Personal Notes on the “Ottaviani Intervention”

This is a VERY rough draft at present, that could hopefully be refined later — including on the basis of any reactions to it — and I have also culled it from a post I made in an online discussion forum, so that some of the context of the following remarks is missing, and may need to be reconstructed later.

The so-called “Ottaviani Intervention” refers to a document produced by several traditionalist theologians, including Cardinal Ottaviani (hence the name) and Archbishop Lefebvre of SSPX fame — against the Novus Ordo Mass, and in favour of the Traditional Latin Mass.

My own contention, which motivated my part of the discussion in question (and the following Notes), is that the document is biased and wrong.

Which is NOT to say that defending traditionalism (and especially the Tradition itself !!) is “wrong-headed” or anything — quite the contrary !!! It is to say that the theological arguments put forward in that document appear to be biased and weak.

A copy of the “Ottaviani Intervention” itself can be found HERE :

(Latin numerals following refer to the sections in that document)

In my notes, I compare the claims of the “Intervention” with the contents of the Latin in the Roman Missal — an online copy of which (incomplete, but good enough for the purposes of my notes) can be found HERE :

(as a further explanatory note, the paragraph numbers referred to in the “Intervention” do not necessarily correspond with those found in the Ordo Missae, in its present state)


“This assertion seems to us to embody a serious equivocation.

Opinion. Personal feelings of unhappiness are insufficient to overthrow Church doctrine, and the document never justifies that this equivocation is either real or pertinent (as it is an impressionistic analysis).


Let us begin with the definition of the Mass given in No. 7 of the “Institutio Generalis” at the beginning of the second chapter on the Novus Ordo: “De structura Missae”:

    “The Lord’s Supper or Mass is a sacred meeting or assembly of the People of God, met together under the presidency of the priest, to celebrate the memorial of the Lord. Thus the promise of Christ, “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”, is eminently true of the local community in the Church (Mt. XVIII, 20)”.

The definition of the Mass is thus limited to that of the “supper”

This statement is greatly flawed — in fact, the Mass is defined in the above extract as “a sacred meeting or assembly of the People of God”

Furthermore :

None of this in the very least implies either the Real Presence, or the reality of sacrifice, or the Sacramental function of the consecrating priest, or the intrinsic value of the Eucharistic Sacrifice independently of the people’s presence.


27. In Missa seu Cena dominica populus Dei in unum convocatur, sacerdote praeside personamque Christi gerente, ad memoriale Domini seu sacrificium eucharisticum celebrandum.

72. In Cena novissima, Christus sacrificium et convivium paschale instituit, quo sacrificium crucis in Ecclesia continue praesens efficitur, cum sacerdos, Christum Dominum repraesentans, idem perficit quod ipse Dominus egit atque discipulis in sui memoriam faciendum tradidit.”

In the second part of this paragraph 7 it is asserted, aggravating the already serious equivocation, that there holds good, “eminently”, for this assembly Christ’s promise that “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. XVIII, 20). This promise which refers only to the spiritual presence of Christ with His grace, is thus put on the same qualitative plane, save for the greater intensity, as the substantial and physical reality of the Sacramental Eucharistic Presence.

Latin “eminenter” mistranslated as “eminently” — in fact, it means “higher

How is something “higher” on the “same plane” ???

Misinterpretation from poor translation, therefore the analysis seems to be unacceptable.

In no. 8 a subdivision of the Mass into “liturgy of the word” and Eucharistic liturgy immediately follows, with the affirmation that in the Mass is made ready “the table of the God’s word” as of “the Body of Christ”, so that the faithful “may be built up and refreshed”; an altogether improper assimilation of the two parts of the liturgy, as though between two points of equal symbol value.

This is a forcible translation and interpretation.”reficiantur” does not have “refreshed” as it’s primary meaning, but rather restored, remade, renewed. Clearly, this is intended as a reference to the cleansing of sins effectuated through Christ’s sacrifice ; NOT to a “refreshing” little snack or meal.

the emphasis is obsessively placed upon the supper and the memorial instead of upon the unbloody renewal of the Sacrifice of Calvary

False premises > false conclusions


1. Ultimate End. …
This end has disappeared

Opinion. And not very orthodox opinion either, IMO.

