"The Holy Father's recent motu proprio broadening permission for celebration of the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass is one focus of identity concerns. Do you anticipate widespread use of the old Mass?
Since you have over half the presbyterate who really can't handle Latin, I don't see huge numbers. Among the others who could handle it, they made a decision after the council that they're not going to use Latin again. For them, it's a matter of principle. Therefore, 'widespread' isn't going to happen, I don't think, at least for the next several years … I haven't seen wide demand for it. Nobody's written me letters saying, 'Ah, now at last we can do this.'
Prior to the release of the motu proprio, I wrote an op/ed piece for the New York Times in which I argued that this would be one of those classic Vatican documents which, because of its symbolic importance, generates a lot of debate, but practically changes little on the ground. Does that seem right to you?
We'll see, but it made sense to me when I read it, and it still makes sense to me now. Symbolically, it is important, mostly because the pope wants to insist that there was no rupture [between the pre- and post-Vatican II periods], and it shouldn't have been treated as a rupture. The old Mass is there now, extraordinary but nonetheless present, as a kind of template to draw people into perhaps a more reverential celebration of the Eucharist. It's there, and that's helpful. On the other hand, most of the practicing Catholics I know, including those in my own family, who have always been good Mass-goers and who have nothing against the Tridentine rite, remember it and appreciate it, but they say, 'We're somewhere else now.'
A related issue with the old Missal is the Good Friday liturgy, and specifically the prayer for the conversion of the Jews. Where do you think we are with that?
First of all, we have to clarify something, because there are two opinions and we've asked the Holy See to clear this up. During the Triduum [the end of Holy Week] you may not have a private Mass. So the first reaction is, well, that means you can't use the old Missal for the Triduum, so that's the end of that. Others come back and say no, that if you have a parish that is only Tridentine, then they would also have the Holy Week ceremonies from that Missal. I'm not sure that's permitted, and that's what we're asking.
If it is, would your preference be to use the language of new Missal for this prayer on Good Friday, even when people are celebrating the Tridentine rite?
If you're celebrating the 1962 Missal, that would involve changing the text of the prayer.
That can be done, yes?
Of course it can be done, and I suspect it probably will be, because the intention is to be sure that our prayers are not offensive to the Jewish people who are our ancestors in the faith. We can't possibly insult them in our liturgy … Not that any group has a veto on anybody's prayers, because you can go through Jewish texts and find material that is offensive to us. But if we're interested in keeping the dialogue strong, and we have to be, we should be very cautious about any prayer that they find insulting. 'They,' however, is a big tent. What my Jewish rabbi friend down the block finds insulting is different from what Abraham Foxman [national director of the Anti-Defamation League] finds insulting. Also, it does work both ways. Maybe this is an opening to say, 'Would you care to look at some of the Talmudic literature's description of Jesus as a bastard, and so on, and maybe make a few changes in some of that?"