The San Francisco Chronicle's "Finding My Religion" column recently featured an interview with Michael Wiener, an Oakland Catholic priest who favors the use of the Tridentine mass.
I am not a Catholic, and I am not drawn to the Catholic style of worship; so it doesn't directly affect me one way or the other, and I don't have an opinion as to whether one style of mass is generally "better" than another. I know that some people have objected to the Tridentine mass as being less participatory than the newer style of worship. That may be true, but there are many forms of worship and I think that each person has individual needs and preferences and, as a rule, I believe that everyone needs to find out the kind of worship that works best for them. Whether you like having the priest facing the congregation or facing away from you--that just seems to me to be a matter of personal taste. In general, I'm not sure that I believe that there is a "right" or "wrong" answer to this sort of question.
That being said, there is more to the Tridentine mass controversy than just the direction that the priest faces, and that is where things get more complicated. Specifically, there is the question of the Tridentine mass using language that is objectionable to many Jews. In the interview, Father Wiener was asked more than once about the call for the conversion of Jews that appears in the Good Friday prayers, and repeatedly the priest showed a lack of sensitivity on this matter. He did raise the point that even the new-style mass calls for the conversion of Jews and others, which for all I know may be true, although in general the bigger problem that I see is that any such call for conversion--in either an old-style or new-style mass--shows a great lack of respect for Jews and serves as a barrier to interfaith dialogue.
For example, he says:
I don't think there is much to say. That prayer is part of the Good Friday liturgy. And the church doesn't ask for the light of faith only for the Jewish people, there are also other people mentioned. So I don't see any problem with that. I don't think it's bad to ask God for his grace and for help and for assistance.In other words, he is saying that it is apparently okay to offend Jews as long as you also include other people in your message.
When he was asked if this does not indicate a certain intolerance for other faiths, his response was, "Other religions also have this standpoint. They also think that they have truth. Some Protestant religions also say those same prayers on Good Friday. Besides, I don't see it as intolerance. It's a sign of those who care and love for the souls of others."
He is so wrong on so many levels, it is hard to know where to begin. First of all, "thinking that you have the truth" is not the same as believing that other people's spiritual lives are deficient, that other faiths are not also vehicles towards the truth, or that your way is the only way and that all others must convert to your way for the sake of their souls.
Aside from that, though, he suggests that if Protestants say something that offends Jews, it is also all right for Catholics to do so as well. Huh? Since when is the "other people do it" argument an even remotely valid justification for intolerant behavior? As for the "care and love for the souls of others", Jews have understood quite well what that has translated to over the past 2000 years: pogroms, ghettos, inquisitions, forced conversions, discrimination, and mass murder. They have a right to be sensitive on this subject.
Denying that this is intolerance but instead "care and love" ignores the intolerance that lies at the heart of this stance. To assert that the souls of Jews (and others) are in jeopardy if they don't convert to Father Wiener's religion is itself intolerant. It shows a lack of respect for the value and meaning that Jews derive from their relationship with God. Slapping a veneer of "care and love" on top of an intolerant premise does not obscure the fundamental, underlying intolerance.