Losing the Sacrifice of the Mass


Often these days Catholics will dismiss discussions regarding the reform of the liturgy as being largely irrelevant. Topics such as the reception of Holy Communion and the use of Latin are viewed as divisive and unnecessary to broach. Despite the constant teaching and liturgical example provided by Pope Benedict XVI during his papacy, many still believe that matters regarding liturgical disciplines simply reflect personal preference and nothing more. After all, they say, as long as the Mass is valid…who cares?

In “The Catholic Sanctuary and The Second Vatican Council” (TAN Books, 1997) the late Michael Davies discusses in part the distinction between Catholic worship and Protestant worship. What the Protestant “reformers” of the 16th century understood so well is often what Catholics today so stubbornly deny: namely, that our manner of worship directly influences our beliefs. In other words, the Latin maxim “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi” (how we worship is how we believe) is absolutely true. Mr. Davies observes:

The line of demarcation between Catholic and Protestant worship was laid down clearly at the Reformation. The most striking differences were as follows:

The Catholic Mass was celebrated in Latin; the Protestant Lord’s Supper in English.

Much of the Mass was celebrated in an inaudible tone; the Lord’s Supper was spoken audibly throughout.

The Mass began with the Psalm Judica me, in which the priest stated specifically that he was going unto the altar of God, and ended with the sublime Last Gospel; in the Lord’s Supper the Judica me and the Last Gospel and many traditional prayers were abolished, particularly the sacrificial Offertory Prayers.

The Mass was celebrated on a sacrificial altar facing the East; the Lord’s Supper was celebrated on a table facing the people.

In the Mass, Holy Communion was placed on the tongue of the communicant by the anointed hand of a priest; in the Lord’s Supper it was placed in the hand of the communicant.

In the Mass, Holy Communion was given to the laity under one kind only; in the Lord’s Supper it was always administered under both kinds. (The Catholic Sanctuary, pp. 15-16).

Those who sought liturgical revolution over four hundred years ago knew that theology and liturgy are interdependent. Want to attack the Church, the ministerial priesthood and belief in the Real Presence itself? Destroy the Mass. Remove the Sacrifice of Calvary (offered by a priest) and instead gather the faithful together for a commemoration of the Lord’s Supper (led by a presider).

Breaking it down further, Davies expands upon the theological implications behind several major liturgical changes introduced by Protestants at the time of the Reformation.


“The sublime Latin prayers of the traditional Mass, which dated back to the sixth century and beyond, into the mists of antiquity, were replaced by an English service from which every specifically sacrificial prayer had been removed. Because the Mass is a solemn sacrifice offered to God by the priest in the person of Christ, many of the prayers—addressed directly to God—had been spoken inaudibly. The Protestant Lord’s Supper was not a mystical sacrifice, a mystery, but a meal and a service of prayers and instruction, so it was mandated that every word spoken was to be heard by all the people.” (Ibid., p. 12).

The Reception of Holy Communion

“Communion on the tongue was replaced by Communion in the hand to make it clear that the bread received was ordinary bread and that the minister who distributed it was an ordinary man, not a priest.” (Ibid., pp. 12-13).

“Communion under one kind was replaced by Communion under both kinds, because in every meal there should be both food and drink.” (Ibid., p. 13).

Ad Orientem

“Above all, the never-to-be-sufficiently-execrated eastward position of the celebrant at Mass was to be abandoned forever.” (Ibid., p. 13).

Few can’t help but look back at these 16th century Protestant innovations and not think of the liturgical “reforms” introduced in the post-conciliar Church: the stripping of Latin from the liturgy, the incessant push for communion in the hand, the introduction of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion and the nearly exclusive practice of offering Mass facing the people.

What’s most troubling is that none of these practices were mandated by the Second Vatican Council. They were, however, all integral pieces of the liturgical revolution sought by those representing the “spirit” of the Council. As a result, many Catholics today are much more at home at a Protestant worship service than they are at the Traditional Latin Mass.

Change how we pray and you will change what we believe. It is as true today as it was four hundred years ago. As faithful Catholics, is there anything more important that we should be discussing than this?

(Photo courtesy of M. Bridault via Rorate Caeli)

Posted on May 28, 2014, in liturgy and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. While I agree very much, I would like to point out that communion in the hand, the whole mass in the vernacular, and the “Cooking show” instead of the priest facing ad orientem are nowhere to be found in the actual documents of Vatican II. They are reforms made by progressives claiming they were following the “Spirit of Vatican II”. In fact a great many of the “reforms” in vatican II are mentioned nowhere in the documents. The recent fixes to the translations and summorum pontificum are both evidence of a careful and methodical effort on the part of the church to re-align the mass.


    • Thanks for your comment Colin. Agree completely. Towards the end of the post I noted:

      “What’s most troubling is that none of these practices were mandated by the Second Vatican Council. They were, however, all integral pieces of the liturgical revolution sought by those representing the “spirit” of the Council. As a result, many Catholics today are much more at home at a Protestant worship service than they are at the Traditional Latin Mass.”

      • Thanks Liturgy Guy, I agree with you too. To be honest I have been to several NO’s where between the rock music, praise leaders, liturgical dancers, and audience participation skits instead of homilies – I thought I had walked into a pentecostal service (except pentecostals have better bands). Now I attend the EF under summorum pontificum and am much happier with the atmosphere. I feel much closer to God personally in the EF.

