The words, look, and feel of Catholic liturgy have all changed dramatically. The old Latin Mass and the average contemporary Mass (novus ordo) seem to be as different from each other as tigers are from bonobos. This is a problem. We’re supposed to see organic continuity between the old Mass and the new Mass, because the old Latin Mass and the novus ordo are supposed to be different versions of the same thing: the Roman Rite. The two are supposed to be, in their essentials, the same Roman liturgy.
Some people claim that the average celebration of the novus ordo is in complete organic continuity with the old Latin Mass. They think that the old and new are very similar. Are these people correct? How can we judge whether the changes are too drastic or just enough? How can we tell the difference between continuity and rupture?
Here’s one proposal for judging organic development. As I already said, the old Latin Mass and the novus ordo are supposed to be different versions of the same Roman Rite. So, the old Latin Mass should be at least as similar to the novus ordo as it is to liturgies of the Eastern Rite Catholics. Amongst the Eastern Rite Catholics are the Maronites, Byzantines, Melkites, Armenians, etc. They have their own liturgies that have developed independently of the Roman Rite liturgy. So we should expect these Eastern liturgies to be different from the Roman Rite liturgy.
Given the way the novus ordo is celebrated today, however, the old Latin Mass is much more like Eastern Rite liturgies in its look and feel than it is to the novus ordo. All the Eastern Rite versions of Mass from across the globe have:
- A strong sense of mystery surrounding them.
- A sacred and elevated language.
- Some form of chant.
- Ad orientem celebration (i.e., the priest and the congregation face the same direction).
- A great reverence for the Eucharist (e.g., the faithful receive Communion on the tongue from a priest).
- Intricate ritual.
- Periods of silence.
- Parts of the Mass hidden from the laity.
These features of Eastern liturgies are important because they help worshipers see the liturgies’ deeper reality. The liturgy is sacred and transcendent—a solemn act of worship. So it should look and feel that way. The old Latin Mass has all of the above features that we find in Eastern liturgies. The average novus ordo has few of them, if any. This shows us that the way the novus ordo is usually being celebrated today is not in organic continuity with the old Mass. It’s a rupture. You know you’ve got a problem when an Eastern liturgy looks more like a Roman Rite Mass than the novus ordo does.
Below are some pictures to help demonstrate my point.