click here to jump to start of article
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​

Quo Vadis Vatican?

Quo Vadis Vatican?

Reviving the Latin mass without first eliminating the anti-Jewish language gives tacit encouragement to those who wish to return to the demonization of Jews.


The news that Pope Benedict XVI has authorized a wider use of a previously discarded version of the Latin mass has set off a storm of criticism among interfaith groups, especially Jews.

The reasons for this should be easy for the pope to understand. The service -- known as the Tridentine mass -- was discarded for use in the Catholic Church decades ago for a number of reasons. For one, it contained language about "perfidious Jews," as well as a prayer at Easter that called for the conversion of Jews, and referred to their "blindness" and living in "darkness."

While the "perfidious" line was spiked by Pope John XXIII in 1959, the Easter prayer for conversion remains in the mass, which may, thanks to the pope's ruling, now be used by churches around the world. The pope defended his move by pointing out that this mass had been used for generations. Taking away the restriction ends a schism within the church -- one that had led to excommunications of traditionalists who preferred the old Latin mass.

Those who would urge non-Catholics to avoid comment on what is, in many respects, a purely internal liturgical question, have a point. Catholics don't need Jewish approval for the form or the wording of their prayers, anymore than Jews should be dependent on a Catholic nod for their services. Moreover, Jews who pray in Hebrew, even when many of us don't speak the language, should not presume to lecture Catholics who embrace worship in Latin.

But one line in the pope's defense of his position betrayed the problem. He wrote: "What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred, and great for us, too, and it cannot be, all of a sudden, entirely forbidden or even considered harmful."

With hatred for Jews being fed by a steady stream of invective, how can the Church do something that could give comfort to those who preach anti-Semitism?

Non-Catholics have no right to say what is or is not sacred or great to Catholics. But it's no offense to interfaith amity to note that anti-Jewish language and teachings that the Church promulgated for centuries did indeed do a great deal of harm. In fact, this served as the foundation upon which the legacy of European Christian hatred for Jews was built, and it led right to the Holocaust.

The reason that men like Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II were so revered by non-Catholics is that they had the courage to create fundamental change in the Church on this point. They recognized that Jews and Catholics must treat each other as brothers in faith, not rivals. The process of reconciliation these popes began has reaped dividends in many ways. The Church's recognition of the State of Israel and its pro-active campaign to change Catholic religious education in this country and around the world has brought Jews and Catholics closer than they've ever been before.

But by reviving the Latin mass without first eliminating the anti-Jewish language, the pope has dealt, in the words of Anti-Defamation League leader Abe Foxman, "a body blow to Catholic-Jewish relations." And he's exactly right -- not as much for the damage that the actual prayer will do, but for its symbolism and timing.

This move gives tacit encouragement to those elements in the Church and beyond who wish to return to the demonization of Jews. Though I'm sure this is not the pope's intention, at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise around the globe, and particularly in Europe, it sends a message that the Catholic leadership is backing away from its commitment to ecumenism.

With hatred for Jews being fed by a steady stream of invective coming from the Islamic world, it seems unthinkable that the Church would do anything that could give comfort to those who preach anti-Semitism.

I hope that American church leaders, as well as other people of goodwill, will join in urging the pope to rethink this decision, at least as far as the promulgation of anti-Jewish language is concerned. Given all the work that's been achieved his predecessors, we pray that Pope Benedict will not allow the spirit of friendship and common purpose that has so characterized Jewish-Catholic relations in recent years to be heedlessly tossed away.

July 14, 2007

Give Tzedakah! Help create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 47

(47) Anonymous, July 29, 2007 1:56 AM

Generally I'm very impressed with your articles which I receive via the Mesorah Center here on Lond Island, NY.
But Jonathan S. Tobin's article, "Quo Vadis Vatican?", bases its main point, in part, on some factual errors made by him.
First, the Tridentine Mass (named after the Council of Trent) was never "discarded" (abrogated) for any reason, let alone "for a number of reasons," Mr. Tobin's claims to the contrary notwithstanding. It's been in continuous use for centuries, though in a more limited way than before 1970. Furthermore, the current limitation on its usage has nothing to do with any language ("perfidious Jews") that anyone alleges is anti-Jewish.
Secondly, contrary to Mr. Tobin's statement, Pope Benedict's recent announcement which allows for greater freedom in saying the Tridentine Mass didn't end any schism or break within the Church, though, hopefully, it will help pave the way for overcoming internal divisions. The pope has simply made more available what was never intended to be made less available in the first place by either of the two Vatican Council II popes - John XXIII and Paul VI.

Furthermore, it's quite a stretch to claim that the language of the Tridentine Mass is anti-Jewish. Examples, please. In addition, it's an even greater stretch to say that the use of Latin was somehow connected to the Holocaust. This is even more puzzling to Catholic ears considering that almost half those killed by the German occultists in the Holocaust were mainly Christians.

Perhaps Mr. Tobin would care to comment on this.

(46) Aryeh Moshen, July 27, 2007 10:22 AM

How is this point any more antisemitic

The Roman Church is continuing its efforts to cannonize Pope Pius, best known to us as someone who kidnapped a Jewish boy. He has made remarks about the Holocaust that might appear to a Jew to be unsympathetic. He seems to show more sympathy to the Palestinians than the Israelis. So, why is this one step shich takes an hour to read thru every day yet has only one sentence one day a year all that worse? Were we, perhaps, deluding ourseves until now?

(45) Philip Balsam, July 22, 2007 11:59 AM

German Pope

Isn't it IRONIC that a German would bring back antisemitism.

(44) Pat Bush, July 22, 2007 12:47 AM

What a disgrace!

Please accept an apology on behalf of believing Christians who stand with our Jewish brothers. Rather than react we must respond by praying for that confused man, the Roman Catholic Pope.

(43) Anonymous, July 20, 2007 4:21 AM

Did the Pope really realized, about?

We must undertand that God is our main aim.God is our Goal, and Who controled this important times we are living, since Israel has return to his promised land.
So the fight is encreased agains the choosen land and people of Israel. even if the Pope didn´t mean to go back in the way to harm de jews people, even so, "consecuences may be no the best, for the Wordl situation". He should be more carefuly, it is not the firs time lately, the Pope made ungry the moslems, the protestants, and now the catholics, and the jews. I want to believe is not doing on purpose. And we´ll se very soom, Can a good tree give bad fruits? And a bad tree give good fruits?. So far it is very confusing. It is well known the saying "When a butterflye blows her flies up and down in China a earth quake make take place somewhere. So every single word, being saying, by the roman archeveque" call the "primus inter pares" Pope. because the mass media, may have anti semitism consecuences, and should apoligized for the missundertanding he may causes with this mouve to return to the latin masses. Shalom to all menkind of good will.

See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment