The Beauty of the Novus Ordo

Thursday, October 02, 2003



For awhile I had A Defense of the Novus Ordo by Matt1618 posted directly on my home page. I encourage the staunch members of the Society of Saint Pius X to carefully consider Matt's arguments, which deal with the legal questions of the validity of the Pauline Mass.

I wanted to address the post Vatican II Mass in more detail, and speak to what it can and should be so that conservatives who hear the ultra-traditionalists can at least respond by highlighting how the Novus Ordo could be done well. I think that if conservatives understood the Novus Ordo a little better, and why changes were made, they may appreciate it more. Progressives should feel free to correct me if I am departing from proper liturgical theology.

Let me make a liberal confession of sin. The Novus Ordo and some of the changes of Vatican II were implemented poorly, and traditionalists are right to be mad at some of the craziness that occurred in the late 1960's through the 1970's. While things are getting better, there remains room for improvement in the post Vatican II liturgy in many places.

Let me also clarify something else that many traditionalists do not understand. The Novus Ordo and the reforms to liturgy of Vatican II were not a rejection of tradition or a compromise with Protestantism. The so-called liberals won the day at the Second Vatican Council because they had history on their side. When the Novus Ordo is done right, it actually more closely resembles Catholic worship of the first 1,000 years of the Church history than most Masses celebrated in the 1950's.

Initially, I thought about backing up everything I say with the GIRM (The General instruction on the Roman Missal) and other references, but I decided against this for the sake of simplicity. I will occasionally make some doctrinal or historical references without providing my exact sources. Again, I will do this for the sake of simplicity, but feel free to email me if you need documentation.

My intent is to address all the concerns I think cause SSPX, traditionalists and conservatives concern. Hopefully, I treat these adequately. I will attempt to treat each topic as succinctly as I feel I can.

Real Presence:

Educated progressive Roman Catholics generally do not deny that the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Christ during the celebration of the Liturgy of Eucharist. It is true that there have been some debates about whether new terminology can be used to describe the mystery of transubstantiation. For more detail on this, see my essay Real Presence: Some Progressive Reflections.

Suffice it for this essay to say that progressives do accept that real presence in the Eucharist is part of the deposit of faith. Because of real presence, the ciborium and chalice, as well as altar cloths should be clean. The priest should handle the hosts and chalice with care.

However, we must remember that the bread and the wine, themselves, are the primary symbols given us by Christ. Christ chose bread and wine as the medium to convey his presence with deliberation. Traditionalists often times make the chalice more of a symbol than the wine, and the ciborium gets more emphasis than the bread. My personal belief is that the chalice and ciborium for liturgy should always be made of crystal or fine glass so that the bread and wine can be seen. Gold does not allow us to see the matter Christ gave us. The wine should be red wine and the bread should look more like bread or matzah than fish food.

For the purposes of this essay, we have said enough about the real presence in the Eucharist, itself. Vatican II emphasized that there are three other modes of real presence in the Mass that had been downplayed prior to Vatican II. Without denying real presence in the Eucharist under the appearence of bread and wine, the Novus Ordo seeks to give proper attention to these others modes of real presence. The other modes of real presence are the precense of Christ in the presider, who acts in persona Christi, the real presence as the Word of God is proclaimed (it is Christ himself who speaks in the proclamaition of the Word), and the real presence of Christ in the assembly - in each and every one of us as we gather in his name.

Most of the changes from Vatican II can be understood if we truly grasp the principles of these other forms of real presence.

Moving the Tabernacles:

Prior to Vatican II, the altar was against the wall of the sanctuary with a tabernacle placed on it. This put the tabernacle containing consecrated hosts front and center of everyone's attention, expressing our Catholic belief in real presence in the Eucharistic elements.

