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Loopholes close for old Latin rite

07 January 2022


Pope Francis celebrates Holy Mass in St Peter’s, Basilicaon, on the feast of Mary Most Holy Mother of God, on New Year’s Day, the 55th World Day of Peace

Pope Francis celebrates Holy Mass in St Peter’s, Basilicaon, on the feast of Mary Most Holy Mother of God, on New Year’s Day, the 55th World Day...

THE Vatican has clarified the new restrictions on using the pre-Vatican II Extraordinary Form of the mass, but the latest document has been criticised for its “harsh language”.

In a pre-Christmas letter to Bishops’ Conferences, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Most Revd Arthur Roche, said that clarification had been sought on 11 points (dubia) arising from the Pope’s Apostolic Letter last July (News, 23 July 2021).

This restricted use the Extraordinary Form Latin rite, to be found in the 1962 edition of the Missale Romanum.

He said that Pope Francis had warned that “liturgical reform is irreversible,” and said that all bishops should now “safeguard communion” by “walking together, with conviction of mind and heart, in the direction indicated by the Holy Father”.

“It is sad to see how the deepest bond of unity, the sharing in the one bread broken which is his body offered so that all may be one, becomes a cause for division,” Archbishop Roche wrote.

“As pastors we must not lend ourselves to sterile polemics, capable only of creating division, in which the ritual itself is often exploited by ideological viewpoints.”

The accompanying document said that any local use of the Latin or Tridentine mass should, in future, be authorised directly by the Vatican, and not be made “part of the ordinary life of the parish community”.

Permission to celebrate it in a parish church or chapel would be withdrawn as soon as “another venue becomes available”, the document said, while RC seminaries would be required to ensure “acceptance of liturgical reform”.

Although some sacraments might still, on occasion, be dispensed using the pre-Vatican II liturgy, this would not be permitted for confirmation and ordination. RC clergy would be barred from bination (the celebration by one priest of two masses in one day) using the Extraordinary Form as well as the Ordinary Form.

“Care should be taken to accompany all those rooted in the previous form of celebration towards a full understanding of the value of the ritual form given us by the Second Vatican Council,” the Congregation document says.

“This should take place through an appropriate formation that makes it possible to discover how the reformed liturgy is witness to an unchanged faith, the expression of a renewed ecclesiology, and the primary source of spirituality for Christian life.”

The move was condemned, however, by Rorate Caeli, a traditionalist group critical of Pope Francis, which told Associated Press that the Vatican appeared intent on “reigniting liturgical wars”.

The chairman of England’s Latin Mass Society, Joseph Shaw, accused the Congregation of infringing canon law and “limiting bishops’ prerogatives”, and questioned whether the Pope had specifically approved the document’s “harsh language”.

“Though not numerous, traditionalist Catholics have made a huge contribution to religious life, restoring churches and fostering vocations,” Mr Shaw, an Oxford lecturer, said. “To suggest the Vatican can now control and micro-manage what happens at parish level is legally doubtful and wildly impractical.”

The Extraordinary Form entails eastward-facing celebration, parts of the Latin liturgy are inaudible to the congregation, and the ceremonial differs from the Ordinary Form.

While some critics accuse enthusiasts of treating the Latin mass as a superior form of liturgy, and using it as a rallying point against reforms, some traditionalists have charged the Pope with diluting Catholic doctrine in favour of concerns about social justice and ecology.

In his Apostolic Letter Traditionis Custodes (Guardians of the Tradition), Pope Francis ruled that the liturgical forms promulgated after Vatican II were the “unique expression” of RC worship, and curbed the authorisation given by his predecessors, St John Paul II and Benedict XVI, for the Extraordinary Form to be celebrated as an outreach to Catholics attached to older rituals.

The letter ordered bishops not to establish new groups or venues devoted to the Latin mass. It said that the Pope was “preoccupied and saddened” that some traditionalist RCs rejected Vatican II, “with unfounded and unsustainable assertions that it betrayed the Tradition and ‘true Church’”.

Assertions that Latin-mass enthusiasts believed that they were defending the “true Church” were rejected, however, as a “misinformed stereotype” by Mr Shaw, who said that the Pope had faced criticism not just from traditionalist RCs but from “every sector of church opinion, including angry liberals”.

The lecturer predicted that the latest “gratuitous Vatican ruling” would damage ecumenism and cause concern among Protestant and Orthodox Christians already “suspicious of papal power”.

“These Catholics have been acting in accordance with the Church’s older traditions, in official places of worship with priests approved by their bishops. Who can have advised the Pope that the way to deal with a marginalised minority is to marginalise it even more?” Mr Shaw said.

“Picking out and scapegoating a small group like this for some ill-defined misdemeanour sets a terrible example for the whole Church. Besides causing suffering to individuals, it will damage the Church’s image and deal a real psychological blow to many people.”

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