The Gift of the Liturgical Reform

Fifty years ago this Advent, on November 30, 1969, the reform of the Eucharistic liturgy called for by Vatican Council II and promulgated by Pope Paul VI went into effect, and Catholics around the world celebrated Mass for the first time in a form very different from what they had known.1

Much has happened since then. The decades of ecclesial tumult and chaos following Vatican Council II were followed by a period of relative stabilization during the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, then by a return of confusion and polarization during the present pontificate. Meanwhile, the western world has witnessed a precipitous decline in practice of the faith, even as the Church grows rapidly in Africa and other parts of the developing world.

Western culture, having banished God to the margins, has become a culture increasingly marked by an absence of the sacred — a culture of superficiality, of banality, of perpetual noise and stimulation, of relentless focus on the body and material things. It is a disenchanted world that has left many people, especially the young, with an intense longing for beauty and transcendence. The absence of the sacred has crept into Church as well. Many Catholics have been distressed by the experience of liturgical abuses and irreverent, bland liturgies where few people — or even the celebrant — seemed aware of the sacred mystery in which they were participating. Last summer’s Pew survey, showing that less than two-thirds of Catholics who attend Mass weekly believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, is one more sobering sign of a crisis in the faith.2

One way the thirst for the sacred is being expressed is in a groundswell of enthusiasm for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (also called the Tridentine Mass, or the Mass celebrated in accordance with the 1962 Missal of St. John XXIII), the liturgy as it existed prior to the reforms of Vatican II. Those who are drawn to the Extraordinary Form speak of its beauty, its aura of mystery, and its connection to centuries of tradition. In some quarters, the extolling of the older usage is unfortunately accompanied by a denigration of the reformed liturgy and even a vilification of Vatican II itself. Now that a half-century has passed, the time is ripe for a calm, charitable, and theologically substantive discussion about the liturgical reforms.

It has become common to blame today’s lack of Eucharistic faith and fervor on the revised rite. Critics rightly point to certain weaknesses such as collects that are less expressive of God’s majesty, and the omission of important biblical texts from the lectionary. Another unfortunate change is the elimination of the Octave of Pentecost, giving the impression of downgrading the great solemnity that culminates the Easter season. The primary problem, however, is not the reformed rite itself but its flawed implementation, due to poor — and, in some cases, catastrophically defective — theological and spiritual preparation among clergy and laity alike. Too often, the liturgical changes were accompanied by a downplaying of the notion of sacredness. A casual attitude toward the liturgy was fostered, and beautiful churches were “wreckovated.” Lukewarm liturgy has, tragically, obscured the authentic renewal called for by the Council itself.

The Council’s mandate for liturgical reform sprang from a great renewal in biblical, patristic, and liturgical theology that took place in the early twentieth century. The goal was ressourcement: to revitalize the life of the Church by drinking deeply from the wells of Scripture and Tradition, which would in turn better enable the Church to proclaim the Gospel anew to the modern world. As Pope John Paul II and other participants attested, the Council was an experience of a “new Pentecost” in which the breath of the Holy Spirit blew through the Church, leading her to rediscover the treasures of her ancient heritage.

The revised liturgy is the fruit of that renewal. It is in some respects closer to the liturgy as celebrated in the first millennium than is the Tridentine Mass. It is the Ordinary Form of the Mass in the Latin Rite given to the faithful by the Church,3 the form in which more than 95 percent of Roman Catholics celebrate Mass today. A greater appreciation for what the Council did, and why, can help Catholics deepen their love for the gift of the Mass and, in the words of John Paul II, “rekindle Eucharistic amazement.”4

A Rich Banquet of the Word

One of the most important changes mandated by Vatican II was the biblical enrichment of the Mass. Over the centuries the readings had become biblically impoverished. Prior to Vatican II, there were only two readings for each Sunday; most weekday Masses simply repeated the Sunday readings or used those of feasts, rituals, or votive Masses. On saints’ days, the same readings were used again and again, for instance, the parable of the ten virgins on feasts of virgins. There was no continuous reading of a biblical book from day to day or week to week. In all, only 16% of the New Testament appeared in the Mass, and a mere 1% of the Old Testament.5 The virtual absence of the Hebrew Scriptures easily lends itself to a view of Jesus and the Church detached from their Jewish roots. And the fact that all the readings are disconnected excerpts, jumping from passage to passage seemingly at random, makes it more difficult for people to grasp the overarching unity of God’s plan.

The reformed liturgy, in contrast, provides the faithful with a rich banquet of the Word. The new three-year cycle for the Sunday lectionary and two-year cycle for the daily lectionary allow for a much broader selection of biblical passages. The faithful who attend daily Mass now hear 72% of the New Testament and 14% of the Old Testament, and even Sunday Mass alone offers more than three times as much Scripture as in the older missal (41% of the New Testament, 4% of the Old). Each Sunday Gospel is paired with a related Old Testament passage, which helps instill in the hearers the ancient understanding of the spiritual sense — the magnificent way all God’s words and deeds in the old covenant prefigure, prophesy, and prepare for the fullness of his plan in Christ.

Why is it crucial that the liturgy provide abundant fare from God’s word? As the Fathers of Vatican II recognized, God always reveals himself by means of both deeds and words, which have an inner unity: “the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them.”6 So the celebration of a sacrament is always to be preceded by the proclamation of the word, precisely so that the people can fully appropriate all that is given in the sacrament. This is preeminently true of the Eucharistic liturgy. “For this reason, the Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord’s Body. She never ceases to present to the faithful the bread of life, taken from the one table of God’s Word and Christ’s Body” (CCC 103). In the liturgy of the word Jesus is proclaimed; in the liturgy of the Eucharist we enter into intimate communion with the Jesus we have come to know through his word.7 This is why the liturgy is not just one place to hear Scripture, it is the native home of Scripture — the setting where God’s word is proclaimed in its fullest power.

The pattern of a liturgy of the word to which the people respond in faith, followed by a liturgy of sacrifice and banquet, goes back to the beginning of salvation history. It is the basic pattern of Israel’s covenant ritual at Mount Sinai (Ex 24) and of the great renewal of the covenant under King Josiah (2 Kgs 23). It appears most clearly after Jesus’s resurrection, in his encounter with the disciples on the road to Emmaus: he revealed himself to them first by breaking open the Scriptures, and then in the breaking of the bread (Lk 24:13–32). The pattern continued in the early life of the Church (see Acts 20:7–11).

Another, closely related reform of Vatican II was the reinstatement of the homily as an integral part of the Mass — one so essential that on Sundays it “should not be omitted except for a serious reason.”8 The homily is indispensable for opening up the Word so that people receive it in all its power to convict, console, instruct, and counsel, as when Peter preached at Pentecost and “they were cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37). It is also essential for showing how all Scripture speaks of Christ, as Philip did for the Ethiopian eunuch who was reading from the prophet Isaiah (Acts 8:30–36). The Book of Nehemiah records that when the Jews returned from exile in Babylon, they were renewed in their identity as God’s people precisely by the liturgical proclamation and explanation of God’s word: the Levites “read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. . . . And all the people went their way . . . to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them” (Neh 8:7–8, 12). We honor God’s word by believing it and obeying it, and in order to do that understanding is necessary. The seed sown on good soil, Jesus taught, is “he who hears the word and understands it; he indeed bears fruit” (Mt 13:23).

The Language of the People

For similar reasons, Vatican II called for greater use of the vernacular in the Mass.9 The fact that this practice was quickly adopted by bishops’ conferences around the world, with approval from Rome, is not a sign of infidelity to tradition but rather of an instinct of faith. In Christ, God has become one of us and made himself utterly accessible. He speaks to us in human words that we can understand, and we can in turn worship and pray to him in our own language. “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (Rom 10:8). Nothing can take the place of a person’s mother tongue in enabling him or her to pray to God intimately, from the heart. That is why in the earliest days of the Church the liturgy was translated from the Apostles’ native Aramaic into Greek, then later into Latin, Coptic, Gothic, Slavonic, and other languages that were in use at the time.

A liturgy that is entirely in Latin inevitably distances all but a small percentage of congregants from the liturgical prayers and action. It is true that Latin has a uniquely venerable place in the Roman Rite; those who love the Latin Mass should have the opportunity to attend it, and all Catholics should be taught the common responses in Latin. But if the entire Mass were available solely in Latin, only a tiny percentage of Catholics would ever have enough proficiency to understand the prayers and readings well. The problem is serious enough for speakers of European languages like English that have some Latin roots; it is vastly increased for those whose native languages have no relationship to Latin at all. It is not unintelligibility that enhances our sense of the divine mystery; rather, it is our understanding that reveals God’s gift as a mystery beyond understanding. To attend a joyful, reverent liturgy in Ibo, or Vietnamese, or Hungarian, or Arabic is to have a whole new appreciation for the Church universal — all those “ransomed for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev 5:9).

