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Conservative Traditionalists Delt a Blow Within the Catholic Church


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Pope Francis and the Catholic Church were in headlines across the globe again this weekend. With what is being considered a devastating blow for Catholic traditionalists, Francis signed a document restricting the use of the traditional liturgy. There was a strong reaction from many Catholics following the signing of Traditionis Custodes. 

The document’s signing is a strong move by Francis to put the liturgy of the Catholic Church on the side of modernization. The crackdown on the use of the Latin Mass reverses a decision made by Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. As a result, the conservative complaints of the pope wanting to dilute the traditions of the Catholic Church are now stronger than ever.

Restrictions were placed concerning who and where the traditional Latin Mass could be celebrated, requiring local bishops to grant permissions for its use. The pope’s new law indicates Francis intends to move ahead with his agenda for the Church following being released from the hospital after colon surgery.

There are many speculations following the move, but two have received the most attention. First, prelates in Rome have recently made the argument that Francis has failed to follow through with the promise of modernizing the Church. Also, many of the conservative bishops in the United States attached to the Latin Mass have ignored the strong guidance from the Vatican with slowing down any confrontation with President Biden regarding his support of abortion rights. 

Any way you want to look at it, the action taken by Francis last Friday made some noise. The pope backed his decision by writing that the Latin Mass was being exploited by its champions to oppose reforms recently made within the Church, dividing the Catholic faithful. 

During the 1960s, the Catholic Church looked to make the faith more accessible throughout the world with liturgy in living languages, making use of modern idioms within prayer books. However, in the decades since then, traditionalists have begun to recoil, and conservative pontiffs have allowed the return of the Latin Mass. This included older prayers being recited, along with the sole use of the Latin language. 

Catholic Church
A girl with a chapel veil at the Summorum Pontificum Pilgrimage Mass in Rome on Oct. 25, 2014./ Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Restrictions were relaxed on the Latin Mass by Pope Benedict XVI, Francis’ predecessor, back in 2007. The move was viewed as making a shift towards traditionalism. Through statements released by the Vatican last Friday, Francis argued that the changes of 2007, which were made to unite the schismatic and traditionalist corners together, created even further division for conservatives opposing the Second Vatican Council.

These measures were cited by Francis while explaining his law, “Traditionis Custodes.” There are still plenty of analysts viewing the pontificate of Francis as engagement being restored between the Church and the modern world following 30 years of the Church being led by conservative popes. 

In a document written by Francis explaining the motivations of his new law, the pope said that to doubt the council would be “to doubt the Holy Spirit himself who guides the Church.” According to Francis, division was created with the association of the old rite with what is often referred to as the “true Church” by traditionalists. 

The pope argued that his predecessor’s kindness had been taken advantage of by these traditionalists. Following the Second Vatican Council, the Tridentine Mass was replaced with a new standard version that was approved in 1970. Still, some traditionalists rejected the newer mass as corruption and continued celebrating the older Latin Mas.

In a search for healing, Pope John Paul II asked bishops to grant requests of Catholics wanting to use the Latin Mass. Francis says this decision was exploited by traditionalists, creating a parallel liturgical universe.

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Pope Benedict clearly demonstrated his thoughts back in 2007, making the Latin Mass more accessible for Catholics. Benedict’s most popular argument was that the Latin Mass was appealing to the younger generation and that the two forms would “enrich one another.” But, again, Francis believes that just the opposite has happened. The pope was led to last Friday’s actions following a survey of bishops in 2020. Francis wrote the survey results showed “a situation that preoccupies and saddens me, and persuades me of the need to intervene.”

The pope was firm that the bishops have to be certain groups continuing to celebrate the Latin Mass “do not deny the validity and the legitimacy” of the standing liturgy. However, local bishops were given additional flexibility by the pope to regulate liturgical celebrations and decide if and where the Latin Mass could be celebrated. Also, the Latin Mass is not celebrated in newly established parishes “tied more to the desire and wishes of individual priests” instead of the Catholic faithful.

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