Novus Ordo Missae

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Image:Ratzingerpascha2005.jpg This article is about the post-Vatican-II changes to the Mass; for an explanation of the current structure of the Mass, see Mass (liturgy).

Novus Ordo Missae (Latin: New Order of the Mass), generally abbreviated to Novus Ordo, is a term used unofficially to refer to the Roman-rite Roman Catholic Mass as revised after the Second Vatican Council ("Vatican II").


The term

See further Terminology used in the Traditionalist Catholic debate

The term "Novus Ordo (Missae)" is widely used by very conservative Traditionalist Catholics critical of the post-Vatican II liturgical reforms. Some mainstream Catholics also use the term, but others regard it as pejorative. Alternative terms include Missa Normativa, Mass of Pope Paul VI, Pauline Mass, Vatican II Mass and Post-Conciliar Mass. The Roman Catholic Church officially refers to Mass liturgies simply by the name "Roman Missal" and the year of publication (e.g., Roman Missal 1970).

The term was coined when, in advance of the 1969 decision on the form of the revision of the Roman Missal, a preliminary draft of two sections was published. One of these sections was the Ordo Missae: the Ordinary - that is, the unvarying part - of the Mass. To distinguish this from the Ordo Missae of the existing edition of the Missal, some referred to it as the "Novus Ordo Missae", novus being the Latin word for "new". They later applied the same term to the entirety of the revised Mass liturgy. The other section published at the same time in draft form was the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), on the proper way to celebrate the liturgy.

The text

The current official text is the typical edition of the Roman Missal promulgated in 2000 and issued in Latin in 2002; translations into the vernacular are in production. (As of mid-2005 only two translations have been completed: Belarusian and Greek). Two earlier typical editions of the Roman Missal revised in accordance with the decrees of the Second Vatican Council were issued in 1970 (promulgated in 1969) and in 1975. The pre-1970 version of the Roman Missal is frequently referred to as the Tridentine Mass, though a considerable number of Catholics (including both supporters and opponents of the post-Vatican II liturgical reforms) object to the use of this term.


The desire to revise the Mass can be traced to the modern Liturgical movement, initiated most notably by Dom Guerenger from the Abbey of Solesmes. The movement desired corrections to what it saw as inappropriate practices in the celebration of Mass and their replacement with more ancient liturgical practices. The movement focused on increasing the popularity of Gregorian Chant and encouraging the congregation to participate more fully in the Mass.

Unease had developed about practices that required an effort to justify, such as:

  • the priest blessing the host and chalice with many signs of the cross after they were consecrated and on the other hand speaking before the consecration of already offering a sacrifice there and then
  • the priest reciting many of the most important prayers silently.

Another feature of the liturgical movement was the desire to use the vernacular language in some or all of the Mass, in order that the congregation might draw spiritual nourishment from being able to participate in the Mass with understanding. This was especially desired for the readings from Scripture at Mass. In his encyclical Mediator Dei,[1] Pope Pius XII stated that "the use of the mother tongue in connection with several of the rites may be of much advantage to the people. But the Apostolic See alone is empowered to grant this permission". He gave a general permission to use the vernacular at the renewal of baptismal promises in the revised Easter Vigil service.

Scholarly study had brought to light how and when many elements of varied provenance were added to the Roman-rite Mass and were then included in Pope Pius V’s Tridentine standardization of the Roman Missal. In section 4 of the same encyclical, Pope Pius XII praised the work of these experts, while insisting that it was for the Holy See, not for wild-cat initiative, to judge what action to take on the basis of the results: "You are of course familiar with the fact, Venerable Brethren, that a remarkably widespread revival of scholarly interest in the sacred liturgy took place towards the end of the last century and has continued through the early years of this one. The movement owed its rise to commendable private initiative and more particularly to the zealous and persistent labour of several monasteries within the distinguished Order of Saint Benedict. Thus there developed in this field among many European nations, and in lands beyond the seas as well, a rivalry as welcome as it was productive of results. Indeed, the salutary fruits of this rivalry among the scholars were plain for all to see, both in the sphere of the sacred sciences, where the liturgical rites of the Western and Eastern Church were made the object of extensive research and profound study, and in the spiritual life of considerable numbers of individual Christians."

