ASK FATHER: Ought we import elements of the Traditional Latin Mass into the Novus Ordo?


From a priest reader….


As both the Extraordinary and the Ordinary Forms of the Mass have their own respective set of rubrics (the former being more detailed than the latter), my question relates to those priests celebrating both forms: What is the appropriateness of importing, say, varied rubrics and gestures into the OF from the EF intentionally? I am, of course, not asking about unintentional slips. Some examples might be:

Pivoting at the “et vobis, fratres” etc. in the Confitor;
The extension and elevation of the hands at the beginning of the Gloria or Credo, or when giving the final blessing;
Kissing or bowing as if to kiss the Altar at the Te Igitur, and the bow of the head at the mention of the pope’s name (in the Roman Canon); The sign of the Cross at the Sanctus;

And I could go on.

My concern here is the integrity of the principle of rubrics so that if we import them from one Form to another (including, I guess, from the Eastern Forms), could not some then justify a similar tampering in the reverse? Isn’t it safer, until permitted otherwise, to simply “say the black and do the red,” as someone once suggested?

Great question.

For the sake of BLUF: The Roman way of understanding the desideratum of “mutual enrichment” lends flexibility to the seemingly restrictive dictum “Say the Black – Do the Red”.

Now that we have the bottom line up front, let’s find some hooks to hang our thoughts on.

In no special order…

Back when the vaguely worded liturgical changes were being unilaterally forced on the the People of God,  someone sent a dubium to Rome about thurification (aka incensation) of the altar.  The rubrics in the pre-Conciliar (and Conciliar… remember, the 1962 Missal was the Missal used during the sessions of the Council) were clear about how the altar was to be incensed.  The new rubrics were deficient and didn’t describe the order of each ductus.  The questioner asked if, since there was no specific description, should the old, traditional method of incensation be used.  Rome responded (i.e., Bugnini) that when the new rubrics are silent about how to do things we should not assume that the old ways should be used!  Bam.  Of course the answer was wicked.  The result was chaos.  Eventually the post-Conciliar Ceremoniale Episcoporum came out and it had more specific rubrics for incensation, though quite truncated.

Another point to consider.  In the De Defectibus of the 1962 Missale Romanum, and in old manual moral theology, we learn that willing violation of rubrics is at least a venial sin and often mortal.   This was removed from the Novus Ordo editions.  That doesn’t mean that violation of the rubrics of the Novus Ordo isn’t objectively a sin.  However, since training for celebration of the Novus Ordo is risible in comparison with preparation for the Traditional Latin Mass, it could be said that celebrants who violate rubrics may be committing an objective sin, but they may not be culpable.  They’ve probably have never heard or thought of the morality of rubrics.   Strangely, we find a couple of categories of Novus Ordo celebrants: the careless and the careful, the improvisers and the imposers.  We find men who do pretty much what they want or else those who are rubrical positivists, legalists who make their determination about the vague rubrics the Novus Ordo provides and they rigidly require their way.

We must hold in tension two principles.  On the one hand, Pope Benedict in his Letter to Bishops about the “emancipation proclamation” Summorum Pontificum said that “the two Forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching”.    He then gives the example of saints canonized after 1962 can be brought into the 1962 calendar and new prefaces could be adopted.   He goes on to talk about how the Usus Antiquior would helpt to improvement celebrations of the Novus Ordo in regard to reverence, etc.  This has given rise to the understanding that Benedict desired “mutual enrichment”, which I have called a mutual “gravitational pull”.  At the same time we are told that the two rites are not to be intermixed, that is, elements of the one should not be brought into the other.  The way we deal with that seeming contradiction is to a) be very patient and allow the TLM really to take root and spread without making any changes to it and b) allow the mutual enrichment to happen slowly, organically, over time.   THAT is what Benedict wanted all along.  He called the Novus Ordo and artificially created rite that, in its sudden imposition, broke the continuity of organic liturgical development.   Hitherto, small changes were codified over long periods of time.  With the imposition of the Novus Ordo, there was massive disruption.   Benedict, being a bit of a Hegelian on this point, thought that eventually a tertium quid would emerge, over time, from the side by side use of the two rites.

And I say “two rites” because… well… they are.  Summorum Pontificum is a juridical document that treats the Usus Antiquior and Novus Ordo as if they are two “forms” of one Roman Rite.  That was a fine juridical solution which allowed for every idoneus priest of the Roman Rite to celebrate either form.  But I think it is clear that the TLM and Novus Ordo are different enough that they are liturgically two different rites.

