The Novus Ordo Missae of Pope Paul VI, now referred to as the Missale Romanum, is the liturgical rite which the lion's share of Latin rite Roman Catholics experience, that is, of course, for those few people who bother to do Our Lord the favor of attending Mass. The instability introduced into the lives of ordinary Catholics as a result of the new Mass cannot be overstated.
All manner of instructions and clarifications have been issued by the Holy See from time to time in the past thirty-two years to stop the improvisations and abuses which have gushed forth from a variety of sources during what has been termed euphemistically the "liturgical renewal." None have stemmed the tide, including Pope John Paul II's 1980 Holy Thursday letter to priests (Dominicae Cenae) and the follow-up to that letter issued by what was then called the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship (Inaestimabile Donum).
How ironic it was that in the very year a lot of us who believed naively that we had elected a genuinely pro-life President in the person of Ronald Wilson Reagan (and that legalized abortion would be a thing of the past in relatively short order) also believed naively that the issuance of Inaestimabile Donum was going to resolve the problem of liturgical abuses once and for all. As I noted in a commentary seven months ago, (www.hopeofstmonica.com) however, our problems liturgically are not matters of fixing leaks in the plumbing. No, the problems we face liturgically are the result of the very structure in which the plumbing is housed.
The issuance of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani (General Instruction to the Roman Missal) last year caused a great deal of excitement in "conservative" Catholic circles. "Now we know what the Church wants done in the liturgy," said a lot of enthusiastic souls. "The abuses will stop now," others have said. Again, irony is inescapable here: a lot of the very same people who think that it is a cause of great celebration when anyone who claims gratuitously to be pro-life gets elected to office (all the while actually supporting the killing of children in certain cases, as well as appointing pro-aborts to important positions in his government) are the ones who think that a new day has arrived liturgically with the issuance of the General Instruction to the Roman Missal.
"Now we know what the Church wants done in the liturgy." Well, we have "known" what the Church wants done in the Novus Ordo since the first Missal was issued in 1969 under the authority of Pope Paul VI. Even he lamented the abuses that began to manifest themselves shortly after the revolution he authorized began to swallow up authentic Catholic liturgical tradition and had made inroads into destroying belief in the Real Presence and thus the sacerdotal nature of the priesthood and the nature of the Mass itself as the unbloody re-presentation of the Son's one sacrifice in time to the Father in Spirit and in Truth.
The forces that were let loose with the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Missae were truly revolutionary and no force on earth was going to stop them with mere statements of regret or documents of clarification. Indeed, Pope John Paul II's first apology was issued in 1980 in Dominicae Cenae when he apologized in his own name for anything done by any priest which had in any way used the "liturgical renewal" for ends not authorized by the Church.
What both Popes Paul VI and John Paul II were unwilling to admit however, was that the forces impaling the Mass upon itself in the framework of the Novus Ordo were preternatural, bound and determined to foment chaos and disorder and disunity within the Church, the very antitheses of what the Mass is supposed to produce in the lives of individual souls and in the larger life of the Church and the world. This could be as benign as the law of unintended consequences, but it could be as malicious as a deliberate attempt on the part of the Masons and non-Catholics who served on the Consilium to render the Church's liturgy into a state of chaos, which would of its nature weaken the Church's ability to speak clearly with one voice, that of her Divine Bridegroom, in all that pertains to man's salvation.
Many dispassionate commentaries have been written about the Novus Ordo Missae. The purpose of this article (and the ones which will follow in the next several issues) is to discuss the reality of the General Instruction to the Roman Missal, illustrating that far from solidifying the norms for the celebration of the Mass in the new rite, the new Missal actually institutionalizes one exception after another as the prevailing motif for the offering of Holy Mass. Yes, there are universal instructions. Yes, too, there are a number of legitimate adaptations that celebrants can still make in the offering of Mass, thereby continuing the trend in the direction of congregationalism which I've referred to before. These adaptations will be noted with a great deal of care in ensuing issues.
Tomorrow: Part Two - WYSIWYG or Improvising!
Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.
For past columns in The DAILY CATHOLIC by Dr. Droleskey, see Archives