QUAERITUR: Pontifical Mass in the Novus Ordo?

From a reader:

This may be a stupid question, but in the Novus Ordo, if a bishop of the diocese celebrates Mass, would it technically be defined as a “pontifical Mass” since he would be the pontiff?

Not a dumb-question at all.

Let’s get a term straight.  All bishops are “pontiffs” in the liturgical context.  A bishop need not be the ordinary of the diocese to celebrate “Pontifical Mass”.  An auxiliary, or retired, or visiting bishop would all celebrate “Pontifical Mass”, though they may not all be able to use the crozier or sit upon the local bishop’s throne or cathedra.

So, in a loose sense, any Mass celebrated by a bishop is a “pontifical Mass”.

However, “Pontifical Mass” is a technical term.

In the older, traditional Roman Rite there are different kinds of “Pontifical Mass”.

First, there is Pontifical Mass “at the throne”.  This is a solemn Mass sung by a cardinal (anywhere) or a bishop in his own diocese or an abbot at his abbey or elsewhere by permission of the local bishop.  It is quite elaborate and represents the summit of the Roman liturgy.  This is the paradigm for the Roman Rite, not the silent Low Mass of a priest, which most people think is the standard.

In such a Mass the pontiff/bishop is vested in his pontificalia, or “pontificals”, that is, the vestments and ornaments proper to a bishop.  These include the pectoral cross and ring, which bishops always wear no matter what, the miter and crozier, buskins (a kind of slipper), gloves, tunicle and dalmatic beneath the chasuble.

A little less fancy is the solemn Pontifical Mass “at the faldstool”, a special kind of chair that is placed in the sanctuary before the altar.  Most of the action takes place there and there are fewer sacred ministers.  This is now most bishops who aren’t the ordinary of the place celebrate Pontifical Mass.

There is also a slimmed-down variation of the more solemn Mass at the faldstool, a Pontifical Low Mass, which might be celebrated, with less solemnity, by a bishop who is conferring minor orders or ordaining. In this case he would use the miter and crozier and so forth.

Finally, there is “Low Mass” of a bishop, which is slimmed down even more, though it retains some of the ceremonies of vesting before the altar, etc.  That isn’t really called a “Pontifical Mass” because the bishop isn’t vested in all his “pontificals”.

For the Novus Ordo… who knows?  Most of these distinctions and most of the pontificalia are gone.  The terminology of High Mass and Low Mass are gone for priests as well as for pontiffs.  “Pontifical Mass”, in the sense of the Novus Ordo Mass celebrated by a bishop, is barely more than that which a priest does.  I don’t believe the term “Pontifical Mass” made it into the Novus Ordo as a technical term.  I hope someone will chime in if I am wrong. According to the Ceremoniale Episcoporum there are still a few things done differently for a bishop’s Mass.  Bishops have to have servers around to take from them and give to them their hat and stick, for example.  They bless in a different way.  They kiss the book of the Gospel after someone else reads it.  But beyond that, there isn’t much that they do that is different.  It is all rather dumbed-down and listless.

In any event, it is possible to celebrate the Novus Ordo with elements of the older, traditional form preserved.  You can make the Novus Ordo look and sound like the Roman Rite in its traditional form.  In a way it is easier to do so when a bishop is celebrating, because the Roman Rite’s standard is when a pontiff is pontificating.  We are inclined to “beef up” those Masses and our inclination is dead on right.

To track back to something I wrote above, the Solemn, Pontifical Mass of a Bishop at the throne in his own diocese is the true standard for the Roman Rite.  It is also, pace liberals, the standard for the Novus Ordo!

This is why Summorum Pontificum was so important, such a great gift to the whole Church.

We need wide-spread and frequent celebrations of the traditional form of the Roman Rite BY BISHOPS.



And now, by way of contrast, from the famous Pontifical TLM at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in 2010.



A reader (Polish?) sent this:



Missa pontificalis non existit in novum et reformandum Caeremoniale Episcoporum.

Habemus tantum “Missam stationalem Episcopi dioecesani”, cf. CE [1984-2008], pars II (De Missa], caput I (De Missa stationali Episcopi dioecesani):

“119. Praecipua manifestatio Ecclesiae localis habetur quando
Episcopus, ut sacerdos magnus sui gregis, Eucharistiam celebrat
praesertim in ecclesia cathedrali, a suo presbyterio et ministris
circumdatus, cum plenaria et actuosa participatione totius plebis sanctae Dei.

Quae Missa, stationalis nuncupata, et unitatem Ecclesiae localis et diversitatem ministeriorum circa Episcopum sacramque Eucharistiam manifestat” (p. 41).

Respectu CE 1600-1752 habemus, exempli gratia:

Liber II, caput 11: “De Missa pontificali pro Defunctis, per Episcopum celebranda, et de sermone, et absolutione post Missam”.

Oremus ad invicem!

