Is the New Mass legit?

Pope Paul VI published on April 3, 1969 the Apostolic Constitution, Missale Romanum that supposedly promulgated the Novus Ordo Missae; but was this a legitimate act?

Universae Ecclesiae is the name of a recent Instruction which provides some precious clarifications on the four-year-old Summorum Pontificum, which signaled the liberation of the Mass of All Time. The pope’s intention is that the Mass may receive “full citizenship” in the Church today, and not be ostracized as it has been in the last four years by the diktat of omnipotent episcopal conferences which reveal a rather loose conception of Catholic obedience. Time will tell whether they will toe the Roman line or do as they have done so far. Here we would like to expand only on #19 which states:

The faithful who ask for the celebration of the forma extraordinaria must not in any way support or belong to groups which show themselves to be against the validity or legitimacy of the Holy Mass or the Sacraments celebrated in the forma ordinaria or against the Roman Pontiff as Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church."

By so doing, the Instruction attacks any group of faithful doctrinally attached to the Mass of All Time even if they recognize in principle that the New Mass is valid. There may be nothing new under the Roman sun, but this document affords us the chance to go over the reasons why Archbishop Lefebvre always contested the legitimacy of the liturgical revolution of 1969. We will show this in three ways, of increasing importance: the legal aspect, the historical context, and the dogmatic context.

A. The legality of the New Mass

A law is legitimate only when it is duly promulgated by the lawfully constituted authority. But to this condition must be added another of supreme importance and essential to make it a law: it must be for the common good.[1] And precisely on this score, the Novus Ordo Missae (NOM) is most defective as was attested at the time of its promulgation by no less than Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci:

It is clear that the Novus Ordo no longer intends to present the Faith as taught by the Council of Trent… It represents, both as a whole and in its details, a striking departure from the Catholic theology of the Mass as it was formulated in Session 22 of the Council of Trent. The “canons” of the rite definitively fixed at that time erected an insurmountable barrier against any heresy which might attack the integrity of the mystery."[2]

The legal aspect here does not address so much the question of the suppression of the Old Mass, since its continuous existence was supported not only by the general norms of the new Code, (can. 20) but was openly admitted by Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum. Rather, the legal question we wish to study deals with the juridical validity of the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Missae. Here, we are largely indebted to Itineraires, the magazine of Jean Madiran, which was the French voice of Tradition years before the liturgical changes.

We need to look at the Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum (April 3, 1969) which allegedly promulgated the Novus Ordo Missae.[3] Most of the document describes the novelties and the final part never declares clearly what the pope commands, forbids, or concedes. As to the final “Nonobstant”, it is too generic to pretend to abrogate the perfectly clear legislative act of St. Pius V who promulgated the Mass of All Time. It appears that Paul VI never wanted to render his missal mandatory, with a truly juridical obligation. Why?

  • Itineraires could say as early as 1970 that the future was already present: a constant process of mutation. Changed were the “original” edition of the Institutio Generalis (see below regarding the theological aspect), and the editio typica [typical edition―Ed.] of the Novus Ordo rite within months. The Apostolic Constitution in its second Latin edition was enriched with a new paragraph drawn from the French/Italian version, as we are to explain presently.[4]
  • The original Constitution concluded rather innocently with: “From all that has been said so far regarding the New Roman Missal, in the end, we are now pleased to draw a conclusion.”[5] But, sensing that something was missing, the French and Italian translators (not to speak of other versions) boldly modified the text making it say: “We want (placet!) to give force of law (cogere et efficere!) to everything (quiddam!) which we have exposed above regarding the new Roman Missal.”
  • The same translators also completed the authentic Latin text of the Apostolic Constitution, adding: “We order that the prescriptions of this Constitution become effective on November 30th of this year, the First Sunday of Advent.”[6] Both these modifications and additions objectively constitute a forgery. This alone manifests the essential problem of a Constitution which some wish to be mandatory, but which, in its authentic tenure, is not.
  • The question remains why Pope Paul VI seemed to substitute in fact another law to one which he did not abrogate by right. Worse is the other stunning question: why did he not say clearly that he did not want to abrogate the other? Why leave the minds of confused priests and laymen in the agonizing doubt that everything was taking place then as if the authors (which ones?) were imposing an obligation while letting you free to believe the opposite?

