ASK FATHER: Quo vadis, Novus Ordo?

From a reader…


I pose my question about the Novus Ordo Missae in homage to the now famous question, “What is a woman?” It seems to me that the Consilium took a rib from the 1962 Missal and instead of creating something beautiful and complementary to it, created a nascent liturgical monster whose “aquatic variation” highlighted in one of your recent posts was particularly grotesque. Even prior to that disrespectful and disgusting spectacle a thought arose in my mine about its trajectory over these last 50+ years. Quo vadis, Novus Ordo? At what point can we say that the Novus Ordo began as a well-intentioned, though dimwitted, liturgical reform, metastasized into a feckless imitation of the Roman liturgy and has now become a full-blown psychological operation to keep Catholics from understanding the true Catholic faith and living out a life of holiness unto eternal salvation? Is that a reasonably accurate way of understanding what is, on the whole, going on with the Novus Ordo in the Church today?

The short answer is “No.”

However, the longer answer must consider that the Novus Ordo can and has produced good fruits even though its origins are compromised.

It is an undisputed fact that the Novus Ordo, celebrated by the book and with due reverence and attention to Tradition, has resulted in conversions and in holy lives well-lived. I think that the actual reforms desired by the Council Fathers would have produced more.

One could go on at length about differences between the Novus Ordo and the Vetus Ordo, the desired reform and the reform we got, etc.

Think about this.

Our liturgical worship is the glorious and worthy distillation of the Christian experience across many cultures for many generations. Patiently and lovingly it grew and was tended and maintained.  This is the Vetus Ordo of the Roman Church.

Then came the reformers who, with the power they usurped and weaponized within the Consilium, using the authority of the Council against the Sacred Congregation for Rites and manipulating in a double-pronged maneuver both Paul VI and the experts of the Consilium, they arrogantly, rudely, imposed their own will on the Church in the construction of a new Rite, the Novus Ordo, abruptly imposed.

Abrupt changes in Cult, Code and Creed are not the Catholic way.

Abrupt changes signal that something has gone very wrong.

In a book over the signature of Annibale Bugnini’s secretary, later papal MC and now Archbp. Piero Marini,  A Challenging Reformwe read of the machinations of the Consilium of its head, Card. Lercaro and, especially, Bugnini.

Here is a smoking gun quote about how the kingpins of the Consilium were trying to, not fulfil the wishes of the Council Fathers, but to impose their own will on the Church’s worship and, therefore, her belief.

Context: Marini recounts how the Consilium had just taken a major step in moving from a group meeting informally to an officially and formally established body.  They have their first plenary session.

“They met in public to begin one of the greatest liturgical reforms in the history of the Western church.  Unlike the reform after Trent, it was all the greater because it also dealt with doctrine.”  (p. 46)

The work of the Consilium, in revising the Missale Romanum, did indeed change the Church’s doctrine. Change the way you pray and you change what you believe… and vice versa.

That’s what they set out to do: change doctrine.   That was NOT their mandate!

Consider that, now, a small group of movers and shakers have manipulated a clearly willing Francis to attack the Vetus Ordo as being – try to get your head around this – against the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council.

John XXIII in his opening speech for the Council (Gaudet Mater Ecclesia) set the course for the Fathers saying explicitly that no new doctrine or definitions were to be made.  The Fathers said that no changes to the liturgy were to be made that weren’t organic continuations of what we had in the Vetus Ordo (SC 23).

“Disconnect” doesn’t begin to describe what happened with the Council and sacred worship.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. iamlucky13 says:

    “…metastasized into a feckless imitation of the Roman liturgy and has now become a full-blown psychological operation to keep Catholics from understanding the true Catholic faith and living out a life of holiness unto eternal salvation?”

    I want to comment on the question from a different angle than Father’s response:

    The way the question is framed presupposes a certain norm that looks more like pool toys and tanning lotion than altars of sacrifice and anointed hands. A presumed norm, in fact, that goes far beyond licitly allowed variations, and is often outright contradicted by the actual written norms.

    Perhaps it would be better for the Latin Church to revert to the preconciliar form. I don’t know, but I respect the opinions of the many here who believe it should. Certainly it would have been better than it actually turned out if the reform had taken place with a mindset more respectful of tradition even as it adapted to changes in culture, and more focused on preserving our recognition of our place as fallen creatures, lifted up and saved by the Creator’s sacrifice, offering our worship in humble thanksgiving, and seeking Communion with God and the grace to live better lives.

