ROME (AP) — Pope Francis doubled down Saturday on his efforts to quash the old Latin Mass, forbidding the celebration of some sacraments according to the ancient rite in his latest salvo against conservatives and traditionalists.
The Vatican’s liturgy office issued a document that clarified some questions that arose after Francis in July re-imposed restrictions on celebrating the old Latin Mass that Pope Benedict XVI had relaxed in 2007.
Francis said then that he was reversing his predecessor because Benedict’s reform had become a source of division in the church and been exploited by Catholics opposed to the Second Vatican Council, the 1960s meetings that modernized the church and its liturgy.
The Vatican repeated that rationale on Saturday, saying the clarifications and new restrictions were necessary to preserve the unity of the church.
Francis’ crackdown has outraged his conservative critics, many of whom have gone so far to accuse him of heresy and watering down Catholic doctrine with his focus on the environment, social justice and migrants. Francis says he preaches the Gospel and what Jesus taught.
His July law required individual bishops to approve celebrations of the old Mass, also called the Tridentine Mass, and required newly ordained priests to receive explicit permission to celebrate it from their bishops, in consultation with the Vatican. Saturday's decree makes clear the Vatican must explicitly authorize new priests to celebrate the rite.
In addition, the new document Saturday imposes restrictions targeting the sacramental life of the church.
It forbids using the ancient ritual for the sacraments of Confirmation and ordaining new priests, and will make it exceedingly difficult for traditionalists to access the sacraments of Baptism, Marriage, First Communion and Anointing of the Sick according to the old rite.
This de facto prohibition arises because these sacraments can only be celebrated in so-called personal parishes that were already in existence and dedicated to traditionalist communities. There are exceedingly few of these parishes around the world, and Francis barred the creation of new ones.
Rorate Caeli, a traditionalist blog, issued an urgent tweet after the document from the Vatican's liturgy chief, Archbishop Arthur Roche, was published.
“Roche Christmas Massacre," it said.
“Benedict XVI had brought peace to the church. An end to the liturgical wars," the group said in a follow-up message to The Associated Press. "The current pope has chosen to reignite them. There is no logical reason for that. Just an underlying desire for division and violence.”
Roche, who is prefect of the Vatican’s liturgy office, said the restrictions were needed to promote unity in the church and unity in the celebration of its sacraments.
“As pastors we must not lend ourselves to sterile polemics, capable only of creating division, in which the ritual itself is often exploited by ideological viewpoints,” Roche wrote in the document, which Francis authorized to be published.
Saturday's document was in the form of questions and answers, including one that seeks to clarify that the Holy See must explicitly authorize newly ordered priests to celebrate the old Latin Mass. In a clear bid to dissuade seminarians from even learning the old rite, the new instruction urges seminary teachers to lead their charges “to an understanding and experience of the richness of the liturgical reform called for by the Second Vatican Council."
Nicole Winfield, The Associated Press