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Opinion: The real void

What is it about the common expression of the Ordinary Form that would lead people to consider attending the Traditional Latin Mass?

Father Stephen Saffron, parish administrator, elevates the Eucharist during a traditional Latin Mass July 18, 2021, at St. Josaphat Church in the Queens borough of New York City. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Much ink has been spilled concerning the Holy Father’s recent motu proprio, Traditiones Custodes. I want to highlight a point that I think should have been in the document, but was not. And the absence of which has practically set the conditions for a kind of liturgical bidding war. Put another way, Catholics—clergy and laity alike—are essentially being forcibly coerced into an artificial corner.

What is missing from this document? An initial inkling comes from a recent interview with Dominican theologian Fr. Augustine DiNoia. In seeking to address the divisive “movement” that surrounds those who attend the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, DiNoia unintentionally offers a glimpse into the most significant void of Traditionis Custodes:

Like his predecessors, the archbishop said, Pope Francis believes “the way to address abuses is not by adopting the ‘extraordinary form,’ but by promoting the true renewal of the liturgy which, in many places, has simply not happened…As Pope Francis implies,” he said, “this renewal is not a matter of creatively ignoring the rubrics, but finding the true spirit of the liturgical reform by… celebrating the Mass with absolute fidelity to the texts and rubrics and to its proper nature as a participation in the celestial worship of Christ for the Father with the communion of saints” (Emphasis added).

According to DiNoia’s interpretation of the Pope’s letter, the primary reason the Catholic faithful attend the Extraordinary Form is the result of abuse. In other words, the elephant in the room being overlooked in this discussion is that the common liturgical expression of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite is perhaps the most significant cause for priests and laity turning to more ancient liturgical rites.

What is fascinating with respect to DiNoia’s reading is that the Magisterium has been struggling to correct liturgical abuses in the Ordinary Form’s expression for decades. Practically speaking, every liturgical document coming out of Rome following Sacrosanctum Concilium (The Second Vatican Council’s 1962 Dogmatic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy) has primarily been concerned with correcting disordered liturgical practices. Even Pope Paul VI’s 1967 much-neglected exhortation on sacred music (Musicam Sacram) already alludes to the forthcoming attacks upon the sacredness of the liturgy.

In trying to correct the plethora of abuses, the post-Vatican II liturgical documents subtly reveal that the how of celebrating the liturgy is rather ambiguous. The General Instruction to the Roman Missal argues that “the traditional practices of Roman Rite” (#42) are the proper framework for understanding how to carry out the celebration of the liturgy. With this framework mostly undermined, it seems that we are moving through a dark fog concerning the various contextual aspects of how the Mass is to be offered.

And, yet, there is still a deeper question that hangs over this discussion. What is it about the common expression of the Ordinary Form that would lead people to consider attending the Traditional Latin Mass? DiNoia argues that, at one level, the faithful are seeking the Latin language. However, it seems highly suspect that people are simply looking for the presence of Latin in the liturgy. When a Catholic is unsettled by the liturgical abuses they see, their first line of thinking is not likely to be, “If only we had more Latin!” Nor does it seem to be the case that someone in the pew would be pondering why it is that some clergy ad lib so often, and thus degrade the rubrics of the Missal.

These explanations are vastly too abstract, and contrary to most peoples’ lack of experience with both Latin and the textual rubrics of the Mass.

Most Catholics have never been formally trained in liturgy. Thus, the only referent for liturgy that they can rely upon is their experience of the Mass itself. A more likely hypothesis for why Catholics would consider attending that Traditional Latin Mass seems to be that the common experience of the Ordinary Form leaves a real existential void within. Perhaps they cannot articulate the problem clearly, but they do wonder if “something is missing.” They are searching for something within the liturgy that they are not finding.

In a more fundamental way, people are yearning for an answer to the problem of how to live in the malaise of post-modernity. This is why, among other reasons, St. Pope John Paul II told some of the bishops of the U.S. in 1998 that liturgy must be, more than anything else, “counter-cultural”. He also stated:

Conscious participation calls for the entire community to be properly instructed in the mysteries of the liturgy, lest the experience of worship degenerate into a form of ritualism. But it does not mean a constant attempt within the liturgy itself to make the implicit explicit, since this often leads to a verbosity and informality which are alien to the Roman Rite and end by trivializing the act of worship.

