Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Some Remarks about the Catholic revival of the Latin Mass

Rebecca Lesses has left this in the comments of a previous post about the recent Catholic declaration and the revival of the Good Friday Mass.
I have to say that in this case I agree with Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League - that it is offensive that the Catholic Church is reviving a version of the Good Friday Mass that calls for the conversion of the Jews, as if we needed to become Catholics to be saved. Even if this Mass is said very infrequently, the offense remains, because the revival of the Mass is a signal to us that our religion is not acceptable and must be changed. This is exactly the message that the Catholic Church gave us throughout the long years before the Second Vatican Council, and it resulted in many atrocities being committed against Jews, including forced conversions.

And another point - what does the revival of the older Mass mean for Jewish-Catholic dialogue? In my past experience with dialogue, I found that although we obviously disagreed on many theological points, that there was a great deal of respect for Jews and Judaism. Perhaps the Pope is trying to appease this particularly conservative group that has left the Catholic church - but what about what I hope is a much larger number of Catholics who do respect Jews and people of other religions?
Rebecca is referring to the comments that Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League has released, which I quote from JTA Breaking News-The Global News Service for the Jewish People:
The Anti-Defamation League called the decision to revive a Catholic prayer for the conversion of the Jews a "body blow to Catholic Jewish relations."

Abraham Foxman, the ADL's national director, met this week in Rome with Vatican officials to press Jewish concerns over the revival of the Latin mass and possible beatification of Pope Pius XII. Though he had initially taken a softer line, on Friday Foxman slammed an expected papal order allowing the use of a 16th century prayer which beseeches God to "remove the veil from the hearts" of the Jews, "and that they also may acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ."

"We are extremely disappointed and deeply offended that nearly 40 years after the Vatican rightly removed insulting anti-Jewish language from the Good Friday Mass, that it would now permit Catholics to utter such hurtful and insulting words by praying for Jews to be converted," Foxman said. "This is a theological setback in the religious life of Catholics and a body blow to Catholic-Jewish relations."

Foxman also discussed the possible beatification of Pope Pius XII, the Holocaust-era pontiff accused of silence in face of the Nazi extermination of European Jewry. In an interview Thursday with JTA, Foxman said that Pius should not be granted a step towards sainthood until the Vatican's wartime archives are released for scrutiny, though he is prepared to be patient in waiting for the archives to be opened.

"If Pope Pius is worthy of beatification, that beatification will be available to him after the archives are open and possibly after the survivors are not there to witness this debate," Foxman said.
This news article which I quote here from AHN Global News for a digital world, includes a reference to the Catholic response:

Some Jewish leaders were offended by the pope's decision and say it will do harm to a still incomplete reconciliation between the two religions, reported the Associated Press.

"The language is insensitive. The language is insulting," said Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, a U.S.-based Jewish civil rights group.

The decree made no change to the 1962 missal, the main prayer book for the old rite, which includes prayers on Good Friday that call for the conversion of the Jews and calls them blind to the Christian truth.

French Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard said the Good Friday prayer could be changed if it caused difficulties with Jews. Church sources said it would rarely be prayed because the old rite is an exception and the new rite, which drops this text, would be used in most churches around the world on that day.

The pope's decision to allow the Latin or Tridentine mass is a move that is seen to be a call for many traditionalists to return to the Church. Traditionalists are generally not pleased with many of the decisions of the Second Vatican Council, most notably the change in the mass from Latin to local dialects.

"The traditional mass is a true a gem of the Church's heritage, and the Holy Father has taken the most important step toward making it available to many more of the faithful," said Michael Dunnigan, chairman of Una Voce America.

The decree does not force Catholic churches to change to the Latin mass, it only gives them the option to do so if a "stable group of faithful" request it.


Jim Deardorff said...

Christian denominations can feel just as offended as Jewish.

“Christ ‘established here on earth’ only one church,” the document [Catholic Declaration] said. The other communities “cannot be called ‘churches’ in the proper sense” because they do not have apostolic succession — the ability to trace their bishops back to Christ’s original apostles."

Isn't this sort of reasoning the very thing that has fueled the Shiite-Sunni split?

Leon said...

Sometimes I think that the only reason there has been any improvement in Christian-Jewish relations is because of the Holocaust. Before that, it was truly awful. Even with the Holocaust, progress has been slow and not very deep. The Catholic Church's 1965 Nostra Aetate is really a very weak document concerning Jews and it took 20 years after the end of the war to produce it. But the 1974 Guidelines is admittedly much better.

