Pope to loosen restrictions on use of old Latin Mass

Pope Benedict XVI will loosen restrictions on using the old Latin Mass, making a major concession to ultraconservatives who split with the Vatican to protest liberalizing reforms, a Vatican official said Wednesday.

The pope's intent is to "help overcome the schism and help bring (the ultraconservatives) back to the Church," said the official, who asked that his name not be used because the papal document has not yet been released.

The Times of London on Wednesday reported that the pope had signed the order, and that it could be published within a few weeks. The Vatican official also said he expected the decision to be published soon.

The document will address current restrictions on the old Latin Mass, called The Tridentine Mass, during which the priest faces the altar away from the worshippers and there are no lay readers as in the modern Mass.

Currently the Latin Mass can only be celebrated with the permission of a local bishop a restriction that followed reforms imposed during the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council, which also allowed Mass to be celebrated in local languages instead of Latin, reports AP.

In opposition to the restrictions, the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre founded the Swiss-based Society of St. Pius X in 1969. He was then excommunicated in 1988 after he consecrated four bishops without Rome's consent.

Benedict has indicated he wants relations with the St. Pius X group to be normalized, and last year met with its current leader, Bishop Bernard Fellay.

The issue of the Mass will be only one of several points in the papal document that are aimed reach out to the ultraconservatives, the Vatican official said.

In September, the pope approved an Bordeaux-based institute for French priests who left the St. Pius X group. The small group, now made up of five priests and some seminarians, is allowed to celebrate the old-style Latin Mass in exchange for their recognition of the pope's authority.