ASK FATHER: Could it be a sin to attend a Novus Ordo Mass if you think the TLM is superior?

Alexandre_Bida_Pharisee_publicanFrom a reader…


If a lay person is presented with the option to attend either a Novus Ordo Mass or a Traditional Latin Mass, and, in turn,

(a) believes that the TLM is more substantively and consistently reverent to God, and

(b) faces no restraints to attend either (e.g. is not burdened with long driving distances to attend one or the other, is not burdened with family politics), does said person have a moral obligation to attend the TLM?

Or, stated negatively, is it a sin in this situation for said person to attend the Novus Ordo Mass?

Stated more abstractly, if a person is faced with two possible means of worshiping God – one great at expressing reverence and the other poor [poor?  not “less ‘great'”?] – is it sinful to choose the lesser option if the person knows which one is greater and is not restrained to perform the greater option?

(Note: I fully recognize and affirm that the Novus Ordo Mass is licit and valid).

Let’s also say that both the Masses are also at one’s territorial parish church and the schedule is convenient for either Mass.  Thus, one is also attending one’s proper parish.

All things being equal (distance, schedule, etc.) is it a sin to attend the Novus Ordo if you are utterly convinced that the older, traditional form is superior?

There are so many factors to weigh in these scenarios.  There cannot be a one size fits all answer to this theoretical scenario.

However, all things truly being equal (leaving aside the people whom you would meet, etc.), it seems to me that a person would be want to attend that which he thought was the superior opportunity for spiritual benefit.  He would want to worship God in sacred liturgy in the best available manner.

If he truly believes that he derives greater spiritual benefit from one form, he, out of desire for that greater benefit, should not be satisfied with what he thinks is merely “okay”.

It seems to me that when it comes to the worship of Almighty God and our benefit in that worship, we should desire the greater rather than the lesser.

Could, then, one sin in choosing the just “okay” when it would be just as easy to choose the “better”?

Yes, I suppose it is possible that one could sin in that choice.

But so much depends on that individual’s state in life and spiritual advancement and all the attendant circumstances that go with daily life that I sense that it is unlikely that one would sin gravely in such a choice. As a matter of fact, I suspect that one might not sin venially in that choice, either.

“Bless me Father, I have sinned.  It has been a week since my last confession.  These are my sins…  I went to the Novus Ordo intentionally, specifically because it is an inferior way to worship God liturgically and because I did not want to derive from the experience all that I might have at the TLM.”

As a confessor, I would have to ask a few questions about that unlikely confession.

“Bless me Father, I have sinned.  It has been a week since my last confession.  These are my sins…  I went to the Novus Ordo, which I think is inferior, but my practice is simply to flip a coin…”

As a confessor, I would suggest that that is a rather cavalier approach to something so important… flippant even.

I know that there are people out there who are trying sincerely to make a determination about which form to attend.

As you consider all the factors, do your best not to pit the forms against each other.  Keep your head clear.  Also, do not fall into the trap of pitting the people whom you find at one form against the others, or the priests.   That road leads to the trap our Lord describes in the parable of the Pharisee and the Pharisee and the Publican in Luke 18.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. This is interesting and raises questions of its own…

    Does a priest have the moral obligation to choose what is the best for God?
    Would it be a sin if a priest chose deliberately an option that is of lesser quality towards God…

    Could the same be applied to seminarians (choosing which promotes less reverence, etc…) [Rarely do seminarians get to choose their seminary… or anything else for that matter.]

    [There are several things to consider. First, if by buying a new and expensive chalice and vestments, the best on the market, for the parish he will not be able to pay the parish employees, then that’s a problem. When you have multiple layers of responsibility, you have to balance the goods prudently.]

