ROME (AP) — Pope Francis cracked down Friday on the spread of the old Latin Mass, reversing one of Pope Benedict XVI’s signature decisions in a major challenge to traditionalist Catholics who immediately decried it as an attack on them and the ancient liturgy.
Francis reimposed restrictions on celebrating the Latin Mass that Benedict relaxed in 2007, and went further to limit its use. The pontiff said he was taking action because Benedict’s reform had become a source of division in the church and been exploited by Catholics opposed to the Second Vatican Council, the 1960s meetings that modernized the church and its liturgy.
Critics said they had never before witnessed a pope so thoroughly reversing his predecessor. That the reversal concerned something so fundamental as the liturgy, while Benedict is still alive and living in the Vatican as a retired pope, only amplified the extraordinary nature of Francis’ move, which will surely result in more right-wing hostility directed at him.
Francis, 84, issued a new law requiring individual bishops to approve celebrations of the old Mass, also called the Tridentine Mass, and requiring newly ordained priests to receive explicit permission to celebrate it from their bishops, in consultation with the Vatican.
Under the new law, bishops must also determine if the current groups of faithful attached to the old Mass accept Vatican II, which allowed for Mass to be celebrated in the vernacular rather than Latin. These groups cannot use regular churches; instead, bishops must find alternate locations for them without creating new parishes.
In addition, Francis said bishops are no longer allowed to authorize the formation of any new pro-Latin Mass groups in their dioceses.
Francis said he was taking action to promote unity and heal divisions within the church that had grown since Benedict’s 2007 document, Summorum Pontificum. He said he based his decision on a 2020 Vatican survey of all the world’s bishops, whose “responses reveal a situation that preoccupies and saddens me, and persuades me of the need to intervene.”
The pope’s rollback immediately created an uproar among traditionalists already opposed to Francis’ more progressive bent and nostalgic for Benedict’s doctrinaire papacy.
“This is an extremely disappointing document which entirely undoes the legal provisions,” of Benedict’s 2007 document, said Joseph Shaw, chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales.
Pope Francis said in his Christmas message Friday that fraternity is a watchword for these unusually troubled times exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
“At this moment in history, marked by the ecological crisis and grave economic and social imbalances only worsened by the coronavirus pandemic, it is all the more important for us to acknowledge one another as brothers and sisters,” he said in his “Urbi et Orbi” (“to the city and the world”) message.
This year, due to COVID safety restrictions, the the pontiff delivered his remarks from a lectern inside the Vatican instead of from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica for a crowd of thousands who traditionally fill the square. It was livestreamed for viewing around the world.
Pope Francis said this call for solidarity was especially aimed at “people who are the most fragile, the sick and all who at this period find themselves without work or in grave difficulty due to the economic consequences of the pandemic and to women who have been subjected to domestic violence during these months of confinement.
“The pontiff also touched on the plight of children caught up by war, singling out victims in Syria, Yemen and Iraq in his Christmas message.
“On this day, when the word of God became a child, let us turn our gaze to the many, all too many, children worldwide, especially in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, who still pay the high price of war,” he said.
“May their faces touch the consciences of all men and women of good will, so that the causes of conflicts can be addressed and courageous efforts can be made to build a future of peace,” he said.
Pope Francis called for unity from around the world to confront the coronavirus pandemic as he celebrated Easter Mass in solitude Sunday inside an empty St. Peter’s Square.
The 83-year-old pontiff made his traditional Easter address, urging the European Union to step up to the “epochal challenge” caused by the pandemic.
“This is not a time for self-centeredness, because the challenge we are facing is shared by all, without distinguishing between persons,” he said.
He noted that Europe rose again after World War II “thanks to a concrete spirit of solidarity that enabled it to overcome the rivalries of the past.”
He gave prayers for the sick, dead, poor, elderly and refugees, as well as doctors and nurses who have worked “to the point of exhaustion and not infrequently at the expense of their own health.”