c. 2007 Religion News Service
(UNDATED) In a long-awaited document to be released Saturday (July 7), Pope Benedict XVI will make it easier for priests to celebrate the “old Latin Mass,” a practice sidelined in the 1960s when Catholic Church officials made local-language Mass the norm.
In a letter to the world’s bishops, Benedict says the move is intended both to promote “reconciliation” with Catholics disaffected by the contemporary version of the liturgy and to encourage greater “reverence” in celebration of the newer Mass.
Details were made public on the Web site Whispers in the Loggia, which obtained an advance copy.
The “Latin Mass,” as it is commonly called _ traditionalists call it the “Tridentine Mass” or “classical Roman liturgy” _ employs songs, rites and Gregorian chants that were common before the Second Vatican Council ushered in a host of church reforms in the 1960s.
Among other features of the older rite, Latin is spoken and sung almost exclusively and the priest celebrates the Mass facing away from the pews.
According to the four-page document, entitled “Summorum Pontificum,” priests will no longer need to seek permission from their bishops to celebrate the older Mass for worshippers “who spontaneously request it,” except during the period from Holy Thursday evening to Easter Sunday.
In congregations where demand for the older form “exists stably,” pastors are to provide for regular celebration of the pre-Vatican II Mass on Sundays and feast days. The sacraments of baptism, penance (confession), confirmation, marriage, and anointing of the sick, as well as funerals, may also be performed according to the older liturgy.
The document even allows for the establishment of “personal parishes” dedicated to celebration of the pre-Vatican II Mass, although priests serving such parishes may not refuse to celebrate the newer liturgy.
“There is no contradiction between the two editions” of the Mass, Benedict wrote in an accompanying letter to church bishops. “In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture.”
While affirming the “value and holiness” of the newer version of the Mass, the pope says a post-Vatican II tendency toward liturgical “creativity … frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear.”
“I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church,” Benedict wrote.
In an apparent reference to the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who rejected the Vatican II reforms, and who with some of his followers was excommunicated in 1988, the pope wrote that “not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity.”
Benedict calls the lifting of restrictions on the old Latin Mass “an effort to make it possible for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or attain it anew.”
The pope also suggests that the example of the older Mass could inspire the newer Mass in ways that “demonstrate, more powerfully than has been the case hitherto, the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage.”
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Currently, the newer version of the Mass may be celebrated in Latin and with Gregorian chant, practices which Benedict has encouraged on other occasions.
Benedict’s letter acknowledges the controversy that arose during the wait for the document, bemoaning “news reports and judgments made without sufficient information (which) have created no little confusion.”
He dismisses widely cited fears that fewer restrictions on the older liturgy would foster “disarray or even divisions within parish communities.” The pre-Vatican II Mass will remain an “extraordinary” form, he insists, in large part because most worshippers lack the “liturgical formation” and knowledge of Latin that the older form demands.
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