Vatican to reinforce shift on Latin Mass

VATICAN CITY – The Vatican has begun drafting a document to elaborate on Pope Benedict XVI’s recent liberalization of the old Latin Mass because some bishops are either ignoring his move or misinterpreting it, officials said.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the church’s second-ranking official, said in comments published yesterday that the Vatican would be issuing an “instruction” on how to put the pope’s document into practice, since there had been what he called some “uneven” reactions to it since it went into effect last summer.

The document Benedict issued in July removed restrictions on celebrating the so-called Tridentine Mass, the rite celebrated in Latin before the liberalizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s paved the way for the new Mass used widely today in local languages.

Following the 1960s reform, the Tridentine rite could only be celebrated with permission from local bishops – an obstacle that supporters of the old rite said had greatly reduced its availability.


In a gesture to such traditional Catholics, Benedict removed that requirement in his document, saying parish priests could celebrate the Tridentine Mass if a “stable group of faithful” requested it.

Implementation, however, has been uneven, with some bishops issuing rules that “practically annul or twist the intention of the pope,” Monsignor Albert Malcolm Ranjith, secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Divine Cult and Discipline of Sacraments, said recently, according to the Vatican’s missionary news agency, FIDES.

Such reactions amounted to a “crisis of obedience” toward the pontiff, he was quoted as saying, although he stressed that most prelates had accepted the pope’s will “with the required sense of reverence and obedience.”

While giving no date for its publication, Bertone, the Vatican’s secretary of state, said the upcoming instruction would lay out criteria for the pope’s document to be correctly applied, according to the interview in an Italian religious affairs weekly, Famiglia Cristiana. He complained that reactions to the pontiff’s document had been uneven.

“Some have even gone so far as to accuse the pope of having reneged on Council teaching,” Bertone was quoted as saying. “On the other hand, there are those who have interpreted” the document “as authorization to return exclusively to the pre-Council rite. Both positions are wrong, and are exaggerated episodes that don’t correspond to the pope’s intention.”

Despite such incidents, the Rev. John T. Zuhlsdorf, who runs a blog that has charted implementation of the pope’s document, said he had seen increased interest in the older form of the Mass.

“In some dioceses in the United States, bishops have been stepping up to the plate and not only learning the older form, but celebrating it themselves,” he said in an e-mail. “Younger priests are attending workshops. Several seminaries are offering training for their priesthood candidates.”

Even before the pope’s document was released, liberal-minded Catholics had complained that Benedict’s move amounted to a negation of Vatican II, and some bishops and cardinals warned that its implementation would create a rupture in the church.

Also, Jewish groups criticized the old rite’s Good Friday prayer calling for the conversion of Jews. Bertone has said the issue could be resolved and that the church in no way intended to go against its spirit of reconciling with Jews.

Benedict’s document was also a bid to reach out to the followers of an excommunicated traditionalist, the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who split with the Vatican over Council reforms, notably the introduction of the new Mass.

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AP, via the Boston Globe, USA
Jan. 4, 2008
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This post was last updated: Jan. 4, 2008