The Fruits of the Mass
Are all valid Masses equal?
By Robert J. Siscoe
Traditional Catholics realize that the Traditional Mass is superior to the new Mass, but how do we answer those who claim that all valid Masses are equal? They rightly point out that any valid Mass is a renewal of the Sacrifice of the Cross, which is of infinite value, and then conclude by saying that as long as a Mass is valid it, too, is of infinite worth, and hence equally efficacious for those who participate. They might concede that a scandalously celebrated Mass will have a negative effect on the subjective disposition of those present, which may then lessen the amount of grace they receive, but then insist that neither liturgical abuses, nor an unworthy priest, nor watered down prayers or profane music, per se, will lessen the efficacy of the Mass or the fruit to be derived from it.
Intrinsic and Extrinsic Value
When considering the efficacy of the Mass, we must distinguish between the intrinsic value and the extrinsic value. The intrinsic value refers to the Sacrifice itself. Since the Mass is essentially identical to the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, which was itself of infinite worth, the intrinsic value of any Mass is infinite. In Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, we read:
“The intrinsic value of the Mass, that is, its peculiar dignity and efficacious power of itself (in actu primo), is infinite, on account of the infinite dignity of the Sacrificial Gift, and of the Primary Sacrificial Priest”. (Pg. 414)
With respect to the extrinsic value of the Mass, we must a make a distinction between the extrinsic value in relation to God to whom it is offered, and the extrinsic value in relation to man for whom it is offered. Since God is an infinite being, capable of receiving an infinite act, the adoration and thanksgiving offered to God by the Sacrifice is itself infinite. (1) But since man is a finite creature who is incapable of receiving infinite effects, the effects of the Mass in relation to man – which are referred to as “the fruits of the Mass” - are limited. In his magnificent book, The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Fr. Gihr states that the external value of the Mass in relation to God is indeed infinite, and then adds:
“But the case is different when the Eucharistic Sacrifice is considered in its relation to man. From this point of view it aims at procuring our salvation and sanctification, and is, consequently, a means of grace, or rather a source of grace, bringing us the riches of heavenly blessings. (…) The fruits which the Sacrifice of the Mass obtains for us from God are only finite, that is, restricted to a certain number and determining measure… The Sacrifice of the Mass, therefore, with respect to man can have only a restricted efficacy, and in its fruits is capable of only limited application.” (2)
The same author goes on to explain that the limited efficacy “does not lie in the essence or value of the Sacrifice, since it possesses infinite power for producing every effect”. Rather, “the final and decisive reason for the more or less plentiful application of the sacrificial graces is the will of Christ, in other words, is to be sought in the positive ordinance of God”. (3) While the Mass itself is an infinite source of grace, when it comes to “the distribution of His gifts, God requires our cooperation”. (Gihr)
The Fruits of the Mass
The fruit that an individual derives from a particular Mass is not based solely on their personal piety and devotion, which is only one factor that determines the amount of grace they receive. There are other factors as well that have a bearing on the efficacy of a particular Mass, such as the holiness of the priest, the external glory given to God by the ritual, and even the general holiness of the Church in its members. These external factors affect the amount of grace a person receives, in such a way, that the devout hearing of one mass can derive greater fruits than an equally devout hearing of another mass.
The Holiness of the Church
One factor determining the efficacy of the Mass is the general holiness of the Church in its members at a given time, including the bishops and reigning pope. Regarding this point, the Catholic Encyclopedia says “the greatness and extent of this ecclesiastical service is dependent on the greater or less holiness of the reigning pope, the bishops, and the clergy throughout the world, and for this reason in times of ecclesiastical decay and laxity of morals (especially at the papal court and among the episcopate) the fruits of the Mass, resulting from the sacrificial activity of the Church, might under certain circumstances easily be very small”. On this same point, Fr. Gihr wrote:
“But since the holiness of the Church consists in the sanctity of her members, it is not always and invariably the same, but greater at one period than another; therefore, the Sacrifice of the Church is also at one time in a greater, at another in a lesser degree pleasing to God and beneficial to man”. (4)
Since this factor is based on the moral condition of the Church as a whole, it will have an equal effect on all Masses offered at a given time in history. The next several factors, however, are based on specific circumstances which have a direct effect on the efficacy of individual Masses.
St. Thomas teaches that the fruits to be derived from a particular Mass are based, in part, on the holiness of the priest celebrant who intercedes for the faithful, “and in this respect there is no doubt but that the Mass of the better priest is the more fruitful”. (III, Q 82, A.6)
A Mass celebrated irreverently by an unworthy priest, or worse still, by one who violates the rubrics, will be less efficacious, and therefore produce fewer fruits than a one celebrated by a holy priest who says Mass with devotion and follows the rubrics with precision. Hence, as Fr. Gihr notes, “the faithful are thus guided by sound instinct when they prefer to have Mass celebrated for their intentions by an upright and holy priest, rather than by an unworthy one…”. (5) St. Bonaventure said “it is more profitable to hear the Mass of a good priest than of an indifferent one”.
Cardinal Bona (d. 1674) explained it this way: “The more holy and pleasing to God a priest is, the more acceptable are his prayers and oblations; and the greater his devotion, the greater the benefit to be derived from his Mass. For just as other good works performed by a pious man gain merit in proportion to the zeal and devotion with which they are performed, so Holy Mass is more or less profitable both to the priest who says it and to the persons for whom it is said, according as it is celebrated with more or less fervor”.
