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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Pope Benedict, The Jews and the "Good Friday Prayer"

In which I finally attempt to play 'catchup' and navigate the waters of controversy regarding the Pope's revision to the Good Friday Prayer for the Jews. This post may be updated as I come across additional pertinent articles. -- Christopher]


First, let's examine the prayer itself, its revisions, and the reaction of Jewish brethren, since therein lies the controversy. (Using as my source Wikipedia "Good Friday Prayer for the Jews -- with all the caveats about employing a public encyclopedia, and not being a liturgical expert I sincerely welcome correction should readers spot a mistake in reporting, translation or history ).

The "Prayer for the Jews" in its original formulation dates back to 1570, reading as follows:

Let us pray also for the faithless Jews [Latin: "perfidia iudaica"]: that Almighty God may remove the veil from their hearts (2 Corinthians 3:13-16); so that they too may acknowledge Jesus Christ our Lord. Almighty and eternal God, who dost not exclude from thy mercy even Jewish faithlessness: hear our prayers, which we offer for the blindness of that people; that acknowledging the light of thy Truth, which is Christ, they may be delivered from their darkness. Through the same Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.
In 1959, Pope John XXIII removed from the Good Friday liturgy the adjective "perfidi - while correctly translated as "faithless" or "unbelieving", there was a common misconception that the Latin perfidis was equivalent to "perfidious", leading to denunciations of the Jews as treacherous. (For further details, see the German edition of Zenit News service: "The Good Friday intercessions: a long history" February 6, 2008; translation via the blog Catholic Conservation).

According to Zenit News Service:

That same year, [Pope John XXIII] also eliminated from the rite of baptism the phrase used for Jewish catechumens: "Horresce Jusaicam perfidiam, respue Hebraicam superstitionem" (Disavow Jewish unbelieving, deny Hebrew superstition). ...

The 1962 missal was promulgated with an apostolic letter issued "motu proprio" by John XXIII "Rubricarum Instructum." The missal does not make reference to "perfidious Jews."

On Good Friday in 1963, John XXIII underlined the importance of this decision when the old formulation of the prayer for the Jews was read. The Pope interrupted the liturgy and asked that that the liturgical invocations begin again from the beginning, following the new text.

It was Pope John XXIII's liturgical innovation that inspired Professor Jules Isaac to seek out an audience with him in 1960 and petition for the repudiation of what he referred to as the "teaching of contempt" -- certainly not the official teaching of the Church, but no less pernicious, which he believed culminated in the inexplicable silence and apathy of many Christians toward the Nazi persecution of the Jewish people.

According to various accounts, Isaac met with Pope John for three days. Upon leaving he said to the Pope, "Can I leave with hope?" And the Pope responded, "You are entitled to more than hope."

On Good Friday in 1963, John XXIII underlined the importance of this decision when the old formulation of the prayer for the Jews was read. The Pope interrupted the liturgy and asked that that the liturgical invocations begin again from the beginning, following the new text.

The Roman Missal adopted by Pope Paul VI in 1969, and put into effect in 1970, reformulated the prayer. Because of a similar potential for misinterpretation, the reference to the veil on the hearts of the Jews, which was based on 2 Corinthians 3:14, was removed. The 1973 ICEL English translation of the revised prayer is as follows:

Let us pray for the Jewish people, the first to hear the word of God, that they may continue to grow in the love of his name and in faithfulness to his covenant. (Prayer in silence. Then the priest says:) Almighty and eternal God, long ago you gave your promise to Abraham and his posterity. Listen to your Church as we pray that the people you first made your own may arrive at the fullness of redemption. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Concerns about the motu proprio "Summorum Pontificum"

On 7 July 2007, the Vatican released Pope Benedict XVI's motu proprio entitled, Summorum Pontificum which permitted more widespread celebration of Mass according to the "Missal promulgated by John XXIII in 1962".

