Pope laments divisions by old-school liturgy fans

ROME – Pope Francis on Saturday blasted Catholics who, by sticking to old-fashioned versions of the liturgy like the Latin Mass, have turned the issue into an ideological battlefield by denouncing what he called devil-inspired divisions in the church .

Francis pushed his papacy’s struggle against traditionalists, whose prominent members include some ultra-conservative cardinals. They have resisted last year’s Vatican-imposed restrictions on the celebration of the ancient Latin Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, and more generally for years belittled the modernizing reforms of Vatican II in the 1960s.

Speaking at the Vatican to teachers and students at the Pontifical Liturgical Institute, Francis said it is not possible to worship God while using the liturgy as a “battlefield” for irrelevant issues that divide the Church.

Francis has made it clear that he prefers Mass to be celebrated in the vernacular languages, with the priest facing the congregation rather than with his back to the pews. Thus, the Mass was celebrated more than half a century ago before the revolutionary reforms of the Vatican Council aimed at making ordinary Catholics feel more connected to liturgical celebrations.


“I emphasize again that liturgical life and the study of it must lead to greater ecclesial unity, not division,” the pope told participants at the Institute Smell of the Devil That’s Inside, the Deceiver.”

“It is not possible to worship God and at the same time create a liturgical battleground for issues that are not essential,” Francis added.

Last year, two prominent cardinals questioned the legitimacy of a Vatican decree restricting the celebration of the ancient Latin Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and banning private masses in the side chapels.

Such traditionalists have been openly hostile to Francis. The retired head of the Vatican Office for Doctrine of the Faith, German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, claimed that no one was obliged to obey this decree. US Cardinal Raymond Burke, who was hoisted into the air by Francis at the beginning of his papacy from a post in the Vatican, called for the decree to be abolished.


Francis told his audience on Saturday that “any reform generates some resistance.” He recalled that Pope Pius XII. in his youth allowed the faithful to drink water before receiving Communion, and that this outraged opponents.

Similar outrage followed later reforms that allowed Catholics to fulfill their weekly obligation to celebrate Mass by attending an evening service instead of Sunday morning.

Francis also shattered what he called “closed mentalities” that exploit the liturgy.

“This is the drama that we are witnessing, in church groups that are distancing themselves from the church and questioning the authority of bishops and the church,” he said.

In 2016, a breakaway traditionalist Catholic group, the Society of St. Pius X, accused Francis of sowing confusion and error about the faith, joining a chorus of conservative criticism of what they perceived as the pope’s lax doctrine.

In 1969, the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre founded the Society Against the Modernizing Church Reforms of the 1960s. In one of the most spectacular chapters of the Vatican’s longstanding duel with traditionalists, he and four other bishops were later excommunicated by the Vatican after the archbishop consecrated them without papal approval.

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Joel McCord

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