While it might be the case that some good could have come from addressing this problem, what is more certain is that another liturgical document will not be the answer. The common liturgical practices of the Ordinary Form have put Catholics into a rather unsettling position. We have become habituated to a set of practices which too often tend in a direction that undermines the very nature of the liturgical action itself. If this hypothesis is correct, then this is where we must begin. Otherwise, our conjectures are nothing more than artificial.

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About Brian Jones 34 Articles
Brian Jones is a Ph.D Candidate in Philosophy at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. His works have appeared in The Public Discourse, Strong Towns, and The American Conservative.


  1. Well, maybe some good will come from this MP after all.
    (para. 8 “These explanations . . . most people’s lack of experience . . .”)

  2. If the writer correctly quotes DiNoia, I only see a poor attempt to rescue this travesty of a motu proprio, mostly to promote his own agenda. I agree with DiNoia’s agenda, but using TC as an inadequate vehicle is a poorly chosen strategy. Our (sad to say) pope’s only agenda is to vanquish orthodox Catholics and to transform the church into an NGO that promotes ever-changing western European progressivism. DiNoia is papering over a deliberate move that is cruel and spiteful. Stop defending this divisive and destructive pontiff.

  3. But thanks for this quote which puts it all in a nutshell:
    ” it does not mean a constant attempt within the liturgy itself to make the implicit explicit, since this often leads to a verbosity and informality which are alien to the Roman Rite and end by trivializing the act of worship.”

  4. Although I read Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, I don’t think it’s all about Latin, too (even if I prefer Latin NO facing east above all). Unlike Islam we don’t have a single holy language, see Acts 2,4. There is nothing to add to what John Paul II said above.

  5. Archbishop DiNoia is a former and current official of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and a former official of the Congregation of Divine Worship.

  6. To think this is only about the traditional Mass is naive. It goes much deeper. It’s about the wholesale abandonment of the Faith in the “Spirit of Vatican II.” Parishes continue to hemorrhage souls at an alarming rate. Churches are closing right and left. Religious orders are gasping like fish on land. Seminaries are empty. Except where the Faith, the Traditional Mass, and the traditional family are maintained and supported. It’s time to acknowledge the disaster of Vatican II, consign it to the ash heap of history, and move on for the good of souls.

    • Except that Francis and other VII enthusiasts will never do that. Instead, they continue to accuse anyone who prefers the EF of the Mass of “rejecting VII.” In that regard, I’m not sure exactly what it means to “accept” the Council. I don’t doubt its legitimacy, since it was convened by the Pope and its enactments were ratified by the world’s bishops. But while I can “accept” that VII was a legitimate Council, I cannot also accept that it was also a hugely successful council – as a certain Josef Cardinal Ratzinger once also observed – and that seems to be what Francis now expects. If holding a different view makes me a schismatic, I guess I’ll have to wear the label.

    • Wondering where you live to see this happening. Not happening as far as I can see in my area. TLM is not the answer, sorry to have to tell you this.

      • That’s a rather myopic view. While your personal experience is valid, it’s not the rule by which life, the world, or the Church are measured. And that is problematic.

  7. To my mind, the potential for abuse was inherent in the intent of the Novus Ordo. It comes down to a question of who the rite belongs to. There are certain things in a culture that people feel belong to them, and things that they feel belong to others. The things that belong to them, they feel free to alter to suit themselves. The things that belong to others they leave as they are. The Tridentine rite feels like it belong to God. There are probably many elements of it that create that feeling. The use of Latin may be one of them. The complex movements, the secret prayers, may all contribute to this sense. This is something belonging to God. Don’t mess with it.

