“Ask a Priest: What About Pope Francis and the Traditional Latin Mass?”

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Q: What do you think about what our beloved Holy Father said about the Latin Mass? I am curious but have never attended one. I personally think it is a good thing. The fruit I have seen from it (folks that attend Latin Mass are such devoted practicing Catholics). It makes total sense to move toward learning Latin so we all can travel and understand the Mass wherever we go. The language does not change or “evolve.” – P.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: You are referring to Pope Francis’ recent apostolic letter Traditionis Custodes, which aims to give bishops more control over the celebration of the extraordinary form of the Roman-rite Mass.

This form is often referred to as the traditional Latin Mass or the Tridentine Mass (named for the Council of Trent, where it was approved).

Francis hasn’t prohibited the celebration of the Mass in Latin. The ordinary form (also known as the Novus Ordo, what is typically celebrated in parishes) could be celebrated in Latin if the pastor has the appropriate liturgical books and chooses to do so.

The Pope’s letter addresses the older form of the Mass which was always done in Latin. His document came in response to concerns from various bishops.

Let’s back up a bit to 2007.

In that year Pope Benedict XVI issued an apostolic letter that gave priests wide leeway to celebrate Mass in the extraordinary form. By making the older style of Mass more readily available to those who desired it, Benedict hoped that the move, among other things, would foster unity within the Church.

Yet, some bishops detected that the opposite has happened: that some people who embraced the traditional Latin Mass have done so in a divisive way.

Some people have used the traditional Latin Mass as a kind of launching pad from which to attack the Novus Ordo Mass and the Second Vatican Council, and to distance themselves from the mainstream of parish life. Francis’ letter aims to rein in that problem by shifting more authority from individual priests to the bishops.

Of course, not everyone who loves the traditional Latin Mass has caused division. Many fine Catholics love the Tridentine Mass for its sense of dignity and mystery, and they derive great benefit from it. Those folks can take comfort that Pope Francis hasn’t banned the Tridentine Mass outright; for it can still be celebrated with a bishop’s permission.

Indeed, in the wake of Francis’ letter, some bishops have stated that the groups in favor of the traditional Latin Mass have been something good for their diocese.

As for the ideal of everyone knowing Latin and being able to understand the Mass everywhere (in Latin): that has been an elusive goal. That is one reason why the Mass is commonly celebrated in the vernacular.

In any case, the bishops’ expanded oversight of the traditional Latin Mass could help ensure that it feeds the faithful in such a way to foster unity and not division within the Church.

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