    • The strange twist of fate in all of this is that Archbishop Bugnini was one of the men who drafted the preparatory items in Sacrosanctum Concilium, and also the one charged with implementing the document.

      It was written with enough ambiguity to allow for all the novelties that ended up in the Novus Ordo Missae because of this. Further, the Novus Ordo Missae had in itself sufficient room, thanks to the inherent ambiguity of the new Rite, to allow for a wide interpretation.

      Yes, one can see the sacrifice of Calvary renewed on the altar if one wishes to see that, but it can also perfectly accommodate the idea of Mass being a sacred meal of and by the community, a memorial of the Last Supper only, and a host of other novel ways to understand Mass. It doesn’t *have* to be the renewal of Calvary only, which is quite a different thing altogether than the traditional Mass.

      The Missal of the traditional Mass was codified after, and in light of, the decrees that the Council of Trent infallibly defined regarding what Mass is, and what it is not. The traditional Mass is the perfect and natural expression of the infallible dogmas of Trent.

      Pope St Pius V said that this Missal is “absolutely free from error” and a “safeguard against heresy”.

      It is more pleasing to God to worship Him in a Rite that gives him back the pure Faith He has revealed to His Church, or a Rite that has been fashioned to downplay and obscure those truths He has given to us?

      It’s a matter of principle, not preference.

      The arguments in favour of the Traditional Mass (of which I have only mentioned one) over and against the New Mass go way beyond mere preference of Latin, chant, incense, reverence and fine vestments.


      • Excellent comment Mike. You have no doubt read Davies too, so you know that this is simply a small excerpt from his extensive writings on the Council, the Concilium, and the changes to the Roman Rite. Thank you for your insight on this most important matter.

  2. While I can appreciate the idea that much of what happened after the Council was not specifically called for by Vatican II I have to agree with Christopher Ferrara when he writes:

    “A lawyer knows that the dangers in a contract from his client’s perspective lie not so much in what the terms of the contract provide as in what they permit the other party to do. The danger is in the loopholes. Quite simply, SC [Sacrosanctum Concilium] permits all manner of drastic things to be done to the Roman liturgy. It is one long collection of loopholes. If a lawyer entrusted with the task of protecting the Roman liturgy from harmful innovation had drafted this document, he would be guilty of gross malpractice.”


    The entire article is well worth reading as in it he goes into detail as to how a document which in parts sounds very traditional (keep the Mass in Latin and Gregorian chant should have pride of place) at the same time allowed many of the innovations we are forced to endure today.

    He also notes that in the view of Popes such as Paul VI and John Paul II an all vernacular, versus populum liturgy was certainly not verboten; in fact they praised it.

    • Excellent comment Brennan. The need for “tightening up” SC and other VII documents is something that Bishop Athanasius Schneider has made a compelling case for too. God bless!

  3. I enjoy talking about the Catholic Liturgy, also. I would like to point out that compared to the 1962 Missal, the Missal from the late 60’s has many similarities.
    1. There is still the “Prayers at the Foot of the Altar.”
    2. There is only one reading before the Gospel.
    3. At the Lavabo, the priest’s prayer is lengthier than the one in the 1970 Missal.
    4. There is still one Eucharistic Prayer.
    5. The words “the Mystery of Faith” are spoken by the priest during the Consecration.
    6. There is no doxology after the “Our Father.”
    7. There is no gesture of peace done by the people.
    8. The prayer before Communion, “Lord I am not worthy,” is still prayed three times.
    What do you think about the Missal from the late 60’s? What if we went back to this Missal?

    • Great question Sarah! Thank you first of all for reading my blog and for this thoughtful comment.
      Msgr. Charles Pope recently wrote a good blog post on the ’65 Missal.
      To answer your question, compared to the 1970 Missal, I believe the 1965 is a vast improvement. However, in my opinion, it is still inferior to the 1962 Missal. The changes, though minimal, do not in anyway improve the liturgy. The shortening if the prayers at the foot of the altar, the removal of the Last Gospel, the simplified “Body of Christ” said by the priest during distribution of Holy Communion…all seek to shorten the Mass, but are not in anyway improvements.
      Again, compared to the 1970 Missal, and the new Lectionary for that matter, the ’65 would be a step in the right direction.
      Having said all that, it is ofcourse, only my humble opinion.
      God bless and I hope you continue to read and comment on future blog posts!

  4. The Novus Ordo has no offertory. There is no sacrifice.

  5. Bugnini explicitly stated the object of removing from Catholic liturgy anything deemed objectionable by Protestants.

  6. I am a new convert and love the Latin mass from the depths of my soul. As a former Protestant, but agnostic before my conversion, I actually find the NO mass triggering. I attended the NO Sunday mass all through my RCIA year and struggled with how similar it was to what I remembered of going to church as a Lutheran. I also attended weekday Latin mass, so I knew that there was an alternative, but even at the reverent parish, it was a bit marginalized, especially among the helpers (not the priest) in my RCIA class. After Easter, at a diocesan deacon ordination mass, I saw the ambulatory communion and people casually grabbing the host and popping it in their mouth as they walked along. I was beyond horrified, but my eyes were fully opened, and have not been to an NO mass since, not even a reverent one. I suppose being triggered can be a movement of the Holy Spirit!

  7. The former Prefect of the Holy Office, Lord Joseph of Munich, put it mildly (without referring to the protestant shade of the liturgy), “What happened was an unprecedented clericalization came on the scene. Now the priest – the ‘presider,’ as they now prefer to call him–becomes the real point of reference for the whole liturgy.”

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