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French bishop moves to end Traditional Latin Mass standoff

French bishop moves to end Traditional Latin Mass standoff
A Traditional Latin Mass on the steps of the hospital chapel in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France. Screenshot from VA (toujours) Plus YouTube channel.

French Catholics who have attended Traditional Latin Masses outside a closed chapel for more than two years will now be offered regular Sunday Masses using the 1962 missal in a local chapel.

The Diocese of Versailles announced March 16 that Bishop Luc Crepy had approved a proposal for the Masses to take place in the Franciscan chapel in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, a town in the western suburbs of Paris, beginning March 19.

The diocese said it believed that “with this agreement, the conditions are met for the cessation of the celebration of Mass outdoors in front of the Saint-Germain hospital chapel.”

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The Masses outside the chapel began in 2020, a year before Pope Francis issued sweeping restrictions on Traditional Latin Masses worldwide with the publication of his apostolic letter Traditionis custodes.

Local Catholics took the step of organizing the outdoor Masses after they were reportedly told that they did not constitute a “stable group,” as defined by Benedict XVI’s 2007 apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum — which lifted restrictions on the use of the 1962 missal — and that no chapel was available.

A participant in the outdoor Masses told the traditionalist association Paix liturgique in January that the first Sunday Masses took place inside the hospital chapel, but diocesan authorities then closed the building for the duration of the Masses.

The Masses were held on the chapel’s steps, with the congregation kneeling on the ground below, at times in the cold and rain.

Following talks between the group’s representatives and diocesan officials, a meeting with Bishop Crepy, who has led the diocese since 2021, took place Dec. 9, 2022.

Traditional Latin Masses were then permitted to be held in the Franciscan chapel on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

“This response to the request of the faithful was resolutely guided by the spirit of Christmas,” the diocese said at the time. “These very strong signs of communion are important milestones and must now serve as an inspiration to continue to seek together to put an end to this painful situation.”

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France, one of the world’s leading centers of Catholic traditionalism, has seen protests against Vatican restrictions on Traditional Latin Masses. Demonstrations have taken place in front of the apostolic nunciature in Paris, with Catholics holding signs reading “Freedom for the traditional Mass” and “Freedom for Summorum Pontificum.”

An analysis published in 2022 suggested that only one in five bishops in France had signed decrees implementing Traditionis custodes. It said that 20% of French priests were “ordained to celebrate the old missal, and the youth movements that are attached to it are the most fruitful in terms of vocations and commitment.”

A group of French bishops met with Pope Francis on Sept. 10, 2021, and discussed the application of Traditionis custodes. According to Vatican News, the pope defended the new norms but insisted on the importance of pastoral care for traditionalist groups.

After a meeting with French members of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), the pope issued a decree on Feb. 11, 2022, granting the traditionalist society’s priests “the faculty to celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass, and to carry out the sacraments and other sacred rites, as well as to fulfill the Divine Office, according to the typical editions of the liturgical books … in force in the year 1962.”

In June 2022, the Vatican suspended ordinations in the Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon, which is known for welcoming traditionalist groups and now subject to an apostolic visitation.

Pope Francis urged French bishops in November 2022 to show special care for Catholics “disoriented” by Traditional Latin Mass restrictions in a message delivered by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin at their plenary meeting in Lourdes.

In its March 16 statement, the Diocese of Versailles said that Masses using the Missal of St. John XXIII would take place in the Franciscan chapel in Saint-Germain-en-Laye every Sunday and on the principal feast days, except in the summer months of July and August.

The arrangement will be evaluated after a year and a progress report submitted in June.

“Desiring to find a way of pacification to put an end to a long-standing and painful situation on both sides, we rejoice in this strong sign of unity and the search for ecclesial communion,” the diocese said.

The association Saint Germain Hors les Murs, which represents Catholics attending the outdoor Masses, said: “We would like to express our gratitude to the priests who supported us and to those who heard us.”

Referring to the publication of Traditionis custodes, it added: “We are especially grateful to Bishop Crepy for having authorized this celebration in the difficult context that we have known since June 16, 2021.”

The Union Lex Orandi, a traditionalist umbrella group that has supported the association, described the step as “historic in more ways than one.”

“First of all, it demonstrates that, under the regime of Traditionis custodes, a diocesan bishop can grant the faithful who request it the benefit of the traditional Mass,” it said.

“This demonstration should inspire other bishops to whom the faithful have been making the same request for months, as in Paris following the suppression of several Sunday Masses, or in the Diocese of Belley-Ars, where the only Mass celebrated received a notice of impending suppression from the bishop.”

It added that the move “demonstrates the need for the faithful to organize themselves to show their determination” and “that dialogue bears fruit when it is conducted between people of goodwill.”

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