Does the Novus Ordo Really Have “Noble Simplicity” Compared to the Tridentine Mass?


Greetings, merry Christmas, and happy new year to all!

It has been quite a while since I’ve posted anything, unfortunately, so I understand if people have been thinking this blog is dead. It’s not, in fact, dead. I have one post mostly written that I haven’t gotten around to publishing, continuing with the subject of lay readers that I already made two posts on. I also have another big post — focusing on evolution — in the idea stage. But time is a beast, and, very often, I find myself wanting to do other things. With all that said, there’s something I’ve been thinking about over the past couple weeks that I wanted to discuss.

One of the primary directives of Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium is the following:

“In the revision of the liturgy, the following norms should be observed: the rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity; they should be short, clear, and unencumbered by useless [inutiles] repetitions; they should be within the peoples’ powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 33-34).

Now, many, including me, take issue with the repetitions in the older Mass being called “useless,” and I would also question whether “comprehension” of the rites should be a primary aim. After all, the Holy Mass is an infinite mystery, and, try as we might, we will never totally understand it.

But what I’d like to focus on here is the idea of “noble simplicity.” In Sacrosanctum Concilium, and in the revised Order of the Mass, it seems that “noble simplicity” requires short, simple prayers – and hence, the saints’ names in the Confiteor and in the Libera Nos following the Our Father got cut. The numerous signs of the Cross in the Canon got cut. The Domine, Non Sum Dignus is said by the priest and people together, once only. And there are numerous other examples of this rather unfortunate trend as well.

However, I would suggest that, in one respect, the revised Order of the Mass fails utterly in its aim to be nobly simple, and that the former Mass is clearly more in line with the aims of Vatican II’s directives.

If the former missal has something definitely going for it, it’s that the Mass has a clearly delineated structure, and the faithful in the pews can know what to expect each time. To put it simply, the Traditional Latin Mass doesn’t really have options. There is the option of what type of Mass will be offered – Low Mass, High Mass, Solemn Mass – but that’s essentially it. The Novus Ordo, however, allows for so many options in all of its parts that any Mass according to that missal would differ from others. Let’s observe some examples. For the sake of ease, I’m going to refer to the older Mass as the “Tridentine Mass” (even though it was around well before the Council of Trent).

The Tridentine Mass, with very rare exceptions, always begins with the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar. These don’t change. These begin with Psalms 43 and 42, then include a Confiteor said by the priest and then a Confiteor said by the servers on behalf of the faithful. There is then a brief quotation from Psalm 85, followed by two prayers as the priest goes up to the altar. This pattern can be expected at essentially every Tridentine Mass.

In the Novus Ordo, however, there are multiple options after the Sign of the Cross, which will depend on the whim of the priest offering the Mass. So, for example, he could say, “The Lord be with you,” (R\: And with your spirit), or he could say, “The grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (same response), or he could even say, “Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (the response here is either “And with your spirit” or “Blessed be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”).

Then, for the Penitential Act, there are three options, which can be chosen at the priest’s discretion: 1) the Confiteor and Kyrie; 2) just the Confiteor; 3) just the Kyrie, with prescribed introductions before each petition.

So far, then, there’s six official variations from the Sign of the Cross to the Kyrie, which will differ from priest to priest, while the Tridentine Mass has a stable and unchanging setup.

As far as Scriptural readings are concerned, the Tridentine Mass has three variations: the priest reads the Epistle and the Gospel himself at a Low Mass; he chants them at a High Mass; and in a Solemn Mass, the subdeacon chants the Epistle while the deacon chants the Gospel. That’s the extent of variations to be expected in this area. In the Novus Ordo, though, there are numerous options. As is the case in most places, lay people – men or women – are permitted and even expected to read the first two readings. They may do so in their own clothes, or vested in something such as an alb or a cassock and surplice. Alternatively, the priest himself may read the readings, though this is rarely done. Yet all options would be licit, and all of them could feasibly happen, depending on the desire of the priest.

Then we reach the Eucharistic Prayer. In the Tridentine Mass, the prayer is the Roman Canon. No other options exist, no textual variations exist, and the rubrics are always the same. In the Novus Ordo, not only are there technically ten different prayers (the Roman Canon, Eucharistic Prayers II-IV, the two Eucharistic Prayers for Reconciliation, and the Eucharistic Prayer for Various Needs – which has four variations), but also, within the Roman Canon, the priest has the option of abbreviating it by omitting most of the saints and all of the “Through Christ our Lord. Amen” conclusions. Thus, there are eleven possible Eucharistic Prayer variations from Novus Ordo to Novus Ordo, while it will always remain the same in the Tridentine Mass.

There are more options I could explore within the Novus Ordo as well, but this is enough to make my point. This doesn’t even bring up options such as having Mass ad orientem or ad populum; English or Latin, or a mix of each; bare altar, or altar with a crucifix and candles; male or female altar servers; Extraordinary Ministers or just the priest distributing Communion; and on and on.

My goal is not to say that options are intrinsically a problem. They can be utilized to good effect, as the Anglican Ordinariate Mass, and some of the Divine Liturgies, demonstrate. But my question is this: have we really rendered the liturgy “nobly simple” by allowing a dizzying plethora of options, which end up making the Mass more of an a la carte menu? Or might the Tridentine Mass have something to teach us in its stable and constant character?

God bless, all.


“Taught the Fear of Jesus in a Small Town” — Thinking About Two Wrong, But Prevalent, Views of Religion


My dear friends,

I wake up to a radio station that cycles through rock hits from the 1970’s and ’80’s. I guess that’s what manages to get me up best in the morning. A couple days ago, I heard a song frequently played on this radio station, John Mellencamp’s “Small Town.” As I lay there in bed, talking myself into getting up, one line of that song hit me more notably than it had before. The singer describes himself as, “Educated in a small town / Taught the fear of Jesus in a small town / Used to daydream in that small town / Another boring romantic, that’s me.”

“Small Town,” Riva Records

“Taught the fear of Jesus in a small town.”

I had never really considered the implications of a line like that, but it hit me forcefully then. The way the singer sees Jesus—and thus, presumably, the entire idea of faith of religion—is one of “fear.” To such a mindset, it seems, God is nothing other than someone who watches your every move to ensure you don’t do something “wrong.” God is a sort of boogeyman in the clouds who serves no real purpose besides stopping you from doing the things you want, and who has petty ideas of right vs. wrong. One bad move and you’re done for.

Now, admittedly, it is one line of one song written thirty years ago, and I can’t say how John Mellencamp views religion based on it alone. For all I know, that may not have been meant as the swipe at religion that it sounds like.

But I think it’s not unfair to say that many people today, numerous Catholics among them, do view the religion they’re taught in their formative years as being based ultimately on a fear of God, lest He find some fault with them. (Notate bene: fear of the Lord, in proper measure, is a good to be fostered; more on that in a minute). And then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum, which is arguably more prevalent within today’s world, which says that, if God exists, and if people want to “be religious,” then as long as they’re not murderers, rapists, or psychopaths, they have nothing to fear from God. Both of these views are unhealthy. The first, meant to make the believer careful to avoid anything “bad” based on the mean God in the clouds who’s out to get him, misses an essential ingredient of religion and will probably lead to resentment and, ultimately, abandonment of God. The second misses that same essential ingredient, but, not wanting to leave the believer cowering in fear, says simply that there’s nothing to fear except in a few extreme cases.

What essential ingredient is missing in these two approaches to religion? The idea of following God due to love of Him. I don’t mean love in the sense of nice, uplifting, warm-fuzzy “fluff.” I mean love like the kind we find when we really love another person: a valuing of the other person based on a genuine belief in his or her inherent merit, goodness, and worth. In the end, the primary driving force for any religious activity on our part should arise from a desire to please God because we recognize the goodness of God, the worth of God, and the love with which He acts upon mankind. “We love [God],” says John in his first letter, “because He has loved us first” (1 John 4:19). To be loved deeply by another person will very often make us love that person in return, and in the case of God, it’s no different. The individual who has a correct approach to religion, a correct understanding of God, loves Him if for no other reason than that God loves the individual so greatly in return, and that God is so perfect and benignant as to be entirely worth loving.

