Sunday 5 August 2012

Comparison of The Novus Ordo (OF) & The Usus Antiquior (EF) -In Brief

I was very taken with a recent post by Archbishop Gullickson, Nuncio to the Ukraine
( and the post of Jeffrey Tucker (  The thrust of the posts was the question, ‘Does the Ordinary Form have its own voice? Is there something distinct about it that makes it valuable in its own right?’ I share my own thoughts here. Please note that I do not go into arguments about whether the Ordinary Form (OF) is valid and licit, since it should go without saying that the Mass I celebrate six days a week I accept as valid and licit, even though for me it is inferior to the Extraordinary Form (EF) in expressing or at least facilitating Catholic spirituality. Indeed as a convert from 1980, the OF was the only Form of Mass that I knew for the first year of my life as a Catholic -after which year I attended some Traditional Masses with the SSPX- and it is the Form at which I assisted daily in seminary.

We should acknowledge that there are legitimate supporters of both the Revised Rite (designated ‘the Ordinary Form‘ or OF) and  the Ancient Rite, the ‘Extraordinary Form’ (EF). Some supporters of one Form or the other will have nothing to do with the other Form, but are they so different? Can one find reasons for having a preference?

I note that both Forms follow a common outline:

1.       Both have an Entrance Antiphon
2.       Both have a Confiteor where the intercession of the saints is sought
3.       Both have the Kyrie
4.       Both have the ancient Gloria
5.       Both have an Opening Collect
6.       Both have an Epistle
7.       Both have a Gospel
8.       Both have the Nicene Credo
9.       Both have a Consecration formula
10.   Both contain the ancient Roman Canon
11.   Both have the Pater Noster
12.   Both have the Pax
13.   Both have the Agnus Dei
14.   Both have Domine non sum dignus

This leads me to ask the question ‘In what ways then, are they different?’

In answer I note first that even in some of the above commonalities there are differences.

·         The prayers at the foot of the altar have been excised from the OF, yet these allowed the priest to publicly seek the mercy of God before entering the Holy of Holies. In the OF the priest now seems to enter the sanctuary as if by right and not by the mercy of God.
·         The Indulgentiam has been removed from the OF, yet this removed venial sin before approaching the Holy of Holies.
·         The Aufer a nobis upon approaching the altar has been excised, yet this usefully recalls the Jewish priest entering the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifice.
·         The entrance Antiphon of the OF has had the Gloria Patri removed, yet this allows us to praise God as we begin to address Him. Though such praise is not essential, it is surely fitting.
·         The Confiteor of the OF has had the confession to the sinless in Heaven removed; only the request for their intercession remains, yet confession to the saints allows us to express our repentance to the whole Church, and not only to the Church militant.
·         The Epistle in the OF is lost underneath the themed connection between the Old Testament, its responding psalm and the Gospel, yet the Epistle is the only reading to give Apostolic Instruction to the Christian.
·         Scriptural references have been removed. The Judica me (pslam 42) at the foot of the altar has gone completely; the  Munda cor meum before proclaiming the Gospel no longer refers to the burning coals of Isaiah; and another psalm removed at the Lavabo –yet making the liturgy more scripture-based was said to be a goal of the reform.
·         The Offertory has been removed entirely from the OF and replaced by a Jewish grace before meals, leaving no link to the Sacrifice for which the gifts are being presented and prepared.
·         The Consecration formula of the OF now forms part of a continuous narrative and does not clearly denote that it is a sacramental formula when vocalised (one does not baptise while reading the Gospel narrative of Matthew, so why consecrate in the middle of a narrative?). The formula is, however, printed differently from the rest of the text in the Missal.
·         The Canon is the very highpoint of the Mass wherein God comes down to earth; it therefore all but demands a sacred silence (cf. Habakkuk 2:20) yet the sacred sotto voce has been abandoned in the OF, the Canon being proclaimed aloud as though addressed to the people. Indeed, the silence of the EF, which indicates God’s presence and allows for prayer, has given way to constant dialogue in the OF, as though Mass were an exchange between priest and people rather than the Church and God. Too many have forgotten that silence is not the absence of speech, but a sacred presence; one learns to ‘feel’ the sacredness of the silence of the Mass just as one feels the discomfort of a tense silence or the silent loving exchanged between friends at a death-bed.  Silence can be, and often is, pregnant with meaning.
·         The Pax in the OF no longer has a clear vertical dimension as coming from Christ, but is passed among the people in a horizontal manner.
·         The Trinitarian nature of the sung Angus Dei can be lost in the OF in that it can be repeated numerous times during the fraction.
·         The Trinitarian nature of the Domine non sum dignus has been removed from the OF, being reduced to a single vocalisation.
·         The Last Gospel, a reminder that we have received the Word made Flesh in Holy Communion, has also been removed from the OF  –and the Gospel cannot be regarded as a  ‘useless repetition’.

