ASK FATHER: Ways to improve celebration of Mass with Novus Ordo

From a reader:

We are trying to help make a very reverent Ordinary Form mass. Any suggestions?

We thought Ad Orientem and Sung Propers might be a good start! Any other suggestions?

Right off the bat, we can all improve our own participation at every Mass by being in the state of grace.  So, GO TO CONFESSION.

We have to start with ourselves.

Yes, you are on track with ad orientem worship.  For you new arrivals here, ad orientem, “facing toward the (liturgical) East”, places the priest and the congregation on the same side of the altar, so that they are both oriented in the same direction, “toward the Lord”.  The great liturgist Klaus Gamber considered that the turning about of altars (which Vatican II did NOT call for) was the single most damaging things done to Mass in the name of Conciliar “reform”.  With good catechesis, this can be accomplished.  It’s fruits are manifold.

Yes, you are on track with sung propers. We must use the actual prayers of Holy Mass, the propers, that is, those antiphons and so forth which are provided in the Roman Missal.

I also suggest

  • all male service in the sanctuary;
  • phasing out of Extraordinary Ministers of Communion where they are not truly needed;
  • the use of Gregorian chant and polyphony and the Latin language, as the Council did ask for;
  • inculcating a silent and recollected atmosphere before and after Mass;
  • elimination by teaching and invitation of Communion in the hand;
  • providing the opportunity and example of kneeling to receive Communion;
  • phasing out, through catechesis and preaching, of the community “group grope” sign of peace;
  • working with readers (if they are employed) to read well;
  • dressing in your Sunday best on Sunday, decent and respectful on weekdays;
  • women might wear chapel veils or mantillas;
  • bring the tabernacle back to the center of the church if He has been exiled;
  • bringing back traditional devotions in the church space outside of Mass (novenas, Exposition, Stations, Vespers, etc.).

Perhaps the most helpful thing, which might also bring about some of the points I list above, would be to provide funding for Father to go to a workshop to learn the older, traditional form of the Roman Rite.  The good canons at St. John Cantius in Chicago and the FSSP in Denton, NE, have effective workshops.

I’ll say this several ways, to get the point across.  The way Father says Mass is going to be a significant factor in the reverence of the people who attend.  The manner in which Father says Mass has a knock-on effect.  The priest’s ars celebrandi will have a lasting effect on the way people in the congregation participate.

Father’s own approach to his role must, per force, expand outward into everyone’s overarching perception of the sacred. Heightened awareness of the sacred will prompt recognition that there are sacred things, people, times and places.  A church is a sacred place. We must not behave in church in the same way we behave in our living room or at a public swimming pool.

If Father is a rube and celebrates Mass as if he were David Letterman, if the music is unworthy of a circus calliope, if the vestments, vessels, decorations, gestures betray the premise that what is being done there isn’t about the transcendent in contact with the human, but rather is all about the horizontal, the human merely, then… good luck with decorum and reverence in church!

If you want greater reverence, work on yourselves and then help Father to learn the older form.  My experience is that once a priest learns, or relearns, the traditional Roman Rite, his way of the Novus Ordo changes markedly.  He has a greater awareness of who he is as a priest at the altar.  That, in turn, has an effect on everyone involved.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, GO TO CONFESSION, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, New Evangelization, Our Catholic Identity, SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Moral_Hazard says:

    I am really fortunate to belong to a parish with very respectful and devout NO masses. Our priests do many of the things on the list and I agree with almost all of them.

  2. HighMass says:

    Wonderful Article! Yes the tide is slowly turning, i.e. the newly ordained, S. J.P.II and Pope Benedict’s tenure as Pope.
    We are blessed where we live to have two new associate pastors, who utilize to the max in placing reverence in the N.O.

    Thank You Jesus! :)

  3. mamajen says:

    Our parish does all of these things (well, chapel veils and Sunday best aren’t across the board, but many do so), and it is wonderful. For the first time in many years (maybe ever), I feel like mass is a refreshing escape, not a long slog. Plans are underway to remodel the sanctuary with beautiful ornate woodwork. For now, our priest has been making do saying mass ad orientem with the old table altar.

    Little changes really can make a world of difference.

  4. Fr. W says:

    We have at our parish most of the things suggested, it is pretty good. I am interested in seeing a video of a NO parish mass which would show the movements of the altar boys in an ad orientum Mass, to best mimic the EF. If anyone knows of such a video, I would be interested.

