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

J.M.J.

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.

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Oh, the Priest is Being Rude!

Yes, that is the war-cry of some who insist that Mass ad orientem is a terrible thing, and it makes the congregation excluded, and it feels like a show, and it kills the spiritual life with its detachment, and…

Excuse me?

File:Missa tridentina 002.jpg
Rude? It’s Beautiful! – by the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, available from http://fssp.org

If you think it’s rude, well, first of all, the current Holy Father would disagree (I suggest you read his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy; it really is something). The Pope’s opinion cast aside, however, I’d like to call your attention to a statement made early on in the Mass: “Brethren, let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries“. That last little phrase is very telling, and it’s worth observing in isolation:

Sacred Mysteries…

Definition of a mystery: something which can not be completely understood or known. Sacred is synonymous with “holy”. Thus, in the phrase “Sacred Mysteries” we have “holy things which can not be completely understood or known”. What could such a thing be? I’ll offer my view: the Holy Eucharist. The Eucharist is certainly sacred and certainly a mystery, since what appear to be mundane bread and wine are the flesh and blood of the Lord.

Mass wherein the priest is not looking toward the congregation, but toward God, better conveys the idea of the Mass as a “Sacred Mystery”. It brings with it a sense that the priest is not here to simply mingle with church-goers, but to do something great, magnanimous, and indeed, sacred. It also takes the focus of the Mass off the congregation, which should not be the focal point anyway. Christ on the altar should be the focal point, and when everyone, priest and congregation alike, faces Him, it is far more God-glorifying and God-centered.

Furthermore, it can’t be said that the priest ad orientem makes the congregation excluded. They’re facing the same direction, with the priest leading the congregation in this great mystery that is Mass.

Think about it.

God bless,
Michael

Last carbon copy….

This, my dear readers, is not related to apologetics. Rather, it is mourning the state of Holy Mass where I live.

Here we go….Oh baby, oh baby…..

The fact that every Mass I go to is met with some complaint over something which ought not be there means one of two things: it could mean I’m overly exacting in my demands of how the liturgy is celebrated. Or, it could mean that there is indeed a problem with common occurrences at a given Mass.

For example, the first complaint is silence (or lack thereof). If you go to a church where the Tridentine Mass is celebrated, what is the general aura? It is one of silence and prayer (or in some cases, group prayer aloud, but there’s not much chit-chat going on between members of the congregation. If there is, people whisper. Why? Because they recognize people are trying to pray. Also this is helped by the fact that most–dare I say, “Tridentine Churches”?–are very ornate and beautifully structured. They lend themselves well to prayer because the imagery found therein raises to mind to things above the world in which it lives.

Let’s compare this to the aura of–dare I say a “Novus Ordo Church”? Rarely are they silent. People talk as though they’re at any social event. This isn’t helped when a lot of these modern churches look no better than a library or post office. They tend to lack any pretty pictures/architecture and don’t at all help the mind think it’s somehow in a sacred place.

I think one of the reasons people are silent at a “Tridentine Church” (and I’d say mine fits in this category–we are a “Novus Ordo Church”, but it was built before Vatican II and all its decor and beauty is still present, uncluding the High Altar and Communion rails) is because the Tabernacle, which houses God Himself, is right there in front of them and it’s usually very ornate. In most modern churches the Tabernacle, if even present in the sanctuary, is a bland box which denotes nothing sacred of its Contents. More often than not, however, the Tabernacle is in some side chapel. With God locked in an ugly box away from the congregation, if Mass isn’t being said the sanctuary is turned into  a gathering place and nothing more, with little to no decor.

One such example of a bland church is one near me where the outside looks like a post office (indeed, I invited a friend to a picnic there and he said “Why are we going to a post office…?”); the inside is similarly unnattractive. The sanctuary used to have absolutely no imagery at all: white walls, no Tabernacle, wooden pews without kneelers, a scummy “Holy Water fountain” due to peoples’ nasty fingers, skylights over a bland altar, and the worst of all (though, thank God, Father David had this removed) it used to have a screen which had slideshows of emotional touchy-feely pictures during Mass. And once again, thanks to Father David, the church has a REALLY nice crucifix behind the altar these days. In that church’s defense, it has really cleaned up its act since we first went.

But let’s consider this: That church has a little chapel where daily Mass is celebrated. This chapel has a Tabernacle, a confessional, stations of the cross, AND a stained glass window, all of which the main worship space is lacking. I feel more of God’s presence in a daily Mass at that church than I do a Sunday Mass, and something seems backwards about that.

And the saddest part is the fact that I’m constantly wondering WHY it has to be this way when fixing this stuff up wouldn’t be hard. Adding stations of the cross, for example, to the sanctuary would be a very simple task and that in itself would help lend a more reverent feel to the Sacrifice happening there. Similarly, the windows (of which there are not that many) could be replaced with stained glass and that, too, to some degree, would help the church be more “Catholicized”.

Okay, sorry, guess that doesn’t have to do with silence, which was the original issue, but more needn’t be said about that particular one anyway.

If the priest is dressed like this, RUN.

The second problem I’m often thinking about is generally involved with the Eucharist, on two points: Extraordinary ministers and Communion in the Hand. First of all, extraordinary minister: that name is very telling. Out of the ordinary. Not used except on certain occasions when needed, and not used in mass quantities such that we have eight lay people giving the Eucharist to commincants. And yes, I recognize that we have two priests for four parishes. But Communion would not take that long without them, despite what those bored by Mass’s length like to think, and even if they are necessary every week, we don’t need eight. Let’s be reasonable.

And then of course there’s Communion in the Hand. I needn’t delve into this. We, as lay people, are not ordinarily worthy to touch the Almighty Himself. Without going into a long thought process about this (and I’m not meaning to sound condescending by this, honestly) I truly suggest you think about this idea. And think about just how truly present He is after consecration.

Another area that gets me is the fact that every spare second when the priest or faithful aren’t talking must be filled with music. For example, when the priest is preparing the altar and would otherwise say, “Blessed are You, Lord God of all creation, for through Your goodness we have received the bread we offer You….etc”, most pianists/organists feel the need to play music and so the priest says it silently. But WHY? And it’s the same, at our cluster of churches at least, before the Lamb of God is said. Contrary to popular thought, some of us find more prayer in silence than in music. Just saying.

Yet another issue is twofold: holding hands for the Lord’s prayer and then, secondly, the Sign of Peace, which tends to turn into a “Hey, I’ll get out of my pew and go hug someone across the church.”

And I guess I’ll make this my last nitpick: choice of hymns. Do you think the angels before Christ in heaven are singing something theological and packed with meaning, or is it really likely that they’re singing, “Rain Down”?

Consider this: for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception this year, I had the privelage of going to a Latin Mass and what was sung for Communion? The Ave Maria. You wanna know what was sung at a Mass at my church once? “He Walks With Me and He Talks With Me”. Or “One Bread, One Body”. Either way, it’s glaringly evident that the focus of the Mass has switched from being a sacrifice of God the Son to God the Father, the Second Person of the Trinity to the First, and is instead more focused on the “Communal meal” aspect. A shame. The Eucharist, NOT the congregation, is “the souce and summit of Christian life”.

However, I think these are valid points and I wanted them out of my mind and on paper.

P.S: Not to sound like a complainer, but this wasn’t in the original post and I just remembered: I’m no big fan of female altar servers, either. And no, I’m not just a complainer. I love Mass for what it is, and any Mass is a Mass, but some more reverence would be nice.