Pope Francis cracked down on the spread of the old Latin Mass on Friday, overturning one of Pope Benedict XVI’s signing decisions in a major challenge to traditionalist Catholics who immediately decried it as an attack on them and the old liturgy .
Francis reimposed the restrictions on the celebration of the Latin Mass that Benedict relaxed in 2007, and went further to limit its use. The pontiff said he was acting because Benedict’s reform had become a source of division in the church and had been exploited by Catholics opposed to Vatican Council II, the 1960s meetings that modernized the church and its liturgy.
Critics said they had never seen a Pope overthrow his predecessor so completely. That the reversal was about something as fundamental as the liturgy, while Benedict is still alive and alive in the Vatican as a retired pope, only amplified the extraordinary nature of Francis’ decision, which will result surely a more right-wing hostility against him.
Francis, 84, issued a new law requiring individual bishops to approve the celebrations of the Old Mass, also known as the Tridentine Mass, and requiring that newly ordained priests receive explicit permission to celebrate it from their bishops, in consultation with the Vatican.
Under the new law, bishops must also determine whether current groups of faithful attached to the Old Mass accept Vatican II, which allowed Mass to be celebrated in the vernacular rather than Latin. These groups cannot use ordinary churches; instead, the bishops must find other locations for them without creating new parishes.
Additionally, Francis said bishops are no longer allowed to allow the formation of new pro-Latin mass groups in their dioceses.
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Francis said he was taking steps to promote unity and heal divisions within the church that had developed since Benedict’s 2007 document, Summorum Pontificum. He said he based his decision on a Vatican 2020 survey of all the bishops around the world, whose “responses reveal a situation that worries and saddens me, and persuades me of the need to intervene.”
The pope’s retreat immediately created an uproar among traditionalists already opposed to Francis’ more progressive leaning and nostalgic for Benedict’s doctrinal papacy.
“This is an extremely disappointing document that completely overrules the legal provisions,” Benedict’s 2007 document said Joseph Shaw, president of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales.
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While Latin celebrations can continue, “the presumption is systematically against them: bishops are urged to shut them down,” said Shaw, adding that the requirement that Latin Masses be held outside a parish was “impractical” .
“This is an extraordinary rejection of the hard work for the church and the loyalty to the hierarchy that has characterized the traditional Mass movement for many years, which I fear will foster a sense of alienation among those who are attached to the old church liturgy, “he said.
Benedict had published his document in 2007 to reach out to a separatist and schismatic group that celebrates the Latin Mass, the Society of Saint Pius X, and which had separated from Rome because of the modernization reforms of Vatican II.
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But Francois said that Benedict’s efforts to foster unity essentially backfired.
The opportunity offered by Benedict, the pope said in a letter to the bishops accompanying the new law, has instead been “exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce differences and encourage disagreements that hurt the Church, block its path and the Church. expose to the danger of division. “
Francis said he was “saddened” that the use of the old Mass is accompanied by a rejection of Vatican II itself “with unfounded and unsustainable claims that it betrayed Tradition and the“ true Church ”.
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Christopher Bellitto, professor of Church history at Kean University, said Francis was right to intervene, noting that Benedict’s initial decision had many unintended consequences that not only created internal divisions. , but temporarily disrupted relations with the Jews.
“Francis gets right to the point with his observation that Benedict’s 2007 relaxation of regulations against the Latin Rite allowed others to use it for the division,” he said. “The flashback proves his point.”
The flashback has indeed been fierce, although it is also likely that many will simply ignore Francis’ decree and continue as before with sympathetic bishops. Some of these traditionalists and Catholics were already among the fiercest critics of Francis, with some accusing him of heresy for opening the door to communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.
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Rorate Caeli, a popular US-based traditionalist blog, said Francis’ “attack” was a pope’s strongest rebuke against his predecessors in living memory.
“Francis HATES US. Francis HATES Tradition. Francis HATES all that is good and beautiful,” the group tweeted. But he concluded: “FRANCIS WILL DIE, THE LATIN MASS will live forever.”
Messa in Latino, a traditionalist Italian blog, also blasted his critics.
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“Thank you always and only for sinners (who are not asked to repent) but no mercy for those few mainstream Catholics,” the blog said Friday.
For years, however, Francis has made his distaste for the old liturgy known, privately labeling his adherents as self-referential naval observers who are out of touch with the needs of the church. He repressed religious orders which exclusively celebrated the old Mass and often decried the “rigidity” of priests concerned with tradition who favor rules over pastoral accompaniment.
Traditionalists insisted that the old liturgy had never been abrogated and that Benedict’s 2007 reform had allowed it to flourish.
They point to the growth of traditionalist parishes, often attended by young, large families, as well as new religious orders which celebrate the old liturgy. The Latin Mass Society says the number of traditional Masses celebrated every Sunday in England and Wales has more than doubled since 2007, from 20 to 46.
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But for many, the writing was on the wall as soon as Francis stepped out onto the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica after his election in 2013 without the red velvet cape edged with ermine which was preferred by Benedict and which is a symbol. of the pre-Vatican era. II church.
The restrictions went into effect immediately with its publication in Friday’s official Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.
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