Banquet and Sacrifice

One of the common complaints regarding the liturgical reform has been that it de-emphasized the notion of sacrifice. After Vatican II there were heated debates as to whether the liturgy is primarily a sacrifice or primarily a meal. But these debates revolved around a false dichotomy. To the ancient Israelites (and every culture surrounding them), the very question would be absurd. A sacred banquet always entailed first sacrificing to God the animal to be eaten. Likewise, the culmination of a sacrifice was often a sacred banquet in which the flesh of the sacrificed animal would be consumed. This was preeminently true of the high point of Israel’s sacrificial system, the Passover, in which an unblemished lamb was sacrificed and eaten — the very rite that Jesus transformed into the new covenant Passover (Mk 14:16–25). Thus the Eucharistic liturgy is inseparably both the Lord’s Supper and the sacrifice of his body and blood (see CCC 1328–32).

The revisions to the liturgy helped restore this twofold meaning. Some references to sacrifice were removed — especially during the Offertory, where they had led to some confusion and the erroneous view that the Mass is two consecutive sacrifices, one of the Church and one of Christ — but others remain or were added. For instance, the people’s response immediately before the Eucharistic Prayer is “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands.”10 At the same time, there are clearer references to the Mass as a sacred banquet — indeed, the joyous messianic wedding banquet foretold in Scripture, where sinners are reconciled to God. “Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb,” the celebrant proclaims in the Communion Rite.

Of equal significance is the restored permission to distribute Communion under both kinds. Of course it is true that Christ is present in both forms: whether I eat the host or drink from the cup, I receive the whole Jesus — body, blood, soul, and divinity. Distributing Communion under the species of bread alone is sometimes necessary for unavoidable pastoral reasons. But as a general restriction it loses sight of the sign value of the sacraments. A sacrament is an efficacious sign that is perceptible to the senses. God has given us sacramental signs because we are bodily persons, for whom a full human experience involves the senses and emotions as well as the mind. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal notes this fact when it states that Communion under both kinds is a “clearer form of the sacramental sign,” in which “the sign of the Eucharistic banquet is more clearly evident and clear expression is given to the divine will by which the new and eternal Covenant is ratified in the Blood of the Lord, as also the relationship between the Eucharistic banquet and the eschatological banquet in the Father’s Kingdom.”11

The sign of bread, the most basic kind of sustenance, signifies that Jesus is our spiritual food, our “super-essential food” without which we have no life within us (CCC 2837). Wine, on the other hand, conveys abundance, joy, festivity, and celebration; no host at a wedding serves the guests with bread only. The sign of wine more clearly points to Jesus as the messianic Bridegroom who lavishes on us the wine of divine life, the “sober intoxication” of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, drinking from a shared cup is a vivid symbol of fellowship with one another (see Lk 22:17). We who share in the chalice of Christ’s blood become “blood relations,” so to speak: brothers and sisters in the new covenant family of God. We drink of that very blood that flowed from Christ’s side on the Cross as the all-sufficient atonement for sins and gift of divine life.

One Loaf, One Body

The Tridentine Mass strongly emphasizes the vertical dimension of the liturgy — our communion with the all-holy, transcendent God. That dimension is paramount. But the reformed liturgy highlights that which is equally necessary but had been neglected: the horizontal dimension of our communion with one another in Christ. St. Paul reveals the deep link between the Eucharist and the Church, referring to both as the body of Christ: “The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:16–17). To say the Church is the body of Christ because the Eucharist is the body of Christ is not a picturesque metaphor; it is an existential reality that is meant to be lived and experienced. The Eucharist makes the Church. As St. John Chrysostom explains,

What is the bread? It is the body of Christ. And what do those who receive it become? The Body of Christ — not many bodies but one body. For as bread is completely one, though made of up many grains of wheat, and these, albeit unseen, remain nonetheless present, in such a way that their difference is not apparent since they have been made a perfect whole, so too are we mutually joined to one another and together united with Christ.12

St. Augustine, similarly, exhorts his congregants to approach Holy Communion with a deep awareness of their communion with one another in Christ:

“The Body of Christ,” you are told, and you answer “Amen.” Be members then of the Body of Christ that your Amen may be true. . . . Consider that the bread is not made of one grain alone, but of many. . . . Be then what you see, and receive what you are! Now for the Chalice, my brethren, remember how wine is made. Many grapes hang on the bunch, but the liquid which runs out of them mingles together in unity. So has the Lord willed that we should belong to him and he has consecrated on his altar the mystery of our peace and our unity.13

When we approach the altar to receive the body of Christ, we are giving our solemn “Amen” not only to Christ the Head, but also to all the members of his body. To receive Communion while holding a grudge against another person, or judging others, or fueling division, or even while being simply indifferent to the needs of those around one, is therefore a very real form of sacrilege.14 “Whoever does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 Jn 4:20). Love means more than simply that I bear no ill will toward the people in the pews around me; it means I share some responsibility for their well-being and their holiness. I am my brother’s keeper. To treat the Mass as if it were a purely private affair between God and me would be antithetical to its very meaning. This does not, of course, mean we are obliged to form relationships with every single one of our fellow parishioners. But it does mean that the Eucharist is the high point of what is meant to be a community life of mutual love and care animated by the Holy Spirit, concretely expressed in acts of service toward one another, in which our “hearts are being knit together in love” (Col 2:2).

The revised Order of Mass restores this dimension by reinstituting the ancient Christian practice of the sign of peace, in accord with the exhortations of St. Paul and St. Peter: “Greet one another with a holy kiss.”15 The rite of peace is placed immediately before Communion precisely so we can grasp the connection between communion with Christ and communion with the members of his body. The actual form of the sign of peace (a handshake, a kiss, a bow) may vary in accord with customs and culture, but its purpose is unchanging. It is a symbolic reminder to examine our hearts before we receive Christ himself, to ensure that there is no buried resentment, no one excluded from our love. Or if there is, as Jesus taught, “leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt 5:24).

A Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

Another essential truth brought to light by Vatican II is that the liturgy is a sacrifice of thanksgiving. The very word Eucharist (eucharistia in Greek, todah in Hebrew) means “thanksgiving.” In ancient Israel, one of the most important kinds of sacrifice was the todah, the thanksgiving sacrifice.16 It would be offered by someone who had been in mortal danger or had suffered some other terrible trial, whom God had delivered. The rescued person would show his gratitude to God by sacrificing a lamb in the temple and then eating the lamb, along with bread and wine, in a celebratory banquet with his family and friends, accompanied by prayers and songs of thanksgiving. The prophet Jonah, for example, vowed to offer a todah if he were delivered from the belly of the whale (Jo 2:3–10). King David offered a todah after being rescued from his enemies and bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem (1 Chr 16). The ancient rabbis gave a striking prophecy about the todah: “In the coming age, all sacrifices will cease except the todah sacrifice. This will never cease in all eternity.”17

Israel’s greatest annual feast, the Passover, is its national todah: a celebration and memorial of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, in which they sacrificed a lamb and consumed it in a banquet with wine and unleavened bread, accompanied by hymns of praise. It is this feast that Jesus celebrated on the night before he died, and transformed into the everlasting todah — the memorial and celebration of his passion and resurrection, the new exodus through which God has delivered his people from sin, Satan and, death. In his sacrifice, Jesus replaces human sin with its opposite: he gives God the perfect praise that human beings had failed to offer. His sacrifice is thus inseparably both thanksgiving and atonement for sin.18

From the beginning, the early Christians called the Lord’s Supper the Eucharist (todah) because in its very essence it is an act of overflowing gratitude to God for his saving deeds in Christ. Praise and thanksgiving therefore have an indispensable place in the liturgy. Because we are corporeal beings, we praise God not just interiorly but with acclamations, antiphons, hymns, and songs as well as bodily gestures.19 Scripture constantly exhorts us to give praise to God aloud: “Shout to God with loud songs of joy! . . . Sing praises to our King, sing praises!” (Ps 47:1, 6). “Lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings!” (Is 40:9). Indeed, such verbal praise not only accompanies a sacrifice, it is a sacrifice: “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me” (Ps 50:23).20

Over the centuries, the responses at Mass had been gradually taken over by the servers and the choir; the verbal participation of the congregation was reduced to a minimum. Vatican II recognized the need to restore the participation of the people both in spoken responses and in congregational singing, while also preserving periods of reverent silence. Of course, there is a place for a relatively brief Mass without music — for instance, a weekday Mass that busy working people can attend. But at the Sunday liturgy, the center and high point of the life of the local church, the whole community ought to be joining with one voice in sung acclamations and hymns that lift their hearts and minds in joyful thanksgiving to God. As St. Augustine is reputed to have said, “He who sings prays twice.” In a real though invisible way, we who celebrate the liturgy enter into the heavenly worship of the angels and saints that goes on eternally before God’s throne.

