USCCB official assures Jews: those attending old Good Friday rites don’t matter

A friend who was dumpster diving for news about the reaction to Pope Benedict’s adustment of the Good Friday prayers for Jews just alerted me to an article in Hell’s Bible (the New York Times) which quotes Fr. James Massa, executive director of the secretariat of ecumenical and interreligious affairs of the USCCB.

Reacting to the change in the Good Friday prayers, Massa said that the prayer would be heard by “a tiny minority of Catholics and they will hear it in Latin.”

Let me admit that I made a similar observation in another thread.  I observed that the number of people hearing the prayer on Good Friday would be relatively small.  However, I do not intend to say that just because the number might be small, that group is therefore insignificant.  I just don’t think this is as important as some people want to make it for interreligious dialogue.

However, I catch a whiff of something very different in what Massa said, especially with the comment about hearing the prayer in Latin: "…and they will hear it in Latin.” 

What I get from Massa’s comment is the image of an insignificant group of people who probably have no idea what is being said, no doubt because they are either too ignorant to follow a translation or because they are just praying their rosaries in private devotion, etc.

There are two ways to approach the relative number of people who will be participating in the Holy Week rites with the older Missale Romanum.

If I have misunderstood the intent of Fr. Massa, I will gladly make that clarification.

UPDATE: 11 Feb 18:41 CET

I just got this through my e-mail:

Father:
 
Fr. Massa for your information is a diocesan priest from Brooklyn and is the coordinator for the Traditional Mass in Brooklyn and also one of our celebrants.  He’s a man of good will. 
 
Keep up your good work.

Again, I want everyone to know that if I misinterpreted what the NYT quoted from Fr. Massa, I am happy to be corrected.  From the sound of it, Father is generously working with the people who want the older form of Mass and WDTPRS applauds him!

USCCB official assures Jews: those attending old Good Friday rites don’t matter
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31 Responses to USCCB official assures Jews: those attending old Good Friday rites don’t matter

  1. Legisperitus says:

    If hearing it in Latin guarantees incomprehension, then that gives the lie to the notion that centuries of anti-Semitism are attributable to the traditional prayer.

  2. Tom S. says:

    You are right, Father. There is definitely a air of dismissive sneering in that comment. In fact, one can easily imagine the sentence beginning with “Who cares, …”

  3. Hardly anyone has seen the N.O., only abuses. Because of that, they have the sense that the N.O. is a mere fad, whether it is or not. They also perceive, with this backdrop, that, now, something serious has been derestricted. [Take the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow as an analogy.]

    Also, the extraordinary action taken by the Holy Father draws extraordinary attention to this prayer, and that, also, is serious. And that’s serious for interreligous dialogue regardless of actual numbers of those who will hear this prayer or the quality of their listening. The official of the USCCB had, as it is said, a teachable moment, but…

  4. One might sarcastically note that one probably gets a better understanding of many of our liturgical prayers by hearing them in Latin rather than hearing the ICEL translations.

  5. Dear Zadok,

    Well, not so sarcastic, really!

  6. Father Z,

    Yes, I agree. The statement is quite odd, as if the hearing of these prayers in the vernacular by larger groups of Catholic might REALLY be something to complain or be concerned about!

    Father Massa also said:

    “The publication of the prayer and its interpretation by some of our partners in the Jewish community does lower the temperature a bit,” Father Massa said, “but we have persevered other controversies in the past and at the end of the day we are all at the table of dialogue.”

    As I recall, though, the Church was not established to gather the nations around the “table of dialogue” (as useful that may be to remove obstacles to misunderstanding) but rather around the one “altar of sacrifice”. Ironically, a false “ecumenical and interreligious spirit” has sometimes weakened our truly ecumenical (in the authentic sense of oikoumen? – universal or worldwide) sense of mission. Either Lamb of God died, rose and ascended as the High Priest of a New Israel which exists to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Holy Trinity, or we might as well set aside this whole Christian thing, rebuild the earthly Temple, reestablish the Zadokite dynastic priesthood, don our kippots and repeat the prayers banishing the Nazarenes from the synagogue. Bi-covenantalism is a subtle form of denial of the uniqueness, continuity and catholicity of the Christian revelation, and certain parts of the USCCB are infected with it. It somehow exempts our Jewish elder brothers and sisters from the blessings of the New Covenant, which is fundamentally a violation of the commandments to love God and neighbor. We need to return to a well articulated vision of how the Old Covenant promises subsist in and are fulfilled by the New Covenant Church, and I believe the revised prayer is a wonderful affirmation of this truth.