  2. Prayerful says:

    If I might be so bold as to offer a word or two: one of the priests in the nearest SSPX priory told me that a Catholic who gets communion at the Novus Ordo gives assent to its ambiguities and errors [I don’t think that that can be assumed at all! One might similarly say that if a person goes to an SSPX chapel, he approves of outright defiance of the Pope. Of course that’s not the case at all. That SSPX priest should stop playing Carnac and give people the benefit of the doubt.] (my surmise: is it a character of community meal with a presider as the first General Instruction stated, or the sacrifice of Calvary, the Body and Blood of our Lord? That is not clear in any NOM Anaphora other than EP1/Roman Canon). I attended a NOM marriage and frankly should have avoided Communion there given the priest’s own words in his homily on how he understood the Mass and marriage. Not a Catholic understanding. The groom was a personal friend of the priest, which might have shaped his loose, but mercifully brief words. It is, I think, prudent and Catholic guidance to avoid NOM Communion. [you seem to be under the impression that it is the holiness of the priest, or his knowledge, that makes Communion efficacious for you. It is true that the priest, being stupid, can irritate you to the point that Communion could be sinful. But if the priest is validly ordained, and if he uses valid matter, and if he says the words of consecration properly, then he has confected the Eucharist, whose holiness does not depend on the priest.]

  3. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Put another way, is it a sin to choose a good that is is less beneficial to me than a good that is more beneficial to me? Can “the good” ever be the matter for sin, even venial sin? I think not. The good is the good is the good. If someone chooses to eat at Taco Bell even though they were invited to a good steak dinner, the might be foolish, but they cannot sin by choosing that which is still good, I would think. [We shouldn’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.]

    In fact, if Holy Mass is the Calvary of Our Lord made present at the altar, and the “Novus Ordo” is more of a Calvary to someone, than the Extraordinary Form, I would think it was a greater act of penance and austerity to choose the Novus Ordo! Haha [Be sure to tip your waitresses, folks. Fr. S is here all week!  o{]:¬)   ]

  4. 21stCentury Anglican says:

    A slightly related question (since you mentioned attending one’s proper parish): How does one identify one’s proper territorial parish? Especially if one is not already Catholic?

    [You might try calling the nearest parish or also the diocesan chancery.]

  5. Andrew says:

    If someone asked me such a question, I would answer:

    At some point one has to ask oneself if one is not being a big snob. You could also ask yourself: “I could have gone to four Masses this Sunday and I only went to one, so did I sin by not going to four Masses?” This is a sophism: looking for sin where no sin is to be found. And it probably originates from an exaggerated sense of self-importance.[Be carefullllll…..] We are free individuals. We are not slaves of a harsh God who wants to turn us into some sort of spiritual acrobats. Go to any Mass you want and relax and be humble. You cannot sin by going to a Mass. [That’s, perhaps, saying too much.] If we were to go down that road of “anything that is not absolutely perfect is a sin” we would fall into some crazy heresy in a hurry: such as for instance: “anyone who is not a virgin is a sinner” or “embracing a religious state of life is an obligation”. I could think of hundreds of “sins” under the heading of “not doing that which is most perfect”. The Lord praises those who bring a hundredfold, but also those who bring a sixtyfold and those who bring a thirtyfold. [Because they did their best with what they had.] And the Good Thief [who repented and asked] on the Cross pleased the Lord more than many a pharisee. [who didn’t]

  6. Alexander says:

    I have a similar concern. The mass options are not equal in easiness to attend though. EF is an extra hour in the car with kids, NO is close by and NO teen guitar mass is close and most conveniently timed. I feel bad about attending the loud guitar mass with its CCLI protestant sounding music, but its what often happens with the logistics due to young children.

    No valid mass seems like it should be a sin, but who says that doing the right thing should be easy or convenient? Is attending the pop rock mass a sin in my case when I know it is not reverent? Thanks in advance!

    [Do your best according to your circumstances and you are fine. However, you might make sure that you are planning in advance as the week goes on so that you can more easily avail yourself of the better option.]

  7. Aquinas Gal says:

    I agree with Fr Sotelo above. The Mass, whether in the NO or the TLM, is the Mass. It is the greatest act of worship of God. To even consider that it could be a sin to attend Mass, just because of going to a different form, is rather ridiculous in my opinion.
    I hope the questioner isn’t suffering from some kind of scrupulosity, because it seems like a scrupulous question. [Carefullllll….]
    [Take note of how the person asked the question. There is a subtle distinction.]