Genuine love of God balances out our spiritual lives, so that we are neither preoccupied with His impending wrath, nor lax enough to think that, as long as we’re not criminals, we’ve nothing to worry about. “He who loves Me will keep My commandments,” says Christ in John 14:23. This verse alone can serve as a course correction toward both views of religion given above. To the believer who approaches the Lord in terms of “fear,” it must be pointed out that the avoidance of sin is based on the principle that sin is a rejection of the love God offers, and that, by avoiding sin, the believer is avoiding offense to a loved one. This, and not fear of anger, should be his primary motivation for not sinning. To the believer who approaches the Lord with a grand laxity of conscience, it must be pointed out it does not take public atrocities to render oneself guilty of sin. “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,'” Our Lord tells His listeners in the Gospel of Matthew, “but I say to you, that whoever looks at a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” And earlier on, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not murder,’ but I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother shall be subject to judgement” (Mt. 5:27; 21).

Fear of the Lord is a genuine gift, and is required for a healthy relationship with God, for it keeps present before us the essential realization that God is God and we are not. God is holy, and very often, we are not. God has ultimate power over life, death, and the created world; we do not, and any power we do have is merely because He has given it to us. Fear of the Lord, as is obvious, does hinder us from sinning, so that we avoid the punishment we willfully incur on ourselves by sinning (it would be a mistake to think God “sends us to Hell,” since He does not; we send ourselves to Hell by our voluntary rejection of the one who “is Love,” the ultimate reason for and sustainer of all that exists—1 John 4:8). Despite its necessity, however, fear of the Lord should always be a secondary motivation for following God as we ought, and love ought to take the primary place. “There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear; fear arises from punishment, and he who has fear has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18).

I guess the point of all this musing is the following: if fear is your primary motivation in following God, something’s off. If want to follow God without any fear, something’s equally off. Fostering a love of God, which will balance your perspective of God, is the key to following Him properly.

The Problem With Non-Liturgically-Vested, Lay Readers At Mass, Part 2: The Nature of Liturgical Reading

Dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, that Mother whom none but the Lord deserves, but who nonetheless graciously receives us as her own children


My dear friends,

In my previous post on this topic, I began the discussion by sharing the clear requirement from Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium that “there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church certainly requires them” and “care must be taken that any new forms adopted should, in some way, grow organically from forms already existing” (SC 23). Then, keeping this principle in mind, I gave five key elements of the way readings are performed in the older form of Mass versus how they’re performed now, and attempted to demonstrate that, due to numerous and glaring differences, the current method does not constitute an “organic growth” from the previous practice (you can read that over HERE).

But that was meant to be merely a preliminary consideration. Now, I’d like to begin sharing with you several reasons that I believe we would do well to amend our present practice and bring it more in line with the former way of doing things. These can be divided into four main arguments, with this post dealing with the first of them: 1) having laity, male or female, perform the readings results in a muddled view of what is proper to the baptized priesthood and what is proper to the ordained priesthood, and obscuring the roles of each doesn’t exalt either one; 2) having non-vested laypeople read makes the liturgy ceremonially inconsistent; 3) splitting up the reading duties, so that the Gospel is reserved for the priest while the laity can read the other readings, makes it so that nature of the written Divine Word is obscured; 4) basing itself in large part on the ideas to be presented in argument #1, there are general problems with having females perform liturgical roles in the sanctuary (please, in charity, read this argument carefully, when a future post comes containing it, before immediately declaring me sexist!).

So let’s take these arguments one at a time and see if they afford any content worthy of reflection.

Main Argument 1: An Obscured Understanding of the Two Priesthoods

If my own thinking in the past can be any indication, I think there’s a common idea among Catholics nowadays, even among those who have an orthodox differentiation in their minds between the “baptized” and “ordained” priesthood, that as long as it is not required that the laity perform any liturgical roles directly related to confecting the Sacrament of the Eucharist, it should not be considered a problem to have laity doing other things in the Mass — like read the readings. After all, anyone can read, right? There is no special power or authority required from God to get up, proclaim a text, and sit back down again.

To an extent, that’s true. Anyone can read the Bible, and ultimately, the text is going to be no different whether it’s read by a cleric or a layperson, a man or a woman. But I would suggest, perhaps, a different outlook. That is this: reading at Mass is not just reading so that the text gets read, which anyone can indeed do, or reading with the aim of better moving the souls of those present toward God. Rather, the reading of the Scriptures at Mass is an essentially ministerial function, an essentially shepherding function, which — as can hopefully be shown as we progress  — ultimately ties it to the ordained.

In having this first line of thought brought to my attention, I have to credit Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, who is the author of the book Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church, as well as a frequent contributor to the New Liturgical Movement blog. In the book just mentioned, he first of all attempts to put to bed any misconceptions that the baptized priesthood is somehow less interesting or an inferior bargain compared the ordained priesthood. He writes (pp. 105-106; emphasis original, except where noted): 

Nothing is inherently more important, more weighty and decisive, than the sacramental character received in baptism, with its eternal consequences for good—or for ill, if the vows that bind us to our merciful Savior are found to be broken at death. Not even the priest’s special sacramental character, as necessary as it is for the common good of the Church . . . , is as decisive for his final destiny, since he will be saved or condemned as a Christian . . . . [N]othing that a Christian can ever do or become will equal, in supernatural dignity, the gift of divinization and conformity to Christ he received at the baptismal font. We can see, then, how tragically mistaken are the desires and efforts of lay people to perform the functions that more properly belong to the clergy, [emphasis mine] as if doing so were somehow a greater, more important exercise of their baptismal priesthood than receiving the sacraments devoutly, striving to live a holy Christian life, and converting the world outside the church doors.

The author then goes on to describe the defining characteristic of the baptized priesthood and the defining characteristic of the ordained priesthood. He writes, borrowing from the sacramental theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Roman Catechism, and Lumen Gentium of the Second Vatican Council (LG 10), that “the priesthood of the faithful, which encompasses all Christians, has to do with receiving divine things; the ministerial priesthood, which is proper to those who have received Holy Orders, has to do with giving divine things” (106).

This is worth considering. Yes, anyone can read the Scriptures. Many laity will undoubtedly read them with great competence and piety, often to a greater extent than some clergy. You’ll get no dispute from me about that much. Firstly, however, given that the Sacred Liturgy of the Mass is a sacramental action, and, further, that the Mass, both in the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist (or, to use the older distinction, the Mass of the Catechumens and the Mass of the Faithful) constitutes one comprehensive whole, and not two separated functions, then it belongs to the sacramental domain of the ordained to read at Mass. Secondly, if, in the Church’s traditional theology, it belongs to the ordained to give divine things, then surely we can treat the inspired Word of the Lord, being given, not just in isolation, but in this sacramental context, as a “divine thing” par excellence, one to be generally administered by the ordained. 

Even if the readings cannot, in practice, be always handled by an ordained minister, the one who reads should nevertheless be (borrowing from Professor Kwasniewski again) “conformable to the priestly office” (106). This will form the basis for some of  argument four above (concerning women performing liturgical roles within the sanctuary), to be given more fully in a future posting.

But for the moment, to be “conformable” to the priesthood means that those with a liturgical role “should be male and should be properly vested, because the things they are doing are priestly in nature, even if not always reserved to priests” (106-107). A young man is conformable to the priesthood, and could potentially be ordained. Even a married man is conformable to the priesthood, and could potentially be ordained. A woman, however, not denying the dignity of the female and the indisputable equality and complementarity of the sexes, is not conformable to the priesthood. More will be said about that as we progress, but this seems like a reasonable stopping point for the first argument I’ve laid out.

God bless you all, until I post again!

Reflecting on Gestures and Silence: Has the Near-Wholesale Elimination of Rubrics and the Recitation of the Entire Liturgy Aloud Done Favors for the Church?

Dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary

My dear friends,

Think of going to a Sunday Mass. The priest and servers arrive at the altar, with the accompaniment of a hymn. The priest and servers go to their chairs (quite often facing the people directly), and the priest, microphoned and ready to go, says, “In the name of the Father…,” possibly prefaced by a “good morning.” The Penitential Act follows, followed by the Gloria and then the Collect of the Day. Everyone merely stands in their place for the entirety of these prayers, with no gestures required on the part of the priest or servers throughout (besides the striking of the breast at the “through my fault” if the Confiteor is used, and the often-unknown-about bow of the head at the names of Jesus and Mary). At this point, everyone sits and listens to the readings (with a Responsorial Psalm in between them). There may be a pause of a few moments if the priest wants to recollect himself, but at any rate, he then gets up, accompanied by the “Alleluia,” reads the Gospel, gives his homily, and sits down again (very often, to say it again, in a chair directly facing the people). This sitting may involve a short period of silence before the Creed and the Prayers of the Faithful occur.

I don’t need to keep going. We all know how the Mass goes. For the entire first half, more or less, the priest and other ministers are made to stand in their places, with them staring toward us and us staring toward them, as we say or sing the various prayers required. There is little to no silence here, and in those cases where some moments of silence are called for (such as following the homily), they frequently come across as contrived, forced, “here because they have to be.” Very often, because the ministers and the people face each other, these moments of silence end up being awkward and brief, leaving those of us in the pews wondering how much longer it will be before the priest arises and the Mass continues (sometimes, the priest either sits down for a split second or simply proceeds with the Mass, no pause at all).

Because These Can Be Fun: A Comparison

It’s interesting to compare this to the setup, aura, and style of the Traditional Latin Mass. Readers may come away from what I write convinced that I’m simply in love with the older Mass and don’t like the present form. I wouldn’t say that’s the case. In fact, I rarely have opportunity to go to Mass in the older form, and the Masses that I do go to in the Novus Ordo tend to be thoroughly run-of-the-mill. But I would argue that the older liturgical form, with centuries of development and piety behind it, must not be easily brushed off as a relic of an age happily gone by, and that, given the rushed and from-the top-down nature of Vatican II’s reforms, the older Mass should be frequently re-examined by the Catholic world at large, with an aim to better understanding and appreciating why it may have done things for so long as it did them. It may, and I would argues emphatically that it does, have things to teach us about fostering a sensible liturgical spirit.

So, make a comparison we shall. The priest and servers enter the sanctuary, and instead of stopping at often-centrally-located chairs, they remain facing toward the altar, the crucifix, the tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament — and rather than standing immovable in their places, the servers kneel down on either side of the priest as he begins the Mass, still facing the same direction as the congregation, “In the name of the Father…” Then, not only does the position of the ministers (not looking out at the people) clearly indicate the focus of what will be happening, but there is also the notable lack of any kind of greeting, whether within the Missal or otherwise. The priest gives no improvised “good morning,” not even an official introduction directed to the people such as, “Brethren, let us acknowledge our sins and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries.” The focus is not on the people, or on the priest, at this point. The focus is on the action of the Mass, as the priest and servers recite an aptly-suited Psalm: “I will go unto the altar of God.” Once the Psalm is concluded, the priest, rather than merely standing in place, bows profoundly as he recites the “Confiteor” for himself, striking his breast three times at the words, “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.” The servers kneeling by him do likewise as they recite the peoples’ Confiteor, and the fascinating thing during all of this is that, although the prayers are often barely audible, the gestures throughout manage to communicate the content of the prayers far more deeply than any amount of standing in place, upright, and speaking in a loud, clear voice, can do.

At the conclusion of the Confiteor, the priest not only says, standing passively and without gestures as in the Novus Ordo, the “May almighty God have mercy on us…”, but also adds another prayer which includes making a sign of the cross—a sign of God’s blessing and pardon—over those present. “May the almighty and merciful Lord grant you forgiveness, absolution, and remission of all your sins.” This makes it so that, rather than merely asking, in a microphone-aided, congregation-directed voice, that God would forgive our offenses, the priest subtly prayers that it would be so, and, through his gesture of blessing, gives a visible sign that it is so, that God has forgiven those who seek repentance.

Contrived Silence vs. “Filled” Silence

The quiet of these early prayers, yet the depth of the prayers being prayed and the clarity of the gestures which communicate their content, has been described as a “filled quiet” or a “filled silence” by many authors. In the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, there are no stipulated or artificial “pockets” of silence. The entire Mass proceeds subtly, soberly, most of its prayers said quietly. Even in a sung form of Mass, where many of the parts are clearly chanted and clearly audible, and even when the choir is singing the texts of the day over many of the quieter prayers of the priest, the effect is still one of remarkable silence and peacefulness. As the chants are sung, clearly heard, there is a profundity, a solemnity, and a sense of peace as the prayers up at the altar are quietly prayed. One is not overwhelmed by the sense that he must listen closely to everything and anything being prayed, or that he must make some specific acclamation in a loud and clear voice.

The most profound example of this “filled silence” is the priest’s quiet praying of the Canon (a filled silence that will ultimately render Christ present), accompanied by multiple, profound rubrics which have been almost entirely removed in the present Mass form. In the Novus Ordo Mass, the priest says the Eucharistic Prayer in its entirety in a clearly audible voice, and, aside from the somewhat more complex Roman Canon (which itself has been substantially cut down on a rubrical level), he is only required to make one sign of the cross during the prayer, is only required to bow “slightly”—what does this mean?—before the consecration of each Element, and only genuflects twice from beginning to end. Compare this to the praying of the Roman Canon in the older Mass, wherein the very beginning of that prayer is profoundly gesture-oriented: rather than beginning the prayer standing upright, confidently, like a person prepared to deliver a speech, the priest bows profoundly over the altar as he says the opening words: “Te igitur, clementissime Pater…” — “You, therefore, most merciful Father, we humbly beseech and petition through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord…” Then, still bent low, he kisses the altar before standing upright and continuing the prayer, which is typically heard only by those very near, but which has its meaning clearly demonstrated by the many rubrics and gestures to be made throughout.

Gestures of Reverence Founded, Ultimately, on Scripture

What I have described so far is merely within the opening sentence of the Eucharistic Prayer. Let’s ask ourselves this question honestly: is the reality of what will take place during the Eucharistic Prayer truly communicated in a clearer fashion to the faithful by eliminating the priests’ rubrics, so that he remains standing upright and proclaims the prayer with a volume which suggests that he’s somehow speaking to the people and not to God? Think of Christ’s parable in Luke 18. The one He commended was not the Pharisee, who stood and prayed with confidence, assured of himself, but the tax collector, who, the Lord relates, “would not even look up to Heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner'” (Lk. 18:13).

Another rubrical contrast between the Novus Ordo Mass and its predecessor is the priest’s “reaction,” if you will, to the Consecration. In the Novus Ordo, the priest may or may not make a notable bow while reciting the Lord’s words at the Last Supper (again, the rubric to bow “slightly” is a vague one), but he also elevates the Sacred Species in either form, and then genuflects. In the older Mass, however, it’s required that he bow profoundly while saying the words of consecration, and that he genuflect before elevating, as well as after. He gives an indication of adoration as soon as the Lord makes Himself present, and only then does he consider the elevation. It’s reminiscent of Peter, who, upon seeing the Lord’s power manifest, “fell at His knees and said, ‘Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man'” (Lk. 5:8). When St. John saw our Risen Lord in the Book of Revelation, he “fell at His feet as though dead” (Rev. 1:17), and only at Our Lord’s bidding did he arise. All of these elements, far from being mere “medieval accretions” worthy of nothing but elimination, are ultimately given precedent within the Sacred Scriptures, and I would argue that their presence more clearly proclaims the reality of what goes on.

To go on and describe the rest of the Mass and all the differences, with the emphasis on words and hearing things and saying things in the newer Mass vs. the focus on contemplation and reverence in the older Mass, would take multiple posts, and it’s not my aim to bore my readers (or imply that the Novus Ordo can’t be offered in a contemplative spirit. It can be, but even the most traditionally-celebrated Novus Ordo is still required to be said with nearly every prayer “aloud,” which means there is never that “filled silence” that the Extraordinary Form affords).