However, what had been lost was the sacrificial symbolism of the altar itself, and the sense of communion as a meal with the One who ate and drank with sinners. Rather than symbolizing that the Mass was a participation in what occurred at the Last Supper, there was almost a sense of adoration of an unseen God hidden in a gold safety box. While this preserved a sense of the mystery of the divine, it failed to convey the intimacy of Jesus' gesture of self offering to us in broken bread and poured wine as a sign of his broken body and shed blood on the cross. It also created a sense of worship that is static, rather than active and dynamic.

By removing the tabernacle from the altar and moving the altar from the back wall of the sanctuary to a place more central to the people, the intent of Vatican II is to retrieve the original sense of the Mass as a participation in Christ's self offering to us and to the Father in the context of a paschal meal. The focus is not on Christ's presence from a prior Mass, but on the present action of consecration occurring before our eyes. The altar is the place where we offer our very selves as sacrifice with Christ in the Eucharist.

Yet, the Church wanted to preserve a sense of reserving the hosts for private adoration apart from the Mass. This is a healthy practice, and one I engage in myself. It was decided that since some ancient basilicas reserved the hosts in side altars or separate adortation rooms, the tabernacle could be moved to a place where reverence was preserved.

This being said, I AGREE with many conservatives and traditionalists that the implementation has not always been perfect. In some cases, the tabernacle was hastily set on the side of the sanctuary with little thought to how to create a sacred space for private devotion and due reverence. The issue is not with moving the tabernacle, per se. Rather, the issue is ensuring that the new space for the tabernacle is properly shows reverence for the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

In some church buildings to this day, this is done poorly. The tabernacle sits next to sanctuary unadorned looking like a bread-box that was cast aside. This is a real shame.

On the other hand, I have seen some churches build special rooms or side altars, or use an iconastasis (icon screen) or religious art and architecture in such a way that it obvious even to a non-Catholic that in this space resides a great and sacred mystery of Catholic faith.

The Priest Facing the People:

Prior to Vatican II, the priest faced the altar and tabernacle, and the people gathered behind him in the nave and passivly watched the Eucharistic celebration. Some traditionalists argue that this created a sense of the priest praying with the people, since he faced the same direction. Others argue that this created a sense of the priest as a mediator between God and the people, since he was in front of everyone and closest to the tabernacle.

In the Novus Ordo, there is an awareness of the priest dynamically acting in persona Christi and in persona ecclesiae simultaneously. The priest faces the people, and the people face each other, highlighting Christ's dual presence in the presider and in each other. Christ alone is the one mediator, and so there is no attempt to have the priest alone acting as a mediator before the people. Rather, the priest acts with the people in persona ecclesiae by calling the community to become what it is - the Body of Christ. As the one who calls the community together and leads the worshipping assembly, the priest is acting in persona Christi. Yet, as one gathered around the altar with others, he acts with the Church as the Church becomes what she is in its deepest nature - the Body of Christ!

All this said, in some cases, presiders at some Novus Ordo Masses act like the Liturgy is their own TV show, drawing too much attention to themselves and presiding as though they were on The Tonight Show. Others conduct themselves as though the actions they perform are not sacred.

Presiders need not be stale and stiff "frozen chosen". Jesus was a man of the people, for sure. Yet, Jesus was addressed as a rabbi and Luke's Gospel even hints that he wore the prayer tassles of a good Jewish rabbi (the women with the hemorrage reached out for such a tassle). Because of their role and the theology behind that role, a presider should conduct himself with an awareness of the sacred action that is occurring each time Mass is celebrated, even as he tries to convey the human love and intimacy of Jesus. There are two extremes, and both should be avoided: the presider who seems cold and aloof, and the presider who acts like Jesus Christ Superstar wearing tennis shoes and fidgeting.

Active verses Passive Worship:

Prior to Vatican II, when liturgy was done well, the Tridentine Mass tapped the Catholic contemplative tradition nicely. This tradition was preserved most strongly in the monastic communities, and is a stance of humble and receptive passivity before the incomprehensible mystery of God.

