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Papal document prompts discernment on traditional Latin Mass

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Priests at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Winchester celebrate Mass in the extraordinary form every Sunday. Father Bjorn Lundberg, pastor, said he began celebrating the traditional Latin Mass after parishioners requested it. Now he, his parishioners and other devotees of this ancient form of the liturgy around the country are watching with anticipation as their bishops respond to new direction from the Vatican regarding the extraordinary form of the Mass. 

Acting for the good of the unity of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis explained in his apostolic letter, "Traditionis Custodes" ("Guardians of the Tradition") July 16, that he restored limits on the celebration of the extraordinary form, or traditional Latin Mass. 

The motu proprio, or papal decree, restores the obligation of priests to have their bishop's permission to celebrate the Mass using the pre-Vatican II Roman Missal and instructs bishops not to establish any new groups or parishes in their dioceses devoted to the traditional Latin Mass. Going forward, bishops will consult with the Holy See before granting authorization to a newly ordained priest to celebrate the Mass in the extraordinary form.

The document said the pope's decision came about after the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith surveyed bishops throughout the world last year about their experiences with those who celebrate and attend Mass in the extraordinary form. "Traditionis Custodes" noted that bishops who give permission to continue celebrating Mass in the extraordinary form must “determine that these groups do not deny the validity and the legitimacy of the liturgical reform, dictated by Vatican Council II and the Magisterium of the Supreme Pontiffs.”

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge has said that, while he deliberates on the pope’s announcement, traditional Latin Masses may continue. “In prayer and obedience, I am reflecting on the motu proprio issued by Pope Francis and discerning how best to implement the changes,” he said July 18. “As permitted by the motu proprio, I intend to allow Masses in the extraordinary form to continue in the Diocese of Arlington.”

The region’s other bishops made similar announcements. In a July 19 statement, Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori said that further study by individual bishops and the USCCB "will help determine how these norms apply here in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. In the meantime, the current practice will continue and going forward every effort will be made to meet the pastoral needs of those who frequent Holy Mass in the extraordinary form."

Father Lundberg understands that the church made major liturgical changes after Vatican II because many people were unable to connect to the traditional Latin Mass. 

“The Holy Father speaks of the desire for unity and just like the bishop works for that unity in the diocese with all these different rich communities and all these different needs, whether it’s serving the poor or evangelizing or running schools, he wants to provide generously for everybody,” said Father Lundberg. 

“(Bishop Burbidge) is trying to understand how to meet the needs of the church in harmony with the universal vision of the pope. But he recognizes, too, that the experience in our diocese (with those who attend Mass in the extraordinary form) has been pretty positive,” he said. Those who attend traditional Latin Mass are “not separate communities, they’re part of our parish life.” 

The extraordinary form of the Mass was the primary liturgy in use for hundreds of years. It is sometimes called the Tridentine Mass because it was established as the standard Latin rite liturgy after the Council of Trent in the 1500s. 

Throughout the years, minor changes were made to the liturgy, such as in 1962 when Pope John XXIII inserted the name of St. Joseph in the Eucharistic prayer. However, after the Second Vatican Council called for the liturgy to be adapted to the needs of the time, in 1970 Pope Paul VI issued a new form of the Mass, now referred to as the ordinary form of the Mass or the novus ordo, meaning new order. Though the novus ordo is usually celebrated in the vernacular, it also can be celebrated in Latin. 

Pope Benedict XVI said that while the novus ordo is the ordinary expression of the Mass, he allowed any priest to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass without permission from the pope or his bishop. Groups of parishioners who prefer attending Mass in the extraordinary form could ask their pastor to celebrate it. 

In a July 16 letter to bishops accompanying his motu proprio, Pope Francis said that Pope Benedict XVI’s desire to ensure unity has “often been seriously disregarded,” and the concessions offered with largesse have instead been “exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division.” 

Priests in the Diocese of Arlington celebrate the extraordinary form regularly in about 14 diocesan churches. Some others celebrate the novus ordo in Latin. A traditional Latin Mass often has Gregorian chant and readings in Latin. In the extraordinary form the priest-celebrant offers Mass “ad orientem,” facing the same direction as the congregation. 

Father Lundberg conveyed Bishop Burbidge’s request that people pray that God gives him wisdom during this time and that together, with God’s grace, the faithful of the Diocese will be strengthened in unity through Jesus Christ. “Turn to the Blessed Mother and ask her to guide him and take care of him as he serves everybody.”

Catholic News Service contributed to this article.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021