Another factor determining the efficacy of a Mass is the degree of external glory it gives to God. In this respect, not all Rites are equal; neither does a low Mass have the same efficacy as a High Mass. On this point, Fr. Gihr says:
“The Church not only offers the Sacrifice, but she moreover unites with its offering various prayers and ceremonies. The sacrificial rites are carried out in the name of the Church and, therefore, powerfully move God to impart His favors and extend His bounty to the living and the dead. By reason of the variety of the formulas of the Mass, the impetratory efficacy of the Sacrifice can be increased… also the nature of the prayers of the Mass and even of its whole rite exerts accordingly an influence upon the measure and nature of the fruits of the Sacrifice. From what has been said there follow several interesting consequences. Among others, that, on the part of the Church, a High Mass solemnly celebrated has greater value and efficacy than merely a low Mass. (…) At a Solemn High Mass the external display is richer and more brilliant than at a low Mass; for at a solemn celebration the Church, in order to elevate the dignity of the Sacrifice, manifests greater pomp, and God is more glorified thereby. (…) This grander and more solemn celebration of the Sacrifice is more acceptable to God and, therefore, more calculated to prevail upon Him to grant us, in His mercy, the favors we implore; - that is, to impart greater efficacy to the petitions and supplications of the Church.” (6)
If “the nature of the prayers of the Mass and even its whole rite” have an effect on the fruits of the Mass, it does not bode well for the Novus Ordo, which, to use the words of Cardinal Ottaviani, “represents, both as a whole and in its details, a striking departure from the Catholic theology of the Mass as it was formulated in Session XXII of the Council of Trent” and “has every possibility of satisfying the most modernist of Protestants”. (7)
Even the decora has an effect on the efficacy of a particular Mass: “If we use objects that do not fit the majesty and the exalted nature of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we can actually detract from the extrinsic merit. Ugly things please God less, and thus merit less”. (8)
On Calvary, our Lord offered His Passion and Death to the Father in order to merit our salvation. At the Mass, He offers Himself to the Father and applies the fruits of His Passion to us. But as we have seen, the fruits of the Mass are finite in their application, and contingent on many factors. The holiness of the priest, and the manner in which he says the Mass, will affect the fruits of the Mass. The greater the solemnity and grandeur of the Mass, the greater will be the graces God pours out on those who assist. When we consider the liturgical shipwreck that is the Novus Ordo Missae, and the scandalous manner in which the Mass is often celebrated, is there any wonder why the Church is in the condition it is today?
Let us recall the strange and even ominous words used by Paul VI when he introduced the new Mass to the world in November of 1969. He wrote:
“We ask you to turn your minds once more to the liturgical innovation of the new Rite of the Mass. This new Rite will be introduced into our celebration of the holy Sacrifice starting from Sunday next which is the first of Advent… a change in a venerable tradition that has gone on for centuries. This is something that affects our hereditary religious patrimony, which seemed to enjoy the privilege of being untouchable and settled. … This change will affect the ceremonies of the Mass. We shall become aware, perhaps with some feeling of annoyance, that the ceremonies at the altar are no longer being carried out with the same words and gestures to which we were accustomed… We must prepare for this many-sided inconvenience. It is the kind of upset caused by every novelty that breaks in on our habits. We shall notice that pious persons are disturbed most, because they have their own respectable way of hearing Mass, and they will feel shaken out of their usual thoughts and obliged to follow those of others. Even priests may feel some annoyance in this respect. … we must prepare ourselves. This novelty is no small thing. We should not let ourselves be surprised by the nature, or even the nuisance, of its exterior forms. … We will lose a great part of that stupendous and incomparable artistic and spiritual thing, the Gregorian chant. We have reason indeed for regret, reason almost for bewilderment”. (9)
Is it any surprise that a Mass described by the Pope who published it as “a many-sided inconvenience” and “nuisance”, which would cause “the feeling of annoyance”, “regret”, and “bewilderment”, would have a greatly diminished external value, and end in disaster for the Church - something that even Cardinal Ratzinger was forced to admit? In his book Milestones, which was published in 1997, he wrote: “I am convinced that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy.”
Many clear thinking people foresaw, from the outset, the disaster that would result from the Protestantized new Mass. In the Critical Study of the new Mass, signed by Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci, they wrote: “To abandon a liturgical tradition which for four centuries was both the sign and pledge of unity of worship, and to replace it with another which cannot but be a sign of division by virtue of the countless liberties implicitly authorized, and which teems with insinuations or manifest errors against the integrity of the Catholic religion is, we feel in conscience bound to proclaim, an incalculable error”. They further wrote: “It has always been the case that when a law meant for the good of subjects proves to be on the contrary harmful, those subjects have the right, nay the duty of asking with filial trust for the abrogation of that law”.
Whatever the true motive was for Paul VI publishing the new Mass, and illicitly and unjustly suppressing the true Mass, let us do our duty and request that Pope Benedict XVI abandon the “reform of the reform”, and instead set in motion the abrogation the reform.
2) Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, pg 137-138
3) Ibid pg. 138-139
4) Ibid pg. 144
5) Ibid pg. 143
6) Ibid pg 144-145
7) Ottaviani Intervention
8) The Merits of a Mass, Fr. Ripperger, FSSP
9) Pope Paul VI, General Audience, November 26, 1969)