Pope Francis Dedicates January Prayer to ‘Diversity in the Church’

ROME — The Vatican announced Tuesday that Pope Francis has chosen “diversity in the Church” as his prayer intention for the month of January 2024.

“Diversity and unity were already very much present in the first Christian communities,” the pontiff remarked in his video announcing his prayer intention for January.

Diversity in the Church “is not something confusing or disturbing but is a gift God gives to the Christian community so it might grow as one body, the Body of Christ,” he added.

“If we are guided by the Holy Spirit, abundance, variety, diversity, never cause conflict,” he said. “The Holy Spirit reminds us first and foremost that we are children loved by God — everyone equal in God’s love, and everyone different.”

In an ironic twist, the pope underscored liturgical differences as an important expression of the beauty and richness of Catholic diversity, noting that the Eastern Churches “have their own traditions, their own characteristic liturgical rites, yet they maintain the unity of the faith. They strengthen it, not divide it.”

In July 2021, however, Francis clamped down on the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass, calling the practice divisive.

In his apostolic letter titled Traditionis Custodes (“Guardians of Tradition”), the pope banned the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass in Catholic parishes and revoked accommodations to priests who want to use the extraordinary form of the Catholic liturgy.

The letter reversed measures to relax restrictions on the use of the traditional form by Pope Benedict XVI, who, in 2007, noted that many of the faithful have continued to be attached with “love and affection to the earlier liturgical forms which had deeply shaped their culture and spirit.”

In recognition of this diversity, Pope John Paul II sought greater inclusiveness by granting the faculty of using the older form and “exhorted bishops to make broad and generous use of this faculty on behalf of all the faithful who sought it,” Benedict wrote.

Benedict went on to establish that the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI “is the ordinary expression of the lex orandi (rule of prayer) of the Catholic Church of the Latin rite” whereas the Roman Missal promulgated by Saint Pius V “is nonetheless to be considered an extraordinary expression of the same lex orandi of the Church and duly honored for its venerable and ancient usage.”

On the contrary, Francis asserted that the 1970 Roman Missal is not the “ordinary expression” but rather “the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite” (emphasis added).

Pope Benedict had granted broad faculties to Catholic priests who wished to say Masses in private using the Roman Missal published in 1962, declaring that to do so “the priest needs no permission from the Apostolic See or from his own Ordinary.”

According to Francis’ restrictions, priests who wish to celebrate using the Roman Missal of 1962 “should submit a formal request to the diocesan Bishop who shall consult the Apostolic See before granting this authorization.”

“Previous norms, instructions, permissions, and customs that do not conform to the provisions of the present Motu Proprio are abrogated,” Francis decreed.

The Vatican’s own website asserts that “the Latin language still holds primacy of place as that language which, based on principle, the Church prefers, even though she recognizes that the vernacular can be useful for the faithful.”

The Vatican goes on to note that “Latin should be safeguarded as a precious inheritance of the Western liturgical tradition.”

The Code of Canon Law, which governs Church activity and liturgy, similarly stipulates: “The eucharistic celebration is to be carried out in the Latin language or in another language provided that the liturgical texts have been legitimately approved.”

Saint John Paul II urged the continued use of Latin in the Church to maintain ties with its own history and traditions.

“The Roman Church has special obligations towards Latin, the splendid language of ancient Rome,” he wrote, adding that “she must manifest them whenever the occasion presents itself.”

A celebrating priest leads a Latin Mass at Rome’s ancient Pantheon basilica, in Rome, Italy, Friday, Oct. 29, 2021.  (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

Pope Francis justified the reversal of the more inclusive approach of his predecessors by insisting that their pastoral kindness “was exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division.”

The pope’s love for diversity and inclusion in all things comes to an abrupt stop when faced with the traditional liturgy, which he seems to detest with particular vehemence. On several occasions he has referred to those who prefer the traditional Mass as “retrograde.”

Just last February, Francis further tightened the screws on the Traditional Latin Mass by insisting that permission to celebrate the old Mass may not be granted by local bishops, but must pass through Rome in order to receive approval.

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