Ever since Pope Benedict allowed wider use of the old Latin mass last year, we’ve been watching to see whether the schismatic traditionalists in the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) would soften their staunchly critical line towards the Vatican. They have stuck for decades to the centuries-old Tridentine mass in Latin and rejected all the modernising reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Benedict has long been concerned with bringing them back into the Roman fold and lifting most restrictions on the old Latin mass was partly a step in their direction. But that didn’t stop the “Lefebvrists” (from the name of their first leader, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre) from denouncing the Vatican for updating the Latin version of a Good Friday prayer about the Jews.
In a weekend statement for its French-language news service, the SSPX said: “Following foreign pressures on the Catholic Church, the pope has felt obliged to change the very venerable Prayer for the Jews, which is an integral part of the Good Friday liturgy. This prayer is one of the oldest and goes back to about the third century. It has thus been recited throughout the whole history of the Church as the full expression of Catholic faith.
The SPPX said the change, which it called an “amputation,” had “the allure of a real transformation, expressing the new theology of relations with the Jewish people. It is part of the liturgical upheaval that is the characteristic mark of the council and the reforms that followed it. While the necessity to accept the Messiah to be saved has been retained, one can only profoundly deplore this change.”
This isn’t really a surprise. The SPPX has always said it opposed not only mass in vernacular languages, but the other reforms as well. That, for example, included the positive reappraisal of Judaism. The Vatican has long insisted the SSPX must accept those reforms if it wants to return to the Catholic Church. While the new Latin prayer disappointed many Jews, who protested that it still called for their conversion, the fact it dropped some of the more offensive passages about their supposed “blindness” was a nod towards Vat II.
This persistent opposition despite the increasingly traditional line in the Vatican raises the question why the traditionalists following the excommunicated bishops of the SSPX should stay with them rather than drift back to Tridentine masses celebrated with Rome’s approval. The Latin mass seems to be more important to the traditionalists in the pews than these other disputes the SSPX leaders have with the Vatican.