While the term "perfidis" was indeed removed, the 1962 missal's references to the Jews is still subject to theological criticism. For what it's worth, a summary of the objections can be found in the Statement of the Discussion Group "Jews and Christians" of the Central Committee of German Catholics (April 4, 2007):

The Missale Romanum of 1962 contains the Good Friday Intercession "for the conversion of the Jews" (pro conversione Iudaeorum). Although this rite no longer includes the denigrating descriptions of the Jews as acting "perfidiously" (perfidus) and/or as "perfidious" (perfidia), the Good Friday Intercession otherwise expresses the overall [demeaning] perspective of the text as it has been prayed in the Liturgy of Good Friday since the Middle Ages. The intercession speaks of the "blindness" (obcaecatio) of the Jewish people and says that the Jewish people walk "in darkness" (tenebrae). This contradicts in a striking way the conciliar declaration Nostra Aetate, which states in chapter 4:
Sounding the depths of the mystery which is the church, this sacred council remembers the spiritual ties which link the people of the new covenant to the stock of Abraham. [...] the apostle Paul maintains that the Jews remain very dear to God, for the sake of the patriarchs, since God does not take back the gifts he bestowed or the choice he made. (see Romans 11,28-29; see Lumen Gentium 16). [...] the Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from holy scripture. Consequently, all must take care, lest in catechizing or in preaching the word of God, they teach anything which is not in accord with the truth of the Gospel message or the spirit of Christ.
To revive the 1962 Missal with the old Good Friday Intercession means the denial of a substantial theological paradigm change made by the Council: in fact, the biblically-justified new understanding of the relationship of the Church to Judaism with the accompanying change to Church's own self-understanding. The traditional Good Friday Intercession still beseeched categorically that the Jews would acknowledge "our Lord Jesus Christ, the light of truth." The post-conciliar revised version is more open: it recognizes the way of salvation of the Jews, founded upon God's design, even if it asks that the Jews may "arrive at the fullness of redemption."
Pope Benedict revises again

On February 7, 2008, Zenit News reported that Pope Benedict decided to modify the the prayer for the Jewish people prayed in the Good Friday liturgy according to the 1962 Roman Missal. The changes were conveyed in a note from the Vatican Secretariat of State, published in L'Osservatore Romano.

In the revised form, the prayer now reads in English translation:

Let us also pray for the Jews. May the Lord our God illuminate their hearts so that they may recognize Jesus Christ as savior of all men. Almighty and everlasting God, you who want all men to be saved and to gain knowledge of the truth, kindly allow that, as all peoples enter into your Church, all of Israel may be saved.
(As reported by Sandro Magister), a note in La Civiltà Cattolica explained the reason for the change:
"In the current climate of dialogue and friendship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people, it seemed right and opportune to the pope [to make this change], in order to avoid any expression that might appear in the least to offend or displease the Jews."
The note concluded:
"This contains nothing that is offensive toward Jews, because in it the Church asks God what St. Paul asked for Christians: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ may enlighten the eyes of the Ephesians' hearts, that they may understand the gift of salvation that they have in Jesus Christ (cf. Ephesians 1:18-23). The Church, in fact, believes that salvation is only in Jesus Christ, as is said in the Acts of the Apostles (4:12). It is clear, besides, that Christian prayer can be nothing other than 'Christian', meaning that it is founded upon the faith – which is not that of all – that Jesus is the Savior of all men. For this reason, the Jews have no reason to be offended if the Church asks God to enlighten them so that they may freely recognize Christ, the only Savior of all men, and that they too may be saved by the One whom Shalom Ben Chorin, a Jew, calls 'Brother Jesus'."

Not quite the reaction the Vatican expected

John Allen, Jr. reports on the reactions to the prayer's revision (National Catholic Reporter February 8, 2008):

As is clear from comparing the two versions, Benedict has removed some of the language that critics found offensive: references to lifting "the veil from the hearts," the "blindness of that people," and the "darkness" of the Jews. As is also clear, however, the new version does not retreat from asking that Jews may recognize Jesus Christ as Savior, so that it remains a supplication for conversion.

Based on early exit polls, Benedict's attempt to meet his critics half-way appears to have left almost no one fully satisfied.

As The New York Times noted, some Catholic traditionalists are disturbed - if not by the content of the new prayer itself, then by the precedent that the old Mass can be bowdlerized in response to external pressure. (Some liturgical experts, by the way, think this may be the lasting significance of the pope's decision. As one put it to me this week, "It shows that the '62 missal can be reformed, that it's not inviolable or frozen in time.")

Many Jewish leaders and organizations are equally disgruntled, because despite what the Anti-Defamation League called "cosmetic" revisions, the prayer still remains an explicit appeal for conversion. The question of missionary efforts directed at Jews has long been perhaps the sorest point in Christian/Jewish relations.

