Pope promotes Latin Mass - is this back to the future?

BlogHer Original Post

When Pope Benedict, long known for being very strictly conservative theologically, issued the Papal Letter "Sunmorum Pontificum" this weekend, which allowed the Roman Catholic church's congregations and religious communities to return to the 1962 or 1970 Missal and to use the Latin Tridentine mass again, everyone had an opinion. This decision has many roots - not the least of which is a move to appease a group called the "Lefebvrists"(after a bishop who insisted on not changing to mass in the vernacular, was summarily excommunicated, and who gathered some very vocal and strong conservative allies over the years.)

One issue that some people have is that the old liturgies contain some very difficult language about Jews that was not migrated to the local language masses. Now, with the return to old liturgies, the old language is back -- and despite pleas from the Simon Wiesenthal Institute and the Anti Defamation League (ADL), Pope Benedict has no intention of removing sections that call for the conversion of the Jews.

Abraham Foxman, ADL's director, who is in Rome for meetings with Vatican officials, said in a statement:

"We are extremely disappointed and deeply offended that nearly 40 years after the Vatican rightly removed insulting anti-Jewish language from the Good Friday Mass, that it would now permit Catholics to utter such hurtful and insulting words by praying for Jews to be converted...It appears the Vatican has chosen to satisfy a right-wing faction in the Church that rejects change and reconciliation."

For those of you not familiar with how the Latin mass is positioned in the timeline of the church, below is a thumbnail (and probably overly simplistic) history lesson that at least gives the surface of the issue. Then, we'll see what bloggers are saying about it.

The Roman Catholic Church used to always have the mass in Latin. Change started with Pope John XXIII in the 1960's, who was also known as "Good Pope John". It was John who called the Second Vatican Council that established major reforms in the Roman Catholic Church. John wanted the church to become more welcoming, more inclusive, more accessible to its members. Masses, once only spoken in Latin, were now to be spoken in the language of the congregation (the "vernacular") so that everyone could understand what was being said. The priest who used to officiate at an altar with his back to the congregation, would now stand behind an altar facing the congregation. These two things alone were only part of what is called "Vatican II", but they marked a radical change. I lived through those years, and went from passive although contemplative observer to participant. That is a very big move, to make congregation members an active part of an understandable worship service. And while it was a move taken by Martin Luther in the 1500's, it had been staunchly resisted until Vatican II. (In fact it is part of why the church expelled Martin Luther from among its clergy, precipitating part of what is called the "Protestant Reformation".)

The Vatican II change was ground-breaking, dramatic, and marked the beginning of a new era in the Roman Catholic church. There were some who missed the old ways - some because they found them more spiritually satisfying, more mystical perhaps. Others were upset because a theology that did not place a clear demarcation between clergy (and what they knew) and laity (and what they knew) was suspect at best, treasonous at worst. Latin, after all, was the universal language of governments and aristocracy "back in the day". It was the language of commerce and power. Through history it divided the conqueror from the conquered, lords from peasants and clergy from laity. Others felt that Latin, as it was universally used by clergy in the Roman Catholic church, served to put all clergy on an equal footing.

Every Roman Catholic had an opinion about the changes -- very few were middle-of-the-road. And today the issue still raises discussions, tempers and blood pressure. The majority of commenting bloggers are male, many of whom are priests. The reaction among priests is positive, by and large, although some are scurrying to renew their Latin skills. Much of the concern comes from some liberals within the church and from people outside the church who worry about a return to more conservative Catholicism. Very few woman are blogging about this topic.

Pam of Pamibe is upset that the Jewish community is upset.

I don’t understand the rhetoric. They know what we believe. We know what they believe. And we have all agreed to live in harmony, sans a few bumps along the way. Why don’t they go after those who preach hellfire and brimstone await Jews if they’re not ’saved’ and baptized explicitly to their instructions?

Zeinobia, in Egypt, is concerned that this is just part of a larger step backwards that wilkl also affect ecumenism with Moslem and Orthodox groups in Egypt. She states at Egyptian Chronicles:

What Jean Paul II made in decades this man destroys
Of course the Spokesperson of the Vatican is denying but what he can do in front of that great anger in the Egypt from the Orthodox Church .
Today he said that the Egyptian Catholics will determine their position from the document with acceptance or rejection if it is announced
I just want to question the spokesperson in Egypt
Do the Egyptian Catholics own the freedom of Choice ???

Rabbi Jill in her blog, Jspot has a largely pro entry about the Latin mass ends her statement by saying :

For some Catholics, a longing for the Latin Mass may be only part of a general desire to return to a pre-Vatican II era. For others, the traditional language captures something that the vernacular never can–much the same reason that most Jews continue to pray in Hebrew, despite explicit legal permissions to pray in any language. No need to rally the troops against a return to traditional liturgy, out of fear that some Catholics may take too seriously the once-a-year wish for the conversion of the Jews.
In any case, if our own experience is any indication, part of the reason to pray in an ancient language is to ensure that few in the congregation understand enough to protest much.

How do those of you who are Roman Catholic BlogHer members feel about these changes? Were any of you around during the Vatican II changes? Have any of you experienced a Latin mass?


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