  5. The solution to the problem of poorly celebrated Novus Ordo Masses appears to be to make it more closely resemble the Extraordinary Form. So, why not just abrogate the Novus Ordo in favor of what is now called the Extraordinary Form?

  6. sw85 says:

    Consider, too, exclusive use of the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I), which, with its very heavy emphasis on the idea of the Mass as the offering up of the sacrificial victim of Jesus Christ in reparation for sins, should be preferred to the other anaphoras on offer, whose sacrificial language is comparatively muted.

    And don’t be stinty with the list of saints’ names in the Canon, either!

  7. SimonDodd says:

    I wonder whether the correspondent is a priest. If (s)he is not, the first and fundamental answer is “get a priest who’s interested (or at least indulgent).” Alas, that’s an immovable obstacle in many cases.

  8. LeeF says:

    No chance of happening with typical large suburban parishes with schools populated by the yuppies who furnish the school children and older folks still reveling in their 60s glory days of rebellion and who absolutely cannot stop from gossiping loudly prior to Mass despite most such churches having large gathering spaces. Even if father is inclined he won’t buck the worship committee whose existence serves no real purpose, nor the parish council as a whole. Only a very firm pastor with the firm backing of his bishop would undertake such a program even incrementally, and could expect to suffer lots of complaints and defections to neighboring parishes. Perhaps doable with smaller urban parishes populated by blue collars folks or ailing inner city parishes ripe for a “takeover”.

  9. greenlight says:

    The very idea that you can attend a Novus Ordo Mass with bad music, bad vestments, female altar servers, swarms of extraordinary Eucharistic ministers, irreverent behavior, and irreverent dress and have it be JUST AS VALID as a Novus Ordo that looks exactly like the Father described above is, for me the main problem. In fact, with few exceptions, the NO I just described is what you’d see in most parishes in my archdiocese included ones attend by our archbishop. How does this not reduce the whole issue to one of ‘sides’ competing for their personal preferences.

    If our pastor was reassigned tomorrow and his replacement came in the next day and implemented all of Father’s wonderful suggestions, not because he (the new pastor) preferred them or because certain people lobbied for them, but because he honestly felt it was his duty to adhere to the rubrics of Vatican II as closely as possible, he would be correct and I would stand and cheer and every. other. person. in the parish would be (rightly) shocked.

    I understand the whole ‘brick by brick’ thing (or at least I think I do) and implementing things slowly but when these suggestions are 1) truer to the spirit of the framers of Vatican II and 2) so completely at odds with most liturgies celebrated throughout the country, including at the highest archdiocesan levels, how are they not, you know, just ‘suggestions’?

    Instead of leaving the flock to fight it out for their preferences, I want more leadership from our shepherds.

  10. majuscule says:

    Fr. W, you piqued my interest in asking about a video. There is a church in my area (I have not attended) that offers a Gregorian Mass–Novus Ordo, sung, Latin. But I could not find a video!

    However I found this (one of six parts) on YouTube. It’s from 2008, in Texas.

    I haven’t had time to watch them all. Maybe it will help answer your questions…

  11. kolbe1019 says:

    Excellent Post Fr. Z!

    Fr. W… I have two videos that might help you with the Altar Server aspect. Though you can be the judge…

    “The Altar Server”

    “Be a Better Altar Server”

    And if somebody would like a video on how to introduce the topic of veiling a friend of mine just spent most of her Summer working on this one…

    “The Chapel Veil”

  12. jacobi says:

    In addition to that excellent list I would add,

    – Communion by Host only except in the circumstances origially specified in Sacrosanctum Concilium.

    – No “protestant” hymns.

    If I may, my pet dislike is the addition of the the post Pater Noster Doxology. This is not scriptural, its early use 1st/2nd century dubious, and it really only came into general use with the King James VI bible. If we must have it the let’s do what the protestants do and add it directly to the Pater Noster, and not the silly, awkward, compromise the NO reformers imposed on us.

  13. AP says:

    Work to eliminate the Judas Shuffle (i.e. leaving Mass after receiving Holy Communion).

    In my Ordinariate church, the faithful stay in the pews even after the closing hymn. Why? Because after the hymn, we all return to our knees as the deacon invokes a number of saints beginning with Our Lady of Walsingham and ending with Blessed Miguel Pro.

  14. Ben Yanke says:

    Here is a resource I have compiled with all the various sources you can use to sing the propers:

    I’d highly encourage you to check it out. With all the options now available, there’s no reason not to sing them!