    Regardless of those considerations, I think is important that the questioner recognize the distinction between what the novus ordo actually calls for, and what is objectively an abuse.

    I feel sold short by the way the questioner has characterized the novus ordo by those who can hardly even been said to be celebrating the novus ordo at all, but rather improvisations of their own designs, rather by than those of us who participate in it reverently, according to the liturgical books, and informed by the vetus ordo rather than in opposition to it.

  2. JamesM says:

    I hold to the view that there is no such thing as the Novus Ordo. What we have instead is countless Novus Ordos.

    When two parishes beside each other won’t even celebrate the same Mass, the number of variations around the world are just dizzying.

  3. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    ” Unlike the reform after Trent, it was all the greater because it also dealt with doctrine.” I just encountered a quotation (in English translation) from an interview published on 25 July with Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, Archbishop of Luxembourg and President of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union. He is quoted as saying, “We are in a huge civilizational change. And our whole theology, everything that is dear and sacred to us, in Christianity and in the Catholic Church, hangs together with a civilization that is about to disappear. People no longer understand what we say or what we say at theological meetings. And there will have to be a lot of changes.”

    I suspect reports of its disappearance are eagerly exaggerated, here, but that disappearance and cultivation of ignorance are also clearly being striven for.

  4. HvonBlumenthal says:

    If you are the navigator of a transatlantic liner, setting a course from (say) Limerick to New York, and you miscalculate by one degree, you will not at first notice the difference.

    Halfway across the ocean, it becomes apparent that a correction in course is necessary. If you are an honest person you will admit your mistake and correct your course. But if your pride will not let you do that, then you will navigate the ship onto the rocky coast of the eastern seaboard of America, and the ship will sink with all hands.

    Personally I have decided to sail with a shipping line whose pilots understand their business.

  5. Cornelius says:

    Fr, you cling pertinaciously to the idea that the NO has “resulted in conversions and in holy lives well-lived.”

    Whatever “holy lives well lived” occurred have been in spite of the NO, not because of it.

    If you fed people a diet in which food portions had deadly poison mixed in, you wouldn’t 1) ignore the masses that die from the poison, while 2) extolling the physical health of those FEW who, by luck or providence, missed the poison (or developed an immunity to it). Would you?

    The solution is to throw the entire poisoned food store into a landfill and go back to what you know is a wholesome food source.

    [I reject what you wrote and direct you to my other comments HERE.]

  6. Not says:

    I must always go back to Pope St. Pius V. clear and precise Doctrine.
    The liberal diabolic Church members have succeeded into forcing us into discussions and permissions about the TLM. Novus Ordo is invalid. The name alone , New Order, Accept new order or face the consequences.

  7. APX says:

    I have one of the Sunday first hand missals published after the reforms and it’s clear that they didn’t intend for what we have now. It contains all the same traditional devotions, preparation prayers, etc.

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  9. Rod Halvorsen says:

    My wife and I were converted in a novus ordo parish under the instruction of a young, orthodox priest. Purely aside from the horrific music (something 2 priests attempted to repair unsuccessfully due to demands made by certain members of the parish) we sensed a certain herky-jerkiness, that something wasn’t quite right. Part was the ad hoc nature of the Mass celebrations, as if something was being made up from scratch every Sunday. But we also noticed the variable approach used by different priests when we visited other parishes. Only some time later did I read of the purging of “difficult passages” from the lectionary and the other changes that were decidedly corrosive to pure and sound doctrine.

    After much badgering by a friend to visit a TLM, we did.

    That was it.

    We have no interest in ever attending a novus ordo Mass again. The differences, even in “good’ ones, from the TLM just can’t be “un-seen”.

  10. Lurker 59 says:

    Tertullian once stridently quipped, “What does Athans have to do with Jerusalem?” He was wrong. This is the same point of view that some TLM proponents take towards the NO.

    From a historical reality, we have to understand the NO as, at least, being permissively willed by God, that it is a valid sacrament, and does pour graces out upon the world. Does it do these things well? Is it most pleasing to God? These are questions to be argued about, but they are separate and distinct.

    But we do have to recognize that the NO has something to do with TLM. That is a fundamental starting point. It really needs to be recognized that the formation of the NO isn’t even on par with what Luther did to the German Mass. The Luthern Mass was no longer a Mass after Luther got done with it. The NO, in spite of what was done, is still the Mass.

