Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Ironically, Jews Push Catholics To Stay True to the Reforms of the Second Vatican Council

In an online posting 1/9, National Catholic Reporter columnist John Allen Jr. observes that Pope Benedict XVI has painted himself into a corner—by reauthorizing the use of a Good Friday prayer which the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) found offensive to Jews—and the pope has just nine weeks before Good Friday to fix the problem, or face a direct confrontation three weeks later when he meets in the United States with an inter-religious delegation that will include Jews.

Last July, when he authorized more widespread use of Rome’s 1962 missal for masses in Latin, Benedict also allowed priests to use the Latin prayers for Holy Week. Among them is a Good Friday prayer for conversion of the Jews, which asks God to “lift the veil from their hearts.”

Such a prayer did not square with Vatican II’s statements condemning anti-semitism and affirming that the Jews have a unique and irreplaceable role in salvation history. When the liturgy for Holy Week was rewritten in the decade after Vatican II, it was eliminated. The new prayer asked that the Jews “may arrive at the fullness of redemption.”

As I noted in a posting on 7/19/07, Jews had raised public objection to the news that Benedict planned to reauthorize the offensive language, but he went ahead with it anyway and could not be bothered to even address their concern in his decree or the documents that accompanied it.

But Allen notes that Jews do not plan to let this issue die quietly: “If a reminder were needed of Jewish sensitivities about the Good Friday prayer, … the Anti-Defamation League included it on a late December list of ‘Top Ten Issues Affecting Jews in 2007.’ The ADL called the possible revival of the prayer ‘a theological setback to the reforms of Vatican II, and a challenge to Catholic-Jewish relations.’”

Given the pope’s nonresponsiveness in July and since, there is little clear evidence that Benedict is really motivated to address the issue. Allen suggests it is positive that “the Vatican is working on a document clarifying implementation of the pope’s ruling,” but he concedes he detects no sense of urgency.

This is especially remarkable because a top Vatican official has already suggested a very simple fix. Allen reports: “Last July, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, said the problem could be solved by substituting the prayer for Jews found in the post-Vatican II liturgy for Good Friday, which no longer refers to conversion but rather asks that Jews ‘may arrive at the fullness of redemption.’ Since the original texts of the new liturgy are in Latin, it would be fairly simple to ask communities celebrating the old rite to use the Latin version of the more recent prayer.”

So why not do that? The real issue seems to be that the pope would have to admit that he screwed up in not addressing the Jews’ concern and in other particulars of reauthorizing use of the Latin texts. Allen’s language is more diplomatic than mine, but that’s what it boils down to.

The fear is that if Benedict revises the prayer for the Jews because it reflects a theology that was surpassed at Vatican II, won’t he also have to replace Latin formulations which do the same on several other theological issues?

The answer is yes. Precisely.

As I also noted in the 7/19/07 posting, facing this issue is what Benedict tried unsuccessfully to avoid in his decree, by mischaracterizing the old Latin Mass and the 13 official eucharistic prayers that resulted from Vatican II as “two usages of the one Roman rite” or “a twofold use of one and the same rite.” The old ritual reflects an old theology which the church eschewed in several specific pronouncements at Vatican II. Because the new rituals reflect an improved theology, they surpassed the old one. The officially surpassed rituals should not be allowed to revive the officially surpassed theology.

I have argued here in multiple postings (7/17/06, 5/4/07, 5/24/07, 7/12/07, 7/19/07, 9/6/07) that no one church or liturgy can possibly capture the living God or exhaust the mystery of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the Catholic church needs both a normative liturgy and the widest possible variety of alternative liturgies. The latter should include experiments aimed at improving the liturgy and limited use of older liturgies that have been surpassed by better ones. But I have also drawn the line at liturgical language and practices that contradict sound theology or even undermine the church’s mission to proclaim the gospel.

The objections of the Jews and the numerous other theological issues Allen mentions show how much of the old Latin language needed to be corrected or replaced before use of the 1962 Latin missal was reauthorized. Benedict erred in not doing so.

It is ironic that on this point the Jews are being more accurate than the pope and more faithful to Vatican II. But the Jews are clearly stakeholders in Vatican II, and this won’t be the first time that their insights have reformed Christianity.

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