However, Biblical worship, and the worship recorded by many early saints, including Saint Augustine, was an active worship where people raised their hands, clapped, sang robustly, cried, shouted "Amen!" and saw themselves joining choirs of angels and saints in a beautiful chorus for God. Even prior to Vatican II, Pope Pius X worried that the Church was placing undue emphasis on the passive dimension of worship.

Indeed, the Mass had developed to such a contemplative depth that people were saying Rosaries during Mass rather than focusing on the great mystery taking place right before them! Less pious souls simply went to sleep, and Mass attendence was beginning to drop just prior to Vatican II. The Novus Ordo, recognizing the real presence of Christ in the assembly, sought to retrieve and encourage a sense of active participation in the Mass by the laity.

As a move in this direction, the offices of lectors, acolytes, Eucharistic ministers, and even permanent married deacons were restored. As already alluded to, the altar was placed (where possible) in the midst of the congregation. The Mass was simplified so that it could be largely understood, and music that people could sing was encouraged.

A General Sense of Reverence:

One of the biggest concerns I hear from lovers of the Tridentine Mass is that the Post-Vatican II Church seems to have lost a sense of reverence. By now, if you've read above, it should hopefully begin to dawn on the traditionalists that I AGREE with them that there are times when the Novus Ordo is not celebrated with proper reverence.

I picture a presider shows up in tennis shoes with no chasible under his stole, fidgets and cracks jokes, celebrating in a church where the tabernacle was just pushed to the side without thought or planning, and so forth. In such situation, if the presider is validly ordained, and he says the words of consecration, the Mass is still valid - no matter what the SSPX says. However, this is improper, and could even be sinful behavior. It scandalizes people, and it is not what the Gospel or Vatican II called for in liturgical reform.

Yet, on the other extreme, we have seen as well that the Tridentine Mass was overly passive, and some of the original symbolism (such as the meaning of the altar) was lost. Likewise, we will see below that meaningless symbolism was added to the Tridentine Mass as well. Many priests mistake a stiff aloofness for piety. Perhaps worst of all, the whole art and environment of some Pre-Vatican II churches was more a show of the pomp and circumstances of aristocrats than a celebration of the God who incarnated himself in an itinerant carpenter who associated with the poor and powerless.

There is a middle ground, and the GIRM and the commentary written by the USCCB called Art and Environment in Catholic Worship actually try to find that middle ground. My advice to presiders is to pay attention to these documents and not cut corners. The rubrics form a skeloton around which great liturgy can be formed as worship takes on flesh.

Bells and Incense:

Perhaps more than the change from Latin to the vernacular and all the other changes we discussed so far, what many traditionalist miss the most is the smells and bells of the old liturgy.

There is a place for smells and bells in ritual liturgical worship. The Psalms speak of our prayers rising like incense to the Lord, and I believe it is dualistic to strip liturgy of all concrete and sensual imagery used in the proclamation of the Word.

On the other hand, the Pre-Vatican II worship often used smells bells too much, to the extent that the actions lost meaning. Good liturgy is like good art, and there is a sense in which the those who do not have the artistic eye are sometimes drawn to overkill with symbols. Many of the battles between liberals and conservatives are really aesthetic arguments of taste.

Symbols and signs should convey meaning as well as beauty. A perfect example is the ringing of bells during the consecration of the hosts at Mass. In the middle ages, when the Mass was said in Latin, and many Catholics were uneducated, the bells were rung so that people would know what was happening at that moment. If we say Mass in the vernacular, what is the purpose of the bell?

On the other hand, I have seen bells used at appropriate moments of joy in the Easter Vigil or the Midnight Mass on Christmas. I recall being brought to tears of joy at a particular Easter Vigil when the lights came on and bells were rung during the first Gloria sung in over 40 days!

This issue raises the important point that the Church has always made a distinction between "high Mass" and "low Mass", and liturgical worship was always tailored to the liturgical season and the solemnity of particular occasions.

