ASK FATHER: Same amount of grace at every Mass?

From a reader…


My Spiritual Director tells me the NO and TLM are the same. The same amount of grace is dispensed in both. His statement does not give me peace of soul. This priest offers the TLM 1/month for the past 1.5 years. I have attended nearly every one of them. Should I even respond to this, if so, how? Or just pray for him? Does the Lord offer the same amount of grace at every Mass? High Mass vs Low Mass or NO? The amount of grace received depends on the disposition of the person? …I just desire to give the Lord my utmost reverence for all the irreverence He endures. I live in [an admittedly remote place].  Very little TLM support here. Only 2 priests in the diocese offer it. We have requested more from our Bishop to which he says he has no solutions to offer at this time. Please pray for our Bishop and our priests…that they desire the TLM in their own hearts. +JMJ+

Whew.  Lots of things going on in there.

I ask the readership to stop and to pray for that bishop and those priests.

There… done.

First, you have an advantage: in though you are in a remote place you have a priest who can and does say the TLM.  That’s great.   That’s more than many have in less remote places.  Perhaps Father can be persuaded to offer the TLM more often.

Second, bishops aren’t always the best people to turn to for solutions.  Form a strong group of lay people ready to sacrifice time and spend money and then work with your local priest.  Moreover, put some money down on your future by supporting seminarians and other young priests in the diocese.

Third, have your TLM group regularly write kind notes to the bishop and the priest with spiritual bouquets.

Now… the hard stuff.

At both the TLM and the NO the Word of God is proclaimed and the Eucharist is confected according to rites that the Church has approved.   Mass is celebrated: the Eucharist is confected in a two-fold consecration and then consumed by the priest.  The Sacrifice of Calvary is renewed sacramentally.  You are offered the opportunity to receive Communion.

That’s a pretty solid basis.

However, there is more to a rite of Mass than the bare minimum.

Liberals often reduce Mass to what is the minimum for validity and they think that they can do what they want with the rest of the rite.

On the other hand, for centuries the Church thought that even the small elements of Mass are important and meaningful.  Everything in Mass works for – or, sometimes, against – authentic full, conscious and active/actual participation in the sacred liturgical rites in which Christ is the true Actor and in which you are – hopefully – brought into a contact with his transforming graces.

Some argue (I am among them) that well-prepared Catholics are provided a greater opportunity to benefit from the older rites and the newer rites.

Moreover, the outward signs of the Solemn Mass bring another level of opportunity, not a guarantee of more.

When the readings are spoken or sung at the TLM or NO, is there more or less “Word of God”?  When the Host is elevated at a Solemn Mass is there “more Jesus” present?

The outward sings and rites are there to dispose us – and not just in this Mass but also over the years of our lives – to receiving what the Lord wants to give.

Just as sometimes we have simple meals and sometimes special, or other occasions, so too do we elevate some Masses.   Our Catholic instincts, when well-formed, always desire more and more and more glory for our rites, because we know that they reflect the heaven we long for.  That said, you can’t always dine on Chateaux Yquem and fois gras.   You can give it a try, of course, but I suspect that you will be happier with some variety, including the very simple so that the grand is great rather than “Ho hum, Yquem… again?”

Mind you… not everyone is ready for the Sauternes.  They have to get there, and that takes some time.

I can hear people grousing, “But Father! But Father!  You think the TLM is like … Chat… Shat… Shatix Whykim and foiz grass… which is unethical and should be banned.  You are a horrible person for even thinking about liking that.  But that also means you think that the NO is like Diet Coke and cocktail weenies.  Do you know why?  Because YOU HATE VATICAN II!”

No, I don’t think that the NO is like cocktail weenies, which I like sometimes, or Coke Zero, which I had today at a truck stop.   I do, however, think that in the scheme of things, Château d’Yquem is better than Coke Zero.  If you don’t get that… and you won’t if you are a liberal… then we can’t help you right now.

Also, I not only don’t hate Vatican II, I respect it enough not to lie about it.  The Council called for full, conscious and active/actual participation in the sacred liturgical worship.  That’s what I am all about.  That’s my relentless effort.  I simply think that there is baby food and grown up food.  Some rites are better for certain people until others will be better.

Next, there is a phrase from philosophy that applies.  You touched on it in your question.  “What is received is received in the manner of the one receiving it.”  If you are properly disposed, you are able to receive the graces that God wants to give you in the sacred rites of Holy Mass.   Does the TLM help you better to receive those graces?  It depends.  I’ve written a lot about this elsewhere.  These days, some are ready for the TLM and some are not.

