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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Alienating the Faithful?

Pope approves wider use of old Latin Mass

Last updated 06:27am (Mla time) 07/09/2007

VATICAN CITY -- In a major gesture to traditional, conservative Roman Catholics, Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday authorized the wider use of the old Latin Mass, dismissing fears that its revival could divide the Church or dilute the reforms of the Second Vatican Council that made standard worship in the languages of Catholics around the world.

Benedict stressed that he was not negating Vatican II by removing restrictions on celebrating the old rite, known as the Tridentine Mass. In it, the priest faces away from the congregation and prays, sometimes in a whisper, in Latin, a language unfamiliar to most of the world’s one billion Roman Catholics.

The Pope’s decision nevertheless overruled the objections of liberal-minded Catholics and angered Jews because the Tridentine rite contains a prayer for their conversion.

Benedict issued a document authorizing parish priests to celebrate the Tridentine Mass if a “stable group of faithful” requests it. Currently, the local bishop must approve such requests -- an obstacle that supporters of the rite say has greatly limited its availability.

But the Pope said that the change could both heal rifts with traditionalist groups that favor the Latin Mass as well as reconnect the Church with a 1,500-year-old form of worship that faded since the Second Vatican Council, which ended in 1965.

“What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us, too, and it cannot be, all of a sudden, entirely forbidden or even considered harmful,” he wrote.

Reaching out

In reviving the rite, Benedict was reaching out to the followers of an excommunicated ultratraditionalist, the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who split with the Vatican over Vatican II, particularly the introduction of the New Mass celebrated in the vernacular.

The Vatican excommunicated Lefebvre in 1988 after he consecrated four bishops without Rome’s consent. The bishops were excommunicated as well.

Benedict has been eager to reconcile with Lefebvre’s group, the Society of St. Pius X, which has demanded freer use of the old Mass as a precondition for normalizing relations. The group’s other precondition is the removal of the excommunication decrees.

The current head of the society, Bishop Bernard Fellay, welcomed Benedict’s document in a statement. He said he hoped “that the favorable climate established by the new dispositions of the Holy See” would eventually allow other doctrinal disputes that emerged from Vatican II to be discussed, including ecumenism, religious liberty and the sharing of power with bishops.

Benedict has made no secret of his affinity for the Tridentine rite and has long said the faithful should have greater access to it.

But more liberal Catholics have suggested that in liberalizing the use of a rite that symbolized the pre-Vatican II Church, Benedict was sending a strong message that Vatican II was not the “break from the past” that some view it as being.

Benedict’s document also angered Jews, since the Tridentine rite contains a prayer on Good Friday of Easter Week calling for the conversion of Jews. The Anti-Defamation League called the move a “body blow to Catholic-Jewish relations,” the Jewish news agency JTA reported.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center urged Benedict to publicly point out that such phrases “are now entirely contrary to the teaching of the Church.”

In addition to Jewish concerns, bishops in France and liberal-minded clergy and faithful elsewhere had expressed concerns that allowing freer use of the Tridentine liturgy would imply a negation of Vatican II and create divisions in parishes since two different liturgies would be celebrated.

In gentle but firm language, the Pope acknowledged in an accompanying letter to bishops the depth of opposition to the change, voiced in recent months by European bishops and Jewish groups.

“This fear is unfounded,” he said even as he proposed, in fact, a review after three years to determine “if truly serious difficulties come to light.”

Benedict said the New Mass remained the “normal” form of Mass while the Tridentine version was an “extraordinary” one that would probably only be sought by a few Catholics.

The document “doesn’t impose any return to the past, it doesn’t mean any weakening of the authority of the council nor the authority and responsibility of bishops,” Vatican spokesperson Rev. Federico Lombardi said.

Divisions seen

But Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, the head of the French Episcopal Conference, warned that the move would create divisions.

“There will be resistance from both sides,” to the new decision, Ricard told Le Monde. “For some, asking for a Mass in Latin will seem like a standard aimed at testing the priests’ loyalty to the Pope,” Ricard warned.

The liberal lay Church group, We Are Church, said that the move represented a step back from Vatican II and could set an even more conservative direction for the Church. It warned of a “new split within many parishes, diocese and finally the entire Roman Catholic Church.”

“It is to be feared that while it appears to only be about the old Mass, in reality it is an attempt to set the Catholic Church on a new old course,” the group said.

Ricard said the move did not mean the entire Church was becoming more fundamentalist.

“Just because you have in a family a cousin who is a bit different, whom you tolerate and accept, doesn’t mean that the whole family adopts his positions or his way of life,” he said. Reports from Associated Press and New York Times News Service


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