BY SIMON CALD WELL
THE ENGLISH and Welsh Catholic bishops have told the Vatican they do not want the Pope to ease restrictions on the celebration of the Old Roman Rite of Mass.
Pope Benedict XVI is about to publish a document which will allow wider use of the Old Rite, the socalled "Tridentine" Mass that served the Catholic Church from the Counter Reformation of the 16th century to the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s.
Although it remains valid, the Mass was largely suppressed in 1969 and can be celebrated by a priest only with the special permission of the diocesan bishop. The Pope wants to broaden its use in an attempt to unify the factions that have opened up within the Church over the reforms of the last 40 years.
The Catholic Herald has learned, however, that Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor has written to the Holy See on behalf of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales to tell them that the document is not necessary.
The Cardinal's remarks came in a confidential letter to the Vatican's Ecclesia Dei Commission, an organisation set up in 1988 to try to bring back traditionalists who had left the Church in protest at the postconciliar reforms.
In the letter he said that the document --a motu proprio ("on the Pope's own initiative") — was not needed in England and Wales because adequate provision existed for Catholics who wanted to attend Mass in the Old Rite.
The disclosure is bound to spark outrage among traditionalists who have fought for decades for the reinstatement of the Old Rite Mass.
A bishops' conference spokesman admitted there had been correspondence between the Cardinal and the Vatican on the matter but said that the bishops had "not asked for an exemp tion to any proposed motu proprio".
"It should be pointed out that the Holy See is aware that an indult [special permission] was uniquely given to the bishops of England and Wales to grant permission for the celebration of the Tridentine Rite in the early 1970s," he added.
But John Medlin, general manager of the Latin Mass Society, said be was surprised that they regarded the provision of the Old Rite Mass as adequate.
"The situation has indeed improved in some dioceses over the past few years — not least in the Cardinal's own diocese of Westminster. for which traditionalists are very grateful," he said.
"However, other dioceses such as Plymouth, Wrexham and Salford make completely inadequate provision — verging on the non-existent — and traditional faithful in those dioceses have a strong impression that the bishops concerned are unresponsive to and dismissive of their needs.
The Latin Mass Society plans to approach these bishops individually in the near future and we hope that provision will soon improve."
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, revealed earlier this month that the easing of restrictions on the Old Rite Mass was imminent and that Pope Benedict was "personally interested in making this happen".
He said the Pontiff had also prepared an accompanying letter explaining his reasons and expressing his hopes for a serene reception of the document by the Church.
The motu proprio is expected to be published before the Pope goes on holiday in the second week of July.
Sources in Rome have indicated that a date has been set for a press conference at which Cardinal Francis Arinze, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, the president of the Ecclesia Del commission, and Cardinal Julian Herranz, the former president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, will introduce the document.
It is not yet clear exactly how the Pope intends to expand the use of the Old Rite but there has been speculation that he will oblige every bishop to licence at least a small. number of priests to celebrate the Mass.
England and Wales were the first countries in the world to be allowed to celebrate the Tridentine Mass — codified by Pope St Pius V in the 16th century at the request of the Council of Trent — after its suppression.
An indult was granted in 1971 by Pope Patti VI after a group of English luminaries — including Graham Greene, Kingsley Arnis, Agatha Christie, Kenneth Clark, William Rees-Mogg, Malcolm Muggeridge, Ralph Richardson, Cecil Day Lewis and Iris Murdoch — complained to him about the loss to civilisation and culture that the suppression represented.
The indult was extended to the whole world in 1984 but was so restrictive that Pope John Paul II approved a third indult in 1989, following the excommunication of the traditionalist Swiss Archbishop Marcel Lefebrvre, who had refused to accept any of the reforms. This called on all bishops to be generous in their provision of the Mass.
At the time Cardinal Basil Hume was among leading Western prelates to oppose the easing of any restrictions on the celebration of Mass in the Old Rite.
The Tridentine Rite — whose admirers prefer to call it the Classical or Traditional Rite — differs from the new Mass in that it is always celebrated in Latin, with the priest leading the people facing east, the direction from which the Church believes Jesus will appear on the Last Day.
The new Masses were conceived with the aims of being more accessible to the faithful and helping the Catholic Church to forge closer bonds with Protestant denominations that have been holding prayer services in their national languages since the Reformation more than 400 years ago.
But critics say they are sometimes banal and permeated with liturgical abuses and innovations which threaten the unity of the Church, as well as distractions such as inappropriate music and dancing.
From the outset of his papacy Pope Benedict — who as Cardinal Ratzinger celebrated the Traditional Rite and ordained priests specifically to celebrate it — has made it clear he intends to revive the mystery and the majesty of the Mass.
Traditionalists have argued that there is a growing interest in the old Mass, which many worshippers find more beautiful and inspiring than modem liturgies.
But liberals are deeply wary because a number of the rite's adherents are associated with ultra-conservative groups that oppose the radical reforms ushered in by the Council.
They are also worried that the move signals the Pope's growing determination to reinforce conservative doctrines in his battle against the forces of secularism.
Pope Benedict, however, has spoken of his wish to achieve a "liturgical reconciliation" in a modern Church riven by factions. He has criticised the post-conciliar liturgical revolutions which he said had caused the Church "enormous harm". He argued that in some cases congregations were simply celebrating themselves as a community rather than worshipping God.
Most English and Welsh bishops have cautiously allowed some Old Rite Masses but seek to control their availability.
On November 17 Auxiliary Bishop John Arnold of Westminster will make history when he becomes the first English bishop to celebrate an Old Rite Mass in Westminster Cathedral since the 1960s.
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