The New Mass and the priesthood

December 06, 2013
Source: District of the USA

Taken from The Mass of All Time, a collection of the words of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre concerning the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we offer some extracts about the defects of the Novus Ordo Missae.

We offer here the third of the 3 crucial points of dogma that Archbishop Lefebvre uses to explain some fundamental flaws of the New Mass in his book, The Mass of All Time.

To resummarize from the introduction of Part 1: The New Mass weakens the notion of sacrifice, three dogmas of the Catholic Faith in relation to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass have been greatly diminished in the Novus Ordo Missae:

  1. The Mass is a true, real and propitiatory sacrifice offered to God.
  2. The victim is Christ Himself truly present under the species of bread and wine.
  3. Priests alone are the ministers of the Holy Sacrifice.

Part 1  |  Part 2

The New Mass and the Priesthood

[Third dogma]

The Novus Ordo diminishes the essential difference between the sacerdotal priesthood and the priesthood of the faithful. The Confiteor recited by the priest together with the faithful, the distribution of Communion by laymen, who also read the Epistle and sometimes even the Gospel, obscure the essential difference between the ordained priesthood and the priesthood of the people. Archbishop Lefebvre sets forth the theological notions that are useful for understanding how the reform strays from the traditional conception of the priesthood.

1. The participation of the faithful

The priests alone are the ministers of the sacrifice. Now this dogma is being altered by the failure to distinguish between priest and laity. Now the prayers at the beginning of the Mass, for example, are being said in common by the priest and the faithful. The “I” of the celebrant has been replaced by “we.” The priest used to recite the Confiteor alone, and then the faithful recited it in turn. There was a definite distinction between the priest and the faithful. Now there is only one Confiteor recited in common. The priest and the faithful confess their sins in common, and this is done for a few other prayers.

It is written everywhere that the faithful “celebrate”; they are associated with the acts of worship, they read the Epistle and occasionally the Gospel, give out Communion, sometimes preach the homily, which may be replaced by “a dialogue by small groups upon the Word of God,” meeting together beforehand to “construct” the Sunday celebration. But this is only a first step; for several years we have heard of those responsible for diocesan organizations who have been putting forward propositions of this nature:

It is not the ministers but the assembly who celebrate” (handouts by the National Center for Pastoral Liturgy) or “The assembly is the prime subject of the liturgy”; what matters is not the “functioning of the rites but the image the assembly gives to itself and the relationship the co-celebrants create between themselves.”

2. What participation of the faithful means

In his book The Reform of the Liturgy, Archbishop Bugnini wrote:

The way opened by the Council is destined to radically change the face of traditional liturgical assemblies in which, by an already multi-secular custom, the liturgical service is accomplished almost exclusively by the clergy. The people attend too often like strangers and mute spectators."

Msgr. Bugnini’s leitmotiv was the active participation of the faithful.... All the reforms were made in the interest of the active participation of the faithful, as if the faithful had never actively participated in the sacrifice before all these reforms.

What constitutes active participation? What does “active” mean? For Msgr. Bugnini, active participation means an outward participation, and not the participation of mind and heart by faith.... Yet it is participation by faith that is the real action, spiritual action. It does not involve purely material action. “Active participation” of the faithful what does it mean?—that the faithful will do the readings? Nowadays even women do the readings, and it is approved....

3. The danger of confounding the priesthood of the laity with that of the priest

Elsewhere Msgr. Bugnini writes: “A lengthy education will be required to make it understood that the liturgy is an action of the entire people of God.” Well, that is an error. I do not say that it is formally heretical, but underlying that statement is a heresy, the idea that the priesthood of the faithful is the same as that of priests, and that everyone is a priest, and that the whole People of God must offer the holy sacrifice.

The priest groups the faithful around himself in such a way that you would think that it is not only the priest who is offering the sacrifice, who is truly the priest, but the faithful, too. Similarly, the faithful distributing the Eucharist, the Eucharistic bread, is harmful to the correct notion of what the priest is. There is a very great danger in these practices, because one risks confounding what is called the priesthood of the faithful with the priesthood conferred by the Sacrament of holy orders.

