The Novus Ordo Fails to Guard and Contain

With warm gratitude to Bellator Dei for the graphic.

On reading the chapter entitled Liturgical Reform, in Iota Unum, by Romano Amerio, many thoughts and feelings are with me. How to put into words that which I am experiencing? I will begin with something that happened the other night.

I attended a Novus Ordo Mass. I found the liturgy particularly disorganised and chaotic. On receiving communion, I knelt to pray. Acutely aware of this chaotic feeling around me, I began to feel dreadful. I felt as though I was prey to something extremely unpleasant and yet, Our Lord was in my mouth.

This experience deeply shook me up.

As I wrote, in my last blog, I believe the Mystery of Calvary is still present at the Novus Ordo, but that it has been too often greatly obscured. I have become convinced that the omission of so much of the liturgy (as occurred with the changes after Vatican II), creates a form of the Mass that as my husband puts it, is like a sieve.

That the gaps left by the omission of so many of the ancient prayers and gestures allow for much of the Mystery to be lost or drained away and allowing for the undesirable to enter in.

In comparison, when I participate in the Tridentine Latin Mass, I feel held within a spiritual container. A container that is built through the recitation (as well as through body movements and gestures by both priest and congregation) of the various prayers and readings that make up the liturgy. A liturgy that takes each participant on a sacred journey towards God. A journey of salvation. One that includes humble preparation to approach the altar of God.

This is as I say a sacred journey. In other words, each prayer and gesture is not only important in itself. It is important in that it leads on to the next prayer and so forth.

As Amerio writes, ‘a real connection between one thing and another is replaced by a mere succession of one thing after another’. In other words, instead of the flow of prayers that enable the sacred journey in the Tridentine Mass, there is a simple sequence of elements that can seem disjointed and incomplete.

In the Novus Ordo, I see that one can easily fall into a far more mechanical way of response and participation, as the somewhat disjointed prayers and scanty gestures are uttered and issued by the priest.

One can easily learn these few responses, one can easily repeat them, but to experience the natural flow of the sacred journey of the Mass, I find it is necessary to make additional effort: to deeply pray alone in an attempt to find that sacred sense.

In other words, when I attend the Novus Ordo, in order to experience something of the sacred, I often need to separate myself from the other members of the congregation in my own prayers, to find holiness within the rite.

This is my unfortunate experience of the modern Mass. Often I must work hard to survive it. Whilst the Latin Mass works for me, easing me into deeper prayer, reverence, communion with each participant as we all journey together towards Our Lord

I find it strange and perhaps ironic that a huge thrust in the reform of the liturgy was to make the Mass more accessible, more participatory.

For, I have to say I find that it has created a Mass that is more accessible to the world it is ‘meant’ to guard us from. In other words, Mass has become more like ordinary life, rather than the eternal sacred mystery it is.

An eternal sacred mystery that is meant to nourish our souls, so that we are strengthened and protected.

I weep for that which has been lost, not simply because I prefer it, not simply because I feel so deeply nourished and protected by it. But, because I see this loss as naturally leading to a stripping away of the eternal world of sacred mystery that Our Lord Jesus Christ has given us through His Church.

The Church is rapidly losing Her power in a world that is so taken up by its own laws and concerns. Perhaps the Novus Ordo is far more a part of this loss than we can ever realise.

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3 Comments

  1. Posted 25 January 2010 at 23:34 | Permalink

    That’s a good point, that in trying to make the Mass more accessible, they made it so ordinary that people don’t seem to care about accessing it.

    In my opinion, the Novus Ordo is valid but lacking—and in most real-world cases, harmful. My favorite analogy is to a bag of Doritos and a six-pack of Mountain Dew. It might be a “valid” meal, since it has calories which will fill you up and keep you from starving, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be good for you, and if you eat it every day, you’ll end up fat, diabetic, and dead early. I won’t attend the NO anymore unless it’s for an important wedding or funeral. I’d like to be one of those people who takes the magnanimous-sounding middle-road: “Oh, the NO is fine; I just prefer the TLM; please don’t think I’m a crazy trad.” But the more I learn, the less I can honestly take that stance.

