British Icons Urge Pope Francis: Preserve the Latin Mass

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British celebrities and noble figures have come forward with a poignant message for Pope Francis: Preserve the Latin Mass. In a public letter addressed to The Times in London, prominent British personalities including human rights advocate Bianca Jagger and musician Julian Lloyd Webber emphatically defended the contentious worship service. According to the Catholic News Agency, the signatories urged the Holy See to resist further restrictions on the Latin Mass.

“Recently there have been worrying reports from Rome that the Latin Mass is to be banished from nearly every Catholic church,” the letter stated. “This is a painful and confusing prospect, especially for the growing number of young Catholics whose faith has been nurtured by it.”

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The Latin Mass, formally known as the Traditional Latin Mass or Tridentine Mass, is a historic form of Catholic worship in which the priest predominantly faces away from the congregation and speaks in Latin, rather than the vernacular language of the area. Once widespread, the Latin Mass saw a decline after Vatican II, a 1960s council that initiated several modernizations in Catholic traditions. Vatican II encouraged greater congregational participation and introduced more contemporary elements into worship.

Since his papacy began in March 2013, Pope Francis has taken steps to reduce the presence of the Latin Mass in Catholic practice. He argues that holding onto such old customs fosters division within the church. In July 2021, Pope Francis enacted significant restrictions on the Latin Mass, mandating that priests obtain permission from their bishops, who in turn needed Vatican clearance. Additionally, the pope forbade bishops from establishing any new Latin Mass groups within individual dioceses, aiming to curb the formation of alternative worship movements.

The announcement incited backlash from Latin Mass advocates, leading to various forms of dissent over the past three years. Notably, Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker has leveraged his NFL fame to champion greater access to the Latin Mass. “My success in football has given me a pedestal and I feel a responsibility to raise awareness to different issues that I think God wants me to bring to the forefront. And the Traditional Latin Mass is definitely one of them,” Butker stated in February 2022.

The recent letter from British dignitaries emerges amidst fresh rumors suggesting that the Vatican is planning additional measures against the Latin Mass. Despite the ongoing tensions and regular headlines spotlighting these disputes, a 2021 Pew Research Center survey revealed that many American Catholics remain largely indifferent. Two months after the imposition of the new restrictions, around two-thirds of U.S. Catholics professed no knowledge of the guidelines.

Of those who were aware, opinions were split, with about an even divide between approval and disapproval of the pope’s decision. Importantly, these new regulations did not seem to affect Pope Francis’s overall popularity among American Catholics.