National Catholic Register


Praying for The Jews

Catholics Defend Good Friday Petition



February 24-March 1, 2008 Issue | Posted 2/19/08 at 2:28 PM


VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI has revised a Good Friday prayer in the extraordinary form of the Mass.

The Church will continue to pray that Jewish people recognize Jesus Christ as Savior of all mankind. But the new version drops references that could be construed as pejorative.

However, the move has angered many prominent Jewish leaders. They claim that since the 1965 release of Nostre Aetate, the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, the Church has taught that Jews need not convert to Christianity in order to obtain salvation.

That’s simply not true, according to David Moss, president of the St. Louis-based Association of Hebrew Catholics.

“Absolutely not,” said Moss, who is a convert from Judaism. “Nostre Aetate says none of that.”

The newly formulated prayer, prayed when the Communion service is celebrated in Latin on Good Friday, begins, “Let us pray for the Jews. May the Lord our God enlighten their hearts so that they may acknowledge Jesus Christ, the savior of all men.”

The prayer continues, “Almighty and everlasting God, you who want all men to be saved and to reach the knowledge of the truth, graciously grant that, as the full number of the Gentiles comes into your church, all Israel may be saved.”

The text is based on 1 Timothy 2:4 and Romans 11:25-26.

The previous version of the prayer referred to the “blindness” of the Jews and appealed that they “be delivered from their darkness,” and that God “may take the veil from their hearts.”

A reference to “perfidious Jews” was dropped in 1959.

When the reformulated prayer was announced in early February, Vatican officials stressed that it applies only to the extraordinary form of the Mass in Latin, and that its use would be exceptional since this form is not widely celebrated during the three days leading up to Easter.

In spite of the Pope’s accommodations to Jewish sensitivities, many Jewish leaders were not appeased.

“While we appreciate that some of the deprecatory language has been removed ... we are deeply troubled and disappointed that the framework and intention to petition God for Jews to accept Jesus as Lord was kept intact,” Abraham Foxman, U.S. national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a Feb. 6 statement.

In comments to the Register Feb. 7, Rabbi David Rosen, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee and a close dialogue partner with the Vatican, said the reformulated prayer was at odds with what he has come to expect from the Church.

He said Nostra Aetate affirmed the validity of God’s divine covenant with the Jewish people, as did further developments in the Church, including a statement by Pope John Paul II that the original covenant with the Jews will “never be abrogated.”

Rosen also referred to the 1970 Novus Ordo Missal, in use in most Catholic Masses today, which contains a prayer indicating that Jews may continue to be faithful to that original covenant.

“While it left the question of the fullness of salvation ambiguous, it did not include any explicit call for [conversion],” said Rosen.

The American rabbi acknowledged that the Good Friday prayer is an internal matter for Catholics, but said the reformulation reflects “a state of mind that is exclusivist and triumphalist” and “not conducive to mutually respectful relations.”

Defenders of the reformulated prayer point out that while Nostre Aetate emphatically rejects all forms of anti-Semitism and recognizes that the Church “received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in his inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant,” it does not imply the Church should not desire the conversion of the Jews.

And a subsequent Vatican document, published in 1985 by the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, specifically rejects the claim that a separate way of salvation is available to them.

Citing Jesus’ affirmation in John 10:16 that “there shall be one flock and one shepherd,” the Vatican document states that the 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.”

Cardinal Kasper

Cardinal Walter Kasper, the president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Affairs, responded with surprise to the angry Jewish reaction.

The cardinal told the Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera that Jewish leaders should recognize that Catholic prayers reflect Catholic doctrines, Catholic World News reported Feb. 7.

Said Cardinal Kasper, “I do not understand why Jews cannot accept this.”

Speaking to Vatican Radio, Cardinal Kasper, who heads the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, said the Pope made the changes because he “wanted to underline the specific difference that exists between us and Judaism.”

“The difference cannot be hidden,” he said. “The Holy Father wanted to say, ‘Yes, Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men, even the Jews.’”

Cardinal Kasper said Benedict in effect 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, the cardinal 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.”

Rabbi Yehuda Levin of the Rabbinical Alliance of America said the reaction of Jewish leaders needs to be put in context.

“You have to understand that, historically, we’re still in the shadows of long line of terrible tragedies for the Jewish people,” he said. “There is, therefore, a legitimate fear by many in Jewish community that if many Catholics, who may not have regular interchange with Jews, only know them through liturgical references that might be negative, it may perhaps not lead to active anti-Semitism, but to anti-Jewish feelings which, in this ecumenical era, people feel is a thing of past.”

However, Levin said he was “very strongly against” other faiths “taking a microscope to examine liturgies of other religions” because “we don’t want our rituals being trifled with by any officials and certainly other faiths.”

The sensitivities of the Jews, he said, need to be balanced against interference in the sacred character of other religions.

‘Prayer of Love’

Moss agrees that the Church should respect the sensitivities of the Jews. He said Benedict has done exactly that, by discarding the references to “blindness” and “living in darkness” in the old Good Friday prayer that Moss said are “offensive” to Jewish people.

“To take that language out is proper,” Moss said. “But to take away the desire for them to know the love and mercy of Jesus who heals us, who forgives our sins, who can enable us to spend eternity with him — how can that be seen as negative?”

Added Moss, “That’s a prayer of love.”

(Register staff and

CNS contributed to this story.)

Edward Pentin writes from Rome.