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Dominus vobiscum et cum spiritu tuo. If you're Roman Catholic, those are the words you may be hearing again at Sunday mass. Pope Benedict XVI has issued his first major reform of the Catholic Church, he's relaxed restrictions on the use of the old Latin Mass that was common before the Second Vatican Council 40 years ago. The return to the Tridentine Mass, as it is known, has already prompted criticism from Jewish leaders who fear a revival of old prejudices.
NPR's Sylvia Poggioli joins us now. Sylvia, why would Pope Benedict bring this back after 40 years?
SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Well, he said his aim is reconciliation in the heart of the church. He mentioned the traditional society of St. Pius X whose rejection of the Vatican II reforms led to their bishop's excommunication. The pope said that rejection occurred above all because the new rules were often misunderstood and led to deformations of the liturgy that were hard to bear - one assumes he's referring among other things to the use of rock and folk music in masses.
But the pope rejected criticism that two parallel rights could split Catholics and roll back Vatican II reforms. He said what earlier generations held as sacred remain scared and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.
SMITH: So who will decide which rite will be used?
POGGIOLI: A parish priest can now celebrate the Latin mass when a stable group of faithful request it. If the priest refuses, the faithful could appeal to the bishop, who the pope says is earnestly requested to grant their desire. And if he doesn't the faithful can go to the Vatican itself.
SMITH: What are the real differences between the new mass and this old rite?
POGGIOLI: Well, it's not just the Latin language, which most Catholic priest don't know, which is a problem in itself. The main differences are in style and substance. In what was considered one of its most important reforms - Vatican II allowed the priest to faith and celebrate with the faithful who became much more active in the mass. It became a communal celebration. In the old 16th century Tridentine mass, the priest faces the altar, spoke in Latin, often in a whisper, and had no contact with the faithful. Traditionalist say that mass is much more mystical.
But there are also important liturgical differences. The Tridentine mass conflicts with the ecumenical innovations of Vatican II, it includes prayers for the conversion of Jews.
SMITH: Well, what have Jewish leaders said about this return to the Tridentine mass?
POGGIOLI: Well Anti-Defamation League issued a very harsh statement. It called the revival of the Latin mass a body blow to Catholic-Jewish relations. This is how ADL National Director Abe Foxman described it to me yesterday.
Mr. ABE FOXMAN (National Director, Anti-Defamation League): It's a step backwards in terms of reconciliation between the church and the Jewish community. It legitimizes again some of the theological thinking that makes the Jews unworthy. It still talks about the blindness of the Jews, the need to convert them in order to make them whole. It goes so contrary to John Paul. Why go back to painful, insensitive, insulting words?
SMITH: Sylvia, how are Catholics reacting to this news?
POGGIOLI: Well, you know, statement. The Society of Saint Pius X hailed the move saying it rejoices that the church is regaining its liturgical tradition, but many national Catholic Bishop's Conferences are worried. German and French bishops are among those most opposed to the Latin mass.
An editorial in the Liberal French Catholic Magazine, Tim Wan Yaz Kritien(ph) voiced concern that the view of the outside world held by most traditionalists reflects a church that sees itself as the sole holder of the truth, a stand that is untenable it said.
Many bishops fear a divided church with two rival rights, others worry it could weaken the Catholic Church's ecumenical dialogue and interfaith relations. And Italian Bishop Monsignor Brucca Brandolini(ph) who is a member often Bishops Conferences Liturgical Commission went so far as to say in an interview that today is a day of mourning for him because the pope's decree has cancelled a key reform of the Catholic Church.
SMITH: Will the Catholic Church have to offer Latin classes to its priests now?
POGGIOLI: We don't know what they have - they're going to have to do, but it's certainly true that very, very few priests throughout the Catholic world do speak Latin.
SMITH: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli. Thanks, Sylvia.
POGGIOLI: Thank you.
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