    How? I’ll hypothesize because it still maintains a core of the Apostolic Roman Rite. Thus, the assault on TLM is a hidden assault on the Apostolic elements retained in the NO. That is the goal, not giving scorpions to traditionalists who ask for bread.

    To really change the Church into a NGO, one has to finally get rid of the Apostolic elements in the NO — you have to get rid of both doctrine and liturgy (as they are conjoined) to fundamentally change the life of the Church. The hypothesis of there being two churches existing simultaneously isn’t in the NO vs TLM. It is the NO and how from NO to NO parish it can be as if there are different Faiths stemming from differing celebrations of the NO.

    Here is a question that I don’t know the answer to: Can the “choose your own adventure” structure of the NO be chosen so that, according to rubrics and various dispensations, it is done, in saying the black and doing the red, so that what is produced no longer Apostolic in any way but instead presents a fully new doxology, praxis, and theology? Not a warped one, a new one. Followup question: IF this non-Apostolic NO can be constructed, how then is it valid since it does not present the Apostolic Faith through and by which one worships God?

  11. TonyO says:

    Can the “choose your own adventure” structure of the NO be chosen so that, according to rubrics and various dispensations, it is done, in saying the black and doing the red, so that what is produced no longer Apostolic in any way but instead presents a fully new doxology, praxis, and theology?

    Well, I am just a lay person, but: I don’t think so. As far as I can tell, you can’t get a “that’s not a Mass” out of the options, if you follow the (admittedly byzantinely complex) “rules”.

  12. TheCavalierHatherly says:

    For what my animadversions are worth (ie. Nothing) I have noticed that all the proponents of the “Novus Ordo as really intended” (reverence, Latin, etc) that I’ve met are…

    I’ll use an analogy. They’re like the people on a cruise ship who get queasy in the choppy water: the haven’t got their sea legs, possibly queasy, but they’re hopeful. The Vetusordonians (among whom I number myself) are either the people in full formal wear at the dining hall who are having a good time despite the champagne occasionally slopping up over the glass, or… well, there are the ones on the upper deck screaming about the end of days. Let’s not forget those who throw themselves in the ocean preemptively.

    Where am I going with this? I don’t think the waves of modernity calm themselves any time soon, and that experiments at becoming amenable to “modern man” are not going to succeed. What happens to the Reforms? I don’t know. The batteries in my chrystal appear to be dead. But I don’t know how far we can get on the hope that the waves stop coming long enough for everything to get sorted out.

  13. WVC says:

    @Rod Halvorsen – you bring up a point worth remembering. The majority of folks who love the Latin Mass today grew up with or were converted through the Novus Ordo, but then CHOSE to go to the Latin Mass.

    The critics like to bandy about the false charge of “nostalgia” being what makes people want the Latin Mass, but, like almost everything they say, the opposite is true. If I were to have nostalgia for anything it would be all the experiences of my youth which were centered around the Novus Ordo. World Youth Days. Youth Group retreats. Service Projects. My own Confirmation and First Communion. The Baptism of my first child. My wife’s own conversion . . . etc. While I don’t discount any of those experiences or question the path down which they lead me, where I wound up was at the Latin Mass. And the Latin Mass has had a far more profound impact on my faith and my life, a truly transformational impact, than all the Novus Ordos of my youth.

    So I don’t need anyone to “accompany” back to the Novus Ordo. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I know what it’s all about. I used to belt out “On Eagle’s Wings” with mucho gusto. I CHOSE to go somewhere else. And I CHOOSE to never go back, not out of obstinacy but as a reflection of reality. Once I learned the truth that 2 + 2 = 4, I know longer had any option to go back to thinking that 2 + 2 can equal anything else.

  14. Tradster says:

    The endless debate about the reverence versus abuses of the NO Mass always tends towards missing the point. When is the last time you have seen a YouTube video of a TLM being said with deliberate abuses? You won’t but not because the priests are better but because the service itself does not provide the opportunities. Yes, the NO can be celebrated reverently and often is, not because of the rubrics but in spite of them. The service is deliberately designed to be said with free-style improvisation to where it almost resembles snowflakes: no two ever exactly alike. If the Powers That Be were really serious about bringing all Catholics together to worship with the NO they would redesign it to eliminate all options and variables for the celebrants. But they won’t because they aren’t.

