Catholic tra­di­tion­al­ists hold pil­grim­age for Latin mass


VAT­I­CAN CITY — Fans of the old Latin mass de­scended on Rome on Thurs­day for their an­nual pil­grim­age, fac­ing in­dif­fer­ence to their cause, if not out­right re­sis­tance, from none other than Pope Fran­cis.

Ten years af­ter then-pope Bene­dict XVI passed a law al­low­ing greater use of the Latin mass, Fran­cis seems to be do­ing ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to roll it back or sim­ply pre­tend it never hap­pened.

In re­cent weeks, he has af­firmed with “mag­is­te­rial author­ity” that the re­forms of the 1960s al­low­ing for mass to be cel­e­brated in the ver­nac­u­lar rather than Latin were “ir­re­versible.” Last week he gave lo­cal bish­ops con­fer­ences author­ity to over­see those trans­la­tions, rather than the Vat­i­can.

The moves un­der­scored that the age-old li­turgy wars in the Catholic Church are very much alive and pro­vide a mi­cro­cosm view of the bat­tle lines that have been drawn be­tween con­ser­va­tive, tra­di­tion­al­ist Catholics and Fran­cis ever since he de­clined to wear the tra­di­tional, er­mine-trimmed red mozzetta cape for his first pub­lic ap­pear­ance as pon­tiff in 2013.

At a con­fer­ence Thurs­day mark­ing the 10th an­niver­sary of Bene­dict’s de­cree lib­er­al­iz­ing use of the Latin mass, the meet­ing or­ga­nizer, the Rev. Vin­cenzo Nuara, didn’t even men­tion Fran­cis in his open­ing re­marks. The cur­rent Pope was men­tioned in pass­ing by the sec­ond speaker, and ig­nored en­tirely by the third.

The front-row par­tic­i­pants hon­our­ing re­tired pope Bene­dict and his 2007 de­cree were also telling: Car­di­nal Ray­mond Burke, a lead­ing critic of the cur­rent Pope whom Fran­cis re­moved as the Vat­i­can’s supreme court judge in 2014; Car­di­nal Ger­hard Mueller, re­cently axed by Fran­cis as the Vat­i­can’s doc­trine chief, and Car­di­nal Robert Sarah, ap­pointed by Fran­cis as head of the Vat­i­can’s li­turgy of­fice but ef­fec­tively side­lined by his deputy.

In fact, it was Sarah’s deputy, Arch­bishop Arthur Roche, who signed the ex­plana­tory note to Fran­cis’ new law al­low­ing bish­ops con­fer­ences, rather than Sarah’s of­fice, to have fi­nal say on Mass trans­la­tions.

Fran­cis’ new law is a “pretty clear course cor­rec­tion from pope Bene­dict’s line,” said the Rev. An­thony Ruff, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of the­ol­ogy at St. John’s Uni­ver­sity in Min­nesota and mod­er­a­tor of the pro­gres­sive litur­gi­cal blog, Pray Tell.

De­spite the sense of be­long­ing to a pre­vi­ous era, the con­fer­ence was nev­er­the­less up­beat about the fu­ture of the Latin mass un­der Fran­cis, who has openly ques­tioned why any young per­son would seek out the old rite and dis­par­aged tra­di­tion­al­ists as rigid and in­se­cure naval-gaz­ers.

Mon­signor Guido Pozzo, in charge of ne­go­ti­a­tions with break­away tra­di­tion­al­ist groups, said more Latin masses are cel­e­brated each Sun­day in some coun­tries: France has seen a dou­bling in the num­ber of weekly Latin masses, to 221 from 104, in the past 10 years. The U.S. has seen a sim­i­lar in­crease over the same pe­riod, from 230 in 2007 to 480 to­day.

“The old li­turgy must not be in­ter­preted as a threat to the unity of church, but rather a gift,” he said. He called for it to con­tinue to be spread “with­out ide­o­log­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence from any part.”

The pro­gram for the 10-year an­niver­sary pil­grim­age be­gan with a chanted hymn at the start of the con­fer­ence and ended with ves­pers Thurs­day evening cel­e­brated by Bene­dict’s long­time sec­re­tary, Mon­signor Ge­org Gaenswein. Also on tap were a re­li­gious pro­ces­sion through the streets of Rome and mul­ti­ple masses. Con­spic­u­ously ab­sent from the four-day pro­gram was an au­di­ence with Fran­cis.


Car­di­nal Ger­hard Lud­wig Mueller is seen at a con­fer­ence on the Latin mass at the Pon­tif­i­cal Uni­ver­sity of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome on Thurs­day.

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