Facing the People

One of the changes in the Mass most discussed today is that of the direction in which the celebrant prays: should it be toward the east (ad orientem) or facing the people (versus populum)? This question was not addressed by Vatican II but was one of the changes that was permitted after the Council and quickly became almost universal. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal states that Mass facing the people “is desirable wherever possible,” although ad orientem is practiced today by some priests in the Ordinary Form as well as the Extraordinary Form.21

From ancient times, Christian prayer facing the east has been a way of expressing faith in Jesus our coming King, whose return in glory will be “as lightning comes from the east” (Mt 24:27). The liturgy is indeed filled with anticipation of his glorious coming, which we await with joyful expectancy: “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your resurrection until you come again.” Although in the earliest liturgies the celebrant faced the congregation, within a few centuries the practice changed so that, during the prayers, both the celebrant and congregation faced east, which meant the celebrant had his back to the people.22 The Church recognizes both ways as legitimate. But there are good theological as well as pastoral reasons to consider versum populum as better corresponding to the symbolic structure of the liturgy.

Jesus instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper, which, as noted above, was a Passover meal, a todah sacrifice that Jesus transformed into the memorial and celebration of his once-for-all sacrifice on the Cross. A supper is by its very nature a profoundly interpersonal event, in which the participants enjoy one another’s company and conversation while sharing food and drink. In the Old Testament, a covenant would typically be sealed through a shared meal, in which the parties forged a bond of kinship by sitting at table together. Throughout his public ministry Jesus shared many a meal with both righteous people and sinners, all a sign and foretaste of the glorious messianic banquet that will be celebrated in heaven.23

This interpersonal nature of the covenant is essential to the liturgy. At the heart of the liturgy of the Eucharist is the Eucharistic prayer, the whole of which is addressed to God the Father. But at the heart of the Eucharistic prayer are the words of institution, which are a quotation of Jesus’s words at the Last Supper addressed to us, his people: “Take this, all of you, and eat of it . . .” In this most sacred part of the Mass, the priest most fully carries out his task of acting in persona Christi: he is the visible sign of Christ the divine Bridegroom, who gives himself entirely and without reserve to the Church his bride. A bridegroom faces his bride.

Jesus instituted the Eucharist, moreover, as the making-present of the event that stands at the center of human history: the act of love in which he died for us on the Cross. Again, on the Cross, the Lord was facing his disciples — at least those few (Mary, John the beloved disciple, and the women disciples) who remained faithful to him in his hour of trial. He was also facing sinners, including his tormentors and all those who did not recognize the divine gift. In facing us as he offers himself to the Father, he brings us into the mystery of Trinitarian communion, the eternal exchange of love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that is so movingly depicted in Rublëv’s famous icon of the Holy Trinity.

The celebrant’s facing away from the people at the heart of the liturgy makes this deep underlying symbolism less evident. A leader at the front of a group of people all facing the same way evokes the idea of a procession, or perhaps a military captain at the head of a march into battle. While these are valid images of Christ and the Church, they are not what most aptly brings to light the deepest meaning of the Mass.

The Eucharist is simultaneously God’s total gift of himself to us in Christ, and Christ’s total gift of himself to the Father in which all the members of his body participate. But it is God’s gift that is prior. Throughout salvation history, every offering of human beings to God is in response to the good gifts God has first given to us. God’s grace always precedes and enables our response. This is preeminently true of Christ’s saving passion, which is made present at every Mass. While celebrating ad orientem accents our self-offering to God in union with Christ, celebrating versum populum accents the more foundational reality of God’s gift of himself to us in Christ.

The pastoral effect of ad orientem is also not insignificant. The effect, even if unintended, is to distance the people from the central liturgical action. They cannot see the elements on the altar. The fulcrum of the Mass, the consecration, is invisible (and often inaudible) to the congregation, thereby losing much of its value as a sacramental sign. For many people, this inevitably contributes to the sense of being bystanders rather than active participants in the liturgy.

The versus populum position is sometimes inaccurately described as facing “away from God.” Of course, this is not the case: God is everywhere, and to face any direction in prayer is to face him — all the more so when one is facing the body and blood of Christ, as both priest and congregation do when the Eucharist is on the altar between them. It is worth noting that Jesus at prayer “looked up to heaven” (Mk 6:41). Moreover, it should be kept in mind that since many churches today are no longer built facing the east, celebration of Mass ad orientem is often not literally toward the east.

Critics also object that versus populum leads to a “priest as performer” mentality, in which the priest’s personality intrudes, as he feels responsible for making things as lively and interesting as possible. Unfortunately such misguided, self-promoting attitudes were common in the decades after Vatican II. But they are much less frequent today. The new rite does in fact demand more of the priest: he has to celebrate in such a way that he focuses the whole attention of the congregation not on himself but on God the Father and on the awesome mystery that is taking place in their midst. Even more, he has to let his whole life be shaped by the Eucharist — to be “a mystagogue who leads us through the witness of his own faith into the heart of the mystery.”24

Reverence and Intimacy

The Eucharistic liturgy, when celebrated well, teaches us reverence, the right human response in the presence of the all-holy God. “Put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Ex 3:5). “Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord” (Zech 2:13).

The older form of the rite, however, fosters a notion of reverence that seems to equate it with remoteness. In the Old Testament, there was a validity to this equation. All of Israel’s priestly rites were designed to instill a sense of God’s holiness, which means that he is utterly set apart from everything earthly. Part of the role of the Levitical priests was to strictly guard access to God’s presence, since it was not safe for fallen, sinful human beings to draw near to the holy God.25 The Holy of Holies, God’s dwelling place in the inner room of the sanctuary, was surrounded by zones of restricted access: the Levites served in the courtyard, but only the priests could enter the sanctuary itself, and only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and even he only once a year.

But this biblical background helps us grasp all the more clearly the radical transformation accomplished by Christ, our great high priest (Heb 4:14). At his baptism the heavens were torn open, and at his death the veil of the temple — symbol of closed-off access to God — was torn in two from top to bottom (Mk 1:10; 15:38). Christ’s role is in this respect precisely the opposite of the Levitical priests: he opens access to the Father. But he does this without compromising God’s holiness. His priesthood is exercised not by separating sinners from God, but by separating sinners from sin. So all those redeemed by him, in amazing contrast to the people of the Old Covenant, are invited to draw near and enter God’s holy presence, as the New Testament constantly exhorts. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace” (Heb 4:16). “Since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh . . . let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.”26 Now even the lowliest believer has a privilege infinitely greater than that of the high priest of Israel: he or she can freely enter the sanctuary, the presence of the living God — and not only one day a year, but always. The whole life of a Christian is now qualified to be a priestly life, in which all our actions and sufferings can be offered as “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom 12:1), caught up into the one perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ made present on the altar.

Various practices that developed over the centuries had, in a sincere but mistaken piety, fostered a return to the Old Testament idea that reverence is a matter of distance from God. The altar rail, like the ancient temple veil, cautioned lay people not to dare come too near. The tabernacle, placed behind the altar, could no longer be approached for intimate prayer with the Eucharistic Jesus. Communicants were not allowed to touch the host. Mass was celebrated in a language most people no longer understood, disengaging them to some degree from the liturgical action. The Eucharistic Prayer, moreover, was spoken inaudibly. It was no wonder that the custom arose of people doing other things during the liturgy that had no connection with it, such as praying the rosary or going to confession. The impression given was that the liturgy was a sacred drama carried out between God and the priest, which lay people could only observe from a distance.

A common criticism of the revised Mass is that it lacks the sense of mystery and transcendence of the Tridentine Mass. But that impression derives not from the rite itself but from a superficial idea of mystery and from the irreverent, bland, and blasé ways the liturgy has too often been celebrated. The answer lies not in distancing people from the mystery but rather in drawing them more deeply into it. The challenge the Church faces now is to foster authentic reverence without remoteness. When people have a lively awareness of what they are entering into — Christ the risen Lord becoming present to us in his eternal self-offering to the Father for our salvation, transforming us into himself by the Holy Spirit as he feeds us with his own body and blood — they show deep reverence. True reverence is where people put off their worldly, complacent attitudes and make pleasing God the primary aim of their life.

Bodily gestures, such as dressing up for Mass and genuflecting before the tabernacle, play an important role in fostering an attitude of reverence.27 At the same time, we need to guard against the perennial temptation to make external gestures a substitute for the true reverence of heart that God desires. Both the prophets and Jesus himself vehemently warned against an empty formalism, a perfunctory religiosity that did not spring from an obedient heart. “This people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (Is 29:13). Jesus warns, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (Mt 23:23–24). Holiness is found neither in legalism nor in laxity, but in the inner conformity to Christ that only the Holy Spirit can work in us.

Full Participation of the Laity

The principal goal of Vatican II in revising the liturgy was to promote the “full, conscious, and active participation of the faithful”28 — a goal mentioned in the Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy no fewer than fifteen times. The Council Fathers recognized that changes over the centuries, including the disappearance of the offertory procession and the relegation of all acclamations to the servers and choir, had gradually diminished the conscious communal participation of the laity. A purely passive, interior role for the people is contrary to the very nature of the Eucharist as a divine-human interaction, the memorial and renewal of the new covenant between God and his people in Christ.

