Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Dr Alcuin Reid on the Reform of the Good Friday Prayer

[Statement by Dr. Alcuin Reid]

Roma locuta est: causa finita est. This traditional maxim of Catholic life needs to be remembered. It refers to the right of the Holy See – and most specifically of the Sovereign Pontiff – to decide on matters of discipline and governance of the Church. Once the arguments have been duly heard and the Supreme Authority decides, loyal Catholics obey: even if they personally disagree about the prudence or otherwise of a decision.

This is not true, of course, in matters of faith and morals, where there is little room for manoeuvre in prudential judgement. But in matters of policy, where the faith of the Church is not altered, yes, the Pope is our General-in-Chief and we follow his lead.

Pope Benedict XVI has decided to alter the Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews in the Missal of the usus antiquior of the Roman rite. In the past six or so months we have all heard the noises made – from differing quarters, arising from varying motives – about this aspect of the Church’s liturgical tradition. So too has the Holy Father. And, as Peter, he has made an authoritative prudential decision: one which, whatever our preferences, we owe obedience and respect.

The new prayer does not detract from or attempt to change Catholic doctrine in respect of our fervent prayer for the conversion of the Jewish people. The principle of lex orandi, lex credendi is fully respected. Whilst the Holy Father has decided that phrases in the previous prayer are to be changed – and we are free to agree or not with his thinking on this – the change is not a substantial change to the Sacred Liturgy as handed on in tradition, nor is it in radical theological discontinuity with what has gone before. Indeed, it reasserts Catholic doctrine (perhaps rather cleverly) when some, if not many, would have had it denied by insisting that it is inappropriate in the modern day to pray for the conversion of the Jews at all. The Pope has rejected such a stance as inimical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, yesterday, today, and forever.

In matters of prudence the Pope is entitled to govern so long as he remains faithful to Catholic doctrine. This, Pope Benedict XVI most certainly is. Obedientia et pax.

Dr Alcuin Reid is a liturgical scholar specialising in liturgical reform and is author of The Organic Development of the Liturgy (Ignatius, 2005) which carries a foreword by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.