PRIEST WHO regularly celebrates the Traditional Latin Mass has said to me on more than one occasion (I am paraphrasing): If more parishes celebrated the Novus Ordo (Vatican II Mass) in the manner in which it is celebrated at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, the urgency for the Latin Mass would be greatly lessened. Likewise, there are many parishes for which this observation holds true. It is an astonishingly bold sentiment, especially considering this priest’s love for the Traditional Latin Mass.
I certainly would not advocate uniformity in celebrating the Novus Ordo in the same fashion we do at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston (budgetary and other considerations aside). However, there is truth that a diminished sense of reverence and anthropocentric tendencies within Mass have helped fuel the “conservative” movement for many years. It may drive some towards the Latin Mass, towards the Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter (Anglican use), or towards various factions within the Novus Ordo. (After thirty years serving in parishes, I understand division within the Novus Ordo all too well — as well as the the fruits of hard work towards unity.)
Therefore, it was timely for Pope Francis to reemphasize the importance of the people’s liturgical formation in his Apostolic letter Desiderio desideravi. There are countless gems in this document. He writes that his letter is intended to “offer some prompts or cues for reflections that can aid in the contemplation of the beauty and truth of Christian celebration.” (Desiderio desideravi § 1) We must absorb and take his words to heart.
“SERIOUS AND VITAL LITURGICAL FORMATION”
In Desiderio desideravi Pope Francis underscores the necessity of “serious and vital liturgical formation.” He asks:
“[H]ow do we recover the capacity to live completely the liturgical action? This was the objective of the Council’s reform. The challenge is extremely demanding because modern people — not in all cultures to the same degree — have lost the capacity to engage with symbolic action, which is an essential trait of the liturgical act.” (Desiderio desideravi § 27)
His emphasis on formation echoes his words in 2019 that “liturgy is the first ‘teacher’ of catechism.” (Pope Francis’ Address to the Scholae Cantorum of the Italian Santa Cecilia Association)
Spiritual — and by necessity — liturgical formation is at the heart of Desiderio desideravi. Have we been celebrating a Mass envisioned by Vatican II? That’s an exceedingly broad question, and one that may have several “correct” answers. Therefore, we must also reexamine the ars celebrandi of the Novus Ordo. Ars celebrandi is described by Pope Benedict XVI in Sacramentum Caritatis as “…the art of proper celebration, and the full, active and fruitful participation of all the faithful…The ars celebrandi is the fruit of faithful adherence to the liturgical norms in all their richness…” (Sacramentum Caritatis § 38)
Furthermore, ars celebrandi is outlined by the USCCB as:
1 • Fidelity to the texts and rubrics of the Church
2 • Prayerful understanding of the liturgical texts, feasts and seasons
3 • Reverent sense of the ministers and assembly engaging in an exchange, which is the dialogue of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit
4 • Proper preparation for celebrating the liturgy
Perhaps put in more blunt terms, it’s time for the Novus Ordo to “up its game” especially in light of Pope Francis’ Motu Proprio Traditionis custodes — On the Use of the Roman Liturgy Prior to the Reform of 1970. He has echoed this sentiment if but in far more eloquent but no less direct words. When speaking to the Congregation for Catholic Education and the Pontifical Council for Culture’s Conference on Music in 2017, he stated, “Sometimes a certain mediocrity, superficiality and banality have prevailed, to the detriment of the beauty and intensity of liturgical celebrations.” He did this while evoking Pope Saint Pius X’s Motu Proprio Tra le sollecitudini, (1903) further highlighting the continuity between the old Mass and the new.
A PERSPECTIVE OF DIVERSITY AND UNITY
I am blessed to serve at a Cathedral parish that each and every Sunday celebrates Mass in four languages and in three different rites all in union with Rome: Novus Ordo in English and Spanish, the Traditional Latin Mass, and the Alexandrian Ge’ez Rite Mass (Ethiopian). There is a unique perspective offered at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston. It is difficult to value one community over another especially as we are regularly exposed to the beauty of each.
Furthermore, I have an enormous appreciation for the Traditional Latin Mass. It has offered fathomless spiritual and musical inspiration. This inspiration has come in many forms direct and indirect.
