Pope Benedict XVI has signed a document that would allow more churches to adopt the old Latin Mass that largely faded from use during the 1960s, when the groundbreaking Second Vatican Council opened the door to worship in the local vernacular, Vatican officials say.
The revival of the Tridentine Mass has long been promoted by Roman Catholic traditionalists, who say it is more moving, contemplative and historically authentic than the modern Mass.
But the pope has been hearing resistance from cardinals and bishops, many of them in Europe, who argue that the change would divide the church by promulgating two very different official rites. They say it could create rifts in smaller parishes that cannot agree which Mass to use and would burden already overburdened members of the clergy, many of whom do not know Latin and were never trained to perform the older rite?s more complex choreography. In the Tridentine Mass, the priest faces away from the congregation -- toward God, its supporters say -- and prays, sometimes in a whisper, in Latin, a language unfamiliar to most of the world's 1 billion Roman Catholics.
The Vatican II reformers intended the modern Mass to be more accessible by allowing the priest to face the congregation and to involve the worshipers in prayer and song, mostly in their native language but including some passages in Latin.
In recent weeks several top officials, including the No. 2 at the Vatican, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the secretary of state, were quoted in news reports saying the document would be issued shortly. Vatican officials say the pope has already signed it and it will be released and go into effect before the pope starts vacation July 9.
In the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Tridentine Mass has been one of three Sunday options at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church on Saratoga Street since 1991, said Rita K. Dent, president of the Gregorian Society, which got the service established there. Its members were very excited about the reported decision, she said. "It's just like the second coming of Christ. We never know the time or the hour," Dent said.
Sun reporter Liz F. Kay contributed to this article.