The decision by Pope Benedict XVI to authorise a wider use of the old Latin Mass has been welcomed as offering a possibility of healing a rift with traditionalists, but has also faced criticism that it might open up new divisions within the church.
"Pope Benedict XVI has tried to heal a painful wound within the church," said French Cardinal Paul Poupard, who heads the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture.
Poupard said he hoped the papal decision, announced on 7 July, would help to promote reconciliation with supporters of the excommunicated late archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. The French archbishop split with Rome over changes introduced by the reforming Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), particularly the celebration of the Mass in local languages.
"We hope that the gesture of the Holy Father will be accepted by followers of Monsignor Lefebvre," Poupard was quoted as saying by La Repubblica newspaper in Rome.
Explaining his decision, Pope Benedict said in a letter to Catholic bishops that he hoped for "an interior reconciliation in the heart of the church".
In an interview with the Milan-based Corriere della Sera, Bishop Bernard Fellay, who heads the Society of Saint Pius X established by Archbishop Lefebvre, described the papal announcement as a "step in the right direction". Fellay said, "This is an historic day. We deeply thank Benedict XVI. His document is a gift of grace."
Still, an Italian bishop and expert on worship said he was fighting back tears because of the papal decree.
"Today is a day of mourning for me," Bishop Luca Brandolini was quoted as saying by La Repubblica. "I’ll obey the pope because I’m a bishop," he added, "but I can’t hide my sadness for the shelving of one of the most important reforms of the Second Vatican Council."
In his letter to Catholic bishops, Pope Benedict rejected the suggestion that allowing a wider use of the Latin Mass would detract from the authority of the Second Vatican Council.
"This fear is unfounded," the Pope said. He noted that the "ordinary expression" of the liturgy would continue to be the 1970 version introduced after the Vatican council.
As a result of Benedict’s ruling, local groups of faithful can now request parish priests to celebrate the Latin rite. Previously, a local bishop needed to approve such requests.
The papal degree is called a "motu proprio", which is Latin for "on one’s own initiative", and indicates that the Pope has a special personal interest in the matter.
The We are Church movement that campaigns for reforms in the Catholic Church has denounced the decision. "Even though the pope said it’s compatible with the Second Vatican Council, in fact it’s against it," the movement said in a statement.
(c) Ecumenical News International
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