2. Ordinary End. This is the propitiatory Sacrifice. It too has been deviated from; for instead of putting the stress on the remission of sins of the living and the dead, it lays emphasis on the nourishment and sanctification of those present

As seen above, this is a false analysis based on mistranslation … though “80. Cum celebratio eucharistica convivium paschale sit, expedit ut, iuxta mandatum Domini, Corpus et Sanguis eius a fidelibus rite dispositis ut cibus spiritualis accipiantur.” is supportive of the criticism, as far as the text of the Missal (rather than the Mass itself) is concerned.

However : “Gestus fractionis a Christo in ultima cena peractus, qui tempore apostolico toti actioni eucharisticae nomen dedit, significat fideles multos in Communione ex uno pane vitae, qui est Christus pro mundi salute mortuus et resurgens, unum corpus effici” — “Sacerdos panem frangit et partem hostiae in calicem immittit, ad significandam unitatem Corporis et Sanguinis Domini, in opere salutis” — “81. In Oratione dominica panis cotidianus petitur, quo christianis praecipue panis eucharisticus innuitur, atque purificatio a peccatis imploratur, ita ut sancta revera sanctis dentur”

“3. Immanent End. Whatever the nature of the Sacrifice, it is absolutely necessary that it be pleasing and acceptable to God. After the Fall no sacrifice can claim to be acceptable in its own right other than the Sacrifice of Christ.
The Novus Ordo changes the nature of the offering turning it into a sort of exchange of gifts between man and God: man brings the bread, and God turns it into the “bread of life”; man brings the wine, and God turns it into a “spiritual drink”.

This, OTOH, is just rubbish.

capital equivocation


Christ is present only spiritually among His own: here, bread and wine are only “spiritually” (not substantially) changed

Sigh … “3. Mirabile etiam mysterium praesentiae realis Domini sub speciebus eucharisticis, a Concilio Vaticano II  aliisque Ecclesiae Magisterii documentis eodem sensu eademque sententia, quibus Concilium Tridentinum id credendum proposuerat, confirmatum, in Missae celebratione declaratur non solum ipsis verbis consecrationis, quibus Christus per transubstantiationem praesens redditur, sed etiam sensu et exhibitione summae reverentiae et adorationis, quae in Liturgia eucharistica fieri contingit.


The “Intervention” actually makes an objectively heretical statement, IMO.

And please take note, for later, that transsubstantion is explicitly provided as being central to the Eucharist in the Novus Ordo, contrary to some traditionalist propaganda !!!

In the preparation of the offering, a similar equivocation results from the suppression of two great prayers. The “Deus qui humanae substantiae dignitatem mirabiliter condidisti et mirabilius reformasti” was a reference to man’s former condition of innocence and to his present one of being ransomed by the Blood of Christ: a recapitulation of the whole economy of the Sacrifice, from Adam to the present moment. The final propitiatory offering of the chalice, that it might ascend “cum adore suavitatis”, into the presence of the divine majesty, whose clemency was implored, admirably reaffirmed this plan. By suppressing the continual reference of the Eucharistic prayers to God, there is no longer any clear distinction between divine and human sacrifice.

This is more pertinent — hopefully the forthcoming document from the Curia will be helpful in this respect.

The Novus Ordo Mass, and its Missal, does not *change* the theology of the Mass — but the omission does provide unclear instruction to priests for celebrating the Mass.


The mystery of the Cross is no longer explicitly expressed

This statement is false, except where abuses of the Mass may occur. Such abuses are universally condemned.

1. The sense given in the Novus Ordo to the so-called “prex Eucharistica” is: “that the whole congregation of the faithful may be united to Christ in proclaiming the great wonders of God and in offering sacrifice”


This is a false conclusion from a bad translation (hmmmm, though to be fair, it’s a tough one to render properly into English…)

Sensus autem huius orationis est, ut tota congregatio fidelium se cum Christo coniungat in confessione magnalium Dei et in oblatione sacrificii.” >>> “that the whole congregation of the faithful may join Christ in His confessing the great wonders of God and offering sacrifice” (this is not a literal translation, but it renders the semantic stresses in the Latin as equivalent structures in English)

The Latin may be vague, which makes its translation problematic (and I doubt I’ve succeeded well enough BTW) — but the sense here in the Latin is that this is primarily Christ’s proclamation and His Sacrifice, that the faithful seek to participate in by the Eucharist.

