Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Jewishness of the Roman Rite

From First Things:

In my experience, Catholics who have an affinity for the particularly Judaic character of their Christian faith are more likely to be drawn to the Tridentine Mass than are Catholics for whom Judaism is a category on the other side of a boundary they would consider it bad manners to try to cross. You might think that, while Reform Catholics were on the subject of Catholic liturgy and Judaism, they would ask what happened to the Church’s observance of the event that most vividly marks Jesus as Jewish. The establishment of the 1970 missal as normative was accompanied by a certain curious change in the liturgical calendar: The Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord, on January 1, eight days after the celebration of his birth, wasn’t just moved. It was eliminated.

Of the criticisms that early Protestants leveled against Catholicism, the one that arguably cut deepest was that the Church presumed to revive the Levitical priesthood, which the spilling of Christ’s blood on Calvary now rendered obsolete. They inveighed passionately against the Mass, which they saw as overtly Judaic in its tone, structure, and purpose. (This Jewishness they objected to was largely a theological construct, not to be confused with the social and cultural construct of Judaism familiar to students of Jewish Studies departments at American universities.)

Protestants were correct that the Mass, in its aspect as a sacrifice, could not be fully understood outside the framework of pre-rabbinic Judaism. By the middle of the twentieth century, when Rome’s wish for some thaw in its cold war with Protestantism was in full bloom, it reformed the Mass such that the visible and audible distinctions between Mass and the worship services of the mainline Protestant churches were now greatly softened. Many Catholics saw it as an appropriate ecumenical gesture. So did many Protestants. Whether that step in the direction of Wittenberg and Geneva was deliberate or unconscious, what it was a step away from was Jerusalem, from the Temple and the daily sacrifice priests used to perform there.

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