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Monsignor Kevin Irwin, dean and professor, theology and religious studies, was quoted in a Religion News Service article about Pope Benedict XVI's decision to make it easier to celebrate the Latin Mass. See his comments in the story below.



Return of Old Mass Doesn't Please All

Some welcome the language, some fear the words' meaning

From: Religion News Service
Date: July 14, 2007
Author: Francis X. Rocca

Pope Benedict XVI's decree that makes it easier for priests to celebrate the "old Latin Mass" has fulfilled the hopes of many traditionalist Roman Catholics - as well as the apprehensions of those opposed to more widespread use of the older liturgy.

"I am very, very happy. All is forgiven. Can we have fireworks?" read a characteristic posting early Saturday morning on a traditionalist Web site, What Does the Prayer Really Say?

The pope gave his personal permission to revive the old Latin Mass - which fell out of use 40 years ago after the Second Vatican Council made local-language Mass the norm - on July 7.

But even before the document was released, a prominent member of the American Jewish community had already criticized the pope's action, objecting to language in the old Mass that calls for the conversion of Jews.

For all the controversy surrounding Benedict's decision, experts predict any changes it might effect in the experience of ordinary Catholics will be gradual and slow.

In the "Latin Mass," as it is commonly called - traditionalists call it the "Tridentine Mass" or "classical Roman liturgy" - Latin is spoken and sung almost exclusively and the priest celebrates the Mass facing away from the pews. Lay worshippers participate far less in the older rite.

Benedict's document allows priests to offer the old Mass without special permission from their bishops, and even allows for the establishment of "personal parishes" dedicated to celebration of the pre-Vatican II liturgy.

Though the new rules take effect in September, a surge in attendance at Tridentine Masses is unlikely, according to Monsignor Kevin W. Irwin, dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at Catholic University in Washington.

Catholics wanting to attend the old Mass have been able to do so since the 1980s, when Pope John Paul II allowed it on a limited basis, he noted.

A majority favors the newer Mass, Irwin said. "I think those who prefer the Tridentine Mass have already voted with their feet."

A shortage of Catholic clergy, moreover, means that most priests are too busy to add another Mass to their schedule; and because most American seminaries have not required knowledge of Latin since Vatican II, many priests would not even be capable of offering the old Mass, Irwin noted.

While agreeing that pent-up demand is low, others foresee a rise in interest, provoked in part by the controversy surrounding the pope's decision.

"Many people will go to this Mass out of a healthy curiosity," says the Rev. James Socias, vice president of the Midwest Theological Forum in Woodridge, Ill. "I have had many priests tell me, 'I have to learn how to say the Tridentine Mass.'"

The papal document stipulates that the older liturgy will remain an "extraordinary" form, to be celebrated no more than once a day in any given parish. At the same time, Benedict says that the two forms of worship can be "mutually enriching."

In a letter to bishops that accompanied the official decree, the pope specifically mentioned the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who rejected the Vatican II reforms, and who with some of his followers was excommunicated in 1988.

Yet the papal decree will clearly not be enough to heal the schism between Rome and Lefebvre's Society of St. Pius X, which claims 600,000 members worldwide.

A statement from the organization's head, Monsignor Bernard Fellay, thanked the pope for the decree but referred to the "difficulties that still subsist."

Whatever its effects on relations with traditionalist Catholics, the document has already proved an irritant in relations between Catholics and Jews.

"In order to embrace this group of dissidents who have rejected reconciliation, reaching out and reform, (the Church's leaders) are willing to put at risk a highly significant and courageous relationship," said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. "It throws it back I don't know how many years."

Foxman objects to a prayer in the Tridentine liturgy that refers to the "blindness" of the Jews and asks God to "take the veil from their hearts." An earlier version, which referred to "perfidious Jews," was removed by Pope John XXIII in 1959.

Foxman, who discussed the matter with Vatican officials during meetings in Rome last week, voiced hope for a change.

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