    In ICXC,

    Gordo

    PS: For further reading on this, I would highly recommend the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s “The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible”..

    http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/pcb_documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20020212_popolo-ebraico_en.html

    I also recommend the Roman Theological Forum’s study series on Neo-Patristic Exegesis.

    http://www.rtforum.org/study/index.html

  7. “remove obstacles to misunderstanding…”

    Ahem. Life BC…before coffee.

    “remove obstacles that CREATE misunderstanding”

    Back to coffee.

    Gordo

  8. Henry Edwards says:

    My reading of the brief NYT quote leaves open the possibility that Fr. Massa’s real concern is that the revised prayer for the conversion of the Jews ought to be heard by all Catholics in the vernacular, rather than by a small number in Latin. (And I suspect this would be his position on liturgical prayer in general.)

    In this particular instance, I share this concern, and wonder why the Pope did not make this replacement also in the Novus Ordo. Does his failure (so far) to do so inadvertently leave the impression that getting it right is less important in the OF than in the EF?

  9. i think you have misunderstood Fr. Massa. I base this upon my personal aquaintance with him both in my seminary days and later. He is no enemy of tradition and he does not normally use sarcasm in his speech or writing. Perhaps in his effort to assure those interested that the prayer in question would not be used in a widespread manner or heard by the vast majority of Catholics attending Good Friday liturgies throughout the world he miscommunicated. However, I can assure you that you are definitely reading more into his statement than is there because I know the man.

  10. Father Selvester,

    Perhaps I unfairly used Father Massa’s quote as a launching pad for my point.

    I still stand by my point on “bi-covenantalism” and the USCCB. That may not be Father Massa’s position at all, however, and I should have made that clear. My apologies.

    God bless,

    Gordo

  11. Chris says:

    Weirdly the only time I fiddle with my rosaries and do private devotions is when I am at the New rite – I tend to find devotions are a good distraction from the awfulness all around me.

  12. Maynardus says:

    Like Mr. Edwards and others, I have also been wondering why the Holy Father did not mandate this prayer for the “ordinary form”, especially since it would have been an excellent opportunity to demonstrate his commitment to the principle of “one Roman rite”. Then it dawned upon me – eight years hence we still don’t have an approved English-language translation of the 2000 editio typica of the “ordinary form” of the Roman Missal… could this possibly be a translation issue? I’m not expecting the prayer to be submitted to the ICEL (and it’s counterparts amongst the various regions) and the episcopal conferences so they can “dialogue” about if for 25 years – but I wonder if “ready-made” translations into the various vernacular languages are being prepared for transmittion to the bishops some time between this year’s Triduum and next year’s?

    Fr. Z., is this too far-fetched?

  13. TNCath says:

    The revised Extraordinary Form prayer for the Jews concludes with, “graciously grant that, with the fullness of peoples entering into your church, all Israel may be saved.”

    The Novus Ordo version of the Prayer for the Jews concludes with, “Listen to your church as we pray that the people you first made your own may arrive at the fullness of redemption.”

    Isn’t this basically saying the same thing? Both are praying for the Jews to be redeemed. So, does it not matter that those attending Good Friday rites in the Novus Ordo will hear the revised prayer either in Latin or English? After all, we ARE praying that the Jews will “arrive at the fullness of redemption” aren’t we? And, last time I checked, the “fullness of redemption” in Catholic theology has something to do with Christ, doesn’t it? I seem to remember some document written a few years ago called Dominus Jesus that said something about that…Hmmmmm.

  14. TNCath says:

    Okay, so let me get this straight.

    The revised Extraordinary Form prayer for the Jews concludes with, “graciously grant that, with the fullness of peoples entering into your church, all Israel may be saved.”

    The Novus Ordo version of the Prayer for the Jews concludes with, “Listen to your church as we pray that the people you first made your own may arrive at the fullness of redemption.”

