Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Why avoid the Novus Ordo Mass, if it is valid? --Pt. 2

Share/Bookmark Would you attend a Novus Ordo Mass if it were the only Mass available? I assume the answer must be "yes" if we are talking about a Sunday obligation. What about during the week, though? For argument's sake, let us assume that the liturgy is no more reverent than your typical NO Mass. This is a matter of some practical importance for me. Where I attend school, the Catholic Student Center has weekday Mass twice a week (no, I have no clue where the resident priest fulfills his daily obligation on the other 4 days of the week). The liturgy is exceptionally irreverent: Mass is typically done outdoors on a wooden table covered with a white cloth, with everyone sitting in a circle of lawnchairs. Kneeling is altogether ommitted (except for by those few brave souls who are willing to be looked at with curiosity and disdain by the rest of the people assisting). When the time for Communion comes, the ciborium is passed around and each person is Eucharistic minister for his neighbor. Now, assuming that I do not participate personally in any of the sacriligeous aspects of the liturgy--for example, whenever I have gone, I always ask the priest to administer Holy Communion to me directly and do not touch the Sacred species--assuming that, do you think my attitude that, however bad the liturgy might be, I'm still receiving Communion whereas I would not be otherwise, is valid? Or do you think it would be better to abstain from Communion altogether in such a circumstance?

-I. Statement of the Problem:

The question really is: "Which is better?

1) To attend the Latin Mass on Sundays AND daily Novus Ordo Mass, or
2) To attend the Latin Mass on Sundays and miss daily Mass altogether."

II. Assumptions:

In this question, we are assuming the following:

A) You have a Latin Mass available less than daily, but at least once-a-week, on Sundays.

B) The Novus Ordo Mass you have access to is valid--i.e., the mistranslation of pro multis (and other defects) do not render the Mass invalid.

C) You can attend the NO Mass, and even receive Holy Communion there, while totally abstaining from commiting, cooperating with, being an accomplice in, or have one's Catholic sensibilities dulled by, any sacrilegious actions that occur throughout the duration of the Mass. (And this is one heck of an assumption!)

III. Reply:

Assuming these points, I would still argue that it is more spiritually profitable for one to attend the traditional Mass exclusively (even if that means only going to one Mass per week) than attending BOTH the traditional Mass on Sundays AND the daily NO Mass. This can sound strange if we think that the only factor that makes Mass spiritually profitable is its validity. But this is far from the truth. In fact, there are many other factors, such as external rituals and the corresponding interior dispositions that they elicit, and these are the aspects where the NO Mass obviously fails. Indeed, interior dispositions are infinitely more important for the spiritual profit we derive from the Mass than the frequency with which we attend.

To defend my view, I will present the following three theses:

1) The NO Mass, as it is normally said, even if it is valid, does not elevate the mind to attaining the interior dispositions necessary for us to attain progress in the spiritual life through the Sacrifice of the Mass;

2) Interior dispositions are essential for the Sacrifice of the Mass to be profitable to us. The greater fervor, the more profitable the Mass is for us; the lesser the fervor, the less profitable.

3) It is more profitable for the soul to attend one weekly Mass with the proper dispositions than to attend many Masses during the week, or even daily Mass, with improper dispositions.

Thesis 1: The NO Mass, as it is usually said, hinders the interior dispositions that are necessary for profiting spiritually from the Holy Sacrifice.

The exterior signs of worship employed in your average NO Mass (e.g., texts, music, postures, architecture, etc.), far from serving the sacred purpose that they ought to serve (i.e., to elevate the mind to the contemplation of divine truth and the heart to the love of God), instead deter the faithful from it, imposing upon the mind misconceptions about the nature of the Holy Mass, the Blessed Sacrament, and about our Faith in general, and replacing them with vain, profane and heterodox notions about the same. I do not think I need to argue for this point at any length. It has been done thoroughly many times over by excellent authors, including those in a position of authority. Cf. primarily Cardinal Ottaviani et al., A Short Critical Study of the New Order of Mass (aka, The Ottaviani Intervention). Thus, in general the NO rite does not foment piety and devotion, but hinders them.

Thesis 2: Interior dispositions are essential for the Sacrifice of the Mass to be profitable to us. The greater fervor, the more profitable the Mass is for us; the lesser the fervor, the less profitable.

The validity of the Mass, as I have explained before, only means that ex opere operato the Mass is efficacious: Our Lord is immolating Himself as the perfect Sacrifice to God the Father. But it says nothing of its effects ex opere operantis, that is, of our profiting from that Sacrifice. Interior dispositions are also essential for the Mass to be profitable to us.