The research to which Pope Pius XII referred made it clear that, because of the insufficient resources at its disposal, Pope Pius V’s commission had not achieved its aim of restoring the Missal to "the original form and rite of the holy Fathers", the aim that the sixteenth-century Pope believed it had in fact attained, stating in his bull Quo primum:[2] "We decided to entrust this work to learned men of our selection. They very carefully collated all their work with the ancient codices in Our Vatican Library and with reliable, preserved or emended codices from elsewhere. Besides this, these men consulted the works of ancient and approved authors concerning the same sacred rites; and thus they have restored the Missal itself to the original form and rite of the holy Fathers."

Beginnings of the revision

The Roman Missal had been subject to revision ever since it was codified by order of the Council of Trent. After only 34 years Clement VIII made a general revision, as did Urban VIII 30 years later; other Popes added new celebrations or made minor adjustments. But it was not until the twentieth century that work began on a more radical rewriting; up to that time, thousands of words had been added to the Missal but only 26 to the "Ordo Missae" part.

In response to the desire of the First Vatican Council, Pope Pius X introduced in 1911 a new arrangement of the Psalter for use in the Breviary, and forbade the use of the previous arrangement. In the bull Divino afflatu, by which he ordered this change, he described this as "a first step towards a correction of the Roman Breviary and Missal." Even his limited revision of the Breviary "significantly unsettled" clerics - the laity were almost totally unaware of it - since "(i)t only partially took into account the ancient tradition of the Church, for example, abandoning the number of 12 psalms at Matins, a number consecrated by a tradition going back to the Desert Fathers and expressly codified in the Rule of St. Benedict. Another point controverted at the time was the suppression of the immemorial and universally held usage of reciting psalms 148, 149, and 150 at the end of Lauds daily."[3]

In 1955, Pope Pius XII made substantial revisions[4] of the Roman Missal for Palm Sunday, the Easter Triduum, and the Vigil of Pentecost. The Palm Sunday blessing of palms was freed from elements, such as the recitation of the Sanctus, that were relics of a former celebration of a separate Mass for the blessing, and the procession was simplified. Among the Holy Thursday changes were the moving of Mass from morning to evening, thus making room for a morning Chrism Mass, and the insertion of the rite of the washing of feet into the evening Mass. Changes to the Good Friday service included moving it from morning to afternoon, and allowing the laity to receive Communion, formerly reserved to the priest.

There were more numerous changes to the Easter Vigil service:

  • The service would no longer be held on Saturday morning, and would instead be celebrated during the night leading to Easter Sunday morning;
  • The triple candlestick on which previously one candle at a time had been lit at the beginning of the service was abolished, replacing that ceremony with the lighting of the Paschal candle and of candles held by the whole congregation;
  • Other new rites were inserted, including renewing baptismal promises (in the vernacular) and inscribing the modern Arabic numerals of the year on the Paschal candle;
  • The Exsultet was amended to replace the prayer for the emperor with a newly composed prayer;
  • Eight Old Testament readings were omitted, another was shortened, and the priest was relieved of the obligation to read the passages quietly while they were being read or chanted aloud;
  • The "Last Gospel" (John 1:1-14) that had customarily ended Mass was omitted.

At the Vigil of Pentecost, the traditional blessing of baptismal water, accompanied by the Litany of the Saints and six Old Testament readings, was omitted completely, though still printed in the Missal.

Apart from adding a few feasts and otherwise revising the liturgical calendar, John XXIII, the next Pope, made only two changes in the text of the Missal: he deleted the word "perfidis" (Latin: "faithless") from the Good Friday prayer for the Jews, and he added the name of Saint Joseph to the Eucharistic Prayer (Canon of the Mass). The second change was particularly significant, as many had considered the Canon of the Mass practically untouchable.

The 1970 Roman Missal

The Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum, promulgating the 1970 Roman Missal, singled out for special mention the following changes:

  • Three new eucharistic prayers (or canons) were added to the single text of the previous Roman rite. However, the only obligatory alteration to the traditional Roman Canon was that the words "Mysterium fidei" were removed from the context of the words of Christ at the consecration. They are now said by the priest as an introduction to the Memorial Acclamation.
  • The rites of the Ordo Missae section of the Missal were simplified, with due care to preserve their substance. Elements that had been duplicated over time or were added with little advantage were eliminated. Other elements that had been damaged by accidents of history were restored.
  • A much larger portion of the Scriptures would be read to the people. The present three readings and a Responsorial Psalm arranged in a three-year cycle of Sundays is more than four times the previous two readings spread over a single year.