"We are deeply troubled and disappointed that the framework and intention to petition God for Jews to accept Jesus as Lord was kept intact," said Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League.

John Allen Jr. also mentions "A further constituency" of critics: "liberal Catholics who don't care for the old Mass for a variety of reasons, as well as veterans of Catholic/Jewish dialogue who see all this as a headache they don't need." He cites Fr. John Pawlikowski of the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago:
"Even though only a small number of Catholics may pray the new version of the prayer, it creates a situation of the church seemingly speaking with two voices (the 1970 prayer and the new prayer) that do not dovetail easily. Which represents the more authentic theology of the Catholic Church with regard to the Jewish people? This situation compromises Catholic integrity."
Pawlikowski elaborates on this in Praying for the Jews: Two Views on the New Good Friday Prayer Commonweal March 14, 2008 / Volume CXXXV, Number 5):
The 1970 Missal, the definitive response to the liturgical changes mandated by Vatican II, further revised the 1965 prayer. It acknowledged the Jewish people’s faithfulness to God, but left open the eschatological resolution of the apparent conflict between Christ’s universal salvific action and the Jews’ ongoing covenantal com-mitment. The 1970 prayer is clearly in the spirit of Nostra aetate, which totally rejected almost two millennia of Christian theological perspectives on the Jews, but failed to offer a definitive replacement. That task was left to subsequent generations of theologians and biblical scholars, work that has in fact been taking place since the end of the council. Two such ongoing efforts are the Christ and the Jewish People consultation, jointly sponsored by Boston College, the Pontifical Gregorian University, the Catholic Theological Union, and the Catholic University of Leuven with the encouragement of Cardinal Walter Kasper; and the multiyear study project on Paul and Judaism at the Catholic University of Leuven.

In an official international Vatican-Jewish dialogue in Venice in 1977, Tomaso Federici, a lay scholar highly respected in Vatican circles, proposed that in light of Nostra aetate Catholicism should formally renounce any proselytizing of the Jews. The official published version of his paper, which appeared several years later, was altered to call for a rejection of “undue” proselytizing.

A few years ago, Cardinal Kasper wrote that there is no need to proselytize Jews because they have authentic revelation and because, in the understanding of Vatican II, they remain in the covenant. But he did add that Catholicism must also retain a notion of Christ’s universal salvific work. Unfortunately, he never pursued how these two theological affirmations might be integrated.

Contrary to Vatican II?

The Discussion Group "Jews and Christians" of the Central Committee of German Catholics, voices similar complaint, calling it "A New Burden on Christian-Jewish Relations"

On the one hand in the prayer of 1970, which is said on Good Friday in the ordinary Rite of the Roman Catholic Church almost everywhere, the church expresses unequivocally her appreciation of the dignity of Israel, God’s chosen people, to whom God has given the promises and a Covenant, that was never revoked and will never be revoked (cf. Rom 9:4 and 11:29 and the Declaration of the Second Vatican Council, Nostra aetate, 4). On the other hand the Church acknowledges that the Jews who are faithful to God’s covenant and live in the love of His name are on the path to salvation. She asks that God lead Israel to fulfillment along this path. The church does not speak here of a Jewish confession of Jesus Christ to be a condition for salvation, because she trusts that their being faithful in God’s covenant will lead the Jews to their salvation. This conviction was also clearly expressed in our discussion group’s statement, “Jews and Christians in Germany: Responsibility in Today’s Pluralistic Society” of 13 April 2005: “According to Christian faith, Jesus Christ is 'the Yes and the Amen' (2 Cor 1:20) of God’s irrevocable fidelity to Israel and to the whole world. Nevertheless, there is salvation for Jewish people who do not believe in Jesus as the Christ because of God’s covenant with them.”

Shortly after the release of "Summorum Pontificum", Avvenire featured an interview with Archbishop Amato of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in which he responded to the view which pitted the extraordinary form of the prayer for the Jews against Nostrae Aetate:

Q: Your Excellency, there are those who accuse the motu proprio “Summorum Pontificum” of being anti-conciliar, because it offers full citizenship to a missal in which there is a prayer for the conversion of the Jews. Is it truly contrary to the letter and spirit of the Council to formulate this prayer?

A: Certainly not. In the Mass, we Catholics pray always and in the first place for our conversion. And we strike our breasts for our sins. And then we pray for the conversion of all Christians and all non-Christians. The Gospel is for all.”