4. The nature of the sacerdotal priesthood

The grace of the priesthood is a special participation in the grace of Our Lord. You know that there are two graces in Our Lord, according to what theology teaches us. There is the grace of union, called the hypostatic union, that is to say the union of the Divinity with human nature. Human nature is in some way anointed, filled with this grace of union: Christ is truly the Anointed, so that His human nature is filled by the Divinity, as oil seeps into material things. By this grace, Our Lord is consecrated priest from the first instant of His Incarnation. By an extraordinary privilege, the priest participates in this grace of union through the Sacrament of Holy Orders.[68]

Moreover, Our Lord’s grace of union is the cause of His sanctifying grace. In the ground of Divinity, so to speak, sanctifying grace blooms like a flower. Thus, Our Lord’s soul receives the plenitude of sanctifying grace. Sanctifying grace is thus the fruit of His grace of union. And by baptism, by the Sacraments, the faithful and we, too, participate in the sanctifying grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, it is completely false to say that all the faithful are priests, and that there is no difference between the priesthood of priests and the priesthood of the laity.

5. The nature of the priesthood of the faithful

So why does one speak of the priesthood of the faithful? Baptism dedicates us in some way to the worship of Our Lord Jesus Christ. That is why St. Peter alludes to the priesthood of all Christians.[70] Since we are marked for the worship of God by baptism, we must offer ourselves in oblation. It is in this sense that Christians are priests. The faithful have a priesthood in the sense that they too, in some way, are obliged to offer themselves to God as agreeable victims and so make an act of sacrifice.[71]

But they are not vested with the official priesthood of the Church, which enables a man to pronounce the words of consecration and to make Our Lord come down from heaven under the appearances of bread and wine. The faithful say the words of the consecration in vain; nothing happens. So one cannot say that they are priests. There is an essential difference between the priesthood of Christians and that of priests. The two things must not be confused.

Of course, it is affirmed in the Council that there is a difference between the action of the priest and that of the faithful, but in practice, they act as if there were none. Only the priest is a priest. The faithful have no power. The term priesthood applied to the faithful is an image to help the faithful offer themselves in union with the offering that takes place in the sacrifice of the Mass.

Of course we must offer ourselves to God during the sacrifice of the Mass, but that has nothing to do with the priesthood of the priest, who is truly the “sacrificer,” who is truly marked by the sacramental character. This is yet another serious objection.

The New Mass is no longer hierarchical but democratic, so much so that some priests no longer celebrate Mass without some of the faithful attending.

6. The modern error on the need to have the presence of the faithful at Mass

The introduction of the idea that the Mass is not useful or really opportune unless the faithful can participate, is yet another of the misfortunes of our time. It is the revival of a Lutheran teaching against private Masses. For if the Mass is but a meal, there can be no meal without people to share it, obviously. But if the Mass is a sacrifice, then that completely changes the outlook. Then the private Mass has as much value as a “public Mass.” It is not a private act; it is a public act.

The sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ offered by the priest has an infinite worth, whether the priest is alone or has a thousand people surrounding him. This is what we believe.

7. A democratic Mass

It is numbers that command from now on in the holy Church. And this is expressed in the Mass precisely because the assembly replaces the priest, to such a point that now many priests no longer want to celebrate holy Mass when there is no assembly. Slowly but surely the Protestant notion of the Mass is being introduced into the holy Catholic Church. And this is consistent with the mentality of modern man–absolutely consistent.

For it is the democratic ideal which is the fundamental idea of modern man, that is to say, that the power resides in the assembly, that authority is in the people, in the masses, and not in God. And this is most grave, because we believe that God is all-powerful; we believe that God has all authority; we believe that all authority comes from God: Omnis potestas a Deo.[76] We do not believe that authority comes from below. Now, that is the mentality of modern man.

And the New Mass is not less than the expression of this idea that authority is at the base, and no longer in God. This Mass is no longer a hierarchical Mass; it is a democratic Mass. And this is most grave. It is the expression of a whole new ideology. The ideology of modern man has been brought into our most sacred rites. And this is what is at present corrupting the entire Church. For by this idea of power bestowed on the lower rank, in the holy Mass, they are destroying the priesthood.

The New Mass is a sort of hybrid Mass, which is no longer hierarchical; it is democratic, where the assembly takes the place of the priest, and so it is no longer a veritable Mass that affirms the royalty of Our Lord.


68 The priest participates in it as the instrument of Christ’s sacerdotal action.

70 I Peter 2:9: “But you are a chosen generation, a kingly priesthood....”

71 In the Encyclical Mediator Dei, Pope Pius XII describes the people’s participation in the offering: “ is based on the fact that the people unite their hearts in praise, impetration, expiation and thanksgiving with prayers or intention of the priest, even of the High Priest himself, so that in the one and same offering of the victim and according to a visible sacerdotal rite, they may be presented to God the Father” (§93).

76 Cf. Rom. 13:1.