The Beautiful Novus Ordo Mass
St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, Macon, GA
The Latin phrase Novus Ordo means 'New Order' and it's Catholic shorthand for 'The Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.' This is the method of Catholic liturgy and worship promulgated within the Roman Catholic Church in 1970. The Latin term Vetus Ordo means 'Old Order' and it's also Catholic shorthand for 'The Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite,' which was the common form of liturgy and worship used prior to 1970. It is sometimes loosely referred to as the 'Traditional Latin Mass' or 'TLM'. The terms I am using here (Novus Ordo, Vetus Ordo, Ordinary Form and Extraordinary Form) are those most commonly used by popes. Other terms are sometimes bantered around in reference to these liturgies, but to keep it simple, I'll stick to these.
On this blog, and in my personal correspondence, I have always tried to make two things crystal clear.
The first thing is my preference for traditional liturgy, and while I have an affection for the Vetus Ordo, I have a much stronger attachment to Divine Worship (sometimes called the 'Traditional English Mass' or 'TEM') which has been brought into the Catholic Church from Anglican converts to the faith. Having once been an Anglican myself, and my exposure to traditional Anglican liturgy playing a large role in my personal conversion to Catholicism, my attachment to Divine Worship is integral to my Catholic faith. It is very much a part of who I am as a Catholic.
The second thing is that my affection for the Vetus Ordo, and my attachment to Divine Worship, should in no way be misconstrued as some kind of contempt for the Novus Ordo or 'Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.' This would be a gross misreading of my blog and everything I have written. Furthermore, my writings should in no way be misconstrued as some kind of contempt for the good priests who have selflessly dedicated their lives to the celebration of the Novus Ordo liturgy. Again, to interpret anything I have written in this way would be a gross misreading of my writings.
For years now, a statement has existed on my blog, which anyone can read here, wherein I openly declared my support for the Second Vatican Council and the Novus Ordo mass. I did clarify that the Second Vatican Council must be interpreted properly, using the Hermeneutic of Continuity, as Pope Benedict XVI instructed us. I also clarified that the Novus Ordo liturgy should be celebrated properly and with the highest degree of reverence. I remain firmly convinced that because Vatican II is a legitimate council, and because the Novus Ordo is a legitimate liturgy, they both deserve the highest degree of reverence and respect, within the whole context of Church history and tradition. I have said this for years, and I say it again now, just so there is no ambiguity of where I stand and have always stood.
I have received extensive criticism for my position by some Traditionalists, and I have been publicly mocked and maligned for the same. I wear this as a badge of honour and it only strengthens me in my resolve. I will not bend on this issue. I cannot. So any criticism of me because of this position will be met with great satisfaction on my part.
Let me explain something here. I am personally indebted to the Second Vatican Council and the Novus Ordo liturgy. Without them I simply would not be Catholic today. I came into the Catholic Church in the year 2000 after reading the documents of Vatican II. If Vatican II had never happened, and I had never read Unitatis Redintegratio - Decree on Ecumenism, I would have never joined the Catholic Church. That pastoral statement so delicately handled the relation of the Catholic Church to other Christian communities, that as a Protestant I was immediately drawn to the Church. Beyond that, had the liturgy of the Catholic mass still been in Latin, as is the case with the Vetus Ordo, I simply would not have joined the Church. The transition of worship into a foreign language would have been too difficult for me, and practically impossible for my wife. When a potential convert is married, said convert must consider the needs of both persons, in addition to himself. Surely the needs of converts was one of the considerations the Vatican had in mind when the Novus Ordo was created. There was no Divine Worship liturgy at the time, and the closest thing to that in 2000 was the Anglican Use of the Roman Rite. The nearest parish to us, celebrating that form of the liturgy, was in Dallas Texas (over 400 miles away). Yet the creation of the Anglican Use and the Pastoral Provision, both precursors to Divine Worship and the Ordinariates, were entirely dependent on Vatican II. So had Vatican II never happened, these options wouldn't exist anyway.
No, I can tell you exactly where I would be today had Vatican II and the Novus Ordo never happened. I would have remained a member of The Episcopal Church until 2009, and then finally switched over to the Anglican Church in North America, which is a more conservative Anglican jurisdiction. That's where I would be today, I would be regularly attending All Saints Anglican Church in Springfield Missouri. Those are the facts. That's where I would be today without Vatican II and the Novus Ordo. So if you like my blog, and you like my apologetics for the Catholic Christian faith, than you'd better start thanking God for Vatican II and the Novus Ordo liturgy, because were it not for these things, I simply would not be Catholic today. They were necessary as part of my conversion process.
Over the years there has been much tension between traditional Catholics and contemporary Catholics, and frankly I'm getting a little sick and tired of it. Part of the blame can be laid at the feet of contemporary leaders within the Church, back in the 1970s, who for decades suppressed the Vetus Ordo in a way that was unnecessary. I think this was really a poor management decision. I don't ascribe anything more to it than that. It was just a poor management decision -- nothing more and nothing less. It would be unfair to attach motivations or intentions to it, as that would be pure speculation. People make mistakes. It happens. Sometimes entire groups of people make mistakes, especially when they're under some false impressions, or have received some inaccurate information. Again, it happens. We have to accept this reality in life and just move on. Dwelling on it, or attempting to attach explanations (without adequate inside information) will only make a bad situation worse. The bishops of the 1970s made a mistake when it came to management of the liturgy. Many of them suppressed the Vetus Ordo and pushed the Novus Ordo too vigorously. It was an administrative blunder -- an error. We should think of it as nothing more and nothing less.