  8. Nan says:

    Mass is Mass. It doesn’t matter if it’s your favorite expression of the Mass, it’s still Mass. [Sure, in its bare bones. But everyone knows that Mass is and isn’t Mass, if you get me. A Mass, for example, with lots of irritating abuses, is still Mass. So is one that is reverent and careful. Which would we prefer?]

    I sometimes go to Mass under, um, penitential circumstances and offer it up for the poor souls in purgatory. [That’s fine too. And it’s your choice.]

    I’m fortunate though, as I live in an area with Mass everyday, multiple times a day, and all morning on Sunday, from 6 am until noon, with more between 4 and 7 pm. During the school year, even 9pm.

    Contrast that with persecution of Christians in other parts of the world

  9. boredoftheworld says:

    A variation of this scenario is my personal nightmare and it’s killing me. I went through years of “any God who would accept this banality is not worthy of worship in the first place”. Talking myself off that ledge took a lot of prayer and a wee bit of intellectual suicide in that I’ve just buried that part of my mind and refuse to confront the situation because the conclusions I’d be forced to accept are even more spiritually disastrous than just ignoring the elephant.

    This isn’t about other people or validity or how well any given Mass is offered, it’s about living with myself and being able to sleep at night. Pray for me.

  10. I would want to know more about why an individual might think attending a particular Mass could be sinful. My advice would likely vary, depending on what s/he told me. I can readily imagine, in most scenarios, that my counsel would include discouraging this notion — i.e., that attending the “wrong” Mass is sinful. (Maybe in all scenarios, but who knows?)


  11. Alexander says:

    Thank you for the response, Fr. Z!

    To those who consider such questions to be scrupulous or snobby, I can see how it may seem that way. However, just because a Mass is valid doesn’t mean that it is the best form of worship that I can give to the Lord. In attending a rock band Mass where many wear shorts and flip flops, I give some element of approval to this novelty that I consider irreverent. It is also noisy and hard to focus on our Lord’s sacrifice and true presence.

    When there, I know I could have better managed my time to get to a more reverent mass and this causes me some guilt. I am not suggesting that those who prefer guitar masses due to education and taste are guilty of sinning.

  12. Gilbert Fritz says:

    “any God who would accept this banality is not worthy of worship in the first place”

    Of course, this is also the God who allows such things as abortion to occur. Just because He allows it does not mean He approves of it. Or do you mean that He actually approves of a banal liturgy? Does a voice out of heaven say at the end of a rock concert Mass “This is right and good and proper?” Silence means nothing. Our God lets us make all kinds of messes, because we have free will.

    It should also be remembered in this context that the second Mass in history was loud, ugly, and distracting beyond compare. Christ allowed his Crucifixion, but didn’t approve of the sin of those who committed it. But He did bring good out of it.

    Maybe without the banal liturgies of the modern era, many people would have never been led to reflect more deeply on the traditions of our Faith. Who can say?

    I’m praying for you, boredoftheworld! It can be hard.

  13. APX says:

    Objectively speaking, it isn’t a sin to choose the lesser of two goods. If there is any fault, it would at most be an imperfection, but I don’t think it’s our place to judge which Mass is more pleasing to God.

    That being said, we must dig deep to the root of why and what is causing us to choose which form of the Mass we go to. For example, if I choose to attend Mass in the OF because it’s shorter, more entertaining with Father’s jokes and the Praise & Worship Band doesn’t put me to sleep, and Mass in the EF is long, boring, and all that Gregorian chant and quiet organ noodling sound in the background doesn’t tickle my ears and give me warm fuzzies, well then we are sinning in a number of ways, including, but not limited to: pride, sloth, lack of charity towards God, irreverence, injustice towards God, etc.