A passive role for the laity in the liturgy in turn fosters a passive notion of their role in the Church. It often goes hand-in-hand with a tendency toward clericalism, noticeable even in the usage prior to Vatican II by which “the Church” became virtually synonymous with “the hierarchy.” Lay people formed in this mentality tended to regard priests and religious as the “professionals” who carried out all the important activities of the Church, and the laity as a kind of second class. The renewal of the liturgy thus coincides with another immensely important goal of Vatican II: to reawaken the lay faithful to their call to holiness and their role as active participants in the mission of the Church. Their unique privilege is to bring Christ into the secular sphere, to transform the culture and all its institution and practices in light of the Gospel.

One of ways the revised Order of Mass expresses the participation of the laity is by restoring the offertory procession, a custom that goes back at least to the second century.29 Lay people bring forward to the altar bread and wine, which are gifts of God’s creation as well as the result of complex human activity; they thus represent all that is good in human civilization and culture. It is these humble gifts, symbolizing the very best that we fallen human beings can offer, that are not destroyed or replaced but transformed by the Holy Spirit into Jesus himself, the bread of life and the cup of our salvation. With them, we symbolically bring our whole selves to be laid on the altar and transformed by God. God takes all that we give him, in our poverty and weakness — like five loaves and two fish — and turns it into the one perfect, divine sacrifice that fulfills all others.

One of the most important parts of the Mass is the “epiclesis,” the prayer imploring God to send the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ (CCC 1105). The new Eucharistic Prayers composed after Vatican II express the epiclesis more clearly. Moreover, it is not only the bread and wine that the Holy Spirit consecrates. The Eucharistic Prayers also include the “epiclesis of communion,” the prayer calling on the Holy Spirit to come also upon the people, so that by receiving Christ’s body and blood we too are transformed into him (CCC 1109). This prayer is present in the most ancient liturgies, including the second-century prayer of St. Hippolytus (the basis of Eucharistic Prayer II) and the fourth-century Liturgy of St. Basil, still celebrated in the Eastern Churches today. It reveals the fact that, by the work of the Holy Spirit, we become what we eat: we become Christ’s very flesh, his presence to one and other and to the world.

The epiclesis of communion also helps us see the deep link between the Eucharist and evangelization. At first glance, evangelization doesn’t seem to have much to do with the Eucharist. They involve opposite ends of the process of Christian initiation, the beginning and the end. Understood rightly, however, the Eucharist is the source and summit of evangelization.30

On the one hand, the Eucharist is the source that leads to evangelism, because our desire and ability to bring Christ into the world springs from his total self-gift, made present anew in Eucharist. The Mass makes us missionary disciples. When Jesus says, “Do this in memory of me,” he means not only the liturgy, but our whole life! Through the liturgy we become Christ; then we can say to others, in effect, “Take, this is my body — my time, my gifts, my love and attention, my life.” Life becomes an extension of the liturgy, as we are sent into the peripheries of the world to love as Jesus loves. All our prayer and work becomes a share in Christ’s mission. We become the salt, light, and leaven in the world, the fragrance of Christ to those around us.

On the other hand, evangelism leads to the Eucharist because the ultimate goal of proclaiming the gospel to a person is to bring them into the fullness of communion with Jesus and the whole Church, so they too can be made ready for the eternal banquet in the Kingdom.

Scripture exhorts the people of God, “Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe” (Heb 12:28). Many Catholics, including Pope Benedict XVI, have spoken of the need for a “reform of the reform” of the liturgy. The reform that is most needed is a profound conversion of the hearts of the faithful through a deeper understanding and more intense spiritual participation in the liturgy. The revisions to the Mass following Vatican II have more fully brought to light the treasures of the Eucharistic mystery in all its dimensions, but, sadly, many Catholics have yet to experience those depths. From the gift of the reformed liturgy flows a task: to form God’s people in a full understanding of the Mass and to celebrate it with the fervor, love, and reverence it deserves.

  1. Vatican Council II detailed its mandate for the reform of the liturgy in its first document, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium), in 1963. Pope Paul VI established a commission to revise the Mass on this basis, and the new rite was promulgated in 1969 and published in the 1970 edition of the Roman Missal. A further revision by Pope John Paul II was published in 2002 and reprinted with corrections in 2008.
  2. The survey found that, overall, only one-third of Catholics believe that during Mass the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus; among those who attend Mass weekly, the percentage is 63%. See
  3. Pope Benedict XVI, Letter to the Bishops on the Publication of Summorum Pontificum (2007).
  4. John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, no. 6.
  5. These statistics are drawn from As noted there, “The OT statistics do not include the Psalms, which are often used in the Roman Missal for the Gradual (just before the Gospel); but they do include the OT texts recommended for the Vigil of Easter (12 readings) and the Vigil of Pentecost (6 readings), most of which were dropped in 1951.”
  6. Vatican II, Dei Verbum, no. 2.
  7. See Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 174.
  8. Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 52.
  9. At the same time, the Council directed that “the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.” Catholics should therefore be taught to sing at least some of the responses in Latin, such as the Sanctus and Agnus Dei (see General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no. 41).
  10. There are also several references to sacrifice in Eucharistic Prayers I, III, and IV, and in the Eucharistic Prayers for Reconciliation. Moreover, the words of institution — “This is my body which will be given up for you. . . . This is the chalice of my blood . . . which will be poured out for you and for many” — reveal that Christ’s passion, made present anew at every Mass, was not a tragic misfortune or a heroic martyrdom, but a sacrifice.
  11. General Instruction of the Roman Missal, nos. 14 and 281.
  12. On 1 Corinthians 12:13, 27, quoted in Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 23.
  13. Augustine, Sermons 272 and 234 (PL 38, 1247, and 1116).
  14. See 1 Cor 11:20–22; Jm 2:2–4.
  15. Rom 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12; 1 Thes 5:26; 1 Pt 5:14.
  16. See Tim Gray, “From Jewish Passover to Christian Eucharist: The Story of the Todah,”
  17. Pesiqta Rabbati, 12.
  18. Jesus’s sacrifice, in fact, transcendently fulfills and integrates into one all five of the main kinds of sacrifice prescribed in the Law of Moses. See Mary Healy, Hebrews, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016), 152–53.
  19. Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 30.
  20. Cf. Ps 141:2; Heb 13:15.
  21. General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 299. In either case, the rubrics indicate several specific points of the Mass when the celebrant must speak facing the people (versus populum).
  22. See Johannes H. Emminghaus, The Eucharist: Essence, Form, Celebration, trans. Matthew J. O’Connell (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1978), 50; Joseph Jungmann, SJ, The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development, trans. Francis A. Brunner (Blackrock, Four Courts Press, 1986), vol. 1, 255.
  23. The table at which Jesus reclined with his disciples was probably U-shaped; the diners would be arranged around the outside, facing one another; the inside would be used for serving food.
  24. Roch A. Kereszty, Wedding Feast of the Lamb: Eucharistic Theology from a Historical, Biblical, and Systematic Perspective (Chicago/Mundelein, IL: Hillenbrand Books, 2004), 163.
  25. See Num 1:51; 18:22; Is 6:5; 59:2.
  26. Heb 10:19–22; cf. 6:19–20; 7:19, 25; Eph 2:18; 3:12.
  27. It should be noted that according to the adaptations of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal adopted by the U.S. bishops, “The norm for reception of Holy Communion in the dioceses of the United States is standing.”
  28. Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 14.
  29. It is attested as early as St. Justin Martyr in the second century (see CCC 1345).
  30. Vatican II, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests (Presbyterorum Ordinis), no. 5.
Mary Healy About Mary Healy

Dr. Mary Healy is a professor of Scripture at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, USA, and a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. She is a general editor of the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture and author of two of its volumes, The Gospel of Mark and Hebrews. Her other books include The Spiritual Gifts Handbook and Healing: Bringing the Gift of God’s Mercy to the World. Dr. Healy is chair of the Doctrinal Commission of Catholic Charismatic Renewal International Service (CHARIS) in Rome.


  1. Avatar Tom McGuire says:

    Dr. Healy, I have always appreciated your reflections the few times I have had an opportunity to hear you speak. This article is long overdue. It needs to be shared widely among all Catholics. Perhaps in a more common language.

    On the Gift of Liturgical Reform:
    Recently, I had a conversation with a couple who find the Extraordinary Form of the Mass meets their needs, it is “What we remember”. They give great praise to the fact that confessions are heard up until the consecration. This suggested to me a need for catechesis for those who participate in that liturgy.

    I often think of my experience of Mass before the changes. As alter boys, we were always glad to serve the priest who said the 15-minute black mass. We also really never understood any of the liturgical prayers. What moved me, was the Gospel. I remember wanting to share the Gospel with others.

    Maybe you can answer a question. Why does is the ANAMNESIS
    “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” prayed in silence. It is such a profound statement of the transformation at the heart of Eucharist.

    Reverence: I learned the meaning of reverence from participating in the tea ceremony in Japan. In that ceremony, every gesture communicates “welcome”. What I find in Catholic liturgy is a disconnect between gesture and its meaning. So often the presider either is careless or seems concerned to do the right thing but without being mindful of what is being communicated.