In contrast, when Anglican churches updated their liturgy across their worldwide communion, at roughly the same time, these national churches left their traditional liturgy intact within their prayer books, as one of two options that Anglican priests could choose from on Sunday mornings. The old liturgy was not suppressed, and the new liturgy was not overly promoted. This was in recognition that some Anglicans might not have a favourable view of the new liturgy, so the old liturgy was left intact for them to use as they wished. As a result, liturgy never became a major source of contention within Anglicanism. There were of course a few who held a militant attachment to the old prayer books, but all in all, conflict within the Anglican national churches centred more around doctrinal issues than liturgical ones. These problems are of a completely different source, dealing more with the nature of 'authority' within Anglicanism. Liturgy has always been somewhat of a side issue.
To their credit, a few Roman Catholic bishops adopted a similar Anglican approach to the old and new liturgies, which was very wise of them, and this minimised difficulties within their dioceses. Sadly, most Catholic bishops did not adopt this approach until much later on. That was the first volley fired in the Catholic liturgy wars. What happened in response to the apparent suppression of the Vetus Ordo was nothing short of tragic. Immediately, some of the Catholics, who could not adapt to the new liturgy (Novus Ordo), went into a siege mentality. They thought of themselves as outcasts, and some started to act like it. These attacked the Novus Ordo as some kind of ridiculous 'sinister plot,' with conspiracy theories and all, to wipe out 'authentic Catholicism' and classified themselves as the 'last remnant' of the 'authentic Church.' They began looking down upon contemporary Catholics, who celebrate the Novus Ordo liturgy, as somehow 'less than fully Catholic,' and even attacked the priests who selflessly give of their lives to serve them as somehow 'less than fully Catholic priests.' This kind of paranoia was over the top, and while significantly reduced with Summorum Pontificum (2007), which universally liberalised celebration of the Vetus Ordo within the Church, it still has yet to vanish. Plenty still carry on with this siege mentality. This is the second volley fired in the Catholic liturgy wars. In response to this, some very misguided priests in the mainstream Church have taken it upon themselves to make innovations with the Novus Ordo mass, so as to put their own unique 'brand' on it. Most of the time this is minor and barely noticeable. Sometimes it is quite flamboyant and what many would call 'abusive.' A few of the same priests then attacked traditional liturgy as somehow 'outdated,' 'immature' or even 'intolerant.' This is the third volley fired in the Catholic liturgy wars. The fourth and final volley is an attitude of triumphalism among some traditionalists, pointing toward the abuses and attacks of a few misguided priests, as if these were the standard or norm within the entire Novus Ordo community. That's not true, but one doesn't need to look far to see the claim made.
As I said above, I'm sick and tired of this, and this isn't the first time I've stated as much on my blog. I think this liturgy war is petty, immature and sad. I think it was started by some poor administrative decisions made by the majority of Catholic bishops back in the 1970s, and it's been perpetuated by some traditionalists who are stuck in a siege mentality, as well as some contemporary Catholics who too easily let that bother them. I believe it's time for everyone to grow up on this. Pope Benedict XVI ended the liturgy wars in the Catholic Church with Summorum Pontificum. It's over people. It's done. It's settled. There are two main forms of the Roman Rite -- Ordinary and Extraordinary -- period! That's the way it is. The Vetus Ordo was never lawfully suppressed. Those bishops who tried to do so where in error. This isn't my teaching folks, this is the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI. We have two main forms of the Roman Rite, and we always have since 1970. If some bishops didn't recognise that back then, they were in error. All of this reactionary siege mentality is unnecessary and over the top. Those Catholics attached to the Vetus Ordo have been vindicated. It's over. It's been over for almost a decade now!
Summorum Pontificum stated that the Roman Rite consists of two main forms -- Ordinary and Extraordinary -- and that these two main forms are here to stay. Summorum Pontificum was not an attempt to roll back the clock. There will be no rolling back the clock. Summorum Pontificum protects the Novus Ordo, just as much as it protects the Vetus Ordo. As it says, the Roman Rite has TWO main forms -- period. In case you missed that, it has TWO main forms, not one. It putes these TWO main forms on EQUAL footing. That means they're both EQUALLY valid, and they're both EQUALLY efficacious. One is not 'better' than the other. One is not 'superior' to the other. One is obviously older than the other, and as a result, one is obviously more dependent on the other for traditional guidance, but that doesn't mean that one is superior to the other. Think of it as the relationship between a mother and her adult daughter. The adult daughter looks toward her mother for guidance and example, but they are both equally women, and they are both adults. This is how it is with the two forms of the Roman Rite. The Vetus Ordo is the mother, and the Novus Ordo is the adult daughter.
It's going to remain that way for the foreseeable future, and there is nothing in Summorum Pontificum that suggests otherwise. The Catholic liturgy wars are OVER. It's been over for nearly a decade now. It's time to move on folks.
So in the spirit of 'moving on' that is exactly what I am going to do now. You won't read much about the Catholic liturgy wars on this blog any more. As I said, I'm sick and tired of it. I have my map of local traditional liturgies in this area. If anyone has any questions about where to find them in the Ozarks, please refer to the map. My personal attachment is to Divine Worship, sometimes referred to as the 'Traditional English Mass' or 'TEM,' and that's all I'm going to write about from now on. That being said, however, if anyone misconstrues my writings as some kind of contempt for the Novus Ordo liturgy, I hereby repudiate such a claim and publicly challenge anyone who dares to make it. The Novus Ordo is a perfectly legitimate and beautiful liturgy, through which the grace of God freely flows. It has been a blessing to my own family, and to countless others. That's where I stand, just in case you were wondering.
Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'CatholicInTheOzarks.com.' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.
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