    We can do the same thing for the EF (and I think we all need to be really honest with ourselves when we examine our consciences, and spend time in introspection) For example, if I attend the EF because I think the OF is displeasing to God, and that is Latin Mass folk are the ones who are saving the Church and Her Traditions, and those NO people are all a bunch of contracepting, unfaithful cafeteria Catholics who dress immodestly for Mass and don’t care about the traditions, oh and that priest who says the NO, for all I know the Mass is invalid because it doesn’t look like Father believes in the Real Presence because he has EMHC, Altar boy girls, and doesn’t keep custody of the canonical digits, (obviously I’m exaggerating here, I hope…), then we also sin through pride, lack of charity towards God and neighbor, sacrilege/blasphemy, detraction (we all know what we talk about over coffee after Mass), etc.

    What it comes down to is what are our motives behind our decisions to do what we do.

  14. Uxixu says:

    Note that receiving Communion is not ONLY receiving the body and blood of Our Lord, but is also a sign of unity, of mutual submission to the Roman Pontiff and the bishops “in communion” with him, and essential agreement in matters of dogma. This is what separates an Eastern Catholics from a schismatic Orthodox who otherwise have little to no difference in matters of liturgy.

    I do sometimes struggle with this and deliberately maintain a relationship with my territorial OF parish despite frequent misgivings about the excessive use of Extraordinary Monsters, of the generally more casual nature, even if the OF is blessed with a beautiful building with a traditional structure that still has a marble altar rail and is many times the size of the best we seem to manage for the local FSSP apostolate, which is where my heart is. Doesn’t hurt that the territorial parish is 5 minutes away from my house while I drive an hour or more for the FSSP.

    The pastor at the territorial parish has said “absolutely not” to the idea of a TLM in the parish and added that he thinks “going back in time isn’t the answer” for which I wholeheartedly agreed and put forward Benedict XVI’s ideas for Summorum Pontificum of mutual enrichment. Of course, the same pastor also has publicly complained about the new translation of the Missal as well as his concerns on diminishing attendance in the parish school and about bringing new people in, even if he declined my general idea of doing something noone else is doing and just allowing a TLM in the parish, despite my offering to take care of every detail. Nevertheless, I deliberately wormed my way into leadership of one of the lay ministries and frequently interact the pastor and still pray for his heart to open, even if I’m unfortunately convinced he probably will not bend for this in the short term. In the meantime, I go to the FSSP when I can.

  15. Imrahil says:

    I quite second what the dear Andrew said (except for the last sentence which our reverend host was right to point out that it doesn’t belong here).

    As our reverend host said, we mustn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    And, after all, offering something up to God which you don’t have to can only be done if you, well, don’t have to. God loveth a joyful giver, says the Apostle; one sentence before, he explicitlyexplains he speaks of free and unforced gifts. So, the advice of the psalmist is as up to date as when I was first spoken: avoid evil and do good. But don’t think – he doesn’t add it but it’s cler – that you have disavoided evil because you could have done better – even taking all circumstances into account.

    [As for the SSPX, their position or at least that of those fervently given to pro-SSPX party spirit is, as explained above, indeed that attendance at the NOM means to them a formal act of acceptance of the NOM’s deficiencies. (Even among them this opinion is not total.) And that indeed would be something of an accusation; if only the premise could be defended that a Catholic who thankfully receives a Sacrament from the Church in the way the Church’s authorities provide it, even tolerating deficiencies, is therefore guilty of assenting to the latter specifically. And it is obvious common-sense that it can’t.]

  16. APX, “organ noodling” I could never find the right words to describe this phenomenon. Organ noodling saps the life out of me, it hurts, it hurts! Kryptonite for the prayer life.

    Okay in all seriousness, our intentions matter so wondering at whether something is a sin because we have chosen the lesser good is not so unusual when the scales are falling off. At least not more unusual at wondering and speculating about other peoples intentions! ” Carefull……” indeed! Good reminder for everyone, it gave me a chuckle.

  17. APX says:

    No no, it’s not noodling. That’s slang and not appropriate for respectful discussion about pipe organ playing. What they’re doing is improvising, which takes talent (noodling doesn’t). Ours will improvise on the propers for the Sunday, or on a hymn, etc. I personally enjoy trying to identify what it’s an improvisation on.

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