Posted July 2, 2007
Will the Re-introduction of the Tridentine Mass,
If It Materializes Unite or Divide the U.S. Church?
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Wider Use of Latin Mass Likely, Vatican Officials Say
By Laurie Goodstein and Ian Fisher
Published: June 28, 2007
Pope Benedict XVI has signed a document that would allow more churches to adopt the old Latin Mass that largely faded from use during the 1960s, when the groundbreaking Second Vatican Council opened the door to worship in the local vernacular, Vatican officials say.
The revival of what is known as the Tridentine Mass has long been promoted by Roman Catholic traditionalists, who say it is more moving, contemplative and historically authentic than the modern Mass.
But Pope Benedict has been hearing resistance from cardinals and bishops, many of them in Europe, who argue that the change would divide the church by promulgating two very different official rites.
They say that it could create rifts in smaller parishes that cannot agree which Mass to use, and that it would burden already overburdened members of the clergy, many of whom do not know Latin and were never trained to perform the older rite’s more complex choreography.
In the Tridentine Mass, the priest faces away from the congregation and prays, sometimes in a whisper, in Latin, a language unfamiliar to most of the world’s one billion Roman Catholics. The Vatican II reformers intended the modern Mass to be more accessible by allowing the priest to face the congregation and to involve the worshipers in prayer and song, mostly in their native language but including some passages in Latin.
The issue is not a compulsory return to the Tridentine rite, which is named for the 16th-century Council of Trent that codified it. While it is increasingly popular in small pockets of the church, there seems to be no widespread demand for it. The document being discussed, church officials say, would allow priests to celebrate the Tridentine Mass without asking for permission from their bishops.
Under the current rules, priests must get permission. And while many bishops have granted it, some have not, frustrating priests who wish to make the Tridentine Mass more widely available.
Catholic experts agree that the debate is not merely about ritual, but about the legacy of the Second Vatican Council, which met from 1962 to 1965.
Some Catholic traditionalists regard the introduction of the modern liturgy as the start of what they see as the church’s slide since Vatican II and hope that the Tridentine Mass will rejuvenate the faith. Church liberals fear that if the pope undermines the modern Mass, it may lead to the reversal of other Vatican II reforms, like more open relationships with other faiths.
Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton in England said he had freely and happily given permission for the Tridentine Mass to be celebrated in his diocese but opposed a change in the rules.
“It might be taken by some to infer that Benedict himself is not entirely behind the reforms of the Vatican Council,” Bishop Conry said. “For many it’s a symbol and a flag.”
Although this change has been rumored to be in the works for years, even under Pope John Paul II, who died two years ago, the church has only recently signaled impending action.
In recent weeks several top officials, including the No. 2 at the Vatican, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the secretary of state, were quoted in news reports as saying that the document would be issued shortly. Vatican officials say that the pope has already signed it and that it will be released and go into effect before the pope starts vacation on July 9.
Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos told a meeting of Latin American bishops in Brazil in May that Pope Benedict was motivated in part by his desire to bring back into the fold the members of the Society of St. Pius X, a schismatic group opposed to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
The society’s founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, was excommunicated in 1988 after consecrating four bishops without Vatican consent. He died in 1991. Cardinal Castrillón leads a Vatican commission created to try to reconcile the archbishop’s followers, who reportedly number about one million, with the church.
In recent months some bishops in Germany, Belgium, Britain and France have strongly urged the pope not to issue the document, arguing that it would undermine their authority and cement the perception of a church out of line with modernity. The main bloc of opposition, church officials say, has come from France, where the Society of St. Pius X is strongest.
In addition, Jews and Catholics involved in interfaith relations have expressed concerns to Vatican officials that the Tridentine liturgy still includes passages offensive to Jews. The liturgy for Good Friday, for instance, contains a prayer “for the conversion of the Jews.”
The Rev. Keith Pecklers, a Jesuit liturgical scholar at the Gregorian University in Rome, said: “We’ve made tremendous progress in 40 years of Jewish-Christian relations since Vatican II. What will that mean now to return to a liturgy that prays for the conversion of the Jews on Good Friday?
“I don’t think they’re considering all of the potential pitfalls.”
It is possible that the document will be further delayed or even derailed, but those who know the pope say they doubt it.
The Rev. Joseph Fessio, an American Jesuit priest who has published the pope’s books, said: “Because he is such a deliberate person, it is hard for me to think that he will have done all these drafts and spent all this time and not publish it. If he really believes it would help the church and doesn’t do it because some bishops complain, then all he does is strengthen the position of those bishops who want to oppose him.”
The Tridentine Mass has loyal fans who will travel great distances to churches where it is still celebrated. In Rome last Sunday, about 30 people, many of them young foreigners, attended the 10:30 a.m. Mass at San Gregorio dei Muratori church.
“It feels alien when you first start doing it,” said Leah Whittington, 27, an American graduate student. But, she said, “I just love Latin and feeling that 2,000-year connection to the church, and I find it easier to pray, because there is not a lot of conversation between the priest and the congregation.”
Peter Kiefer contributed reporting from Rome.
At a glance: Differences between Tridentine Mass, Mass said today
By Catholic News Service
Here at a glance are the basic differences between the Tridentine Mass, promulgated in 1570, and the Roman Missal published in 1969 in response to the reforms called for by the Second Vatican Council:
-- While Latin is the original language of both liturgical texts, the new missal permits use of the vernacular language; because it called for full, active participation, the use of a local congregation's language became customary.
-- With the exception of readings for the feast days of individual saints, the Tridentine Mass has a one-year cycle of Scripture readings. The Vatican II liturgy has a three-year cycle for Sunday readings and a two-year cycle for weekday readings.
-- The old penitential "prayers at the foot of the altar," recited by priests and other ministers before Mass, were replaced by the penitential rite within the Mass, recited by the entire congregation.
-- In the Tridentine Mass, the first half of the liturgy was called the Mass of the Catechumens and almost always included a reading from one of the New Testament epistles and from one of the four Gospels. The new Liturgy of the Word, in accordance with ancient church tradition, almost always begins with a passage from the Old Testament.
-- The Liturgy of the Eucharist, formerly called the Mass of the Faithful, begins with the preparation of the gifts. The old offertory prayers were revised in the new liturgy to avoid what some people saw as a duplication of the eucharistic prayers.
-- Instead of one eucharistic prayer, there are now nine -- four for general Sunday and weekday use, two for Masses focusing on reconciliation and three for Masses for children.
-- In the new Mass, the Communion rite was simplified, allowing communicants to receive the Eucharist under the forms of both bread and wine.
-- The new Mass eliminated the recitation at the end of every Mass of what was known as the "last Gospel" -- the beginning of the Gospel of St. John.
-- A priest celebrated the Tridentine Mass facing east, which -- given the layout of most churches -- meant he celebrated with his back to the congregation. Since the promulgation of the Roman Missal, the priest normally faces the congregation.