Last week, as millions mourned Pope Benedict XVI, there were quite a few among his fellow Roman Catholics who found it sadly ironic that they could not pray for him in the form of worship he championed: the traditional Latin Mass of Catholicism, said exclusively in Latin and in which the priest is ad orientem (facing the same direction as the worshippers — east).
The dispensing of Holy Communion, the sacraments of the Church that Catholics believe are the body and blood of Jesus Christ, was done with parishioners on their knees at the altar in front of the Church in the Mass that was celebrated worldwide from almost the founding of Catholicism until the early 1970s.
But then, as liberals began to dominate the priesthood, that Mass was gradually replaced by one celebrated in the vernacular languages of individual countries, with the priest facing parishioners and the parishioners chanting responses to him. Holy Communion was increasingly dispensed with parishioners standing as in many Protestant services.
As Pope in 2007, the former Joseph Ratzinger made it clear in the document "Summorum Pontificum" that this was not right, that priests could freely celebrate the Latin Mass privately, and "in parishes where a group of the faithful attached to the previous liturgical tradition stably exists, the parish priest should willingly accede to their requests to celebrate Holy Mass according to the rite of the 1962 'Roman Missal' [the last Catholic prayer book containing the words and choreography of the Latin Mass]."
In effect, Benedict was living up to the admonition of the late Catholic writer William F. Buckley Jr. — to "stand athwart history, yelling stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so or to have much patience with those who so urge it."
"And so many who had felt estranged from the church came back and shed joyful tears," Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, legal analyst for the EWTN Catholic TV network, said Tuesday during a forum on Benedict at the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C. "The Holy Father was caring for his children and many who were separated from the church for years [because of the difficulty celebrating the Latin Mass] came back."
On July 15, 2021, however, Pope Francis unexpectedly abrogated Benedict's Summorum Pontificum and issued Traditionis Custodes severely restricting the Latin rite. Where Benedict's document made it clear that priests could celebrate in the traditional rite without permission of bishops, his successor's document put the power in the hands of the bishops and thus limited the growth of Latin Masses that had been happening for the previous 15 years.
"Traditionis Custodes was certainly not something anyone saw coming," said Ed Condon, editor of the Catholic news publication The Pillar, recalling the time when Catholics were stunned as Benedict abdicated the throne of St. Peter in 2013 and was succeeded by Francis.
According to Catholic writer Diane Montagna, sources said that Pope Emeritus Benedict was "shocked" at the reversal of what was considered an end to his church's "Liturgy Wars."
"In his just-released book 'Nothing But The Truth: My Life Beside Benedict XVI,' his longtime right-hand man Archbishop Georg Ganswein reveals that Benedict thought Francis' decision to reverse his position on the Latin Mass was a mistake."
True to form, the aging Pope Emeritus said nothing publicly but others did.
Last year, when Cardinal Wilton Gregory of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., enforced Traditionis Custodes by banning Latin Masses from the nine churches in which they were celebrated in the Washington area, hundreds of angry Catholics marched in protest.
Most were Catholics too young to have experienced the dramatic changes in the Mass that followed the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. Several who spoke to Newsmax voiced their sadness over Gregory's crackdown on their Mass, which took effect last summer.
"My husband and I attended Latin Mass at St. Mary's [in Washington, D.C.,] for 17 years, and we're heartbroken the cardinal did this," Erin Menke of Manassas, Virginia, told Newsmax. "We're so disappointed he never responded to our letters begging him to let Mass remain at St. Mary's."
Biographers of Benedict such as John Allen chronicle how, as a monsignor in the early 1960s, Joseph Ratzinger was a proponent of reforms and felt the Mass should be celebrated in vernacular languages. But he never believed the 500-year-old Latin Mass should be abrogated or limited.
As one of Pope John Paul II's closest advisers in the Vatican, and then as Pope himself, he helped make it clear that this was not the case and that Latin should not just be tolerated as the language of the Mass but encouraged.
"Pope Benedict was humble enough to acknowledge that many of the 'reforms' that he had a hand in bringing about were not working as many had hoped, but on the contrary, had done much to harm to the simple faith of so many," Msgr. Edward J. Filardi of Damascus, Maryland, who was inspired to become a priest in the 1990s by John Paul, told Newsmax. "And in his mild manner, he called out and confronted the destructive currents in the world and church."
For men studying for the priesthood in the 1980s and 90s, Filardi emphasized, "his profound but easily understood writings were a wellspring of information and affirmation. Books on the liturgy such as 'The Spirit of the Liturgy,' and 'Feast of Faith,' inspired us to what prayer and the Mass could and should be. He put words to what we sensed by instinct. He reconnected us to our authentic apostolic past and so gave us hope for the future."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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