This is seen very clearly from the fact that the bloody Sacrifice of Our Lord on the Cross (which was a true sacrifice, efficacious of itself, ex opere operato) was not profitable for some unto salvation. It was certainly profitable for Our Lady, for St. John, for St. Dismas the Good Thief, and for St. Longinus, the Centurion who pierced the dead Christ with a lance. But it was not profitable for Gestas, the bad thief who "blasphemed him, saying: If thou be Christ, save thyself and us."

Also, we all know that if someone in mortal sin receives Holy Communion, his Communion will be not be profitable to him at all, for his soul is dead, and only Confession can bring it back to life. And this obviously applies to those who commit mortal sins during Mass through sacrilege and the like. The interior dispositions of the communicant are, then, a deciding factor.

The same goes, to a lesser degree, for those who attend Mass in the state of grace but with imperfect dispositions, such as those who skip thanksgiving after Communion (and I confess that I'm guilty--read Garrigou-Lagrange on the subject!), those who are culpably distracted, those who, out of sloth, do less than what is in their power to participate in the Holy Sacrifice, those who commit neglectful acts of irreverence, etc. Although these do benefit from participating in the Sacrifice, nevertheless they profit less than those who attend with ardent fervor and devotion. Here are some excerpts of by the great Thomistic theologian, Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.:

The just man grows thus in the love of God through absolution and especially by Communion. The merit and prayer of the just soul obtain the gifts of God "ex opere operantis," by reason of the faith, piety, and charity of him who merits, but the sacraments produce grace ex "opere operato" in those who do not place an obstacle to it; in other words, by themselves they produce grace from the fact that they were instituted by God to apply the merits of the Savior to us. They produce grace independently of the prayers and the merits, either of the minister who confers them or of those who receive them. This explains why a bad priest, and even an unbeliever, may validly administer baptism, provided he has the intention of doing what the Church does in conferring it.

But, although the sacraments of themselves produce grace in those who do not place an obstacle to it, they produce it more or less abundantly according to the fervor of him who receives it. The Council of Trent says that each one receives justice "according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to everyone as He wills and according to each one's disposition." In the natural order, as St. Thomas observes, although an open fire of itself gives heat, a person benefits more from its influence in proportion as he draws closer to it. Likewise, in the supernatural order a person benefits so much the more from the sacraments as he approaches them with a more lively faith and a greater fervor of will. (Three Ages of the Interior Life, Ch. 7)

Thesis 3: Attending Mass once per week (i.e., on Sunday) with great fervor and devotion is more profitable for our salvation than attending daily without much fervor or devotion.

Frequent hearing of Mass is very important for our sanctification. But even more important is the fervor with with we hear it, such that hearing it once per week with increasing fervor is more profitable to us than hearing it frequently without incresing our fervor every time. In fact, those souls who, while attending daily Mass in sanctifying grace and avoiding the aforementioned faults during Mass (distractions, vain thoughts, etc.), nevertheless fail to increase their fervor in every Mass they attend, are in fact spiritually retarded.

This perhaps sounds ultra-rigoristic, but it is the teaching of the Church. The great Thomistic theologian, Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., following the principles of spiritual progress described by the saints, such as St. Thomas Aquinas, St. John of the Cross, St. Theresa of Avila, and St. Francis de Sales, explains this very well. The sacraments themselves do confer grace to our souls regardless of our interior dispositions (ex opere operato); but receiving a sacrament modo remisso (i.e., in a way less fervently than we are capable), far from advancing us in the way of sanctity, actually contributes to the retardation of our souls.

To use Garrigou's analogy of gravity: in order for our souls to ascend to the heights of holiness, they have to accelerate; that is, they need to receive increasingly more and more speed (grace) to ascend in the way of holiness. The minute that they cease to accelerate, their path upwards will be retarded, and eventually they will drop. (Garrigou also explains that Confession restores the soul to the point where it stopped ascending). Here are some excerpts from Garrigou's spiritual masterpiece, The Three Ages of the Interior Life:

"One fervent Communion is worth more than many tepid Communions taken together. The more a person approaches with lively faith, firm hope, ardent love, and fervor of will, our Lord present in the Eucharist, radiant source of graces, the more he benefits from our Lord's influence by graces of light, love, and strength. The Communion of St. Francis, St. Dominic, or St. Catherine of Siena was on certain days extremely fervent and proportionately fruitful; their dilated souls approached our Savior to receive abundantly and even superabundantly from Him that they might later in their apostolate give Him to other souls.

It may happen, on the contrary, that the fruit of Communion is least when a soul approaches the holy table with dispositions sufficient only not to hinder the effect of the sacrament. This should make us reflect seriously, if we show no true spiritual advancement after years of frequent or daily Communion. Possibly by reason of a growing attachment to a certain venial sin, the effect of our daily Communion may be ever weaker, as the movement of a stone thrown vertically into the air is uniformly retarded until the stone falls down. God grant that this may never be our condition!

