QUAERITUR: The “Novus Ordo” Ordinal for ordaining bishops, priests, deacons

From a reader:

Leo XIII condemned Anglican orders and succession as invalid since 1552. Even after re-admitting the prayers regarding the “work and office of a priest” in the ordination 100 years later, the line had become extinct so it was pointless.

I’ve heard traditionalists mention Leo’s objections with regards to the 1968 Novus Ordo rite of Holy Orders. Is there really any comparison between the lack of sacrifice/priesthood in the two? I am deeply worried about validity, and my nerves are shaken by recent developments in the Church…

It is not proper for a new convert to be so shaken. Any refutations or sources would be appreciated.

One of the best books I have seen on the topic was written by Michael Davies (whose grave I lately visited in England) called The Order of Melchisedech.  It could be hard to find now, but if you really want to dig into the issue, this could be helpful.

In a nutshell, Mr Davies, if memory serves, concludes that the ordinal implemented by Paul VI validly ordained men, but that it was vague enough that, were the ordaining bishop to have a poor formation and theology – which he concluded would be increasingly the case – the rite of ordination would be questionable.  Like many other things associated with Vatican II the rites were open to a good interpretation or a fuzzy interpretation.

That said, people should know that in 1990 John Paul II issued a revision of Paul VI’s ordinal.  For the ordination to the priesthood at least he made explicit precisely what the man was being ordained to do.  As an aside, I was ordained – with the Latin text entirely – using that new book to the diaconate (by Card. Mayer) and the priesthood (by John Paul II).

The new ordinal came out in 1990.  It took years for ICEL to submit a translation.  That translation was so bad that in 1997 the Congregation for Divine Worship issued in response a letter of a harshness that I had never seen before from any dicastery of the Holy See.  I often wonder if it wasn’t that bad translation which served as the old incarnation of ICEL’s Waterloo.

There is a 2003 translation of the 1990 De Ordinationibus, which is the book actually now in force.  It should have the corrections to the rite implemented by Bl. John Paul II.


Thanks to Fr. SR of TX for photos of the pages of the 2003 book!  Very information and helpful.  It would be nice to compare the text to the Latin original, especially for the interrogation section of ordinands to the priesthood.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Is the harsh letter available to read online Father? I don’t understand these people. You DON’T tinker with things as important as Rites of Ordination!!!

  2. skull kid says:

    The book by Michael Davies is available digitally, freely, online. I’d post the link myself but it is hosted on what appears to be a Sede Vacantist site.

  3. Legisperitus says:

    I remember hearing a Michael Davies lecture on tape about this subject. As I recall, part of Pope Leo’s reasoning was that the Anglican rite, in addition to being insufficiently explicit, was not a rite approved for ordination by the Catholic Church… so there was a combination of substantive and procedural deficiencies that rendered it invalid.

    Since Pope Paul’s ordinal had the proper approval from Rome, it was clearly intended to do what the Church does in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, and so the substantive ambiguity alone did not cause it to suffer from the same deficiency as the Anglican rite.

  4. Frank H says:

    skull kid, the letter you seek can be found on the Adoremus website.

  5. Father Z: “To this day I don’t believe there is a translation of the 1990 De Ordinationibus, which is the book actually now in force. “

    Could you clarify whether this means that ordinations in English are still being carried out using the defective pre-1960 rite?

    “That said, people should know that in 1990 John Paul II issued a revision of Paul VI’s ordinal. For the ordination to the priesthood at least he made explicit precisely what the man was being ordained to do.”

    This makes me think so. Because at vernacular ordinations I’ve attended, I heard nothing similar to the traditional rite of ordination–which is explicit about the two separate powers of the priest, to offer sacrifice for sin and to forgive sin. Indeed, in a TLM ordination Mass, these two powers are conferred in separate ceremonies, one before and one after the canon.

  6. Henry: My understanding is that the translation of the Paul VI book is still being used. I could be wrong, but that is my understanding.