Add to the above that:

1.       few priests celebrate ad orientem as per the General Instruction and rubrics of Pope Paul VI;
2.       genuflections have been reduced from 12 to 5;
3.       Latin is very rarely heard in the OF;
4.       the distribution of Holy Communion is most frequently given in accord with the indult (in the hand) rather than according to the norm (on the tongue)
5.       that the Scripture-based antiphons (the word of God) for the Entrance, Offertory and Communion are frequently replaced by hymns (the word of man)

and we cannot help but be aware that the OF has a strikingly different voice to the EF; this does not mean it is not a Catholic voice, but that it is a voice Catholics of the preceding centuries would find unfamiliar.

There is then, I suggest, a major difference between the OF and EF. It is certainly minimised by celebrating with Latin, ad orientem, and by distribution of Holy Communion on the tongue, but these are in some way ‘window dressing’ since of themselves they are not sufficient to ensure continuity with the Usus Antiquior. After all, Anglican or Methodist Liturgies could be celebrated ad orientem, in Latin, with Gregorian Chant, but that would not make them other Forms of the Roman Rite.

Do I have a preference? Yes, for the Extraordinary Form, and these are a few of my reasons.

·         The Extraordinary Form has a heritage of c.1500 years and grew by natural development under the watchful eye of the Popes. In contrast, the Ordinary Form was a re-build after demolition by a back-room committee. (It is important to remember that, in our teaching and worship, the Church is but the custodian of what she has received, not its master, and that we are to pass on what we have received in faithful manner. As Cardinal Ratzinger noted, “The Pope’s authority is bound to Tradition of the Faith, and that also applies to the liturgy. Even the Pope can only be a humble servant of its lawful development” cf. Spirit of the Liturgy, p.166).
·         There are majestic prayers in the EF: the Judica me (psalm 42) at the foot of the altar; the burning coals of Isaiah to cleanse the lips before proclaiming the Gospel; the prayer of homage and supplication to the Trinity (the Placeat tibi) before the final blessing.
·         The Gospel of the Word Made Flesh fittingly concludes our Communion reflection.
·         The focus of the EF is on God rather than on the priest. In the OF the priest sits at the apex and faces the people throughout the celebration, which cannot help but make him the centre of attention; this does not happen in the EF, the priest being clearly subjugated to the Rite by sitting to the side and facing the Lord at the altar.
·         There are at least eight Genuflections in the EF, coming before and after each and every time the priest touches the sacred Host, thus offering clear adoration to the Lord. These are reduced in the OF to three, and since adoration of God cannot be over-done, the elimination of these genuflections cannot be justified by labelling them ‘useless repetitions’.
·         Distribution of Holy Communion in the OF, in that It received in the same manner as a biscuit at a table or a cinema ticket in the entrance queue (that is, in the hand) does not give the sacred distinction to the Sacred Host that the EF gives by having Holy Communion distributed on the tongue to kneeling communicants.
·         The distribution of Holy Communion in the EF comes with a Benediction with the Host over each individual and with the prayer, ‘The Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ preserve your soul unto life everlasting’. The OF simple says ‘Body of Christ’ and there is no blessing with the Host.
·         The sacred silences of the EF allow us to live the words of scripture (“The Lord is in His temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him”, Habakkuk 2v20) and to speak to the Lord in a personal and profound way. In the OF, the silences are but pauses to allow for prayer and reflection (after the Gospel, after Holy Communion etc), rather than silences which are themselves pregnant with meaning; silences which speak to us; silences which have a meaning in their own right.
·         It is rarely celebrated versus populum; an orientation which cannot help but provide for the dominance of a horizontal in which there is dialogue between priest-and-people, rather than provide a vertical dynamic of the Church addressing God.

