Mass Confusion: Why All Valid Masses Are Not Equal

Written by Robert J. Siscoe on “The Remnant Newspaper


Have you ever wondered how to respond to those who equate the efficacy of the Traditional Mass and the Novus Ordo by directing the argument to the level of validity? They rightly point out that any valid Mass is a renewal of Our Lord’s Sacrifice on Calvary, which was of infinite value, and then conclude that as long as a Mass is valid, it, too, is of infinite worth, and therefore equally efficacious for those who attend. They might concede that a scandalously celebrated Mass will have a negative effect on the subjective disposition of those present, which could perhaps lessen the amount of grace they receive, but they will insist (or at least imply) 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 there from.

The answer to the above question (how is the Traditional Mass more efficacious than the Novus Ordo) is found in the distinction between the intrinsic and extrinsic value of the Mass. Before delving into this matter, let us recall the four ends of the Mass. The Catechism of Pope St. Pius X explains them as follows:

“The Sacrifice of the Mass is offered to God for four ends: (1) To honour Him properly, and hence it is called Latreutical; (2) To thank Him for His favours, and hence it is called Eucharistical; (3) To appease Him, make Him due satisfaction for our sins, and to help the souls in Purgatory, and hence it is called Propitiatory; (4) To obtain all the graces necessary for us, and hence it is called Impetratory.”

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 efficacious power of the Sacrifice itself. Since the Mass is essentially identical to the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, which was of infinite worth, the intrinsic value of any Mass is itself 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”. (1)

With respect to the Mass’s extrinsic value, we must 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, and therefore capable of receiving an infinite act, the adoration (latreutical) and thanksgiving (eucharistical) offered to God by virtue of the Sacrifice is itself infinite. (2) 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. Nicholas Gihr wrote: “if we consider the Eucharistic Sacrifice in itself… as well as the inscrutable treasures therein enclosed… we perceive how the Holy Mass possesses a value absolutely infinite” and then a little further on added:

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.” (3)

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”. (4) He explains that, while the Mass itself is an infinite source of grace, when it comes to “the distribution of His gifts, God requires our cooperation”. (5)

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 at a given time. These external factors affect the amount of grace a person receives, in such a way, that a person can derive more fruit from the devout hearing of one Mass, than from an equally devout hearing of a different 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 old 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”. (6)

Regarding 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 less degree pleasing to God and beneficial to man”. (7)

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.

The Priest

St. Thomas explained 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”. (8)

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 one celebrated by a holy priest who says Mass with devotion and follows the rubrics with precision. Hence, as Fr. Gihr observed, “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…” (9) 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”.

The Ritual

Another factor determining the efficacy of a Mass is the degree of external glory given 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 wrote:

“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.” (10)

Even the decora has an effect on the fruits of the Mass, insofar as it contributes or detracts from the glory of God. As Fr. Ripperger, FSSP explained in his article on this topic: “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”. (11)

The Novus Ordo Missae

If, as Fr. Gihr noted above, “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”. (12)

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. In words that no doubt caused anxiety for many, the Pope said:

“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”. (13)

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 extrinsic value, and therefore end in disaster for the Church? Almost 30 years later, Cardinal Ratzinger 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.” (14)

Many clear thinking people foresaw, from the outset, the disaster that would result from the Novus Ordo. In the Critical Study of the New Mass (later known as the Ottaviani Intervention), which was written by twelve Roman theologians and signed by Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci, who presented the work to Paul VI, we read:

“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 observed that “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”. Unfortunately, the “law” was never abrogated and the Church has paid the price, as Cardinal Ratzinger himself noted in 1997.


The Catechism of Pope St. Pius X explained the difference between the Sacrifice of Calvary and the Sacrifice of the Mass as follows: “On the Cross Jesus Christ offered Himself by shedding His Blood and meriting for us; whereas on our altars He sacrifices Himself without the shedding of His Blood, and applies to us the fruits of His passion and death.” But as we have seen, the fruits of the Mass (the merits applied to us at 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 have an effect on the fruits of the Mass; the ritual and even the decora will have an effect on the amount of grace one receives, since the greater the solemnity, beauty and grandeur of the celebration, the greater will be the glory given to God, and consequently greater will be the graces He pours out on those who assist.

For this reason, it is worth the extra effort to attend the Traditional Mass, which Fr. Faber called “the most beautiful thing this side of heaven”, and to avoid, at all costs, the Novus Ordo Missae, which Cardinal Ratzinger himself referred to as “a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product”. (15)

(For information on ‘footnotes’ please go to original article here.)

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19 Responses to Mass Confusion: Why All Valid Masses Are Not Equal

  1. Tom Fisher says:

    In many parts of the Western world there are so few priests (and those that remain are rapidly approaching retirement) that the primary question is how do parishes survive when weekly Mass is no longer possible.

    I’ve asked this question before, but not been answered, how does Liturgical renewal occur when the vocations have dried up? That is (by and large) the situation in Australia and New Zealand.
    The wonderful young priests who are sent from the Philippines are not enough.


