On September 25, 1969, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, Prefect-emeritus of the Sacred Congregation for the Faith, sent a letter to Pope Paul VI concerning the Novus Ordo Missae.
Accompanying the letter was a theological “Study of the New Order of the Mass” (Novus Ordo Missae), written by a group of Roman theologians.
Cardinal Ottaviani’s letter was a plea to His Holiness “not to deprive us of the possibility of continuing to have recourse to the fruitful integrity of that Missale Romanum of St. Pius V so highly praised by Your Holiness and so deeply loved and venerated by the whole Catholic world.” It was apparently in response to the so-called Ottaviani Intervention that Paul VI subsequently ordered a two-year delay of the deadline for mandatory implementation of the New Mass.
A little known fact about the creation of this study was that Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre chaired the working committee that drafted it. Historical details about this important event can be found in The Biography: Marcel Lefebvre by Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais.
As briefly related by Fr. Ramon Angles in his transcribed conference, “A Short History of the Society of Saint Pius X”:
On April 3, 1969, the apostolic constitution Missale Romanum presented a new order of the Mass. Archbishop Lefebvre gathered together a group of twelve theologians who wrote under his direction, A Short Critical Study of the Novus Ordo Missae often called the Ottaviani Intervention. Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci wrote indeed an introduction and presented the study to Paul VI. Since no response came from the Vatican, the archbishop announces to his small group of seminarians, June 10, 1971, that he refuses to accept this new protestantized liturgy:
'How can I agree to abandon the Mass of All Time or to admit to place it at the same level as the Novus Ordo, created by Annibal Bugnini, with the participation of Protestants to make of it an equivocal supper that eliminates totally the Offertory, and touches the very words of the Consecration.'
Indeed, as early as December 1966, Archbishop Lefebvre wrote to Cardinal Ottaviani about his concerns. While they could not stop the consequences of the Second Vatican Council, these men drew a line in the sand 50 years ago, declaring to the world what would become self-evident in the following decades.
Cardinal Ottaviani died 10 years after this letter, in 1979. As time has passed, an ever-increasing number of figures in the Church have praised the stand that he took for the sake of Tradition. Cardinal Stickler, on the occasion of a reprint of the Ottaviani Intervention in 2004, wrote:
The analysis of the Novus Ordo made by these two cardinals has lost nothing of its value, nor, unfortunately, of its timeliness ...The results of the reform are deemed by many today to have been devastating. It was the merit of Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci to discover very quickly that the modification of the rites resulted in a fundamental change of doctrine.
On the 50th anniversary of its delivery, Cardinal Ottaviani's letter is posted below. The text of the Ottaviani Intervention is also linked on this page. While it is short enough to read online, it is also available through Angelus Press.
Letter from Cardinal Ottaviani to Pope Paul VI
September 25, 1969
Most Holy Father,
Having carefully examined, and presented for the scrutiny of others, the Novus Ordo Missae prepared by the experts of the Consilium ad exequdam Constitutionem de Sacra Liturgia, and 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:
The accompanying critical study of the Novus Ordo Missae, the work of a group of theologians, liturgists and pastors of souls, shows quite clearly in spite of its brevity that if we consider the innovations implied or taken for granted, which may of course be evaluated in different ways, the Novus Ordo 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. The “canons” of the rite definitively fixed at that time provided an insurmountable barrier to any heresy directed against the integrity of the Mystery.
The pastoral reasons adduced to support such a grave break with tradition, even if such reasons could be regarded as holding good in the face of doctrinal considerations, do not seem to us sufficient. The innovations in the Novus Ordo and the fact that all that is of perennial value finds only a minor place, if it subsists at all, could well turn into a certainty the suspicion, already prevalent, alas, in many circles, that truths which have always been believed by the Christian people, can be changed or ignored without infidelity to that sacred deposit of doctrine to which the Catholic faith is bound for ever. Recent reforms have amply demonstrated that fresh changes in the liturgy could lead to nothing but complete bewilderment on the part of the faithful who are already showing signs of restiveness and of an indubitable lessening of faith. Amongst the best of the clergy the practical result is an agonizing crisis of conscience of which innumerable instances come to our notice daily.
We are certain that these considerations. which can only reach Your Holiness by the living voice of both shepherds and flock, cannot but find an echo in Your paternal heart, always so profoundly solicitous for the spiritual needs of the children of the Church. 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. Therefore we most earnestly beseech Your Holiness, at a time of such painful divisions and ever-increasing perils for the purity of the Faith and the unity of the Church, lamented by You our common Father. not to deprive us of the possibility of continuing to have recourse to the fruitful integrity of that Missale Romanum of St. Pius V, so highly praised by Your Holiness and so deeply loved and venerated by the whole Catholic World.
A. Card. Ottaviani
A. Card. Bacci
Feast of St. Pius X