B. The historical context

Cardinal Gut, the Prefect who presided over the liturgical reform, gave a revealing insight into the pressure which led the Pope to promote the New Mass:

We hope that, now, with the new dispositions, contained in the documents, this sickness of experimentation will come to a stop. Until now, the bishops had the right to authorize experiments but, sometimes, such limits have been trespassed and many priests simply did what they wanted. Then, what happened is that, sometimes, they imposed themselves. One could not, very often, stop these initiatives taken without authorization because they had gone too far. In his great goodness and in his wisdom the Holy Father yielded, often against his will."[7]

As any decent legislator would do, Paul VI, in establishing his liturgical reform, elucidated the motives of such drastic changes. Here they are:[8]

  • The reform is an act of fidelity to the “demands” of Vatican II.
  • It is meant to revive the languid and awaken the sleepy.
  • It wishes to supplant the “opaque glass” of the old Mass by another which will be a “transparent crystal” for “the children, the youth, the workers, and businessmen.”
  • It wishes to be “a resolute gymnastic of Christian sociology.”

What about the “ecumenical” motive? As strange as it appears, Paul VI never invoked this motive. This omission rightly raised the eyebrows of Protestants and Catholics alike who, unanimously, recognized it on every page of the Ordo. Said an intimate friend of the pope, Jean Guitton:

There was with Pope Paul VI an ecumenical intention to remove, or at least to correct, or at least to relax, what was too Catholic, in the traditional sense, in the Mass and, I repeat, to get the Catholic Mass closer to the Calvinist service..."[9]

As to the motives given by the Holy Father, the most important would be the first, stating, in a democratic fashion, that this was the will of the conciliar bishops. He directs us to #50 of the liturgical decree [Sacrosanctum ConciliumEd.]. But was it really so? The said paragraph recommends indeed in generic terms a certain revision of the Mass. Yet, when these 2000 bishops signed this paragraph, did they wish the suppression of the Offertory? Did they wish the addition of ad libitum new Canons to compete with the Roman Canon from the 3rd century? Did they want such ambiguous Ordinary texts of the Mass that these would immediately seem agreeable to men who have no faith in transsubstantiation, the sacrificial oblation, and the Catholic priesthood? No! Certainly, the Council never wanted such a revolution.

In the same context of the end of that fatal year, 1969, we need to add a letter addressed to the pope, utterly unnoticed by the press, signed by 6000 Spanish priests.[10]

…We shall not speak of the doctrinal Catholic reasons; we could not expose them better than the document A Brief Critical Study of the New Order of Mass, which Your Holiness has recently received, accompanied by a letter signed by Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci, and which one would need to refute in details according to the doctrine of the Council of Trent if one wished to prove the orthodoxy of the Novus Ordo.

We shall not speak of this, but we shall bring up the Protestant reasons. Mr. Max Thurian affirms in La Croix of May 30, 1969 that, with the Novus Ordonon-Catholic communities will be able to celebrate the Last Supper with the same prayers as the Catholic Church. Theologically this is possible.”

Thus, if the celebration by a Protestant is theologically possible, this means that the Novus Ordo expresses no dogma with which the Protestants are in disagreement. But the first of these dogmas is the Real Presence, essence and center of the Mass of St. Pius V. Could a Protestant pastor celebrate the Novus Ordo if he was to perform the consecration in the intention used by the Catholic Church? Lex orandi, lex credendi: the liturgy is the highest expression of our faith.

Where shall we go if, in the best of cases, the Mass silences the Catholic truths? If the good people, with no knowledge and against their will, are thrown into heresy, as long as they preserve the Christian morals (unfortunately, they do not), they will save their soul. But this will not be the case of those who will have pushed them into it. Most Holy Father, we do not want to endure this responsibility.

This is why we boldly address this letter to you, after we begged of you in a previous one (November 5, 1969) to allow the universal Church to preserve the Mass of St. Pius V together with that of the Novus Ordo."

In the name of the pope, some Roman authority (which one?) demanded total submission and blind obedience from all these most devoted priests. The strangest thing is that none of them reacted and nothing was heard anymore of this tyrannical act. Moreover, an Italian committee was gathering signatures to petition Paul VI to abrogate the Novus Ordo Missae. Behold the judgment proffered by Vatican Radio: “Do you wish to be sure of disobeying the pope: sign!”[11] Hence, whoever dares to make a petition to the pope is in the state of disobedience! This idiotic idolatry to the goddess of false obedience, unheard of during twenty centuries of the Church, raised no protest.

This cowardly servility reigns almost universally: it is the sentiment of most cardinals who dare neither speak to the pope nor ask anything from him, not even to beg: they would be tagged disobedient to the pope, and they accept this slavish tyranny. Is it not true that where truth and justice cease to be upheld, arbitrary despotism reigns, with no basis and no limits? Does not the statement of Louis Veuillot [author of The Liberal IllusionEd.] express aptly the mindset of many a churchman: “there is no one more sectarian than a liberal.”