    Isn’t this basically saying the same thing? Both are praying for the Jews to be redeemed. So, does it not matter that those attending Good Friday rites in the Novus Ordo will hear the revised prayer either in Latin or English? After all, we ARE praying that the Jews will “arrive at the fullness of redemption” aren’t we? That means salvation, right? And, last time I checked, the “fullness of redemption” in Catholic theology has something to do with Christ, doesn’t it? I seem to remember some document written a few years ago called Dominus Jesus that said something about that…Hmmmmm.

  15. Jim Kalb says:

    It’s worth noting that Fr. Massa is coordinator of the celebration of the traditional Latin Mass in Brooklyn and regularly commutes from Washington D.C. to offer it there.

  16. danphunter1 says:

    If the Holy Father correctly changes the NO Good Friday Jewish conversion prayer to correspond to the new prayer in the ’62 Missal, then needless to say many more Catholics will hear the prayer.
    Let us keep in our prayers the intention that Pope Benedict soon releases the new prayer for the Novus Ordo Missal.
    It would not make sense to pray for the conversion of the Jews to the Catholic Church in the 1962 Missal and not in the 1970 Missal.
    Deo Gratias.

  17. Brooklyn Seminarian says:

    Fr. Selvester and Jim Kalb are correct: Fr. Massa is no enemy of the TLM; in fact, he offers
    it regularly himself. He was simply stating an [unfortunate] fact: a relatively small number of
    Catholics will attend the traditional Good Friday liturgy.

  18. Let me add my voice to those of Fr. Selvester, Jim Kalb, and the Brooklyn Seminarian, who have all defended Fr. Massa. I sang Gregorian chant at the TLMs he offered in his first stint as coordinator in Brooklyn from Sept 2005-Jan 2006, and we would occasionally engage in conversation about matters musical and liturgical. Based on those conversations, a speech I saw him deliver on the importance of the liturgy (drawing quite a bit of material from our current Pope), and the manner in which I saw him celebrate the TLM, I simply take his statement at face value and recommend that others do as well.

  19. A Faithful Seminarian says:

    Fr. Z,

    FYI, Father Massa is a very traditional priest, who up until the time he was sent to the USCCB was saying the Indult Mass for the Diocese of Brooklyn. I am sure the quotes taken from him in the NYT are meant in a spirit of generosity and faithfulness to the Tradition Latin Mass.

  20. joe says:

    Poor Fr. Massa, he seems to not really get it. It really only matters that God hears the prayers of the priest – and I’ve heard that His latin is fairly good.

  21. Matt Q says:

    Father Z wrote:

    “If I have misunderstood the intent of Fr. Massa, I will gladly make that clarification.”

    ()

    Oh, no clarification is necessary, Father. What you understood that statement to be is what the rest of us got out of it–a condescending comment. As such, what he also has done is condescend the Pope. For this Massa to think the Holy Father would just off-handedly make a change to the core Liturgy of this Church is ignorance!

  22. ALL: I am very willing to put on the blog any additional comments Fr. Massa would care to make if he wants to clarify his comments to the NYT. He deserves to be heard if he thinks he has been misquoted or misrepresented.

  23. Larry Brooks says:

    While those humans who hear the prayer may be few and they may or may not be ignorant of the Latin meaning the prayer is not addressed to them but to GOD and He most assuredly understands. For all the hand wringing at the USCCB the Jewish people I think are disturbed that we are praying to GOD for their conversion. It is a matter that is insoluable because they see it as blasphemy and we see it as our duty. GOD will sort it out and Truth will triumph. Bravo to Pope Benedict for being courageous!

  24. Diane says:

    Fr. Z said, ALL: I am very willing to put on the blog any additional comments Fr. Massa would care to make if he wants to clarify his comments to the NYT. He deserves to be heard if he thinks he has been misquoted or misrepresented.

    Yeah, and being that it was in the NYT’s should give us ample reason to suspect he was misquoted or misrepresented. It only takes one slip of a word to change the appearance of someone’s intent.

    Hopefully, we hear from Fr. Massa.

  25. John says:

    I am very willing to put on the blog any additional comments Fr. Massa would care to make if he wants to clarify his comments to the NYT. He deserves to be heard if he thinks he has been misquoted or misrepresented.