    For most Catholics, the Mass is their primary (or only) source of catechesis. Ideally, we’d all spend plenty of time studying Scripture, participating in devotions, reading papal documents and the lives of the saints and so on, and develop a deep understanding of our Faith from a variety of quality sources. But the reality is that most Catholics get what they understand about Catholicism from that one hour on Sunday morning or Saturday night. If that one hour doesn’t impress on them the truth of the Real Presence; if it isn’t presented as a Sacrifice; if it seems like a communal meal with some light singing and praying; if it doesn’t tell them about the Saints and the Blessed Virgin; if it never stresses the dangers of sin and hell; if it seems to be little different from the Protestant service down the street—then that’s what they’re going to understand as Catholicism. Unsurprisingly, conversations with Catholics and polls show that’s what they do understand as Catholicism today.

    I don’t think the Novus Ordo should take all the blame for that; there were a variety of changes during and after Vatican II that contributed, and certainly many attacks on orthodoxy and tradition from inside and outside the Church. But it has to take a large part of the blame, since it provides the bulk of the catechesis for most people. Even a well-done Novus Ordo, done reverently according to the rubrics using Eucharistic Prayer 1 and without any abuses, still falls short in many of those areas. A poorly done one, which is much more common, doesn’t even come close to affirming the basic tenets of the faith.

  2. kim
    Posted 31 January 2010 at 20:12 | Permalink

    Aaron, thank you so much for this precious piece of writing. You have expressed something I think so vital for all Catholics to realise, very succinctly. It is incredibly useful in determining that which shapes Catholicism today – that one hour a week at Sunday Mass, which is communicated to the people by means of the preference or style of their particular parish.

    As you say, that which people experience at (usually only) Sunday Mass is that which determines what Catholicism is. Sadly, you are so right!

    Because of my travels over the last years and because I am a daily Mass goer, I have experienced so many different Masses, many of them Novus Ordo. The variety has been quite incredible. Yes, as you pointed out from my post, the Mass has become ‘so ordinary that people don’t seem to care about accessing it.’

    In all cases I find the Novus Ordo lacking, And real harm is frequently being done. I am very open to far more harm being done than any of us realise.

    Yet, I have to say, I can only relate to your Doritos analogy in terms of the liturgy, in particular, the ‘pop’ songs. But if we were to apply this to the Eucharist itself, it would be a sacrilege.

    For, the consecration IS valid. And therefore we still meet the Real Presence in adoration at the elevation and in Holy Communion.

    We cannot compare this meeting, even if it is surrounded by ‘junk’ , with ‘junk’ itself.

    But yes, absolutely, that which surrounds this True meeting, (if one is able to access the depth), is often so far from the sublime, prayerful beauty that is the True Faith – that which you have so importantly summarised here, when you wrote …

    “If that one hour doesn’t impress on them the truth of the Real Presence; if it isn’t presented as a Sacrifice; if it seems like a communal meal with some light singing and praying; if it doesn’t tell them about the Saints and the Blessed Virgin; if it never stresses the dangers of sin and hell; if it seems to be little different from the Protestant service down the street—then that’s what they’re going to understand as Catholicism.”

    I do not think the Novus Ordo is fine, absolutely not. And as I wrote, I do not simply prefer the Tridentine Rite. Through regularly experiencing both, I see just as you say, the Tridentine Mass ‘affirms the basic tenets of the Faith’, whilst the Novus Ordo usually ‘doesn’t even come close’. Yet it not only informs us of these, it imprints them deeply in our souls, as we are guided and held through the sacred journey of the Holy Mass.

  3. roger
    Posted 31 January 2010 at 20:20 | Permalink

    Aaron, because of a disability which effects her with computer screens, Kim often takes a little while.

    Now that I have uploaded her comments, I would like to echo them. Redundant it is, but I want to stress that although I do share Kim´s concern for the potential for sacrilege here, elsewhere I found your comment very effective saying very much in such a concise space.

    There is clear, powerful expression here of important things and I find myself wanting to see more like this at your own site (accessible through your name above, of course).

    I know you may have very good reasons for not going so much into these things over at your own site – at least as far as I have seen – still I think you could offer people reading you there a real service. But of course, only if it feels right to you.

    Finally another particularly concise, powerful way of getting at these issues is found in The Ratzinger Report, wherein the man who has become our Holy Father declares that Catholicism should not become a “clone” of Protestantism …

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