VATICAN CITY – The Vatican issued new instructions Friday asking bishops and priest to make the old Latin Mass accessible, but warned that Catholic faithful who follow the rite must not question the authority of the pope or the legitimacy of the new Mass.
Pope Benedict XVI had asked for a study after he ordered wider use of the Latin Mass in 2007 for those Catholics uncomfortable with the modern rite celebrated in the language of the congregation.
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said the norms were published to "reconcile differences" between those who are in favor of restoring the Latin rite and those who see it as a going backward in time to a more conservative church. He said that complaints from both sides were about equal.
Along with calling on bishops to implement the pope's instructions by making more spaces and times available to groups looking for the old rite, the document also stresses the need for Latin instruction for priests wanting to celebrate it.
Benedict's efforts to make the old rite more accessible was also a bid to reach out to followers of an excommunicated traditionalist, the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who split with Rome over the Second Vatican Council reforms in the 1960s, notably the introduction of the New Mass.
The new instructions say that "the faithful who ask for the celebration ... must not in any way belong to groups which show themselves to be against the validity or legitimacy of the Holy Mass or the Sacraments" in the new form or against the pope's authority.
Some liberal-minded Catholics had complained that Benedict's move amounted to a negation of Vatican II, and some prelates had warned that its implementation would create a rupture in the church.
"The spirit of the document is one of reconciliation and welcome," Lombardi said.
The new instructions do not go into such issues as the possibility of using altar girls for the old rite, or the prayer for the conversion of the Jews found in the old Good Friday rite. Vatican officials have told Jewish groups that the church in no way intended to go against its spirit of reconciling with Jews.
The instruction was primarily issued because many bishops weren't implementing the pope's directives to make the old rite more widely available.
It asks that those seeking the rite be given a "generous welcome" by bishops and priests.
"There are going to be a lot of happy traditionalists," said the Rev. John Zuhlsdorf, a commentator and columnist who closely tracks the celebration of the Latin Mass.
He said some people tried to "torpedo" the 2007 document during the tortured drafting process of the instruction, but that didn't happen in the end. "If anything, this instruction demonstrates that this is here to stay."