s always a one-year deal. This was something much more natural, much less complicated; people came to know and expect certain readings for certain Sundays.

    Secondly, because it destroys the unity of having certain readings attached to certain prayers at certain Masses; a unity that had existed, in some cases, for more than a millenium. There were some Sundays that had had the same readings, the same chants, the same orations, for more than a thousand years; this history and continuity was basically thrown out in large part by this new Lectionary. Not only was historical unity shattered, but in many cases, thematic unity was shattered too. I’m pretty sure most people who attend daily Masses have had the occasional painful experience of seeing a priest struggle to somehow attach a set of readings to the life of the saint whose feast is celebrated that day; in the EF Mass, you have readings that directly relate to the saint being celebrated, since the readings are attached to the feast itself, and they aren’t part of some separate longer narrative.

    Thirdly, it doesn’t really result in more Biblically catechized or Biblically edified Catholics. Really, is there anyone who is going to argue that Catholics attending the Ordinary Form are better-versed in Scripture than those who attend the Extraordinary Form? And is there anyone who attends an EF Mass regularly whose spiritual life is genuinely suffering, or genuinely worse off, because of the lack of a second reading? Real Biblical literacy and familiarity isn’t achieved by reading more stuff at Mass; it’s achieved by extra-liturgical catechesis or academic study. And if a Mass with just one reading and a Gospel was good enough for the last 1500+ years of Catholics, and was enough to produce endless numbers of saints, I think it can serve us fine too.

    Fourth, it wound up incidentally eliminating a lot of great Catholic music. By giving a new, much simpler-to-sing, vernacular option of the Responsorial Psalm and Alleluia verse, the new Lectionary wound up totally killing off the use of the Graduals and Alleluia verses as contained in the Graduale Romanum. These timeless musical treasures are now about as frequent as chicken’s teeth in celebrations of the Ordinary Form.

  17. David2 says:

    a three-year lectionary that contains too much spread out over too long a period to shape a pious memory effectively.

    I agree.

    I am a convert, too. For my first few years in the Church, I attended the NO, and, sporadically, the EF. Since approximately 2007, I have attended the EF almost exclusively.

    My preference is for the one-year cycle, for the reason identified by Prof. Smith and the second of those identified by Johnny Domer. The unity and familiarity imparted by the one-year cycle is utterly destroyed by the enormous biblical smorgasbord of the NO. Sometimes, less is more.

    The justification for the expanded lectionary seems to be that Catholics do not encounter, or sufficiently encounter, the Bible outside of Mass. That is probably true. But, in my opinion, the solution adopted [that of deuluging the congregation with extra readings] is neither appropriate in principle, nor effective in practice, as a means of remedying that Biblical unfamiliarity.

  18. David2 says:

    Anilwang, the three-year lectionary distinguishes between the Synoptics and the Gospel of St John. Basically, St Matthew is read in A, St Mark in B, St Luke in C, and St John’s Gospel is broken up and used in Advent, Lent and parts of Eastertide in all three years, ostensibly because the “form and character” of the latter Gospel differs from that of the synoptics.

    So basically, the idea is to hear the whole of one of the synoptic Gospels over the course of a year, interspersed with readings from St John.

    That differs fromt he traditional approach of selecting readings on a strictly thematic basis. The newer lectionary places a premium on being able to “hear the voice of each writer week by week”. My opinion, for what it is worth, is that the strength of the older lectionary is found in its thematic rather than author-based choice of readings.

  19. RichR says:

    Young people (born after 1970) have no recollection of a Latin Mass, and they have a harder time getting into the TLM because it is foreign. Part of a realization of Tradition is a lived experience. It takes a conscious effort to remind yourself at a TLM that this is truly what Mass was like for generations of Catholics before – even just one generation ago. The reality is, they never lived it. For many Catholics who do not delve into Tradition, this type of Mass is not a part of their lives, and since they do not understand the historical monument that the TLM is, they do not pursue it aggressively.

    Also, the American religious culture is against them. They are steeped in a religious culture that is very affected by Protestantism and emotionalism. They have had bad catechesis and oftentimes get their “formation” from Protestant Christian fiction books that have little theological meat to them (and oftentimes, outright heresy). Whatever gaps are not filled in, they add their own ideas based on American secular ideals. They do not frequent Confession because they were not taught what sin was (the only real sins left are racism, smoking, and murder). They use birth control, so they feel their Church teaches something that is “wrong”. They do not believe the Church is the voice of God in the world, nor that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ. They do not know the Faith.

    Bottom line: teach Catholics the traditional faith and they will begin to appreciate the traditional Mass. Once they hunger for meaty knowledge, they want meaty worship.