    Perhaps some of the searchings among young people is a desire for reverence, that is the communication of mystery.

    • Avatar Vicky Gordon says:

      Dr. Healy,
      I hardly know how to respond to this loaded exegesis concerning the revised liturgy and faith of Vatican II. You briefly touch on the deep suppurating wound of the reform as you begin your article, but then you quickly fall back into a mechanical unconscious default larded with praise and blinded to reality.
      Let’s be truthful. The upending and destruction of the liturgy 50 years ago can only be described as catastrophic and counter-cultural. In its wake are the numerous and manifest bad fruits of a church which has lost the faithful, decimated the priesthood and reduced the religious orders to a pitiful remnant of the numbers enjoyed before the reform.
      Damning indeed are the multitudes of Catholics who no longer believe in the Real Presence, who rush to church on Sunday not to pray before the immortal God but to visit with their friends, who despite their protestations are living in communion with the world in its most parasitic sense, denying their faith and defending the world, the flesh and the devil every other day of the week. We, the faithful, have been lied to for 50 years. Loss has been dressed as gain, and deception as truth. Those of us who have had front-row seats from the beginning are sick to death of Pollyanna statements and sleight of hand. The rotten fruit of the reform has laid low 2000 years of Catholic civilization. There is no silver lining in this.

      • Avatar Katie Gesto says:

        Dear Vicky,
        I would be interested in your perspective. I am NOT a theologian but a lay Catholic missionary who just returned from Managua, Nicaragua. I cannot imagine if the Mass was in Latin there. Jesus also wanted the reform because the poor prostitutes whom we ministered to who gave their life to Jesus Christ in repentact tears also want to encounter Jesus in the Eucharist. Which form if Mass do you think they could continue to meet Jesus would be best? Assuming they cant read but only hear Spanish and no one likely to associate with them at Mass to explain things. I would be curious your insight on this.

      • Avatar David James says:

        I must disagree with you Vicky. I don’t believe you can equate the secularism of the Church and the shrinking of practicing Catholics as a fruit of liturgical changes. It seems to me those changes were made to address the already distancing of the lay person from Christ.

        Rather, I would suggest that poor catechesis and evangelism are the primary reasons for this. Parents are the primary educators of the family. The family is the domestic church. When parents are living and exhibiting the Christian life in practice to their children; when they teach their children to pray; when they teach their children the faith and explain why we believe what we believe and do what we do, it goes a long way in developing the child’s faith which becomes foundational in their lives. If guards against the temptations of Satan, the world and the flesh and helps develop a mature Christian.

        The absence of that leaves children with a shallow understanding of their faith and how to practice Catholicism. Catholicism can easily become compartmentalized into ritual rather than life. It can become more cultural than life-giving. This leads one to the adoption of secularism. There are many polls which have been taken that reveal Catholics seem to reflect basic values as the rest of the country such as being split down the middle between pro-life and pro-choice views, gay marriage, etc.

      • Avatar Tom McGuire says:

        The celebration of liturgy matters, good people can have different opinions about the way it is celebrated. But in the end, we believe as Bishop Ambrose of the 4th century wrote:
         “The Lord Jesus himself declares: This is my body. Before the blessing contained in these words a different thing is named; after the consecration a body is indicated. He himself speaks of his blood. Before the consecration something else is spoken of; after the consecration blood is designated. And you say: “Amen,” that is: “It is true.” What the mouth utters, let the mind within acknowledge; what the word says, let the heart ratify.”

        We agree this is true in every valid celebration of Eucharist. Those of us who take a different view of how to celebrate liturgy believe as you do in what Bishop Ambrose proclaimed. Let us find a way to improve how we celebrate without condemning those with whom we disagree.

      • Avatar Douglas Ritzenthaler says:

        I completely disagree with you. Obviously, there needs to be DIVERSITY in the liturgy as well as TOLERANCE.
        This is why the Latin Mass was BANNED for so many years. People of DIVERSE and TOLERANT backgrounds knew that this Mass had to be BANNED, otherwise there would be no diversity in the liturgy. We can’t have Catholics choosing the Latin Mass over the Novus Ordo Mass! That would be scandal!
        I think we can all agree that the Latin is Unifying (i.e., not diverse) and has set rubrics (i.e., not tolerant), thus you can see why it HAD to be banned. As far the nearly total collapse of Faith and Morals … well you need to break a few eggs to make an omelet.

    • Really? Catechesis for those who make regular use of the sacrament of confession? How about for the vast majority of Catholics who haven’t been to confession for years? Perhaps they would be a more appropriate target for your catechetical efforts.

    • If priest’s saying 15 minute Mass’s was really the problem, then why was the Mass radically transformed into essentially a new Rite? Clearly the answer to reverence is to have more Japanese tea ceremonies, just leave the liturgy untouched.

  2. Avatar Azuredee Tipton says:

    Couldn’t disagree with you more! I am so grateful for Pope Benedict XVI for allowing the Tradition Latin Mass, of which, I attend every Sunday. There is TRUE reverence in the Mass, most Catholic, if they are traditionalist, already know Latin and with the Saint Edmund Campion Missal it is easy to follow and understand the Mass. What BEAUTY, SILENCE, REVERENCE, even the children are quiet. When you walk into Mass, no one is talking to each other, everyone is kneeing and praying preparatory prayers before Mass. Most importantly, you receive the Body and Blood of our Lord kneeling and on the tongue!!! I would die of joy at just participating in ONE HOLY Latin Mass. The women, including myself, wear a veil and bring a handkerchief because very Sunday I always end up crying. If one should ever have the privilege of hearing just one TLM, one could die of Joy.

  3. Avatar Matthew Tsakanikas says:

    Dear Dr. Healy,
    Wonderful! Thank you for putting this article together to engage mature conversation. I wanted to offer a quote written just before Vatican II by Pius XII in his encyclical on the Liturgy: Mediator Dei:
    “61. The same reasoning holds in the case of some persons who are bent on the restoration of all the ancient rites and ceremonies indiscriminately. The liturgy of the early ages is most certainly worthy of all veneration. But ancient usage must not be esteemed more suitable and proper, either in its own right or in its significance for later times and new situations, on the simple ground that it carries the savor and aroma of antiquity. The more recent liturgical rites likewise deserve reverence and respect. They, too, owe their inspiration to the Holy Spirit, who assists the Church in every age even to the consummation of the world. They are equally the resources used by the majestic Spouse of Jesus Christ to promote and procure the sanctity of man.”
    Thank you again!

    • Matthew Tsakanikas completely misreads Mediator Dei #61 (see his comment).
      This encyclical was published in 1947, prior to any major changes that would be made to the Roman Missal in the years thereafter. Consequently, Pius’s mention of “more recent liturgical rites” refers to everything medieval and Baroque, that is, everything subsequent to that ancient period of which the Liturgical Movement tended to be enamored. By the time of Pius XII, this collective body of liturgy—which was simultaneously ancient, medieval, and early modern, as an organic reality that had passed through all of these periods—was already highly stabilized and consistent for 400 years. That fact alone points to the Providence by which a treasure of great perfection and beauty, a living reality born of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the bridal Church, was lovingly kept and handed down. If Pius XII is correct to say that medieval and Baroque developments “owe their inspiration to the Holy Spirit, who assists the Church in every age,” it follows that no one may repudiate what the liturgy has been for long stretches of the Church’s history without sinning against the Holy Spirit. Papal authority cannot be legitimately exercised against that which the Holy Spirit has inspired, either to its detriment or even to its destruction; such an exercise would be an abuse of office. Rather, what the Spirit has given us remains in its totality not only sacred and great, but a permanent model and measure.

      The conclusion: the liturgical reform, which prided itself on “restoring ancient rites and ceremonies,” is actually what runs afoul of Pius XII’s statement here; and the developed liturgy of the ages, which is preserved in the TLM, is what “deserves reverence and respect.”

      • Avatar Matthew Tsakanikas says:

        Ummm…Peter…I didn’t give any reading, just a quote. You’ve put the misreading into my mouth which means you are projecting and have an agenda. Did you miss, “before Vatican II”? Most people know what that means and that the new form came afterwards. Maybe you missed: “more recent liturgical rites likewise deserve reverence and respect”? I happen to respect the ordinary form and the extraordinary form. Since we can hold that Pius XII was Catholic, I think he would have followed the same advice he gave before Vatican II. Do you respect the ordinary form?

  4. Avatar Deb M Brunsberg says:

    Sadly, the lack of reverence for Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and for the Mass itself comes from laity , who may now come closer and touch Jesus, but they do not believe He is even present so that should speak volumes regarding what has happened to the Mass. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, I should say.

