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Pope Benedict Approves Wider Use of Latin Mass

Pope Benedict XVI issued a new decree on Saturday removing restrictions on celebrating the Latin Mass, which had largely been abandoned by the Catholic Church in the 1960s, after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.

In a concession to traditional Catholics, Pope Benedict has lifted restrictions on celebrating the old form of the Latin Mass. His decision is outlined in a new decree issued Saturday titled "Summorum Pontificum."

Outlining his intentions in a letter to bishops, the pope made clear that allowing the Mass to be celebrated again in Latin is not a reversal of the reforms made by the Second Vatican Council, which modernized many Church policies in the 1960s.

Speaking of the Latin Mass, the pope said that what was considered sacred by earlier generations remains sacred and great for us too.

Now a group of Catholic parishioners can ask their local priest to celebrate Mass in Latin and even get baptized or married according to the old Latin rite. This will not require the approval of a bishop. Mass will also continue to be celebrated in local languages.

The new decree will start to be observed from 14 September of this year, Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.

Pope Benedict has been eager to reconcile with traditionalists, who opposed the reforms.

Father Joseph Kramer of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter said that with this decree the pope hopes to mend a rift with ultra-traditionalists. He said Benedict is reaching out to, among others, members of the Society of Saint Pius X, founded by the late French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

The Society claims about one million members who are opposed to the changes that came out of the Second Vatican Council. Archbishop Lefebvre was excommunicated in 1988 after he consecrated four bishops without the Pope's consent.

Lefebvre's followers have been demanding greater use of the old Latin Mass as a precondition for normalizing relations. Pope Benedict has said that, looking back over the past divisions, not enough was done toward reconciliation or unity within the Church.

The break by traditionalists from the Vatican caused the first major schism within the Roman Catholic Chhurch in modern times.