    The Novus Ordo, on the other hand, feels like it belongs to us. Something of this seems to have been part of the intention in its design. But perhaps more of that quality made it into the design than the designers intended. It feels like a build your own Mass kit. As such, you can build something dignified and beautiful out of it. But doing so requires artistic skill as well as proper liturgical understanding. Most of the time, one or both of these things will be missing and the result will be either bland or abusive or an assault on the sensibilities of some part of the congregation (anything with guitars in it!).

    I carry no brief for the Tridentine rite, and it can certainly be performed badly. But even when performed badly there is still something about it that says it is a thing belonging to God and we should not mess with it. Something about the Novus Ordo, even when performed well, seems to say that it belongs to us and we are free to innovate with it and shape it to our own sensibilities.

    I posit this merely as an aesthetic analysis. It is an artistic and literary difference. If it goes any deeper than that, it is beyond my competence to analyse it. As a writer, though, who has hovered a red pen over countless manuscripts, I can tell you that certain texts, by the totality of their aesthetic effect, forbid you to strike a word, while others have you itching to strike out, to insert, and to rearrange. The Novus Ordo seems to be of that latter class, not because I feel that way about it, but because so many others so clearly do.

  8. “What is it about the common expression of the ordinary form that would lead people to consider attending the Traditional Latin Mass?”

    An excellent question indeed, and to me it pretty much sums up the whole issue.

    Speaking for myself, it is the music – the mediocre songs – the vast majority written within the last 50 years or so, played by mediocre musicians and sung by mediocre singers.

    I am a musical snob, I freely admit it and make no apologies for it.

    • I’m in your camp. My living room piano swells with tribute to composers of classical music.

      Fr. Fessio’s 1999 analysis of the New Mass 1999 was posted here a day or so ago. He notes what the VCII document Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC) literally said about Church music. The musically-challenged ditties ushered in the wake of NO have done nothing except dismiss, insult and deliver tyrranical blows to what SC literally and specifically said.

      NOW. LET US DETERMINE WHO HAS NOT ACCEPTED VATICAN COUNCIL TWO. It is NOT TLM devotees who love High Mass with organ, Gregorian chant, and polyphony in Latin. It is the new Motu Proprio which tries to rationalize its move to destroy remnants of the traditionally Good, True, and Beautiful.

      The protagonist of Joyce’s Ulysseus is a modern apostate. Yet his subconscious retains memories of the Mass through the hauntingly beautiful vehicle of Palestrina’s sacred music. That’s cognitive dissonance with melody.

    • Terence, I fully agree.

      Terrible, non-sacred music at Mass is just plain wrong, and it’s been allowed because so much of the music is handled by untrained directors and musicians. Pastors are rarely educated in what sacred music is, or often have to compromise for “pastoral reasons.” The music chosen will have a major influence on the “flavor” of the Mass. However, even proper music, performed poorly, is a huge distraction to worship. There is a haphazard approach to the Liturgy in so many parishes today. It’s a crying shame.

  9. We read: “With this framework (“the traditional practices of Roman Rite”) mostly undermined, it seems that we are moving through a dark fog concerning the various contextual aspects of how the Mass is to be offered.”

    Yes, and removing this “dark fog,” Pope Benedict did not reauthorize the Latin Mass…what he did was remove the pretense that the Latin Mass had been, or even could be unauthorized by Bugnini-inspired “liturgists” of questionable parentage, while the responsible bishops (although required by Vatican II, together with Vatican oversight) went with the flow…

    The emerging picture today, it seems to me (but who am I to judge?) is not only to legitimately regulate the Latin Mass, but eventually to strangle or abrogate it altogether–to fully amputate it from the Novus Ordo (the “ordinary form”) of which it is simply the “extraordinary form” and not a separate or separable Rite.

  10. Except that Francis and other VII enthusiasts will never do that. Instead, they continue to accuse anyone who prefers the EF of the Mass of “rejecting VII.” In that regard, I’m not sure exactly what it means to “accept” the Council. I don’t doubt its legitimacy, since it was convened by the Pope and its enactments were ratified by the world’s bishops. But while I can “accept” that VII was a legitimate Council, I cannot also accept that it was also a hugely successful council – as a certain Josef Cardinal Ratzinger once also observed – and that seems to be what Francis now expects. If holding a different view makes me a schismatic, I guess I’ll have to wear the label.