While every Mass is an awesome event, trying to celebrate every Mass as though it were the Easter Vigil is not really conducive to building up and expressing the faith of the Church. In ordinary time, smells and bells should be limited in application so that when they are used on more solemn occasions, they have more punch.

Use of Silence:

Many traditionalists complain that the Novus Ordo does not give enough emphasis to the use of silence in worship. Silence provides the worshiper an opportunity to commune privately with God, contemplating the actions of liturgy in the heart.

Because the Novus Ordo seeks to emphasize the real presence of Christ in the assembly, it is true that there is a deliberate attempt to avoid privatizing prayer in the Mass. The feeling of the Novus Ordo liturgical purists is that private prayer should be done in private, while liturgical prayer, by its very nature is public and corporate worship. It is not that Rosaries and contemplative prayer are bad. Rather, it is that such prayer belongs at home, while the Mass is a communal celebration of Christ's living presence among us.

I believe there is a middle ground here that all parties can accept. Catholicism does have a strong contemplative dimension that seems to have expressed in liturgy throughout the centuries. Would the purists of the Novus Ordo really object to moments of punctuated silence at appropriate times in the liturgy?

It is typical in Post-Vatican II liturgies for a music director to introduce new hymns to the assembly prior to the beginning of the actual Mass. During such moments, the music director often also requests that cell phones and pagers be turned off or set on vibrate. Perhaps the director could also request the assembly to take a moment of silence (about 60 seconds or so) before reviewing the hymns. After the moment of silence, the music director may ask the congregation to introduce themselves to any strangers sitting next to them. Then, when all this is done, it would be time to review the hymns.

Likewise, lectors and the choir could be instructed to permit another moment of silence after each reading. This moment may last about 30 seconds between the first reading and the responsorial Psalm, and between the Psalm and second reading, and between the second reading and the Alleluia preceding the Gospel. This will allow a moment for members of the assembly to reflect in the Word of God just proclaimed. The homilist may allow a brief pause as well after proclaiming the Gospel, before breaking open the Word for us, and after the homily, bfore leading the assembly in proclaiming the Creed.

Finally, I do believe that hymns should be sung during and immediately after the reception of communion to place the emphasis on the community becoming the Body of Christ together as the Body of Christ is received. In communion, we do not simply accept the Body of Jesus. We receive the whole Christ - meaning that we receive each other with Jesus. We should not cover our face and retreat into private prayer during communion. I like to watch the rest of the congregation receive communion after I have received, singing with others throughout this moment. I watch others being aware that in this great mystery, we are being transformed into the Body of Christ, united in a very real way with one another through what we have just received.

However, after the hymns are sung, I see no reason the presider could not offer a prayer aloud thanking Christ for offering himself to us in the Eucharist, followed by a prolonged period of silence allowing the assembly members to interiorize what has just occurred. This period of silence may even be longer than 60 seconds, and could be ended when the presider prays the closing collect.

Hand Holding, hugs, hand clapping, liturgical dance and Such:

Catholic worship is a sensual and sacramental realization of what occurred in the incarnation. The liturgy is a foretaste of a heavenly banquet in our resurrected bodies. It is a thoroughly heretical notion that we can worship intellectually or spiritually, and not worship with our bodies. Even traditionalists really know this, as we see in our Catholic notions of signing ourselves with the cross, blessing ourselves with baptismal water (holy water), striking our breasts, and genuflecting or bowing at appropriate moments.

Biblical worship is expressed in the body. David even danced naked before the ark, and the Jews shouted their amen and alleluia. It makes no sense to be singing a Psalm about raising our hands, clapping, and the clashing of cymbals and giving God shouts of joy while sitting in a pew as though you were dead or alseep.

Rome has not yet permitted liturgical dance during the Mass in the Latin Rite, though it is based on Biblical worship. Dance is permitted in some other Rites approved by Rome, such as in Zaire. Those using other rites who concerned for obedience as a sign of unity should only use liturgical dance during the opening and closing hymns, which are not strictly part of the liturgy. Yet, I believe dance should be used in the context of worship within such guidelines.

