19 December 2015
The German (and English) Bishops and Nostra aetate
On 24:11:2015, the English Bishops put out an explanation of their contentious resolution which had called for the Ecclesia Dei Commission to "review" the Good Friday Prayer for the Jews which was composed in 2008 by Pope Benedict XVI for use in the Extraordinary Form. Benedict's Prayer was designed to replace the ancient Prayer as lightly revised by S John XXIII. It was his intention thus to put an end to the controversy which had surrounded the ancient Prayer.
This is what the CBCEW explanation said:
"In 1970 the Prayer for the Jews in the Liturgy for Good Friday was revised so as to reflect and express the teaching on Judaism contained in the Vatican II document Nostra aetate. In particular, it removed offensive references to the Jews and did not pray for the conversion of the Jews."
I think any reasonable reader would infer from this that Nostra aetate either forbade or discouraged prayer for the conversion of the Jews.
It did nothing of the sort. Read it and see. Or, if you can't be bothered, and you don't trust my say-so, here is part of the recent discussion Document put out by a Vatican department on relations between Catholicism and Judaism:
" ... the Conciliar text is not infrequently over-interpreted, and things are read into it which it does not in fact contain. An important example of over-interpretation would be the following: that the covenant that God made with his people Israel perdures and is never invalidated. Although this statement is true, it cannot be explicitly read into Nostra aetate."
(It is, of course, on the grounds that the Jews already have a still valid 'deal' with God that some people now think it wrong to pray for them to turn to Christ, or for the Good News of the Gospel to be brought to them.)
The CBCEW 'Explanation' also conveyed, at least to me, the impression that Jews are feeling upset because the Prayer which Pope Benedict composed has not been banned. Those who watched the Vatican News Conference to present the recent discussion Document will recall that the contrary seemed to be the case. If those responsible for the CBCEW Resolution and Explanation have not listened to that News Conference on Vatican TV Player, perhaps, over Christmas, they might be able to find the time to do so, since they have already been able to find the time to compose Resolutions and Explanations.
I'm afraid I feel compelled to say that bishops ... even bishops ... especially bishops, and especially when they appear to be teaching publicly, should try really, really hard not to mislead. It is contentious and divisive.
The 'Explanation' put out did, most interestingly, reveal that the English Bishops were meekly following in the footsteps of the German Episcopal Conference. This depressing fact does, I think, give us a plausible historical context for what is really going on here.
The German Bishops 'have form'. After the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum in 2007, they clearly resented its reliance on 'subsidiarity' and attempted, in a very bad-tempered set of regulations, to circumscribe the rights which had been conferred upon their presbyters. Then, in 2009, when the SSPX excommunications had been lifted, and it looked as if a canonical regularisation of the SSPX was imminent, they tried to prevent SSPX ordinations within their jurisdictions: an attempt which was partially successful in as far as Rome asked the Society to move some Ordinations away from its German seminary; to which request the SSPX tactfully acceded.
There are now persistent rumours that Pope Francis, who is not always terribly concerned about liturgical and legal minutiae, would like to see the SSPX 'problem' solved. The German Bishops did their best to prevent reconciliation in 2009; they must be furious that, having kicked that particular ball into the long grass of the present Pontificate, they now find, to their horror, that a deal looks, if anything, more likely under Francis than it did under Benedict.
In their panic, they had to find something to do to prevent our beloved Holy Father's goodwill and instinctive pastoral bias from achieving the tangible result of reconciliation among estranged Christians during his Jubilee Year of Mercy.
This German plot with regard to Pope Benedict's Good Friday Prayer seems to me clearly and specifically designed to give the SSPX grounds to worry that, after a deal with Rome, they would be vulnerable to arbitrary interference from any group of hostile bishops who succeeded in securing some leverage, or getting somebody's significant ear, in the Vatican. It would be profoundly sad, but hardly unnatural, if some SSPX clergy were even now in touch with Bishop Fellay to say "Hang on: look at what you might be getting us into".
So ... a spoiling tactic designed to stir up trouble and so to prevent unity and concord within the Mystical Body of Christ? If so, a thoroughly nasty mentality would be at work here, the ultimate source of which would be fairly obvious. But things could work out for the best! If, as seems likely, Ecclesia Dei declines to change Pope Benedict's Prayer, it will demonstrate that Cardinal Marx's imperial ambitions have not established an ascendancy over at least one particular dicastery. Which could and should reassure SSPX doubters.
I would be willing to put a modest sum on the SSPX business getting solved during 2016.
I wonder who brought, and why, that proposal to the CBCEW table; and how unanimous the opinion around that table was. It is a shame that the CBCEW is not open in its deliberations, as the American Conference is.