Q: But the objection is raised that the prayer for the conversion of the Jews was definitively surpassed by the one in which the Lord is asked to help them to progress in fidelity to his covenant.

A: Jesus himself affirms, in the Gospel of Saint Mark: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel,” and his first interlocutors were his Jewish confreres. We Christians can do nothing other than re-propose what Jesus taught us. In freedom and without imposition, obviously, but also without self-censorship.

Two Ways of Salvation or One?

Reading Fr. Powlakowski and the response of the Central Committee of German Catholics, one receives the impression that Jesus Christ plays no role in the salvation of the Jews; the The Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, however, is quite clear on the correct interpretation of Nostra Aetate on this subject ("On the correct way to present the Jews and Judaism in preaching and catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church" June 24, 1985):

7. "In virtue of her divine mission, the Church" which is to be "the all-embracing means of salvation" in which alone "the fulness of the means of salvation can be obtained" (Unit. Red. 3); "must of her nature proclaim Jesus Christ to the world" (cf. Guidelines and Suggestions, I). Indeed we believe that is is through him that we go to the Father (cf. Jn. 14:6) "and this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent" (Jn 17:33).

Jesus affirms (ibid. 10:16) that "there shall be one flock and one shepherd". Church and Judaism cannot then be seen as two parallel ways of salvation and the Church must witness to Christ as the Redeemer for all, "while maintaining the strictest respect for religious liberty in line with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council (Declaration Dignitatis Humanae)" (Guidelines and Suggestions, I).

Responding to the "Two Ways of Salvation" thesis ("there is no need to offer the Jews entry into the new covenant in Jesus Christ as God's covenant with the people of Israel was never revoked, and is alone salvific"), Christoph Cardinal Schönborn stated in The Tablet (Judaism’s way to salvation March 29, 2008):
... according to the New Testament and from the Christian point of view there is only one salvation in Jesus Christ, but two clearly distinguishable ways of proclaiming and accepting this salvation. In this respect it must be made clear that the overture/offer to the Jews to recognise Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah cannot simply be equated with Christ's mandate to evangelise all (heathen) nations and make them his disciples (cf. Matthew 28: 18-20).

Schonborn reminds us that "There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call upon him" (Romans 10:12) -- at the same time, it does not follow that the difference was abolished; "Even within the Church, St Paul retains a certain diversity of appeal and differentiates between Jews and Gentiles":

... St Paul distinguishes between the two vocations, between those who believed in Jesus as the Messiah who came "from circumcision" and those who converted to Christ and came "from the Gentiles". The difference lies in the way in which they communicate with each other in the Church and impart the same blessing to the world which God conferred on human beings through Jesus Christ, "For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God, in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy" (Romans 15,8-9).

By welcoming the Gospel, the Jews are witnesses of God's fidelity to his promise, while the Gentiles are witnesses of the universality of his mercy. These two appeals in the Church reflect the twofold way of the same salvation in Christ, one for Jews and one for Gentiles. Thus the same Jesus Christ is simultaneously "a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel" (Luke 2:32).

Consequently, this twofold way of receiving salvation calls for a twofold way of bearing witness to the Gospel message for Christians and a twofold catechumenal way to prepare for the same baptism in the one Jesus.

If the Church has apologized for all forms of compulsion ("proselytism" in the negative sense), it does not follow that they havea abandoned Christ's mandate to proclaim the Gospel "to the Jews first"; rather,
it means that this mandate must be carried out in the most sensitive way, cleansed of all un-Christian motives. Prayer, the offering of life, tokens of unselfish love and above all recognition of Jewish identity should win "the goodwill of all the people" (Acts 2:47) for the disciples of Jesus so that bearing witness to their faith in Christ, proposed with due respect and humility, may be recognised by them (the Jews) as the fulfilment - and not as a denial - of the promise of which they are the bearers.
Schonborn also recommends in the context of this article Cardinal Dulles' critique of dual-covenant theology "Covenant and Mission" (America October 21, 2002).

Kasper's Defense

In the past I admit I have been critical of Cardinal Kasper, head of the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews. In the past, he has often served as foil to then-Prefect Cardinal Ratzinger, "watering down" the CDF's forceful teaching on the salvific role of Christ, his Church and evangelization.