Furthermore, as already stated, Christ is really present in the assembly. Just as surely as bowing or genuflecting to the host is a bodily expression of acknowledging real presence, reaching out and touching your neighbor is a bodily expression of the acknowledgement of real presence in one another. I believe the rite of peace should involve hugging, and I think it is great when the assembly holds hands during the Lord's prayer, or lifts their hands and gesture toward the presider in other prayers.

There are conservatives who sometimes argue that hand-holding during the Our Father creates a false sense of community, and that community and fellowship are created through other means that encourage intimacy than simply holding hands.

It is true that hand holding alone does not create community by itself. However, it is also true that if you disdain touching someone, you cannot really say you love that person. The Christian is not a true Christian unless she or he learns to love others and see Christ in others. Period!

I would go so far as to say it could be a sin to refuse to hold your neighbor's hand during the Lord's Prayer if a hand was extended to you!

Some traditionalists and conservatives complain that the rite of peace is turning into a circus that takes too long in some Novus Ordo Masses.

Personally, I think it does not take long enough. In an ideal liturgy, I would like to see every member of the congregation hug every member around them, even if it took half an hour. I would remove the pews (which are a late invention), and replace them with movable chairs so we can reach other and move freely in the liturgy. We could kneel on the floor if there were no pews.

Christ is really present in others. He is just as present as he is in the host (Indeed, we know he present in others because they receive the host!). If we cannot exaggerate our reverence of the Eucharist in traditionalists eyes, I maintain that we likewise cannot exaggerate our reverence for the real presence of Christ in other people!


Traditionalists very much miss the beauty of the older churches that were constructed before Vatican II, and many of the churches were stunning works of art. Furthermore, some churches built in the late 1960's and early 1970's are truly hideous.

Nevertheless, the churches prior to Vatican II were not constructed in the manner of early Christian churches, and often failed to facilitate much of what we have discussed in questions above.

The Pre-Vatican II Church was almost modeled as a movie theater, where the laity was positioned as spectators before the sanctuary functioning as a stage. Indeed, when movie theaters were first introduced to Western culture, it was not uncommon for Catholics to genuflect out of habit as they entered their seats. The focus in older churches was almost exclusively focused front and center on the tabernacle. In the sides were chapels for private masses, and along the walls, the church was filled with statues to remind us that we prayed with the saints in heaven.

The Post-Vatican church should be built with aesthetic beauty, and some have been. However, the design is different. Rather than a movie theater model, the model is more that of a meeting tent. A perfect example of what the modern church can and should be is actually Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome. When worship takes place, the real presence of Christ in the assembly is partially symbolized by the fact that we are gathered in positions where we face each other, as though in a circle around the altar.

The first thing we should see in the church as we enter is a baptismal font, which should be large enough to immerse an adult. The symbolism is that we enter the church through baptism, and this was what was intended in the holy water fonts of older churches. The water, itself, is the primary symbolism. While the font containing the water should be large and beautiful, its meaning should be obvious. This means that excessive flurry and business in the design should be avoided.

The next thing that should catch our gaze as we proceed past the baptismal font is the altar where the Eucharist will take place. The altar should be large, stately, and beautiful. Yet, in Biblical fashion, it should also have a simplicity in style, like the altars of uncut stone used by the Old Testament priests. It should not have any clutter placed on it, such as candles, books or the presider's glasses.

As a sign of our unity, only one chalice should be on the altar during consecration, and others may be brought forth later. A crystal or glass descanter can be used for the additional wine. Communion should be offered under both species, with drinking from a common cup as a sign of our unity. The altar should be in the center of the church if possible, because the action taking place on the altar is the source, summit, and center of our faith. We gather around the altar to receive and become the Body of Christ.