  7. Maltese says:

    Well, unless you’re Sede Vacantist you have to admit as much as you hate certain modernist aspects of Holy Mother Church, that the Holy Spirit has preserved within Her valid orders, otherwise the Church is not preserved.

    We are in a dark period in the history of the Church–maybe as dark as the Arian period–but the Church is still Christ’s.

    The pet peeve I have about Sede Vacantists (though I understand their concerns) is, who decides the chair is empty? The guy who has declared himself the true pope in his mother’s basement?

    It’s important to realize that this is not by far the only dark time in the history of the Church. Remember the Borgia popes? Remember boy-popes who had mistresses and perhaps a son by his daughter? (Read History of the Popes by Charles Coulombe). Who is it that said, “to know your history is not to repeat it”? Well, to know your history is also to be able to put current history in context. Despite such things as Assisi I and II, I’m a great admirer of Bl. John Paul II, and a Traditionalist who disagrees with some of his decisions. He erred, but then so did our first Pope, Peter, who denied Christ three times.

  8. qowieury says:

    I believe that the new translation has been used in the US since about 2005, but I do not have access to it, so I am not sure.

  9. qowieury says:

    Here is a reference to the USCCB approving it in 2003:

    Here is the original letter rejecting the 1996 translation:

  10. Oneros says:

    Anglican Orders were invalidated by a defective INTENT being expressed through changing the Form.

    It’s not that the Form was, in itself, “absolutely” invalid. A bishop with the right intent COULD probably use the Edwardian ordination Form to ordain. However, in Leo’s analysis, it was demonstrated that the Form was changed exactly to express a rejection of the orthodox Catholic notion of a sacramental priesthood.

    I think we have to assume that, no matter how close the Novus Ordo Form is/was to the Edwardian Form, it was not changed (by Paul VI himself at least, whose intent is what is relevant here) to specifically deny a sacramental priesthood, and that the bishops using it still intended to do “what the Church does” (whatever they may have personally esteemed that to be doesn’t matter; see the Summa on this question).

    The argument of Apostolicae Curae rests not only on invalid intent (which would be impossible to historically prove), nor on some notion of a Form being “absolutely” insufficient…but on changes to the Form being taken as indicative of or expressing a change in intent. In other words, the Edwardian ordinal clearly truncated the Form for the very sake of excluding a sacramental ordination/priesthood.

  11. James Joseph says:

    Eeek! Sufficiently creeped out. Here’s my being from Utah perspective.

    Sort of makes me think about Baptism not being actually performed despite water and Father, Son, and Holy Spirit being uttered.

    There are folks running around for sure who think they are baptised but indeed haven’t been. I know I’ve been to holy Mass where I wondered if it actually was in actuality holy Mass, and I’ve never abscribed to that hokie-conspiracy stuff.

  12. jeff says:

    Speaking of rejected 90s translations, does anyone know where one can find a copy of the rejected, Lame Duck Mark II of the Mass?

  13. RichR says:

    I read the letter from Card. Medina Estevez (CDW) on the link provided above and nearly fell out of my chair. Fr. Z. wasn’t kidding when he said it was harsh. This translation submitted must have really gone off the reservation to elicit such a response.

  14. dominic1955 says:

    It has to go down as one of the most foolish and reckless things in Church history-to screw with the very sacramental rites of the Church. To do so in such a way that anyone could be reasonably worried about their validity or efficacy was completely irresponsible.

    I am still awestruck and dumbfounded that anyone “in the know” about what went down at Vatican II, how the “reform” was carried out and by whom would still think the reformed books are “good” and worth keeping or worth being “reformed” into something more properly Catholic. Even the slow change idea (so as not to further confuse and scandalize the Faithful) I am begining to disagree with. I think it might very well be worth the shake-up to expose the “reform” for what it was. It might also be worth having a good ol’ fashioned medieval “corpse trial” for the members of the Concilium…

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