    This page only lists english propers. For latin, you have the Graduale Simplex and Graduale Romanum.

  15. Mike says:

    Speaking of confessions (about which, Father, your reminders are always welcome): more Confession times, and better Confession catechesis, could dispose worshippers to consider the eternal verities in regard to which Holy Mass is offered, and our relationship to them.

    In fact, it occurs to me that if we were really mindful of those verities in both pew and sanctuary, the elements of reverent worship would snap into place in quick time. And the Confession lines would be out the door. To steal a march from the B-school wonks, such a state of affairs would have every chance to become a “virtuous circle.” St. John Vianney would smile, I dare say.

  16. SimonDodd says:

    jacobi says: “If I may, my pet dislike is the addition of the the post Pater Noster Doxology. This is not scriptural, its early use 1st/2nd century dubious, and it really only came into general use with the King James VI bible. If we must have it the let’s do what the protestants do and add it directly to the Pater Noster, and not the silly, awkward, compromise the NO reformers imposed on us.”

    That, however, would be a reform of the missal itself. I think that the thrust here is the restoration of the stuff that isn’t in the missal–the liturgical traditions of the Roman Rite that the missal presupposes and thus doesn’t expressly oblige.

  17. Emilio says:

    @Anita Moore – I have a simple and very realistic answer for you: because the abrogation of the Ordinary Form is simply NOT going to happen, not in our lifetime anyway. If anything, I would love for the 1970 Missal to be replaced overnight by the first editions of the 1965 Missal, but that is likely not going to happen either!

    I find it frustrating that many of our tradition-minded brothers and sisters can’t seem to understand that despite our support of the Extraordinary Form, that the Ordinary Form is the way the vast majority of Roman Catholics around the world (and in these USA) still experience the Roman Liturgy. Do we think the Pope can really just abrogate the reformed missal by waving his magic wand? Benedict XVI literally spent himself in showing us the way. He cast off the chains from and liberated our classical liturgy, and through his own example found ways of improving our vastly imperfect reformed liturgy. We need more “reform of the reform” Novus Ordos out there, in addition to more EF celebrations. Somebody posted a really brilliant comment here several days ago, which more or less said that the more that priests are exposed to the EF and learn how to celebrate it, the more their own celebrations of the OF will in turn be enriched.

    We are blessed with such a Novus Ordo Mass here in downtown New Orleans on Sundays (it actually meets ALL of Father’s suggestions above!), in addition to the EF Solemn High Mass before it. All Sunday Masses, in both forms, are celebrated ad orientem with Holy Communion received kneeling at the rail. I wish there were some kind of online directory available for these “traditional” or “reform of the reform” Novus Ordo masses.

  18. Bressani56 says:

    To my knowledge, the only book for congregations which actually shows an OF priest facing “ad orientem” is the Jogues Illuminated Missal. Una Voce France talked about producing something similar years ago for Francophiles, but their plans were basically abandoned when Michael Davies died in 2004.

    The priest who’s shown—in the photographs contained inside the Jogues Missal—is Fr. Christopher Smith, who was recently featured by EWTN because he’s a secular priest who offers both OF and EF.

  19. TWF says:

    My former Cathedral parish in Vancouver, BC met a number of the criteria – which I always appreciated (Vancouver has been blessed with solid Archbishops – in fact some of the rural dioceses grumble about how conservative the metropolitans have typically been…):
    -Latin polyphony used at least during the primary Sunday mass
    -Chanted propers very common – though typically in the vernacular
    -Healthy use of incense
    -Option to receive kneeling at the altar rail (those who wish to receive kneeling line up on either the left or right, those who wish to receive standing line up along the centre aisle)
    -Chalice never distributed (4 masses each weekday, 7 on a Sunday, all well attended – wouldn’t be a good idea…)
    -EMHC only used when TRULY required – if at all possible, any priests who happen to be in the rectory (there are usually 5 or 6 priests in residence at the cathedral at any one time) will come into the church during communion time
    -Altar boys only
    -Confession twice a day, 6 days a week – always lines

  20. acardnal says:

    The Latin Mass Society of the UK has a short four minute video explaining why celebrating Mass ad orientem is proper in the Novus Ordo. Referring to Fr. Uwe Michael Lang, Pope Benedict XVI, et al, Dr Joseph Shaw explains the ancient roots of Mass facing East, its theological and spiritual symbolism, and why arguments claiming that Mass facing the people was the practice in the early Church are totally spurious.