    Communion rails, in which one knelt down in reverence and adoration, made a very strong statement. When the changes came that allowed people to receive Jesus in the hand and for those with unconsecrated hands, give out Jesus, the real impact was to remove even more reference for Our Lord present in the Eucharist. There is a reason that a priests hands are consecrated. But now, the guy who just shook ten people’s hands during the overlong, overly loud, peace passing, then coughed in it is going up with his filthy hands and touching the Lord. ( I won’t receive from him)

    I have gone to the TLM and I fell in love with the silence. Oh my goodness, people showing reverence and respect to Jesus and those around them, by being silent before AND after Mass so that everyone could enter into the Mass with a prayerful heart and stay behind to pray in continued Thanksgiving. Kneeling to receive the Lord brings tears to my eyes because I know this was how I was to receive HIM, if I could.
    I do not attend the TLM on a regular basis because I want to hear the words, the prayers, the offering of the sacrifice and my pastors homilies. I ask the Lord every Sunday to remove all distractions from my mind and heart during the Mass, the distraction of the noise of my fellow parishioners, the totally inappropriate dress of laity and those in ministries, the secular music and instruments, the many other signs that people are not here for Jesus, but mostly out of obligation. I sit up front and I keep my eyes closed. I do not need to watch the priest because I am listening to his every word. I pray every day for the conversion of all Catholics.

    When 2/3 of the laity do not believe that Jesus is present in the Eucharist, exactly what are we sharing in communion? 1 Corinthians 11: 27 “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord.” Have you ever heard that in a homily? (I did once) Should not our first concern and mission involving the Mass be to restore the laity to reconciliation and to teach the truth about the Eucharist AND the consequences of receiving unworthily. There is no communal unity here if only 3 out of 10 people even believe they are in the presence of God. They may be receiving, but they are also dead to grace. Is this a travesty? Yes!

    How can the laity evangelize what they do not know? How can they grow in holiness if they are living in grave sin and receiving unworthily? You cannot be a missionary disciple, you cannot grow in holiness, you cannot count on salvation if you do not have the basic knowledge of Jesus Christ or of the Traditions of the Church or a desire for those things given by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

    You are writing to people who should already know these things. The problem is getting them to teach the truth and stop pandering to the secular disaster that has crept into every crevice of the Church.

    Priests would rather not offend anyone by speaking about what sin is and what the consequences are. They speak about the need to go to confession if they fall, but they do not ever explain what a fall is. I have never heard preaching on the sins of adultery, contracepting, co-habitating, sex outside of marriage, marriage only between one man and one woman, missing Mass, etc.etc.etc. Vague references to sin are not helpful when people no longer believe in sin. Failing to discuss these things have not kept bodies in the Church or brought salvation to their souls.

    I have to say that I disagree with a lot of what you have been put forward. You can interpret the bible to back up your beliefs in how the Mass should be and I could do the same, but I won’t. I will say that believing the Tabernacle should be anywhere in the church besides behind the altar does make me question a lot of what you have written.

    I do not believe I am a second class citizen as laity by giving due respect to priests and bishops (those who have not already shown themselves to be unworthy of that)
    by considering them to be of a higher place than I am in the Church and in front of the Lord. My goodness, they bring me the Eucharist!!!! They absolve me from my sins! They bury my dead! Do not downplay this. They are there for every grand moment of our lives from birth to death and everything in between. The are “persona christi.” They have taken a horrible hit by the priests and bishops and cardinals who have failed to remember who they are. We need to remind them, not dismiss them.

    It is time to get back to the basics. Our Bishops are in control of all the parishes in their diocese. They have the ability to request uniform celebrations of the Mass and not just the rubrics. People follow their leaders. Holy Bishops and Holy Priest will bring Holy parishioners. Do not be afraid of people walking away, they are already spiritually gone and you haven’t even noticed.

  5. Avatar Louis Moccia says:

    Dr. Healy, thank you for your detailed comments on the Novus Ordo. I find that most of what you say regarding the substance, sanctity, reverence and prayers of this Mass, also describes the Tridentine Liturgy to a much greater degree in appreciation for its profound mystery and reverence. I have been encouraged to see young people, born after Vatican II attending the Tridentine Liturgy in ever greater numbers, and participating in the responses and liturgical prayers in Latin. They look for the mysticism and profound reverence given to Christ in the Eucharist that is not as evident in the Novus Ordo. I would encourage Catholics to familiarize themselves with the Tridentine Mass and to understand that it evolved organically from the Last Supper continually guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is an everlasting treasure of the Church!

  6. This article has so many misconceptions and plain errors (e.g., the long-refuted position that the Hippolytus text on which EP II is based was an actual Eucharistic prayer; or that versus populum makes the consecration “visible” — transubstantiation being precisely an invisible miracle that calls upon our faith!) that it would demand in its totality a line-by-line refutation. In general, one can say that if Dr. Healy’s arguments were correct, the Church would have been profoundly mistaken about many aspects of how to celebrate the Eucharistic liturgy for periods of 500, 1000, 1500, or even 2000 years. This seems difficult to reconcile with the guidance of the Church by Divine Providence.

    Most of the claims made in this article have been refuted. For starters:

  7. I agree with the entire article except for Dr. Healy’s conclusions about which way the priest faces. She accurately presents the arguments for both sides, but draws the wrong conclusion, in my opinion.

    If all Masses were celebrated ad orientem, things would greatly improve in terms of the celebration of the Eucharist and the people’s theological understanding.

  8. Dr Healy, thank you so much for this very thoughtful article. You have captured perfectly the things I have long sensed about contemporary liturgical tensions but was unable to articulate.

    “ The challenge the Church faces now is to foster authentic reverence without remoteness. When people have a lively awareness of what they are entering into — Christ the risen Lord becoming present to us in his eternal self-offering to the Father for our salvation, transforming us into himself by the Holy Spirit as he feeds us with his own body and blood — they show deep reverence. True reverence is where people put off their worldly, complacent attitudes and make pleasing God the primary aim of their life.”

    Exactly. Thank you!

  9. “It was no wonder that the custom arose of people doing other things during the liturgy that had no connection with it, such as praying the rosary or going to confession.”

    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Can you honestly not see what connection meditating on the mysteries of the rosary or being shriven of ones sins in the confessional have with the holy sacrifice of the Mass?

    I was born post “reform”. My early memories are of heterodox nuns in polyester pantsuits, felt banners, and guitar Masses. I’ve done everything from the NO all in Latin to Steubenville to Regnum Christi, searching for what I could not find. I have been attending a TLM parish for nearly three years now and it has transformed my interior life. It’s like finding the low door in the wall. Give it a chance. You might be surprised at its transformative power.

    • Avatar Todd Voss says:

      That was an excellent series by Fr. Hunwicke. Another corrective is Fr. Bouyer’s book “Eucharist” published in 1968. He also views the Roman Canon as preserving perhaps the most ancient formulas vis-a-vis Eastern Liturgies. One nuanced difference is that he refers to the some of the Roman Canon prayers as “epiclesis” in a broader sense than the explicit calling for the Holy Spirit found in the eastern liturgies. It is in the latter more explicit sense that there was no “epiclesis” in the Roman Liturgical tradition and that its language of “acceptable” is a more ancient practice.

  10. The notion that “the Offertory, where they had led to some confusion and the erroneous view that the Mass is two consecutive sacrifices, one of the Church and one of Christ” is also false, which is why no one who makes this claim ever cites any actual texts in support of it.

    • Another excellent series which goes into great historical detail- this time by Mr. DiPippo himself.

  11. Avatar Fr. Tony Blount says:

    Dr. Healy,
    Thank you so much for a scholarly, courageous and loving article. The Second Vatican Council, like every other Ecumenical Council, was a gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. The liturgical renewal, as well as the biblical renewal and other matters, were the fruit of much work and meditation, by great men over the course of a century, before the council. Indeed, Ven. Pius XII had already begun to act on these mattters even before the council, by issuing the encyclicals Mediator Dei, Mystici Corporis Christi, and another on Scripture. Thank you for bringing to light the real intention of the profound renewal of the liturgy, rooted in the “ressourcement” of the Fathers of the Church, and Tradition. This renewal, and the Council itself, have been to a large extent misunderstood by both the “left” and the “right”, if such terms can be legitimately used in the Church of Christ! Thank you for your thoughtful exposition of so many issues regarding this renewal, including “versus populum”.

  12. Avatar Barry Jones says:

    The near total lack of scholarly method here vitiates Healy’s discussion almost completely. It’s as if she were quite unaware of all the intensive scholarship on this issue over nearly 50 years. Do you skip over all the secondary material when you write about the Scriptures? You should be ashamed of yourself as a scholar. And I am not saying anything here about the problems in the argument. There is just so much scholarly disrespect shown in the construction.

  13. The idea that the liturgy (a product of divine tradition) has slowly been corrupted over time, and required a substantial reform to fix all the problems that crept in over time, sounds suspiciously protestant to me.

  14. Avatar Dorothy Ranaghan says:

    Thank you Dr Healy for this profound article which clearly states the rationale behind the work of the Holy Spirit in Vatican 2. I was raised in the prevatican world and reverence was not always the aim or practice.detachment and boredom was more common. Finally now we hear and understand the great presence of the Lord among us. I cherish the ability to hold the Lotd in my “unconsecrated hands” rather than sticking my tongue at Him. 😊 thank you Lord for the reform of The Liturgy

    • Hmm. At our NO parish (before we left for the TLM) it was common to see teens texting or otherwise riveted to their phones. During Mass. They could not possibly be more detached or bored.