I always propose that the altar-facing (ad orientem or ‘towards the East’) position be more –even most- frequently used; not only because it is the norm of the Missal as promoted by Pope Paul VI to give authentic expression to the reform requested by the Fathers of Vatican II, but because it has great spiritual significance:

1.       the East is symbolic of the direction of heaven; the direction in which the Lord ascended and from which He will return at the Last Day;
2.       people were traditionally buried facing East so as to be ready for the Lord’s return
3.       the priest is the shepherd leading us to God, so it is right that he face the same direction we face: he is not there to entertain us but to lead us to God and to heaven
4.       there is no time in Catholic History that priests faced the people, as recent scholarship has clarified for us. Facing the people was a Protestant innovation to change the Eucharist from Sacrifice at an altar to a meal over a table.

So is there a distinctive voice in the OF? I would say a qualified ‘yes’; ‘yes’ in that the Rite of Mass has been significantly changed; ‘no’ in that it does not essentially change doctrine; ‘yes’ also in that it is by nature more inclusive of the congregation -but not of the laity per se, since the congregation are but adding their voices to the lay choir and responding along with the lay servers. In order to ensure liturgical continuity, the voice of the OF needs to speak in the same tone and with the same intent as the EF; the voice that Catholics of the past 1500 years would instinctively recognise as Catholic, and which would be achieved more nearly by the ad-orientem celebration with Gregorian Chant and the distribution of Holy Communion on the tongue to kneeling communicants. I have always believed that supporters of the OF are supporting not the Missal of Paul VI itself but its accrued innovations, since that Missal as promulgated by Paul VI to authentically provide what Vatican II called for presumes an ad-orientem celebration with Gregorian Chant, the distribution of Holy Communion on the tongue to kneeling communicants and male alter servers. These are what are being supported, not the Missal. If it was the Missal they were supporting, they would be willing to celebrate it ad orientem, in Latin, with Communion distributed on the tongue and male altar servers only –all as promulgated by Paul VI. I very much doubt that they would be willing to do this, however, yet any refusal to do so only betrays them as supporters not of innovation, not of the OF.

Discussions such as the above regarding the Novus Ordo are not welcomed by some, but they are acceptable to Rome in that while the Holy See reacts to accusations against the legality and validity of the OF, it has not yet disciplined any cleric for making faithful criticism. Sadly, some clerics and lay Catholics have turned against the EF, the Mass of their formation and early priesthood. I think this cuts them off from their roots, and a plant without roots must inevitably wither and die.

To return to speaking of those who are hard-line supporters of one or other Form of Mass, we should remember two things.

First, having been promulgated by the Supreme Pontiff, Vicar of Christ, the OF is valid and licit. It thus contains the same Lord, Sacrifice and Heavenly Banquet as the EF. The EF we must remember, has, in both its texts and ceremonies, been recognised by the Church in Council (Trent) as holy, and while the Church has all authority to forbid what is evil, she has absolutely no authority to forbid what is holy. Thus neither the Church nor any of her members has the right to speak of or treat the holy EF in a disparaging manner -something too often seen today.

