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I just took over as prime minister of one of the world’s former superpowers, and the first thing that came across my desk was a set of attempted car bombings. It appears that Muslim physicians with excellent credentials were responsible for this outrage. People are thinking that if affluent, highly educated people like these could turn to terrorism, then no one is really safe. What should I do?
Troubled on the Thames
This is a matter of the utmost gravity. Your National Health Service is plagued by poor service and clinical incompetence. Now you are asking your citizens to put their lives into the hands of physicians who are too clumsy to detonate a proper bomb. I understand that you have no choice but to recruit foreign medical personnel. To assuage public concern, I suggest you require overseas medical applicants to demonstrate their proficiency in bomb construction and detonation before hiring them.
I am the chief executive officer of the world’s largest religious denomination. More than 40 years ago we changed our Mass to vernacular languages rather than Latin, but many of our faithful miss the Latin Mass and want to return to it. I am ready to grant them permission to use the old Latin Mass, but I am being attacked as a reactionary who doesn’t care about reaching out to the people in their own language. Am I doing the right thing?
Troubled on the Tiber
You are doing absolutely the right thing. Take a tip from the Jews. They held themselves together for two millennia by holding services in Hebrew, keeping their sacred tongue alive enough to restore as a national language in 1948.
The threat to your denomination always has come from those who want to worship their own ethnicity rather than the god of creation. Your opponents are soon-to-be-ex-Christians like American journalist James Carroll, who enthuses over the “liturgical movement” of the 1920s. The “liturgical movement” introduced congregational participation into the Mass, that is, making the “people of God” (whoever might have wandered in) into the actor. As Carroll explained, “No longer do we attend Mass as a collection of isolatos, each on his or her knees, face buried in hands from which dangle rosary beads. We do not approach God alone but as members of a praying community, members of a folk.” But as you have pointed out in the past, it is God, rather than the “folk”, who is the actor in the Mass. As I observed elsewhere,  Carroll’s conceit is merely banal in America, because there is no American “folk”. America is composed of immigrants who abandoned their folkways and embraced the American idea. But in Europe, where the heathen folk has persisted in uneasy coexistence with Christianity, the people’s liturgy became a Volkisch, that is, national-racist expression.
Your denomination is growing fastest in the global South, preaching to people still rooted in tribal society. Anything you can do to emphasize universalism is a step in the right direction.
As head of an organization that defends Jews against defamation, I am furious about Pope Benedict’s decision to allow the Latin Mass back into service. It contains a prayer said each year on Good Friday about us, asking God to “lift the veil from the eyes” of the Jews and to remove “the blindness of that people so that they may acknowledge the light of your truth, which is Christ”. We have had a good dialogue going with the Catholic Church and I don’t want to ruin it, but this really sticks in my throat. What should I do about it?
Mad in Manhattan
Why don’t you retaliate in kind, and pray for the Catholics? That ought to show them. Here’s a suggested text:
Lord, open the eyes of the Catholics to the insights of your servant Franz Rosenzweig, who said: “It is only the Old Testament that enables Christianity to defend itself against its inherent danger of reverting to paganism. And it is the Old Testament alone, because it is more than just a book. The arts of allegorical interpretation would have made short work of a mere book. If, like Christ, the Jews had disappeared from the world, they would denote only the Idea of a People, and Zion the Idea of the Midpoint of the World, just as Christ denotes only the Idea of Man. But the sturdy and undeniable vitality of the Jewish people – to which anti-Semitism itself attests – opposes itself to such ‘idealization’. That Christ is more than idea – no Christian can know this. But that Israel is more than an idea, the Christian knows, because he sees it. For we live. We are eternal, not in the way that an idea might be eternal, but we are eternal in full reality, if eternal we be at all. And thus we are the one thing that Christians cannot doubt … Our presence stands surety for their truth.”
1. The Laach Maria monster, June 1, 2005.