  2. GEOFF KIERNAN says:

    Tom: Do you have an opinion as to why there are so few priests?
    I look forward to your response


  3. GEOFF KIERNAN says:

    PS>>> I agree, vocations have/are drying up both here (Western Australia) and generally throughout Australia.
    The ‘wonderful’ young priests from the Philippines ( and Vietnam and Africa etc) “are not enough ” especially when their formation and training appears to be so deficient in respect to Catholic and orthodox doctrine. I could give you examples of this that would make your hair stand on end.


  4. Tom Fisher says:

    Tom: Do you have an opinion as to why there are so few priests?

    I honestly don’t know.

    But one thing which occurs to me is that (in the English speaking world at least) many Catholic parishes have become almost indistinguishable from their protestant counterparts in a host of ways. — Including the architecture of the Church itself, the stripped down interior, the abandonment of Latin, the protestantisation of the Liturgy, the loss of traditional devotions, the non observance of ancient feasts and fasts, etc. etc.

    In this context it must appear to many young Catholic men that the priesthood is not fundamentally different from being a local C of E vicar, — yet with a demand for lifelong celibacy. This combination probably doesn’t inspire them. So I think it is partly the steady undermining of the distinctiveness of the Catholic communities with priests at their centre that led to the decline in vocations.

    Also society at large now tends to mock rather than admire the priestly life.

    The renewal described in the article would help, but in many places I ave no idea who would lead it.


  5. Brother Burrito says:

    It strikes me that the Church is currently undergoing its own Passion, in that many of its followers are fleeing, and it is having to face trial and execution alone.

    Wasn’t it always thus?


  6. GEOFF KIERNAN says:

    Tom: With respect you do know why the Holy Catholic Church is in the state that it is.
    You have nailed it in one.
    The Protestantization of the Liturgy…. Yes.
    The loss of traditional devotions ancient feasts fasts….yes.
    The Priesthood not fundamentally different from the C/E vicar (with the additional ‘burden’ of celibacy)…Yes, because of the Protestantization of the Liturgy.
    Catholic parishes being indistinguishable from their Protestant counterparts…Yes
    This weak watered down. feminized version of the Priesthood will no long sustain them.

    The stripping of all that would enhance and further the ‘sense of the Sacred.’
    Our young people crave what is sacred and the liberal/modernist ‘Church ‘ feeds them stones.
    Your last comment however slays me…


  7. crow says:

    I am intrigued by your characterisation of the new Masses as “Protestant”, for that is how I see them as well. I too am Australian, living in Sydney. My impression of the local parishes is that some of the Anglican parishes are more Catholic than the local Catholic parishes. A local Anglican church organises a blessing of the animals each year. Our local Catholic church never, to my knowledge, celebrates feast days. There is an Anglican church in the CBD which celebrates the Latin Mass, with incense, observing Laetare and Gaudete Sundays etc. People I know who attend this “Mass” speak to me about it as though this type of Mass is an Anglican thing – something that the Anglicans do well (Latin Masses) and that the Catholics do not know about. Indeed, in the Catholic Weekly, one of the Anglican Bishops who had joined the Catholic Church as part of the Ordinariate was quoted as saying that the Anglican contribution to the Catholic liturgy was effectively to bring such things as Vespers and Benediction to the Catholics. He spoke as though these things were an Anglican innovation. At the time, I was outraged, but, when I look around at the local parishes, I can see that this statement is not so silly as it first appears, as there is little local observance of the traditional Catholic sacramental rites.

    This situation is compounded by the innovations of the Novus Ordo, by which the parishioners were given a voice in the conduct of the liturgy. We have a situation locally where a group of parishioners jealously guard the music and perform 1970’s hymns each week, under the misconception that these are “modern”. They are the same hymns each week, are difficult for ordinary people to sing, and are sung out of tune by the group of musicians. They are so untuneful that my daughter turned around and grimaced and put her fingers in her ears. The local church is attended by young children, who leave as soon as they become almost teens. This is interpreted by our local priest as indicating a need for a “youth Mass”. He does not understand that one does not go to church for a rock concert. I was interested to read the comments of a Cardinal at the time of Vatican 11, who remarked that, if the reforms are implemented, the churches will be full only of women and children. That is exactly what we have locally – the church is poorly attended, with few men, women and young children being very much in the majority (that is, if Mass does not interfere with netball or soccer, or if it isn’t wet, or sunny etc).

    In contrast, there is a Latin Mass at Lewisham in Sydney. This has a choir that is under the guidance of the parish priest. It is of a very high standard, and, for this reason, attracts interest from other talented musicians. The church conducts catechism for the children and has a separate session for the adults at the same time as the children. The children say the Angelus at the finish and sing the Salve Regina. The feast days are celebrated, with herbs blessed at the feast of the Assumption, chalk and salt blessed at Epiphany etc. This is a means of taking the faith into the home and making it a part of the family. The rituals are taken seriously, with no apology or attempt to make religion “rational” , and, guess what? The church is packed each week. It is full of young people – people over the age of 50 are very much in the minority, and it is full of men.

