Master's Theses



Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


The promulgation of the 1969 reformed Roman Missal represents one of the most important events in modern religious history. The transition to the “Novus Ordo” Mass symbolized the end of an era of traditionalism and the beginning of an era of modern Catholicism. At first glance, this transition seemed to take the Church by storm. After over a hundred years of papal condemnations of progressive schools of thought, in the 1960s, progressive scholars were invited by Rome to oversee a general reform of the Mass, the religion’s central act of worship. The ultimate fruit of this labor, the Novus Ordo Missal, was met only with minimal resistance on the part of the faithful. What conditions made the smooth transition to the reformed Missal possible?

This thesis seeks to demonstrate that the liturgical reforms of the 1960s and 70s would not have been possible without the progressive movements which took place in Catholicism in the 19th and 20th centuries which preceded it. While the hierarchy of the Catholic Church maintained a sort of “fortress mentality” in relation to progressive academia since the late 18th century, ultimately these efforts failed to prevent a progressive form of the religion from growing in popularity by the middle of the 20th century. This thesis chronicles the rise of this progressive form of Catholicism and contextualizes the 20th century Liturgical Movement within this wider movement.

After an overview of the terminology used in this thesis and an examination of the history of the Roman Rite, the main body of this thesis will examine the writings and actions of the scholars of the Liturgical Movement. Amongst them, the writings of Annibale Bugnini, who is rightly referred to as the “father of the conciliar reform,” will hold an important place.

Histories of the reform and the progressive movements in 20th century Catholicism will be considered from writers of a variety of perspectives. The writings of progressive scholars who were personally in favor of the reforms such as Richard McBrien, Joseph Kelly, and Rita Ferrone will be balanced by the highly critical writings of Catholic traditionalists such as Michael Davies, Christopher Ferrara, and Thomas Woods who personally opposed the reforms. Due to linguistic and research limitations, most of the accounts in the 10th chapter concerning the particular implementation of the Novus Ordo are limited to English speaking nations.

In a sense, nearly all of the secondary literature on this topic falls into an ambiguous state somewhere between a secondary source examining the liturgical changes and a primary source reacting to them. Few have written on this topic who did not possess some sort of personal investment in the topic due to the role that it played in their own spiritual lives. For this reason, this thesis attempts to include a balance of secondary sources from progressive, traditionalist, and conservative Catholic writers since all three of these perspectives demonstrate ways in which the Novus Ordo has been received by the modern Catholic Church.


Dr. David Bovee

Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type



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