Editor’s note: Several weeks ago, a mysterious package with an Italian postmark arrived at the Where Peter Is offices. Opening it revealed a typed letter and a scan of what appeared to be an older document, handwritten in Latin.

The anonymous author explained that he was a low-ranking Vatican employee. He said he discovered the document a few years ago after several high-ranking traditionalist-leaning clerics, including the outspoken American Cardinal Royland Birch, came to his office for a meeting. One of these churchmen left his briefcase behind in the meeting room, and inside was this document.

The anonymous letter-writer said that he was able to take a quick partial scan of the document before it was seized by several members of the Swiss Guard and carried off — most likely to the most secretive of all of the Vatican’s secret archives and never to see the light of day again.

On one page of the scanned document is the image of a yellow Post-It note, with a message in English (possibly written in Cardinal Birch’s hand), saying, “This must never become public knowledge.”

I asked contributor Gary Campbell if he would take a stab at translating the document, and what he uncovered was nothing short of astounding. It was an excerpt from a document entitled A brief critical study of the Novus Ordo Missae (1570), by a ‘Group of Roman theologians’ presented to Pope St. Pius V in December of that year. — ML

A brief critical study of the Novus Ordo Missae (1570)

by a group of Roman theologians

Translated by Gary Campbell

Holy Father,

It has been several months since the publication of Quo primum (July 14, 1570). Having carefully examined the new missal, and having presented it for the scrutiny of others, we have observed that the reformed Roman Missal represents an unprecedented break with tradition. After lengthy prayer and reflection, we feel it to be our bounden duty in the sight of God and towards Your Holiness, to put before you the following considerations:

Firstly, there is the extraordinary novelty of taking from the bishops their time-hallowed right of regulating the liturgy. What precedent can there be for the Roman See exercising such powers? Any local rite that cannot prove itself to be more than 200 years old has been simply abolished. Quo primum deprives the liturgy of its wonderful diversity and variety of expression. And now that the precedent has been established, what is to prevent the Roman See from imposing the new missal absolutely, at some future time?

Another innovation is the revision by a commission of ‘learned men’ (Quo primum). The Church’s liturgy unfolds organically: incrementally and prudently, without intrusive legislation, and should certainly not be decided by a committee in a series of meetings.

The above is disruptive enough, but now we come to the revision itself. We observe that the goal of restoring “the original rite and form of the holy fathers” (Quo primum), is vague. The reformers claim to be acting according to the guidelines of the Council of Trent, though one wonders if the Fathers of that assembly would recognize the revision as their work. While some of the reforms, such as making the missal more internally coherent, may be commendable, others seem to canonize long-practiced abuses.

Among the latter we name the “Prayers at the foot of the altar.” Psalm 42 is beautifully suited to the celebration of Mass, of course. Yet it has the unfortunate effect of diminishing the Introit, which, according to the “rite and form of the holy fathers,” is the beginning of the sacred rites. The prayers also confuse the faithful by creating two penitential rites: the Confiteor and absolution, said before the Introit, and the Kyrie said or sung after. The reformers might have truncated or even eliminated the altar prayers. Instead, they are now canonized. In a similar vein we mention the Last Gospel, which is now irrevocably to be recited immediately after the celebrant has said “Ite, missa est”!

Coming to the Kyrie and the Gloria, the reformers have chosen to abolish all the tropes. These pious embellishments are at least 700 years old, and their absence seems inexplicable. Likewise the abrogation of all but four of the sequences.

Then there are the absurdities introduced by the typical edition, which enshrine the rubrics for the Low Mass. This reverses the ancient tradition, by which the Solemn Mass is considered the model of the Eucharistic liturgy. On account of this reversal, the celebrant at a Solemn Mass is now obliged to recite the epistle, gospel, and other parts appointed to be sung, while the ministers and cantors are singing the same texts.

The changes we have recalled so far, though disadvantageous, are not necessarily harmful to the faithful. Not so, however, the Offertory Rite. If any part of the Roman rite needed reform, it was surely this. The peculiarity of offering the “unspotted host,” which is still bread, is of course done in anticipation of what it will become, and is perfectly orthodox in context. Nevertheless, in the light of the claim of the Protestants that the elements of bread and wine are not changed, it would be easy for the unlearned to be scandalized. It will be argued that the faithful, not understanding Latin, could hardly be deceived. Nevertheless, there are many learned persons, assailed constantly by Protestant propaganda, who do. And besides, there are, alas, uneducated priests, who, knowing little of the sacred mysteries, may be corrupted. It seems to us that the revisers of the missal might have delved into the treasury of liturgical tradition to suggest some better worded formulae.

The Canon of the Mass might have been revised too, to better reflect the teaching of the Council Fathers concerning the Mass. Instead, a number of ambiguities become evident, which, though orthodox in context, become ambivalent in the light of recent heretical assaults. Immediately after the Consecration, the canon declares that “we celebrate the memory of Christ,” though the Mass is not merely a recollection of His life, death, and resurrection. The text can surely be given a Protestant interpretation. The reference to the “bread of life” and “cup of salvation” can also be read with a Lutheran meaning, as indeed can the “sacrifice of praise” offered at the beginning of the Canon. In fact, there is no explicit equation of the sacrifice of the Mass with the sacrifice on the Cross anywhere in the Canon. Indeed, the prayer to “accept and bless these gifts” (plural) suggests the Protestant claim that we only offer our praise as sacrifice. As the Bishop of Synnada in Phrygia has said, Martin Luther could recite the canon without disquiet!

Further, we offer some remarks on the General Calendar, revised two years before the missal. On the pretext of restoring the integrity of the temporal cycle, all but 149 feasts or commemorations have been abolished or transferred from their traditional dates. The most astonishing alteration is for December 8, which is no longer the Feast of the Immaculate Conception but simply of the Conception. And the Mass of the Nativity of Mary has been substituted for the proper mass composed in the last century. We note too that the feast of the Virgin’s parents has been suppressed altogether. The diminution of festivals seems like a concession to the heretics who attack the cult of the saints.

Most Holy Father, at a time when our holy faith is so vehemently attacked, we earnestly beseech you to recall this missal, or at least remove these and other errors. To abandon our liturgical tradition in this way is — we feel in conscience bound to proclaim — an incalculable error.

Translator’s note: This is of course, a work of fiction, intended to demonstrate that anything can be criticized by those who want to criticize.

What has been will be again,
 what has been done will be done again;
 there is nothing new under the sun.


Dedicated with gratitude to Pope St. Paul VI and his Missal, and with respect to those who love the older. Let us all be grateful for what the good God gives us, and love one another.

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Gary Campbell is a freelance writer living in Australia, writing history and educational literature. He has also worked as a schoolteacher. Gary was a member of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) for 12 years, including as an ordained priest for five years. He was reconciled to Rome in 1999 and laicized.

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