C. The theological context

We have already alluded to the underlying dogmatic truths which the New Mass has silenced or covered in ambiguous terms, so as to please heretical communities. These half-truths (and half-errors) were markedly expressed in what can only be called the definition of the Novus Ordo Missae: “The Lord’s Supper, or Mass, is a sacred synaxis, or assembly of the people of God gathered together under the presidency of the priest to celebrate the memorial of the Lord.”[12] This text was found so offensive and raised such a worldwide uproar that Rome had to come up with something less heterodox. They revised the definition into something less heretical, but did not touch anything in the rite itself, the perfect expression of the early definition. Yet, this definition and this rite omits or denies the three doctrines which are at very heart of the Mass: the priest who, by his sacerdotal character, is alone capable of consecrating the Eucharist; the propitiatory sacrifice of the Mass; and the real and substantial presence of the Victim of Calvary through transubstantiation.

The SSPX has presented a book to the attention of Rome, The Problem of the Liturgical Reform. It explains how the new Mass is the plain expression of underlying principles drawn from the theology of the Paschal Mystery [NB: this refers to the false interpretation of the Paschal Mystery as found in the Novus Ordo, as opposed to the correct one expressed in all of the traditional liturgical rites―Ed]. Here are the book’s conclusions:[13]

  • The propitiatory aspect of the Mass has been effaced from the new missal because the Paschal Mystery holds that there is no debt to be paid in order to satisfy divine justice offended by sin. But, by refusing to see that the Redemption includes the act by which Christ paid to God the entire debt of pain incurred by our sins (the doctrine of vicarious satisfaction), the theology of the Paschal Mystery sets itself in opposition to a truth of the Catholic Faith.
  • The structure of the new missal is that of a memorial meal that celebrates and proclaims the divine Covenant and not that of a Sacrifice. But, by considering the Mass as a sacrifice only insofar as it is a memorial which contains “in mysterio” the sacrifice of the Cross, the theology of the Paschal Mystery weakens the visibility of the sacrifice as taught by the Church, and can no longer “vere et proprie”—truly and properly—designate the Mass as a sacrifice. This cannot do justice to a truth of Faith, and seems thereby to incur the condemnation pronounced by the Council of Trent as regards the “Nuda commemoratio”—mere commemoration.
  • The New Mass has displaced Christ the Priest and Victim, and replaced it with the Kyrios who communicates Himself to the assembly, making the Eucharist no longer a visible sacrifice but rather a mysterious symbol of Christ’s death and resurrection. Insofar as it rests upon philosophies of the symbolic type, this notion of sacrament cannot be reconciled with the Church’s doctrine on the sacraments. Because this notion corrupts the branches of theology where it is introduced, it is dangerous for the Faith.

Now, even if one wanted to contest the heretical elements of the New Mass, the sole refusal to profess Catholic dogmas quintessential to the Mass renders the new liturgy deficient. It is like a captain who refuses to provide his shipmen with a proper diet. They soon become sick with scurvy due, not so much to direct poison, as from vitamin deficiency. Such is the New Mass. At best, it provides a deficient spiritual diet to the faithful. The correct definition of evil—lack of a due good—clearly shows that the New Mass is evil in and of itself regardless of the circumstances. It is not evil by positive profession of heresy. It is evil by lacking what Catholic dogma should profess: the True Sacrifice, the Real Presence, the ministerial priesthood. This deficiency had already been denounced by Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci months before the New Mass was promulgated:

The recent reforms have amply demonstrated that new changes in the liturgy could not be made without leading to complete bewilderment of the faithful, who already show an indubitable lessening of their faith. Among the best of the clergy, the result is an agonizing crisis of conscience, numberless instances of which come to our notice daily.[14]


1 Michiels, Normae generales Juris Canonici (1929), p. 486, and in The Problem of the Liturgical Reform, Angelus Press (2001), p. 106.

2 The Ottaviani Intervention, p. 28, TAN Books (1992); see the text here.

3 Itineraires, #140, pp.39-2, February 1970.

4 Ibidem, p. 45.

5 "Ad extremum, ex iis quae hactenus de novo Missali Romano exposuimus, QUIDDAM nunc COGERE et EFFICERE placet."

6 Our version for the French, published from La salle de Presse du Saint Siege (sic, in Documentation Catholique, n. 1541, June 1, 1969, col. 1 initio).

7 Docum. Cathol. n.1551, Nov. 16 1969, p.1048. col. 2.

8 L'Osservatore Romano (Italian Ed.) of November 20-27.

9 December 19, 1993 in Apropos (17), p. 8ff. In Most Asked Questions About the Society of St. Pius X, Angelus Press (2011), p. 39.

10 December 11, 1969, Priestly Association of St. Anthony Mary Claret; see Itineraires, #140, pp. 32 ff.

11 La Croix, Jan 6, 1969, quoted by J. Mardiran in Itineraires, #141, p. 9.

12 Institutio Generalis, §7, 1969 version.

13 The Problem of the Liturgical Reform, Angelus Press (2001), pp.80-98 passim.

14 The Ottaviani Intervention, p. 28, Tan Books (1992).