Near the altar should be a large and beautiful ambo (lecturn) from which the Word of God will be proclaimed. The ambo should naturally convey a sense of power to whomever stands in it to speak. I do not believe the presider should rely on the ambo for preaching. When preaching, the presider should leave the ambo and walk through the assembly. However, while God's Word is proclaimed, we partially recognize that it is Christ who speaks through the natural symbolism of a stately ambo. The book containing the readings should also be magnificent.

The older churches emphasized our communion with the saints through statues, but often created the feel of a museum. Statues should generally be removed from the worship space and reserved to smaller chapels and grottos or outdoor meditation gardens. The emphasis of Vatican II is on the real presence of Christ in the gathered assembly, and three dimensional statues draw the eye away from the living people around us, the action of the Mass itself, and the more central symbols already alluded to.

Instead of statues, the worship space could and should use iconography to represent our communion with the saints. Icons do not quite distract the eye in the same way a statue can, and they often adorn the worship space with the beauty and the symbolism that traditionalists seek.

An exception would be the processional cross, which should be large and beautiful and serve as a reminder that we preach Christ crucified.

Another word of caution on icons and statues is in order in America's multi-racial and multi-cultural society. I have been to churches in Black neighborhoods where all the religious art represents blond haired and blue eyed saints of German immigrants who lived in the neighborhood 100 years ago. This is demoralizing to African-American Catholics, who want their children to know about Black saints. Knowing how demographics change constantly in America, newer churches should go to great length to represent saints of all races and nationalities, and both genders.


I mentioned that the opening and closing hymns are not strictly part of the Mass. However, there should always be an opening and closing hymn, a sung Responsorial Psalm and a sung Alleluia, even at weekday Masses. Other responses should be sung at Sunday worship as well, along with offeratory hymns and communion hymns. Song unites us, and the one who sings prays twice. Songs have a way of lingering in the heart and mind so that we pray without ceasing.

Some really bad music was written right after Vatican II. I also remember as a child hearing Bette Midler's "The Rose" sang as a communion meditation hymn week after week for awhile. The song is nice, but what exactly does it have to do with communion? I suppose if I think about it a bit, I can make a connection, but it takes some mental gymnastics to do this.

There is beautiful music being written each year to add to the great tradition of hymnody in the Catholic Church. Those who do nothing but criticize should consider writing their own hymns rather than crying over Vatican II.

Hymns at Mass should meet certain criteria.

When possible, sacred song should have scriptural themes and actual words from sacred scripture incorporated in it. The Psalms can be set to almost any style of music to create a sacred hymn, and we would be singing God's very word. Many popular pre-Vatican II hymns in American Roman Catholicism had no words of Scripture, and today's liturgical worship tries to address this. Hymns can also allude to doctrine to have an instructional quality, and care should be given to artistic beauty and rythm when doing this.

Those who wish to incorporate innovative contemporary social issues, personal emotions and stories, or secular themes into a sacred hymn can do this. When this is done, we should try to weave Scriptural hymns and principles into the hymn to bring to life that Scripture illuminates life.

It would be wrong to completely imply that that the sacred and profane are separate, or that we can't be creative, or that the world and church cannot mix. However, without weaving Scripture in the hymn, the assembly is forced to do the mental gymnastics I referred to with the example of Bette Midler's "The Rose" as a communion hymn.

Sacred song should be written such that the melody can be sung by the entire congregation without special training. This does not mean that a song cannot have elaborate harmonies, but the basic melody should be something that the entire assembly can join together to sing. The purpose of song in liturgy is to praise God in a communal manner. It is not a moment to showcase the choir's unique talent.

The basic melody of sacred song should be somewhat catchy. The song should stick in the heart and mind when we leave Church so that the one who sings prays unceasingly!

The selection of hymns in tone and lyrics should match the themes of the readings and the season. Thus, the presider should even be able to incorporate the hymns as part of his or her homily.