However, I am deeply committed to the Novus Ordo promulgated by Pope Saint Paul VI in 1969 (coincidentally the year I was born). This commitment emanates from the enormous continuity between the old rite and the new.
Some may disagree and point out obvious differences. After all, does not a typical Novus Ordo Mass appear to be a completely different form of worship?
I prefer to point towards the universal principles set out by Pope Saint Pius X and echoed in turn by Pope Saint John Paul II, Pope Benedict, and Pope Francis, with emphasis on beauty, the sacred, and universality. With an understanding of this continuity, some that has been forgotten and lost has been regained and reclaimed because it is our Roman Catholic heritage.
RESOURCES PROVIDING CONTINUITY
For example, this continuity between the old and new is tangibly embodied by the 1990 Solesmes publication Gregorian Missal for Sundays. This is an edition of the Graduale Romanum, but updated to the Novus Ordo and its liturgical calendar. Included are translations of each chant in the vernacular, which makes it a doubly useful volume. It is fascinating to observe very occasional differences from the Latin Mass especially for each cycle and in particular for Introits in Cycle C.
As a graduate student in my twenties, this book changed my life in so many ways — and at a time when Gregorian Chant was largely abandoned in American parishes and elsewhere.
This edition in part fulfilled (although not the actual Vatican Edition, but with Dom Mocquereau’s rhythms) Vatican II’s mandate in Sacrosanctum Concilium:
117. The typical edition of the books of Gregorian chant is to be completed; and a more critical edition is to be prepared of those books already published since the restoration by St. Pius X.
Regarding Gregorian chant — largely ignored in the decades immediately following Vatican II — the “pride of place” quote gets much attention while the preceding phrase is often overlooked:
116. The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services. (emphasis added)
The the eradication of Gregorian Chant along with the Latin language were unthinkable in 1963. Gregorian Chant in particular was highlighted by Vatican II for renewal — not annihilation. Fortunately, we have ample opportunity in the Novus Ordo to revisit and renew!
Expanding on such continuity are invaluable chant-based compositions of antiphons and their psalms in the vernacular by Adam Bartlett and Fr. Samuel Weber — all exquisite and designed for practical use for small parishes.
Extend this progression to many highly accessible compositions and texts by myriad modern-day composers. Some works are based on well-known hymn tunes, others chant-based, and all in the vernacular. Composers such as Charles Thatcher, Christoph Tietze, Kathleen Pluth, Luke Massery, Mac Cooney, Andrew Moytyka, Jeff Ostrowski, Richard Rice and others have greatly enriched the liturgical landscape. Then there are settings of the Entrance and Communion Antiphons by songwriters Steve Angrisano, Sarah Hart, and Curtis Stephan among other resources. I rejoice at all of the creativity and expansion of styles! Composition of the propers is the frontier for Roman Catholic publishing, and resources accessible to parishes continue to grow.
I encourage parishes to explore and avail themselves to these resources. Begin slowly, and find what works for your choir and congregation.
DEEP VULNERABILITY, BOTH/AND SOLUTIONS
The Novus Ordo is still deeply vulnerable — largely due to decades of comfortable custom. For example, the fourth option of the GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal) has become the first and standard option: to replace antiphon propers with hymns and songs. While hymns and songs are vital for the congregation, great care must be taken to the feast, season, and to theology. (See the USCCB’s Catholic Hymnody at the Service of the Church: An Aid for Evaluating Hymn Lyrics). This is because by replacing the proper antiphons, we lose the related scripture. This is akin to replacing the Responsorial Psalm with any hymn or not singing the prescribed Alleluia verse. These too are considered “propers” and relate to the surrounding readings.
The beauty of the Mass in both the Extraordinary Form (Latin Mass) and the Ordinary Form (Novus Ordo), has been well served with a both/and approach. E.g., Sing an entrance hymn (in the vernacular even in the Latin Mass) for the congregation. Follow it up with an Entrance Antiphon in a setting and style that suits your parish. Begin communion with the antiphon and perhaps verses as needed. Continue with a hymn, song, or choir anthem. The same can be applied to the Offertory chants. Such an approach allows the prescribed antiphons to shine the light upon the wisdom of scripture. (Communion antiphons often point back to the Gospel!)