  11. As I’ve commented several times already to the articles since Motu Proprio, I vastly prefer the 1692 Missal as first translated into vernacular English to the 1970 Missal, especially as it is most commonly celebrated today. Of course the Latin is particularly sublime. Mr Jones is correct that the modern liturgy leaves a void. There is something profoundly archetypal in humans’ desire to celebrate and pay homage that is satisfied in the traditional Latin Mass but the new form falls short. To this point, I have observed that when movies (sometimes made by Catholics but more often non-Catholics, atheists and pagans) have occasion to include a scene showing a Mass being said, I can’t recall a NO mass ever being depicted. The creators don’t bother to use that milieu unless it is a period piece from the time of the Latin Mass. Evidently one seems to convey more sense of religion to extramural observers than the other.

  12. About twenty years ago, my family and I were visiting family out of town, and we went to the local parish church for Sunday Mass. The priest entered the church wearing a sombrero. When it came time for the Creed, he said, “We all believe the same thing, so let’s move on.” I would be willing to bet that no priest ever came in wearing a sombrero and dismissed the Creed when the Latin Mass was universal in the Church, no matter how progressive-minded he may have been. He could not have done it.

    What most people want is reverence. The Mass must be sacred, holy, and special, not common (in the British sense of the word) and/or comic. The TLM is never silly. I think liberals hate the TLM because it allows no changes. The rubrics, like Latin, are set; they preclude the desires of liberals who want to change the music, add dancing, or whatever silliness they have in mind.

    My family and I go to a parish that offers only the NO, but it is done with reverence. If things shifted radically to the Left, we would leave to find another priest/parish where Jesus is the center of everything.

  13. Not to be forgotten in all the discussion of what Pope Francis has written is the need for every one of us who professes to know, love and serve God, is to worship Him and love Him as completely and as perfectly as we can at every single Mass we participate in — Whether NO or Tridentine. What must never be forgotten is that we are at the foot of His cross, the ultimate sacrifice of His love for us. Unless we opt to be counted among the number of those who ran away.

  14. In all these reactions to Pope Francis’ restoration of the restrictions to the pre-Vatican II mass one is given the wrong impression that it is really that widespread and global. It is not. The lovers and promoters of the Pre-Vatican II mass are just loud and militant, and the majority are U.S. Catholics. This is best corrected by knowing the numbers of the extent of the celebration of pre-Vatican II masses compared to the Vatican II masses on Sundays. While U.S. Catholics make up just 6% of the global total, we have 40% of the pre-Vatican II masses. Seen from the perspective of the number of venues, worldwide there are around 225,000 parishes, of these around 1,700 have the pre-Vatican II masses offered side by side with the Vatican II masses. Of these 1,700 parishes, more or less 700 are in the U.S.. In this U.S. number of 700 parishes with pre-Vatican II masses, this is to be considered within the total of around 17,000 parishes in U.S. A tiny and small minority. But in the media coverage one gets the impression it is big ang gigantic.

  15. The New Order of the Mass has “a real void.”

    That is a true statement.

    And what is missing is something tangible…which are the words of prayer that are deliberately cut out (maiming the noble liturgy).

    The void caused by the missing prayers is stark. And when comparing the Roman Rite of our parents and grandparents to the Roman Rite of 1970, it is noteworthy that when evaluating “the reform” of the Mass, scholars will very often repeat the old adage that the liturgy of the Roman Rite of the Mass is distinguished by its “noble simplicity;” and it is further worth noting that the old adage about “noble simplicity” was made in reference to the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church through 1969, and NOT the “New Order of the Mass of 1970” (or what Hungarian scholar of sacred music and liturgy Laszlo Dobszay deliberately calls “the Bugnini Mass”).

    Two examples serve to show what is taken away from the Catholic faithful by the abusive implementation of the New Order of the Mass (by Bugnini) 1970.

    First, look at the prayer of the mingling of the water and the wine, and ponder the maxim about “noble simplicity.”

