In early July, newspapers around the world were filled with headlines: "Pope Benedict XVI reverses church position, allows use of old Latin rite;" "Catholic church undergoes new schism over language issue;" "Some Jews object to Latin rite's prayer for their conversion;" "Pope Ratzinger demolishes Vatican II."
Such headlines caught many people off guard. I can assure you that running a Catholic Television Network, those first weeks of July (normally quiet months for church news) thrust us on the frontlines to deal with dozens of media calls about why the "retrograde Pope" was imposing Latin on the church and why he was so upset with Vatican II and the Protestant churches! Nothing could be further from the truth.
In response to the many people who have written recently asking that I write about the new Vatican documents that were issued in early July, I have decided to address the two topics in two Sun Media columns.
This week, we will look at Pope Benedict's Apostolic Letter on the use of the 1962 Roman Missal (Latin mass). The next column will look at Pope Benedict's efforts to present the proper understanding of the Second Vatican Council.
On July 7, Pope Benedict XVI released his long-awaited apostolic letter "Summorum Pontificum" on the use of the Roman liturgy prior to the reform of 1970. The decree was issued "motu proprio," a Latin term that reflects the Pope's personal initiative in the matter.
In this letter Benedict eased restrictions on the use of the 1962 Roman Missal, which was standard before the new Order of the Mass was introduced in 1970.
It is important to remember that the Second Vatican Council never asked for the creation of a new rite for the liturgy, but for greater use of the vernacular language and greater participation of the faithful.
Through this recent document, Benedict made a move to reinforce unity within the church with new norms that allow for wider celebration of the Roman Missal (Latin liturgies) promulgated by Pope John XXIII in 1962.
Benedict XVI isn't intending to bring about liturgical revolution. Addressing fears of opponents of the document, the Pope pointed out that the norms do not detract from the authority of Vatican II, nor do they question the liturgical reform that the council called for.
In an explanatory letter that accompanied the document, addressed to the bishops of the world, Benedict says that his decision was motivated by a desire to bring about "an interior reconciliation in the heart of the church."
Fears that a small minority of the faithful will be able to impose the Tridentine (old Latin) mass on a parish are unfounded. No pastor will be forced to celebrate the Tridentine mass promulgated by Pope Pius V. But if a group of faithful, having a priest available to do it, asks to celebrate this Mass, the pastor or the rector of the church cannot oppose it.
The normal Sunday experience for the vast majority of Catholics will continue to be the new mass celebrated in the vernacular.
In Pope Benedict's decision about the greater use of the Tridentine mass, there are no winners or losers. Whoever wants to appeal to the 'motu proprio' to ignite tensions, instead of cultivating the spirit of reconciliation, will radically betray it.
Benedict simply wishes to support reconciliation among Catholics and to reconcile the church with its liturgical past. That's not a bad thing!