Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Latin Mass May Damage Catholic-Jewish Relations

Pope Benedict XVI's decision this week to ease restrictions on a traditional Mass that includes a reference to Jewish conversion could damage Catholic-Jewish relations, interfaith leaders say.

The pope is said to have authorized the broader use of the Latin-language Tridentine Mass, which was widely supplanted more than 40 years ago by a less formal Mass in the local vernacular.

When celebrated in the traditional format that is favored by some conservative Catholics, the Good Friday liturgy contains a passage stating that Jews live in "blindness" and "darkness" and asking God to "remove the veil from their hearts."

A reference to Jews as "perfidious" was excised from the liturgy in 1969.

"At a time when anti-Semitism is rising around the world, there's symbolism in permitting a wider reading of a prayer to convert the Jews," the associate director for interfaith affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, Eric Greenberg, said. "We're monitoring it very closely."

Since the Second Vatican Council — which heralded changes in Catholic liturgy and decorum, decried anti-Semitism, and acknowledged that Jews as "an entire people" were not responsible for the death of Jesus — the Tridentine Mass has been in limited use, with priests required to obtain their bishop's permission to perform the services.

Mr. Greenberg said a papal decision permitting the broad use of the language pertaining to Jews would create "an appearance of pre- Vatican II backsliding."

An adviser on Catholic-Jewish relations to various church and civic organizations, Philip Cunningham, said the traditional Good Friday liturgy contradicts the belief statement of the Second Vatican Council.

"To the degree that Jews care about the official teaching of the Catholic Church, this would be an exception to the general respect for Judaism that has been promoted since the council," he said.

Mr. Cunningham said the expected decision to ease restrictions on the Tridentine Mass is an effort to reach out to a small "far-right fringe group" that has felt alienated by the church changes of the 1960s.

The editor of a religion journal, First Things, the Reverend Richard John Neuhaus, estimated that of the more than 1 billion Catholics worldwide, fewer than 600,000 would like to see a repeal of the Second Vatican Council decisions.

Rev. Neuhaus posited that Pope Benedict XVI's forthcoming decree on the Tridentine Mass would "reflect the language adopted by the Second Vatican Council," and that phrases that could be construed as offensive to Jews would be removed.

Even if that language were not changed, Rev. Neuhaus said relations between Catholics and Jews would remain strong. "We're not talking about a major part of Catholic worship," he said.

"We're talking about one sentence that occurs once a year. That's not to say it is unimportant, but the things done with Catholic-Jewish relations over the past half-century is not going to be compromised. The church's commitment to a respectful dialogue with Judaism is irrevocable."

The chairman of the board of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, the Reverend Philip Eichner, said the traditional Good Friday references to conversion are well meaning — not anti-Semitic.

"We would say everyone who doesn't see Jesus is living in a certain amount of darkness, and we want them to see the light," he said.


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