    Given that none of us are sure what he meant we are obliged in charity to assume the most generous interpretation of his statement. Based on several comments from people who actually know Fr. Massa it seems reasonable he was simply making a statement relative to his position and audience and has nothing against the Tridentine Mass. Can anyone say that his statement is untrue? Certainly there are an increased number of Tridentine Masses being said now but I don’t think that many of them will be said on Good Friday.

    Personally I don’t think Fr. Massa has any obligation to defend himself or his statement to us who presume the worst of him. Further I think it is wrong to throw out an assumption of someone’s intent based on one short sentence which we admit we are not sure of and then expect him to clarify his statements for us lest we continue to think negatively of him.

  26. Matt Q says:

    John, I can appreciate your charity bit, but as you said, “Personally I don’t think Fr. Massa has any obligation to defend himself or his statement to us who presume the worst of him.” Fine, but we also don’t have the obligation to give him the benefit of the doubt. Certain statements stand on their own and Massa’s comment is one of them. What he said in the context he made it is loud and clear he made it disparagingly. It has a very dismissive tone. As a result, as I said above, he condescended the Holy Father, trivializing the change of the intercessory prayer for the Jews. He certainly didn’t give any indication he was being sympathetic towards the Traditionals with that comment.

  27. John says:

    Fine, but we also don’t have the obligation to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    MattQ,
    Actually we do. What we have is one comment inserted into a larger article. We have no idea under what context he made it, what preceded or followed it. No one has provided any other written evidence by Fr. Massa that supports the criticism levelled against him. On the contrary we have several othres including a priest and seminarian who are familiar with him commenting that he supports the Tridentine Mass. Someone who travels from D.C. to N.Y and offers the TLM hardly seems like someone who believes we are a bunch of Neanderthals.

    For this Massa to think the Holy Father would just off-handedly make a change to the core Liturgy of this Church is ignorance!

    Perhaps it was a typo but it is Fr. Massa and I think it is a bit of a stretch to suggest that this change affects the “core Liturgy of this Church.”

  28. Deborah says:

    I think Fr. Massa should be given the benefit of the doubt since his actions, supporting the TLM, obviously don’t match up with this quote.

    There are a few reasons perhaps for the quote:

    1) He was misquoted.
    2) He gave further context which was conveniently left out.
    3) He tossed it out flippantly to try and quiet those who are fussing (we’ve all done it only to realize later it was a mistake).

  29. CarolinaGeo says:

    “Massa said that the prayer would be heard by “a tiny minority of Catholics and they will hear it in Latin.” ”

    This will be the first year that I am able to attend the Traditional Good Friday liturgy. And the good priest can pray the new prayer; I, however, will be silently praying that God lift the veil from the hearts of the perfidious Jews, that they might acknowledge Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

    But I’m just uppity that way!

  30. My Latin isn’t as good as Fr. Z’s, of course, but even I can recognize that agnoscere followed by two accusatives means “to acknowledge / recognize X to be Y”. Thus, as Fr. Z translated it, ut agnoscant Iesum Christum salvatorem omnium hominum means “[so] that they acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men.”

    The New York Times, however, is using the translation that seems to be favored by most of the English media: “so that they may acknowledge Jesus Christ, the savior of all men.”

    This use of an appositive is defensible, but I think that the preferred translation would be the one Fr. Z used. Indeed, I wonder if the pope would have placed a comma after Christum if he had intended this to be an appositive.

    The difference in meaning between the two is not great, but there is a difference. Indeed, I think that the prayer in Fr. Z’s version is something we should be praying for Catholics! Peter Pham, for example, certainly does acknowledge Jesus Christ, the savior of all men. But I am less certain that he recognizes Jesus Christ to be the savior of all men. Capiche?

  31. Christian says:

    I know Fr. Massa personally and he is a fine priest who says the TLM. First, his comment as reported in the article is not complete. Second, even if it were complete, it is true that the TLM will be heard by “a tiny minority of Catholics and they will hear it in Latin.” Or do you think that those who attend the TLM will be hearing it in English. It is further true that of the billion odd Catholics only a tiny minority will hear the TLM.

    One should also recall that Fr. Massa’s position is not to give his position on any given matter but rather the USCCB’s. I suspect that he gave a perfectly true answer that would both satisfy truth and his employer and the USCCB.