God's Politics

I’m not surprised that Pope Benedict decided last week to allow the reintroduction of the Latin Mass (see also “U.S. Catholic Bishops Approve New Mass Translation”) in Catholic churches under special circumstances. It is consistent with his privileging of pre-Vatican II Catholics and his long association with the ultra-conservative Catholic minority who belong to Opus Dei (see “Opus Dei in the United States” by James Martin, SJ).

A number of Jewish leaders have expressed concern that a return to the pre-Vatican II missal will mean a return to anti-Jewish language. The specter of adversus judaeos is legitimate to raise given the horrific history of anti-semitism in the Catholic church. While most of the “hate speech” was removed before Vatican II, all of the theology and intellectual framework remains. Says Mark Francis in his article, “Beyond Language” (The Tablet, 14 July 2007):

Perhaps the most problematic aspect of the “Tridentine Rite” is its treatment of Judaism. While the adjective “perfidious” describing the Jews was removed from the 1962 edition of the Missal there are still prayers that call for their conversion in direct contradiction to Vatican II’s “Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions” …

In much the same vein, the Missal refers to Christians of other Churches as heretics and schismatics—descriptions of fellow Christians that are unlikely to promote much ecumenical dialogue.

And since the lectionary attached to this Missal proposes practically no readings from the Old Testament it represents a deficient liturgical presentation of God’s Word—a problem that the Council fathers sought to remedy.

Phil Lawler’s article, “Pope broadens access to 1962 Mass,” gives a pretty thorough overview of the history of saying the mass in Latin and what the pope intends. Lawler accepts the pope’s spin, while Francis does not. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has also issued a newsletter with guidelines and “20 Questions.”

Since the vast majority of Catholics world-wide support the mission and message of Vatican II (though most also acknowledge that there have been excesses and also areas where Vatican II didn’t go far enough) and do not want to return to the archaic world-view of the Latin Mass, it saddens me that Pope Benedict “threatens to reduce the liturgy to a simple matter of individual ‘taste,'” as Mark Francis puts it, “rather than what it is meant to be: an accurate reflection of what we believe as Catholic Christians who live in the twenty-first century.”

As post-Vatican II Catholics, we have our work cut out for us. We have failed to educate the two or three generations of Catholics behind us on why Vatican II is so important to a vibrant Catholic expression of the gospel. When Pope John XXIII (who was named in 2000 by the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation as “Righteous Among the Nations” for his actions in support of people persecuted by the Nazi regime) was asked about his motivation in convening the Council, he said: “I want to throw open the windows of the Church so that we can see out and the people can see in.”

If Catholics want to advance the fresh, engaged movement of the Holy Spirit that Vatican II represented, then we better start teaching the lessons and documents of the Council. In other words, we better clean off the windows and let the Light shine in.

Rose Marie Berger, an associate editor of Sojourners, is a Catholic peace activist and poet.

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