In Christo Rege
et in Maria semper Virgine


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Thanks, Father! I have learned something new once again. :)

  2. tonyfernandez says:

    If I didn’t have this blog, I would think that the standard for a Mass celebrated by a bishop would be the LA Religious Education Congress. Oy vey!

  3. RichR says:

    My Schola sang at the first Solemn Pontifical Nuptial Mass since the close of Vatican II, and I can tell you it was magnificent. FSSP priests assisting, a saint’s vestments being worn by Bp. Rene Gracida, and much pageantry. I was transported for a few hours to Heaven.

    However, one thing that really impressed me was how a Bishop truly appears as a leader and father in this Mass. I had been to many OF Masses with a Bishop present, but his role was so squelched that it was easy for the bishop to melt into the background. Not so with the EF Mass. You know who’s in charge – not in a tyrannical type of way, but in an unashamed boldness. The boldness of Christ in spiritual warfare. I almost felt like a soldier against the devil, and it was awesome to see my Seargants, Lietenants, and General leading the charge.

  4. tonyfernandez says:

    Heh, and right as a I bring up the LA REC, Father had the same idea.

    Maybe there was a reason that I never felt compelled to go to Youth Day as a high school student at a Catholic school.

  5. ClavesCoelorum says:

    Oh, Father has added videos I didn’t see! When I saw there were two of them, I knew what they would be (cf. “What’s red, flutters a little, and is carried in an entrance procession?”), classic Father Z. :)

    I only hope they don’t do that first video thingy at the parish I shall be once I am received into Holy Church… just as I hope they won’t punch me if I pray in Latin or mention the TLM… :(

  6. majuscule says:

    Ha! You almost got me to view that first video. But the announcer spilled the beans! “Los Angeles Religious Education” was the tipoff.

    I had already seen that one. Not gonna watch it again!

  7. Pingback: FRIDAY AFTERNOON EDITION | Big Pulpit

  8. Gail F says:

    In case anyone is doubting… Most of the photos in this gallery are of NO Masses. It is quite possible to celebrate them “with elements of the older, traditional form preserved.” If they can do it in this one small parish, anyone can.

  9. Robbie says:

    My head just exploded! Come on, Father! You’re just trolling us now! :-)

    I must admit, I watched the entirety of the first video. I just couldn’t take my eyes off it.

  10. rbbadger says:

    I spent two years in the seminary in Camarillo without having once been to the RE Congress. I’m sort of proud of that record. I already had enough nutty liturgy in the seminary without having to experience it in Anaheim. Fortunately, the seminary did not require us to go.

    The bishop in the first video is the former auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Bishop Gabino Zavala.

    While Pope Francis is getting more used to his role, I still miss the liturgies of Benedict XVI. I think he set a very valuable example for all bishops to follow. While the pontifical Mass is the forma ordinaria is vastly simplified compared to that of the forma extraordinaria, one does not often see episcopal liturgies celebrated as they can be or should be. I would love to have seen a pontifical Mass in the forma ordinaria at St. Agnes in St. Paul, MN. I saw one at St. John Cantius in Chicago with Bishop Perry and was mightily impressed.

  11. frahobbit says:

    Perhaps I erred, but I thought two bishops were wearing Eastern rite vestments and the pendants about the neck are saints’ relics? I would never think an eastern rite bishop would countenance this tom-foolery!

  12. Ttony says:

    Father, Bugnini himself says that Low Mass is the normative Mass for the NO:
    ” …
    a) Given the concrete situation in the churches, the answer can only be: Mass celebrated by a priest, with a reader, servers, a choir or cantor and a congregation. All other forms, such as pontifical Mass, solemn Mass, Mass with a deacon, will be amplifications or further simplifications of this basic Mass, which is therefore called “normative.”

    b) There must be a substantial sameness among all the forms of Mass with a congregation, with or without singing. For if, in fact, Mass without singing were made the model because, for example, of the vernacular, sung Mass would gradually fall into disuse.

    c) A sharper differentiation can be made between Mass with a congregation and Mass without a congregation (“private” Mass). Mass with a congregation requires several areas (for the altar, for the lectern, for the presidential chair) and perhaps fewer formulas, since by its nature
    its celebration will take more time. Mass without a congregation, on the other hand, does not require these several areas and can have longer or more numerous formulas that may augment the devotion of the celebrant.”

  13. rbbadger says:

    The medallions the Eastern Rite bishops are wearing is called the panagia. It comes from the Greek and means “all holy”. Typically, it is an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus. They do have Eastern Rite liturgies at the RE Congress. It’s a good thing too, as those are likely the least troubling liturgies you’ll find in Anaheim during the “three days of darkness”.

  14. Andrew says:

    Oremus ad invicem – let’s pray to each other: you pray to me and I pray to you.

  15. The REC 2010 video, like so many other offerings of the Ordinary Form in so many parishes, is nothing short of Liturgically revolutionary. Disgusting.

