By Nicole Winfield
Sunday, July 8, 2007
VATICAN CITY, July 7 -- Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday removed restrictions on celebrating the old Latin Mass, reviving a rite that was all but swept away by the liberalizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
The decision, a victory for traditional, conservative Roman Catholics, came over the objections of liberal-minded Catholics and angered Jews because the Tridentine Mass contains a prayer for their conversion.
Benedict, who stressed that he was not negating Vatican II, issued a document authorizing parish priests to celebrate the Tridentine rite if a "stable group of faithful" requests it. Under Vatican II rules, the local bishop must approve such requests -- an obstacle that supporters of the rite said had greatly limited its availability.
"What earlier generations held as sacred remains sacred and great for us, too," Benedict wrote.
The Tridentine rite contains a prayer on Good Friday calling for the conversion of Jews. The Anti-Defamation League called the move a "body blow to Catholic-Jewish relations," the Jewish news agency JTA reported.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center urged Benedict to publicly point out that such phrases "are now entirely contrary to the teaching of the church."
In reviving the rite, Benedict was reaching out to the followers of an excommunicated ultratraditionalist, the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who split with the Vatican over Vatican II, particularly the introduction of the new Mass celebrated in the vernacular.
The Vatican excommunicated Lefebvre in 1988 after he consecrated four bishops without Rome's consent. The bishops were excommunicated as well.
Benedict has been eager to reconcile with Lefebvre's group, the Society of St. Pius X, which has demanded freer use of the old Mass as a precondition for normalizing relations. The other precondition is the removal of the excommunication decrees. The Vatican did not address the excommunication issue Saturday, and there was no indication if or when it would.
The current head of the society, Bishop Bernard Fellay, welcomed Benedict's document in a statement. He said he hoped "the favorable climate established by the new dispositions of the Holy See" would eventually allow other doctrinal disputes that emerged from Vatican II to be discussed, including ecumenism, religious liberty and the sharing of power with bishops.
The old rite differs significantly from the new Mass. In addition to the Latin, the prayers and readings are different, and the priest faces the altar, to be seen as leading the faithful in prayer.
Benedict, a conservative theologian, has made no secret of his affinity for the Tridentine rite and has long said that Catholics should have greater access to it.