  15. Avatar Jonathan Metzler says:

    Disappointing. Dr. Healy’s positions are blinded by the lack of imagination of those unmoved by profundity and sentiment. Good people, but simple and mechanical.

    The versus populums would rather go to the Science Spectrum to watch a demonstration. The ad orientems would rather go on a real life National Geographic adventure for a strained glimpse of the hidden life of the Bengal Tiger.

    The vernacular only crowd doesn’t like The Passion of the Christ in that funny language, JRR Tolkien’s Elvish language or anything requiring subtitles. They don’t fully get Dr. Seuss. They prefer the clarity of a third grade science textbook.

    The active participationists think we develop a deeper bond at happy hour or a networking mixer where we get to visit than by the shared experience of a band of brothers completing boot camp, summer two-a-days or first year gad school.

    The meal and not just a sacrifice crowd has to come to grips with colossal disaster that only 66% of the Catholics believe in the Eucharist – an artificially inflated number by not including those who don’t bother to go anymore or those who dropped the faith altogether.

  16. Bugnini’s and Paul VI’s Novus Ordo is the worst catastrophe ever to hit the Church. Worse even than Luther’s revolt, because it struck at the internal heart and soul of the Church – the Liturgy and the Eucharist – rather than being just a breakaway of schismatic heretics. Small wonder that the Novus Ordo has brought forth such bad fruit, and that the Church is rotting from within.

  17. There’s one thing the modern Church and the devils have in common: they both hate Latin.

  18. A thorough refutation of this article’s claims, including references to further studies, was published today at OnePeterFive:

    A briefer response was published at The Liturgy Guy:

    I hope that readers of this article who are enthusiastic about it have the courage to learn why the arguments here are faulty, on both historical and theological grounds.

  19. Bravo!
    In reading the comments, I have to wonder if TLM-only Christians know that people can grow in, and have, an intimate relationship with our Lord through other liturgies. God is that extraordinary! Praise Him for all His gifts through the Church — the many liturgical celebrations and rites — and His Word through Sacred Scripture. Praise Him for His gift of the Eucharist through the holy priesthood, that comes to us through many different Divine Liturgies. Praise Him for non-Catholic Christians, many who have much to teach me personally about loving Jesus. Praise Him for His prayer, “…that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (Jn 17:21).

  20. Avatar Richard Doerflinger says:

    Thank you, Dr. Healy, for this profound reflection. As someone who has lived under both rites, and served as an altar boy in the old rite for years, I have found that the new rite can be celebrated in ways that are inspiring and life-changing — and can also be mistreated by careless, self-indulgent and thoughtless people. Such is true of any rite. What we need, as you say, is more devoted priests and a better informed laity. The fact that some took the “spirit of Vatican II” far beyond, and sometimes in contradiction to, the actual words and intentions of Vatican II was as true in areas such as dogmatic and moral theology as in the liturgy, and the solution lies in a more faithful and profound understanding of the Council.

    I am happy to allow those who prefer the traditional Latin Mass to celebrate according to that rite, and hope they recognize the other preference in myself. I see signs in some earlier comments that I may have a long wait for this hope to be realized.

    One thing that troubles me at a deep level is the old lectionary’s relative dismissal of the Old Testament. The way in which Jesus transcendently fulfilled, and yet transformed, what had been said for centuries in the Law and the Prophets, is a central reality of our faith, underscoring how God’s revelation in Jesus Christ is at the center of salvation history. Much meaning and beauty in the New Testament is lost if it is not appreciated in light of the Old. At a time when anti-Semitism seems to be on the rise in some societies, it seems more important than ever to acknowledge and celebrate our debt to our fathers in faith. Archbishop Lustiger of Paris, himself a convert from Judaism, is reported to have said that every Catholic is “at least Jewish.”

  21. “Gift” of the Novus Ordo is a total disaster. Protestants helped create it and the loss of faith from Lex Orandi Lex Credendi is so obvious. Return to the Tridentine Mass.

  22. Avatar Philip Maas says:

    Dr. Healy, thank you for your article. However, I do take issue with some of the points raised. Firstly, the direction of the celebrant: I find it difficult to see how a novel posture in the history of the rite expresses the basic reality of the Mass more fully than a posture used from time immemorial. Secondly, in general many of your arguments seem to be based on the idea that in order to implement all of the reforms called for in Sacrosanctum Concillium, the Novus Ordo necessarily needed to come about as it did. This isn’t true, as many of the reforms were already realized in the “interim missal.” In fairness, these must be treated separately rather than cause people to mistakenly think that the reforms of Vatican II are perfectly enshrined in the Missal of Paul VI.

  23. While this is quite a long article, I see it as being written, ending first, in order to prove a preconceived point of view. I have studied the liturgy for many years, through many different lenses and since Vatican II. One of the best I have read was written by Archbishop Sample, of Portland. He was so through that he wrote a manual of how the Mass is to be celebrated in the Archdiocese of Portland. I would urge anyone who is serious about how the Mass is celebrated to visit the Archdiocese of Portland, web site and read what the Archbishop had to say. The manual he wrote is also available on the site.

  24. Avatar Fr. Marek Wasilewski says:

    It is interesting how Dr. Healy says that now, 50 years later, “the time is ripe for a calm, charitable, and theologically substantive discussion about the liturgical reforms,” and yet she simply restates arguments that were made 50 years ago in favor of the New Mass. She even quotes the old interpretation of the GIRM, namely, that it states “that Mass facing the people ‘is desirable wherever possible,'” when in fact the original Latin is ambiguous as to whether it refers only to the altar being free standing or to the altar and the position of facing the people. In 2000, the Congregation for the Divine Worship clarified it when it said that there is no preference for either position. As I said, she simply restates what was said 50 years ago.

  25. Avatar Andrew Lane says:

    Dr. Healy,
    Thank you for this well-articulated defense of the “Hermeneutic of Rupture.”

    Those convinced by this argument would do well to read the following work of the reputable liturgical scholar Dom Prosper Gueranger O.S.B., Abbott of Solesmes:

  26. Avatar John Germain says:

    The Second Vatican council was “pastoral” and holds no dogmatic value as did Trent and other previous councils that were called to establish dogmatic solutions to heresy. All the shenanigans that took place before, during, and after the council are enough to prove that it is a humanly inspired council, and not a “gift” of the Holy Spirit.

  27. Avatar Madgalene says:

    I think we can all see the bitter fruit of the ‘new mass’ which is from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. This morning I endured such a liturgy with such loud guitar music that I put my fingers in my ears so as to diminish the sound of the protestant songs we are subjected to. The tremendous loss of souls, of Catholic parishes and schools and priests and religious also tell the story of this bitter fruit.

  28. I do not know who or what to believe anymore concerning the historical practices of the liturgy. One person tells you one thing, and another person says another. But my lived experience of both NO and more recently EO forms tell me something is not right. In my diocese there seems to be no quality controls on the Mass. You are at the mercy of the priest and or the parish powers that be. This seems to set up a competition between parishes, priests, music ministry and even other religious denominations. The competition seems to be who can be the most engaging and entertaining priest/parish. The actual essence of the Mass seems to be a secondary or even a non factor. It is my BELIEF, and I may be wrong on this, was caused by the implementation of the NO Mass and by some of the aspects of the NO Mass itself. The very fact of placing a human person with a microphone face to face with people creates a problem. You are looking at people who expect something, since you have now become the focal point. If you don’t do something novel, or engaging it doesn’t work. It really is unfair to the priest to be placed in competition with other priests on how well you handle this. You now are on stage. You must do something! So the temptation is to perform, to engage, and even to competition with others who came before, who are at other parishes, etc.. Your on stage. It is a natural reaction to the fact we turned the priest to face the people when he is suppose to be in reality praying to God. It kind of weird when you think about it. He talks to us, even though in reality he is praying to God. He looks at us, even though in reality he should be focusing on the God he is speaking to. This concept is very strange in of itself. It make no sense. The priest prays to God, and yet is making eye contact, and facial expressions to us. I have trouble with this. If someone was speaking to me, but turned to someone else while speaking to me, I would find this rude at least. All we seem to be doing since these changes is creating situation where one “Amazing” parish draws Catholics away from another parish that is perceived as being not so “amazing”. Is this what Christ intended us to do? Did he intend us to be in competition with one another? I’ve heard of good and holy priests being criticized because the way they celebrated Mass. Many people do like respectful, reverent Masses, but prefer a more folksy down home friendly Masses, or rock music Masses, or novelties We have trained the people to expect these types of Masses. But I ask you, is this the “new evangelization”? I think Benedict XVI had it correct, the reform needs reformed and a wider use of the Extraordinary Form, would help reform of the reform. There are good things that occurred with the reform, but also many, many bad things happened and we must always be very careful when saying the Holy Spirit is on our side and can only be discerned by the actual fruits, either good or bad. So far the results appear to be mixed bag. Just some thoughts. Not trying to attack anyone here.