    So, what does this tell you about vocations? Personally, if I was intending to devote my life to God, I would not look at something that lacks the very aspects that make up a religion. Why would a young man who feels a calling to God want to become part of a watered-down adherence, to be part of parish politics and to be bossed about by parishioners with big egos and no taste?


  8. GEOFF KIERNAN says:

    Crow: BRAVO..BRAVO


  9. kathleen says:

    “BRAVO” indeed to Crow for a clear, frank and honest run down on the root of so much that is wrong in the Church today. When the sublime and majestic Traditional Latin Mass is not available in your area, you literally have to ‘shop around’ to find a Catholic Church where the Novus Ordo Mass is said with anything resembling the same reverence and dignity. And when you find one, as Crow points out, just look at the difference in both Mass attendance and all its fruits!!

    Crow says: “Why would a young man who feels a calling to God want to become part of a watered-down adherence, to be part of parish politics and to be bossed about by parishioners with big egos and no taste?”
    And Tom says: “it must appear to many young Catholic men that the priesthood is not fundamentally different from being a local C of E vicar, — yet with a demand for lifelong celibacy. This combination probably doesn’t inspire them.”

    That hits the nail on the head. Vocations are lacking in the happy-clappy “Church of Nice”…. but in the traditional, orthodox orders like the FSSP and ICKSP, where the liturgy is given maximum importance, they are flourishing. Just a few weeks ago the SPPX celebrated the ordination to the priesthood of an amazingly large number of young men; this contrast was so striking compared to the tiny number of ordinations in general, that it made headline news in the Catholic world.


  10. kathleen says:

    “Also society at large now tends to mock rather than admire the priestly life.”

    Tom, I agree with you; it is appalling. In our secular, godless, western society this is now the tragic reality, thanks to the general falling of morals in our society and much anti-Catholic propaganda. Though for those of us who love the Church and understand the value of the Priesthood*, holy and truly orthodox priests (who celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with great reverence) are our beacons of light in a darkening world.
    Pray, pray hard and unceasingly, that Heaven should continue to send us these faithful Shepherds of souls.

    * Anyone brave enough to go on the annual three-day Chartres pilgrimage at Pentecost, where a vast number (anything up to 15.000) of young traditional Catholics take part, will be greatly uplifted to see the large number of priests, seminarians and religious (both monks and nuns) who join in this amazing Catholic event. 🙂


  11. toadspittle says:

    I suppose when “plain chant” was first heard, people put their fingers in their ears and said, what’s this awful, modern, noise?


  12. toadspittle says:

    “Just a few weeks ago the SPPX celebrated the ordination to the priesthood of an amazingly large number of young men; this contrast was so striking compared to the tiny number of ordinations in general, that it made headline news in the Catholic world.”

    I can’t find these figures, Kathleen.
    Can you give us them?


  13. crow says:

    Toad – I don’t think that it was the fact that it was “modern” that drove my daughter to put her fingers in her ears! I am sure that if Iggy Azalea had rapped the Responsorial Psalm, she would have thought that was great! (She may have had a problem with the lack of appropriateness, as she has a strong sense of the sacred). However, she is 12 years old and what those who guard the music at the local churches don’t realise is that the people who wrote the hymns which they think are “modern” are now in their 70’s and music has moved on from that style. That is the trouble with going for the superficialities in trying to be relevant – the styles change constantly and many of the modern music styles are plainly not relevant to spiritual refection and growth.


  14. toadspittle says:

    “– many of the modern music styles are plainly not relevant to spiritual refection and growth.”
    I seem to recall something similar being said about Beethoven, by Cherubini, possibly. Can’t find the relevant quote, though.
    “…the people who wrote the hymns which they think are “modern” are now in their 70’s and music has moved on from that style. “
    The same age as the Beatles and the Stones, in fact.
    Old hat. Nobody remembers them any more, do they?.


  15. crow says:

    In response to your observation, Kathleen, that it is necessary to shop around for the celebration of a Mass that is said with reverence and dignity – that is so true. However, it is worth it.
    The article, in pointing out the efficacy of the forms of the Mass in so far as the spiritual power of the sacrament is concerned, affirms what is perhaps an instinctive response to those half-baked celebrations of the Mass. That is, it is not a purely aesthetic response that one has to the bad music or the false familiarity or the dumbing down of the sacrament – it is more than that. Its very substance is affected.
    The prescription of the form of the Latin Rite provides an insurance against the travesties that one sees in the democracy of the Novus Ordo. However, if one does shop around, there are beautifully celebrated Novus Ordo Masses as well. In Sydney, in fact, there is a magnificent Novus Ordo Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral, the main Cathedral in the city. It has a superb choir and is one in which the solemnity and prayerfulness of the Mass is more accessible to those who do not respond to, or understand, the Latin.


  16. johnhenrycn says:

    You’re a komische vogel, Crow. And a wise one 😉


  17. crow says:

    How did you find that photograph of me?!


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