Vatican instructions on Latin Mass raise hackles of Catholic liberals


THOSE WHO would argue that a major thrust of Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate has been an inward-looking, conservative consolidation will probably point to yesterday’s “instruction” on the 2007 Motu Proprio “ Summorum Pontificum” and shout “case proved”.

To express it in layman’s language, the Holy See yesterday issued a detailed set of instructions calling on bishops and priests to show willing when faced with requests for celebration of Mass in Latin. These instructions follow on from the 2007 Motu Proprio datain which the Pope had eased restrictions on the use of the Latin or so-called Tridentine Mass, which had been sidelined, but not abrogated, by the liturgical reforms of the second Vatican Council, being replaced by the 1970 local language liturgy.

Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi yesterday said the new norms were published in order “to reconcile differences” between those in favour of restoring the Latin rite and those who see it as a backward step.

One is entitled to be sceptical on this front given that the former lobby tend to see fidelity to the old missal as a mark of traditionalist identity, whilst the latter lobby sees promotion of the Latin Mass as a contradiction of the teachings of the second Vatican Council.

Yesterday’s document recalled three main aims of the original Motu Proprio: to offer the old rite to all the faithful as a “precious treasure”; to guarantee the use of the old rite “for all who ask for it”; and to promote reconciliation in the church. In essence, the instructions call on priests and bishops to offer a “generous welcome” to those calling for the Latin Mass.

In a section called “specific norms”, the instructions deal with a broad series of issues – for example, a “group of the faithful” who worship “in a stable manner” can legitimately request celebration of the Tridentine Mass.

Fr Lombardi emphasised the tone of the instructions makes it clear “there should be no polemical or critical intent on the part of those people making the request”. In other words, such groups must not contest the validity of the “ordinary” post-1970 Mass.

Many liberal Catholics are still likely to interpret these instructions as an unnecessary concession to arch-conservative, anti-ecumenical groups such as the Society of Pius X, founded by the late archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.