  21. Per Signum Crucis says:

    With patience and good catechesis, some of this list can be implemented without Father having to learn or re-learn the EF – and what if Father says “Thanks but no thanks” to that particular offer anyway? – where parishes are inclined to accept that they are Father’s prerogative. But more conciliar parishes or those likely to feel that Father is imposing on matters that they consider to be their prerogative – such as how to dress for Mass – may not be as receptive. Change for the sake of it (or perceived to be such) is rarely welcomed; education, persistence and above all politeness are paramount.

  22. Uxixu says:

    Most important for Chant to replace the Protestant hymns and for The Ordinary and Canon (Roman Canon only please, dear Fathers) to universally return to Latin per Sacrosanctum Concilium. These parts will be learned by the congregation that regularly attends Holy Mass pretty quickly and while the variable parts of the Mass CAN be in the vernacular they don’t have to be ergo should not always be. Even when the variable parts of the Mass are in the vernacular, especially the readings, there is no reason to not chant them and give them a ceremonial reverence due to Sacred Scripture. This is obviously best done with a regular cleric than a rotating layman….

    After the majesty of the Solemn High Mass with priest, deacon, subdeacon, an MC, and usually 6-8 vested servers , it’s a bit…. unbefitting of The Sacrifice of the Mass… when in the weekly Sunday OF that it’s only Father following only one or two servers (usually in wrinkled albs) followed by 3 or 4 lay people in jeans and other casual clothing in the procession. Would be better to just come out from the sacristy instead of processing in those instances, I would argue, but Low Mass becoming routine with diminished sacred solemnity of The Sacrifice at Calvary is part of what ultimately led us to where we are now.

    Bishops should be heavily encouraged, if not required, at actually obey Ministeria Quaedam and institute Acolytes, vested properly in cassock & surplice, to put a little bit of formality in the procession and assist the clergy by distributing Communion at the rail (reserve EMHC for truly extraordinary reasons). Similarly, properly instituted and vested Lectors should read/chant the Lesson & Epistle. Speaking of Acolytes, without any real change in current legislation, the USCCB should designate those deacons in formation already instituted as acolytes as subdeacons and restore their traditional office (reading the Epistle and assisting the deacon). Subdeacon is not only far more steeped in the tradition of the Roman Rite, but certainly sounds better than the rather ridiculously bureaucratic sounding “Admission to Candidacy for Holy Orders.” Ideally this would be formalized in an update of the GIRM, with roles recommending whenever possible not only a restored subdiaconate but seeing deacons in as many parishes as possible.

    Ideally, followed by a full re-expansion of the clerical state at the very least to include a restored subdiaconate but to possibly the rest of the Minor Orders again, not just as as anachronism in seminary but with an active consecrated role in the diocese and parish, most especially the subdiaconate which is older than many of the features of the Novus Ordo. Ostiarii gradually replacing ushers, Acolytes to assist with Communion at the Rail, etc. Making cleric = priest has not helped Mother Church, thoroughly confuses the situation WRT the diaconate (collar, no collar, etc) and is a historical aberration without precedent and arguably an intolerable contradiction of the canons of Trent.

  23. Emilio: I also grew up with the Novus Ordo. I was 38 years old when I attended my first Extraordinary Form Mass (to which, by the way, I have not had regular access for three years). And my suggestion is entirely serious. If reforming the Novus Ordo means making it more closely resemble the Extraordinary Form, why stop at reforming the Novus Ordo? Why do we need an imitation of the Extraordinary Form when we have the thing itself?

    Plus: the times are deadly serious. We are soon going to run out of time to “transition” and “ease” into something better than what we have now.

  24. Geoffrey says:

    I would suggest establishing the instituted ministries of acolyte and lector in the parish as well.

  25. APX says:

    Why chapel veils and mantillas? They weren’t the custom. If anything, let’s bring back pillbox hats!

    I would like to suggest more pipe organ and pulling out as many stops as possible at the end of Mass. And no more of those lame songs sung at Mass.

  26. Emilio says:

    @Anita Moore OPL – We have a Pope who cannot bear to even wear a mozzetta, which is merely choir dress for his own exalted office, do you really think that he is about to ABROGATE the Novus Ordo? How do we know if we will ever have another pope like Benedict XVI? I know of far too many of our tradition-minded brethren who are incapable of gratitude, even now, with respect to him. We need to be thankful that Pope Francis has no intention of rescinding Summorum Pontificum!