  15. Lurker 59 says:


    There is a philosophical term (that is currently escaping me) for a nostalgia for days long past, for the golden time that existed in the far past of which one had no personal experience of yet yearns and longs for. Some traditionalists are LARPers in this sense (just as some NOs are utopian LARPers), but as a whole, my encounters with traditionalists (their writings and the people) they are anything but backward-looking. Rather they are profoundly eschatological in their outlook. The NO can be eschatological, but that is another problem with the NO: it is always “it can be” rather than “it is”.

    This ties back to my previous point: So much in the NO rests on the personality of the priest rather than it being an action independent of his personality.


    It would be worth someone with the knowledge and time sitting down with the books intentionally attempting to find a variation that is bad as it possibly can be. Most of the time we judge bad NO Masses on the best that it can be, rather than the worst that it can be. We know the upper bound, knowing the lower bound would be highly useful in criticism.

    My gut tells me that the question on constructing a non-Apostolic NO depends on whether or not we are going to be pedantic reductionists and say that the only thing that matters is the epiclesis.

  16. Rod Halvorsen says:

    @WVC: It is annoying to hear this “nostalgia” business in light of the fact that a large percentage of folks in our TLM apostolates are converts. It’s just rubbish. I have no interest in going back to 1950’s Catholicism and nobody I know does either, especially in light of the fact that most of us don’t even know what it was! :)

    @Lurker 59: I think the term is antiquarianism, the idea that we can somehow conjure up the way it was done back in the “good ole days” before all the “accretions” supposedly mucked things up. And yes, it has been condemned. And along w/ you, the folks I know at FSSP & SSPX parishes are absolutely NOT looking back, but rather looking decidedly forward, as in the evangelization of their kids with the clarity the TLM brings with it.

    Besides…If we went back to the ’50’s we’d have to go thru the Vatican 2 years all over again and we sure don’t want to do THAT!! lol

  17. TonyO says:

    My gut tells me that the question on constructing a non-Apostolic NO depends on whether or not we are going to be pedantic reductionists and say that the only thing that matters is the epiclesis.

    Heh, that’s pretty funny.

    No, I don’t think that’s at all feasible. Let me suggest (just off the top of my head), the elements NO that, so far as I am aware are not optional under any possible reading of the rubrics:
    (1) sign of the cross
    (2) penitential rite
    (3) gospel
    (5) offertory in some form
    (7) consecration of bread and wine
    (8) Our Father
    (9) priest receives communion
    There are almost certainly things I missed (and I didn’t intend to list sub-elements, either), but that’s still not a trivial set of component actions. And it would appear (to me) certainly represent an “apostolic mass”. Sure, it misses out on a whole boatload of what the Latin Church put into the Mass over 20 centuries, for very good reasons, no question about that.

  18. Geoffrey says:

    I was firmly in the “reform of the reform” camp until January 2021, when the Holy Father promulgated “Spiritus Domini”, which admitted women into the instituted ministries of lector and acolyte. As a non-seminarian instituted acolyte and “spiritual son” of Benedict XVI, I felt like the rug was pulled out right from under me. I realized then that the future of the Roman Rite rested with the Extraordinary Form. That Septuagestima, I transitioned from the Liturgy of the Hours to the 1961 edition of the Roman Breviary. Then came 16 July 2021. I didn’t think the Pope could pull the rug out from under me twice in just 6 months!

    The Ordinary Form does have the potential to be beautiful, reverent, and Catholic. This does occur in some places (papal Masses at St Peter’s, Opus Dei, EWTN, St John Cantius in Chicago). Sadly where I currently live, Mass often looks like an Episcopalian service, with elderly women in albs and cinctures holding a binder for the celebrant to read from. With all the directives attempting to styfle the old Mass, no one is saying anything about how to celebrate the new Mass better.

  19. TonyO says:

    The following statement is never engaged, in any way, by the entirety of the Vatican: “The mass proposed by Consilium and approved by Paul VI neither (a) conforms to the demands of the Council Fathers in their Constitution on the liturgy, nor (b) represents the only way to express the liturgical truth that the Council desired to express (and did express)”.

    If we were snowflakes, the Vatican’s and the Pope’s uniform and universal refusal to even momentarily engage with the proposition would constitute “violence” against us. As it is, it merely represents an ongoing grave injustice to us. Are there, anymore, even 5% of bishops who believe continuity with the past is a sine-qua-non of the True Church? If so, where are they on the changes Francis is trying to smash down our throats? Are they that afraid of Francis’s bully-boys? Aren’t there more than just one (the ousted bishop of Arecibo, Puerto Rico) who is willing to put his money where his faith is?

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