The biggest improvement has been in terms of respect for each other's current beliefs and practices. But the study of history has not improved. It is impossible to read any Christian scholar on the historical Jesus and walk away with the impression that 1st century Judaism was a good religion. I think one reason why Jews stay away from the subject is because they know they will not get any good feelings about their ancient history from Christian sources. For Jews, it is a very negative experience reading almost any historical Jesus scholar.

So my fear is that the further away we get from the Holocaust, the less likely there will be any further improvement in relations and when the pressure of the Holocaust has moved to the distant past (no more living witnesses, no more children of such wtinesses), then we may even go backwards. The current Pope may just be testing the waters as to whether we can start going backwards now. Perhaps he senses what Christianity can return to when the Holocaust is no longer a strong factor. That's my worst fear in all this.

Leon Zitzer

Judy Redman said...

I am sure that Leon's right to say that a significant amount the improvement in Christian-Jewish relations was catalysed by the Holocaust. I think, though, that there are many Christians and Christian denominations who have come a very long way as a result and are not about to go backwards. For example, my own denomination has extensive resources in this area at

and is very careful to differentiate between the behaviour of (some of) the Jewish leaders of Jesus' time and Jews and Judaism in general.

Can I point out that "Roman Catholic hierarchy" does not equal "all Christian churches" nor even "all Catholics"? There are many issues on which the official position of the Roman Catholic church is not the Christian position, but merely one position held by some Christians. :-)

gdelassu said...

Can I point out that "Roman Catholic hierarchy" does not equal "all Christian churches" nor even "all Catholics"?

You can, but lot of luck getting that rather basic and obvious point across. Even before I converted to Catholicism, it had long struck me that it was strange how the Pope is both received and reviled as if he were a stand-in for Christianity in general by so many non-Christians. This sort of phenomenon, for instance, was very much on display in the whole hoopla surrounding the Da Vinci Code, where Brown clearly had it in for Nicene Christianity in general but all the focus of both the book and the media spectacle which ensued therefrom were focussed toward the Vatican. Similarly, when the Pope made his now infamous Regensburg speech, Armenian, Anglican and Coptic churches were all assaulted in Cairo in response, as if somehow these folks had something to do with the Pope.

There is, of course, no logical reason why this sort of thing should be true, but then I suspect that this phenomenon was never really a function of logic in the first place. Just like Voltaire's famous "ecrassez l'infame," this is all more visceral than cerebral.

Leon said...


There has been some improvement in Christian-Jewish relations. Bits and pieces, I would call it. But I don't think it is all that significant when you consider how much is still lacking and how many mistakes are still being made. Here is just a brief list:

1) Jewish leaders are still falsely blamed for Jesus' death and since they represent to some degree the Jewish religion of the time, Judaism is still maligned when it is claimed that there was something wrong with 1st century Judaism that it could do this to Jesus.

2) No one has ever given a rational argument that Jewish leaders were complicit in Jesus' death. By a rational argument, I mean one based on the evidence. The majority of evidence in the NT actually speaks against it, but there is a great silence about this in the scholarly world.

3) Unfortunately, many scholars convey the impression that a Jewish trial of Jesus is a stated fact in the Gospels. That is false. The so-called Jewish trial is an interpretation of the Gospels, not a given piece of data. The question can thus be asked whether it is a good interpretation. And that is a question which scholars have suppressed.

4) Many, perhaps most Christian scholars, still blame Jesus' death not only on Jewish leaders, but on the Jewish people, though they take care to be very subtle about this. That is, they make the chief cause of Jesus' death his offensiveness not only to Jewish leaders, but to the Jewish people. "Offensive" in fact is their favorite word to describe Jesus' relationship to his own people and his own culture. (You would be shocked at how often this word crops up in their work.)

5) Jesus' Jewishness is still underinvestigated. No one, not even Jewish scholars, have attempted to make a complete study of it. The fear of his full Jewishness is still a major factor in scholarly studies. And that fear betokens a very deep problem between Christian and Jew that no one wants to touch.

And Jews still suffer an inferiority complex because of all this. Or so I believe, but no one wants to talk about it. I hope this has not been overwhelming, but this is just a small part of what is still so very wrong and unjust in our study of history.

Leon Zitzer

gdelassu said...

This came out just today. It might be of interest to those who have been following this thread.