Depending on one’s perspective, a recent papal document allowing for greater use of the Latin Mass may make for healthy liturgical diversity or increase divisions in the church. The document, the Motu Proprio, along with an accompanying “Letter to the Bishops,” allows parishes wide freedom in using the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass. Previously, a bishop’s permission was needed to conduct this Mass. On the surface, at least, it seems that the Latin Mass and the 1970 “new” Mass symbolize the two warring camps in American Catholicism, writes Peter Jeffery of Princeton University in Commonweal magazine (August 17). The new Mass stresses the communal nature of the church, lay participation, and social justice. The Latin Mass, with its clear separation of priest and holy things from the people, depicts a hierarchical and contemplative model of a more authoritative church.
Jeffrey adds that most Catholics value elements from both models and that the document may be the first of many that will try to work out a reconciliation between tradition and innovation. But for now, Jeffrey admits that disunity may be the most obvious result, especially when the lectionary readings (scriptural passages read during services) are different for the two Masses. In the same issue of Commonweal, Rita Ferrone writes that the gradual advances of women’s participation in Catholic worship (such as altar girls and liturgical ministers) are reversed in the Latin Mass, which mandates only males at the altar. She concludes that the document is only one more step in the “dismantling of the liturgical reform in its entirety.” A similar sentiment is found in the conservative and especially traditionalist press. Inside the Vatican (August/September) editor Robert Moynihan writes that the document demonstrates that Benedict “intends to guide the Church, despite many pressures to temporize and delay, toward a `reform of the reform.’ (Benedict’s own phrase).” Moynihan adds that the renewal of the ancient Latin Mass could pave the way for greater unity with Eastern Orthodox churches, who have criticized the modern Mass.
Meanwhile, The Tablet (July 28) notes that in France, which has the largest number of Catholic traditionalists, the Motu Proprio is likely to fan the flames of church conflict. Alain Woodrow writes that under the papacy of Benedict, traditionalists feel they have gained the upper-hand in the conflict with liberal Catholics and that the Motu Proprio is the first step to other reversals of Vatican II reforms.
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