A tension will exist where these forms are side by side and when priests use both forms.   The celebrants and servers will be strongly inclined to bring elements of the TLM into the liturigically impoverished Novus Ordo and to adopt the traditional ars celebrandi inherent in the rubrics of the traditional form into their use of the post-Conciliar rite.

Another point.  Going back to the Council, the Council Fathers in Sacrosanctum Concilium mandated that changes must not be made except for the true good of the faithful and that all changes must flow organically from what was done before.  However, the people who then cobbled up the reformed rite, Novus Ordo, went way beyond their mandates.  They forced through huge changes which nobody was clamoring for and violated the mandate of continuity.  In a sense, putting certain things back into the Novus Ordo could be considered a corrective to the vandalism perpetrated in the name of the Council.

Moving along, what would some of the elements of the older, traditional form that could be really tempting to bring into the Novus Ordo?   Some elements that were suppressed against the Council Fathers’ admonitions about true need and organic growth?  For example,  prayers at the foot of the altar (Ps 42).  What good for the people did that bring about?  What harm to priestly identity did it cause?  Multiple collects, suppressed in the Novus Ordo are really helpful, given that we have a lot of needs to bring to the prayer of the Mass.   The silent Canon could help to restore the critically necessary element of silence which is often sorely lacking in celebrations of Mass with the Novus Ordo.  When the treasury of our sacred music is opened and employed for Mass, the “split” Sanctus and Benedictus, technically not permitted in the Novus Ordo, is simply so practical, along with the silent Canon that it seems a natural practice to import.  Genuflecting when passing before the tabernacle where the Eucharist is reserved.  This is one of the worst of all the bad changes in the Novus Ordo.  Servers and sacred ministers are instructed not to genuflect to God, but rather ignore His Presence in favor of a bow to the altar.  The idea being that we are to stress the Eucharist to be consecrated at that Mass.   Then there are the various signs of the Cross that the priest might make, or the double genuflection at the consecration, or, as the questioner brought up, kissing the altar at the Te igitur, bowing the head at certain names, etc.

Say the Black – Do the Red.   That’s been my byword for a long time.   I stick to that.   We have to know the rubrics and then follow them.   At the same time, I don’t believe in strict rubrical positivism.  One thing that I learned during those many years in Rome regarding the Roman Rite is that it is Roman.  Its genius is the Roman genius, which is at the same time orderly but pragmatic and flexible.  Think of the Roman way of interpreting law, in contrast to the Anglo-American.   When I began to be MC for Pontifical Mass, consulting various ceremonials by different authors from different places, I quickly figured out that the variations in their practices stemmed from having to find practical solutions various problems raised by the shape and size of the sanctuary, people available, etc.   The Roman Rite in its traditional form is somewhat malleable.  It can be stretched or kneaded when needed.

That’s a long ramble, I know, but some of these principles have to be put up in the air and juggled when approaching the really good question at the top.

Are we strictly forbidden to import elements from the Vetus Ordo into the Novus Ordo?   Are we allowed, by the admirable goal of mutual enrichment, to take some liberties with the Novus Ordo rubrics and bring in traditional (not innovative) practices?

I don’t think that kissing the altar at the Te igitur or genuflecting to God, or “making the box” at the Preface dialogue and final blessing (shot down by the CDW in a 1978 responsum), in view of the powerful desideratum of “mutual enrichment” violates the concept of Say the Black – Do the Red.

If we turn the sock inside out, however, can that be applied to the TLM?  Should enriching elements, good for the faithful and in continuity with tradition, from the Novus Ordo be brought into the TLM?  What elements would those be?

Benedict said, and this has been done, bring new saints into the traditional calendar and allowing for the Gallican Prefaces.  But the Gallican Prefaces are, frankly clunky and weird, composed by a heretic, Laurent-François Boursier, who was expelled from the Sorbonne in 1720.  That doesn’t sound all that organic to me.

Benedict said, and this has been done, that in Low Mass the readings could be in the vernacular alone.  BUT… I maintain, with Peter Kwasniewski, that the readings themselves are also sacrificial offerings raised, like incense, to the Father and that they deserve to be in the Church’s sacral language.  Moreover, the choice of one vernacular language excludes that of other groups, whereas Latin favors all groups.

