This article originally appeared in
Pope eases use of Latin Mass
July 8, 2007
By Eric J. Lyman and Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY
VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday formally made the majestic,
complex and controversial millennial-old Latin Mass more accessible to
Catholics, who have said the Mass in their modern local languages for four
"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,"
Benedict wrote in a letter.
His letter, citing renewed efforts to "maintain or regain reconciliation and unity"
in the church, accompanied a detailed document on how the Latin or Tridentine
Mass, beloved by traditionalists, may be offered now that priests no longer
need to seek permission from their bishop to do so.
Few bishops obliged, even after Pope John Paul II granted that limited
authority to them in 1989. Seminaries haven't taught the lengthy, elaborately
choreographed Latin Mass to priests in 40 years.
And many church leaders are opposed to restoring and expanding a Mass they say is inscrutable to the faithful, outdated, and
includes an offensive Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews, asking God to lift their "blindness."
However, Benedict is not rolling back the 1960s reforms of the Second Vatican Council, said a Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico
Lombardi. "It doesn't mean any weakening of the authority of the council nor the authority and responsibility of bishops," Lombardi
Benedict also announced modifications to the Mass drawn from the modern version, including expanded use of Bible reading, which
may be done in local languages, such as English. Further changes might come, said Benedict, who asked bishops to write the
Vatican about their experiences in three years.
The Latin Mass was the only Catholic Mass until the 1960s, when Vatican II's efforts to modernize the church replaced it with a more
interactive version. Today the Mass familiar to the world's one billion Catholics uses local languages, with the altar shifted so priests
face the congregation; in the traditional Latin Mass, everyone, including the priest, faces east.
As he awaited the details of the pope's decision, Fr. Joseph Kramer, the pastor of San Gregorio dei Muratori, one of three churches
celebrating the old mass in Rome, wondered if the traditional Mass will be encouraged or, "Will it simply be allowed to grow where
there is a demand?"
"Anyone who seeks religion seeks a sacred moment with God, and that requires a certain reverence that comes with the old mass
and its other worldliness," said South Carolina resident Brian Mershon, an active participant in Una Voce, a traditional Catholic
advocacy group. "Man's relationship with God is not a relationship of equals."
Historian and linguist Eric Hewitt, a Philadelphia native now living in Rome and and regularly attending Latin masses, finds it "more
symbolic, which I think makes it more difficult but also more powerful" than the modern Mass.
Hewitt cited the use of sacred language by many ancient faiths. "Jews use Hebrew, Hindus and Buddhists use Sanskrit, the Greek
Orthodox use ancient Greek, and Muslims pray in a classical Arabic that is different from what they use to speak to each other. I think
there is an innate desire to approach the divine with a special language and not with the language we use in the grocery store."
Msgr. Ignacio Barreiro, a Rome-based supporter of the old mass, said the younger generation 'are at once attracted by the beauty and
the transcendence and the symbolism of it, which can really be moving."
Benedict also included permission for priests to celebrate baptisms, marriages and funerals according to the old rites.
Fr. Antonio Albanesi, a Rome-based researcher, echoed the views of many critics who say congregations should be able to
understand the Mass. "The Tridentine Mass is paramount to saying the world hasn't evolved and that people still speak Latin or that
they cannot understand scripture well enough to have their own relationship with God," Albanesi said.
Criticism also came from Jewish leaders, unhappy with the restoration of a prayer for their conversion, said during Easter Week. The
Anti-Defamation League called the move a "body blow to Catholic Jewish relations."
The Vatican has set up a commission to look into any complaints.
Benedict's move was a step toward restoring relations with France's Society of St. Pius X — followers of an excommunicated ultra
traditionalist, the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Lefebvre split with the Vatican over the introduction of the New Mass and other
Vatican II reforms and who consecrated four bishops without Rome's consent.
But Benedict also demanded that Lefebvre's followers accept the modern Mass as legitimate.
"The total exclusion of the new rite would not in fact be consistent with the recognition of its values and holiness," he wrote.
Bishop Bernard Fellay, head of the Society, welcomed the expanded opportunity to offer the old Mass but said there were still
obstacles to reconciliation, including the decrees of excommunication and "disputed doctrinal issues" over ecumenism, religious
liberty and sharing power with bishops.
Some bishops have expressed concern that offering two kinds of Mass could create divisions in parishes since two different liturgies
would be celebrated.
However, Brazilian Bishop Fernando Rifan, one of the highest ranking advocates of the old Mass, said his experience in Campos,
Brazil, showed there was little problem in having Masses in Latin and Portuguese side-by-side.
"But I think they will eventually have an impact on each other," Rifan said. "The old Mass will help reform the new Mass and leave
many of the changes from the 1960s behind. The new Mass will benefit from its exposure to the beauty of the traditional Mass."
Contributing: Associated Press
Copyright 2007 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
Pope Benedict XVI issued today, a decree allowing greater
use of mass in Latin, signalling a bid to heal a decades-old
split in the Roman Catholic Church. Priests are to meet
requests by the faithful to hold mass in the traditional Church
language, which had widely been dropped in the 1960s.