Let us again compare the quiet and gesture-ridden nature of the older Mass to the largely gesture-free, yet loudly-recited, prayers of the Novus Ordo, and then, let us again consider one question honestly. Have we really gained better understanding by hearing every word and eliminating many actions on the part of the priest, or might we admit that, even with them perfectly audible, the various prayers, and indeed the Sacrifice of the Mass as a whole, go beyond mere things to be “comprehended,” and that a recovery of that mysterious and filled quiet, accompanied by its profound gestures, could lead the faithful to a deeper understanding of the Mystery of Faith?

The Problem With Non-Liturgically-Vested Laypeople Reading at Mass, Part 1: Vatican II Itself

Dedicated in Filial Affection to that Lovely Tabernacle of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, both the Lord’s Mother and ours


My dear friends,

Assuming you’ve gone to Mass since 1969, you’ve undoubtedly noted the prevalent “Liturgy of the Word” custom of today. During the Liturgy of the Word, it is very frequent for laypeople to read the first two readings, and typically, it is women who step up to this role. These laypeople usually come to the sanctuary from the pews, dressed however they came to church, that is, not wearing liturgical vestiture. I’d like, perhaps, to give a slight warning. What I’m writing here is no doubt going to cause a certain level of controversy and is going to step on some toes. But I think it’s a topic that deserves consideration. Ultimately, that topic is this: that there might be legitimate liturgical problems with having non-liturgically-vested laypeople, particularly women, who do not remain in the sanctuary, read the readings during Mass, and that certain solutions should be adopted to remedy this issue. (NB: Most of the main arguments will be given in future postings, rather than here. This post is for a preliminary consideration based on a principle found within Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium).

Now, for some, these may come as an unimportant details to consider. People hear all the time about the need for liturgical reverence, sure, or the problem with Communion in the hand, or the problem of Mass with the priest facing the people, but this topic is hardly dealt with and seems, likewise, to be hardly important. But I would argue that the now-common practice of having laypeople merely come up from their pews, as they are, to read (and then return to their pews when finished), constitutes a genuine obstacle to a true liturgical spirit, and also goes directly against many of Vatican II’s statements on the Word of God and the Sacred Liturgy (one of which will be used here, in Part 1; more to follow later). Why would I think that? Well, please read on. But I do want to make some preliminary comments first.

The Motives are Praiseworthy…

The reasons that laypeople read are commendable. On the part of those who try to get laypeople involved in this role, they almost always do so with a desire to better fulfill the Second Vatican Council’s call for an “active participation” of the laity, as they understand it (i.e., as a literally “active,” or external, function). In fact, as Pope Pius XII laid out in 1947’s Mediator Dei, and as numerous Pontiffs have reiterated since, active participation is primarily of the mind and the soul. Nevertheless, the fact is, the common parish-level definition of active participation has been that of external activity; and so, if someone reads Vatican II with this frame of reference, and sees that this “active participation” is “the aim to be considered before all else” (SC 14), then he should at least be praised for attempting to make it happen as he understands it, even if his understanding is incorrect or, at best, incomplete.

On the part of those who volunteer to read and frequently do so, they deserve a degree of praise, too. Getting up in front of a crowd is not a pleasant thing. Being willing to do so frequently is not a pleasant thing. Contrariwise, desiring to serve the Lord by reading the Sacred Scriptures at Mass is a laudable thing, and my aim in the following post is not to belittle or deny any of these facts. More to it, considering how prevalent it is for women to do the reading at Mass compared to men, women should also be praised for their comparative courage in doing so when men won’t. So again, my goal is not deny or obscure the legitimate motives or competence that lay readers might possess. The argument takes place on different grounds.

The First Consideration: Loyalty to Vatican II’s Mandate of “Organic” Change

As a stage-setter, it can be agreed by everyone that, whether it’s a fine or a problematic thing, having a “person from the pews” get up from his or her pew to read during Mass, and then return to the pew afterward, is a definitively “new” practice for the Catholic liturgy. In the older form of the Mass, the epistle and the Gospel (there was not an Old Testament reading) would be read either by the celebrating priest (if a Low Mass), or by the priest and then the deacon, respectively (if a High Mass). In any case, one would not find a lay man or woman entering the sanctuary to read, nor would he find an altar server doing so. Such has been the custom through the centuries in the West. I can’t comment on the Divine Liturgies of the Eastern Churches, but, in my limited understanding, they have never had a custom of lay people reading from the Scriptures, either. So, stating it merely as a historical fact and without any controversy involved, having the laity read readings at Mass is a definitively modern practice, however one feels about it, and, for a 2000-year-old Church, is young, having its genesis in the late 1960’s.

Lest I be considered shallow, my argument against the practice is not that it is “new.” Many liturgical developments are new at one point or another. But there is a general principle, reaffirmed by Vatican II itself (see quote below), that in order for liturgical progress to be considered good, it must be a true elevation of what is already there, must serve to further demonstrate the reality of whatever the liturgical element in question is, and, (I’m borrowing from ideas of Cardinal Ratzinger here), must be “organic,” that is, natural, sensible, and not a form of notable discontinuity and rupture with what has preceded it. In its Constitution on the Liturgy, Vatican II itself affirmed this basic principle: “[T]here must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and [my emphasis] care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing” (SC 23).

I’d like to pause here just a second to make one point. Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium is, in many ways, a vague document, and it’s difficult many times for anyone to clearly pinpoint what it wanted. I get that. But there are a couple sections of it that present a clear directive, with no ambiguity, and this is one of those cases, which means it merits special attention on our part. So let’s think about the bolded section of that quote from Vatican II. In the case of Mass readings and the Liturgy of the Word, it’s not evident to me that the way things are done now organically developed from the former practice. Let’s compare the way readings are read in the older form of Mass to the way things are done now, and see how well the Reform has applied this mandate.

Element 1:

—In the older form, the one doing the reading was a cleric or a man in minor orders.

—In the newer form, the one doing the reading is almost always a layperson, and is many times a woman.

Continuity or discontinuity? Discontinuity.

Element 2:

—In the older form, the reading cleric would always be vested for a liturgical function; you’d never see a priest or a deacon reading in his clerical suit or cassock.

—In the newer form, the lay man or woman is almost never vested to read, but rather, performs this role in regular clothing; no liturgical vestiture is required.

Continuity or discontinuity? Discontinuity.

Element 3:

—In the older form, the reading cleric remained in the sanctuary; he was obviously not considered “one of the people,” but was instead a clearly designated minister, set apart for the role he was performing and unable to be confused with “just anybody.”

—In the newer form, the lay man or woman does not remain in the sanctuary, but instead enters into the sanctuary for a brief time, reads, and then exits the sanctuary again; there is, then, no clear differentiation between those who have a specific liturgical function to perform and those participating in the Mass from the congregation.

Continuity or discontinuity? Discontinuity.

Element 4:

—In the older form, on a rubrical level, the reading cleric needed to read (or chant) the Scripture with his hands joined, bowing his head at the name of Jesus, Mary, or the saint of the day.

—In the newer form, the rubrics for laity doing readings are essentially non-existant, beyond bowing to the altar—which, in the older form, would usually be not a bow to the altar, but a genuflection to the Tabernacle—upon approaching and departing.

Continuity or discontinuity? Discontinuity (but easily fixable with training).

Element 5:

—In the older form, with the exception of the Gospel at a High Mass (where a deacon would chant the Gospel, outside the sanctuary, typically facing sideways, and not toward the people), the Scriptures were read on the altar itself, with the priest facing the same direction as the people. They could be read, afterwards, at a lectern facing the people and in the vernacular, but it was required that they be read at the altar, ad orientem and in Latin, first.

—In the newer form, the readings are always read at a lectern or ambo, never on the altar and always facing toward the people.

Continuity or discontinuity? Mild continuity with the use of a lectern, but mostly discontinuity.