How about not genuflecting to God when passing before the tabernacle.  Ummm… nope.

How about the audible Canon?   I suppose one could make an argument for that, though it undermines a major goal of sacred liturgical worship: encountering Mystery also through the apophatic.

How about eliminating signs of the Cross?   I have yet to hear how that benefits the faithful, whereas as Fr. Jackson argues they are not in the least superfluous.

In any event, I hope this helps your own thoughts about how to approach the Novus Ordo.

A last thought.

If we think about importing elements of the TLM into the Novus Ordo in order to bring it into greater continuity with tradition and in order to bring about a different ethos of Mass and ars celebrandi, then why not just use the TLM in the first place?   If the Novus Ordo is improved in proportion to how it is adjusted to resemble the TLM, then why not just use the TLM?


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    To my thinking, the most obvious element, (which as far as I know would not even be a violation of the rubrics), would be a much wider use of Latin in the Novus Ordo: not just an occasional “agnus Dei” but the entire Eucharistic Prayer, Credo, blessings, etc. and Gregorian Chant (not in English). I’ve heard of such Masses, but in many decades living in a large city I have never witnessed anything close to it.

  2. Steve L. says:

    Also of note, OF GIRM #42:

    Attention must therefore be paid to what is determined by this General Instruction and by the traditional practice of the Roman Rite and to what serves the common spiritual good of the People of God, rather than private inclination or arbitrary choice.

  3. JTH says:

    When I was a kid back in the ’70’s, our parish celebrated the NO Mass in Latin not infrequently. It was done with much reverence. Parishioners took to it. Of course most people were accustomed to Latin from the Latin mass from just a few years before.

    This was before Communion in the hand which really did have a profound effect on everything.

  4. JustaSinner says:

    So if I have a Fifty year old Dalwinnie bottle and someone has a bottle of Black Velvet, if we mix them, that’d be great! Said no one ever…

  5. Fr. Kelly says:

    Thank you for your carefully thought out response Fr. Z.

    I find myself almost entirely in agreement, but it seems to me that the two responses brought forth on incensation of the altar and on the hand movents at the final blessing have been obrogated by Pope Benedict in his explanatory Note accompanying Summorum pontificum, which asserts that the 1962 missal has never been abrogated.
    Both responses presume that the missale Romanum of 1962 has been abrogated and so refer to it as “the former” missal. Since it in fact has never been abrogated, then it still holds force, at least as a reference point for tradition (Cf GIRM 42) and the responses are moot

  6. For what it is worth, my practice has always been to follow the earlier practice when a gesture ( e.g. “extend hands”) is given in the new rite but no explanation is given as to how to do it. I have always taken that instruction about incensing to mean the older practice is not mandatory—the priest is free to incense as he wishes (even in the old manner), but not required to use any particular form. Laudable freedom.

    On the other hand, I do not reintroduce a practice not mentioned in the new rite (e.g. fingers joined after the consecration). And now, again for what it is worth, I follow the old Dominican forms of extension of the hands, incensing, etc. Again laudable freedom.

  7. Fr. Thomas Kocik says:

    I address this question in “Mutual Enrichment between the Two Forms of the Roman Rite” (2017), available at under “Conference Papers.”

  8. Brian J. Wilson says:

    Actually, the audible recitation (indeed, singing) of the Secreta (properly the Oratio super oblata, as the old ordos have it) would be more sensible than the silent recitation by the priest, followed by an incongruous validation by the people of something they haven’t heard. I don’t think that particular enrichment would do any harm; but I fear that, just as OF’ers will object to importations from the EF, EF’ers will have a cow if so much as a comma is changed in the least rubric. At least, that has been my impression when listening to trads.

  9. LeeGilbert says:

    First of all, far from being hostile to the TLM I have recently served that Mass every day for a period of nearly two years.

    As an old timer and a layman I have to say, though, that I am both amused and concerned at the attitude of younger, traditionalist priests whose attitude in regard to everything liturgical is, “The old way was better.” Whatever happened to that ancient principle, “Sentire cum ecclesia”? If the Novus Ordo requires, as I think it does, that the priest offer a few words of explanation before Mass to orient the congregation regarding what is about to unfold, e.g. the reason for the votive Mass, a brief life of the saint whose feast is to be celebrated, etc. that is thought incorrect before a TLM because the Church never did it that way before. Yet, given that the Church has now recommended this to her priests in the Novus Ordo, evidently out of courtesy to the congregation, it cannot but seem discourteous when this orientation it is neglected before the TLM. There is development in doctrine, then why not reasonable development in the Liturgy?

