This past weekend, the Novus Ordo Missae ( “New Ordinary of the Mass”), the Mass celebrated in almost every Catholic parish in the world, turned 40 years old. Instituted in the wake of Vatican II, this was the most visible change for most Catholics as a result of that Council.
The vast majority of Catholics have simply accepted the Novus Ordo and don’t think much about it. However, for some Catholics the Novus Ordo represents all that is wrong with the Church of the past 40 years. Other Catholics (and I would include myself in this camp) don’t have a problem with the Novus Ordo itself but do have criticisms in how it has been implemented in many dioceses and parishes.
The changes that have been most criticized are the use of the vernacular (instead of Latin), the priest turning around to face the people instead of facing the same direction as they do, and the terrible, terrible music heard in many parishes today. But, as Br. Charles points out, none of these things are actually required in celebrating the Novus Ordo:
- Benedict XVI is oft-quoted (from The Spirit of the Liturgy) on the theological and ecclesiological problems of the Mass offered versus populum. Many agree with him. However, though this option for celebration may seem to the casual observer to be one of the distinctive marks of the Mass of Paul VI, and is treated by many priests as a sacred and unalterable religious duty, it is neither essential nor normative. In fact, in the newer form of Mass, the priest is required to turn and face the people fewer times than in the older form. Thus, it is not fair to criticize the Novus Ordo based on troubles attendant on the offering of Mass “facing the people.”
- Analogously, though it may also seem that Mass offered in local languages is an instrinsic mark of the newer form of Mass, this is also an option rather than a norm. Sacrosanctum concilium 36 clearly affirms that the Latin remains the ordinary language of the Roman rite. Thus, it is also unfair to base criticisms on the use of the vernacular.
- Much criticism, and some of it justified, has been made against contemporary Catholic music that has grown up alongside the newer form of Mass. For most of us, the ordinary procedure for arriving at music for Mass is to contoct the ‘four song sandwich’ that will match the readings or suit our theme. This custom is taken for granted so much of the time that we forget that it is a matter of exception and substitution. The ordinary way of music-ing the Roman liturgy is to sing the actual texts of the Mass as they are found in the Missal and the Gradual, rather than substituting them for songs and metrical hymns. For this purpose, Gregorian chants allegedly retain their “pride of place,” at least according to Sacrosanctum concilium 116. Therefore, it is not exactly fair to criticize the modern Roman liturgy based on some of the bad music with which it has become associated, for this association is neither essential nor normative.
Thus, much of the criticism directed at the Novus Ordo should instead be directed at how it has been implemented. It would take no change in the law of the Church to change the celebration of the Mass to a more traditional, yet still faithful to the desires of Vatican II, way.