I have listed here five primary differences. Now, if you would, please look at the Vatican II quote again. In all of these elements between “old” and “new,” there are marked contrasts, such that if a person compares the two methods, he won’t see the new one as a development in continuity with what preceded it, or as a natural evolution. He’ll see it instead as a notable series of changes, a series which does away with or alters basically all the elements of the former way of doing things. The only continuous element throughout is that Scripture, at least an Epistle and a Gospel, is being read. Everything else has been changed to such a degree that, if a person who knew only the older form could be transported to a present-day Mass, he might not recognize (or at least not immediately) that the part of the Mass was the same.

If we really consider the matter, and if we really hope to use Vatican II to bolster our arguments, can we honestly say this reform has followed Vatican II’s directive that the change in question “flow organically” from what already existed? Or, as a preliminary consideration, might we be justified in saying that this reform, ultimately, has contradicted one of the Council’s clearer directives, and has resulted in a radical reshaping of the liturgical cloth?

Pope Francis Has Asked You For a Favor: Will You Do It?


Pope Francis – Depending on the crowd referred to, he’s a man liked or disliked for his distinct approaches, his frequent and various public statements, and, in some cases, his attire (public domain image from Papist’s Flickr account).

Inside and outside the Catholic world, Pope Francis has undeniably become (to borrow a somewhat trite phrase from social media) a “trending” figure since March 2013. It seems to me that, since his election, hardly a week has been able to go by before some new article or blog post has been published about him (like this one). His off-the-cuff remarks and airplane interviews are quickly seized by news outlets, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, and quite often are used to paint him as a more-or-less revolutionary figure, one who is finally willing to discuss hot topics that were previously closed-off. Within the Church, to give a hugely oversimplified summary of things as I’ve seen them (one not meant to be exhaustive in any sense), it seems that those on the left see him as either a disappointment (since he hasn’t gone as far as they’d like) or as a long-overdue savior who has helped to rescue the Church from the Middle Ages—a savior from whom promising changes are sure to come. It appears that Catholics on the right see him either as a disappointment (since he has thoroughly maintained and even deepened the “modern status quo”) or, depending on how “far” right one looks, as a genuine danger to the wellbeing of the Church.

There’s also the interestingly-polarizing issue (largely discussed in the Catholic blogosphere, but in secular sources as well if the issue can be used to set up an easy dichotomy between this man and those who have come before him) of the pope’s clothes. Some people treat his wardrobe like a breath of fresh air, seeing in him a genuinely “human” pope whose prompt abandonment of papal trappings and customs is a move well-worth praising. Jesus, after all, lived a humble life from His birth to His death, so why should the pope treat himself like medieval royalty? Others, generally those who would be designated by titles such as “conservative” (or the more stigmatizing “traditionalist”), are unsettled by this same approach, seeing in it a disrespect to the dignity of the Papal office, an attempt to make the pope “just like everyone else,” or a political statement about the “humility” (or lack thereof?) of his predecessors. Still others couldn’t care less what the pope wears.

As for me, I’ve generally avoided sharing any personal opinions concerning our much-talked-about Pontiff. I’ve also avoided talking about the controversial issues that so many of his statements have caused. Those are left to people smarter than I, and besides, although this is certainly not true across the board, I think that, in some cases, no one besides Pope Francis knows clearly what Pope Francis means when he says the latest ambiguous or unsettling comment. I still don’t plan to delve into those areas, really, as I don’t think it’s necessary for me to do that.

But I just remembered something that would do everyone, and most especially Pope Francis himself, a lot of good.

Remember when Pope Francis first stepped out onto the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica two years ago? What did he ask people to do as his pontificate went forward?

“Pray for me.”

Let me ask you this: do you remember to pray for Pope Francis? Whether people like or dislike the man, he needs prayers. He’s human. He may be the Vicar of Christ on Earth, but he has strengths and weaknesses, just like anyone else. I can’t speak for others, but I, for one, get so distracted by the frequent discussions about Pope Francis that I rarely remember to ask God to give His divine aid to the man who leads His Church. On and off the internet, I’ve heard people say they wish the Holy Father would measure his words more carefully, so as not to give way to unorthodox interpretations of his statements. I’ve heard some say they wish he’d not be so quick to hurl names at groups he disagrees with. I’ve heard people say they wish he’d stop giving his own opinions about so many things. Those are all perfectly understandable wishes, especially considering that the pope is a prime target for secular news outlets that are eagerly awaiting for new statements to spin.  But (and again, I can’t speak for others—this is purely food for thought) no amount of frustration over the Latest Papal Comment, however well-founded (and they frequently are well-founded), will have any good effect compared to frequent and genuine prayers on the Holy Father’s behalf. If people want the pope to become a fierce and unambiguous defender of orthodoxy, they ought to frequently and ardently pray that God would move him to be one. To some extent, one might say the goodness of the pope is as good as the number of people who pray for him.

Whether people like or dislike Pope Francis, there is one request of his that everyone can, and indeed must, fulfill: the request to charitably pray for him as he fulfills his Petrine ministry.

As one who has frequently forgotten to do this, I now want to assure the Holy Father that I will do my best to remember to pray for him, frequently and genuinely, from now on.

Would others please do so with me?

Zeal For Our Own Houses: Lent, Purifications, and Keeping Our Souls Upright



My dear friends,

Tomorrow, March 8th, we’ll hear one of the more unsettling Gospel readings of the liturgical cycle. St. John relates the happenings for us (Jn. 2:14-17):

Jesus found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. He made a whip out of chords and drove them all out of the temple area, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves He said, ‘Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a market place.’ His disciples recalled the words of Scripture: Zeal for your house will consume me.


The temple referred to here is, of course, a physical building, and Christ here is attempting to cleanse it of those who would use it improperly. But this reading, coming as it does during Lent, that penitential time of the Church’s calendar, makes me think of a second, and much more important, type of temple: human persons.

 I have such a difficult time remembering that my body and soul, really and truly, constitute a temple of God.  Being in God’s grace does not just mean that one is “without mortal sin,” or that one is “kinda, sorta right with God.” Being in the state of grace means the real, genuine, and personal indwelling of God within the soul. Our Lord said to His disciples, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My words, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our dwelling with him” (Jn. 14:23). This wasn’t some kind of nice figure of speech that has no real effect on reality—it’s a genuine assurance, a real sign of God’s love for each person individually. The person who follows God is not just given a ticket to heaven when he dies, but rather, he receives the true indwelling of the Three Divine Persons in his soul.

Not only the soul, but the body, too, constitutes a temple. “Do you not know,” St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you? You are not your own. You were bought at a price. Therefore, bear and glorify God with your bodies” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

“You are not your own.”

It’s hard to remember that, isn’t it?

The passage from John’s Gospel quoted above says that “zeal for God’s house” consumed Our Lord as He drove everyone from the temple. If we, too, human persons, are temples, then what is Lent but a time to drive damaging vices, corruptions, and influences from ourselves? Zeal for the physical temple consumed the Lord Jesus, yet any physical temple is destined for decay.  The human soul, however, is a temple which will last forever, either in heaven or hell, depending on whom we have followed in our time on earth. The human body, too, the temple of the Holy Spirit, will be resurrected at the end of time, to add either to our glory and happiness in heaven with God, or our torment in hell apart from Him.

Part of the idea behind the customary Lenten sacrifices that Catholics take on is that they might be an aid in purifying the soul, quelling vices, and bringing one closer to God. But without a zeal for the soul as God’s temple, they can become an arbitrary chore that might as well not be taken on. Are you performing a sacrifice this Lent out of a sense of obligation, or do you truly want to grow closer to God through this offering? Is there some vice you want to eradicate? Perform your sacrifice with the mind of Christ in this Gospel: get a whip, knock over tables, and drive out that which makes your relationship with God a kind of contract, but not a relationship of personal and genuine love.

Let zeal for your house, for your temple, consume you.


May God bless you all, and have a holy Lent.

Beautiful But Rarely Used: The Canon of the Mass, Part 2


Greetings, one and all!