    BEFORE the Bugnini amputation, for centuries, the mingling prayer in the Roman Rite of The Mass was this:

    “O GOD, WHO IN CREATING MAN DID EXALT HIS NATURE MOST WONDROUSLY, AND STILL MORE WONDROUSLY DID REESTABLISH IT ANEW, by the mystery of the mingling of this water and wine, grant that we may come to share in His Divinity, who has humbled himself to share in our humanity.

    After Bugnini made his cuts, it became this:

    “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

    The long-standing Roman Rite of the mingling prayer has “noble simplicity.” The Bugnini product has more simplicity, by deleting “the nobility” (the prayer I have put in capital letters).

    The second example is the obvious and suffocating near-universal suppression of the Roman Canon, or what Msgr. Bugnini labels the so-called “Eucharistic Prayer #1,” whereby in the treachery of Bugnini et al signals to seminary directors and “contemporary liturgy experts” that it will be outlawed.

    By this suffocating act, the “contemporary Church leaders” sieze the endowment of all Catholic faithful, and steal it from us, and deny us access to the most ancient Eucharistic prayer in use (until 1970) in all of Christianity, the Roman Canon.

    The authentic, ancient Christology of the Roman Canon is attested by scholars both old and new, from Fr. Adrian Fortescue, the great early 20th century English scholar of the Liturgy of East and West, as well as modern scholars like Fr. Robert Taft, SJ, whose testimony I quote below, from the article posted by Fr. John Hunwicke of Oxford. he article link ids here:

    As Hunwicke wrote (with quotes from Taft):

    ‘The late Archimandrite Robert Taft, of the Byzantine Rite, was a learned expositor of all things Byzantine, even venturing so far into a separated-Byzantine mindset as to question the legitimacy of the second-millennium Ecumenical Councils. But he did know his history.

    Witness a paper of his which had as one of its aims to sweep away myths, including the common superstition among illiterate and superficial Western dabblers in Liturgy, that everything Eastern is more ancient, venerable, and authoritative than anything Western. Taft wrote:

    “Here too of course one must avoid cliches and know what one is talking about. The decidedly Christological stamp of the old Roman Canon is a sign of great antiquity. This eucharistic prayer, obviously formulated before the impact of the late fourth century pneumatological resolution at Constantinople I (381 AD) reflects a primitive euchological theology much older than almost any extant eastern anaphora except Addai and Mari … pace the common myth that everything Eastern is automatically older.” ( Eastern Presuppositions and Western Liturgical Reforms.)

    In an earlier paper, he wrote: “The old Roman Canon of the Mass has a weak pneumatology not because it is defective but because it is old, so old that it was composed before the divine personhood of the Holy Spirit became a problem to be resolved.” (h/t to Steve Perisho)

    (Hunwicke continues)

    Indeed. The Roman Canon expresses a very primitive theology involving only the Father and the Son, whereby the Eucharistic Elements are consecrated simply by being accepted by the Father … not a hint here of any need for the Holy Spirit to be sent down upon the Elements like a bolt of sacerdotally-invoked divine lightning to transform them. This venerable Prayer is our Western heritage; and a very great disservice was done to us in the 1960s when, without the slightest hint of a mandate from the Council, a great crowd of alternative Eucharistic Prayers was thrust upon the Western Church, all containing Epikleses (requests for the Spirit to be sent in order to change the bread and wine into the Lord’s Body and Blood). One of these prayers, the pseudo-Hippolytan Prayer II, because of its seductive brevity, has de facto superseded the Roman Canon in almost universal use, despite the fact that the GIRM makes clear that it was provided solely for optional use on weekdays.

    The preoccupation among some academics with the ‘problem’ that the Roman Canon “lacks a theology of the Spirit” has, it seems to me, closed off some interesting lines of theological enquiry. For example: why is it that the Holy Spirit is absent from the NT narratives of the Last Supper and of the Passion and Resurrection….’

    The void is real, and what is missing is what is what is noble, the very essense of the Roman Rite of the Mass.

