Friday, May 4, 2018

The Latin Novus Ordo

Pontifical Latin Mass, the new way. Super K sits in choro.
Sunday will end a remarkable Paschaltide week in the old Roman liturgy which began with the ancient feast of Ss. Philip & James and which ends Sunday with a quintessentially Roman feast of Saint John at the Late Gate, which displaces the Sunday. Not only does the Church recall the martyrdom of two Apostles and the near death of another, she contemplates the glory of the Life Giving Cross through the lens of the Resurrection of the Redeemer and calls to mind the "greatest soldier the Catholic faith has known," Athanasius. Adding to the sanctoral in later editions are Monica, who reared the most influential of Western theologians and the greatest convert after Paul, and also Pius V, who codified this very rite. It is a week so joyous, so Paschal in its brightness, and so very Roman in its disposition.

And I cannot help but notice the 1962 rite does not have even half these qualities this week:

  • The seventh century feast of two Apostles is replaced by a mandatory concoction geared towards post-War Communists; this mockery of Saint Joseph was only obligatory on the Roman kalendar for fourteen years
  • St. Athanasius upheld the Incarnation when every bishop other than Hilary and Liberius had explicitly caved, but we could not uphold his feast; Mattins devolves from three nocturnes to one nocturne of nine psalm fragments
  • The Invention of the Holy Cross is scrapped and the mystery of the Crucifixion is not revisited during Paschaltide; by contrast Corpus Christi specifically revisits the institution of the Eucharist outside the more intensive context of Holy Week
  • Since this Saturday is a first Saturday I suspect a good number of '62ists will celebrate the Immaculate Heart of Mary votive Mass rather than the feast of St. Pius V, who guaranteed the liturgy which most traditionalists purport to use
  • St. John at the Latin Gate is gone, not even commemorated with a Mattins reading and a collect and Last Gospel at Mass as he was in the S Pius X rites; this and the abolition of several other uniquely Roman feasts reflects a deleterious tendency in the 1962 and Paul VI rites to remove Roman elements from the Missal in favor of more universal principles, which would be fine if the new Missal were the only rite in the entire Church and permitted no variation, but this is not the case
In contrast to the old rite, the first week of May in 1962 is less "wrong" from an historic perspective than it is just plain old weird.

Similarly, there is nothing technically wrong with practicing the Pauline Mass in Latin—a pet peeve to many a traddie—but they are right in that it is just plain old weird. It is not weird in the way S. Ioseph Opifex is weird, just that the concept behind it is quite awkward and people react to it in various ways because there is no hard and fast rule behind when and how to do it.

I have attended numerous Latin Novus Ordo Masses in my life, which is quite something because they are considerably rarer than the 1962 Mass and may become rarer than the real old Mass if this past Holy Week presages the future. One was in Connecticut, one at the Altar of the Throne at St. Peter's in Rome, and the rest at Oratorian churches in England. All were quite beautiful owing to their setting, the exceptional quality of the music, and that the language removed any spec of personality or innovation from the clergy. The Roman Mass was probably the least "fussy" while the Oratorian Masses were as buttoned-up as a 19th century wingtip collar. The priests of Saint Peter's followed the same ritual as any other Paul VI Mass, just with better music, a different language, and no chatting between parts of the Mass. By contrast the Oratorians were sublimating the ritual, or often directly copying the movements of, the Tridentine liturgy, right down the lined up ministers and Roman vestments. It begs the question, what is a Latin Novus Ordo Mass supposed to be?

That is the $64,000 question.

First, there is the question of how much Latin is to be used. Given that the new liturgy favors an entirely didactic approach to the readings it only makes sense for them to be said in vernacular, although sometimes the Gospel has been read in Latin. One could make the case the orations, being variable, ought to be in vernacular, too. Oratorians do the new Mass entirely in Latin except for the readings and intercessory prayers. Some others adapt a pastiche of back and forth between the old and new tongues. Ss. Cyril and Methodius practiced the Latin rite in Slavonic, but with Latin readings in accordance with Adrian II's "literary principle." There really is no guiding logic in this question.

Then there is a matter of ritual. At Oxford I witnessed what must be one of the rare uses ever of an acolyte in his commissioned place at a new rite Mass, doing everything the subdeacon would in the old Mass. Except they referred to the altar servers as acolytes and the acolyte as a subdeacon. As a remarkable departure from this milieu, a church in this area attempted to do a Latin Novus Ordo Mass on Fridays some years ago, replete with altar girls and Eucharistic ministers; they wondered why there was no demand.

The issue with the Latin Novus Ordo Mass is that it is anachronistic and something of a redundancy on its own. It is the reformed liturgy in another language at heart. Despite what some kind-hearted people wishfully thought under Benedict XVI's reign, a generally vernacular liturgy is what Paul VI intended; he introduced his Mass at a time when Mass had been 100% in vernacular for two years and versus turbam for longer than that. The rare instances where a Latin Novus Ordo has been implemented successfully fall in conservative settings, that is, settings where people were trying to conserve what they had at a time when it was being taken from them. Were a major church in this area to Latinize its primary Sunday Mass the congregation would be confused at the move and older people irritated. In 1969, when the Consilium saw fit to introduce new pains to congregations in frequent intervals, retaining an all-Latin liturgy with excellent music, normal vesture, and a real altar attracted people already familiar with those things. If anything, the Latin Novus Ordo Mass has never been as successful as its prototype, the English Oratorian Mass, which owes its remarkable popularity to the circumstances of its introduction and not entirely its own principle.


  1. Is that Met. Kalistos Ware in the picture?

  2. Having heard endlessly that The Brompton Oratory is the place to go to assist at the Lil' Licit Liturgy in Latin, ABS and The Bride did just when they were in London years ago.

    The singing was excellent and the rite was performed as sincerely and seriously as can be done but it still was a crummy service because- well, you well know.

    O, and prior to the service, ABS had to get up off of his knees and move forward several rows of pews to break up a pushing match between two idiots.

    Lord have Mercy. It ain't working Pope and Prelates.

    O, and the 62ists is GREAT, just great.

  3. I agree. You also notice what is lost, e.g. it is bizarre to do the trad incensing ritual but not do the last three swings on the epistle side at the end, and the priest is not incensed at the Introit. You also miss the subdeacon with the veil. And so on.

    The nicest was a totally Latin Novus Ordo at the Black Madonna’s altar in Czechestowa. The priest did everything, including singing the Latin readings to the traditional tones. It was naturally ad orientem. I can’t remember what he did for the turns and the like—priests who turn the wrong way get my goat. As weird as the slavishness is, it does look weird to turn to one’s left. But it was good, and the communion rite was all done kneeling. In lieu of a rail, he came to all of us.

    St. Agnes in St Paul also fits the mold.