In the last post on this topic, I told you that this post (admittedly a rather long one, but hopefully interesting all the same!) would be dealing with the Roman Canon, the first Eucharistic Prayer, from the Consecration onward. Well, as it turns out, that was just slightly misleading, because I want to take take a minute briefly to address a chief difference between the Canon and its newer rivals.

The Holy Spirit: Strangely Absent?

The difference is this: for better or worse, the Roman Canon has no direct prayer asking the Holy Spirit to sanctify the offerings (also known as an Epiclesis).

It might seem insignificant, but this was something which made liturgists both before and after Vatican II (like the author of Eucharistic Prayer III, for example) dissatisfied with the Canon, many thinking the Canon surely used to have an Epiclesis and it somehow got pushed out or reworded as time went on (The Mass: A Study of the Roman Rite by late nineteenth and early twentieth-century liturgist Adrian Fortescue gives many and various ideas from liturgists of that time about how this might’ve occurred, but gives no solid evidence of whether or not it’s true). At any rate, the new Eucharistic Prayers have an Epiclesis (would the plural be Epicleses?) in some form or another, and this was lauded among liturgists at the time they were written as being a happy return to a more ancient practice now restored. It was also seen as a pleasant way to connect the West with the East, since the Churches of the East are known for utilizing the Epiclesis in their Eucharistic Prayers (more correctly, their “anaphoras”).

This Eucharistic Prayer is notable for its lack of an invocation to the Holy Spirit upon the offerings.
This Eucharistic Prayer is notable for its lack of an invocation of the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying power upon the offerings.

If someone were to ask me, I would say the Roman Canon doesn’t particularly need an Epiclesis, as it has multiple prayers preceding the Consecration which ask God to bless and accept the offerings, and it also has its own prayer that, while not expressing the same idea as an invocation of the Holy Spirit, expresses an idea of comparable weight and gives the Canon its own particular character. This is the Supplices te rogamus. More on that below, though.

Now, onwards to the Consecration!

The Prayers of the Consecration Itself

Yet another difference between the Roman Canon and the newer prayers is the introduction to the Consecration. I said that the inclusion of an invocation to the Holy Spirit within the new prayers was seen by many as a happy way to unite the liturgies of East and West. Well, what I’m about to mention is rather less significant, but still interesting. In the new prayers, one might notice that the priest uses words along the lines of, “On the night He was betrayed,” “At the time He was betrayed,” or “The night before He died.” Well, as it turns out, this, too, was seen as a way to assimilate a little bit of the East’s practices into the West. The Roman Canon has always used a different formula, one which is particular to it, if I’m not mistaken, and thus particular to the Roman Rite. It has it this way: “The day before He was to suffer” (“qui pridie quam pateretur”). I remember reading somewhere—perhaps it was the book mentioned above—that it was worded like this to focus the minds of those present on the Passion of Christ, but I can’t recall for certain. Anyway, it’s an interesting little difference.

A more obvious thing one might note when comparing the Roman Canon to the newer prayers is the heightened reverence for Our Lord present here. It does not just say that Our Lord “took bread,” but that He took it, as the Latin says, “in sanctas ac venerabiles manus suas,” that is, “in His holy and venerable hands.” This might sound like the product of excessive piety, but it’s actually quite interesting. The Lord Jesus Christ is a Divine Person Who has assumed a human nature. He is God, in a human nature, and so, as the prayer bears out, His Person sanctifies everything about the nature He has taken, including something so seemingly insignificant as His hands. This is a fact which should bring wonder to every priest called upon to repeat His action in the Holy Mass. The very hands of Christ are sacred, yet in the Mass, the entirety of Christ is made present.

Any chalice used to hold the Blood of Christ, from the one He used at the Last Supper to any chalice used at a Mass since that night, is going to be “precious” from then on.

Again, in the Consecration of the Chalice, it does not just say He took “the chalice,” but rather, “this precious chalice,” — “hunc praeclarum calicem.” Why? Because any chalice which has been called upon to hold the Blood of the Lord, from a golden one embedded with jewels to a wooden and uninspired one, is, from then on and ever afterward, perpetually sanctified, perpetually made holy. It becomes no longer just an object, but indeed, one might argue that every chalice which has held the Eucharistic Presence is a genuine Tabernacle for as long as it serves that purpose, and also for as long as it will continue to serve that purpose in the future. It’s no longer just a chalice. It’s the holiest of man-made vessels, for it contains the Holy of Holies within itself.

After the Consecration

Following the Consecration, there is heard what is, in my opinion, the most striking text of the entire Mass: “Therefore, as we celebrate the memorial of the blessed Passion, the Resurrection from the dead, and the glorious Ascension into Heaven of Christ, your Son, Our Lord, we . . . offer . . . from the gifts you have given us, this pure Victim (hostiam puram), this holy Victim (hostiam sanctam), this spotless Victim (hostiam immaculatam), the holy Bread of eternal life and the chalice of everlasting salvation.” Right there, on the altar, offering Himself for our sake now, without death, just as He offered Himself in death on the Cross, is the One Whom Peter called “the Lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19).

The Lamb has things said of Him which can only be said of God without the one saying them being guilty of sin.
As the priest mentions “this pure Victim, this holy Victim, this spotless Victim,” it’s difficult not to think of the sacrificed Christ, the Lamb of God, as depicted in the Book of Revelation.


Going back to what I mentioned earlier about the propitiatory character of the Mass as affirmed at Trent, this next segment is very interesting. The current translation has it this way: “Be pleased to look upon these offerings with a serene and kindly countenance.” That sounds nice, surely, but if one looks at the Latin original, he’ll find something more striking: “Supra quae propitio ac sereno vultu respicere digneris,” literally, “deign to look upon them with a propitious and serene gaze.” Such a translation clearly brings to mind the Mass’ propitiatory, or sin-forgiving, character. The Canon goes on to mention the Old Testament forerunners of our sacrifice, Abel, Abraham, and Melchizedek, whose offerings foreshadowed, and are perfected in, the Holy Eucharist. The Holy Eucharist is, as the prayer says, the “holy sacrifice” and “spotless Victim” of the New Covenant.

As the Canon draws to a close, it reaches that peculiar moment that has no parallel in the new prayers, known as the Supplices te rogamus. This prayer, I think, could be rightly called the “Epiclesis of the Canon,” for although there isn’t a direct prayer asking for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, there is nonetheless a definitive request that the Sacrifice be “ratified” by God. This prayer is, interestingly, one of the places where the profoundly reverential rubrics of the older form of Mass have been retained to this day, and, if other people are at all like me, this is likely a place where they will take notice. Bowing low over the altar, the priest asks God’s angel (considered by some to be a reference to Christ Himself, the “Angel of the Lord” in many an Old Testament text) to carry the Sacrifice to the altar in Heaven, “in the sight of [God’s] Divine Majesty,” such that all who receive the Holy Eucharist from the altar here below may be filled (literally translated) “with every heavenly blessing and grace” (“omni benedictione caelesti et gratia”). Those last words also mark the only point remaining inside the Mass (i.e., the “current” Mass) where the priest is to make the sign of the Cross over himself, and that moment, coupled with the profound bow for the duration of this prayer, make the Canon definitively more striking and beautiful to me than any of the other Eucharistic Prayers. But beyond the mere gestures of the prayer, the reference to God’s “altar on high” helps the faithful to realize that the same Sacrifice of Christ they take part in during Mass is going on perpetually in Heaven, and that the Mass, for as long as it lasts, is a union of the Church in Heaven and the Church still on Earth.

The second-to-last prayer, the Memento defunctorum or Remembrance of the Dead, once again points in a clear way to the fact that the Sacrifice of the Mass is to be offered for the souls of the faithful departed, or, as the Canon calls them, “those who have preceded us with the sign of faith and sleep in the slumber of peace” (“qui nos praecesserunt cum signo fidei et dormiunt in somno pacis”). Here there is yet another string of that “rhythmic,” repetitious wording as the priest asks that the faithful departed be admitted into a “place of refreshment, light, and peace.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 12.42.58 PM
Archbishop Fulton Sheen praying briefly for particular deceased persons at the “Memento” for the dead (note the joined thumbs and forefingers, which is a mandatory rubric of the older missal to safeguard any particles of the Host on the fingers of the priest).

