Some Massachusetts Catholics are denouncing and some are extolling a move by Pope Francis on Friday to restrict celebration of the Latin Mass, the church’s standard form of worship until the 1960s, in what the pope says is an effort to unify believers.
The edict allows bishops to regulate the Latin Mass in their dioceses, but adds certain conditions to the rite’s celebration that will in effect curtail it. The decree, for instance, mandates that, from now on, new priests must get Vatican approval in order to say the rite.
The document also calls for bishops to ensure that people who attend Latin Masses do not “deny the validity and the legitimacy” of the Second Vatican Council, which initiated worship in local languages.
On social media, some Catholics expressed dismay, and occasionally rage, at the pope’s decision, while others hailed it as a strong response to what they perceive as a dissident culture in the church that prioritizes traditional forms of devotion over a sense of communal worship.
Francis said he made the decision after a survey of the world’s Catholic bishops last year indicated that the Latin Mass was a source of division in the church. His action reverses the work of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who loosened rules around the Latin Mass in 2007.
The Latin Mass has become a focal point in the conservative-liberal culture war between US Catholics, which parallels divisions in the country at large. Traditional forms of worship like the Latin Mass generally are favored by conservative Catholics, while left-leaning Catholics typically prefer more contemporary styles of prayer.
The split between many Catholics over how to perform the central ritual of their faith — which unifies the church as “one body,” according to Catholic teaching — troubles Pope Francis, according to a letter he wrote accompanying the decision.
Many Latin Mass devotees, Francis wrote, have “exploited” the rite’s expanded use over the past 14 years, and “encourage disagreements that injure the Church.”
The Rev. John Baldovin, a Jesuit priest and professor of theology at Boston College, echoed the pope’s concerns.
“For many people [who celebrate the Latin Mass],” Baldovin said in an interview over the weekend, “this is a rejection of the last 60 years of the Catholic Church, since Vatican II.”
Although Baldovin said Francis “did the right thing” with his decree on Friday, he noted that the change will ramp up divisions within the church in the short term.
The exasperation of Latin Mass devotees in response to the decree was evident Sunday morning at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross’s weekly Latin Mass.
John Ziemba, 60, who calls himself the service’s “unofficial usher,” said he believes the Latin Mass is more reverent than the more commonly celebrated Mass, something the Fenway resident appreciates.
At the first Latin Mass he attended in 2013, Ziemba participated in a procession that had him kneeling on a stone floor for an extended period of time. But the discomfort didn’t drive him away.
“I said, ‘Ouch, this is the church that I’ve been looking for.’ A church that makes demands,” he said, as congregants enjoyed some light refreshments in the basement after Mass.
Instead of polarizing the church, the Latin Mass has a potential to unify Catholics, Ziemba said, pointing around the room to people of Haitian, Vietnamese, Mexican, Colombian, and Irish descent chatting with each other.
There were plenty of gray hairs among the roughly 50 people who knelt, stood, and intoned Latin prayers during the almost two-hour Mass, but more than a dozen young people also filled pews.
Austin Vega, 21, of Saugus, was part of the younger crowd at the Mass, which he attends every week.
“I was a little shocked and very saddened that the Holy Father would treat us like we’re on the fringes of the church,” he said in an interview after the Mass.
Other Catholics, though, welcomed the pope’s move, saying that the decision will push people to treat Mass more as a communal celebration.
“In some respects, I think that this change in policy is a call to all of us to reimagine what the church is for us,” said Steve Krueger, a 69-year-old Brighton resident and president of the organization Catholic Democrats, in a phone interview.
Three of the state’s four Catholic dioceses — Boston, Fall River, and Worcester — said they would heed Francis’s instructions, but will keep the rite for now as they devise a replacement for the current norms. A spokesman for the Diocese of Springfield could not be reached for comment.
In a message to parishes, the Archdiocese of Boston said: “With note that the Holy Father provided the local ordinary exclusive competence for use of the Extraordinary Form [Latin Mass] in his diocese, Cardinal O’Malley wishes to assure all the faithful of his concern for their spiritual and pastoral needs.”
Theologians, including Baldovin, are calling for Francis to shed more light on how the new norms should be implemented. The command for the Latin Mass not to be celebrated in “parochial churches,” for instance, has been the subject of some debate.
“There are things in that document that need clarification,” Baldovin said.
But in the meantime, Latin Mass devotees will still find a home for their preferred style of worship.
“I think it’s just tradition,” said Colin Flynn, 32, of Brighton. “I feel like everybody’s welcome.”
Jack Lyons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.