In fact, Cardinal Kasper address at a joint meeting between the Rabbinic Committee for Interreligious Dialogue and the USCCB's Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs seems to have contributed to such an erroneous "dual covenant" understanding.

Discussions at this meeting later culminated in the 2002 statement, Reflections on Covenant and Mission -- which concluded that "evangelizing task [of the Church] no longer includes the wish to absorb the Jewish faith into Christianity" and that "Jews already dwell in a saving covenant with God." The ensuing controversy prompting Cardinal Keeler to later distance himself, stating that the document "does not represent a formal position taken by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) or the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (BCEIA)."

In light of which, there are some indications that Cardinal Kasper is "stepping up" in his presentation:

From Catholic News Service: Vatican cardinal defends reformulation of Tridentine prayer for Jews February 7, 2008:

The pope removed language that spoke of the "blindness" of the Jews, which Cardinal Kasper said was "a little offensive."

"The Holy Father wanted to remove this point, but he also wanted to underline the specific difference that exists between us and Judaism," the cardinal said.

That difference is that for Christians Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God, he said.

"This difference cannot be hidden. The Holy Father wanted to say, yes, Jesus Christ is the savior of all men, even the Jews. He says this in his prayer," Cardinal Kasper said.

"But if this prayer, today, speaks of the conversion of the Jews, that doesn't mean we intend to carry out a mission," he said.

Rather, he said, the pope's revised prayer expresses an "eschatological hope" by citing St. Paul's expectation that when "the full number of the Gentiles" enters the church, then all Israel will be saved.

In effect, Cardinal Kasper said, the pope has removed the "language of contempt" and replaced it with words that express honest differences.

True dialogue between faiths must always accept the identity of the other, he said.

"We respect the identity of the Jews; they should respect ours, which we cannot hide," he said.

"I don't see this as an obstacle, but rather as a challenge for true theological dialogue," he said.

Haaretz reports another conversation with the Cardinal (Vatican rejects criticism of new prayer for Jewish conversion February 7, 2008):

"We think that reasonably this prayer cannot be an obstacle to dialogue because it reflects the faith of the Church and, furthermore, Jews have prayers in their liturgical texts that we Catholics don't like,"

"I must say that I don't understand why Jews cannot accept that we can make use of our freedom to formulate our prayers," Kasper, a German, told the Corriere della Sera.

"One must accept and respect differences," said the cardinal.

Also, On Good Friday, Cardinal Kasper published a commentary on the new prayer in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung -- a full English translation will hopefully be forthcoming, but Dr. Thomas Pink, Centre for Philosophical Studies, King's College London), provides four key points worth considering:

  1. Kasper acknowledges that the 2008 prayer brings out important presuppositions of Catholic faith concerning the Jews left only implicit in the 1970 prayer, and emphasises that Nostra Aetate has to be interpreted in the context of all of Vatican II - (including presumably Lumen Gentium para 9, which refers to the Church as a New Israel in which Jew and Gentile are to be united in a new and more perfect covenant?)
    [Kasper:] The new formulation of 1962 says nothing new, but only expresses what was hitherto assumed as straightforward, but clearly not sufficiently thematised.f
  2. Kasper now openly acknowledges that the prayer is straightforwardly for Jewish conversion, something he initially hedged about in a private letter to a US Rabbi.

    [Kasper:] The word conversion does not appear in the new formulation of the prayer. But it is implicit in the prayer for the Jews to be enlightened so that they recognise Jesus Christ. It should also be observed that the 1962 Missal provides the individual intercessions with titles; and the title reads as before: 'Pro conversione Judaeorum - for the conversion of the Jews'
  3. Kasper still opposes a targeted mission to the Jews. But his rationale, which is Pauline, is not likely to appeal to Catholic liberals. It is nothing to do with the Jews having their own separate means of salvation. Rather, God has hardened the hearts of the Jews against Christ their saviour, and so it is for God not us to unharden them.
    [Kasper:] Only He who has hardened the mass of Israel can undo this hardening again. He will do this when the 'Saviour' comes from Zion. That is in Paul's language none other than the returning Christ. For Jews and Gentiles have the same Lord.

