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Pope Francis Restricts Use of Old Latin Mass, in a Blow to Conservatives

Francis cited those measures, especially liturgical rules enacted in 1962 by Pope John XXIII, in explaining his law, called “Traditionis Custodes.” Many analysts see Francis’ pontificate as the restoration of those modernizing decisions after three decades of leadership by conservative popes who thought they had gone too far.

Doubting the council, Francis wrote in a document explaining his motivations for the new law, is “to doubt the Holy Spirit himself who guides the Church,” and associating only the old rite with what traditionalists often call the “true Church” led only to division.

Francis argued that those traditionalists had essentially taken advantage of the kindness of his predecessors. The 16th-century Tridentine Mass was replaced after the Second Vatican Council with a new standard version approved in 1970, but many traditionalists insisted on the old rite. Nevertheless, some traditionalists insisted on celebrating it and rejected the new version as a corruption of the “true church.”

In 1983, Pope John Paul II sought to heal a rift with a schismatic, traditionalist movement by asking bishops to grant the request of the faithful who wished to use the old Latin Mass. But Francis said some traditionalists exploited that decision to effectively create a parallel liturgical universe.

Benedict clearly put his weight, and that of the whole church, on the side of the old rite in 2007 when he issued a Motu Proprio of his own increasing access to the traditional Latin Mass. He argued that, among other things, it appealed to young people and that the two forms, old and new, “would enrich one another.”

But Francis argued that things had shaken out differently.

The Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, once led by Benedict XVI, held talks with bishops in 2020 to determine whether a change was necessary. A survey of bishops showed, Francis wrote, “a situation that preoccupies and saddens me, and persuades me of the need to intervene.”

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