At this point, there is a last prayer for those present, who, sinners though they are, can trust that God, in His kindness, will welcome them into Heaven along with “His holy apostles and martyrs,” with many of those martyrs being mentioned by name. This section begins with the words “Nobis quoque peccatoribus, famulis tuis,” literally, “to us sinners also, your servants.” This section also has retained a rubric from the older form, namely, that the priest strikes the breast upon saying, “peccatoribus” (sinners). Like the gestures of the Supplices te rogamus, this rubric makes the Roman Canon all the more beautiful to me. Certainly, a recognition of sin, if too self-effacing and pervasive, is the problem of scrupulosity, but in my opinion, the newer prayers would have done well to emulate the humility of the Roman Canon, which is indeed humility in the true sense: not saying that man is unworthy and leaving it at that, but rather, that man is unworthy, yet able, in the words of this prayer, to have confidence in the “multitude of God’s mercies.” The newer Eucharistic Prayers, while they mention the sinfulness of man, do not convey it in as moving or profound a fashion, nor do they give those present at Mass continual reminders of their place before the Divine.


And so, my dear readers, these have been my various thoughts about this beautiful, but rarely used, prayer. I do hope more priests begin to see the beauty of it and will use it more. In my opinion, one of the simplest ways to recover a healthy theology of the Mass at the parish level would be to use the Roman Canon as the Sunday Eucharistic Prayer. At this point, one can only pray, though.

Before I go, I would highly recommend, for those interested in further reading, that you check out this article by Fr. Cassian Folsom, OSB, and published in 1996: “From One Eucharistic Prayer to Many: How it Happened and Why.” It gives a very interesting look at the surrounding situation—largely disobedience in the beginning, as history frequently has it—that brought about the new prayers, and the characteristics of the Roman Canon (some mentioned here) which the authors of the new prayers sought to alter.

I do hope you’ve found all this enjoyable.

Have a holy Lent!

“To you, therefore, most merciful Father” – (Somewhat) Theological Observations About the Canon of the Mass, Part 1



Until the current form of the Mass was officially promulgated in late 1969, Catholics of the Roman rite would have only known one Eucharistic Prayer. That prayer, now the first option among many (and commonly known as the Roman Canon), had sustained the Church almost entirely unchanged for over a millennium, and was, it might be argued, a hallmark of the Church’s liturgical faith against the ideas of people such as the founders of Protestantism.

The Council of Trent gave a glowing endorsement of this particular prayer with the following statement (read carefully, as it’s a bit of a mental tongue-twister): “And since it is becoming that holy things be administered in a holy manner, and since, of all things, this sacrifice is the most holy, the Catholic Church, to the end that it might be worthily and reverently offered and received, instituted many centuries ago the holy canon, which is so free from error that it contains nothing that does not in the highest degree savor of a certain holiness and piety, and raise up to God the minds of those who offer. For it consists partly of the very words of the Lord, partly of the traditions of the Apostles, and also of pious regulations of holy pontiffs” (Session XXII, Ch. IV).

Despite such high praise, despite the fact that the Church fostered it for centuries, and despite the generations of Catholics who were formed by it, it has been virtually thrown out of the ecclesial window and into the ecclesial trash heap since the end the of Second Vatican Council. Most often used in its place are Eucharistic Prayer II (a significantly shorter prayer with a much thinner level of substance) and Eucharistic Prayer III (a prayer which was written to be, in many ways, a reworking of the Canon so as to fix its perceived problems). Unless they have a priest who particularly likes it, Catholics today will generally hear the Roman Canon a few times a year (probably at Christmas, Easter, and All Saint’s Day—the last one due to the lists of individual saint names present in the prayer). But otherwise, several centuries of tradition have been discarded, with priests finding the Canon too long, the new prayers more streamlined, or the content of the new prayers more appealing (if a priest is reading this and has other reasons for not using the Canon, let me know; I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth). As for me, though, I’ve felt a strong affinity for the Roman Canon ever since the Mass was retranslated a few years ago, and I feel like some of my readers might appreciate reflections going into why I like it and why I wish it were once again prayed frequently.

NB: a) Before I go into my many thoughts on the matter, let it be said that I’m not an academic, and I’ve only studied this stuff at the level of personal interest, so I recognize that many solid objections could probably be brought up against the things I say. 

b) Where there is a portion of Latin in this post, it will be the case for the most part that the translation used is the one promulgated in 2011. If it’s my own translation, I’ll have written something like, “literally translated as…”

The Opening of the Prayer

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The beginning of the Canon in a missal from 1962 (the last edition promulgated of the previous liturgical form). Considering the sweeping changes which would take place in the years following Vatican II, it’s almost surprising that, at least as far as text is concerned, this prayer was virtually untouched (there is a difference in the immediate Consecration formulas, but that might be better discussed elsewhere).

The beginning of the prayer is already markedly different from most of the other options. Most of the other Eucharistic Prayers, making a direct connection with the Sanctus, the Holy, Holy, Holy, address God with the words, “You are indeed holy, O Lord.” Some perceive this as a definitive strength of the new prayers, since they have a greater connection to what has preceded them. That’s a topic for a different post, but at any rate, for those who aren’t used to the Roman Canon and have gotten used to hearing a correlation between the Holy and the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer, the introduction of the Canon might seem strange: “To you, therefore, most merciful Father, we make humble prayer and petition, through Jesus Christ, your Son, Our Lord.” This already establishes a different tone than the other prayers, most of which begin, not with an immediate statement of humility, but a statement of praise. Now, before somebody jumps on that, I’m not saying there’s something wrong with praise and that we should be always and everywhere approaching the Lord in sackloth, ashes, and lamentations. But to me, the tone of these words suggests the weight, the responsibility, the majesty of the action the priest and faithful are going to take part in, and, for me, it provides a deeper mental preparation going forward than the comparatively “joyful” characteristics of the newer prayers. The faithful in Mass are going to be present to God and to all the angels and saints of Heaven, yes, but they’re also going to be transported to the scene of the Cross, the scene of our Good Lord’s suffering and death, and this, I think, is aided by words that recognize, like the centurion, “Lord, I am not worthy” (Mt. 8:8).

The Prayers Before the Consecration

One of the things immediately noticeable about the Roman Canon is that, both in its Latin text and when translated literally (as opposed to the translation approved in the late 1960s), there is an almost poetic quality to it throughout. It uses strings of words that give it an arguably rhythmic tone. It begins, for example, asking God to accept and bless, in the Latin, “haec dona, haec munera, haec sancta sacrificia illibata”—as the current English translation renders it, “these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices.” As the priest offers them for the Church, the reader will notice there is yet another set of rhythmic phrases as the priest asks God to “be pleased to guard, unite, and govern her throughout the whole world” (“quam pacificare, custodire, adunare, et regere digneris toto orbe terrarum”).

Going on, it makes immediate mention of the Pope, the bishops, and the clergy, almost as a way of saying that prayers for the Vicar of Christ, whom Our Lord has made His spokesperson on Earth and the Rock of His Church, belong in a prominent place during the Sacred Action. The priest prayers also for all those who “cultivate” or “hand on” the Catholic and Apostolic faith (“et omnibus orthodoxis atque Catholicae et Apostolicae fidei cultoribus”). There is no sense of vagueness in this prayer. It is certainly declaring the Church headed by the Pope and bishops to be the universal faith, the same faith given from the Apostles themselves.

The next section, coupled with its counterpart later in the prayer (which some liturgists suggest were together in the Canon’s earlier development) shows an important truth about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as affirmed by the Council of Trent: that the Mass is a propitiatory sacrifice, able to forgive our sins and able to be offered for the souls of Christians both living and dead.

Known as the Memento vivorum, the Remembrance of the Living, the section begins, “Remember, Lord, your servants, and all those gathered here, whose faith and devotion are known to you.” The next line is important, because it clearly enunciates a truth only able to be grasped in the other prayers by way of interpretation. This truth is that the Eucharist is offered, not just communally as a “we,” but separately as well. “I” offer it for my own needs, “you” for yours, and the ordained priest does so differently than the laity present.