BTW… I think that some people can get so bogged down in certain aspects of the TLM ritual that their presence at Mass is rather like an aesthetic exercise.

As for quantity of grace… wow.  That’s waaaaaay above my pay grade.  I’m in sales, of course.  I want more graces and, well, better everything for everyone.  God gives greater graces to some than to others.  That’s clear.  But I don’t have a grace calculator.  We might be able to make educated guesses.  But I am not sure how helpful that is.

It may be best simply to focus on being all that you can be according to your vocation and being as receptive and actively docile as you can as a participant at Holy Mass in whichever of the two forms you find yourself.

I think you would enjoy reading my friend Fr. Jackson’s book:

Nothing Superfluous: An Explanation of the Symbolism of the Rite of St. Gregory the Great 


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Sword40 says:

    Great response, Fr. Z. I have been spoiled by having an FSSP parish within a reasonable commute for the last 3 years and then for 3 years before that we had Fr. Kenneth Baker to celebrate a low Mass every Sunday.
    Periodically I find myself trapped into going to a Novus Ordo Mass. Your comparison of the two forms is great too. Although my description would be a bit more crude, yours fits the “bill” just fine.

  2. AA Cunningham says:

    Father Jackson is the Pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Littleton, Colorado. A very devout Priest and excellent homilist who celebrates Mass with great reverence. He too is a convert from protestantism. In my conversation with him following Mass this morning your name was mentioned, Father Z.

    It will be interesting to see the results of the FSSP survey that will be conducted next weekend which will be sent to the USCCB. In light of what is happening in Pittsburgh one hopes and prays that the Bishops en masse can be open enough to learn from the positive growth of the Extraordinary Form and apply it to the Ordinary Form. Save the Liturgy, Save the World

  3. Sawyer says:

    We need to avoid any implication that grace is earned. Grace is always, by definition, an unmerited, free gift of God. If grace were earned or controlled, it would cease to be grace. We can arrange circumstances personally and communally that will increase being favorably disposed to receiving and benefitting from grace, but the conferral of grace — and even the receptivity and response to grace — is God’s work for us and in us, not ever exclusively man’s work.

    Mass offers grace to those present, even if not receiving Communion. Any valid Mass in any rite (not just OF/EF distinctions) makes grace present because it is the memorial of Calvary. Do we want to get into questions about whether the Chaldean Catholic Rite offers more grace than the Latin EF? Or whether an Orthodox Divine Liturgy offers less grace than the Latin OF? I think such questions miss the point about the absolute gratuity and mystery of grace.

    Every Mass offers grace. The more beautiful (reverent, transcendent, sacred) the celebration of Mass, the more likely it is to dispose those present to benefit more greatly from graces given by God. But since grace is gratuitous, it could happen that a prodigal teenager singing “Lord, I Lift your Name on High” at a guitar-and-drums LifeTeen Mass is given greater grace than a forty-year vowed religious at a Solemn Pontifical Mass. It’s a matter of God’s will, love and providence, not a matter of checking boxes about particular rites, rubrics or solemnity to increase the amount of grace available or received. Grace cannot be controlled nor manipulated.

    That doesn’t mean anything goes nor that liturgical indifference should rule the day. But it does mean that a type of neo-Pelagianism is a danger of believing that more grace can be given or received because Mass is celebrated a certain way. That would put grace under our control, which would make grace earned, which would make it cease to be grace.

  4. KateD says:

    Calling an Autogrille a truck stop….that…that’s like calling Taylor’s Steak House a Sizzler.

    Same Jesus, sure….but same grace?

    If an infinite amount of Grace flows for half an hour, is it as much Grace as is delivered when an infinite amount of grace flows for two hours?

    Okay, don’t answer that….

    The receptacle is the limiting factor in any case….and mostly the valve that opens the receptacle to grace. It’s a sticky valve! Given more time and the repetition of the important stuff, it’s more likely it will flop open allowing more grace to seep into our souls. Things like Gregorian chant, a form of prayer that encourages the opening of our hearts to pray better, allow us to be more present, more focused…So in that I’d say they are in no way equal.

    There’s more substance to the Latin Mass…there is just more to it. We need to be told things three times before we really “get it”. The regular Mass is over before its begun. It’s said and done and you’re out the door.

