St. Teresa of Avila once indicated she would willingly die a martyr for the least liturgical rubric of Holy Church.

One of the lesser known rubrics which disappeared in the reforms of Annibale Bugnini, a few prescribed lines of the priest for various categories of adult baptism, was suppressed by the Congregation of Rites on Nov. 27, 1959. In the Roman Ritual, Holy Church had placed the following words on the lips of the priest, to be addressed to the one about to be baptized: If the catechumen had been a pagan, he was told “Horresce idola, respue simulacra” (“Abhor idols, reject images”); if “from the Hebrews,” “Horresce Iudaicam perfidiam, respue Hebraicam superstitionem” (“Abhor Jewish infidelity, reject Hebrew superstition”); if “from the Mohammedans,” “Horresce Mahumeticam perfidiam, respue pravam sectam infidelitatis” (“Abhor Mohammedan infidelity, reject that evil sect of infidelity”); and if “from heretics” among whom baptism was invalid (otherwise the convert would not be receiving baptism), “Horresce haereticam pravitatem, respue nefarias sectas impiorum N.” (“Abhor heretical depravity, reject the evil sects of the impious N.”).

From a notice of the suppression which appeared in Ephemerides Liturgicae, 74 (1960), p. 133-134, and which is signed “ab”, apparently by Annibale Bugnini who was editor of the publication, we can take a significant insight into the mentality of the prime architect of the liturgical changes of that decade, and perhaps that of many reforming officials and bishops of the day. Bugnini links this suppression to the earlier removal of the words “perfidis Judaeis” from the Good Friday liturgy. Bugnini acknowledges that these words of the Good Friday liturgy were perfectly exact (“exactissima”) in their original meaning. But now they have become “aurium offensiva” (quotation marks in the original; “offensive to the ears”), an expression which the liturgical reformer is obviously adapting from one of the theological notes which had been employed for centuries, “offensive to pious ears”. Bugnini does not say that the traditional expression is offensive to pious ears, but rather offensive to contemporary ears thanks to a change in the everyday meaning of “perfidis”.

Bugnini goes on to claim that removing similar lines from the Ritual is a logical consequence of the suppression of “perfidis Judaeis”, for, as he says, “adults who lived for so many years in good faith in their own religion and now embrace the Christian combat” do not easily bear having to hear such raw words (“tam cruda verba”) about the religion of their fathers (“paterna religione”). This is a remarkable justification for suppressing this part of the Ritual, for the only logical connection with the Good Friday prayer is that both texts are “offensive to the ears”. They are not “offensive” for the same reason: the Good Friday prayer had become offensive on account of changed semantics, while the Ritual passage is seen as offensive because of the presumed attitude of converts to the religions they are leaving behind.

One wants to ask, who is “offended” by these words, Bugnini or the converts? Eugenio Zolli, the Chief Rabbi of Rome baptized shortly after World War II and who published his story, would certainly have heard them, since he went directly from the Synagogue to the Church. Did he find them offensive?

Were they offensive to the German Jewish psychologist Karl Stern? The illustrious 20th century convert could have heard them, since he seems to have identified himself to some degree with Judaism in the period before his baptism, although this is not totally clear from the source consulted by this blogger. Various sources, both by and about Edith Stein, do not answer the question whether she heard these words at her baptism, since she had been an atheist for years when she was baptized. However it is likely that she knew them, because one witness remarked the firmness and ease of her Latin pronunciation during the ceremonies of her baptism, so it is probable that this scholarly woman had become familiar with the Ritual, even if she was not received “from the Hebrews”. Was the future Carmelite St. Edith Stein offended by liturgical rubrics of Holy Church which St. Teresa of Avila would have shed her blood for?

If the suppressed lines of the Ritual sounded “offensive to the ears” of those who had followed a pagan religion of their fathers, what was Bugnini’s attitude to I Peter 1:18? “[Y]ou were redeemed from the futile manner of life handed down from your fathers . . .”

Was there something of Bugnini’s attitude in many or most of the bishops at Vatican II who in Nostra Aetate professed to consider other religions with sincere “respect” (or “regard”, another meaning of the term “observantia”)? Presuming most non-Christians’good faith, they primarily wanted to befriend the followers of other religions, and this may have been the motive of many when they expressed the attitude of “respect” they brought with them to the examination of religions, ready to acknowledge elements of goodness and truth which can be found in these religions and which are mentioned in the same paragraph.

But “what was sacred then is sacred now”, even when an earlier liturgical practice is changed, for the faith reflected in the earlier practice is true. As seen, even Bugnini said that what was expressed by “perfidis Judaeis” is perfectly exact. Likewise the Vatican II decree on missions discreetly mentions that elements of goodness and truth in the non-Christian world must be liberated from “contagiis malignis (Ad Gentes 9). As a logical consequence, since the Church’s sacred liturgy has publically expressed her rejection of religious rivals to her Lord, this rejection cannot be rejected, even when those religions are also seen to contain elements of goodness and truth, and when the liturgical rubric in question is not in current use.

(Note: St. Thomas explains the nature of post-Christian Jewish “infidelitas” and “superstition”: it is to consider the ceremonial and Christ-prefiguring laws as still obligatory in the time when the foretold grace of Christ has arrived and been promulgated by the apostles.)

RORATE CÆLI: What Was Sacred Then Is Sacred Now