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ROME – Despite his efforts last year to crack down on use of the Traditional Latin Mass, Pope Francis this month issued a decree exempting members of a priestly society with a special attachment to the traditional liturgy from adhering to the restrictions.

Headquartered in Switzerland, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) is a Society of Apostolic Life of pontifical right that was founded in 1988 by 12 priests who were formerly members of the Society of St. Pius X, after its founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, was excommunicated for consecrating four bishops without the proper papal mandate.

While the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite liturgy is at the heart of the community’s charism and is enshrined in its governing constitutions, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter remains faithful to Rome and to the authority of the pope.

According to a communique published by the FSSP Monday, Pope Francis met with two members of the leadership of the community – Father Benoît Paul-Joseph, Superior of the District of France, and Father Vincent Ribeton, Rector of St. Peter’s Seminary in Wigratzbad – for an hour-long meeting at the Vatican Feb. 4 to discuss the pope’s restrictions to the traditional liturgy.

Last year, Francis tightened permissions for celebration of the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass, the use of which had been liberalized under his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.

According to last year’s papal decree Traditionis Custodes, priests who wish to celebrate the 1962 liturgy must now get permission from their bishop to continue doing so. Any priest ordained after the issuance of the new norms who wishes to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass must submit a formal request to their bishop, and the bishop in turn will consult with the Vatican before granting permission.

Francis also charged bishops with determining specific times and locations where the Latin Mass can be celebrated, and prohibited the designation of new parishes exclusively dedicated to the Traditional Latin Mass.

In their community, the FSSP described the meeting between their leadership and Pope Francis as “cordial,” saying that in the course of the conversation, “the pope expressed that he was very impressed” by the approach taken by the FSSP founders, “their desire to remain faithful to the Roman Pontiff and their trust in the Church.”

“He said that this gesture should be ‘preserved, protected and encouraged,’” the community said, saying the pope in the audience also made it clear that institutes such as theirs are not affected by the provisions of Traditionis Custodes, “since the use of the ancient liturgical books was at the origin of their existence and is provided for in their constitutions.”

Pope Francis subsequently issued a decree dated Feb. 11, which marks the Catholic feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and the day on which the FSSP was consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in which he formalized the exemption.

In the decree, the pope granted “each and ever member” of the FSSP the faculty to use the liturgical books that were in force in 1962, prior to the Second Vatican Council, including the Roman the Missal, the Ritual, the Pontifical, and the Roman Breviary.

According to the decree, published on the FSSP website, this faculty can be used inside FSSP churches and oratories and for private Masses, but otherwise, it may only be used with the permission of the local bishop.

Francis did suggest, regardless of the exemption, that “as far as possible, the provisions of the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes be taken into account as well” by members of the society.

In their statement, the FSSP thanked Pope Francis for making the exemption, and invited all faithful who are close to the community to join either in prayer for a special Feb. 22 Mass, marking the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, which will be offered for the pope’s intentions.

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