  16. RichR says:

    I just watched those two videos. Wow. Whenever I hear “We will celebrate Eucharist for the people of God,” I cringe. Fr. Goodwin speaks about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in commenting on the EF Mass in video 2…..and he does so unashamedly. Hard identity Catholic. I’d die for that cause.

  17. kclark14 says:

    Honestly, how shameful, cringe-worthy, and puerile that first video is. I’m curious as to the number of bishops that attended that undignified circus. “Where the bishop is, there is the Catholic Church,” right? I saw a great many in that video, but, alas, it was so hard to see anything that was remotely recognizable as the Catholic Church.

  18. incredulous says:

    I was confirmed as a teen in 78. I loved making multicolored felt posters for my catechesis as much as the next flower child. (I especially like making the 2×2 word LOVE with the LO on the top and the VE on the bottom.) Given that, even I really am heartbroken when I watch the first video. Having attended a number of SSPX services as well as Ave Maria in The Swamp, I completely understand the passion of Voris and others… Wow.

  19. Geoffrey says:

    The Solemn Pontifical Mass at the Throne in the Extraordinary Form corresponds to the Stational Mass in the Ordinary Form. Then there is a “Median Form” and a “Simple Form” of a bishop’s Mass (cf. ‘Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite’, Msgr. Peter J. Elliot).

  20. FatherHoisington says:

    In the current translation of the Roman Missal, The rubrics for 143. begin, “In a Pontifical Mass, the celebrant receives the miter and, extending his hands, says….” So at least the term is there, even if as Fr. Z says, there’s little practical difference between a NO Mass celebrated by a bishop as compared to one celebrated by a “presbyter”.

  21. HighMass says:

    Does the National Shrine of the Imm. H. of Mary no longer allow Masses in the E.F.??? Sure don’t hear of them much…..

  22. Will499 says:

    Yes, a Mass said by a bishop in the Mass of Paul VI is called a Pontifical Mass.

    From the Ordo Missae, rubric for the Pontifical Blessing:
    “143. In Missa pontificali celebrans accipit mitram et, extendens manus, dicit…”
    “143. In a Pontifical Mass, the celebrant receives the miter and, extending his hands, says…”

  23. James Joseph says:

    I am just a stupid man. I know nothing. I cut meat six and seven days per week. All I have is the Mass since I have no family, no friends, nor a home of my own. I am a man who is totally alone. So all I write is from the gut. I have been to few TLM’s in my life. Far and by far, I enjoy the simple Low Mass more than any other.

    There is just this though. I have a thing about the Ordinary Form. I call it the ‘factory worker’ Mass, or perhaps Belloc-like, “The wage slave Mass”. I have been influenced by something from someone that imbued into me that if a Ordinary Form takes more than 15-minutes, and has any music to it at all, handshaking, a homily, or anything departing from the antiphon things (so… those awful responsory things) it is not fitting; especially so for the weekday with one reading.

    I would imagine that a very sober and muted Ordinary Form that could be taken to the factory floor, the prison, the tropical island, and even perhaps the psycho ward, was the intention of Paul VI. In this way, it is entirely realistic to see the Ordinary Form in keeping with the Extraordinary Form. It is not a matter of personal taste nor aesthetics, the EF is then clearly the standard and the Ordinary Form clearly shouldn’t ordinarily be used on Sundays or in Cathedral parishes…. ordinarily anyway. Maybe I should write that the Ordinary Form should be reserved for extraordinary circumstances…. like when World War Z has commenced or when the Cows Come Home, or the when the moon turns purple.

    Then again, I am just a stupid man. I know nothing. I have nothing. I am borrowing a laptop to type this.

  24. Gratias says:

    It is a wonderful thing to be able to contribute to the Glory of God by simply attending, singing or donating our money to a sung mass. Every single TLM that is sung brings great benefit to the World and the chance of attracting a few of our Catholic Reformed co-religionists as well. Every single TLM counts a lot. Google your local Una Voce association and donate heavily to them. Drive as far as you have to get to the TLM. It is well worth it for your soul and God takes into account your extra effort.

  25. rbbadger says:

    One thing I remember from the Caeremoniale Episcoporum of Blessed John Paul II is that the cappa magna can still be used, but without the fur trim and on occasions of great solemnity. I understand that the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem still uses it, complete with the fur trim. Has any other bishop worn it in the forma ordinaria?

  26. John Nolan says:

    In recent years I have noticed that the Oratorians have beefed up their Pontifical OF Masses. A couple of weeks ago Archbishop Longley (the local Ordinary) at the Oxford Oratory was given deacons at the throne, an Assistant Priest and a bugia-bearer. Last year Bishop Elliot (an Australian) wore episcopal gloves at the London Oratory, and Cardinal Burke who celebrated on St Philip’s Day 2012 wore the cappa magna.

  27. Cheesesteak Expert says:

    If one isn’t outright rejecting the deformation of the liturgy as presented by the closing liturgy in Los Angeles posted, isn’t one “enabling” it, along the lines of the family member enabling the addict?

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