Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Do we mean what we say?

It seems to me that this is the central issue in the debate over the Pope's recent proclamation allowing the wider use of the traditional “Latin Mass ”. This traditional mass contains statements that are painful to many Jews. The text of the Good Friday liturgy, in particular, singles out Jews for conversion, attributes to them a particular “blindness,” and asks God to lift the “veil from their hearts” so that they might know Jesus Christ.

If Catholics are really speaking of a genuine belief in the "blindness" of my people when they go to a mass saying these words then I have to say I do find it painful, especially as that would be reminiscent of the centuries of oppression that Jews have faced from Catholics and other Christians.

But do Catholics really mean what the words literally say? Few are the people (or priests!) in the world today who understand Latin (and the mass would be said in Latin).

In my own spiritual practice, I have long held that the meaning of the (Hebrew) prayers I say is not in any way limited to the literal meaning of the words. One of the reasons I like praying in a language that is not my native tongue is that it makes it easier for me to lift my spirit from being chained to the thoughts behind the words and instead let they prayers go straight into my gut and into my soul. This is one of the reasons I am not a Reconstructionist (which in its classical form holds that we "must only say what we really mean" and therefore made extensive changes to the traditional Jewish liturgy).

Nonetheless I am troubled by the Pope's action. Why make this change now? What is he trying to tell the world about Catholicism and its relationship to other faiths? The Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding recently wrote a letter to Catholic Church leaders, stating in part:

Many Jews and Christians understand the wider use of the 1962 rite containing the preconciliar Good Friday prayer text to be a reversion to the unfortunate Adversus Judeus tradition that the Church has so forthrightly and consistently rejected since the Second Vatican Council. The theology of this prayer appears inconsistent with the Church’s binding commitments undertaken in Nostra Aetate (1965) to deplore anti-Semitism and eschew negative depictions of Jews and to “foster and recommend mutual understanding and respect,” and Guidelines (1974) that states: “Lest the witness of Catholics to Jesus Christ should give offense to Jews, [they must maintain] the strictest respect for religious liberty…” The rich legacy of Pope John Paul II concerning Catholic-Jewish relations consistently taught that the Church’s “attitude to the Jewish religion should be one of the greatest respect, since the Catholic faith is rooted in the eternal truths contained in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the irrevocable covenant made with Abraham” [Sydney, Australia, Nov. 26, 1986].


By the way, here are some interesting blog posts on this subject by Jewish writers who are _not_ so bothered by the pope's decision:

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