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The Pentecost Hymn, Ecumenism and the Jews

THE TRADITIONAL Catholic liturgy is an anti-ecumenical minefield.

In my 1991 study of the orations (collects, secrets, post-communions) of the Mass of Paul VI, I demonstrated that the post-Vatican II reforms purged from the Missal any language which compromised ecumenism. Hence references in the prayers to notions like the true faith, the true Church, the evils of heresy, the rights of the Holy See, and the blindness of the Jews were dropped. (Problems with the Prayers of the Modern Mass, 22–5)

Such expressions, wrote Archbishop Bugnini, “sounded rather bad” in the ecumenical climate of Vatican II, and “no one should find a motive for spiritual discomfort in the prayers of the Church.” (La Riforma Liturgica, 127).

This principle was applied not just in revising the orations, but throughout the entire liturgical reform, as I demonstrate in my new book Work of Human Hands: A Theological Critique of the Mass of Paul VI (West Chester OH: Philothea Press 2010).

The real hot button texts in the old liturgy, of course, are those that refer to the Jews.

Once Benedict XVI authorized the widespread use of the 1962 Missal in July 2007, various Jewish pressure groups agitated for a change in the Missal’s Good Friday prayer for the Jews. This resulted in the Vatican producing an entirely new text for the prayer in 2008, which was then duly imposed on all groups that offer the old Mass under Vatican or diocesan auspices.

For an excellent overview of the affair, see Bishop Sanborn’s article Genuflecting to the Jews

But in the traditional liturgy, the Good Friday prayer is merely one instance of a text that alludes to the faithlessness and blindness of the Jews. Another is found in the hymn for Matins (a part of the Divine Office) that the clergy sing or recite on the feast of Pentecost (Whitsunday).

The offending text in Latin reads as follows:

Judaea tunc incredula,
Vesana torvo spiritu,
Madere musto sobrios
Christi fideles increpat.

Sed editis miraculis
Occurrit et docet Petrus
Falsum profari perfidos
Joele teste comprobans

A prose translation reads:

Then the Jews, still faithless, are possessed by the spirit of blind anger and hate, and accuse Christ’s sober servants of being drunk with new wine.

But Peter confronts them with his Master’s miracles, and shows the falsity of what the perfidious Jews are saying, proving it to them from the words of Joel. (Connelly, 108)

And here is a verse translation. You can sing it to the tune of O Salutaris — perfect for the next time you’re at an ecumenical gathering, say, or at a meeting of the Southern Poverty Law Center:

But Juda’s sons, e’en faithless yet,
With mad infuriate rage beset,
To mock Christ’s followers combine,
As drunken all with new-made wine.

When lo! with signs and mighty deeds,
Stands Peter in the midst, and pleads,
Confounding their malignant lie,
By Joel’s ancient prophecy. (Britt, 166)

There are at least two considerations here:

(1) The hymn under discussion, Jam Christus Astra Ascenderat, originates in the fourth century. Its language shows that ecumenism Vatican II-style, where the true faith has no real enemies, whether heretic, pagan or Jew, is contrary to the outlook of the early Church. The oldest prayers in the traditional liturgy called a spade a spade.

(2) Sooner or later, some Latin-savvy Jew or modernist will wade through the ’62 Missal and Breviary, and ferret out passages like these — a fairly easy task these days, now that all the texts are on-line.

(The text from St. Augustine chanted at Tenebrae on Good Friday — “You, O Jews, killed [Christ]… with the sword of your tongue” — would really send ‘em ballistic.)

Then the professional anti-Semitism inquisitors (think Abe Foxman and company) will crank up their propaganda machine: A whole new generation of Catholics is now being exposed to these anti-Semitic texts in the many seminaries, schools, convents, parishes, convents and monasteries that now, thanks to Benedict XVI’s 2007 Motu Proprio, follow the pre-Vatican II Missal and Breviary. Something must be done, etc.

Then there will be agitation in the secular and the modernist press to change the texts. In the name of ecumenism, the Vatican will eventually give in. Institutions that enjoy official Vatican approval (such as the Fraternity of St. Peter, the Clear Creek Benedictines, and the Good Shepherd Institute) will then have to undergo some liturgical “renewal” in the name of ecumenism.

All this, of course, takes one very far indeed from the militant spirit of the early Church, which (as is evident from its liturgical prayers) sought to convert or defeat its enemies, rather than appease them.

As for the latter course, the operating principle that the early Church followed could best be summed up as — though we doubt St. Augustine ever said it —“Never feed a live chicken to an alligator, because it keeps coming back for more.”

The traditional liturgy of the true Church, in a word, brooks no compromise with error.


BRITT, Matthew. Hymns of the Roman Breviary. New York: Benzinger 1922.
BUGNINI, Annibale. La Riforma Liturgica: 1948–1975. Rome: CLV Edizioni Liturgiche 1983.
CEKADA, Anthony. The Problems with the Prayers of the Modern Mass. Rockford IL: TAN 1991.
——— Work of Human Hands: A Theological Critique of the Mass of Paul VI. West Chester OH: Philothea Press 2010.
CONNELLY, Joseph. Hymns of the Roman Liturgy. Westminster MD: Newman 1954.
SANBORN, Donald. “Genuflecting to the Jews,” Most Holy Trinity Newsletter, March 2008.