We can legitimately support either Form of Mass, but since both Forms contain the same Lord, Sacrifice and Banquet, what we cannot do is to absent ourselves from Mass on Sundays or Holy Days because the Form of Mass on offer is not what we promote and support.

It might be useful to ourselves, whichever side of the liturgical debate we are on, that we would do well not to resist the Holy Ghost. Rather, we should allow Him room in the discussion by giving both Forms full and equal life in the parishes. In this way He can show by the an ascendency of one Form over the other (by the number of attendees it gather and the number of vocations it produces) the Form most pleasing to God. It might be said that if we do not give such freedom to the operations of the Holy Ghost we might, in the words of Gamaliel, find ourselves fighting against God (cf. Acts 5). And which of us is willing to risk that?


  1. Thank you Father for a very informative post. I am fortunate to live within 30 miles of a parish that is served each Sunday by Cannon Menney of the Institute of Christ The King Sovereign Priest and therefore assist at Mass in the Extraordinary Form. On the odd occasions (holidays etc) when I assist at a Novus Ordo the thing that really jumps out at me is the informality right from the very beginning clearly demonstrated by the lack of those beautiful prayers at the foot of the altar which set the tone for the whole celebration of the EF. I did attend a N.O recently at the monastery at Kinnoul. Prior to vesting the celebrant came to the lectern greeted the congregation and spoke a few words about the days Gospel. He then left the altar vested and processed down the central aisle venerated the altar and commenced Mass. I personally found this more edifying than my previous experiences of N.O. Masses I even joined in the sign of peace instead of getting my hanky out to blow my nose at the opportune moment lol.

    1. Introibo,
      Thank you for your comment.
      I think informality is encouraged by the Novus Ordo but perhaps not intrinsic to it. I find that by omitting the common ‘good morning everyone’ disempowers this from the start, as does the omission of the option to share the peace (it has, after all, already been given in the verbal exchange between the priest and the people -which also has the benefit of retaining its vertical dimension. I instructed my parishioners that even though I do not add ‘Let us offer...’, those who wish to exchange the peace may exchange it. Few have taken me up on this –mostly it is done by confirmed progressives.
      Your comment about the hanky reminds me of the time just prior to ordination as a Deacon when I reached forward to receive the hand of a lady who turned towards me from the bench immediately in front. Adly she simply reached past me to the lady behind me, leaving my hand floating in mid-air. Again, just prior to my ordination as a priest, I remained kneeling after the Our Fatter as I was intensely praying. It occurred to me that the priest had said ‘let is offer...’ because I was shaken on the shoulder by a woman who ‘instructed’ me “Peace be with you!” I was tempted to say, “I’m trying to get some”. But I resisted.

  2. Thank you for this interesting analysis comparing the two forms of the Roman Rite now in use. I'm a cradle Catholic and was raised as it were on the Ordinary Form and so naturally have an affection for and a certain attachment to it,and have received graces beyond measure from it. Recently i have started attending the Extraordinary Form on Sundays, though its not possible to do this on weekdays-its just not sufficiently available as yet. At first i found it slightly disconcerting since it seemed so different from what i've been used to. I suppose this just shows that there really is a significant discontinuity between the OF and the EF which it was meant to replace. However i was immediately struck by the sense of the sacred and the reverence at Holy Communion, and love the old Latin Chants. So i have persevered and taken the time to find out more about the old Mass and now i understand it better, and have attended it more often i have been won over to it and now much prefer it. I don't mind the Latin, though i did Latin at grammar school so its not such a hurdle for me as it would for others. One of the best things about it are the periods of silence - the Ordinary Form now seems overly verbalised - i mean too much is said out loud, with only brief silences. Also in the old Mass God and not the priest or the congregation are the centre of attention. The whole thing is simply much more beautiful, mysterious and transcendent, and it is a great pity that still relatively few people have had the chance to get to know it. I'm baffled really as to why this Mass was effectively banned, or why many clergy in the Church are apparently opposed to it,and as a loyal Catholic reluctant to criticise Pope Paul IV . But whoever was or is to blame for this state of affairs, it really is down to the Clergy to correct it and its refreshing to hear those like yourself who are now honestly and frankly addressing the issues.

