How many Catholics will hear disputed Good Friday prayer?

March 21, 2008

A Good Friday procession at Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, 21 March 2008/Yannis BehrakisGiven the discussion about the new Latin prayer to be read at Catholic Good Friday services in the Tridentine rite today, I’ve tried to find estimates for how many people will actually hear it. Jewish groups have expressed dismay that the new version of the prayer, which drops references to the “blindness” of the Jews but still calls for their conversion. The leader of Germany’s Jewish community said she could not fathom how the German-born Pope Benedict could “impose such phrases on his church.” The Vatican rejects this criticism and sources there say it could soon issue a conciliatory note. So there’s a lot of talk about this issue, but how much is actually happening on the ground?

Actually, the vast majority of Catholics attending Good Friday services around the world will not hear this prayer in Latin but a different one in their own native language. That prayer is based on a 1970 text without any explicit reference to the conversion of the Jews. There is no official number for how many will attend the Latin services in the older Tridentine rite that Pope Benedict promoted with a ruling last year authorising wider use of the old Latin Mass. But even ardent supporters of the traditional rite agree that the number is very, very small. Some have objected to our use of the term “tiny minority” for it, saying this was dismissive and implied the number was insignificant. It wasn’t, but it’s very hard to write about such a small amount without seeming to write it off.

Fr. John ZuhlsdorfLooking for anecdotal evidence, I first turned to the excellent conservative Catholic blog What Does The Prayer Really Say? (which just swept the 2008 Catholic Blog Awards). This was a logical step since its lively moderator, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf (“Fr. Z”), had just taken us to task for writing “tiny minority.” I posted a question about how to describe the size of this group and several readers chimed in, suggesting words like “rare” (sounds like an endangered species), “relatively few in number” (too vague), “some” or “a few” (even more vague) or “small but growing minority” (that adds movement, but it’s still vague). Even the most neutral synonyms for “tiny” — diminutive, microscopic, miniature, minuscule, slight or wee (for my Scottish colleagues) — can be read as dismissive. How would Fr. Z put it — paupera lingua angliae?

One reader estimated there would be about 40 traditional Latin Good Friday services in the whole United States, compared to about 20,000 overall. There would be about 60 in France, the real centre of the Catholic traditionalist movement, he estimated.

Nicolas Seneze’s book on the Lefebvrist schismI then turned to my colleague Nicolas Senèze from the French Catholic daily La Croix who has just published “La crise intégriste – Vingt ans après le schisme de Mgr Lefebvre” (The Fundamentalist Crisis — 20 Years after the Schism of Archbishop Lefebvre). He was not sure about Good Friday but said there were 124 parishes in France that celebrated the Tridentine Mass on the basis of the 1984 indult. Only about a dozen have been added to that total since Benedict’s motu proprio last year encouraging wider use of the old Latin Mass. “Based on the current rhythm of celebrations being organised, one can estimate the number of churches (in France) using the John XXIII missal should stabilise around 200,” he wrote in his book.

These are still exceedingly small numbers in the 1.3-billion-strong Catholic world. Fr. Z and several of his readers say they are rising, and I’m sure that’s true, but the rate is very gradual. We have also heard many bishops and priests saying there is little or no interest in the traditional Mass in their dioceses. We’ve been criticised on some blogs for reporting this, often by indignant readers who insist the traditional Latin Mass is so much more beautiful and prayerful than the usual vernacular services. That may very well be the case, but that is an internal Catholic matter. For the time being, we have to look at the A Latin missal (prayer book for Mass), 25 July 2007/Alessandro Bianchioverall numbers. This doesn’t mean we think that’s the end of the story. If this number rises steadily, we’ll revisit the issue at some point. But this is where it stands now.

Several traditional Mass enthusiasts have contacted us to point out that many young Catholics attend these services and ask why we haven’t written about this. Actually, we have written about it, back in 2005 when we first noticed this. If this continues to grow, watch this space. In the meantime, Happy Easter to all Christians, no matter which language they pray in this Sunday.


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May I ask why should the Christians NOT PRAY that the JEWS should be converted ? So, is it OK to pray that EVERYONE ELSE in the World should convert and NOT the JEWS ? WOW ! May I know what is the Theological reason for this ? Hum ! What makes the JEWS SO SPECIAL ? THEIR MONEY POWER ? By which they NOT ONLY control the WESTERN MEDIA and GOVERNMENTS but also THEIR MINDS ? This is nothing BUT BULLING by the ISRAELI LOBBY in the Western World ! Let me tell you Westerners, who are SLAVES of the ISRAELI LOBBY, there are MORE CHRISTIANS and CATHOLICS today in ASIA, AFRICA and SOUTH AMERICA combined than in EUROPE and NORTH AMERICA ! NO BODY in EUROPE and NORTH AMERICA can IMPOSE YOUR LOBBIES-DICTATED FORMULAS on rest of the Christians of the World. YOU can be SLAVES to them, WE WILL NOT TOLERATE THAT, IRRESPECTIVE of BENEDICT’S and VATICAN’S succumbing to the TERROR TACTICS of the ISRAELI LOBBY to SAVE THEIR SKIN.

Posted by Joao | Report as abusive

How many Jews will hear the daily synagogue prayer for non-Jews? As they think they are right I hope they pray for Christians just as Christians do for them. For either not to pray would be discourteous.

Posted by Realist | Report as abusive

As Jews do not seek converts, the call by others to convert is seen as a threat to which they cannot respond except by complaint. It’s fairly simple really.

Judging by Joao’s informative comment, hatred of Jews is still with us, even in places where there are very few Jews. (I wonder how Joao responds to the Muslim Lobby that is making demands of the entire world.)

Posted by Brad Brzezinski | Report as abusive

Thank you for posting content from the discussion over at WDTPS.
Might I ask posting an article with the actual text of the revised prayer? I have only seen it in full over at WDTPRS, never do the news organizations elaborate for the general public what is supposed to be so offensive.
The Jews thank God they are not Gentiles. We thank God for being Christians and ask that all might know Christ also, especially the Jews as the chosen people of the Old Testament. Surely some editorial news can be made of this comparison?

Posted by Melody | Report as abusive

Melody, I beg to differ with your statement that news organisations never elaborate on what is supposed to be so offensive. In our report on the changed prayer, our Vatican correspondent Phil Pullella quoted the relevant passage in the prayer and noted that Pope Benedict had dropped references to the “blindness” of the Jews and an appeal to God to “remove the veil from their hearts”. He also said that Jewish organisations had protested about the wording of the old prayer, which contained those terms. We also ran a blog post that listed several initial reactions from both Catholics and Jews. Remember that we are writing under space limitations for a general readership, not only for Catholics or only for Jews. In any kind of story, we have to decide what to quote and what to drop. This is not only done for religion stories — you see the same editing process going on in political, economic or entertainment news as well. Some elements in this story, for example the full texts or original Latin of the old and new prayers, are more specialised than a general readership would want.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

This so called pope is causing more division everywhere .Iam embarrassed that anyone could link me with the church of darkness. Pope Benadict leave our missals alone, Icannot beleive it .Your so called enlightment is leading souls to hell. What confusion, he has changed so many things Iwill not serve a false Pope ever.I say thank God for our little band of true catholics.vonny

Posted by yvonne cooper | Report as abusive