The Novus Ordo

It’s almost Holy Week so my mind turns toward the liturgies that we will soon sing to glorify Christ’s death and resurrection. The Western Christians, especially the Roman Catholics and other liturgical churches celebrate Palm Sunday today.

The Tridentine (Council of Trent) High Mass, was celebrated (served) as a solemn (incense) sung (Gregorian chant) mass and was a glorious thing indeed. The Low Mass was an abridged daily version of the High Mass. This “Latin Mass” was for four centuries thegolden standard of worship in the Roman Catholic and Anglo-Catholic (High Church) traditions of the West.

The priest elevates the chalice at the Words of Institution during High Mass

Then the 1960’s happened. The Second Vatican Council was called by Pope John XXIII and continued by Pope Paul VI. An Italian liturgist by the name of Bugnini was commissioned to edit the Sacramentarium and he mucked it up for all time. Him I quote:

“We must strip from our Catholic prayers and from the Catholic liturgy everything which can be the shadow of a stumbling block for our separated brethren that is for the Prostestants.” – Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, main author of the New Mass, L’Osservatore Romano, March 19, 1965

Thoroughly modern Novus Ordo, thoroughly lacking mystery.

Having strayed toward Roman Catholicism on my way from traditional Anglicanism to Orthodoxy, I can tell you frankly that the Novus Ordo (New Order) is the religious equivalent of a McDonald’s happy meal. Gone is the penitential spirit, the deep reverence and the transcendental solemnity that was the treasure of the Western Christendom until that liturgical butcher (strong language, I know!) took a meat cleaver to the mass and made it into a drive-in hamburger. (Aside: I remember when McDonald’s ‘burgers cost 10 cents, and that is about as much as they were worth.)

Professor Dietrich von Hildebrand expressed himself in even more forthright terms: “Truly, if one of the devils in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters had been entrusted with the ruin of the liturgy he could not have done it better.”

Geoffrey Hull’s magnum opus on the Mass

For those readers who are inclined to look behind the curtain and discover the origins of this “new and improved” mass and how it turned the Catholic Church on its head, I cannot say enough to recommend The Banished Heart by Australian philologist Geoffrey Hull. It is a masterpiece of research and yet is eminently readable. Western Christians who read it from cover to cover will say to themselves, “Aha, so that’s how it all came about!”

When one recognizes how faithful the Orthodox Church has maintained its traditions over the centuries, it’s disappointing to realize that the conversion from the Roman mass of yesteryear to the current substandard one has served only to drive the Romans further away from reconciliation with the Orthodox.

Author: Lawrence B. Wheeler

B.A., M.Div. Former Anglican priest, convert to Orthodoxy.

2 thoughts on “The Novus Ordo”

  1. Greetings, Lawrence! I came across your blog site this evening and have been thoroughly enjoying your posts. Well done. Your writings are insightful and encouraging. Thank you. … And, on a personal note, I can relate to your transition: I converted to Orthodoxy (OCA) in 2019 after retiring from the Episcopal priesthood.

    —Brendan Wilde


    1. Welcome, Brendan. Thanks for the comment.

      Tell me a little about your career in the Episcopal priesthood. Why did you leave the Episcopal Church after your retirement? Why did you convert to Orthodoxy? I’m curious.



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