    Now, what we have, is authorized because it maims the Roman Rite of the Mass by robbing it of the nobility and antiquity that Bugnini despised (Bugnini being described by Fr. Louis Bouyer, after the ordeal of working with Bugnini, and discovering the deceitfulness of Bugnini, recording that Bugnini was “a man as bereft of Catholic culture as he was of basic honesty.”)

    The void is what was stolen away by Bugnini et al.

    If we want to fill the void of the New Order of the Mass, restore what Bugnini et all stole from us, and just recite it in the vernacular.

  16. If the Pope’s motivation were to drive all the TLM people back into the Novus Ordo because they were the people most likely and most qualified to correct the deficiencies in the manner in which the Novus Ordo is offered, I’d be all for the motu proprio. But the tone of the document and the manner in which it was promulgated belie this theory. This document pretty much sealed it for me; I’m not going to go through mental gymnastics any more trying to defend this Pope or his actions, even though I’d love to see the Novus Ordo improved and offered reverently.

  17. I find that churches today have too much variation from diocese to diocese. At a church in liberal California where I visit frequently, there are no statues.The parishioners STAND throughout Communion, just waiting their turn, at a time when they could be kneeling in prayer. Its this sort of lack of reverence which disturbs many. The “tabernacle” was unrecognizable to me…it looked like a piece of modern art, an ugly block of square wood on a pole, off to the left, which matched the wooden chairs. Regarding what will happen to the TLM now, I have this observation. It would seem that many American Bishops are opting to allow the priests in their diocese to continue with the TLM, pending completion of “further study” of the Pope’s recent motu proprio. In church-speak , that could be a decade or two down the road, at which point the wishes of the current Pope will likely no longer be a consideration. I have also observed over my life-time, that the fastest way to get Americans to do something, is to tell that they CAN’T.

  18. As a coda to my comment on the “Bugnini mass” and the disfigurement and maiming of the Catholic endowment, I add this observation, asserted for 50 years by observers of the abusive implementation of the New Order Mass of 1970.

    And it is this: that the action of Bugnini and Pope Paul VI was an act of crass clericalism, by men who had either contempt (Bugnini) or little respect (Paul VI) for tradition. The mark of such clericalism is clerical thievery: they take possession of what other Pontiffs and priests and faithful once held as a common heritage, and treat the Mass like it is their own personal property. And so the newly-minted motu proprio Traditiones Custodes is yet another abusive act of arch-clericalism by the Supreme Pontiff calling himself Francis.

    That such an act was started by Paul VI is no wonder, as his priestly “formation” was in the corrupted Secretariat of State, the HQ of the contemporary apostasy, which Paul VI made superior to the Faith itself, when he reorganized the Vatican and demoted the Congregation for the Faith below the Secretary of State, signalling the priority of The World over the Faith itself.

    True reform would include reversing these dual disastrous actions of Paul VI, and assigning the Pontiff Francis’ work to the same suppression that Paul VI and PF imposed on the Catholic liturgical endowment.

  19. Francis claims that we who like the Tridentine Mass are causing divisions. Nothing can be further from the truth. The Tridentine Mass has as its aim Almighty God, while the Novus Ordo seems to be aiming at the world and man. Of course, that’s not the case, the Novus Ordo also has as its aim Almighty God but it is sadly not perceptible nor visible. When I attend a Tridentine Mass all aim is at the Most Holy Trinity for our redemption. I don’t have to know Latin, the readings of scripture cause me to think that God’s word is mystical, and reading scripture outside of Mass I have a sense of sacredness and reverence for God’s Word that is a direct result of the Tridentine Mass. As for the prayers at Mass, it’s all about God. Even if I don’t understand Latin I know something holy and mystical is being done for me by the Most Holy Trinity at the Altar. Therefore I kneel in silence contemplating God. Francis where are the divisions, you have directly caused a division with your Motu Propio which is good only for the trash bin. You yourself said you will be the first Pope to cause a schism. Congratulations you have done it. It is you who is schismatic by definition.

  20. Wouldn’t it be more fitting for the Mass to be in the original language of the last supper, Old Hebrew or Aramaic? If not, then isn’t the use of Latin more of a sign of allegiance to Rome then relevant to transubstantiation?

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