The Good Friday Prayer for the Jews

Let us pray, and also for the Jews: May our God and Lord enlighten their hearts, so that they may acknowledge Jesus Christ, saviour of all men. Let us kneel… Almighty and Everlasting God, who desirest that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth; mercifully grant that, as the fullness of the Gentiles enters into Thy Church, all Israel may be saved. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

The controversy over the revised Good Friday prayer for the Jews is still hot. While changing the prayer at all was something we thought unnecessary, having read the new text, we find there is cause for rejoicing. Not that it is better than the old prayer, but in the present state of things, the change had the good effect of making explicit the Church’s desire to convert Jews, and this in the face of hubristic demands that such a charitable desire be muted entirely. This explains Abraham Foxman’s ungraceful reaction, as well as the more serious statements of Rome’s Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, as cited by Time:

Rome’s chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni told reporters that the prayer brings Catholic-Jewish relations “back 43 years,” noting that the 1960s Second Vatican Council had spoken of an “alliance” between the two faiths. Di Segni spoke indignantly about reassurances he said he’d received from Church leaders that his concerns about the conversion language would have been addressed. It raises questions about just what is the “image of the Jewish people for the Church,” said Di Segni. “It’s an old question: What are the Jews doing here on earth? If this [prayer] is the requirement for dialogue, it is intolerable. Evidently, the Church is having problems rediscovering the foundations of its orthodoxy.”

For their part, the Italian Rabbinical Assembly has called for a suspension of their decades-long dialogue with the Holy See. This will allow, they say, a “pause for reflection in the dialogue.” In their statement, they label the new prayer “an abandonment of the very conditions for dialogue,” those conditions presumably being the complete abandonment by the Catholic Church of an effort to convert the Jews.

News reports were in the press on Monday showing that more and more Jewish groups are considering what their reaction will be. Many of them seem inclined to follow the lead of Rabbi Di Segni. (It is not my intention to present a roundup of who has said what. Catholic World News has done that with a page of links to various media outlets and organizations who have given their views on the issue.)A priest-friend makes a good point on this score. Foxman and company:…would have much preferred that the Pope leave the old prayer unchanged in the 1962 Missal than that he give them this new one, because now they can no longer keep claiming that the MODERN Vatican no longer seeks nor prays for their conversion to Christ! They would have continued to dismiss the old Good Friday prayer as an outdated “relic” that supposedly doesn’t reflect the “real” teaching of the modern Catholic Church.

As it is, the Holy Father has affirmed traditional doctrine in this new prayer. For that, we cannot thank him enough.

The USCCB released a statement, from Bishop Richard Sklba, Auxiliary Bishop of Milwaukee and Chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. One paragraph from that statement is worthy of reflection: “Pope Benedict XVI has chosen to present the relationship of the Church and the Jews within the mystery of salvation as found in Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans (cf. Rom 11:11-32). Central to the concerns of the Holy Father is the clear articulation that salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ and his Church. It is a faith that must never be imposed but always freely chosen.” (my emphasis)

Pay attention to that italicized affirmation. Note that His Excellency did not say that “salvation comes through Jesus Christ…”. That would allow all sorts of Rhanerian end-runs around the dogmatic truth. His Excellency said that “salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ and his Church.” That’s a firm confirmation of the necessity of the theological virtue of Faith, adding to it the role of the Church.

Thank you, Bishop Sklba!

Some recent statements of the Holy Father, not on this topic, are germane to the larger dogmatic and pastoral questions. The new prayer was published on Tuesday. Two days later, on Thursday, February 7, the Sovereign Pontiff met with the priests of the Rome Diocese in the Vatican’s Hall of Blessings. This was his customary Lenten meeting with priests. According to Vatican Information Services’ release of February 8, Pope Benedict affirmed the traditional teaching on the Church’s mission to evangelize:

Dialogue, he said, means respecting others. Yet, he explained, this dimension of dialogue does not exclude the announcement of the Gospel, which is a gift of Truth that we cannot keep for ourselves but must also offer to others.

Mission is not imposition, rather it means offering the gift of God and allowing His goodness to illuminate us. To do otherwise, said the Pope, would be to neglect a duty. We too would be unfaithful if we did not present our own faith while respecting the freedom of others, he added, highlighting the importance of missionary work. Dialogue and mission do not exclude one another, but need one another.

The Holy Father also dwelt on the importance of the Final Judgement, recognising that in the Church today there is perhaps too little reference to sin, Paradise and Hell.

Some of the Holy Father’s words can be read on the Chiesa site. The overall message is that the Church is here to save souls, and that is done by bringing people to conversion, by evangelizing everyone. Ay, there’s the rub!