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Last Updated: Friday, 27 April 2007, 08:35 GMT 09:35 UK
Concerns over Pope's Latin Mass move
By Kathryn Westcott
BBC News

Pope Benedict

Pope Benedict's plans to revive the Latin Mass is causing concern among Catholic and Jewish groups about relations between their faiths.

Religious commentators predict that Pope Benedict will issue authorisation for wider use of the Mass - known as the Tridentine Mass - soon. It is thought that publishers in Rome are already preparing new editions of the Latin missal. The problem, however, is that traditional texts include prayers for the conversion of Jews.

The Tridentine Mass was celebrated for hundreds of years before being replaced by a liturgy celebrated in local languages, as part of reforms instigated after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

The old wording has none of the Vatican Council thinking that reversed long-standing anti-Jewish views in the Church. Vatican II brought about a revolution in Catholic thinking, highlighting the ancient Jewish roots of Christianity and affirming God's love for the Jews.

Concern by some groups is now focused on the Good Friday liturgy according to the Tridentine missal, which contains a prayer "For the conversion of the Jews". It is true that this only refers to one prayer that is said on one day of the year.

The prayer reads: "Let us pray also for the Jews, that the Lord our God may take the veil from their hearts and that they also may acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ."

It refers to their "blindness" and prays for them to be "delivered from their darkness."

Pope's personal call

John L Allen, a commentator for the influential US-based weekly magazine The National Catholic Reporter says this is the Pope's "personal call". He has promised to reach out to Christians separated from Rome.

St Peter's Square
Some priests already celebrate the traditional Mass
"His basic motive is pastoral. He is a classic doctrinal conservative and he feels there are people out there who are attached to this mass and there is nothing wrong with it, so why not let them have it."

The Vatican has said that the Pope wants to heal a rift with ultra-traditionalists who rebelled against Second Vatican Council changes towards an understanding of non-Christian religions.

Their leader, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, now dead, was excommunicated by the late Pope John Paul II and he and his followers broke away from Rome during the 1970s.

The followers of Archbishop Lefebvre - known as the Society of St Pius X - are said to have been seeking reconciliation with the new pope. The group claims to have roughly one million adherents worldwide.

'Little uptake'

Many religious experts acknowledge that in real terms, the revival of the Mass may not be widespread.

"We're more than 40 years away from the Vatican Council and frankly most priests today don't know how to do it," says Mr Allen. "Of course they can learn but they are stretched and won't see it as a priority. I don't really believe there is that much demand for it.

Marcel Lefebvre conducting an ordination
Archbishop Lefebvre: Excommunicated by Pope John Paul II
"Those Catholics who are already interested in the Latin Mass can usually find somewhere where it is celebrated."

But for some Catholic and Jewish groups this is not the point and they have approached the Vatican about their concerns.

Rabbi David Rosen president of IJCIC, the International Jewish Committee that represents World Jewry in its relations with other world religions, says: "Any liturgy that presents Jews as being doomed in their faith doesn't present a very healthy attitude towards Judaism and the Jewish people."

"Relations have undergone a profound transformation [since Vatican II]. I don't think there is any danger of backsliding in terms of the Church indulging in anti-Semitism or anything like that," he told the BBC News website from Jerusalem.

But he says the move comes within the context of "a certain revival of what might be called conservative theology within the Church."

"Conservative theology itself is not necessarily bad for relations with the Jewish people and even if Catholics believe their path is the absolute truth, that shouldn't contradict the ability to respect the integrity of others' identity and choice," he says.

'Disturbing trend'

Christian groups argue that the issue has become all the more sensitive because the move comes against a backdrop of a perceived drift in Church policy.

I remember the Latin Mass as a child, and very beautiful it was too - but I hadn't a clue [about] the importance of what was being said
Teresa Adams
BBC News website reader, Kenilworth, UK

"This is only part of what some of us see as a fairly disturbing trend within the Church," Professor John T Pawlikowski, president of the International Council of Christians and Jews told the BBC News Website. "It has been elevated to a higher level than it might otherwise have been."

He cited recent sermons by the main Vatican preacher, Father Raniero Cantalamessa, which revived old charges about Jewish blame for the death of Christ without provoking a reaction from Benedict or his aides.

"And, certainly in America, you have certain voices in the Catholic Church, calling for the conversion of Jews on television," said Mr Pawlikowski, professor of Social Ethics at the Catholic Theological Union in Illinois.

There is also concern that in America bishops are cutting back on personnel who are involved in Catholic and Jewish dialogue.

Professor Pawlikowski questions why the Pope needs to issue further authorisation for the Mass, given that there are priests who already have permission to celebrate it.

