Vol. XV, No. 6
What the Novus Ordo Is — and Isn’t
The Council Intended Reform, Not Rupture
In October of 2006, along with a member of our choir, I represented the Carmelite Monastery of Philadelphia at a meeting to discuss the US bishops’ new document on liturgical music, Sing to the Lord. In the afternoon’s open-mike session, I rose to quote something from Musicam Sacram. A gentleman who has published many pop-style hymns interjected, “Everyone knows that that document refers to the old Mass, not the new Mass.”
He was wrong in two areas. First, the document, written in 1967, did pertain to the “new Mass”. It explained the application of music to the revised liturgy, since the new ordering (or Novus Ordo) of the Mass did not have the separate distinctions of “high Mass” and “low Mass” as in the “old Mass” (now called “extraordinary form”).
But most importantly, there is no such thing as the “new Mass”. The very term brings up memories of the commercial disaster following the introduction of “New Coke”. The Coca-Cola people quickly restored “Coke Classic” after that fiasco.
No, the Mass is not a new Mass. If so, it would be called the “Missa nova”. This distinction is critical to understanding the application of liturgical music. If this Mass were indeed something brand new, then none of the earlier pronouncements on the use of sacred music would apply. Indeed, this is what many people — including many who write and publish music today — believe: that anything goes!
Before Pope Benedict made the extraordinary form more accessible through the document Summorum Pontificum, people who visited our monastery for the first time would often ask us “How did you get permission to do the old Mass?” We would explain that it was the Mass, the “new ordering”.
Why did people question that? Because, they would tell us, at the monastery Mass one found chant, Latin, incense, bells, pipe organ and choir. They did not find this in their parishes. When we would tell them that they should find this in their parishes, that we simply followed the instructions in the current Roman Missal, they were quite surprised.
No, it is the same Mass, trimmed down and slightly re-ordered. All the principles that preceded it still apply, as do the regulations, unless specifically retracted.
In the extraordinary form, when the Mass was a Missa cantata or sung “High Mass”, Latin was always used (except hymns before the Mass began and after it ended); and everything was chanted or sung: Introit, Kyrie, Gloria, Gradual, Alleluia and verse, Credo, Offertory verse, any hymns or motets at Offertory, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Communion verse, any Communion hymns or motets. This changed in the ordinary form, or Novus Ordo.
Musicam Sacram, the 1967 Instruction on music from the Holy See, explained that there was one classification of Mass, not “high” or “low”, and that music should be added incrementally, in three stages or degrees. It instructed, “These degrees are so arranged that the first may be used even by itself, but the second and third, wholly or partially, may never be used without the first.” (MS, 1967, 28.2)
That is, first in order of importance were the chants of the priest and people, the acclamation at the Gospel, the prayer over the offerings, preface and Sanctus, final doxology of the Canon (Eucharistic Prayer), Pater Noster, prayer after Communion and formulas of dismissal. (How much of this is sung at your parish Sunday Mass? Without it, nothing else should be sung.)
If this “first degree” was sung, then these chants may be added: Kyrie, Gloria, Agnus Dei, Credo, Prayer of the Faithful.
Now, if all of that was sung, then the final group (third degree) could be added: songs at entrance and Communion processions, songs after the Lesson (i.e., the Responsorial Psalm), Alleluia before the Gospel, song at the Offertory, readings of sacred Scripture. Songs or hymns could be substituted for the entrance, Offertory and Communion prayers of the day “… as long as songs of this sort are in keeping with the parts of the Mass, with the feast, or with the liturgical season.” (MS 32). Further, the text of any such pieces was to come only from scriptural or traditional sources.
Over the past five years, the monastery choir has had the opportunity to sing for one Mass and four Solemn High Masses (extraordinary form). It was an opportunity for the choir to understand the structure of the current Order of Mass (ordinary form) as it derived from the older Mass.
And what was the new ordering? Some prayers are omitted, such as the prayers at the foot of the altar, many prayers the priest prayed silently, and the reading of the Last Gospel. The structure is somewhat simplified. At High Mass, the Asperges — or sprinkling — preceded the Mass. Today it may replace the Penitential Act. Where once there was a sung Asperges, then after the Confiteor the sung Kyrie, now there is either the Asperges or the Penitential Act. Then the Kyrie is sung, if it has not already been incorporated into a Penitential Act.
There are now two readings before the Gospel, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament.