Traditionalists often bemoan the use of any instrument other than the organ. The organ is the king of all instruments in many people's minds, whether Pre- or Post-Vatican II. On the other hand, a sizable number of people prefer other instruments.

Biblical worship included harps, drums, horns, cymbals, pipes and stringed instruments. Any instrument can be used to praise God, and God never said we are limited to the organ simply because many people in the West like it. The organ should not be disdained, but neither should other instruments.

Vernacular verses Latin:

When speaking with Muslims, it sometimes annoys me that I am told that the reason I cannot appreciate the divine inspiration of the Q'ran is that I do not speak Arabic. Such reasoning always makes me wonder why God can only speak clearly in one language, and why all other people must learn that language. Our native tongues should not hinder us from receiving salvation, and we should be able to pray to God in our native tongues.

It is highly improbable, if not impossible that the original Apostles spoke any Latin. Scripture scholars are almost universally certain that the language Jesus preached with was Aramaic, which is a derivative form of Hebrew. This was definitely the language of the earliest Christian disciples.

As the Apostles spread the faith to the Gentiles, they immediately translated Jesus' words into the vernacular language of the people to whom they preached. Indeed, the entire New Testament and our earliest liturgical writings are in Koine Greek, which was used throughout the Eastern part of the Roman Empire, and among the educated in the city of Rome itself.

As the Church moved west into the city of Rome, there is no evidence that they immediately spoke Latin. Rather Peter and Paul likely mixed with Jewish communities in diaspora where Aramaic and Greek were more commonly spoken than Latin.

Thus, when the church in Rome began using Latin in the late first or early second century, they were translating Greek into vernacular. Furthermore, as the church in Rome spread its influence throughout the West after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 475 AD, there continued to be different dialects of Latin that were in liturgical use. Meanwhile, in the East, rites were established using vernacular languages. The first English translations of portions of the Bible were made by the Venerable Saint Bede in the eighth century.

After the great schism in 1054, both the East and the West grew more conservative, each trying to outdo the other to show they had preserved the original traditions more closely. As part of this, both churches took more conservative stances to the language of liturgy. Arguments began to build that the languages used in liturgy had to be languages spoken in Apostolic times. An anachronistic attitude came to prevail that Saint Peter and Saint Paul actually preached to the Romans in Latin. This would be odd, since Paul wrote to the Roman Christians in Greek.

The change from Latin to the vernacular at Vatican II was a long overdue return to the tradition of preaching to gentiles in their own languages. My advice to traditionalists is that it is not the way of Christ and the early Apostles to force people to pray in foreign languages. That said, we can continue to occassionally incorporate a Latin hymn or references to Latin as a reminder that we pray with our ancestors in faith at the Mass.

Inclusive Language:

Conservatives often seem to argue that where the Bible says "mankind" or "brothers", it is to be understood that women are included, and feminists should just "get over it". My response is simple. If the text means "humanity" or "sisters and brothers", then this is how it should be translated. To the conservatives, I say, "Get over it", and I say some non-english speaking Cardinal living abroad has no right to tell the American bishops what the correct rendering of these words is until he learns English and lives and works here for awhile!

God as Mother:

I have an essay in another post entitled Our Mother Who Art in Heaven ,..., God as Our Mother. If the Bible uses motherly images for God, and the Catechism says we can, and the saints did it too, I say to the conservatives, "Get over it."

Female Altar Servers:

Rome allows them. Get over it.

The Homily:

Conservatives often bemoan the homilies they hear since Vatican II, and sometimes, they have good reason. On the other hand, preaching was not always great prior to Vatican II either. There were instances where the priests before Vatican II used the homily as an opportunity to make the bulletin announcements. In poll after poll, Catholics say that the two things they want improved in liturgy are the music and the homily, and the homily usually tops the list.

Conservatives typically say they miss two things from the homilies they liked best prior to Vatican II. First, the better homilists prior to Vatican II were not afraid to give people a moral challenge. Second, they explained doctrine. There was a sense that good homilies functioned to teach people the Catholic faith.

