~from Times Online
The Pope has signed a document that re-opens the way to the optional use of the old Latin Mass, replaced by liturgy in the local language in the late 1960s, it was reported yesterday.
The document is expected to be published within the next few weeks. Known as a motu proprio, signifying that it is the Pope’s personal initiative, it reflects Benedict XVI’s thinking on the subject since long before he was elected pontiff.
While, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he repeatedly expressed sympathy for those Catholics who felt nostalgia for the traditional Latin rite which dated back to the Middle Ages, although when it came to discipline he took stern action against the ultra-conservative Catholic splinter group led by the French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who rejected the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and for whom the use of the Latin Mass was a banner.
The question of whether to use a vernacular or Latin Mass has political implications for Catholics everywhere, and the text of the motu proprio has been the subject of intense discussions among Vatican officials for many months.
First, the old Latin rite was never abolished or forbidden but was rather “mothballed” and universally replaced by the local language version. In theory Mass in Latin could still be said but only with special permission from the local bishop for a particular occasion. This has occurred only very rarely.
Secondly, although Lefebvre was excommunicated in 1988 and died in 1991, the threat of an ultra-conservative Catholic movement rearing its head is deeply felt in the marble-flagged corridors of Vatican power. The old Latin rite could become, once again, a standard to which such a movement, could rally.
Thirdly, bishops in many countries, in particular in France where memories of the Lefebvre crisis are still vividly painful, have expressed concern that the option of holding Mass in Latin would lead to a split. Some churches, or possibly some dioceses, would adopt Latin, others would remain with the local language.
“We are awaiting publication with some anxiety,” said a senior Vatican official. “Everything hinges on the exact wording, and on the letter which will be released along with the motu proprioto explain the technicalities of its application by local bishops. The validity of the old Latin Rite has never been repealed, so now we have to see in what circumstances and to what extent the bishops should authorise its use.”