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 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.
The indifference seems reciprocal.
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.
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.
Despite the sense of belonging to a previous era, the conference was nevertheless upbeat about the future of the Latin Mass even under a pope who has openly questioned why any young person would seek out the old rite and disparaged traditionalists as rigid and insecure navel-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.”
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