In addition to these three changes, the Apostolic Constitution mentions that the revision considerably modified other sections of the Roman Missal, such as the Proper of Seasons, the Proper of Saints, the Common of Saints, Ritual Masses and Votive Masses, adding that "[the] number [of the prayers] has been increased, so that the new forms might better correspond to new needs, and the text of older prayers has been restored on the basis of the ancient sources."

Other changes

Vernacular language

National conferences of bishops were allowed to authorize the use of vernacular language in place of Latin. Almost immediately all conferences granted this permission; and now nearly all Masses are celebrated in the vernacular.

Communion under both species

The 1970 Roman Missal allowed the faithful to receive the Eucharist under the appearances of both bread and wine. The very few circumstances where this was at first permitted were gradually extended, resulting in it being available at every Mass in some churches. Reception under both species is a practice that had largely fallen into disuse in Western Europe even before the Council of Trent, and the revised Roman Missal therefore insisted that priests should use the occasion to teach the faithful the Catholic doctrine on the form of Communion, as affirmed by the Council of Trent: they were first to be reminded that they receive the whole Christ when they participate in the sacrament even under one kind alone, and thus are not then deprived of any grace necessary for salvation.

The priest's orientation

Before the revision, priest and people generally faced in the same direction for the canon of the Mass. Most altars were built against a wall or backed by a reredos and topped with a tabernacle; they were often designed with this orientation in mind. When Mass was celebrated at the main altar, all would face the apse of the church, which was generally to the east. However, this was not universal: at the high altars in the major basilicas in Rome the Popes traditionally celebrated Mass facing the people, and even in several small but ancient churches, such as that of the Four Crowned Saints in Via dei Santi Quattro, the altar was arranged so that the priest necessarily faced the people throughout the Mass, an orientation explicitly envisaged in the pre-Vatican-II Roman Missal (Ritus servandus in celebratione Missae, V, 3).

Without obliging priests to face the people at Mass, the 1970 Roman Missal called for this orientation to be made possible: "The main altar should be freestanding so that the ministers can easily walk around it and Mass can be celebrated facing the people" (GIRM 1975). The 2002 edition of the GIRM added a phrase declaring a freestanding main altar "desirable wherever possible" (GIRM 299). In practice, the facing-the-people orientation has become almost universal; altars that imposed the back-to-the-people orientation were moved or another, freestanding, altar was placed in front of the old one.

The 1975 GIRM prescribed that the priest should face the people:

  • For the opening greeting;
  • For the invitation to pray;
  • Before beginning the Eucharistic Prayer (or Canon of the Mass);
  • When displaying the consecrated host before receiving and giving communion; and
  • When inviting to pray at the postcommunion prayer.
  • The 2002 edition adds the point at which the priest gives the greeting of peace.

The pre-Vatican-II Ordo Missae gave the same indications as the 1975 GIRM, except that it ignored the Communion of the people; mention of this was found only in the Missal's Ritus servandus in celebratione Missae, X, 6, with an outline of the rite, not the full text.

The current GIRM directs the priest to face the altar at several points, exactly as in the pre-Vatican-II Ordo Missae. Usually, because of his orientation, this means he also faces the people.

Repositioning of the tabernacle

The change in the priest's orientation meant that in general the Tabernacle could not be on the altar at which Mass is celebrated. The 1970 Missal gives the direction: "In accordance with the structure of each church and legitimate local customs, the Most Blessed Sacrament should be reserved in a tabernacle in a part of the church that is truly noble, prominent, readily visible, beautifully decorated, and suitable for prayer." (GIRM 314). This is often achieved by constructing a Eucharistic chapel.

Other matters

The part known as the Offertory or Presentation of the Gifts, when bread, wine, and water are brought to the altar, was allowed to be done as a procession. The Kiss of Peace (or Sign of Peace) ritual, previously limited to High Mass, was permitted for every Mass and was extended to the laity. The form it takes varies according to local custom, mostly involving just a handshake.

Criticism of the revision

There are two distinct forms of criticisms: criticisms of the text itself, and criticisms of the way that text has been acted upon since 1970.

