A Vatican cardinal is hoping for the “reconciliation” of the old and new rites of Mass.

– The Mass cannot stand for Church unity if it is subject to “disputes and arguments”

“In the long run… the two forms cannot coexist”, Cardinal Kurt Koch, the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, wrote in the June issue of the Herder Korrespondenz journal, as katholisch.de reports.

Koch, the 70-year-old Vatican pointman for ecumenism, was referring to the situation in the Church today in which though Masses in everyday languages are by far the most common, some small groups of traditionalist Catholics still meet to celebrate the Mass in Latin.

That’s ever since Pope Benedict XVI allowed regular celebrations of the old rite – suppressed after the Second Vatican Council (1982-65) – in his 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum.

Koch – who is also a member of the Vatican body responsible for the celebration of the Old Mass, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) – recalled in his text for Herder Korrespondenz that the Eucharist is “the central celebration of the unity of the Church”.

But, he added, the Mass could not have that meaning of unity “if there are disputes and arguments about it”.

Koch therefore expressed his hope that “in the future there could be a reconciliation of the two forms”, in which “instead of two different forms there is only one form as a synthesis”.

– Mutual enrichment or a “conflictual ritual form”?

The Latin Mass – which is estimated to be celebrated in a little over 1,500 Catholic parishes worldwide, out of a total of more than 223,000 – hit the headlines again in March when the CDF added new saints and prefaces to the 1962 Roman Missal, the last before the changes at Vatican II.

That update brought forth the ire of 130 liturgical scholars from around the world, who signed an open letter accusing the CDF of promoting “serious division”, “a widespread conflict” and a “‘liturgical rejection’ of the Second Vatican Council” by breathing life with the March changes into a superseded rite.

“It is inevitable that a dual, conflictual ritual form will lead to a significant division in the faith”, the liturgical scholars warned, adding that “it no longer makes sense to enact decrees to ‘reform’ a rite that is closed in the historical past, inert and crystallized, lifeless and without vigor. There can be no resuscitation for it”.

After the CDF changes to the old rite in March, in April the news broke that Pope Francis had ordered a review of the Latin Mass and had asked the world’s bishops to report in a survey whether celebrations of it in their dioceses were responding to true pastoral needs and adhering to the guidelines set out by Pope Benedict.

That survey raised the suspicions of traditionalist Catholics that the Vatican under Pope Francis was seeking to suppress the Latin Mass.

But a Vatican source told The Tablet that the questionnaire was designed more to get accurate information on the frequency of Latin Masses around the world, and to check that celebrations were not just being pushed by individual priests and were responding to real demand among the faithful.

In liberalising the Latin Mass in 2007, Pope Benedict argued that “it is not appropriate to speak of these two versions of the Roman Missal as if they were ‘two Rites’. Rather, it is a matter of a twofold use of one and the same rite”.

“What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful”, Benedict added.

But as he did in August 2017 to participants in the National Liturgical Week in Italy, Pope Francis has affirmed time and again “with certainty and with magisterial authority that the liturgical reform is irreversible”.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.