Thursday, July 15, 2010

Why the Extraordinary Form Is Better

I know that for what follows, I am going to be solemnly apprised of the validity of the Novus Ordo Mass, and the fact that I am opinionated, and that I have no business holding that one form of the Mass is superior to another, and that I lack charity, and that I think I am more Catholic than the Pope, etc., etc.  Oh well.  Whatever.  Let not the apostles of "tolerance" rush to judgment.  I'm not a sedevacantist, and I have deliberately refrained from attending SSPX Masses, and I don't think the Novus Ordo is invalid.  But I do think it is not as good as the Mass we tried to shelve 40 years ago.


1. The Extraordinary Form Is Better Equipped to Focus the Mind on God.  The single biggest way that the Extraordinary Rite of Mass focuses the mind on God is by the priest facing God and not the congregation.  I have heard it argued that versus populum is of older vintage than ad orientem; however, if that is true, once you have attended a Mass in which the priest faces ad orientem, it is easy to understand why versus populum was previously abandoned.  In the ad orientem posture, the priest faces God.  He faces in the same direction as the congregation, thereby underscoring the unity of purpose between the priest and the faithful.  Another way in which the Extraordinary Rite focuses the mind more on God is by the fact that the Rite is celebrated in Latin and not in the vernacular.  This brings home to us the fact that the words spoken are the voice of the Church, and that they are addressed, not to us, but to God.  These reminders that we are not the center of worship are healthy, and help us to direct our minds where they should be directed during Mass.  (And yes, I realize that the Novus Ordo may also be celebrated in Latin and ad orientem, but let's face it: how often is that done?  The Extraordinary Form of Mass, on the other hand, is always done this way.)

2. The Extraordinary Form Sheds More Light on Truths of the Faith. One could go on meditating on the Mass until the end of time, and still not unpack all of its significance; but I find that there are some truths that the Extraordinary Rite makes more obvious.   One is the awesome dignity of the priesthood.  Another is the fact that the Mass is the Sacrifice of Calvary.  Mass in the Extraordinary Form teaches me that the priest is not just any old guy doing a job, but a man specially selected and set apart in order to perform the Holy Sacrifice.  I can tell this by the fact that he is facing God, as I am, but he is permitted to approach the altar and to stand in the breach, as it were, between God and myself, obtaining God's pardon and grace for me.  I can also tell this by the fact that the priest does most of the praying and performs most of the external actions, while I sit, stand or kneel quietly.  This teaches me both the futility and the needlessness of relying purely on my own efforts to win salvation: futile, because I am powerless, and needless, because in that moment, God has appointed a minister to do for me what I cannot do for myself.  And all of this teaches me that the Mass is none other than the Sacrifice of Calvary.  The priest is alter Christus: Christ, in the person of the priest, entering the Holy of Holies, offering His own Self to secure redemption, as Paul says in Chapter 9 of the Epistle to the Hebrews.  The Holy Sacrifice itself is offered in silence: this teaches me that I am in the presence of Mystery.  This silence is not the muteness of ignorance, nor the silence of an empty church; it is the expectant hush falling over Calvary as the Savior breathes his last.  This moment is so solemn that when the priest first approaches the altar at the beginning of Mass, he does so in stages, begging mercy and the forgiveness both of his own sins and those of the people.  The penitential right is not slopped or rushed through, but dwelt upon, to make us understand our own sinfulness and nothingness before the stupendous mystery in which we are about to enter.

3. The Extraordinary Form Is Less Susceptible to Liturgical Abuses.  How can a priest improvise Latin nowadays?  No doubt it was done in the past; but at least the faithful (those not conversant in Latin) did not need to be contaminated by it.  And since the priest is not facing the people, and there is not an army of laity in the sanctuary, there is no room for the carnival atmosphere that too often pervades the Novus Ordo Mass. 

4. The Extraordinary Form Sheds More Light on the Reality of the Communion of Saints.  There is no touchy-feely stuff in the Extraordinary Rite; no hand-holding (yuck); no forced intimacy with our neighbors in the pews (double yuck); yet there is a greater sense of unity with the whole Church, Triumphant, Suffering and Militant, in this rite.  The fact that the priest and the faithful are all facing in the same direction underscores the unity of purpose and intention in this solemn act of public worship.  Plus, the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is the Mass -- admittedly with some changes -- that has nourished centuries of saints.  It sheds light on their words.  When St. Faustina describes her mystical experiences during Mass, or when Dietrich von Hildebrand explicates the opening prayer at the very beginning of the Mass (Introibo ad altare Dei) -- now I understand what they're talking about.

5. The Extraordinary Form Is Hated and Despised by All the Right People.  Take it away, Michael Voris.

This program is from

The Mass in the Extraordinary Form is a precious treasure that we were foolish ever to try to change or throw away. I hope that one day the Extraordinary Rite will become the Ordinary Rite, and eventually displace the Novus Ordo entirely.  Until that day comes...I'll continue to attend the Extraordinary Rite whenever I can, and tough it out whenever I can't. 


  1. Thank you, Anita! As an old codger who served Mass - in Latin! - from about 1955 to about 1962, I fully agree with everything you're saying, because all your points are very well taken and very well said. I don't attend the TLM anymore, but that's my problem and my fault, mea culpa! (et non felix culpa!) I just put up a post about a book I found "Understanding the Revised Mass Texts." Thanks again and God bless.