The Gradual and Alleluia verse are now separated. The Gradual has been expanded into the Responsorial Psalm. The Alleluia and verse still precede the Gospel.
Some practices vary between the two forms. In the extraordinary form, the priest and people always face the tabernacle together (ad orientem, or toward the East); while in the ordinary form, the priest almost always faces the people (versus populi), though the Council never mandated this change in posture, and it is not required.
After the Council, Communion rails often were removed, or were not installed in new churches, though this was an innovation. The rails were not just to keep folks out of the sanctuary. The Communion rail can be seen as a kind of “extension” of the altar, and, like the altar, the railing was often made of marble.
Contrary to some mistaken ideas, bells and incense have never been forbidden. Indeed, the Novus Ordo allows for a more generous use of incense.
But even with the variations, the ordinary form of the Mass is still the Sacrifice of Calvary prefigured at the Last Supper and completed in the Resurrection. It is not something new.
The chart on this page shows a simplified structure of the Mass, as it applies to sacred music. (Note that a recessional hymn is not an actual part of the Mass in either form, but it works well to accompany the priest and servers as they leave the sanctuary in procession.)
As the chart shows, the principal parts of the Mass remain the same in both forms. There is no “rupture” between them. So when Pope Saint Pius X wrote that Gregorian chant was to be restored, this still applies. Pope Pius XII’s description of sacred music for the liturgy remains valid: “The music must have holiness and beauty of form. From these will come the third quality: universality”. And there is continuity with liturgical tradition when Pope John Paul II wrote that the closer the form of the music is to Gregorian chant, the more appropriate it is for the Eucharistic liturgy.
Continuity helps to define basic principles — along with limitations. Thus, then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, “In its essence, [liturgical] music must be different from a music which is meant to lead the listener into rhythmic ecstasy, or stupefied torpor, sensual arousal, or the dissolution of the Ego.” (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, “In the Presence of Angels I Will Sing Your Praise”, see Adoremus Bulletin October 1996).
So mariachi bands, rock bands, jug bands, theatrical or commercial styles are not suitable for the Eucharistic liturgy. Frantic arm-waving, dancing, and such are not to accompany sacred music for the Eucharistic liturgy.
Pope John Paul II, in his Chirograph on Sacred Music (7) wrote: “Gregorian Chant continues also today to be an element of unity in the Roman liturgy.” But it cannot be a unifying element if no one is singing it.
Pius XII, in Musicae Sacrae (59), was very clear: “Besides the organ, other instruments can be called upon … so long as they play nothing profane [secular], nothing clamorous or strident and nothing at variance with the sacred services or the dignity of the place.” Thus, instruments such as the electronic keyboard, electric guitar, maracas, drum sets and the like are certainly not considered to be sacred; they are secular instruments suitable for secular music. Those instruments, and the music for which they are suited, are meant as entertainment. (Please the folks!) But the purpose of liturgical music is to carry the sacred texts of the Mass to God, not to gratify one’s neighbor.
In a lecture at Boston College on April 17, 2007, Cardinal Gottfried Daneels of Belgium warned that emphasis on human experience can “… take possession of the liturgy. In some cases, this can lead to a sort of liturgical coup in which the sacred is eliminated, the language trivialized, and the cult turned into a social event or a piece of theatre.”
And what of the contemporary music written in inappropriate styles, music which is secular rather than sacred in nature? Provided that the words to this music are doctrinally sound, such compositions might be used at meetings, prayer gatherings, and concerts. But not at the altar of sacrifice.
The Second Vatican Council reaffirmed that chant has pride of place; the pipe organ is preferred; the choir is an integral part of the liturgical team. The music must be sacred in nature. The Novus Ordo is a continuation, not a new invention.
Simplified Structure of the Two Forms of Mass Compared
|Asperges (or Vidi Aquam)
|Prayers at the foot of the altar
|Entrance chant (Introit)*
|Penitential act (or Asperges)
|Old Testament reading
|New Testament reading (Epistle)
|Gradual and Alleluia verse
|Prayers of the Faithful
|Pater Noster (sung by priest only)
|Pater Noster (sung by all)
|*May be replaced by a hymn
Lucy Carroll, organist and choir director at the Carmelite monastery in Philadelphia, teaches at the Westminster Choir College in Princeton. She frequently contributes essays on Catholic music to AB, and is the creator of the “Churchmouse Squeaks” cartoons regularly featured in these pages.