    There are certain TLMs where you KNOW without doubt you are undeniably before the Throne of the Almighty. It brings you there. NO does not do this….even the most reverent. It is an inefficient vehicle for taking us where we need to go. The OF is perfunctory. Therein lies the difference between the two….it is we humans who are brought to deeper faith through the EF, especially a really well done one. Like at Saint……

  5. Nan says:

    My active participation in the liturgy has changed. I used to iron linens but stopped all volunteering after mom’s stroke. As I moved to the Byzantine Rite, I’ve been busy learning a whole new church, a church as Catholic as any other in communion with Rome. I’m no longer going to formal Adoration hours but am helping polish the metal cover of the Gospel book, which is a form of Adoration.

    Communion is under the appearance of leavened bread and wine and is spooned into your mouth, both forms together. I hesitate to describe that as intincted as last year on Palm Sunday, at St Catherine’s in Bethlehem, the other side of the Church of the Nativity, the priest held a chalice that had a rim on its base, which held hosts. He intincted a host and put it on my tongue. Dipping is what I think of as intinction, rather than immersion.

    Because it was very busy, in Arabic and we were meeting to go to Jerusalem and walk in the Palm Sunday procession, I was overwhelmed and have no idea whether people also received in the hand.

    One of our group, a female protestant minister, went to the Lutheran Christmas Church and was disappointed that they weren’t offering their communion. She was also one who was shocked that her Palestinian flag was confiscated prior to entry in the old city.

  6. Fr. Vincent Fitzpatrick says:

    Reminds me of a chart I’ve seen in an old moral theology manual. A pie chart, showing the portion of grace from each Mass for the priest, the people attending, the donor of the chalice, etc. They didn’t go so far as to assign specific percentages (“2% for the donor of the linens”) but it wasn’t far from it.

    The proper approach to a question about QUANTITIES of grace is to dismiss it. Utterly.

    The important thing is to do what we can to hasten the day when the last NO Mass is celebrated.

  7. APX says:

    It’s also not good to get in the habit of arguing with one’s spiritual director. If he’s saying something heretical, it’s one thing to respectfully correct him, but the directee is supposed to be docile and humble.

  8. TonyO says:

    Great answer, Fr. Z. Thank you.

    I am going to step out on a limb and take a tiny little stab at the part that Fr. Z passed over, “quantity of grace.” By no means anything like complete, just a couple of clarifications.

    First, remember that there are 2 different kinds of graces that God offers to us, such as in the Mass: sanctifying grace, and actual graces. Sanctifying grace is always spoken of in the singular, not plural, because it is “a one thing” only: the presence of God Himself in the soul, making it to be spiritually alive. You can’t have God present twice. Now, only someone who is IN the state of sanctifying grace can receive Communion, so receiving does not give him “more” of sanctifying grace in a quantitative sense. But receiving Jesus does make a person (who is well disposed) more united to God, or united more intensely, so that God is more fully the driving force behind his acting “to will and to do”. Thus it might be better to speak of greater intensity rather than greater quantity.

    Actual graces are in the plural because they are aids with respect to specific issues, needs, temptations, difficulties, etc – and all of those also are in the plural. Actual graces can be wholly internal, such as interior strength to resist a temptation or interior urging to do a work of mercy, or they can be external such as someone coming by at just the right moment to encourage you to do the right thing (or a mixture of the two). But a person receives actual graces also according to the disposition he has to be open to God’s gifts. And naturally, both interior and exterior circumstances can affect his disposition, such as … the beauty and integrity of the Mass at which he is assisting. A more beautiful Mass can make you more open to God, just as some people find beauty in nature making them more open to God. Thus a “better” Mass can, indeed, bring “more graces” to a person than a “poorer” Mass, all other things being equal.

    It is true that even with a poorly said Mass in which the choir is wretched and the homily is dull and lifeless, the well-disposed person can receive many actual graces. But this makes their receiving such graces in spite of the obstacles (which God overcomes), rather than due to the manner in which the Mass is offered. Just as a person can maintain health (for a while) with some junk food – but it is not on account of the poor nutrition in the junk food and the excess of sugar and salt. So also, while not everything rests on the perfection with which the Mass is offered, in practice SOME opportunities for grace do in fact rest on how well it is said. And, naturally, on the form or rite used, which can be more or less well adapted to lifting the heart and mind to God.

    Like Fr. Z suggested, if you have the opportunity to put Château d’Yquem before your guests, why would you generally prefer to use Gallo House Blend, or lukewarm stale water? Why would a priest be willing to settle for “my parishioners can receive actual graces in spite of what I offer them” rather than “what I provide gives greater opportunities for graces”?