And so the prayer says, “For them we offer you this sacrifice of praise, or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them”—and pointing to the propitiatory, or sin-forgiving, nature of the Offering, it goes on— “for the redemption of their souls, in hope of health and well-being.” Something to notice is that the word “health” here is a translation of the Latin word “salutis,” which could also be translated as “salvation.” However it’s translated, it’s difficult not to notice, again, that repetitious, almost rhythmic quality I mentioned: the Mass is offered for “redemption, health, and well-being,” things which can all be taken to mean similar things, but which add a poeticism to the prayer by their individual presence.

The next section, the Communicantes, is, like so much of this prayer, clearly Catholic through and through, beginning with a clear and direct affirmation of Mary’s divine maternity. “Communicantes et memoriam venerantes, in primis, gloriosae semper Virginis Mariae, Genetricis Dei et Domini nostri Jesu Christi“—literally, “Having communion with and venerating the memory, in the first place, of the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.” The mention of the many individual saints calls to mind the host of holy men and women who have made it to Heaven, and also helps those present at the Mass to remember that they have intercessors in Heaven constantly praying for their sake. There is a clearly Catholic air, too, as the prayer closes, with the priest asking that by the “merits and prayers” of the saints mentioned, and all the saints in Heaven, the Christian faithful might always experience God’s protection and aid.

In the prayer preceding the Consecration, one can’t help noticing, yet again, that rhythmic repetition which marks so much of the prayer, as the priest asks God to (literally translated) “make this oblation blessed, approved, ratified, reasonable, and acceptable,” that it might become the Body and Blood of His Beloved Son.


More to come, my dear readers, in Part 2, which will take a look at the rest of the Canon from the Consecration onward. That, in fact, is when I’d say things get most striking.

God bless, and may you all have a holy Lent until next time!

And the Light Shone in the Darkness: Liturgical Abuse as a Demonstration of … Our Lord’s Love?


My dear friends,

Few things are more important to me than the proper celebration of the Mass. One of the most commonly-heard phrases about the Eucharist from the Church’s last Council, which points to how important the Blessed Sacrament is and how highly it should be regarded, is that this Sacrament is the “peak and the font” (culmen et fons) of the entire Christian life (Lumen Gentium, ch. II, 11)In similar words, now-Saint John Paul II wrote in his 2003 letter of the same name that “Ecclesia de Eucharistia vivit”—”the Church lives from the Eucharist.” In one well-known statement, the former pope, when Cardinal Ratzinger, blamed the “crisis” in the Church today on the “collapse of the liturgy.” Indeed, those who have read Ratzinger know the importance he places on the liturgy done properly, and they might be familiar with his comparison of “badly done” liturgical celebrations with the life of Israel (that is, whenever Israel worshipped God improperly, things went south). Such a view might appear pharisaical to some. A response to that objection is the topic of another posting, but suffice it to say, I very much agree with the former pope’s line of thought, and I want to make it clear that what you’re about to read is in no way going to be a dismissal of liturgical problems as something that “people shouldn’t be focused on since Jesus is present and that’s all they should really ask for.”

With that said, however, I’ve been struck more and more recently by one interesting fact with regard to liturgical abuses, whether great or small. Before I take you there, think for a moment: what if God treated man like man treats man? One would think, with all the abuses, many times quite terrible, that the Holy Eucharist has been shown, or even just because of the general irreverence, casualness, and disbelief with which so many approach the Blessed Sacrament today, that the Holy Trinity would have long ago “pulled the plug” and stopped performing the miracle of transubstantiation for those of us here below. Is this Sacrament not, after all, the true, real, substantial, and personal presence of the Divine Son, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit? Is this Sacrament not, much as it might come across as too pious or too obsessive to say it, the abiding and real presence of God? Are we, who participate in the Mass, not present to, and in as much contact with Christ as were His disciples, His immaculate Mother, and all those crowds who pressed constantly about Him? And this being the case, did not God, in the Old Testament, perform many harsh punishments for those who treated mere objects which were sacred with irreverence? How much more would we expect Him to deal still worse punishments to those who treat badly, not just some sacred thing, but His very own self? Was Christ our Lord not mocked, blasphemed, and treated with irreverence enough already in His earthly life? Why should He put up with the abominations man comes up with in the name of creativity, inclusiveness, ignorance, or disbelief?

Indeed, these are the types of questions which people who love God might reasonably ask themselves, and if God treated man on man’s own terms, these questions might have some weight. But the more I’ve considered liturgical abuses, the more deeply I’ve come to realize that even though He would be justified in “pulling the plug,” the Good Lord does not treat man like man treats man. He treats man better. He treats man selflessly. Just as He forgave the denial of Peter which He knew would occur, just as He forgave the ardent disbelief of Thomas, just as He forgave His disciples who, all except John, fled from Him during the Passion, and just as He asked the Father to forgive His executioners as nails were hammered through His already-wounded members, so His love for mankind is such that, in the words of an excellent priest who was once my theology teacher, “He set the bar so low” for the Mass to occur validly.

There’s the slightly cheesy statement that “nails did not keep Christ on the Cross: love did.” Well, such a statement could be equally applied to the Sacrifice of the Mass and the abiding presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist: it is not our own worthy treatment of this mystery which makes Jesus Christ present on the altar, or in the Tabernacle outside of Mass. It is His own love, His own fidelity to His assurance that “I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you . . . And behold, I am with you always, even until the consummation of the world” (Jn. 14:18, Mt. 28:20).

Now, as an important little side note, there is a limit to this: if a priest does not use lawful matter (bread and wine meeting the bare minimum of requirements), use the correct form (at the very least generally considered, by most theologians, to be the words “This is My Body” over the bread and “This is My Blood” over the wine), and/or have the correct intention (to consecrate the elements), then the Mass is not valid and transubstantiation does not take place. However, barring some debates as to whether or not some priests have adequate knowledge of what they’re doing (thus calling the validity of the Mass into question), I would guess that upwards of 95% of the time, the three elements are present.

To be sure, liturgical abuses are an affliction upon the Church. To be sure, liturgical abuses should not be simply ignored on the grounds that the Real Presence is the ultimate thing, and that anything else, even the most troubling acts of disregard for Our Lord in the Eucharist, are a matter of mere window dressing. But the fact that Our Blessed Lord makes Himself present with conditions as they are, and the fact that He has “set the bar so low,” should give everyone pause, and should move each person with love when he considers that the Lord lets Himself be put through so much, out of a desire to be present to His beloved.

Further, with things being as they are, it is important to remember that no amount of complaining, or even rational and well-thought-out denouncing, of the various abuses (or even just the general liturgical casualness) prevalent today will fix them. I know firsthand that those are the tempting routes to take, but believe me when I tell you that they, at least by themselves, will not fix the Church’s liturgical problems. Prayer will fix them, constant, unwavering prayer, even when it’s tough as a well-done steak, even when things don’t seem to improve, even when things seem to be getting even worse. Reasonable arguments against abusive liturgical practices, while necessary, will not be effective, no matter how logical, if they do not rely upon prayer. Those of us who want to see an end to liturgical abuse must pray, and keep praying, and never allow ourselves to waver. As I hope to be of service to you, my dear reader, I would request that you do the following: look for novenas that seem applicable to the problems you’re dealing with. Attach yourself to a patron saint, and pray to former (deceased) priests and parishioners from your parish who might be in Heaven. But most of all, I would suggest two practices: offer every Mass you can, those you go to and those you don’t, even the most abusive ones, for an end to said abuses, and pray the Rosary as often as you can for them. If the Rosary doesn’t move you, I would very strongly encourage that you get a copy of (or find online) a very short book by St. Louis de Montfort called The Secret of the Rosary. It’s short, it’s simple, it’s easy to read, and whether you’re attached to the Rosary right now or not, it will light a new fire within you.

But, as with responding to critics of Cardinal Ratzinger’s liturgical views, I think discussing the merits of the Rosary is a topic for another post.