Vatican says Latin Mass shouldn't divide Catholics

May 13, 2011

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Vatican on Friday (May 13) broadened access to
the old Latin Mass with a new rule that gives the Vatican the power to
overrule bishops who fail to make the rite available in their dioceses.

The Vatican also said that Catholics who request celebrations of the
old Latin Mass must not support or belong to groups that challenge
either the pope's authority or the "validity or legitimacy" of the newer
Mass.

The announcement comes nearly four years after Pope Benedict XVI
lifted most restrictions on the old Latin liturgy, also known as the
Tridentine Mass, which had largely fallen out of use in favor of worship
in local languages.

Celebrations of the older liturgy remain relatively rare. Few
priests are qualified to celebrate its rites, and many bishops view the
Latin Mass as a symbol of resistance to the church's liberalizing
reforms of the 1960s.

The Vatican on Friday said bishops should permit use of the old Mass
for even small groups that request it, and said pastors should receive
such requests in a "spirit of generous welcome."

Bishops are also asked to offer instruction in the old liturgy to
priests and seminarians, thus expanding the ranks of qualified
celebrants.

"That really is basic to the pope's thinking," said the Rev. Joseph
Kramer, a member of one such group, the Fraternal Society of Saint
Peter, an order dedicated to celebrating the old Latin Mass. "He would
like the old rite to take its place alongside the new rite in the
mainstream of the church."

Kramer called it an "important step," that Catholics may now contest
bishops' decisions regarding the old rite before a Vatican commission,
with the possibility of appealing to the Apostolic Signatura, the
Vatican's supreme court.

Benedict presented his 2007 decision to lift restrictions on the old
Latin Mass as a conciliatory gesture toward the Society of Saint Pius X
(SSPX), a traditionalist group that rejected the new liturgy along with
most reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

Benedict has said that acceptance of Vatican II and of his own
authority are prerequisites for reconciliation with the SSPX.

Revival of the old Latin liturgy has also provoked inter-religious
tensions. Jewish groups objected to a special Good Friday prayer from
the old Mass that referred to Jews' "blindness" and asked God to "take
the veil from their hearts." Benedict later modified that language, but
not all critics have found the new version satisfactory.