  4. While opposing a targeted mission, Kasper calls for Christian witness to the Jews, on the model of St Paul who on visiting Greek cities, preached to the local synagogue first before addressing the Gentiles (note parallel here with Schoenborn - witness to the Jews precedes that to the Gentiles.)
    [Kasper:] The exclusion of a targeted and organised mission to the Jews does not mean that Christians should just sit around. One must distinguish between targeted and organised mission and Christian witness. Naturally Christians should, when appropriate, give witness of their faith and of the riches and beauty of belief in Jesus Christ to 'their elder brothers and sisters in the faith of Abraham' (John Paul II). That Paul did also. On his journeys of mission, he went first to the synagogue, and only then when he found no belief there did he go to the Gentiles.
A Rabbi and Priest speak in solidarity

Not all Jews expressed adverse reactions, according to Zenit News Service. Among those expressing understanding and sympathy was Rabbi Jacob Neusner (prominently featured in a chapter of Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth):

Among the reactions, an article published Feb. 23 in the German newspaper Die Tagespost is noteworthy. The article, written by Jacob Neusner, professor of History and Theology of Judaism in Bard College, supports the explanation given by the cardinal, explaining that the prayer does nothing more than express Christian identity.

"Israel prays for the gentiles, so the other monotheists -- the Catholic church included -- have the right to do the same, and no one should feel offended. Any other policy toward the gentiles would deny gentiles access to the one God whom Israel knows in the Torah," wrote [Rabbi Neusner]. ...

"And the Catholic prayer expresses the same generous spirit that characterizes Judaism at worship. God’s kingdom opens its gates to all humanity and when at worship the Israelites ask for the speedy advent of God’s kingdom, they express the same liberality of spirit that characterizes the Pope’s text for the prayer for the Jews -- better ‘holy Israel’ -- on Good Friday," the Jewish professor explained.

"Both ‘It is our duty’ and ‘Let us also pray for the Jews’ realize the logic of monotheism and its eschatological hope," Neusner concluded.

The full text of Rabbi Neusner's article was republished by Sandro Magister, alongside a biblically-rich explication by Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the pontifical council for culture:
This intense hope is obviously proper to the Church, which has at its center, as fountain of salvation, Jesus Christ. For the Christian, he is the Son of God and is the visible and efficacious sign of divine love, because as Jesus had said that night to "a ruler of the Jews," Nicodemus, "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son... God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him" (cf. John 3:16-17). It is, therefore, from Jesus Christ, son of God and son of Israel, that there arises the purifying and fecundating stream of salvation, for which reason one can also say in the final analysis, as Christ does in John's Gospel, that "salvation is from the Jews" (4:22). The estuary of the history hoped for by the Church is, therefore, rooted in this spring.

We repeat: this is the Christian vision, and it is the hope of the Church that prays. It is not a programmatic proposal of theoretical adherence, nor is it a missionary strategy of conversion. It is the attitude characteristic of the prayerful invocation according to which one hopes also for the persons considered near to oneself, those dear and important, a reality that one maintains is precious and salvific. An important exponent of French culture in the 20th century, Julien Green, wrote that "it is always beautiful and legitimate to wish for the other what is for you a good or a joy: if you think you are offering a true gift, do not hold back your hand." Of course, this must always take place in respect for freedom and for the different paths that the other adopts. But it is an expression of affection to wish for your brother what you consider a horizon of light and life.

See A Bishop and a Rabbi Defend the Prayer for the Salvation of the Jews by Sandro Magister. www.Chiesa. March 7, 2008).

German Jews severe ties

In March 31, 2008, the Jerusalem Post reported that the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Charlotte Knobloch, severed relations with the Catholic Church out of disappointment with the prayer:

"As long as Pope Benedict does not return to the previous wording, I assume that there will not be any further dialogue [such as we had] in the past," said Knobloch. ...

The Vatican's liaison to Jewish groups, Cardinal Walter Kasper, has argued that the prayer is not a missionary statement; rather, the wording reflects the desire of the Catholic Church for all people to be saved through Jesus Christ. Knobloch, however, says that "implicit in the Good Friday prayer is a subtle call to proselytize Jews, which I must characterize as an affront that is arrogant and clearly a backward step in the Christian-Jewish dialogue."

Der Spiegel also carried an interview with prominent German rabbi Walter Homolka:
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Homolka, you -- and around 1,600 rabbis worldwide -- are sharply protesting the Vatican's revival of the Latin Good Friday Prayer, which reads: "Let us also pray for the Jews: That our God and Lord may illuminate their hearts, that they acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men." Do you consider Benedict XVI to be anti-Semitic?