  29. Avatar Michael Demers says:

    Judging by all the comments above, Dr. Healy has definitely struck a nerve. I, for one, respect her scholarship and judgement. It seems to me that many people forget that the Holy Spirit has spoken through the Second Vatican Council and that its fruits are many.
    I remember going to the old Mass for the first twenty years of my life and I even had the benefit of learning Latin in high school but I believe we should all be grateful for the new Mass.

  30. Avatar b moorhead says:

    I grew up in the Forty’s and the Fifty’s and the Sixty’s with the Latin Mass and all of it’s Reverence. I remember that Ladies wore their finest dresses and head coverings and that included the Poor with whatever they could afford that looked decent. The Men were Gentlemen and wore suits and ties or sport coats and hats, only the hats were removed before entering Church. The same for the Poor, whatever they could afford that looked decent. Parents brought their Children in with decent and clean clothes. Everyone Blessed themselves with Hoy Water and Genuflected before entering their pews. There was very little talking before the Mass began. I agree with Dr. Mary Healy in many of her statements regarding the Latin Mass. With the Missal that had Latin on the left side and English on the right side of the book was O.K. But during Mass the readings and Sacred Events happened so fast and were said in Latin, for me, I could not understand Latin and I was very slow to read the English side to grasp what was happening. I totally agree that the Mass should be now said in English. I also agree with Dr. Healy that the Celebrant Priest should let the those in the Church be able to see and view everything with out the Priest blocking the Sacred Events. I also grew up with saying ‘The Grace Before and After Meals’ .In my opinion,starting today or tomorrow, whoever is in charge of caring for just one or a group or a family should try to say the Grace Blessings at meals, try to go to Mass on the Church’s required days, try to go to Confession and try to wear your best clothes to Church, and try to refrain from bad swearing or filthy language. Act always that you are in the presence of God, as some day you, everyone and myself will all be facing the Judgement of our lives. Please pray for me as. I will also pray for you!

  31. Avatar John Laurence says:

    Thank you, Mary. This dissertation is an excellent explanation of the changes and purpose of the changes of the Vatican ll council…
    This entire change that resulted has certainly “tested” the church and all its members. Personally, I appreciate tests (today). I don’t like them (in fact I hate them) – but I do appreciate them. I love the Tridentine mass, which always inspires and strengthens me when I attend them from time to time. I also appreciate the Novos Ordo mass as well for its own purposes. I’m strengthened by that mass too, but in a different way. Huh???
    The Novos Ordo mass challenges me to “hang on tight” to my faith and reverence of the True Presence. It’s kind of like swimming upstream. I didn’t know that I could do that until I “almost” became lukewarm. As a result I had to “fight” for my faith, which ultimately deepened it. Yes, it was quite “stormy” (within) for a time, but beyond the doubts and the storm that I went through, I must say, its beautiful now! I’ve never known such joy. That’s what comes when pain and suffering is seen in the right light and accepted…
    It is incredible what God’s grace can do (Amazing Grace)! Sometimes I need to hang on for dear life (spiritually), but that’s OK with me. I still deal with such times (dark nights). Such is life. My sense is that those with weaker (and/or no) faith seem to draw strength from my example. Thank you Jesus!
    It’s disheartening for me that so many fellow Catholics take their strong faith and/or love for Jesus to a church where they “feel” comfortable with ONLY traditional liturgy, and with ONLY those who feel the same way – when there are so many brothers and sisters in Christ who are “waning” in their faith (lost) and they NEED those with a deep love for Jesus Real Presence to interact with them and subsequently grow their faith. They feel abandoned.
    The changes of Vatican ll have brought about the most extraordinary ecumenical progress I ever dreamed possible. There is great mutual respect of people of all faiths today, all over the world much like it was wherever Jesus walked way back when! “The harvest is plentiful…and the workers so very few”…
    It’s not about which liturgy is better. Jesus is present in both. It’s about the walk, bringing Him to the ends of the earth! That is what Vatican ll made possible!

  32. Avatar Ray E. Atwood says:

    Dr. Healy,

    I found your article to be insightful, but I profoundly disagree with your premise, namely, that the decline of Catholic faith and life is unrelated to the liturgical reforms of the Council. I disagree that the new rite is not the problem. In fact, the various “changes” in the Mass and other rituals (not to mention music and architecture, which have been butchered by liturgical reformers) directly caused a decline in faith and practice. The new rite needs to be revisited, and things like Mass ad orientam, new Sunday Lectionary selections, the old Offertory Prayers, as well as the Pentecost Octave) need to be seriously promoted. The only way forward for the Church is to go back and revisit the changes made, and reverse them in order to conform to the letter of the Council. Vatican II was a wonderful event in the life of the Church, but we’re getting nowhere by denying the changes done “in the name and spirit of Vatican II” were prudent or helpful. The fruits of the actual implementation are there for all to see. We just need the courage and wisdom to look at what we have done to the Church and act to correct it.

  33. My concern with the new Mass is the music. At the Churches in my area the music is now done with piano not the organ. And it sounds like a cross between the St. Louis Jesuits, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Liberace. The music is sappy and effeminate. No wonder heterosexual men have checked out of the Church and no longer attend Mass. You couple this “sissy” cocktail lounge music with the ridiculous “kiss of peace” and the whole thing is like a joke.

  34. Avatar E. Nomlak says:

    The appeal of having the Mass in English touches many.
    Many comments made about the different customs in the Latin Mass strike me as valid
    such as receiving Jesus kneeling, dressing in your best etc.
    After Holy Communion, one of my real disappointments with the N. O. is that there are
    announcements made and then a quick dismissal. There is no time to praise, thank,
    adore and ask our dear Jesus in the Holy Eucharist that we have just received anything,
    and if you stay to say prayers after Mass is ended, people are talking and socializing, apparently
    forgetting they have the Almighty God as a guest. It is so sad, there is a great need to stress that God is truly present in the Holy Eucharist………and who God is and who we are in comparison.

  35. I would like to thank you for this article. We may have been told of all the positive reasons for celebrating Holy Mass in our own language with a new emphasis on hearing the Old and New scriptures in our spoken language. Well as one oldie, I have long since forgotten being told that, and it was good to rethink one great benefit to the modern Mass. I confess to have in the last couple of years found the more traditional Latin Mass to be like medicine for my soul when I can attend from time to time. It is so nice to read the rationale behind the changes after Vatican 11 came about with the best intentions. It does seem odd to me though, that our beloved Church who want us to know that the ‘Tree should be judged by it’s fruits’ should be a big factor in deciding when something is of God; this same beloved Church has failed to notice the ‘fruits’ from the changes to Holy Mass have been ‘catastrophic’ when we look around and see the mass apostacy from the faith. I am grateful to Pope Benedict for allowing the Latin Mass be celebrated again. But I am afraid Pope Francis will find out how much we appreciate Latin Mass and ban it completely, I am genuinely scared about this, because he has the power and authority to make a Sacrament (Latin Eucharist) into a sin. by banning the Latin Mass. God preserve us.

  36. Dear Mary
    I do appreciate and admire your explanation of the changes to the Mass, particularly the fact that they provide attendees with so much more of the Bible.

    However, as an oldie at 78 I have fond memories of the pre-Vatican 11 Mass, its reverence, the sounds of Gregorian chant, the solemnity of hearing prayers in Latin.

    So, while I fully accept that the new Mass is still the same sacrifice, has the same graces as before, I can understand why so many of our youth, those who still committed to the faith, find the Latin Mass so appealing. For me, and obviously for them, the Latin Mass offers something very special that is lacking in the new form of the Mass: a great sense of the presence of God.

  37. The defence of the new Mass is quite convincing but the result of the fruit is not. More and more youths are leaving the Church and many were attracted back to the worship through the Latin Rites.
    I see two examples in my teenage children who were reluctant to go for Mass at the present church but look forward willingly to attend the Latin Rite Mass.
    As eloquence as the defence of the new Mass sounds, I do not see its efficacy in attracting the younger generations to want to worship God in the Church.

  38. Avatar Msgr. Charles Pope says:

    I think the Anglican Ordinariate Mass combines the best of the old and new. It’s basically the TLM but in English and tied to the New Lectionary. I would like to see it offered more widely. I am glad that Dr. Healy has written a thoughtful article here.


  1. […] 18, 2020, Homiletic & Pastoral Review published an article by Dr. Mary Healy entitled “The Gift of the Liturgical Reform.” The author seems seems oddly unaware of what is known about the history of the liturgy and its […]

  2. […] will ensue. Only vague approbations will be possible, along the lines of Dr. Mary Healy, who recently said, “The reform that is most needed is a profound conversion of the hearts of the faithful through a […]

  3. […] a contribution to this process, “The Gift of the Liturgical Reform” by the Scripture scholar Prof. Mary Healy in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review makes a very […]