Jason Burke

Paris: Jewish leaders and community groups have criticised Pope Benedict XVI strongly after the head of the Roman Catholic Church formally removed restrictions on celebrating an old form of the Latin Mass which includes prayers calling for the Jews to “be delivered from their darkness” and converted to Catholicism.

In a highly controversial concession to traditionalist Catholics, the Pope said he had decided to allow parish priests to celebrate the Latin Tridentine Mass if a “stable group of faithful” request it — though he stressed that he was in no way undoing the reforms of the 1960s Second Vatican Council which allowed the Mass to be said in vernacular languages for the first time. “What earlier generations held as sacred remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful,” he wrote.

However, the older rite’s prayers calling on God to “lift the veil from the eyes” of the Jews and end “the blindness of that people so that they may acknowledge the light of your truth, which is Christ” have sparked outrage.

The Anti-Defamation League, the American-based Jewish advocacy group, called the papal decision a “body blow to Catholic-Jewish relations”.

“We are extremely disappointed and deeply offended that nearly 40 years after the Vatican rightly removed insulting anti-Jewish language from the Good Friday mass, it would now permit Catholics to utter such hurtful and insulting words by praying for Jews to be converted,” said Abraham Foxman, group’s national director, in Rome

Concern expressed

Some bishops in France as well as liberal clergy and Catholics elsewhere have expressed concerns that allowing freer use of the Tridentine liturgy would imply a negation of Vatican II, the 1962-65 meetings that modernised the Roman Catholic Church. They also feared it could create divisions in parishes, since two different liturgies would be celebrated.

The liberal French Catholic magazine Temoignage Chretien published an editorial in Latin explaining that it was not concerned about the language in which the Mass was celebrated but by “the view of the outside world held by most supporters of the traditional rite ... of a Church that sees itself as the sole holder of the truth. Forty years after the Second Vatican Council, this stand is untenable”.

The Pope has told bishops that such fears are “unfounded” as the Mass celebrated in the vernacular remained the “normal” form while the older version was an “extraordinary” one that would only be sought by a few Catholics.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev Federico Lombardi, said the new rules did not “impose any return to the past, nor any weakening of the authority of the council, nor the authority and responsibility of bishops”. —

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007