Walter Homolka: He is trying to focus on the specific aspects of his church -- that's his duty. But in this case he has lost his sensitivity. It is insulting to Jews that the Catholic Church, in the context of Good Friday of all things, is once again praying for the illumination of the Jews, so that we can acknowledge Jesus as the savior. Such statements are made in a historical context which is closely connected with discrimination, persecution and death. Given the weight of responsibility that the Catholic Church has acquired in its history with Judaism, most recently during the Third Reich, this is completely inappropriate and must be rejected to the utmost degree.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What is the effect of Benedict's new version of the Latin phrase?

Homolka: He indicates that he believes that the path to salvation, even for Jews, can only go through Jesus, the savior. This opens the floodgates for the conversion of Jews. The Internet is already full of comments by conservative, right-wing Catholics who say: "Wonderful, now we finally have the signal to convert the Jews." This kind of signal has an extremely provocative effect on anti-Semitic groups. The Catholic Church does not have its anti-Semitic tendencies under control.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So Benedict is encouraging anti-Semitic tendencies?

Homolka: He is accepting them, at the very least.

Rabbi Homolka is clearly prone to hyperbole, but Germany's Jews have had a rough time of it in recent years (anti-semitism appears to be on the rise in Germany).

Even so, Van Wallach of the "liberal, hawkish" Jewish blog Kesher Talk questions the outrage over the prayer ("That's Right, We Bad, We Perfidious: The Upside of the Latin Mass"):

Alarm about the Latin Mass assumes people understand Latin. How many do? Wouldn't that signal a widespread return to classical learning in the West, instead of a threat to Jews, if Latin revived? If Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ couldn't ignite pogroms, then I hardly think a few Latin references, however troubling, will cause outbreaks of violence. That only happens when the culture is already well fertilized with Jew hatred. If a society is primed to despise Jews, well, that's going to happen whether the Mass contains a few references to us or not.

In the great continuum of threats to the physical and mental safety of Jews, the Tridentine Mass ranks right up there banana peels on the sidewalks of Columbus Avenue. My concerns circle back to guys who dream of a Second Holocaust and shoot up JCCs, or proclaims Jews monkeys and pigs -- and act on their lunacy. Let's put our anxiety where the real threats are and not get bent out of shape about Latin.

Vatican plays "damage control"

On April 2nd, JTA (Jewish & Israel News) reported that Pope Benedict XVI was preparing to clarify the Vatican’s position on the controversial Good Friday Prayer for the Jews:

The Vatican will issue a letter within a week aimed at easing Jewish fears that the Catholic Church wants to convert them, said the chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, Rabbi David Rosen.

Rosen, who has seen a preliminary draft of the letter, said it will come from the pope via the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

On April 4th, the Vatican press office issued a communiqué released today by the Vatican press office on the publication of the new "Oremus et pro Iudaeis" for the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal:

The Holy See wishes to reassure that the new formulation of the Prayer, which modifies certain expressions of the 1962 Missal, in no way intends to indicate a change in the Catholic Church's regard for the Jews which has evolved from the basis of the Second Vatican Council, particularly the Declaration Nostra Aetate. In fact, Pope Benedict XVI, in an audience with the Chief Rabbis of Israel on 15 September 2005, remarked that this document "has proven to be a milestone on the road towards the reconciliation of Christians with the Jewish people." The continuation of the position found in Nostra Aetate is clearly shown by the fact that the prayer contained in the 1970 Missal continues to be in full use, and is the ordinary form of the prayer of Catholics.

In the context of other affirmations of the Council -- on Sacred Scripture (Dei Verbum, 14) and on the Church (Lumen Gentium, 16) -- Nostra Aetate presents the fundamental principles which have sustained and today continue to sustain the bonds of esteem, dialogue, love, solidarity and collaboration between Catholics and Jews. It is precisely while examining the mystery of the Church that Nostra Aetate recalls the unique bond with which the people of the New Testament is spiritually linked with the stock of Abraham and rejects every attitude of contempt or discrimination against Jews, firmly repudiating any kind of anti-Semitism.

Despite the Holy See's hope that the statement would clarify any misunderstanding, some remain dissatisfied:
The Anti-Defamation League said a statement from the Vatican that the new formulation of the prayer "in no way intends to indicate a change in the Catholic Church's regard for the Jews," did not go far enough.

