By Chris Ángel, Pray Tell editorial assistant.
Summary of: “Anti-Jewish Elements in the Extraordinary Form” by Rita Ferrone, Worship vol. 84, no. 6 (November 2010), 498-513.
When Summorum Pontificum was promulgated in 2007, many Roman Catholics and others became concerned with how the Tridentine rite liturgies present the Jewish people. While a lot of attention has focused on the Good Friday prayer “for the conversion of Jews,” for which Pope Benedict XVI has authorized a revision, there are many other texts with problematic portrayals of the Jewish people. Pray Tell contributor Rita Ferrone identifies such passages from the 1962 edition of the Breviary (the pre-Vatican II version of the Liturgy of the Hours, permitted by Summorum Pontificum) during Lent, Passiontide, and Holy Week in the forthcoming issue of Worship magazine.
In the weeks leading up to Easter, Matins in the Breviary contains many patristic readings about sin, repentance, and the Passion which refer to the Jews. As Ferrone notes, “these references are uniformly negative ones which portray the Jews as a faithless, sinful, greedy, and bloodthirsty people.” One example among many: On Wednesday of the first week of Lent, the Matins reading begins: “The Jews have been declared guilty.” The reading from Ambrose’s commentary on Luke 11 emphasizes that sinners can repent. However, there is no mitigation of this opening claim. This reading also mentions that mercy is possible, “even for the Jews” – the Jews represent the outer limit of God’s mercy. Ferrone also finds problematic passages in pre-Vatican II commentaries by Pius Parsch, whom she calls brilliant, but who is nonetheless “…part of a culture and thought world that condemned the Jews.”
The treatment of the Jews in Catholic liturgy is far more than a matter of political correctness. Ferrone includes a chilling litany, spanning centuries, of ways in which the Church’s relationship with the Jewish people was one of violence and persecution. During the Middle Ages, for example, violence against the Jews was especially prominent during Holy Week. Theologian Gregory Baum writes that in some places Christians would humiliate Jews as part of the Holy Week liturgies. While allowing that the Church’s regard of the Jewish people is only one element in the historical persecution of the Jewish people, Ferrone notes, “religious portrayal of the Jews as wicked or as a reprobate people is not only abhorrent in itself, but also lends support to evil deeds that go far beyond the actions or intentions of the Church.”
Ferrone draws a sharp contrast between Pope Benedict’s XVI blithe denial that use of older liturgical rites could cause any sort of harm with the concerted efforts that went into improving Jewish-Catholic relations leading up to Vatican II. Defenders of Summorum Pontificum often note that Pope Benedict established the 1962 version of the rites, which already contained some improvements from earlier versions – for example, dropping the use of the word “perfidious” in relation to the Jews on Good Friday. However, these improvements were completed by 1959. Ferrone details the efforts of Jewish scholars and theologians from 1961, who asked the Pope and the Church to remove the anti-Jewish elements from Catholic liturgy. At Vatican II, their work was accepted. After the council, every problematic passage was dropped, and the reformed Liturgy of the Hours draws heavily from patristic authors but includes not a single passage that implicates or condemns the entire Jewish people.
Rita Ferrone’s article is a strong argument for a thorough review of all the liturgical texts of the extraordinary form – the Missal, Breviary, and Ritual – to revise or replace all texts that do not reflect the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings on the Jewish people. She concludes, “It is irresponsible to promote the older forms while these problems remain unresolved… Anti-Jewish liturgical texts are unacceptable today, and will be a continuing source of confusion and embarrassment for the Church if the difficulties they present are not addressed in a straightforward and comprehensive manner.”
Chris Ángel is a masters student in liturgy at Saint John’s School of Theology•Seminary in Collegeville, Minnesota.