Sep 15, 2001

Bishop’s ordination models richness of Novus Ordo

Online Edition – Vol. VII, No. 6: September 2001

Bishop’s ordination models richness of Novus Ordo

by James Hitchcock

Devotees of the Tridentine Mass often claim that the Mass of the Second Vatican Council is inherently flawed, to the point where it is incapable of conveying a sense of sacredness.

But occasionally there are celebrations of the Novus Ordo that reveal how mistaken that judgment is celebrations that manifest potentialities in the present rite that are merely waiting to be realized in other contexts. One such occasion was the recent episcopal ordination of Bishop Timothy M. Dolan, former rector of the North American College in Rome and now auxiliary bishop of Saint Louis.

Held on the feast of the Assumption, amidst the Byzantine splendors of the Saint Louis Cathedral, the ordination began with a procession of six cardinals, the papal nuncio, more than fifty bishops, hundreds of priests, and numerous lay people. Lay people read the Scripture, comprised the Offertory procession, and provided the music, as dozens of priests and seminarians served as minor ministers of the Mass. A number of priests who are especially close to Bishop Dolan gathered around the altar as concelebrants. Altogether the ceremony was, among other things, a graphic manifestation of the complex hierarchical nature of the Church.

The music, expertly rendered by the Cathedral choir, ranged from Gregorian Chant, through G.F. Handel, Anton Bruckner, and Richard Strauss, to contemporary sacred music of high quality. The homily, by Archbishop Justin Rigali of Saint Louis, was a theologically rich meditation on the office of bishop.

The impressive ancient ceremony of episcopal ordination was carefully observed: as the bishop-elect prostrated himself on the floor as a gesture of unworthiness, the Litany of the Saints was chanted; the bull of appointment was read by the papal nuncio; and all the bishops present imposed hands on his head, thereby bringing him into the unbroken line of apostolic succession. Then the new bishop traversed the aisles of the packed cathedral, imparting his blessing on the congregation.

On at least two other recent occasions in Saint Louis — the l999 visit of Pope John II and the Eucharistic Congress this past June — the same powerful sense of the sacred was also manifest at Mass through the Novus Ordo.

Complaints about the current Liturgy usually focus on bad music, inane homilies, unauthorized extemporizations, celebrants intruding their own personalities into the rite, and a contrived atmosphere of folksy informality. Overall these criticisms come down to saying that the Liturgy of the Church has been turned into a mere communal celebration, lacking all sense of transcendence.

But the ordination of Bishop Dolan is not unique in showing that these serious faults are not endemic to the rite itself but constitute its abuse, through either deliberate manipulation or through carelessness. There are existing models for the renewal of the Sacred Liturgy. They are merely waiting to be recognized and followed.

James Hitchcock is professor of history at St. Louis University who writes frequently for the Catholic press. More of his columns can be read on the Women for Faith & Family web site by clicking here.



James F. Hitchcock

James F. Hitchcock, emeritus professor of history at St. Louis University, which he attended as an undergraduate, received his masters and doctorate degrees from Princeton University. An archive of various articles of his can be read here. Dr. Hitchcock has authored several books, including The Supreme Court and Religion in American Life; The Recovery of the Sacred; What Is Secular Humanism; Catholicism and Modernity: Confrontation or Capitulation?; and History of the Catholic Church: From the Apostolic Age to the Third Millennium