Fearful that a new papal edict would undermine 40 years of Catholic-Jewish amity, Jewish leaders were scrambling this week to learn the implications of Pope Benedict XVI’s decision Saturday to permit wider use of the Latin Mass.
The Latin Mass traditionally contained a prayer during the Good Friday service that called for the conversion of Jews. Permitting its recital again, the Anti-Defamation League said, is a “body blow to Catholic-Jewish relations,” which were transformed by the reforms of Nostra Aetate, the landmark 1965 Vatican document issued at the Second Vatican Council that launched a positive dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people.
The prayer calls on God to “lift the veil from the eyes” of the Jews and end “the blindness of that people so that they may acknowledge the light of your truth, which is Christ.”
And while Jews and Catholic leaders here wondered aloud about the direction the pope was taking, another papal decree Tuesday incensed Protestants. In a declaration, the pope said other Christian communities are either defective or not true churches and that Catholicism is the only true way to salvation. The World Alliance of Reformed Churches, a fellowship of 75 million Protestants worldwide, promptly suggested that the pope was erasing the advances of the Second Vatican Council. The pope’s actions, however, were cheered by Catholic traditionalists, the group he was clearly seeking to bring back into the fold. In a statement after Saturday’s papal ruling on the Latin Mass, Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun, a progressive Jewish magazine, called the pope’s action an “assault on interfaith cooperation.” He warned also that it represents “a first step on the slippery slope toward the restoration of anti-Semitism in the church.”
But he later told The Jewish Week that he is now not certain whether the section about the conversion of Jews will be included in the liturgy. He said he wrote his earlier comments relying entirely upon the ADL’s press release.
“I thought they knew what they were talking about,” he said. “Now I’m not so sure.”
And conservative commentator Patrick Buchanan wrote an article for the conservative Web site Human Events in which he took issue with the assertion of Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, that it is “hurtful and insulting for Catholics to pray for the conversion of Jews.”
“Does he not know that Catholics are required to pray for the conversion of all peoples to Catholicism and Christ?” he asked. “Who duped Abe into thinking this requirement was suspended by Vatican II?”
Foxman was in Israel and unavailable for comment. But Rabbi Lerner said he has no problem with Catholics praying for the “conversion of all people” as long as Jews are not singled out. Other Jewish leaders were equally unclear about the papal ruling. Seeking clarification, the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, the umbrella Jewish organization that deals with Catholic leaders, sent a letter Monday to the Vatican.
“There is much concern in the Jewish community that the prayer for the conversion of the Jews has been reinstated,” said the letter to Walter Cardinal Kasper, president of the Holy See Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. “We would accordingly appreciate your clarification in the hope that it may assuage our concerns and those of our community.” A. James Rudin, the senior interreligious adviser of the American Jewish Committee who has played a prominent role in Catholic-Jewish relations for nearly 40 years, said the pope’s decision to reinstate the Latin Mass is an internal matter designed to heal a schism in the church.
“Is it a push back from the reforms of Vatican II?” he asked. “The pope said no, that this is just a healing process to help unify the church. But if the conversion of the Jews [section] has been reinstated, we need to get clarification as to why. It’s an insidious insult to Jews and Judaism and a throwback to pre-1965” before Vatican II.But Rabbi Jack Bemporad, director of the Center for Interreligious Understanding in Secaucus, N.J., said his conversations with leading Catholic clerics has convinced him that the objectionable paragraph has been deleted from the liturgy.
He cited a letter in which the pope explained that priests are free to use the Latin Mass “on any day with the exception of the Easter Triduum,” which includes Good Friday.
“There is no question that the Latin Mass [for Good Friday] does not include the section objectionable to Jews,” Rabbi Bemporad said. “So instead of screaming and attacking, let’s first get a hold of the actual text.
”Gary Greenebaum, the U.S. director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, agreed that “some of the Jewish concerns have been somewhat overstated. At the same time, we have real concerns and have asked for further clarification.”
He said it was not clear if the priest is to recite the controversial section only when he is praying alone or when a congregation is present.
In his letter explaining his decision, Pope Benedict XVI wrote that his decision not to have the Latin Mass recited during the Easter Triduum pertained to “Masses celebrated without people.”
But Greenebaum said that comment does not clarify the issue. “It is not clear, as much as the pope has tried to make it clear,” he said.
Nevertheless, the matter was confusing enough for Rev. James Massa, executive director of the Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, to say he understood the controversial paragraph would remain in the liturgy and be recited aloud by the cleric leading the service.Asked why the pope would not simply delete the offensive paragraph, as Pope John XXIII did in 1959 when removed the words “perfidious Jews” from the Good Friday Latin Mass, Rev. Massa replied: “To begin to edit the Missal at this point would call for an examination of the entire Missal and that is a hefty undertaking. It couldn’t be done overnight. However, it is not to say that it is not going to happen down the road.”
But for the Rev. Lawrence Frizzell, director of the institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University, the matter is not all that cut and dried.
“I hope that we get some further clarification and I’m hoping that the integrity of our faith requires that the prayer we use corresponds to the way we believe,” he said. “I hope that the negative views of the Jewish people which were unfortunately present in the Good Friday liturgy would not be brought to the fore again.”
“I hope profoundly that the Second Vatican Council’s declarations on the Jewish people will be taken into account and that the new prayer will be used so that we don’t say a prayer that goes back to the Middle Ages,” he said.
Rev. Massa pointed out that although the pope has now permitted wider use of Latin Mass — it previously could be recited by priests only with special permission of a bishop — “the normative liturgy for the vast majority of Catholics throughout the world continues to be the new Mass.”
He said the new Mass includes a text that is “more in sync with the Second Vatican Council … which speaks of Jews as God’s chosen people who were first to hear the word of God. It reflects a renewed understanding of the relationship between the church and the Jewish people.” Rabbi Joseph Ehrenkranz, executive director of the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., said he had spoken with church officials in the U.S. and been told that the “pope wants to continue to maintain good relations with the Jewish people.”
“Instead of criticizing, he added, “maybe we ought to ask what does this mean. … It will take time for all of the details to filter down from the Vatican. I’m confident those pages will be removed.”
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and chairman of the Chicago-based International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, said he does not view the pope’s action “in an alarmist way.”
“To me, Vatican II and Nostra Aetate laid the groundwork for Catholic-Jewish relations, and that is irreversible,” he said. “Jewish leaders who are panicking and alarmist are fighting the last battle, and that battle has already been won.”