On the contrary, we should have sufficient generosity to permit the realization in us of that superior law which is verified in the lives of the saints. In other words, because each of our Communions ought not only to preserve but to increase charity in us, each Communion should be substantially more fervent and more fruitful than, the preceding one; for each one, by increasing the love of God in us, ought to dispose us to receive our Lord on the following day with not only an equal but a superior fervor of will. Often, however, negligence and tepidity hinder the application of this law, of which that of the progressive attraction of bodies is only a symbol. Bodies are attracted to each other in increased ratio as they draw near to each other. Souls ought to make proportionately more rapid progress toward God as they draw near to Him and are more drawn by Him. Thus we see the meaning of our Savior's words: "If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink. . . . Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water," the streams of living water which flow into the infinite ocean that is God, known and loved as He knows and loves Himself, for all eternity." (Ch. 7)


The conditions of a good communion are indicated in the decree (December 20, 1905) by which Pope Pius X exhorted all the faithful to frequent Communion. This decree recalls first of all this principle: "The sacraments of the New Law, while acting ex opere operato, nevertheless produce a greater effect by reason of the more perfect dispositions of those who receive them.... Care must be taken, therefore, that an attentive preparation precede Holy Communion and that a suitable thanksgiving follow it, taking into consideration the faculties and condition of each person."

According to the same decree, the first and indispensable condition for drawing profit from Communion is an upright and pious intention. On this point His Holiness declared: "Frequent and daily Communion, greatly desired by Jesus Christ and by the Catholic Church, should be so accessible to all the faithful of every rank and condition, that anyone who is in the state of grace and approaches the holy table with an upright and pious intention, may not be separated from it by any prohibition. Upright intention consists in this: that he who approaches the holy table is not influenced by custom, by vanity, or by any human reason, but desires to satisfy the good pleasure of God, to be more closely united to Him by charity, and by means of this divine medicine to remedy his infirmities and defects."

Evidently the upright and pious intention mentioned here must be supernatural, that is, inspired by a motive of faith; it is the desire to acquire the strength to serve God better and to keep from sin. If, with this principal intention, a person had a secondary intention of vanity, such as the desire to be praised, this secondary and non­determinant motive would not prevent the Communion from being good and would not render it bad, but it would diminish its fruit. This fruit is so much the greater as the upright and pious intention is purer and stronger. These principles are positive. One very fervent Communion is, therefore, more fruitful in itself alone than many, tepid Communions.


In her Dialogue, St. Catherine states the conditions of a fervent Communion by using a striking figure:

"If thou hast a light, and the whole world should come to thee in order to take light from it, the light itself does not diminish, and yet each person has it all. It is true that everyone participates more or less in this light, according to the substance into which each one receives the fire. Suppose that there are many who bring their candles, one weighing an ounce, others two or six ounces, or a pound, or even more, and light them in the flame; in each candle, whether large or small, is the whole light, that is to say, the heat, the color, and the flame; nevertheless thou wouldst judge that he whose candle weighs an ounce has less of the light than he whose candle weighs a pound. Now the same thing happens to those who receive this sacrament. Each one carries his own candle, that is, the holy desire with which he receives this sacrament, which of itself is without light, and lights it by receiving this sacrament."

How is this desire shown? The holy desire, which is the condition of a fervent Communion, should manifest itself first in removing all attachment to venial sin, slander, jealousy, vanity, sensuality, and so on. This attachment is less reprehensible in poorly enlightened Christians than in those who have already received much and are ungrateful. If this negligence and ingratitude were to become accentuated, they would render Communion less and less fruitful.

That Communion may be fervent, attachment to imperfections must be combated; that is, attachment to an imperfect manner of acting, such as characterizes the actions of one who, possessing five talents, acts as if he had only three (modo remisso), and only struggles feebly against his defects. Attachment to imperfections may also be found in the seeking after permissible but useless natural satisfactions, such as taking some refreshment which one can get along without. The sacrifice of these satisfactions would be agreeable to God; and the soul, by thus evidencing greater generosity, would receive many more graces in Communion. It ought to remember that it has as a model Christ Himself, who sacrificed Himself even to the death of the cross, and that it ought to work for its salvation and that of its neighbor by means similar to those which the Savior employed. The removal of venial sin and
imperfection is a negative disposition.

The positive dispositions for a fervent Communion are humility (Domine, non sum dignus), a profound respect for the Eucharist, a living faith, an ardent desire to receive our Lord, the bread of life.

All these positive conditions may be summed up as hunger for the Eucharist.