  20. Jack Orlando says:

    Charivari Rob on 15 July 2011 at 2:38 pm and Gail F on 15 July 2011 at 9:09 pm are correct about the advantages of the three year cycle. To which I add:

    1. Each Evangelist has a different perspective, and thus a different theological emphasis – perspectives and emphases needed for Catholics’ spiritual understanding.

    2. Ressourcement ought to be taken seriously. There are more sources than just the Scholastics. One salutary innovation of the past 70 years in Catholic life has been the renewal of two other sources: The Fathers (and Fr. Z is one of the best commentators on this source) and Scripture.

    3. If the righteousness of all Christians is to exceed that of the Pharisees, then Catholics’ familiarity with Scripture must at least equal that of our Protestant friends.

    I think these points outweigh in importance the points of Johnny Domer on 16 July 2011 at 12:01 am, however true some of his points may be. These points I think wrong:

    Real Biblical literacy and familiarity isn’t achieved by reading more stuff at Mass
    On the contrary. Just as to more books leads to better cultural literacy, so the three year cycle to Biblical literacy. And Scripture isn’t “stuff”, but those words of God which have been written, as “Scripture” means.

    it’s achieved by extra-liturgical catechesis or academic study.
    and how many will attend such?

    And if a Mass with just one reading and a Gospel was good enough for the last 1500+ years of Catholics, and was enough to produce endless numbers of saints, I think it can serve us fine too.
    post hoc.

    Really, is there anyone who is going to argue that Catholics attending the Ordinary Form are better-versed in Scripture than those who attend the Extraordinary Form?
    Yes, really, if in parishes there is a preacher who knows Scripture well and instills this knowledge to his congregation. And this is absolutely important for Catholics. Sorry, but people today aren’t to believe a doctrine of The Faith because the preacher says its so – regrettable, but true about our present situation. They will believe it if they hear it coming from God Himself. So that the proper response to a sermon one doesn’t like, if the sermon was based on Scripture (His written words), ought not be to fire the preacher, or call up the chancery to complain about the preacher, or go to another parish, or join another denomination, but to turn in one’s Baptismal certificate, because one doesn’t like what He has to say.

    There’s a good book on preaching out there called As One Without Authority . (I don’t have the cite at hand.) We all know of “independent” churches and mega-churches that run chiefly on the attraction to a charismatic preacher. Yet the preacher shouldn’t invoke primarily his own authority. Let authority be vested in Something better, Something from which the Catholic priest derives the authority he has. In a nutshell: The authority and office of preaching resides in the second Person of the Trinity, to Whom the preacher is minister.

  21. Arieh says:

    Dr Kwasniewski wrote an excellent article for Latin Mass Magazine about the loss of the sanctoral cycle that a three year lectionary gives us. What we get is verbosity instead of verbal incense. He uses the feast of St Therese of Lisieux as an example. In the TLM all the scripture readings are apropos to St Therese: flowers, innocence, simplicity, etc. In the NO the readings for that particular year were about the wickedness of Sidon and Tyre. Great article:

  22. Sam Schmitt says:

    Jack Orlando has responded to Johnny Domer’s weakest point (#3) – but I’d interested in his replies to the other points (#1, 2 and 4). A multi-year lectionary is unprecedented in the historical Western liturgies and there’s a reason for this. Just as the feasts and seasons come around once a year, so should the readings: the liturgy traditionally inculcated knowledge of Scripture through familiarity rather than quantity. (The place for a continuous reading of Scripture traditionally has been the Divine Office, not the Mass.)

    Having the same readings come back on an annual basis means that there’s a chance that certain passages can be remembered; with a three year cycle this is not going to happen (do you remember the reading for the third Sunday of Easter in year B? how about year C?) It’s almost like celebrating certain feasts only every three years.

  23. albinus1 says:

    3. If the righteousness of all Christians is to exceed that of the Pharisees, then Catholics’ familiarity with Scripture must at least equal that of our Protestant friends.

    Many of my students come from an Evangelical background, and many of them make an effort to follow their tradition seriously. And I have to say, if my students are representative, I find that the alleged greater familiarity of Protestants with Scripture is often vastly overstated. My students seem to know stories from the Bible (I once heard one of them refer to these as “Sunday school stories”) and selected proof texts; but beyond that, their actual familiarity Bible can be shockingly spotty. I think it’s possible that people from more liturgical traditions, who grow accustomed to hearing these texts read week after week over a period of years according to a regular calendar of readings (whether one-year or three-year isn’t part of my argument here) might actually acquire a greater familiarity with at least some of the major scriptural texts than people who have been drilled in various short proof texts plucked out of context.

  24. James Joseph says:

    3-year lectionary cycle is okay but nothing to write home about. At least its not as distruptive as the Responsorial mumbling.

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