    Whatever argument Professor Kvasniewski may make in favor of the readings being done in Latin, it has always struck me as simply insane and I am far from alone.. The Word of God is directed by God to men for their salvation not to God by men as worship, except in the psalms and a few other places. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” What St. Paul says about the gift of tongues applies here perfectly, “Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? “( 1 Cor 14) Again, “In the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.”

    Of late there has been a very great emphasis on hearing the word of God, as opposed to reading it in the Missalette while it is proclaimed by lector and priest in the Liturgy of the Word. [Orrrr… you could do your homework before Mass during the week so that you know what’s coming up.] Yet, the TLM practically requires that the layman read the word of God in his missal, for hearing the Latin will do him little or no good. Here a priest who celebrates both rites involves himself in a very large self-contradiction, and in reading the Word of God in Latin renders himself a stranger to the congregation and the congregation a stranger to him. This is the very reason I became a lector when we had so many foreign priests, that the congregation would have at least a few words of clear, unstrangled English. The same principle applies to the TLM, it seems to me. It is simple garden variety courtesy, besides being compliant with Scriptural norms.

    That said, I would very much be interested in the patristic or magisterial sources that Prof. Kvasniewski may cite for the Liturgy of the Word to be directed primarily to God in sacral language.

  10. hilltop says:

    To advocates of more vernacular in the TLM and/or making audible what is properly inaudible, I gently encourage the use of a good Missal during Mass. And begin by contemplating Pius X’s exhortation

  11. amicus says:

    It is humorous now to read the CDW saying that the rubrics of the Vetus Ordo are not to be inferred when the modern rite is silent about ceremonial details. When Pope Benedict XVI recited the Confiteor, he struck his breast thrice, not once, notwithstanding the CDW notitiae. And even Pope Francis consistently kisses the feet of men and women after drying them during the Mandatum, in defiance of the restored Holy Week rites that abolished the kiss. The CDW took that position from a hermeneutic of rupture perspective, but Pope Benedict thought otherwise. If Pope Benedict can do it, then his priests certainly can, and not only for the triple striking of the breast.

  12. Adelle Cecilia says:

    “If we turn the sock inside out, however, can that be applied to the TLM?
    Should enriching elements, good for the faithful and in continuity with tradition, from the Novus Ordo be brought into the TLM?
    What elements would those be?”

    It seems that those elements tend to be things like sitting, standing, kneeling… before or after the Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, etc.
    Especially in the Missa Cantata where “there aren’t specific rubrics for this Mass,” anyway.

    The vernacular at a Low Mass for the readings is always a jarring experience, and I’m not a fan.

  13. Uxixu says:

    P:erhaps noteworthy but looking at Youtube videos of Benedict XVI singing the preface of the (OF) Mass in Latin with the same Sursum Corda dialogue and chanted Preface tone that I love from a sung traditional Latin Mass and similarly videos of St. John Paul II singing the Pater noster. These are, of course, regular “ordinary form” but you wouldn’t see them in most novus ordo parishes.

    On a related note, once at my territorial diocesan parish (only Ordinary Form) we had a visiting priest from Italy I believe who sang EVERYTHING in vernacular accented English but in the traditional melodies. Most of the congregation only used to read novus ordo.

  14. Kerry says:

    Mr. Gilbert, some replies.
    “…whose attitude in regard to everything liturgical…”. Unknowable.
    “…it cannot but seem discourteous…”. Discourteous to whom?
    “…hearing the Latin will do him little or no good.” And you know this…how? And doing little or no good [to him]… One goes to Mass to unite onself with the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, and to fulfill our duty of offering proper worship to the Holy Trinity alone.
    ” Here a priest who celebrates both rites…congregation a stranger to him.” “One goes to Mass…”.
    “I would very much be interested in the patristic or magisterial sources that Prof. Kvasniewski may cite for the Liturgy of the Word to be directed primarily to God in sacral language.”
    Turning the volume up to “Eleven”, read Christine Mohrmann’s Liturgical Latin: Its Origins and Character. Found here:

  15. eamonob says:

    I like your closing comment, Father. I’ve always said something similar–if everything that makes the NO more reverent are things that make it closer to the TLM, then what was the point of having a new Mass in the first place? Why do we need it?

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