All food is good when we are hungry. A rich man, accidentally deprived of food and famished, is happy to find black bread; he thinks it is the best meal of his life and he feels refreshed. If we hungered for the Eucharist, our Communion would be most fruitful. We should recall what this hunger was in St. Catherine of Siena; so great was it that one day when she had been harshly refused Communion, a particle of the large host became detached at the moment when the priest broke it in two, and was miraculously brought to the saint in response to the ardor of her desire.

How can we have this hunger for the Eucharist? The answer lies in our being firmly convinced that the Eucharist is the indispensable food of our soul and in generously making some sacrifices every day.

For those who are feeble, substantial food is sought which will restore their health; efforts are also made to raise the morale of the discouraged. The food par excellence, which renews spiritual strength, is the Eucharist. Our sensible appetites, inclined to sensuality and to sloth, need to be vivified by contact with the virginal body of Christ, who endured most frightful sufferings for love of us. We, who are always inclined to pride, to lack of consideration, to forgetfulness of the greatest truths, to spiritual folly, need to be illumined by contact with the sovereignly luminous intellect of the Savior, who is "the way, the truth, and the life." Our will also has its deficiencies; it lacks energy, it is cold because it lacks love. This is the cause of all its weaknesses. Who can restore to it the ardor, the flame necessary to its life so that it may ascend instead of descending? The answer is contact with the Eucharistic heart of Jesus, ardent furnace of charity, immutably fixed in the good, and source of merits of infinite value. Of its plentitude we must all receive, and grace for grace. We have great need of this union with the Savior, which is the principal effect of Communion.

If we were profoundly convinced that the Eucharist is the necessary food of our souls, we would have the spiritual hunger which is found in the saints.

To recover it, if we have lost it, we must "take exercise," as they say to people who are stricken with a languorous illness. Spiritual exercise in this case consists in daily offering sacrifices to God; in particular we should give up seeking ourselves in what we do; gradually, as egoism disappears, charity will take the first, uncontested place in our souls. We will cease to be preoccupied with the little nothings that concern us in order to think more of the glory of God and the salvation of souls. Then the hunger for the Eucharist will return. To make a good Communion, we should also ask Mary to make us share in the love with which she herself received the Eucharist from the hands of St. John.

The fruits of a fervent Communion are proportionate to the generosity of our dispositions. We read in Holy Scripture: "He that hath, to him shall be given, and he shall abound." In the Office of the Blessed Sacrament, St. Thomas relates that the prophet Elias, who was being persecuted, stopped worn out in the desert and lay down under a juniper tree to await death. He fell asleep; then an angel of the Lord wakened him, showed him a loaf of bread under the ashes, and a jug of water. He ate and drank, and with the strength that this food gave him, he walked for forty days, even to Mount Horeb, where the Lord was waiting for him. This is a figure of the effects of fervent Communion.

We should remember that each of our Communions ought to be substantially more fervent than the preceding one, since each ought not only to preserve charity in us, but to increase it, and consequently dispose us to receive our Lord on the following day with an even greater love than on the preceding day. As a stone falls so much the more rapidly as it approaches the earth which attracts it, so, says St. Thomas, souls ought to advance so much the more rapidly toward God as they approach nearer to Him and are more drawn by Him. This law of acceleration, which is at one and the same time a law of nature and a law of the order of grace, ought to be verified especially by daily Communion. It would be verified if some attachment to venial sin or to imperfection placed no obstacle to it. We see it realized in the lives of the saints, who make much more rapid progress during the last years of their lives than during the earlier years. This is notably true of the end of St. Thomas' life. Such acceleration in progress toward God was realized above all in Mary, the model of Eucharistic devotion; each of her Communions was certainly more fervent than the preceding one.

God grant that there may be in us at least a remote resemblance to this spiritual progress, and that, if sensible fervor is lacking, substantial fervor, which is the promptness of the will in the service of God, may not fail.

The author of The Imitation says: "For who, humbly approaching the fountain of sweetness, does not carry thence some little sweetness? Or who, standing by a great fire, does not derive therefrom some little heat? And Thou art a fountain ever full and overflowing; Thou art a fire always burning and never failing."

This source of graces is so lofty and so fruitful that the properties of refreshing water and the opposite qualities of burning fire may be compared to it. What is divided in material things is united in the spiritual life, and especially in the Eucharist, which contains not only abundant grace, but the very Author of grace.

In our Communions let us think of St. John, who rested his head on the heart of Christ, and of St. Catherine of Siena, who more than once drank long draughts from the wound of His heart, which is ever open in order to show us His love. These extraordinary graces are given by God from time to time to draw our attention to what is most intrinsic and fruitful in daily Christian life, to what would exist in ours if we only knew how to answer God's call with generosity." (Ch. 32)