'God-centred worship'

"It's almost like some people in the Vatican want to give it greater validation - almost encourage it," he says.

Traditionalists not aligned to the Lefebvre movement have welcomed the proposed moves.

This will give a much-needed emphasis on the sacrificial character of the Mass
Father Brian Harrison
"I think it will help to swing the balance in favour a return to more reverent, God-centred, dignified worship, a greater use of Latin and the musical treasures of Gregorian Chant and polyphony, and a much-needed emphasis on the sacrificial character of the Mass and the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist," says Father Brian Harrison, associate professor of theology of the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico.

Commentators say the change is unlikely to go far enough to win back the "hardcore" followers of Archbishop Lefebvre.

But they say the Pope is hoping that if the Church is seen to be meeting the Lefebvreites half way, more and more may choose to return to the Church over time.


Your comments:

It's stories like this that make me glad I woke-up and became an atheist. The Catholic church is a horribly outdated relic of a by-gone age that interferes with women's rights and promotes self-righteousness (first step to fundamentalism).
James Sergeant, Burlington, VT

quickly, the passion of Vatican II was to bring the mass and the teachings of the church liturgy to common person. Latin music is beautiful and should be left with the liturgy in the middle ages. the church risks everything it has accomplished in the modern world by offering this option. thanks.
mark, san francisco, ca usa

Gimme a break man! I feel so jealous: Hey, they at least pray for the Jews, and are not even remotely interested in us, the Sikhs (also Hindus, Budhists, Free Thinkers, Confucians, etc.). Now why did they burn William Tyndale - my favorite Christian, a great writer of English, linguist and translator? All I smell is money and power somewhere - I gave up on organized religion - long ago.
Bhupinder Singh Mann, Rockville USA

While I'm a protestant it's interesting to see the Catholic Church being criticized for doing something according to the Bible... What's wrong with this world? If we (let's say, Christians) believe that someone else (Jews, Muslims etc.) are wrong then it's only right to pray for their conversion. And the other way round. Political correctness gone mad - again.
DanielJ, London, UK

When I was a child it was always the Mass in Latin. One of the reasons we were given for this at school was that wherever you were in the world and you went to a celebration of the Mass you would always know where you were up to because you could follow the english translation from your missal. When I have been abroad and gone to Mass I have often felt that I don't always know where I am up to and that I most certainly would have done in the Latin Mass. That is not to say that I don't approve of Mass in one's native tongue. I do feel that there is nothing wrong with having a Latin Mass if people would like it and if the wording of some of the prayers is causing dispute surely it is not impossible to alter or leave out some of the more contentious items. The world has moved on and other matters have been updated (only fasting for one hour before Communion and so on) so why can't the liturgy in Latin be updated?
Christina Royle, England

I pray every day for a freeing of the Latin Mass so everyone who wants it will not have to turn to groups not in communion with the Pope to get it which is now very often.
Brenda Taheri, Kansas City, Mo. USA

What now? Curbing the freedom of prayer? Control of the Catholic church by outsiders? What happened to freedom of speech and thought
Musketeer, England

Why has the BBC linked a relaxation of the rules permitting the saying of the Tridentine Rite of Mass with the prayers for the conversion of the jews at the old Good Friday rite (which was reformed anyway in 1962 thereby removing such concerns)? This issue is a complete red herring as far as the rehabilitation of the old rite is concerned and courts controversy where there is none.
Michael Franey, Bishop's Stortford

As a Catholic, I find this issue interesting but an unimportant, even irrelevant, distraction in comparison to issues the Church needs to address such as lack of vocations, scandals and priestly celibacy.
Rimantas Aukstuolis, Cleveland, Ohio USA

I come from a Jewish family, and living in a city now where Kosher meat isn't even sold, this is just another step pushing Jews out of western society. I would never tell a Christian that Jesus didn't exist, so I don't expect them to try and convince me otherwise... The pope has no right to bring these feelings and ideas back into worship. If he wants to say the words in private, no-one would complain. But to try and bring up antisemitism again would just be wrong and contribute to our already growing problems between world religions.
Suzi, Edinburgh, UK

I am a liberal Catholic who also loves the Latin Mass for its aesthetic power and deep early associations. I was delighted to see that that form of worship might become more prevalent (as a choice among others). But I am appalled that the anti-Jewish segments are not simply removed. There is no reason not to do that, and have the best of both worlds: pre-and post-Vatican II!
Beverley Noia, Denver, CO USA

