Question: An audio tape Catechism claims that our Mass is only about three hundred years old, and that the Novus Ordo is the "Mass" of the early Church. Can this be correct? (D.C., Florida)
Answer: All believable tales contain a great deal of truth -- otherwise they would not be believable. As mentioned in the question and answer above, many of the Church's practices developed over centuries of experience. Practices that caused difficulty or lacked reverence gave way to improvements. Things that worked well were retained from antiquity.
The canon of the traditional Mass predates Pope St. Gregory the Great, who rearranged, but did not change, its prayers to their current order in the seventh century. The addition of the lesser ceremonies was described in the series carried in the August through October 1999 issues of this Bulletin. By the time of the Council of Trent our Mass was essentially as we have it today, but there was a great deal of variation outside of Rome itself. To better resist Protestantism, Pope Saint Pius V, following the dictates of Trent, issued a standardized missal that would be used by all Western Rite priests unless they preferred to retain a diocesan or religious order rite then two-hundred year or more old. The standardized Roman Missal was issued in 1570, accompanied by the Papal Bull, Quo primum tempore, which granted all priests the right to celebrate Mass according to St. Pius' missal "without any scruple of conscience ... in perpetuity."
The Mass of Pope St. Pius was, in no way, a "new Mass," nor was it a Mass assembled by a committee. It was simply the organic development and refinement of the rite that grew out of the Last Supper under the influences of the Western civilization of Europe and North Africa. It included ceremonies of intermediate age (the addition of the Creed, say, or the two elevations) that bolstered the piety of the faithful, and eliminated those (e.g. the extended Kiss of Peace, and Communion in the hand) that brought dissention or reduced piety.
The "new mass," on the other hand, is the work of a committee, including non-Catholic clergy, that revived a lot of the things which the Church found to be impractical over the centuries, and removed some of those added for the edification of the worshippers. It set out to manufacture a rite that could be theologically acceptable to Protestants, with a lesser emphasis on the Communion of Saints and the sacrificial nature of the Mass. In its vernacular translations the "new mass" is even further stripped of the sacrificial theology of the old.
To the point, the "new mass" contains ceremonies no longer used in the traditional Mass, giving it some claim to antiquity, or, perhaps to antiquarianism. But, rather than being an organic development from ancient roots, it is a ceremony constructed to teach modernist theology. See Pope Pius XII on "Antiquarianism."
1. A jackass is a horse assembled by a committee.