  9. acardnal says:

    I simply think that there is baby food and grown up food. Some rites are better for certain people until others will be better.

    That phrase reminded me of something St. Paul wrote:
    1 COR 3:1-3
    “1 But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not ready for it; and even yet you are not ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh.”

  10. NAM parishioner says:

    There is a great article on this subject “The Merit of the Mass” which can be found through a simple google search.

  11. CasaSanBruno says:

    Indeed, there is a lot going on in that question, that would require substantially longer response than a measly post such as this.

    In breve, it can be stated – as you do, Fr. Z – that the intrinsic grace of the NO Mass and the TLM Mass is the same. Of course, there are other contingent elements to keep in mind, such as the dispositions of the priest offering the Sacrifice, as well as the faithful. On the other hand, the extrinsic grace of both forms seen side by side could not be the same. If it is true that quality and quantity of prayer is a determining factor in its efficacy, formally speaking, then the TLM is a more efficient agent than the NO Mass since the prayers at the foot of the altar (incipit) and the offertory rites in particular possess elements missing in the NO Mass. The Roman Canon is in a class all by itself and the other Eucharist Prayers, worthy as they may be, do not compare.

    Further, the exteriors demanded by the TLM assist the priest and the faithful in adopting the correct dispositions for the Sacrifice. Whether they do so or not is up to them – but elements are there that are sadly missing in the NO Mass.

  12. ProfKwasniewski says:

    This is a great question. Some pertinent considerations may be found here:

  13. CasaSanBruno says:

    I should clarify, so as to avoid any false impression, when I said “measly post such as this”, I was referring to my own 2 cents, not to the original question or Fr Z’s response. I apologize for any unintended barb.

  14. Giuseppe says:

    It is ever productive to think of grace in quantity?
    It is a gift given us by God through the merits of Jesus Christ for our salvation.
    The gift is granted by God. Does it profit us to know how much of a gift it is? Or should it overjoy us simply that God gives us a gift?

  15. teomatteo says:

    Your answer was helpful. I have said in the past that we don’t have a Grace-O-meter. Maybe St. Padre Pio did but most of us do not.

  16. Geoffrey says:

    Many years ago, before I was able to attend the Mass of St Pius V (Extraordinary Form) for the first time, I had purchased one of those famous red missalettes from the Coalition in Support of Ecclesia Dei. I read through it and got chills. It opened my eyes to the realities that take place at the Mass of Bl. Paul VI (Ordinary Form), even if they can be more difficult to detect for a variety of reasons. The EF led me to appreciate the OF.

  17. CasaSanBruno says:

    Our inability to estimate quantities doesn’t eliminate the reality of distinctions. To run from such distinctions is a hallmark of the impoverished Protestant understanding of grace and their allergy to merit.

    So, yes, it is by definition a gift in which we should rejoice, as you say. On the other hand, our ability to cooperate with it is part of our gratitude for the gift and an expression of justice to the Giver. Knowing these facts is a help to acting in accordance with them. Otherwise, we become consumerists of grace rather cooperators. Further, the definition of actual grace tells us it requires our part. It is a cooperative, as opposed to habitual grace, which is an operative entity.

  18. Nathan says:

    Father, excellent answer and useful combox discussion, focused rightfully on the question of the availability of graces in the rites. Perhaps it might help as well to approach the question from another angle, though.

    God does his part (He is Faithfulness) at any Holy Mass, which you answer much better than I ever could. However there is another element to receptivity to graces. Because of His goodness and His love and simply who He is, we mortals owe to Him, in justice, our absolute best to Him, according to our abilities and our resources, whenever we unite ourselves in the Holy Sacrifice (or any prayer, for that matter). In my opinion, the TLM (whatever level of solemnity), due to the fact that it has been the Mass that has sustained the Saints and has a clearly demonstrated continuity to the Apostles, is objectively more “our best” than even a reverently offered Novus Ordo (even if for no other reason than it is more explicitly oriented toward Almighty God than to man).

    That said, hearing a Low Mass might, depending upon one’s disposition and one’s knowledge and one’s gifts and one’s situation at the moment, might be an occasion for uniting oneself more completely with the Holy Sacrifice than hearing a Solemn Pontifical Mass. I do believe that either level of solemnity allows one to offer “our best” to Almighty God, although in perhaps different ways.