The translation provides the FALSE impression that the sacrifice of the faithful is equivalent to the Sacrifice of Christ.

A dialogue of bad interpreters with the deaf.

The initial definition of the “prex Eucharistica” is as follows: “The centre and culminating point of the whole celebration now has a beginning, namely the Eucharistic Prayer, a prayer of thanksgiving and of sanctification”

Again, no — “78. Nunc centrum et culmen totius celebrationis initium habet” means “Now the centre and peak of the whole celebration has a beginning” ; “ipsa nempe Prex eucharistica” >> “which (ie “which beginning”) is the Eucharistic Prayer” etc.

They claim that “The effects thus replace the causes, of which not one single word is said“, which is to completely ignore not only the actual meaning of “Eucharist” (as if it weren’t mentioned), but it also totally ignores everything that is explicitly mentioned in the Preface and elsewhere in the Ordo Missae concerning the Sacrifice.

CLEARLY, “centrum et culmen totius celebrationis” is NOT a happy-clappy snack for feel-good Protestants !!!

2. The reason for this non-explicitness concerning the Sacrifice is quite simply that the Real Presence has been removed from the central position which it occupied so resplendently in the former Eucharistic liturgy. There is but a single reference to the Real Presence, (a quotation – a footnote – from the Council of Trent) and again the context is that of “nourishment”

WRONG and WRONG, as already pointed out.

The Real and permanent Presence of Christ, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the transubstantiated Species is never alluded to. The very word transubstantiation is totally ignored.


Note, too, the suppressions

This argument is licit, even though it is characterised rather forcibly by all of the abovementioned Errors of interpretation.

All these things only serve to emphasise how outrageously faith in the dogma of the Real Presence is implicitly repudiated

No — the authors are inferring this to be the case — notwithstanding that it is true that far too many abusive masses occur where the Real Presence is insufficiently emphasised.

“repudiated” is FAR too strong, and again, seems to be objectively heretical.

The altar is almost always called ‘table’

Latin “mensa” means both ‘table’ and ‘altar’. They have a point that the ambiguity here is unhelpful…

It is laid down that the altar must be detached from the walls so that it is possible to walk round it and celebration may be facing the people

Arguments about ad populum have been continuing since Antiquity — [shrug] — the stance is not heretical or anything ; but the postures of priests during the Mass are indicated in Vatican II, not the Missal, and these teachings do not get rid of ad orientem (and ad tabernaculum !!!) in the slightest.

But a comparison of no. 262 and 276 would seem to suggest that the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament on this altar is excluded. This will mark an irreparable dichotomy between the presence, in the celebrant, of the eternal High Priest and that same presence brought about sacramentally. Before, they were ‘one and the same presence’.

Inference and opinion.

Guesswork, really — NOT the contents of the Missal.

Separation of Altar and Tabernacle

This whole paragraph is theologically dubious. Certainly, it’s a highly forcible interpretation of the Novus Ordo.

Pope Pius XII’s statement “To separate theTabernacle from the Altar is tantamount to separating two things which, of their very nature, must remain together” is a licit theological opinion, but opposite theological opinions have also been given by others.

The Magisterium has for the time being ruled otherwise ; though not infallibly.

This ruling has a greater Authority than Pius XII’s personal theological opinions — NOT because Councils outrank Popes or anything silly like that, but because the Pope did not make a formal declaration of Church teaching in that statement.


And I’m sorry, but I’m starting to find the document unreadable. I might take courage at a later date, and set forth my negative impressions of the later sections more formally, but I’ll make no guarantees.

It is replete with an increasing number, from paragraph to paragraph, of false inference, gratuitous statements, poor interpretation of the Latin (!!!), and forcible theology.

In the Novus Ordo, the position attributed to the faithful is autonomous (absoluta), hence totally false

A true presence, certainly of Christ but only a spiritual one (WRONG as shown above)

the people themselves appear to be invested with autonomous priestly powers (!!!??!!!?)

The priest’s position is minimised, changed and falsified

… and so on and on — which opinions are quite clearly based on the poor theological basis of a self-justification of the opinions themselves.


Perhaps the most gratuitously objectionable claim of all is that the Novus Ordo is somehow a “rejection” of the Council of Trent — NO EVIDENCE is provided to support this VERY strange assertion, which on the face of it seems to be completely ludicrous.


At least here there’s some evidence of some more solid common sense.