Criticisms of the text itself

Some believe that what they call "the New Mass", when celebrated in languages in which the phrase "pro multis" (Latin for "for many" or "for the many") is translated as "for all", is invalid as sacrament and sacrifice, and brings about no transubstantiation. They affirm that, while past changes of ritual were done to clearly distinguish the difference between a Catholic belief and a heretical one, the 1970 changes were intended primarily to make the Mass less controversial to those groups. They point to the following alleged examples:

  • Words and phrases that suggest that the bread and wine really and truly become the body and blood of Jesus were reduced or replaced with phrases that refer to other things. Occurrences of the word "sacrifice" were reduced; they claim that the word "table" has at some unspecified points replaced "altar"; and they consider phrases such as "spiritual drink" to be deliberately ambiguous.
  • Actions which demonstrate belief that the bread and wine are transubstantiated into the body and blood of Jesus were reduced or eliminated, including:
    • Kneeling;
    • Washing the priest's fingers over the chalice at the end of Mass, rather than, as now, wiping them over the paten any time that a fragment of the host adheres to them or, if necessary, washing them (GIRM 278);
    • The priest keeping his thumb and index finger closed after touching the consecrated host with the intention that no particles of the host fall to the ground;
    • The requirement that the inside of the chalice be made of gold or silver (this is quite false, since GIRM 328 actually requires that chalices of a material less noble than gold, such as silver, should normally be gilded on the inside);
    • The requirement that there be three layers of fabric under the chalice, so that, if any of the consecrated wine spilled, it would be fully absorbed and not touch the altar (the present rule, given in GIRM 117, is that the altar be covered by "at least one" white cloth, to which is added the fabric of the corporal);
    • Removal of the tabernacle (the place of special presence of Christ, since it contains consecrated hosts) from the main altar to "a part of the church that is truly noble, prominent, readily visible, beautifully decorated and suitable for prayer" (GIRM 314).

Critics claim that these actions were done to tone down belief in transubstantiation, which Protestants reject. A controversial Gallup poll in the United States, which reported that seventy percent of the Catholics polled did not believe in transubstantiation, is often cited as evidence of this claim. Critics affirm that ambiguities were placed in the text on purpose, to enable reformers to push for further changes, to make the Mass compatible with Protestant worship, or to lead to confusion and loss of Catholic faith.

Criticisms of practices introduced since 1970

Critics oppose certain practices permitted either by the revised Roman Missal or the revised Code of Canon Law, including:

  • Laity proclaiming readings from Sacred Scripture;
  • Use of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion;
  • Reception of the consecrated Host in the hand, rather than directly into the mouth;
  • Allowing female altar servers
  • Married men being ordained permanent deacons

Other alterations have been due to changes of taste: plainer vestments with simpler designs and without lace, churches of non-traditional architecture. Others have been of doubtful legitimacy: eliminating kneelers, introducing certain forms of music, including the use of percussion instruments. Critics see these changes as due to (or leading to) a lack of belief that Jesus becomes really, truly and substantially present under the appearance of bread and wine. Some of them would see the revised liturgy as acceptable if these elements were excluded.

Preparing a better English translation

On 28 March 2001, the Holy See issued the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam "on the use of vernacular languages in the publication of the books of the Roman liturgy". This included the requirement that, in translations of the liturgical texts (the originals of which are always in Latin), "the original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses. Any adaptation to the characteristics or the nature of the various vernacular languages is to be sober and discreet." The following year, the third typical edition in Latin of the revised Roman Missal was released, an edition announced in 2000. (The "typical edition" of a liturgical text is that to which editions by other publishers must conform.)

These two texts made clear the need for a new official English translation of the Roman Missal, particularly because the previous one was at some points an adaptation rather than strictly a translation. The body responsible for producing English translations of liturgical texts of the Roman rite is the International Commission for English in the Liturgy (ICEL). It promptly began work on a completely new translation of the Roman Missal, intending it not to be a rushed job. On 2 February 2004, ICEL Chairman Bishop Arthur Roche of Leeds, England issued a first draft of the Ordo Missae part of the Missal; a definitive version of the Missal is expected to become available no earlier than 2007.

This new translation may perhaps make more evident to English speakers that the Second Vatican Council revision of the Order of Mass left most of the text unchanged.


External links

A) Revision of the Roman Missal

B) Polemics

nl:Novus Ordo Missae

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