    In Christ,

  19. Fr. Vincent Fitzpatrick says:

    I am reminded of a poem by Richard Brautigan:

    she tries to get things
    out of men
    that she can’t get
    because she’s not
    15% prettier

  20. APX says:

    In fairness, the aesthetics of Mass in the Ordinary Form can be the same as in the Extraordinary Form.
    Aside from four candles instead of six (though, our FSSP priest says Mass in the EF is allowed to be celebrated with only four candles for a high Mass), and no altar cards, one wouldn’t know by looking at the picture below that it wasn’t Mass in the EF.

  21. Rob83 says:

    I think it can be said that God offers to the Mass attendee the same graces for attendance, though how much of it is obtained is up to the individual’s disposition. In older times, it was understood that disposition was aided by such things as architecture, sacral language, chant, holy images, beautiful altars and vestments, silence and signs.

    I greatly prefer EF Masses, for example, because I tend to get rather distracted by the…distractions often present in local OF Masses. That doesn’t mean God is offering anything less at the OF Mass, it’s just that it’s harder to be properly disposed to grace (for me personally) in that setting. I can improve the situation by selecting an OF Mass in a church that looks like one rather than an octagon or meeting hall, choosing a Mass with an organ or no music rather than one with a guitar or rock band, and aiming for a priest who is less prone to say words not in the black or do things not in the red.

  22. CasaSanBruno says:

    APX, you’re absolutely right. Thanks to a conscientious sacristan team, 45 voice choir, 52 altar boys (no girl altar boys, mind you) we were able to achieve a high degree liturgical decorum in the offering of the NO Mass at my old parish.

    On the other hand, the reduction of prayers, less pleading for clemency, less recognition of one’s need for it, in the NO’s reductionist liturgy is a great loss for us in the order of grace. Words have meaning. As exorcist, I can say the same thing about the efficacy of the old rite of exorcism compared to the new rite. The altering of words and the streamlined exorcistic formula prove less effective. Our patrimony and Tradition were the fruit of centuries of experience, not something cobbled together by a committee.

  23. MissBee says:

    I’m always so happy to see Fr. Jackson’s book mentioned. He is our Priest, and my husband and I agree that we might never meet anyone as intelligent (I’d add as holy) as he. Now the world can benefit from what shares about the Mass.

  24. Robert_Caritas says:

    I appreciate Fr. Z clearly stating that the amount of grace given at each mass is a tremendous mystery. Nevertheless, I feel that it can’t be emphasised enough that even if we are attending a poorly celebrated mass, we are still witnessing an earth-shattering event.

    The Second Person of the Trinity is offering Himself up to the Father for the world while inviting us to participate in His sacrifice, and then gives Himself entirely to us in holy communion.

    The amount of grace available at each Mass dwarfs anything that we could possibly obtain through a whole life of prayer and good works. Even those offered in an undignified manner. The best way to get back at Satan for distorting a liturgy is to sanctify yourself and the whole world when you happen to be attending it.

  25. Charivari Rob says:

    The forms of the Mass that the Church gives us are different forms of the one thing, with the same intent. We perceive and are aware of grace, like so much else about God, in a limited manner.

    The grace found in one form is not superior in nature or quality to that found in another form – though our personal experiences and preferences might mean we are better disposed to meet that grace in one form of the Mass than in another

    To say the amount of grace is the same in different forms of the Mass would be to suggest that God’s grace is somehow quantifiable and finite.

    Were that the case, I would face this amazing question – should I seek out the least populated Mass to get myself a greater share of that quantified grace, or make a point to go to the most crowded (stadium Mass!) pridefully telling God that I need a smaller share?

  26. Marion Ancilla Mariae II says:

    Is not the amount of grace available from the celebration of a single Holy Mass sufficient to convert the entire world? But is the entire world at present capable of receiving and retaining such a flood of grace? Or would not all that grace spill over and out and away from these souls, like a monsoon rain upon the parched earth, the surface of which is too dry to retain any of the life-giving waters? The next question is: is my poor soul capable of retaining even one full drop of the divine deluge?

    Saint Louis de Montfort, whose feastday we celebrated a few days ago, writes that we ought to
    entrust into the hands of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Mother, any graces we receive, and she will see to it that we receive the full benefit of them.

    Having done this, perhaps a Catholic inclined toward either form of the Mass might direct all his energies to seeking to worship God ever more in the manner in which He most prefers to be worshipped.

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