Jul 12

In all the news coverage of Pope Benedict’s recent motu proprio on the Latin Mass, there are a couple of key points I’ve scarcely seen reported. My seminarian son Andrew is in Rome right now, attending a special course on ecumenism and interesting talks on interreligious dialogue, and doing lots of fascinating Roman things. We had an engaging phone conversation the evening the new document on Church doctrine was released, and went over a lot of what has happened…..and what the Press says happened. I brought up the fact that most of these reports keep generating the same, wrong information about the ‘extraordinary form’ of the Mass resurrecting language that the Jews find highly offensive. They’re even passing on the same quotes from outraged Jewish spokesmen and various dissident theologians. But they’re not even asking if that’s really what this document does.

They’re not only not asking the right questions, they’re not asking any….except for ‘how could the pope DO this?!’

I noticed in the motu proprio, Benedict specifies that the older ‘extraordinary form’ of the Liturgy will follow the Roman Missal of Bl. John XXIII, and not any of the earlier editions. That’s significant, and Andrew elaborated on that point in our conversation. It’s a fine point the critics are missing entirely….though they’re missing even the obvious in both Vatican documents. We talked about the needless rebukes against Benedict over the Jewish question, because the ‘offensive’ language in question is not even in the John XXIII Roman Missal. But I wasn’t hearing that point mentioned anywhere (while the media continue to hyperventilate over the Latin Mass story).

Well now it is. By Fr. Richard John Neuhaus over at First Things.

One of the more deft moves in Benedict’s apostolic letter motu proprio, titled “Summorum Pontificum,” is in referring to the 1962 form of the Roman Rite as the Mass of Blessed John XXIII. It is not the Tridentine Mass or the Mass of Pius V but the Mass of John XXIII. It is the form of the Mass that was celebrated daily at the Second Vatican Council…

By associating the Latin Mass that is now universally approved with John XXIII, Benedict steals a card from the deck of liberals and progressives, for whom John XXIII is always “good Pope John,” in contrast to his successors. But this is much more than a deft rhetorical move. “Summorum Pontificum” is a thoroughly liberal document in substance and spirit, remembering that liberal means, as once was more commonly understood, generosity of spirit.

Now who recalls that?!

In his letter to the bishops, Benedict is directing them to be generous in embracing the fullness of the Catholic tradition and responding to the desires of the Catholic faithful. This is proposed in contrast to the rigidity, bordering sometimes on tyranny, of a liturgical guild that mistakenly thought that the Second Vatican Council gave them a mandate to impose their ideas of liturgical reform on the entire Church.

So the hope is that now, we can find balance.

I believe that the pope’s initiative will be recognized for what it is—a generous and hopeful proposal for a future in which Catholics are freed to celebrate the rich variety of the tradition that is theirs. Benedict expresses the hope that even those who decline to use the Missal of John XXIII will be encouraged to celebrate the Novus Ordo of 1970 with the reverence and solemnity that befits the ineffable mystery of the Mass.

And what about that language referring to the Jews? Neuhaus explains.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) immediately issued a blistering statement claiming that a prayer for the conversion of the Jews in the Latin Mass is “a theological setback in the religious life of Catholics and a body blow to Catholic-Jewish relations, after 40 years of progress between the Church and the Jewish people.”

They went further, and Neuhaus critiques that attack on Benedict and the Church. But here’s the bottom line on that wording, the explanation you’re not hearing much about, because few are bothering to check it.

In the 1570 form of the Roman Rite for Good Friday there was this: “Oremus et pro perfidis Judaeis” (Let us pray for the perfidious Jews). On the first Good Friday after his election to the papacy in 1959, Pope John XXIII eliminated the adjective “perfidious” from the prayer. That same year, he also eliminated from the rite of baptism the phrase used for Jewish catechumens: “Horresce Judaicam perfidiam, respue Hebraicam superstitionem” (Disavow Jewish unbelieving, deny Hebrew superstition). Also eliminated were similar formulas for those converting from idolatry, Islam, or a heretical sect.

The Roman Missal modified by Pope Paul VI in 1969, and put into effect in 1970, has this formulation: “Let us pray for the Jewish people, the first to hear the word of God, that they may continue to grow in the love of his name and in faithfulness to his covenant.” The following prayer is this: “Almighty and eternal God, long ago you gave your promise to Abraham and his posterity. Listen to your Church as we pray that the people you first made your own may arrive at the fullness of redemption.”

That all mankind may be one, and all be redeemed, was the concern of Christ himself.

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