Why Traditionalist Catholics Are Upset About Pope Francis’ Decree on the Latin Mass

Last week, Pope Francis upset traditionalist Catholics when he reinstated limits on where, and by whom, the Tridentine Mass—colloquially called the traditional Latin Mass (TLM)—can be celebrated. This decision was a direct reversal of Benedict XVI’s 2007 expansion of the rite. To those unfamiliar with the TLM, the resulting public frustration was confusing. What exactly does this decree do, and why are some Catholics angry?

Part of the answer dates back to Vatican II, the familiar name for the Second Vatican Council, which Pope John XXIII called to usher the Catholic Church into the modern era. In his opening speech at the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII announced: “it is absolutely vital that the Church shall never for an instant lose sight of that sacred patrimony of truth inherited from the Fathers. But it is equally necessary for her to keep up to date with the changing conditions of this modern world.”

Reaction from Catholics ranged from welcome embrace to outright rejection. Those who rejected the council believed it left behind too much of the tradition the Catholic Church has maintained for millenia. While there were other aspects of the council rejected by traditionalists, the dramatic change of the Mass—from Latin to vernacular—became the lodestar for anti-council Catholics.

Benedict’s 2007 decree meant that priests could celebrate a TLM without the previously necessary approval from their bishop, if it was requested by members of the congregation. At the time, Benedict wrote: “It is true that there have been exaggerations and at times social aspects unduly linked to the attitude of the faithful attached to the ancient Latin liturgical tradition.” What he meant was there were labels placed on those who celebrated the TLM, suggesting they rejected decisions made during the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). 

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