VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI is moving to facilitate a more widespread celebration of the pre-Vatican II Mass in Latin.
Only a month after the Pope’s decision to create a new institute to accommodate former members of the schismatic Society of St. Pius X, Vatican officials indicated the Holy Father plans to release a document promoting celebration of the Tridentine Mass. Catholic News Service reported Oct. 11 that Pope Benedict will expand permission to use the Tridentine Mass, the pre-Vatican II rite favored by traditionalist groups, said an informed Vatican source.
Vatican watchers say the Pope’s intentions are clear: to make the Tridentine Mass a normal part of Church life throughout the world, highlighting the reality that the Second Vatican Council did not intend to cast aside 2,000 years of liturgical tradition.
The Holy Father is expected to issue a document motu proprio (on his own initiative), which will address the concerns of “various traditionalists,” said the CNS source, who asked not to be named.
Other sources told the Register that the motu proprio will be published in November, probably as part of the long-anticipated post-synodal document on the Eucharist.
Rome’s Il Giornale newspaper reported Oct. 11 that the decree would allow priests to celebrate Mass in Latin without having to seek permission of local bishops.
A source close to Benedict confirmed the Il Giornale report late Wednesday, saying that he could issue the document by the end of November in a bid to heal a “rupture” between Church tradition and the modern worship that has come in the wake of the Second Vatican Council.
Benedict has a long-standing commitment to renewing liturgical Latin. During his tenure as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger repeatedly emphasized that it was a mistake to claim that the Second Vatican Council had cast aside the liturgical use of Latin.
“This is another of those cases, which are all too frequent in recent years, where there is a contradiction between, on the one hand, what the council actually says … and on the other hand, the concrete response of particular clerical circles,” Cardinal Ratzinger said in his 1985 book-length interview, “The Ratzinger Report.”
The Second Vatican Council’s 1963 constitution on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium (This Sacred Council), states clearly that “the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites” (No. 36).
It also states, “In accordance with the centuries-old tradition of the Latin rite, the Latin language is to be retained by clerics in the divine office” (No. 101).
In 1984, Pope John Paul II first made it possible for groups of the faithful to worship according to the old rite under certain conditions. In 1991, the Vatican established more generous guidelines encouraging bishops to grant permission and retaining just one basic condition: that those seeking the old Mass form must also accept the validity of the new rite, the Novus Ordo (New Ordinary of the Mass).
Pope Benedict’s other recent action with respect to the Latin Mass — the creation last month of a new institute for former members of the Society of St. Pius X — has been welcomed by traditionalists, caused controversy in France and possibly changed the nature of Vatican negotiations with the society.
With a papal decree issued Sept. 8, the Feast of the Birth of Mary, four priests and a seminarian who once belonged to the society founded by the late excommunicated Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre became the founding members of the Good Shepherd Institute in Bordeaux, France.
This new association allows the priests to return to communion with the Church and celebrate according to the 1962 version of the Roman Missal.
The priests will use their own parish church of St. Eloi but they will not be able to celebrate the 1962 liturgy anywhere else in the diocese.
The Vatican says the institute has been established as a “pastoral measure” and will have a trial period of five years.
Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard of Bordeaux said “the Pope himself made the decision” as part of a process of reconciliation.
The Society of St. Pius X is opposed to liturgical and doctrinal reforms of the Second Vatican Council, and its four bishops have been under the penalty of excommunication since 1988.
Archbishop Lefebvre consecrated four Society of Saint Pius X bishops in 1988, in direct violation of the orders of Pope John Paul II. With that act, Lefebvre and the four bishops excommunicated themselves from the Catholic Church. The Vatican declared the ecclesial disobedience an act of schism.
Two of the priests who have returned to communion through the Good Shepherd Institute, Abbot Philippe Laguérie and Father Paul Aulagnier, fell out with Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior general of the Society of St. Pius X, in 2004.
Both priests were unwilling to return to the society or celebrate the Novus Ordo Mass in normal use in the Church today, so a body such as the Good Shepherd Institute was the only option available for them to regain communion with Rome.
The St. Pius X Society response to the Good Shepherd initiative was chilly. In a Sept. 8 statement, it said that “it cannot accept as its own a communitarian solution in which the Tridentine Mass would be confined to a special status.”
The statement added, “The Mass of a 2,000-year-old tradition must possess full and entire rights of citizenship within the Church. It is not a privilege reserved for a few, but a right for all the priests and faithful in the universal Church.”
The society also pointed out that the establishment of the institute is not unprecedented, and drew attention to the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, the Society of St. John-Marie Vianney in Campos, Brazil, and the Institute of St. Philip Neri in Berlin.
When reports emerged about Pope Benedict’s plan to encourage the celebration of Mass in Latin, the St. Pius X Society reacted much more favorably.
“It’s an important first step” toward reconciliation, said Father Marc Nelly, an aide to Bishop Fellay. He noted, however, that that group considers the celebration of Mass in local languages incompatible with the use of the Latin Mass.
Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Clergy and head of the Pontifical Ecclesia Dei Commission set up by John Paul II to facilitate the return to ecclesial communion for St. Pius X members, told I Media news agency Sept. 21 that the creation of the Good Shepherd Institute was “accomplished under the sign of reconciliation and of full communion.”
But reconciliation with the society as a whole, Cardinal Castrillon said, was a very separate reality. “They are on different levels and require different paths,” he said.
In an Oct. 6 statement, Cardinal Ricard of Bordeaux indicated that the purpose of the institute was specifically to lay the foundation for possible reconciliation.
“The decision must be placed in relation to the desire of Pope Benedict XVI, which he has expressed several times, to offer a gesture of welcome with respect to those who followed Archbishop Lefebvre,” the cardinal said. “The Pope knows that through history and as years pass, schisms harden and the chances for reconciliation diminish, each following their own way.”
Said Cardinal Ricard, “The creation of this institute is, therefore, a sign of an outstretched hand, of an invitation to overcome suspicion and to start a dialogue in a more fraternal spirit.”
(CNS, RNS and Register staff contributed to this article.)
writes from Rome.