I am sorry that this is happening. Vatican 2 happened as a breath of fresh air of love and freedom. We have not understood the depths of its treasures and should go forwards instead of backwards. I feel pain that the Jewish people are again attacked when we were doing so well together. They remain God's Chosen People and we can learn a lot about the Psalms and Bible from them. We both believe in the one true God and somehow are both children of Abraham.
Margaret Meyer, Chicago, IL USA

The basis of all the religions of the book - ie exclusive religions - is that they possess the "true word of God" and everyone else is misguided. Against this background, suggesting that "Catholics [should have] the ability to respect the integrity of others' identity and choice" is ludicrous.
eenymeeny, Hamburg/UK

I don't see what is wrong with giving people more of an option of how they wish to worship. There is no hate in the prayer. They are praying for people of other faiths out of their goodwill and belief systems. By saying a Catholic isn't allowed to pray in a way that reflects their religious views is just another example of how people are okay with diversity and understanding... but only if you agree with them....
stephanie, Washington DC, USA

Latin Mass communities are attracting young people like crazy... drawn to the heavenly, mystical aspects... As far as the anti-Jewish comments, I think it is a last ditch effort by liberal Catholics to politicize this event and make the Pope look "anti-Jewish." What a joke! To imply that Benedict has it out for the Jews! Obviously they've never read any of his books, or else they'd realize that he has a strong admiration for the Jews.
Richard, College Station, TX USA

Well, my family is part-Jewish and I am delighted at the prospect of the liberalisation of the Traditional Latin Mass! For the last 40 years Catholics have been told that the liturgical reforms pushed through in the 1960s by a relatively small number of "experts" were "good" for them and for the Church - in very much the same way that people were told that the disastrous urban renewal programs of that same decade were "good" for them and for Society. And, yet, Catholics have - often to their own cost - kept falling in love with their own liturgical heritage. As far as "limited demand" is concerned: if you don't allow the traditional liturgy in a great many dioceses and make the even the merest mention of the Traditional Latin Mass taboo then, of course, you will find that people either don't know anything about it or are anxious of going for fear of being seen as "beyond the pale". Thank God that the Holy Father is restoring the birthright of every Catholic!
David, Scotland

I remember the Latin Mass as a child, and very beautiful it was too - but I hadn't a clue what was happening or the importance of what was being said. I would be very sad if the old version was re-introduced. Judaism is a major religion and I certainly would not wish to recite words that prays for their conversion to Christianity or makes reference to "spiritual blindness." There are many paths that lead to the same door.
Teresa Adams, Kenilworth, uk

The reinstatement of the Tridentine rite should not concern people who have nothing or little to do with the Church. It is in Latin, so many of these people who have grave concerns will not understand anyway. Anyone can pray to God for whatever they like. I'm sure Muslims may pray or have prayed in the past for the conversion of Christians and there is no outrage - only when violence is incited (and rightly so)
Sam Austin, Birmingham, England

I have waited half a lifetime for the Latin Mass - the mass I knew as a child and young woman - to come back. It should be reinstated word for word.
Amelia Fabro, West Palm Beach, Florida, USA

Effectively what Pope Benedict is trying to do is to make right a situation that was wrong. The traditional Rite of Mass known as the Latin Tridentine Rite was never legally abrogated or abolished by any Pope or Council. When promulgated in 1570 by Pope St. Pius V his Papal Bull gave it force of law 'in perpetuity' and that every Priest could use this Rite without restriction for all time. The findings of a Commission of Cardinals by Pope John Paul II in 1986, which included the present Pope Benedict as Cardinal Ratzinger, presented their findings that [a] this Rite had never been abolished, [b] could not be abolished, [c] every Priest has the right to celebrate it without permission, [d] a decree to this effect should be issued. For whatever reason, Pope John Paul II issued a compromise with his Indult of 1988 that basically gave control of the situation to local Bishops. The track-record of many Bishops throughout the world on this has left a lot to be desired! Even the Second Vatican Council document on the Sacred Liturgy guaranteed the fostering of all existing rites, of which the Roman Missal of 1962 was one.
Thomas Savage, Dublin, Ireland

As an American Catholic I have noticed in the past 5 years or so a swing in the church from a faith and good works approach to salivation, to a more conservative doctrinal theology. Re-introducing the Latin Mass is just another sign. It seems that social justice has given way to strict faith only view. This may be a response to the growth of fundamentalist mega churches that promise salvation and material prosperity through faith alone, or a counter to fundamentalist Islam. When you see churches offering classes on the Rapture for Catholics, you can perceive a real shift in doctrine. The sad thing is that intolerance rather than tolerance is the rule for the major religions today.
Andrew Plumer, Bel Air, Maryland




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