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Who denies the Novus Ordo is valid? Prepare for a surprise.

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Dec 20, 2021

In its stunning new document increasing restrictions on the traditional Latin Mass, the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) charges that many traditionalist Catholics do not recognize the validity of the Novus Ordo liturgy. Therefore, we are told, adherence to the traditional liturgy poses a serious threat to the unity of the Church.

The CDW offers no evidence to support this indictment against traditionalists—just as, in Traditionis Custodes, Pope Francis offered no evidence that a worldwide survey of bishops had discovered widespread concern about the friction allegedly caused by the traditionalist movement. Vatican insiders report that in fact, in their responses to the survey (if they even bothered to respond), most bishops reported no difficulties with traditionalists. And Catholics familiar with the traditionalist movement rarely if ever encounter zealots who deny the validity of the post-conciliar liturgy. But even if the CDW complaint were accurate, the Vatican response would be disproportionate. Let me explain.

Catholics who attend the traditional liturgy (TLM) regularly constitute only about 1% of the world’s overall Catholic population. If 1% among those traditionalists reject the Novus Ordo (and I think that estimate would be far too high), then the problem is confined to a barely visible minority.

Yet among Catholics who attend Mass regularly in ordinary parishes, an overwhelming majority reject the validity of the Novus Ordo liturgy!

Poll after poll shows that more than 70% of Catholics do not believe that Jesus Christ becomes truly present—Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity—at the Mass. But if Jesus is not present—if the Eucharist is not confected—then the Mass is not valid. Therefore most worshippers at an ordinary Catholic parish believe that the Mass is invalid. QED.

Now very few of those “ordinary” Catholics would say that the Mass is invalid, because they would not recognize the power of the syllogism in the paragraph above. Generations of wretched catechesis have left millions of lay Catholics with only a vague idea of what the Eucharist is, what the Mass accomplishes. Still the fact remains that most Catholics reject—or perhaps, more accurately, are indifferent to—this most central dogma of the faith. If they are indifferent, all the more reason why they may drift away from the Church. If they reject Catholic teaching, then they undermine the unity of the faithful.

Fortunately the disbelieving majority is mistaken, as are any traditionalists who deny the validity of the post-conciliar liturgy. The Novus Ordo is valid; the Eucharist is the Real Presence of Jesus Christ. But for the sake of unity within the Church—not to mention clarity of doctrine—the fact that more than 70% of the faithful effectively deny the Church’s teaching about the Eucharist, the “source and summit of the Christian life,” is surely a more urgent concern than the claim that 0.01% deny the validity of the new liturgy.

The new Vatican restrictions require bishops to ensure that any remaining traditionalist communities accept the validity of Vatican II and the post-conciliar reforms. Consistency suggests that the same standards should be applied to every Catholic parish. Bishops should be encouraged to make certain that their pastors properly instruct the people on the reality of the Eucharist.

The fact that the CDW sees things otherwise, and wants to crack down first on pockets of traditionalist resistance, suggests that something else is at issue here: something other than a simple desire for Church unity. Tomorrow in this space I will explore some other explanations for the Vatican’s odd priorities.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - Dec. 21, 2021 5:48 PM ET USA

    Awesome argument. I was so impressed I sent the link to others who may not see this column regularly. The real issue is that we are designed to pursue the good, the true and the beautiful. As we see and hear weekly, the Novus Ordo Mass is good, and can make people holy if they cooperate, but it is invariably ugly and preaches watered-down truth or even error.

  • Posted by: loumiamo4057 - Dec. 21, 2021 5:06 PM ET USA

    Kudos when they're due, and an attaboy too, Phil. You hit the nail squarely on the noggin this time.

  • Posted by: dcnmthompson7484 - Dec. 20, 2021 11:48 PM ET USA

    Interesting argument. What struck me was how this action appears inconsistent with the ‘decentralization’ that the pope generally speaks of. But that alone is another source of conflict with one’s own stated values.