Mixed reactions locally over move


Jewish leaders in St. Louis have expressed mixed reactions to Pope Benedict XVI’s papal decision to allow wider use of a traditional Latin mass.

Benedict released the Motu Proprio, or papal decision, Summorum Pontificum on July 7, allowing priests to use the old Latin mass, the Tridentine rite, without approval from bishops, if members of the parish request its use. The decision allows churches to use the 1962 Roman Missal as the Latin liturgical text to follow for the Tridentine rite.


The Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish organizations have criticized the use of the 1962 Missal because it included a prayer during the Good Friday service which calls for the conversion of the Jews. The revised 1970 Missal, which had been in use, had eliminated the prayer.

Rabbi Mark Shook of Temple Israel said the papal decision requires a measured response.

“I think it has to be very clear that we appreciate the fact that the version of the Latin Mass which the pope has approved does not contain the words ‘perfidious Jews,'” said Shook, who participates in a regular interfaith dialogue group of rabbis and priests. “Nevertheless, it is a major step backward from the position of John Paul II, who made it very clear that it was theologically possible for God to be faithful to the covenant with Israel and at the same time enable a covenant with the Church, that is, non-Israelites,” he said.

“The particular wording that calls for the conversion of the Jews is not as blatant — it doesn’t say ‘and dear God, please convert the Jews.’ […] What bothers me about it, as someone who studies both Jewish and Catholic theology, is the implication that there is something flawed or something missing from Judaism that can only be restored through the church,” he said.

“While such a statement in the mass is not going to convince Jews to become Catholics, it will subtly return the church to a position whereby non-Catholics are deficient and flawed, and that is not in keeping with the spirit of Vatican II. And that is why the Jewish community is so upset,” Shook said.

“We don’t care in which language the church conducts the mass. That’s certainly church business. But there’s a history of persecution and pain that goes behind that statement that comes at a service at a moment of high emotional power,” Shook said. “Remember this is in the Good Friday Mass, when the commemoration is of the death on the cross of Jesus and it’s at that moment that the mass calls for the conversion of the Jews. Historically, that was one of the most dangerous moments in the life of Jewish communities throughout Christian Europe.”

“I’m disappointed that the pope was not sensitive to the implications of that text,” Shook said.

Karen Aroesty, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of Missouri and Southern Illinois, said the ADL has been in discussions with the St. Louis Archdiocese. She said she is worried that the inclusion of the prayer in the traditional Good Friday service of the Latin rite could harm the progress made since the reforms of Nostra Aetate, which was the document issued at Vatican II in 1965. It declared that Jews were absolved of the responsibility for the death of Jesus.

“I’m concerned about the perception that the conversion prayer will give,” Aroesty said. “We’ve been building understanding over the past 40 years. Why go backward?” she said.

Aroesty said she has heard that church leaders have asserted that contention over the conversion prayer has been essentially a misunderstanding.

“If we have misunderstood,” she said, “let’s talk it out and get us all on the same page.”

Father Vincent Heier, director of the St. Louis Archdiocese Office for Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Affairs, and parish priest of All Saints in University City, said that contrary to some reports, the Motu Proprio is not a step back from Nostra Aetate, and he said many Catholics are looking for further clarification from the Vatican about what exactly is included in the Good Friday service.

“Certainly, we would never want to pray in a disparaging way about Jews or anyone else,” Heier said. “But particularly about the Jews, because you are our spiritual ancestors and our elder brothers and sisters, as Pope John Paul II said.”

“There’s been some unclarity, but I think in general, the Church certainly in no way wants to send out a message to the Jewish community that we are stepping backward or reneging out of our commitments in the Vatican Council, or in these 40 years plus of dialogue,” said Heier, who has been involved in interfaith dialogue groups for the past 25 years.

“We want to make sure that what we say in our worship texts corresponds with what we teach and preach the rest of the time,” he said.

“We don’t actively pray for the conversion of any particular group. We leave that to God’s work,” Heier said. “We always want to be respectful of others, and especially the Jewish community, and that our prayers should always reflect that genuine openness to our elder brothers and sisters in faith,” he said. “I presume that the Vatican will address this, and if the text has not been fully changed, it will be.”

Rabbi Bernard Lipnick, rabbi emeritus of Congregation B’nai Amoona, said the inclusion of a prayer for the conversion of the Jews is essentially a reality of the theological principles of Christianity.

“For us Jews to think that the Catholic Church or Christianity in general have given up their hope of converting the Jewish people to Christianity, is pipe dreaming,” Lipnick said. “For us to get excited about this one little thing…I’m not excited about it, because there’s nothing new there. As long as Christianity continues to teach the doctrines that it teaches, I think that we will continue to be the objects [for conversion.]”

“They [Christians] are looking not only to the conversion of the Jews, but to the conversion of the world and the return of their Messiah. That’s what Christianity is,” Lipnick said.

Nancy Lisker, director of the American Jewish Committee’s St. Louis Chapter, said the AJCommittee is approaching the decision with an open mind, and seeking further clarification.

“This is an internal affair of the Church, therefore when as Jews we register our opinion, we need to do it with a high degree of realism and respect,” Lisker said in an email statement.

“In reviving the Latin Mass, Pope Benedict is trying to reach out to the million or so ultraconservatives led by French Archbishop Lefebvre, who split from the Holy See over the reforms of Vatican II,” she said. “In doing so, the Pope is not only making Jews uncomfortable, but more importantly from his point of view he is potentially alienating millions of liberal Catholics, who don’t agree with the old traditions that the Latin Mass carries with it.”

“The American Jewish Committee does not consider that this action from the Church is part of a ‘mission to convert the Jews’ as some have suggested in the media. The Catholic Church has come a long way in the last 25 years in its relationships with world Jewry. We have a lot at stake and much to gain from our bilateral relations with the Holy See,” Lisker said.

Rev. C. Eugene Morris, a professor of liturgical sacramental theology at the Kenrick Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, said there is some question about whether or not the ‘conversion prayer’ is actually included in the 1962 Missal.

During a phone interview from Chicago, where he teaches at a liturgical institute over the summer, Morris said he is surprised to hear that there were concerns over the Motu Proprio.

“There is a set of prayers that are used on Good Friday, that pray for a variety of different peoples and their various relationships with God,” he said. “My understanding, and this is without having the Missal in front of me, is that the word ‘conversion’ is not a part of that prayer. It’s not in the ’62 Missal and it’s not in the current missal as well.”

“I am familiar enough with the structure of the liturgy itself and the readings and the prayers and I literally can’t think of anything in there that would be offensive to anybody,” Morris said. “There is nothing in the particular liturgy that is going to in any way, shape or form, impact interreligious dialogue.”

Morris, 42, said he is in the first generation of Catholics who may have grown up without ever hearing a traditional Latin mass. He said he believes that many Catholics will welcome the traditional mass, and that will in no way impact their sentiments toward Jews.

“This is essentially an internal way for the church to provide a different, deepened form of worship to connect with our spiritual past,” he said.

Father Heier and Rabbi Shook both stressed the need for continued interfaith dialogue. “This does not mean our conversations are ended,” Shook said. “We [Catholics and Jews] need to continue to dialogue on these and other matters.”