However, as good as this may have been, this is actually a misunderstanding of what the homily is supposed to be. We have Catholic schools and catechesis programs to teach doctrine and morality. The homily occurs in the context of worship. The homily is not a sermon. Sermons are for Protestants. The homily is a prayerful meditation.

The Church gathers for Eucharist to become what we receive, offering ourselves to the Father by uniting with the Son as the Son offers himself to us and back to the Father. We bring to the altar our whole selves, with all our daily concerns. At the table, we are nourished to go forth once again into the world a changed person. The homily is a Scriptural interpretation of everyday life within the context of Eucharistic worship.

The homily should lead us to contemplate how God has been acting in our lives through the week, and the homily should prepare us for what about to occur in the Eucharist. Fed by word and sacrament, we should be renewed to go back into the world more open to God's continued grace already everywhere present.

Jesus preached by using stories and parables. The good homilist will imitate the master. Using the readings of the Mass as a lens to view life, the good homilist will tell us three important stories. He will tell us his own story, God's story, and our own story.

The homilist will use his own personal story to ground his meditation in reality. The story could be some event that occurred in his or her life that seemed insignificant on the surface, but became a moment of grace.

This personal story will highlight a theme of the readings, and the homilist will act as the prophets of the Bible to break open God's word. There should be quotations or allusions to the readings of the day interwoven throughout a good homily. If it helps to clarify a passage by referring to scholarly or doctrinal insights or the writings of saints, this is appropriate, if it ties together the theme being highlighted in the meditation. However, the homilist should not lose sight of the fact that a homily is more a prayer than an intellectual exercise.

Finally, the homilist should make his own story and God's story relevant to the assembly by weaving examples of everyday life, relevance news or issues, practical applications, examples from the arts and entertainment, quotes from classic literature, and stories of people the homilist knows into his meditation. Great care for individual people's privacy should be guarded if telling the story of a real person. At the same time, the homily should be peppered with enough examples from people's real lives to make listeners feel the homily speaks directly to their own experience.

The homily, because it is a prayerful meditation in the context of Eucharist, should in some way tie in the theme of what is going to occur on the altar, yet the overall theme should point to everyday life. As a scriptural interpretation of life, a prayer and a meditation, the good homily is truly a work of art. Taking speech classes and studying the basic outline of Aristotle's rhetorical style for persuasive speech would not hurt the holimist a bit. Since it is art, preachers should not be afraid to incorporate creativity in their narrative, such as a poetic cadence, a song, or a painting. Homilists should be careful not to get so carried away with style that they forget substance.

Doctrinal teaching and moral challenge can be added to a homily like spice in a dish. Too little, and the homily is bland and lifeless. Even progressives and liberals want challenged. Too much and the taste of the meat is lost. The meat of homily is prayer, not teaching.

Standing or Kneeling During the Eucharistic Prayer?

My own advice is to follow the directive of the local bishop or do what everyone else is doing. Yet, I prefer standing where it is done.

Those who prefer standing are trying to emphasize Christ's real presence during the proclaimation of the Word and his real presence during the Eucharist are similar. Furthermore, by standing together, we are also acknowledging real presence in each other. The First Ecumenical Council of Nicea actually forbade kneeling as an innovative practice that undermined this symbolism.

Recently, the bishops have encouraged that we bow as we come forth to receive communion. This is a fine sign of reverence for the real presence in the Eucharist. I like it. However, care should be taken to avoid being sloppy and bumping into one another on the one extreme, or making a meaningless and barely perceptible nod on the other extreme.


There is so much more I could write about good liturgy, and I know I am missing the pet peave of some liturgical purists, and may have a difference of opinion with another. Much of liturgical debate is really about taste, rather than theology. However, there is theological reflection that goes into the Novus Ordo just as surely as there was with the Tridentine Mass.

Peace and Blessings!

Readers may contact me at


posted by Jcecil3 1:58 PM

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