Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday eased restrictions on the use of the Tridentine Mass, the Latin-language liturgy that predates the Second Vatican Council.
In a pastoral letter titled 'Summorum Pontificum,' the Pope said Mass celebrated according to the 1962 Roman Missal, commonly known as the Tridentine rite, should be made available in every parish where groups of the faithful desire it.
While the new Roman Missal, introduced in 1970, remains the ordinary way of Catholic worship, the 1962 missal should be considered "the extraordinary expression of the same law of prayer," the Pope said.
The new norms on the Tridentine Mass (see next story) will take effect September 14, the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
The Society of St. Pius X, a schismatic group founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and which opposed the Vatican II liturgical reform, welcomed the pope's new decree.
Bishop Bernard Fellay, the superior general, said the society "extends its deep gratitude to the Sovereign Pontiff for this great spiritual benefit."
Explaining his action, the Pope said despite widespread use of the new mass, in "some regions, no small numbers of faithful adhered and continue to adhere with great love and affection to the earlier liturgical forms."
He also praised the old liturgy, saying it enriched not only the faith and piety but also the culture of many peoples.
"It is known, in fact, that the Latin liturgy of the Church in its various forms, in each century of the Christian era, has been a spur to the spiritual life of many saints, has reinforced many peoples in the virtue of religion and fecundated their piety."
In an explanatory note to the world's bishops, the Pope said he had seen in the post-Vatican II period "how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the church."
He added that it was clear that, in addition to older Catholics from the pre-Vatican II era, young people are also being attracted by the older form of the liturgy.
He dismissed fears that his directive would foment divisions in the church or be seen as a retreat from Vatican II. Use of the old missal, he said, presupposes a certain degree of liturgical formation and some knowledge of the Latin language, and "neither of these is found very often."
The Tridentine Mass has been allowed as a liturgical exception since 1984, but Catholics had to request permission from local bishops. The new decree says a priest who wishes to celebrate the Tridentine Mass alone "does not require any permission."