Christ did not establish the Mass in immutable specifics

All seven Sacraments were established by Jesus Christ, during His Divine Ministry on earth. Before that time, there were no Sacraments. However, non-formal Baptism (by desire or by blood) was available to bring persons into the state of grace, for their salvation. And the Jewish Faith contained important foreshadowings of all the Sacraments.

Christ established the Most Blessed Sacrament and the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Our Lord also celebrated the first Mass. This Mass was not a concelebration, even though all Twelve Apostles were present (though it is not certain at what point in time Judas departed). By establishing the Mass and the Eucharist, Christ began to establish the priesthood, for only a priest can celebrate the Mass and consecrate the Eucharist. However, during the first Mass (at the Last Supper), the Eleven Apostles were not yet ordained. They received, in effect, an implicit promise of ordination. Then, after the Resurrection, when Christ breathed on them and said “Receive the Holy Spirit. Those whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them, and those whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” (Jn 20:22-23) — only then did they receive ordination. Interestingly, they were immediately ordained as Bishops, rather than going through the three degrees of ordination (deacon, priest, bishop).

But when Christ established the Mass, He did not establish one exact immutable form. The first Mass was in the context of the Jewish ritual of Passover. The language was probably Hebrew, perhaps with some Aramaic. Since it was the first Mass, there was no previously established form, other than the Passover ritual. Christ established the Mass, but not the exact form. Neither did Christ himself subsequently establish one exact form for the Mass.

This is why the Church can and should change the form of the Mass from time to time. And this is why the Church should and does permit different forms of the Mass, during the same time period, in various places. There is a different form of the Mass for Anglican Catholics. There are different forms of the Mass in the Eastern Churches (the ones that are in full communion with the Holy See). And there is no theological reason why a larger diversity of forms cannot be permitted, other than the theological reasoning of Pharisaism.

For there is a disturbing trend, among those Catholics who consider themselves to be the most faithful, of attempting to establish one exact form of the Mass (or two exact forms, Latin and vernacular), with no deviations from the form permitted in the least. They think that by performing the exact correct exterior acts at Mass (Say the black. Do the red. Or else.), the priest thereby becomes holy and offers the best worship to God. No discussion occurs at all among them about the interior worship of God in the heart and mind, in the soul. If the exterior rules and form is “perfect”, they think that salvation has arrived.

To the contrary, no two Masses can ever be the same. Each Mass is unique: different hymns, different sermons, different personal prayers and intentions being offered, different prayers of the faithful. So there is no theological reason why the priest should not be given permission to make minor changes in the wording of certain prayers.

The priest has the ability to forgive sins! The priest has the ability to turn bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ!! How absurd it is to claim that it should be beyond his ability and authority to pray extemporaneously during Mass, and to make small changes to the form of the Mass!!! But no theological argument carries any weight with the Pharisees of the Church. They require exact and unthinking obedience to rules and exterior forms — until a rule or ruling contradicts their own narrow-minded interpretation of Tradition. Then they have no qualms about vilifying the Novus Ordo Mass or any decision by a Bishop or Bishops’ Conference or the Pope. A conservative Bishop is a Bishop; a liberal Bishop is not a Bishop. Such is their attitude, even towards the Popes.

Christ taught us to pray using the recited words of the Our Father prayer. But our Lord and Savior also taught us to pray from the heart, i.e. extemporaneously, not only by recited prayers. It would be fitting to incorporate extemporaneous prayer by the priest into the Mass.

In addition, Bishops, as the successors to the Apostles, should — and in my theological opinion do in fact — have the authority to make limited, but more than minor, changes to the form, especially when they act in a Bishops’ Conference. Each Bishop is a successor to the Apostles. The Bishops are not the handmaidens of the Roman Pontiff. The Pope has authority over the Bishops, but they are also his fellow Bishops and fellow Apostles. So the authority of the Pope over the Bishops is limited. Christ did not choose one Apostle, Peter, with 11 assistants, but rather 12 Apostles, with one of the 12 as the leader.

But only the Holy See should make or approve broad changes to the form. The idea that only the Holy See can have any say at all in every detail of the Mass is contrary to the collegiality of Bishops taught at Vatican II, and contrary to the freedom given to us in the Holy Spirit.

{11:6} And if it is by grace, then it is not now by works; otherwise grace is no longer free.

We are NOT saved by the work of performing the liturgy according to the exact correct form. We are NOT saved by the work of celebrating the Mass in Latin, instead of English, or by the work of receiving Communion on the tongue instead of on the hand, or kneeling instead of standing. These exterior works cannot save.

[2 Corinthians]
{3:17} Now the Spirit is Lord. And wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

Therefore, a faithful priest should be permitted to make minor changes to the wording of the Mass, and to pray both extemporaneously as well as with recited prayers. Therefore, a faithful Bishop should be permitted to make more than minor changes to the form of the Mass. For the Spirit of the Lord is Lord over the Sabbath and the form of the Mass used as a means to worship the Lord.

{2:4} but only because of false brothers, who were brought in unknowingly. They entered secretly to spy on our liberty, which we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might reduce us to servitude.

Certain traditionalist Catholics (some, not all) denigrate the Novus Ordo Mass, and insist that no Mass can be pleasing to God (by which they mean pleasing to themselves) unless it is one exact particular form, and exalt the Latin Mass as if it were a god to be worshiped. Persons such as this are false brothers, who spy on liberty, which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to reduce us to servitude. Is this the servitude to Christ that all the faithful should seek? Not at all. It is servitude to the judgments of small group of Pharisaical Catholics, who utterly ignore the interior worship of God in order to cause everyone else to become slaves to their decisions on exterior actions.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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