Speaking at the Vatican to instructors 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 issues that divide the Church.
Francis made it clear that he preferred Mass celebrated in local languages, with the priest facing the congregation instead of with his back to the pews. This was how Mass was celebrated before the revolutionary reforms of the Vatican Council more than half a century ago, which aimed to make grassroots Catholics feel more connected to liturgical celebrations.
“I re-emphasize that the liturgical life, and its study, must lead to greater ecclesial unity, not division,” the pope told institute attendees. “When the liturgical life is a bit of a divisive banner, there’s the smell of the devil in there, the deceiver.”
“It is not possible to worship God and at the same time make the liturgy a battleground for issues that are not essential,” Francis added.
Last year, two prominent cardinals questioned the legitimacy of a Vatican decree placing restrictions on the celebration of the Old Latin Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and banning private masses in its side chapels.
These traditionalists openly expressed their hostility to Francis. The retired head of the Vatican’s office of doctrinal orthodoxy, German Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, maintained that no one was obligated to obey the decree. US Cardinal Raymond Burke, who received the coup de grace from Francis early in his pontificate from a Vatican position, called for the decree to be rescinded.
Francis told his audience on Saturday that “every reform creates a certain resistance.” He recalled that, when he was young, Pope Pius XII authorized the faithful to drink water before taking communion and this scandalized the opponents.
Similar outrage followed later reforms allowing Catholics to fulfill their weekly Mass obligation by attending an evening service instead of Sunday morning.
Francis also castigated what he called “closed mentalities” that exploit the liturgy.
“This is the drama that we are experiencing, in ecclesial groups that are moving away from the Church, questioning” the authority of the bishops and the Church, he said.
In 2016, a dissident traditionalist Catholic group, the Society of Saint Pius X, accused Francis of sowing confusion and errors about the faith, joining a chorus of conservative critics over what they perceived to be the pontiff’s lax doctrine. .
In 1969, the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre founded the society, opposed to the Church’s modernization reforms of the 1960s. In one of the most dramatic chapters of the Vatican’s longstanding duel with traditionalists, he and four other bishops were later excommunicated by the Vatican after the archbishop consecrated them without papal consent.