Orthodoxy does indeed need defending, not undermining.


And this is a valid defence of the principles of a traditionalist position — but overall, the document is very disappointing.

It is not constructive to attack the Mass — quite the contrary !!!

That actual abuses should be attacked, or the Traditional Mass defended, both are laudable and constructive enterprises — but it is not possible to attack the Mass, where it is licit and valid, without attacking the very Church and the very Real Presence that they spend so many words on !!!

Ite, Missa Est

Well, I’m just back from following my first ever Traditional Latin Mass.

The Mass was given in a church belonging to our own parish, by a priest belonging to our own diocese, so that it was canonically given in full and total regularity.

Now — where to begin…

First, I was not put into some kind of aesthetic sensation of awe by the beauty of the Old Mass, simply because my Latin is too canny to be aware of the language of the Mass otherwise than as just another language that I understand. My meditation this morning, both before and after the Mass, has been centred around the expression Deo Gratias — because having discovered in the street some simple benefit for myself on the way to the Mass, I prayed briefly saying “Thank You, God” — and the most direct translation of the Latin, in the Mass later, is exactly that — or even just “Thanks, God”.

The language in the Mass is there not to set up God as on high and aloof from us, but to bring Him into this sort of close and familiar, familial, feeling of Love, received, shared, and given — in trust, confidence, and honesty.

That the language of the Old Mass is in Latin changes this not in the slightest.

It was maybe surprising that it was only til about halfway through the Mass that dear Père Le Quay started to realise that I was not actually familiar with it (more about this later) — except that my experience of the old liturgy was that it’s “just” the Mass. The only time I’ve EVER been shocked by the Novus Ordo was the ONE time that I attended the Mass given in English (I usually follow the Mass in French) — because I found that the translation itself was quite heavily protestantised, incorporated some quite dubious readings and interpretations NOT found in the Romance language translations, and generally speaking, it felt more like a *progressive* Anglican liturgy than a Catholic Mass. On the other hand, I was surprised by the liturgy of the Old Mass not in the slightest. OK, there were a couple of places where I didn’t know that I was supposed to respond to the priest, including once by virtue of being on the wrong page — but this is both normal and unsurprising.

Fundamentally though, it just seems to me that the Old Mass and the New Mass are essentially the same.

I have NOT been betrayed by incompetent catechists teaching their incompetent 1970s uncatholic understandings.

I do NOT have any difficulty with the Latin — nor do I inappropriately provide the language itself with any undeserved quasi-mystical veneration.

I understand the theology of the Mass where it is explicit in the Old Mass and implicit in the New — but ALSO where it is explicit in the New Mass, but implicit in the Old.

I remain in Full Communion with our Church, and with both of our Bishops, our curate and all the other parish priests, and all the Faithful of our parish whether I attend the New Mass in our parish or the Old Mass in our parish.

It’s just the Mass — and of course, “just the Mass” is a living miracle in our midst.

The only weird things about the Mass this morning are the following :

1) The congregation was constituted of the priest and myself.

It’s rather ironic, given the propensity of my traditionalist friends to claim that Vatican II and the New Mass have destroyed Mass attendance, that the choice that I have on the Sunday seems to be between attending the Traditional Mass as the ONLY lay Catholic in the congregation ; or to attend a perfectly orthodox, non-abusive, Novus Ordo Mass in the company of a congregation numbering in the hundreds, including dozens of children, and the majority of the Faithful being in the working age bracket of 20-year-olds to those in their 60s.

2) My only “surprise” with the Old Mass was, well — What on Earth is all this fuss about ???!!???

… and I’m asking this question of both factions.

Why on Earth do the liberals try and suppress a Rite of the Mass that has absolutely nothing wrong with it ?

Why on Earth do the more radical traditionalists condemn the New Rite which is so substantively equal to the Old ?

I mean, we can ALL complain when the catechism and the theology that people are taught, particularly our children and youth, are just so intensively and blatantly deficient, so that people end up being unable to comprehend the Mass at all, both Old and New — but the answer to this problem is to provide good catechesis ; not to provide either this or that extremist liturgical fetishism !!!

I will continue to accompany dear Père de Quay in his lonely traddy vigil, because the orthodoxy and the Tradition of our Church need defending — but I think when I do so in future, I’ll need to go to Mass twice on those Sundays. Because defending the minority cannot require abandoning the majority.