    In hindsight we also remember the terrible pastoral harm inflicted upon the world’s faithful in the 60s and 70s in the manner that the reform then was carried out and imposed, and in the manner that our immemorial rite was almost eradicated. The mistake then and a future mistake tomorrow is to believe that liturgical reform is possible overnight, and not organically, over time. So to shelve the Novus Ordo “tomorrow” and just return 1962 to 2014 is not the way, even if it were plausible, which it is not. The Second Vatican Council legitimately called for some reform of the 1962 liturgical books in place at the time. I am not saying that we actually GOT that reform intended by the Council Fathers, but I am saying that things then were not perfect then either. No matter what our preferences are (I am fine with a reverent reform of the reform Novus Ordo and also with the EF, and also the Byzantine Catholic rite) Pope Benedict XVI intended and foresaw a mutual enrichment of both rites with Summorum Pontificum. He intended for both sides to respect one another, not dominate one another or wish to eradicate one another. This didn’t work too well the first time around. Both forms could use at least a little something from the other (I won’t begin the Third World War here by getting specific). I respect the fact that you were being serious, I was being serious too, but I think that Pope Benedict XVI foresaw coexistence between the two forms, at least for now, as the way forward. I don’t know what Roman Catholic worship will look like in 100 years, but I hope that our great-great grandchildren will enjoy “liturgy war” free living. Ridding the reformed liturgy of all abuses, distortions, and deformations should be the priority of this Pope, as it was for his predecessor.

  27. I never said this Pope was about to shelve the Novus Ordo. I was not talking about what this Pope is likely to do, but rather, suggesting what should be done. The fact that a thing is difficult does not, and should not, prevent us from aspiring to it or striving for it, even if only in prayer. We are all too ready to give up a fight before it even starts, all for the sake of being “practical” and “realistic” and “reasonable.” “Practicality” and “realism” and “reasonableness” can be idols. Very frequently, they are just euphemisms for defeatism.

  28. Per Signum Crucis says:

    Defeatism might be one way of putting it but what I have tended to see (which is supported by a fair number of comments on this and related threads about differing practices) is that there is often a disconnect between the standard of Cathedral / principal diocesan church-level Masses and parish-level Masses. This suggests that a *significant* number of bishops / archbishops don’t regard across-the-board liturgical “perfection” as realistic or desirable – and even that a *significant* number of priests are happy with this state of affairs.

    One reason for this might be changes in perception of the value of time: people’s lives (including priest’s lives) are far busier nowadays, whether genuinely or artificially, than they were in the past. We own our time far more today than we used to and need to be persuaded more to invest our time in worthwhile things. Perhaps the concept of “Time with God” needs to be revisited as “Quality time with God”. That might be a good hook on which to hang some of the good things on Fr. Z’s list.

  29. Tradster says:

    “?inculcating a silent and recollected atmosphere before and after Mass;”

    If a pre-Mass rosary is added to the list then the chatter before the Mass will usually be eliminated. Plus it can provide opportunities to teach the laity about indulgences.

    [Some people want silence before Mass, not vocal prayer whether they want it or not. I’m just sayin’…]

  30. Mike says:

    Regarding a pre-Mass public Rosary, Father Z notes: [Some people want silence before Mass, not vocal prayer whether they want it or not. I’m just sayin’…]

    A public Rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet, or other devotion just before Mass is convenient, especially for business people at a downtown parish. It does, however, eliminate time that we Mass attendees could, and probably should, spend in private recollection. And for a devotion (besides the Leonine Prayers after Low Mass in the Extraordinary Form) to start right after Mass is even worse, at least for me; those moments of Thanksgiving for Holy Communion are important.

    Parishes that offer public devotions at other times during the day, such as at mid-afternoon, may have the best idea. One could respectfully duck in at, say, three-fifteen, even if only for a decade or two. And evening Adoration and Benediction seem to be becoming more frequent, especially on Thursdays.

    Starting to treat Church as a support of our whole day, rather than something around which to schedule thirty minutes to an hour on Sunday and the odd weekday, might just arm us with another potent support against Satan’s wiles.

  31. I would rather have silence than vocal prayer before Mass. But I would rather have vocal prayer before Mass than the full-throated yapping, laughing and even horseplay that I in fact get every Sunday. (And some of the worst offenders are the clergy themselves.)

  32. arga says:

    I would also have expected you to advise against allowing the faithful to receive the Precious Blood. This is completely unnecessary and accounts for the huge number of communion ministers.

Comments are closed.