A helpful reminder: there is flexibility to sing only the antiphon without psalm verses or perhaps only one or two verses of a communion antiphon for example. This leaves ample room for the singing of a congregational hymn or choral anthem immediately after or before. This approach is made even easier if there is incense at the processions. Yes, it is more work for the cantor or the choir, but God deserves our best!
Thus we have great continuity as similar or analogous practices take place in both the Traditional Latin Mass and the Novus Ordo. Priorities of what we sing as outlined by the GIRM and in the USCCB’s Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship are allowed to bear fruit. Key elements of Vatican II will come to fruition.
GREAT INFLUENCE AND RESPONSIBILITY
Among the largest vulnerabilities of the Novus Ordo might stem from the perceived role of the celebrant which places upon his shoulders the enormous influence and responsibility for the tone of the Mass. This powerful influence can be for the greater good and quite salutary. At other times it manifests as misplaced emphasis away from the Eucharist.
Pope Francis addresses in Desiderio desideravi this vulnerability that presents in many extremes: “… I think that the inadequacy of these models of presiding have a common root: a heightened personalism of the celebrating style which at times expresses a poorly concealed mania to be the centre of attention.” (Dd § 54) To be clear musicians too are guilty of this including myself!
This vulnerability is paralleled by musicians who also yield enormous influence on the tone of the liturgy. Singing in front facing the people with microphones mimics a stage or theater, while singing from a choir loft is counter-cultural. Both situations can serve the liturgy enormously — each with its strengths and weaknesses. But with such freedom of choice within the Novus Ordo and such influence comes the responsibility to serve God and the faithful before serving ourselves. (I write this to remind myself more than anyone else.)
HOT BUTTON ISSUE MAY OFFER HELP
Another element of continuity between the Latin Mass and Novus Ordo — one assumed by the current GIRM, and an issue that was never mandated by Vatican II — remains a very hot button issue: celebrating Mass Ad orientem (“to the east”). It is a topic worth revisiting even if only intellectually. The practice of celebrating Mass versus populum (towards the people) was never mandated by Vatican II. Ad orientem continues in many Orthodox Churches, some in union with Rome.
Now, before everyone loses their minds, it is important to know what ad oriertem in the Novus Ordo is — and more importantly — what it is not. (E.g., It amounts to facing east about ten to twelve minutes only during Mass). I have written extensively about ad oriertem in the Novus Ordo here with examples from the 2012 GIRM.
Such a practice, even if only occasional, may have salutary effects with regards to the centrality of the Eucharist. It may aid the understanding of directing the Eucharistic prayer — our prayer — to God. It may offer understanding of unity of priest and the people in greater Christ-centric worship.
Conversely, I do not believe it is necessary to resort to celebrating Mass ad oriertem to provide such revelations. Not in the least. However, to do so illustrates the continuity as intended by Vatican II (and the current GIRM) and the subsequent vulnerability of the celebrant as an influential and potentially personality-driven focus as discussed by Pope Francis.
When offered with humility, this “vulnerability” of the celebrant acting in persona Christi will reveal great beauty in the Novus Ordo!
SEVERAL PATHS TO THE BEAUTIFUL, SACRED, AND UNIVERSAL
The Novus Ordo is and can be exquisitely beautiful — and not necessarily in the way I personally prefer or desire. Use of the vernacular alone can be beautiful and reverent. Guitars and pianos most absolutely can be beautiful and reverent. (I’ve utilized piano and guitar regularly for the vast majority of my career.) Singing on a microphone in front of the people can be beautiful and reverent. Celebrating Mass versus populum (towards the people) can be — and very often is — beautiful, universal, and reverent.
Intention and demeanor are paramount. I would encourage greater mindfulness of the continuity offered by Vatican II. What might this mean for our spiritual formation? Most importantly how this may nurture our relationship with our community and with our God?
We have much to learn from each other. We have much to learn from God.
Oremus pro invicem
Let us pray for each other.