"On this issue the Vatican has taken two steps forward and three steps backward," Abraham Foxman, the league's national director, said in a statement.

According to the head Rabbi of Rome, "We are not satisfied: what we wanted was to hear a Vatican statement in touch with the times and to hear that the Church does not pray for the conversion of Jews, or at least that it will not pray for this until the forever and that God only helps one group of people ... [the Vatican's statement] did not clarify this point: the question remains completely unresolved"."

* * *

  • Back in 2002, I had posted an essay entitled Jewish & Christian Relations: Mixed Signals from the Vatican, on the Vatican's response to the controversy and confusion over the document "Reflections on Covenant and Mission" by the Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, USCCB and the National Council of Synagogues. Nothing has changed since that time: the same issues -- the same conflicting theological perspectives and factions (even within the Jewish-Christian dialogue), are battling it out once again. In a sense, Benedict's renewal of the Latin Mass and 1962 Missal and his revisions to the prayer have brought things to a head.

  • There seems to be confusion over the terms proselytism and evangelization -- Cardinal Francis Arinze, former head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious dialogue and one quite familiar with the term, proselytism is generally understood to mean the effort to spread one's religion by methods that are regarded as unnacceptable. These might include coercion by physical (through harrassment and threat of violence), economic (through the promise of material gifts), and psychological (taking advantage of one's ignorance) means -- all of which deserve condemnation since they insult the human dignity of the recipient, infringes upon one's religious freedom, and does no honor to God.

    Search through the history of Christian-Jewish relations, and you will likely find examples of all of the above. However, as Lawrence Uzzell pointed out, proselytism "is most often invoked by those who ultimately oppose all forms of Christian evangelism. If the Apostles had refrained from everything that today is lumped under the term, there would have been no carrying out of the Great Commission and the Church might have died in its infancy. Precisely because it labels all missionary activity pejoratively, the term is no help in distinguishing the legitimate from the illegitimate." ("Don't Call It Proselytism" First Things October 2004)

    This seems to describe those within the Jewish community (and not a few "liberal Catholic" participants in the dialogue) who lump together any effort to witness the gospel proselytization, for whom the very suggestion that they might be saved, even implicitly, through the sacrifice of Christ is verboten.

  • There are those who hold to a strict interpretation of Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, insisting that those who are not formally and explicitly baptized in the Church are damned (popularly known as "Feeneyism", roundly condemned by the Church in 1949); there are also those who hold to a radically liberal interpretation of salvation -- to the point of suggesting that Christ's sacrifice is but "one of many" paths to salvation. John Paul II and Benedict XVI (both in his present office as well as in his prior role as Prefect of the CDF) have steered a path between this theological "Scylla and Charybdis." Two prominent examples of this are John Paul II's Redemptoris Missio and the now-famous Dominus Iesus, which while agreeing to the possibility of "participated forms of mediation" in salvation, nevertheless stated "solutions that propose a salvific action of God beyond the unique mediation of Christ would be contrary to Christian and Catholic faith."

  • Fr. Peter Phan at least recognizes the "catch-22" for what it is:
    “Jews, who do not share our faith in Christ, are in a saving covenant with God,” if anything, exacerbates the problems posed by religious pluralism, since it is claimed that at least one non-Christian religion, namely Judaism, is a way of salvation (“a saving covenant with God”) apart, at least prima facie, from Christ and Christianity.

    The challenge for Roman Catholic theologians then is to articulate a coherent and credible Christology and soteriology (theology of salvation) that honors the Christian belief in Jesus as the savior of all humankind and at the same time includes the affirmation that Judaism is and remains eternally a “saving covenant with God.”

    Phan advocates a "post-supersessionist Christology" that will "not so much to elaborate a Christian theology of Judaism as such (which may or may not be interested in having its faith validated by Christians) as to reflect on how Christians should understand themselves in reference to Judaism"; that will adamantly reject the idea that "God’s self-gift to and covenant with Israel have been abolished, either because of Israel’s guilt in rejecting and killing Jesus (as implied in the charge of faithlessness and deicide against the Jews) or because of the intrinsic superiority of Jesus’ ministry and of Christianity (the “New” Covenant supplanting the “Old” Covenant)". I find Phan to be very perceptive in recognizing the challenge, howbeit this has also led him into some troubling speculative territory on religious pluralism, meriting the attention of the U.S. Bishops' Doctrinal Committee as well as the CDF.


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