Rebellion Against the Pope Over the Latin Mass

Deal W. Hudson
November 6, 2007

From the Vatican comes news that resistance to Benedict XVI’s promotion of the Old Latin Mass is considered “rebellion against the pope.”

You may recall that on July 7, 2007, Benedict XVI released an Apostolic Letter called a motu proprio (because the pope wrote it “of his own accord” rather than using an advisor or member of the Vatican Curia). The letter, entitled Summorum Pontificum (“Of the Supreme Pontiffs,”) took the power away from bishops who want to continue to block the celebration of the Tridentine Mass – the normative Roman Catholic liturgy from 1570 to 1962.

Some bishops were not so happy about that. They, along with like-minded lay leaders, consider any return to the Old Latin Mass as a rejection of Vatican II reforms.

The permission to celebrate some parts of the Mass in the vernacular was one of the signal changes wrought at the 2nd Vatican Council. Of course, the original Vatican II document, Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 1963), restricted the use of the vernacular to readings, directives, and some of the prayers and chants.

Over the next few years, however, bishops’ conferences around the world peppered the Vatican with requests for more use of the vernacular until, by 1970, many priests were no longer using Latin at all.

The entirely vernacular Mass was not what Vatican II espoused. So anyone who claims that Benedict XVI’s motu proprio “overthrows” the Council needs to go take another look at the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, section 36.

Archbishop Albert Ranjith Patabendige, the secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, in an interview with an Italian website, called upon bishops worldwide to follow the dictates of the papal letter which allows a local pastor to give permission to groups to celebrate the old liturgy using the 1962 Missal. Patabendige, a prelate from Sri Lanka, asked his fellow bishops to set “aside from all pride and prejudice.”

One bishop he may have had in mind was Bishop Raffaele Nogaro of Caserta, Italy, who canceled the Mass saying, “to mumble in Latin serves no purpose.”

Other bishops have not criticized the decision directly but have allowed their surrogates to speak for them. Fr. Peter Daly, writing in The Tidings, the official paper of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, writes:

Apart from the schismatic followers of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and a few young people who are nostalgic for a church they never knew, almost nobody is pressing for it. Nobody under the age of 55 even remembers the old Latin ritual.

And whose fault is that?

Certainly not the laity who have been raised in a post-1970 Catholic Church that stopped celebrating the Mass that had been the common experience of Catholics worldwide for nearly 400 years.

Thus, if you have never been to a Tridentine Mass you have not experienced the liturgy as it was known by St. Therese of Lisieux, John Henry Cardinal Newman, St. Frances de Sales, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Saint Bernadette, St. Maximillan Kolbe, and Blessed John XXIII, to name only a very few.

Just looking at a list like that should make the uninitiated at least curious to experience that which fed the souls of these great saints.

This isn’t the first time that Archbishop Ranjith has publicly criticized bishops who are ignoring Benedict XVI’s wish that the Tridentine Mass be more widely celebrated. At an address to the Latin Liturgy Association last month in the Netherlands, Ranjith called those bishops “disobedient,” adding that they were being used as “instruments of the devil.”

Devil or not, we can be grateful for a member of the Vatican Curia who is willing to speak out in defense of the Holy Father on a matter that is clearly very dear to his heart.

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