Pope denounces divisions caused by old-school liturgy fans

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ROME — Pope Francis on Saturday criticized Catholics who, using old-fashioned versions of liturgy such as the Latin Mass, have turned the issue into an ideological battleground, decrying what he described as devil-inspired divisions in the church.

Francis waged his papacy’s struggle against the traditionalists, including some ultra-conservative cardinals as prominent members. They have opposed the restrictions imposed by the Vatican last year on the celebrations of the old Mass in Latin at St. Peter’s Basilica and, more broadly, for many years belittled the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

Speaking at the Vatican to teachers and students at the Pontifical Liturgical Institute, Francis said it is not possible to worship God while using the liturgy as a “battleground” for non-essential questions that divide the church.

Francis has made it clear that he prefers Mass celebrated in local languages, with the priest facing the congregation rather than with his back to the pews. That was the way the mass was celebrated before the revolutionary reforms of the Vatican Council more than half a century ago, which aimed to make ordinary Catholics feel more connected to liturgical celebrations.

“I reiterate that liturgical life, and its study, should lead to greater ecclesial unity, not division,” the Pope told the institute’s participants. “If the liturgical life is a bit of a banner for division, there’s the smell of the devil that’s in there, the deceiver.”

“It is not possible to worship God and at the same time make the liturgy a battleground for questions that are not essential,” Francis added.

Last year, two prominent cardinals questioned the legitimacy of a Vatican decree that restricted the celebration of the ancient Latin Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and banned private masses in its side chapels.

Such traditionalists have openly expressed hostility to Francis. The retired chief of the Vatican’s Office of Doctrinal Orthodoxy, German Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, claimed that no one was obligated to obey that decree. American Cardinal Raymond Burke, who was denounced by Francis at the beginning of his papacy as a Vatican post, called for the decree to be removed.

Francis told his audience on Saturday that “any reform provokes some resistance”. He recalled that Pope Pius XII, when he was young, allowed believers to drink water before receiving Communion, which was an embarrassment to opponents.

Similar outcry followed later reforms that allowed Catholics to fulfill their weekly misdemeanor by attending an evening service instead of Sunday mornings.

Francis also rejected what he called “closed mentalities” that exploit the liturgy.

“This is the drama we live in, in church groups that are moving away from the church and questioning the authority of the bishops and the church,” he said.

In 2016, a breakaway traditionalist Catholic group, the Society of St. Pius X, accused Francis of fomenting confusion and error about the faith, joining a chorus of conservative criticism of what they saw as the Pope’s lax doctrine.

In 1969, the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre founded the association, in contrast to the modernizing church reforms of the 1960s. In one of the more spectacular chapters of the Vatican’s protracted duel with traditionalists, he and four other bishops were later excommunicated by the Vatican after the archbishop consecrated them without papal permission.

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