What Is the Novus Ordo?

The Mass of Pope Paul VI

Aerial View of Papal Mass at Washington Nationals Stadium (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
45,000 Catholics attend Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI at the new Nationals Park April 17, 2008 in Washington, DC.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Novus Ordo is short for Novus Ordo Missae, which literally means the "new order of the Mass" or the "new ordinary of the Mass."

The term  Novus Ordo is often used as shorthand to distinguish the Mass promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1969 from the Traditional Latin Mass promulgated by Pope Pius V in 1570. When Paul VI's new Roman Missal (the liturgical book that contains the text of the Mass, along with the prayers for each celebration of the Mass) was released, it replaced the Traditional Latin Mass as the normal form of the Mass in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church.

The Traditional Latin Mass was still valid, and could always be celebrated under certain circumstances, but the Novus Ordo became the form of the Mass celebrated in most Catholic churches.

The "Ordinary Form" of the Roman Rite

When Pope Benedict XVI released his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum in 2007, he opened the door to a much wider celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass alongside the Novus Ordo. He classified the two forms of the Mass by how often he expected them to be performed: The Novus Ordo is the ordinary form of the Roman Rite, in Pope Benedict's terms, while the Traditional Latin Mass is the extraordinary form. Both are equally valid, and any qualified priest can celebrate either.

Major Misconceptions About the Novus Ordo

Both supporters and detractors of the Novus Ordo hold many misconceptions about the Mass of Paul VI. Perhaps the most common is the idea that the Novus Ordo is a product of Vatican II. While the Council Fathers at Vatican II did call for a revision of the Mass, the reality is that the Mass was already being revised before and during Vatican II. The desire of both the Council Fathers and Paul VI was to simplify the liturgy in order to make it more accessible to the average layman. While the Novus Ordo retains the basic structure of the Traditional Latin Mass, it removes a number of repetitions and simplifies the language of the liturgy.

Other misconceptions include the idea that the Novus Ordo must be celebrated in the vernacular (the language of the people who are worshiping at the Mass) rather than in Latin, and that the Novus Ordo requires the priest to celebrate the Mass facing the people. In reality, the prescribed language for any Mass in the Roman Rite remains Latin, though the vernacular can be used (and most Masses today are celebrated in the vernacular); and while the Roman Missal for the Novus Ordo expresses a preference for celebrating Mass facing the people when possible, the standard remains celebration ad orientem—that is, toward the East or, in practice, with the priest and the congregation facing in the same direction.

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Richert, Scott P. "What Is the Novus Ordo?" Learn Religions, Feb. 8, 2021, learnreligions.com/what-is-the-novus-ordo-542952. Richert, Scott P. (2021, February 8). What Is the Novus Ordo? Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/what-is-the-novus-ordo-542952 Richert, Scott P. "What Is the Novus Ordo?" Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/what-is-the-novus-ordo-542952 (accessed June 3, 2023).