Elevated to the papacy at 78, Benedict XVI will take no action greater in significance for the Catholic Church than his motu proprio declaring that the Latin Mass must be said in every diocese — on the request of the faithful. Dissenting bishops must comply.
"What earlier generations held as sacred remains sacred and great for us, too," said the Holy Father in his apostolic letter, as he authorized the universal use of the sole official version of the mass allowed in the four centuries between the Council of Trent and Vatican II.
To which many Catholics will respond: "Alleluia! Alleluia!"
And so the pope has come full circle. At Vatican II, the future Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Holy Office for the Defense of the Faith under John Paul II, went about in coat and tie and was seen as a radical reformer and modernist theologian in the mold of his friend Hans Kung.
Now, Kung is silent, Ratzinger is pope, and the Latin Mass, which had fallen into disuse with the introduction of the new rite in 1970, is back.
Why? Because the Holy Father knows the solemnity, mystery and beauty of the Latin Mass hold magnetic appeal, not only for the older faithful but the searching young. And he acted to advance a reconciliation with traditionalists out of communion with the Holy See, including the 600,000 followers of the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, excommunicated in 1988, who belong to his Society of Saint Pius X.
The current head of SSPX, Bishop Bernard Fellay, has welcomed papal restoration of the Latin Mass. But he has called it a first step toward addressing all doctrinal disputes dating to Vatican II. Among these are the issues of ecumenism and religious liberty. If the true church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic, then not all churches are equal.
Ever since Pope John Paul II issued his 1988 indult, which authorized, but did not require, bishops to allow the Latin Mass, the number of Catholics requesting the Tridentine rite — and the number attending — has steadily grown. Indeed, it was the stubborn resistance of some bishops to allow the Latin Mass to be said that brought a rising chorus of pleas to Rome from the faithful for the pope to overrule a recalcitrant hierarchy and order them to permit the old mass.
And there are other reasons Benedict XVI acted.
The introduction of the new mass has been attended by a raft of liturgical innovations by freelancing priests that are transparently heretical. And the years since Vatican II and the introduction of the new mass have been marked by a crisis of faith in Europe and the United States.
Churches have closed. Faithful have fallen away, or converted to other faiths. Congregations have dwindled. Convents have emptied out. Vocations are a fraction of what they once were. Belief in the creedal truths of Catholicism is not what it was in the years before Vatican II — the halcyon days of the great pope and future St. Pius XII.
One cannot know the effect of Pope Benedict’s decision. But the ferocity with which it was fought suggests some bishops are aware of the power of the old Latin Mass and the appeal of its mystery and solemnity to the young.
Pope Benedict, raised Catholic in Nazi Germany, once a reformer, but shaken by the events of 1968 and the social, cultural and moral revolution that followed, seems to have concluded that the Catholic Church’s apertura a sinistra, its opening to the left, has run its course theologically, liturgically and morally, and failed. Restored tradition can do no harm, and may offer hope for the revival of a faith that is in its deepest crisis since the Reformation.
Indeed, the term "Tridentine Mass" is derived from the Latin name, Tirdentum, of the city in which it was declared the official mass of Roman Catholicism. And the Council of Trent was the first major step in the Counter-Reformation.
Yet the Holy Father could not make everyone happy.
Liberal European bishops were said to have fought restoration of the Latin Mass. And, according to The New York Times, Abe Foxman, resident theologian at the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, is about to anathematize the whole lot of us. Declared Abe, speaking ex cathedra for ADL:
"We are extremely disappointed and deeply offended that nearly 40 years after the Vatican rightly removed insulting anti-Jewish language from the Good Friday Mass, that it would now permit Catholics to utter such hurtful and insulting words by praying for Jews to be converted."
What is Abe talking about?
Does he not know that Catholics are required to pray for the conversion of all peoples to Catholicism and Christ? Who duped Abe into thinking this requirement was suspended by Vatican II?
Indeed, if one believes, as devout Catholics do, that Christ and his Church hold the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, it would be anti-Semitic not to pray for the conversation of the Jews. Even Abe.