"The New York Times recently reported, Pope Benedict XVI has eased restrictions for the saying of the Tridentine or "Latin" Mass. No need for permission from the hierarchy anymore:
...the pope said that the change could both heal rifts with traditionalist groups that favor the Latin Mass as well as reconnect the church with a 1,500-year-old form of worship that faded since the Second Vatican Council, which ended in 1965.
But what may seem to seem to an accommodation to traditionalist Catholics can be more accurately interpreted as a reactionary, and not-so-esoteric political statement on neo-orthodoxy. The retreat inward has begun.
In a July 12th guest editorial in the New York Daily News, a local Manhattan priest, The Rev. Brian Jordan commented on Pope Benedict's priorities:
For 24 years I have been a member of an endangered species - the Catholic priesthood - and never celebrated the Mass in Latin because there was never a local pastoral need to do so ....
There continues to be no national pastoral need to celebrate the Mass in Latin other than to satisfy a small - albeit very influential - number of disgruntled Catholics.
Touch 'em all Reverend Jordan; you hit the ball out of the park.
One such disgruntled group is The Priestly Society of Saint Pius X, (also known by the acronym, SSPX) known not only for their fondness of the Latin rite, but also for the French Far Right, specifically, the neofascist National Front Party.
And what a jolly bunch be these SSPX folks! Founded in 1970 by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, they are not only anti-Enlightenment but they are openly contemptuous of the necessary (and unfinished) changes of Vatican II.
The group broke with Rome in 1988 after Lefebvre ordained four new bishops in defiance of Rome's orders. The Vatican responded to by excommunicating Archbishop Lefebvre and the bishops he ordained.
Several of the SSPX clergy have made anti-Semitic pronouncements, such as Bishop Richard Williamson, who threw in a little anti-Liberalism to boot.
"Supernaturally seen, such a scenario, capable of many adaptations, represents one more in many steps of the Jewish people towards their appointment with God at the end of the world, when, maybe converted by the heroism and endurance of the Catholics undergoing persecution by their Anti-Christ, they will at last convert (Romans XI) and discover their own true Messiah, Jesus Christ, who has never ceased to love them as his own people. However, until they re-discover their true Messianic vocation, they may be expected to continue fanatically agitating, in accordance with their false messianic vocation of Jewish world-dominion, to prepare the Anti-Christ's throne in Jerusalem. So we may fear their continuing to play their major part in the agitation of the East and in the corruption of the West. Here the wise Catholic will remember that, again, the ex-Christian nations have only their own Liberalism to blame for allowing free circulation within Christendom to the enemies of Christ."
Its no wonder that many are troubled by the prayer for the conversion of the Jews, which has stood as the epitome of the anti-Semitic strain in Catholicism that Vatican II, and reform minded prelates have sought to address since. That is one prayer that Benedict should have insisted be removed. Was that deliberately left unaddressed to further placate the SSPX fringe and their ilk?
But what do these decisions say about how those now in charge of the Vatican view other faiths, even other Christian denominations? Taken together with other recent pronouncements, it speaks volumes, and very little of it good.
Along with this move to "heal rifts with traditionalist groups," earlier this week, the other shoe dropped. The independent newsweekly, National Catholic Reporter reported on an announcement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:
"In a brief document, the Vatican's doctrinal congregation reaffirmed that the Catholic church is the one, true church, even if elements of truth can be found in separated churches and communities.
Touching an ecumenical sore point, the document said some of the separated Christian communities, such as Protestant communities, should not properly be called "churches" according to Catholic doctrine because of major differences over the ordained priesthood and the Eucharist."
As a Catholic I am saddened that such strident voices are taking over my Church. Seemingly gone are the days of Vatican II when the issues concerning Catholic-Jewish relations turned on the adoption of Nostrae Aetate which Cardinal Roger Mahoney properly explained, "undertook a rethinking of Judaism and the Jewish people in Catholic theology and liturgy, repudiating historic Christian teachings of contempt towards Jews and positively asserting the common spiritual heritage the Christians and Jews share."
Also seemingly gone from this Vatican's mindset is a truer sense of interdenominational healing evidenced in 1966 when Pope Paul VI gave to the then-Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey the ring he had worn as worn as cardinal archbishop of Milan. The two religious leaders joined together to sign a "Common Declaration," that declared "all those Christians who belong to these two communions may be animated by these same sentiments of respect, esteem and fraternal love."
As the current Roman hierarchy makes peace with the enemies of Vatican II while making war on other faiths -- as well as many of their own congregants, I can only imagine that this Pope will increasingly seek the counsel of renegades such as SSPX on a whole host of issues (the Vatican has been discussing reconciliation with SSPX since February 2006). Perhaps we will march backwards with an eventual repudiation of Dignitatis Humanae the declaration that proclaimed that everyone has a right to religious liberty, a right that is grounded in the essential dignity of each individual.
As the Benedictine nun, Sister Joan Chittister in her July 10, 2007 NCR column observed disconcertingly:
Now, this week, we got the word that the pope himself, contrary to the advice and concerns of the world's bishops, has restored the Tridentine Latin Rite. It is being done, the pope explains, to make reconciliation easier with conservative groups.
But it does not, at the same time, make reconciliation easier with women, who are now pointedly left out of the Eucharistic celebration entirely, certainly in its God-language, even in its pronouns. Nor does it seem to care about reconciliation with Jews who find themselves in the Tridentine Good Friday rite again as "blind" and objects of conversion. It's difficult not to wonder if reconciliation is really what it's all about.
Sister Joan further soberly noted:
From where I stand, it seems obvious that the Fathers of Vatican Council II knew the implications of the two different Eucharistic styles then and bishops around the world know it still. But their concerns have been ignored. They don't have much to do with it anymore. Now it's up to the laity to decide which church they really want -- and why. Which we choose may well determine the very nature of the church for years to come.
The people who propel divisive religion are often the very same who propel divisive politics. We know that many in the Religious Right --especially of my faith-- have IRD-neoconservative links. They often celebrate cultural wars, a generic neo-orthodoxy as well as archaic notions of manliness. For these odd fellows what separates us is more important than what is common to all of us.
Welcome to the age of strident polarization. Instead of seeking common ground with each other in order to live in peace, a new class of the neo-orthodox -- not just of Catholics, but of many faiths -- are bringing us to a very dangerous place. It is a place where there is no "common" good per se, but subjective factious "goods." Tribalism and "politics" constitutes the order of the day. And religious civil wars are a possibility as the neo-orthodox seek greater purity in their churches and in society. It has happened before.
As both a Catholic and as an American, I don't want my country to head down the road to that place. Sister Joan is dead-on when she says it's up to the laity to decide which church they really want, and as I believe, which country as well.
Kathy Hughes contributed to this story."
Note: Content reposted with the permission of the author.