Nice. Now Catholics Get to Argue Over Liturgy.

The catholicity of the Catholic Church is already being tested by the usual hot-button chestnuts (sex, gender, etc.), but now there is a new, stupider controversy. Recently, Pope Francis restored the restrictions on the use of the Latin Mass, and it now requires episcopal permission. This is a reversal of Benedict XVI’s 2007 “olive branch” to traditionalists in Summorum Pontificum, which allowed priests to celebrate the 1962 Missal freely.

Some believe that the move is a defining moment in the good kind of way. From this perspective, Summorum Pontificum only heightened the polarization between progressives and traditionalists, with Tridentine masses serving as rally-points for reactionary Catholicism and Vatican II denialism. Some Bishops are definitely worried about this; Francis’ decision came as a result of their responses to a questionnaire on Pontificum’s effects.

So there is certainly a connection between the “extraordinary” Mass and hard-right shennanigans, but is this true of all parishes? Ritual traditionalism is not just a bitter, rightwing thing; it is what attracts many to Catholicism. The Church should not close off liturgical pathways to reaching today’s youth, a large number of whom are oddly fascinated with the old-timey stuff. 

Roman-stans form a small part of Global Catholicism, so this could just be a big nothing-burger. But it is worth reflecting, along with Hong Kong’s Cardinal Zen, about whether liturgical restrictions are really a solution to what is undoubtedly a deeper problem in the Church. Even though it’s likely that most Bishops will continue to allow the Latin Mass, taking away a community’s freedom to their preferred style of worship (and during a pandemic, no less) risks greater disunity.