VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican told Catholic bishops around the world on Friday they had to obey a papal order allowing priests to say the old-style Latin mass for traditionalist Catholics, whether they liked it or not.
The Vatican issued an “instruction” to bishops as a follow-up to a 2007 papal decree authorizing the wider adoption of the Latin Mass, which was in universal use before the 1962-1965 Vatican Council introduced masses in local languages.
The re-instatement of the Latin mass was one of the demands of ultra-traditionalists whose leaders were excommunicated in 1988, prompting the first schism in modern times.
The pope, in a nod the traditionalists, satisfied many of them in 2007 when he allowed a wider use of the Latin mass, in which the priest faced east with his back to the faithful for most of the service.
But some bishops around the world said privately it was a headache because of the scarcity of priests trained in Latin, and logistical problems inserting Latin mass in their schedule.
The five-page instruction from the Vatican’s doctrinal department, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, made it clear that the pope wants bishops to follow his orders.
“It is the task of the Diocesan bishop to undertake all necessary measures to ensure respect for the ‘forma extraordinaria’,” the instruction said, using a Latin term for the old liturgy.
While couched in polite, institutional language, the instruction said local parishes had to insert a Latin mass into their liturgical schedules if tradionalist faithful wanted it.
It also said pastors of parishes should show “a spirit of generous welcome” to whose who wanted the old mass and had to “permit such a celebration.”
The return of the mass met with resistance in many places and has been privately opposed by some bishops, who either have dragged their feet in implementing the decree or put it on the back burner, saying they had more pressing issues to deal with.
Most Catholics regard the old mass as nostalgic, rigid and something that turns the clock back on the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, which for some brought the church into modern times.
Vatican officials charged with trying to bring traditionalists back into the fold have acknowledged resistance.
A Vatican official said recently that only a third of the world’s bishops responded to a Vatican questionnaire and that prejudice against the old mass was “still widespread.”
The return of the Latin liturgy has been controversial even in inter-religious relations.
During Good Friday services in the old liturgy, traditionalists still read a prayer in which they pray that Jews will “recognize Jesus Christ as the savior of all men.”
Benedict’s determination to bring back some traditional elements in the Church led to a major row in 2009 when he lifted the excommunication ban on four bishops, including one — Richard Williamson — who is a known Holocaust denier.
This caused an uproar among many Catholics and Jews as well as some politicians in his native Germany.
Additional reporting by Tom Heneghan in Paris