    1. James,
      Thank you for your comment.
      It does take time to get accustomed to the EF; I found my first few visits to the SSPX chapel on first converting to the Church very hard to accept, but as I was accompanying a parishioner who did not want to go alone, I persevered. Eventually the constant dialoguing of the OF came to irritate me.
      I too find the EF more transcendent; and more clearly God-focused. The Latin chant seems to me much more ethereal (and thus more congruent with the Mass as heaven on earth) than the pop-group guitar.
      You are right that the situation in the Church today needs to change by the hand of the clergy, but still too many think that its celebration is either contrary to Vatican II (in which case they see the OF as professing a different faith incompatible with the EF) or as still requiring the permission of the local Bishop. Those Bishops who allow this opinion to continue are engaging in a deception of the people, and cannot be of God since God can neither deceive nor be deceived.

  3. I cannot but reiterate the previous comments & concur with them totally. May I, respectfully, suggest that you write this post as a letter to Northern Cross as it should clarify the position between the 2 forms. I too am fortunate in being able to attend EF Masses on Sundays but do attend OF Masses at other times. Your comment about OF Mass centralising the celebrant leads me to be quite careful about where I attend OF Mass based on which priest is celebrating. How sad that this should be the case.

  4. Hello to everyone reading this. I am a Filipino Catholic living in the Republic of the Philippines. For the past months I have been enamored and educated myself towards the EF for it was something new to me and I felt a deeper connection to my Catholic faith. Unfortunately, it is quite rare here in the Philippines which is VERY ironic since the Filipino population is estimated to be 95% Christian and within that, roughly 86% Roman Catholic. I really want and hope for the EF to be more available here in the East. The problem, well not a "problem" but a dilemma or paradox with our country is that the Catholic Church has been so ingrained in the Filipino culture that it is almost, not almost but it is Identical. To the point that if you meet a Filipino person, there is a high chance of them coming from our faith, the Catholic faith (which is good). My point being is due to that, IMHO the reason as to why the EF is not flourishing in our nation is because of the language barrier. For the OF is celebrated here in Filipino and in other Philippine languages, I'm afraid that there would be a significant number of laity that would reject it (the EF) because it would now be considered "foreign" (w/o proper explenation). And that would provide some leverage to other Protestant churches to proselytize more people to their faiths. Furthermore, people might ask what are we going to do with the many Filipino Catholic songs and prayers we have composed over the years? Are we just going to get rid of them? Also in the EF I've noticed the absence of Lay Ministers? I do not contest the idea of receiving the Holy Communion by the priest is the most proper way of doing it. But in our Filipino culture it is quite the standard for Filipino men when they reach old age, retirement to have a more fulfilling life through the Catholic Church by choosing a vocation. A number of Filipino men would choose being a Lay Minister. Women would be Commentators,Readers, and Ushers. What are we to do with them if the EF would flourish in our country? (Again, I am not against the EF, I love it. These are probably some of the dilemmas that we Filipino Catholics might face.) Moreover I've noticed through watching Youtube videos, that in the US, there are female Altar servers and female Lay ministers? Here in the Philippines, there is not one Catholic Church that allows that sort of practice (to the extent of my current knowledge). But there have been instances wherein nuns/sisters would distribute the Holy Communion. Most of us Filipino Catholics don't have a problem with that. For we beleive those nuns/sisters are consecrated. But even so, I would really want to hear your thoughts about those (nuns/sisters) and the situation about my country the Philippines. Thank you very much in advance! May God love you always Father!


Please comment using a pseudonym, not as 'anonymous'.
If you challenge the Magisterium, please do so respectfully.
We reserve the right to delete from comments any inflammatory remarks.
If we do not reply to your comment it is through lack of time rather than interest.