This article continues the reflection on the central place of the Mass in the current crisis.
“Sacrifice and the priesthood are so united” that changing the conception of the Mass involves profound modifications of the place that the priest holds at the altar, even of the very conception of the priesthood.
The sacrament of Holy Orders was instituted by Our Lord on Holy Thursday at the moment when He entrusted His apostles the Eucharistic sacrifice. [Council of Trent, sess. 22, c. 1]
There is thus an essential link uniting holy orders and the Mass, so much so that modifying one cannot take place without undermining the other.
Now, the Missal of Paul VI minimizes the Eucharistic sacrifice. It abandons the fact that the priest is the unique cause of the sacrifice of the Mass, acting in persona Christi, by the fact that the priesthood allows him to speak with the divine power of Christ.
Henceforth, the Eucharistic celebration is made by the entire Church, the priest acting only in his capacity as presiding over it. In this way it is systematically affirmed that the priest acts “in the name of the whole Church…when offering the Eucharistic sacrifice” (CCC, no. 1552).
If the Mass is sacrifice only as a “memorial” (CCC, No. 1365), and if the memorial meal is carried out by the whole community – “By its very nature, the celebration of the Mass has a communitarian character,” General Institution of the Roman Missal (GIRM) 2002 no. 34 – then the prayer of the priest at the altar, including consecration, is presidential in nature.
The meaning of the saying that the priest acts in persona Christi has changed. It no longer signifies that the priest represents the humanity of Christ, instrument of His divinity, but only that he represents Christ Head of the Church. The priest participates in his presidential function, no longer in his divine power.
The priesthood then disappears, leaving in its place only a priestly action taken in a restricted sense, that of the entire Church represented by the priest.
Thus, the Novus Ordo considers that, apart from the prayers that the priest recites “in his own name,” all the words that the priest utters are in a presidential capacity.
Moreover, it is up to the gathered people “to form one body, … in taking part in the prayers and in the singing, or above all by the common offering of the Sacrifice and by participating together at the Lord’s table.” (GIRM no. 78)
The “Eucharistic prayer” is addressed to God “in the name of the entire community,” and “the meaning of this Prayer is that the whole congregation of the faithful joins with Christ in confessing the great deeds of God and in the offering of Sacrifice.” (GIRM no. 78)
It is categorically confirmed that “the Eucharist is the action of the whole Church” (GIRM no.5), “the action of Christ and of the People of God arrayed hierarchically” (GIRM no.16),” “the people called to present to God the prayers of the entire human family, a people that gives thanks in Christ for the mystery of salvation by offering his Sacrifice.” (GIRM no.5).
Hence the following liturgical consequences arrived:
-- “In building new churches, it is preferable for a single altar to be erected, one that in the gathering of the faithful will signify the one Christ and the one Eucharist of the Church. (GIRM no.303), which corresponds with the 31st condemned proposition from the Synod of Pistoia.
Proposition 31 from the condemnations of the Synod of Pistoia (a Jansenist meeting held in 1786, from which several propositions were condemned by Pius VI): “The proposition of the synod enunciating that it is fitting, in accordance with the order of divine services and ancient custom that there be only one altar in each temple, and therefore, that it is pleased to restore that custom is injurious to the very ancient pious custom flourishing and approved for these many centuries in the Church, especially in the Latin Church.” (DZ 1531)
--The requirement that the recitation of the Eucharistic prayer “be spoken in a loud and clear voice” (GIRM no.32), and in the vernacular language corresponds to the 33rd condemned proposition from the Synod of Pistoia.
Proposition 33 from the condemnations of the Synod of Pistoia: “The proposition of the synod by which it shows itself eager to remove the cause through which, in part, there has been induced a forgetfulness of the principles relating to the order of the liturgy, ‘by recalling it (the liturgy) to a greater simplicity of rites, by expressing it in the vernacular language, by uttering it in a loud voice’; as if the present order of the liturgy, received and approved by the Church, had emanated in some part from the forgetfulness of the principles by which it should be regulated,–rash, offensive to pious ears, insulting to the Church, favorable to the charges of heretics against it.” (DZ 1533).
Other liturgical modifications introduced in the Missal of Paul VI manifest again an outgrowth of a “priesthood of the people arrayed hierarchically” to the detriment of the priesthood proper to the priest which gives him the ability to speak with divine power:
--The replacement of the prayers at the foot of the altar by introductory rites. These ancient prayers, intended for the preparation of the celebrant, are no longer turned toward the personal preparation of the priest, but toward that of the people, a new actor in the liturgy.
The aim of the new “introductory rites” is “that the faithful, who come together as one, establish communion” and “celebrate the Eucharist worthily.”(GIRM no. 46)
Hence the introduction of the rite of the greeting of the assembled people: “By this greeting and the people’s response, the mystery of the Church gathered together is made manifest.” (GIRM no. 50)
Also, the introductory penitential act is recited by the entire assembled community (GIRM no. 51) and no longer separately by the priest and the faithful, given their different connection with the sacrament of the Eucharist.
--The carrying out of the rites is no longer the sole responsibility of the priest, possibly surrounded by sacred ministers. On the contrary, the division of tasks among the various members of the community is preferred.
Men and women laity are henceforth invited to share the rite of lector (GIRM no.101, 109), and the Universal Prayer has been reintroduced (GIRM no. 197); the laity can assist with the distribution of communion (GIRM no. 162, 191) and “a duly instituted acolyte” can purify the sacred vessels (GIRM no. 192).
In the case of concelebrated Masses, the priests divide up the recitation of the presiding prayers (GIRM nos. 220, 223, 228, 231, 234). Finally, in the same sense, permission to serve at Mass has been granted to girls.
“The action of Christ and of the People of God arrayed hierarchically” (GIRM no. 16)—the Mass of Paul VI is certainly that. Its ritual exalts the priestly action of the duly constituted Church, doubtlessly to the detriment of the interior participation of the faithful—very few elements of the new rite invite them to unite to Christ immolated—but even more to the detriment of the priesthood specific to the priest, still the only instrumental cause of Christ’s Eucharistic presence as victim.
It is strongly feared that the instability is not only liturgical, but concerns the very conception of the priest: it seems that the bond that unites the priest to the eucharist was broken, as shown in the apostolic exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis.
While up to that point the Church affirmed with the Council of Trent that the priesthood was instituted on the evening of Holy Thursday, the exhortation, along with the CCC, refuse to say so.
What John Paul II connects to the sacrifice in his exhortation is no longer the sacrament of Holy Orders, but, in an entirely new way, the universal priesthood of the faithful: “With the one definitive sacrifice of the cross, Jesus communicated to all his disciples the dignity and mission of priests of the new and eternal covenant. And thus the promise which God had made to Israel was fulfilled: ‘You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ (Ex. 19:6).” [Pastores 13]
Such a reversal is no stranger to the profound crisis of identity that the priesthood has been experiencing since the Second Vatican Council.
 Cf. Second Vatican Council, Presbyterorum Ordinis no. 2. “The priesthood…through its priests… are signed with a special character and are conformed to Christ the Priest in such a way that they can act in the person of Christ the Head.”
 Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contre Gentiles, Bk. 4, c.74. “The instrument should be proportionate to the agent. Therefore, Christ’s ministers should be conformed to him. Now Christ wrought our salvation as master by his own authority and power, inasmuch as he is God and man… Consequently, Christ’s ministers needed to be men, and to share in his divinity by a kind of spiritual power.”
 This formula is symptomatic. Henceforth, priestly mediation is no longer situated between the priest and each of the baptized, but is attributed totally to the people of God, installed as mediator between God and the world.