Pope’s clampdown on Latin Mass praised as ‘prophetic,’ ripped as ‘cruel’

Pope’s clampdown on Latin Mass praised as ‘prophetic,’ ripped as ‘cruel’

The closing procession during a traditional Latin Mass celebrated July 1, 2021, at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, N.Y. (Credit: CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz.)

Pope Francis’s decision to tighten restrictions on the celebration of the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass was met with polar reaction from Catholics around the globe, with some praising the move as prophetic, and others calling it a stain on Francis’s legacy.

ROME – Pope Francis’s decision to restrict celebration of the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass, effectively rolling back wider permission granted under Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, is being met by predictably mixed reaction from Catholics around the globe, with some praising the move as prophetic and others calling it a stain on Francis’s legacy.

Speaking to Crux, liturgy expert and editor at the New Liturgical Movement blog Gregory DiPippo said that when he heard the news, he was filled with “profound sadness and dismay at the idea that the pope would so cruelly mistreat so many of the faithful.”

Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh, meanwhile, praised the pope’s decision on Twitter as, “A historic day. A bold move. A prophetic act.”

“Benedict XVI told bishops at the time of his 2007 Summorum Pontificum that it would be reviewed if it created problems. Francis has consulted the bishops of the world and they say it has. What was meant to foster unity has been used to sow division and opposition to Vatican II,” Ivereigh said.

DiPippo clearly doesn’t see it that way, saying the move is seen by enthusiasts of the Latin Mass “for what it is, a declaration of war, and a statement of intent to drive people who did not fit into the pope’s ideological vision of the Church out of it.”

Catholics who prefer the  Latin Mass “have been sent the very clear message that they are not welcome or wanted in the Church, and that the Holy See now formally rejects all idea of undertaking their pastoral care,” DiPippo said. “However, they are as a group very well catechized, and know that the Church is not the Pope’s personal plaything which entitles him to maltreat the faithful in this fashion.”

On Friday the Vatican published a new motu propio, meaning an addition to Church law issued on the pope’s own authority, titled, Traditionis Custodes, meaning “Guardians of Tradition,” which tightened permission for celebration of the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass, also called the Traditional Latin Mass, the use of which had been liberalized under Benedict in 2007.

RELATED: Francis reverses Benedict’s liberalization of use of older Latin Mass

According to the new norms, it is up to bishops whether to allow the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass in their dioceses.

Priests who already obtained permission and are currently celebrating the Latin Mass must now get permission from their bishop to continue doing so, and any priest ordained after Francis’s new norms went into effect Friday must submit a formal request to their bishop, who in turn will consult with the Vatican before giving permission.

Specific times and places must be determined for where and when the Latin Mass can be celebrated, but it is no longer allowed to take place in parishes, and no new parishes exclusively for the use of the Latin Mass can be established.

The new rules also bar any new group wishing to celebrate the Latin Mass from being formed.

In a letter to the world’s bishops published alongside the July 16 motu proprio, Pope Francis said that in the 13 years since Benedict XVI broadened access to the Latin Mass in a bid to foster unity, that openness has been “exploited” to create divisions.

“An opportunity offered by St. John Paul II and, with even greater magnanimity, by Benedict XVI, intended to recover the unity of an ecclesial body with diverse liturgical sensibilities, was exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division,” Francis said.

DiPippo rejected the idea that restricting the Latin Mass was done to promote unity, calling the claim “a blatant falsehood.”

The pope’s decision, he said, “will unquestionably divide Catholics further. I think that even many of those who have no particular sympathy for the traditional liturgy or its follows will be repelled by the callous lack of pastoral charity which this change evinces.”

In a statement Friday, Joseph Shaw, Chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales, said Francis’s new norms are a “grave disappointment, and that if they are strictly implemented, it would “drive a great many faithful Catholics, who desire nothing more than to attend the ancient Mass in communion with their bishops and the Holy Father, to attend celebrations which fall outside the structures of the Church, above all those of the Society of St Pius X.”

“These Catholics have worked hard over many years, particularly since 2007, to build up the unity of the Church, which as the Second Vatican Council declared does not depend on liturgical uniformity but on unity of faith under the Pope,” he said.

Shaw said the provision banning the Latin Mass from being celebrated in parishes is “unworkable,” and that the “overall negative judgement of the [extraordinary form] and the communities which attend it seems wholly unwarranted.”

“We would challenge any apologist for this document to produce real evidence that the [extraordinary form] has undermined the unity of the Church,” he said, and compared the Latin Mass to Eastern Rites in the Church, or to the unique liturgical celebrations of ecclesial movements such as the Neocatechumenal Way.

In comments to Crux, Monsignor James Moroney, former chief of staff to the US bishops on liturgy, voiced his belief that the broadened access to the Latin Mass facilitated under Benedict XVI, a gesture intended to unify, has had the opposite effect.

“All one has to do is to surf the internet to read that ‘priests are not fully of the Roman Rite unless they celebrate the extraordinary form,’” that there is an “‘inalienable right’ of priests to exclusively celebrate the ordinary form,” or criticism of “the many perceived defects of the last council and the liturgical reform which followed and the inadequacy of the bishops.”

“There is the tendency among some of the most vocal proponents of the extraordinary form to set up a sort of competition between the ‘vetus’ and ‘novus’ Masses,” Moroney said, noting that one Church commentator recently remarked that, “the post-Conciliar reform has definitively lost its grasp on the hearts and minds of the young.”

What Pope Francis is doing, he said, joining his voice to the many bishops “who lament the divisive tone of these campaigns for the pre-conciliar form, campaigns which largely fail to acknowledge the need for the reform of those same rites which was called for by the Council fathers.”

Moroney was appointed by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI as a consultor to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

On a practical level, Moroney said, the decision for how to regulate the celebration of the Latin Mass will be with the bishops, and not individual priests, who themselves often have different liturgical preferences.

The pope, he said, is simply responding to reports from bishops around the world “that without the capacity to regulate the extraordinary form its unbridled celebration, this has too often compromised the unity of the Church.”

Asked whether he believes this decision from Pope Francis will in fact foster the unity he hopes to achieve by imposing stronger restrictions for the Latin Mass, Moroney said that “Those who see the sacred liturgy as the source and summit of our unity will respond to his call.”

“Those who wish to use the liturgy as a political football will not,” he said.

At a pastoral level, Moroney said his advice for enthusiasts of the Latin Mass who are sad or disappointed by Francis’s restrictions is to “take a deep breath and listen with humility to what the Holy Father and their Bishop ask of them.”

“Too often in our consumer culture we look upon every experience as a product which can be customized to our desires,” he said.

Just as those who “arbitrarily customized” the liturgy to suit their own perceived needs were chastised in past decades, “so every faithful Catholic must realize the Sacred Liturgy is something we unworthily receive from the Church,” he said.

“Each of us,” he said, “are unworthy of so great a work and we must humbly join our voices to the voice of the Church in offering the great sacrifice of praise.”

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen

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