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Jewish leaders cannot accept a prayer for conversion

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Catholic World News

Jewish leaders cannot accept a prayer for conversion

by Phil Lawler

Feb. 7, 2008

Jewish leaders wanted Pope Benedict XVI (bio - news) to change the wording of the prayer for Jews in the traditional Good Friday liturgy. The Pope honored their request; he made a change. But the Jewish leaders aren't happy.

"While we appreciate that the text avoids any derogatory language toward Jews, it's regretful that the prayer explicitly calls for Jews to accept Christianity," said Rabbi David Rosen, the director of inter-religious affairs for the American Jewish Committee. He said that he had hoped for a more explicit Catholic recognition of "the value of the Torah as the vehicle of salvation for the Jewish people."

Unfortunately, what Rabbi Rosen wanted was a statement incompatible with the Catholic faith. Jesus Christ and his Church offer the one means of salvation-- for Christians, for Jews, for everyone. To suggest that some people can follow an alternative path to salvation would require renunciation of a central Christian dogma.

In amending the Good Friday prayer, Pope Benedict eliminated a reference to the "blindness" of the Jews, clearly hoping to avoid giving offense. But the revised prayer still includes an unmistakably clear plea "that God our Lord might enlighten their hearts, so that they might know Jesus Christ as the Savior of all mankind."

When we Christians offer this prayer, we are not showing contempt for Jews, but love. Loving our neighbors means wanting what is best for them, and we know that what is best for the Jewish people, in the long run, is incorporation into the Body of Christ: membership in the Church, which offers, in the sacraments, the sure means of attaining salvation. If we failed to pray for the conversion of Jews, that would be a sign of our indifference or worse.

Using the revised language the Pope Benedict has authorized, Catholics who use the 1962 Roman Missal for Good Friday services will continue to pray earnestly for Jews, using language that has now been purged of the words that might have caused unnecessary offense. The Pope has taken a remarkable initiative, making a unilateral gesture to accommodate the concerns expressed by some world Jewish leaders. And the result?

In Italy, the Rabbinical Assembly announced that the Pope's gesture was "an abandonment of the very conditions for dialogue" and announced a pause in talks with the Catholic Church. In the US, Abraham Foxman, the outspoken director of the Anti-Defamation League, said that his group was "deeply troubled and disappointed" by the prayer for conversion, and said the changes made by Pope Benedict were merely "cosmetic revisions."

Cardinal Walter Kasper (bio - news), the president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Affairs-- and a prelate known for his friendly approach to Jewish interlocutors-- was taken aback by these angry reactions. "I do not understand why Jews cannot accept this," he told Corriere della Sera. Jewish leaders should recognize that the prayers of the Catholic liturgy will match the doctrine of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Kasper told the Italian daily. "We are free to formulate our own prayers."

Elaborating on the point during an interview broadcast on Vatican Radio, Cardinal Kasper explained that in revising the Good Friday prayer: "The Holy Father wanted to say, 'Yes, Jesus Christ is the savior of all men-- including the Jews.'"

Is it a surprise that Catholics proclaim Jesus Christ as the only savior of the world? It should not be. In his criticism of the amended prayer, Rabbi Rosen observed that the language "differs greatly from the text in the current universal liturgy that prays for the salvation of the Jews in general terms." That observation is accurate-- and it is an indictment of the language in the Novus Ordo prayer.

Abraham Foxman also noticed the difference between the prayer of the 1962 Missal, even in its revised form, and the language used in most Catholic churches today. The older prayer, he said is "a major departure from the teachings and actions of Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II (bio - news), and numerous authoritative Catholic documents, including Nostra Aetate (doc)." Here Foxman moves out of the region of hyperbole and into the realm of nonsense. The language of the 1962 Missal, with its petition for the conversion of Jews, has been used constantly in the Catholic Church. It was used in some churches, with full ecclesiastical approval, during the pontificates of Paul VI and John Paul II. It was used by the fathers of Vatican II, who approved Nostra Aetate. The language approved by Pope Benedict XVI is not a departure from Church teaching, but an affirmation of the entire Catholic tradition.

Early this year, when rumors began circulating that Pope Benedict would revise the language of the Good Friday prayer, some Jewish leaders apparently hoped for a radical change. But if they expected a break from tradition-- in a prayer designed specifically for the traditional liturgy-- they were sadly misguided.

Those same rumors worried some traditionalist Catholics, who feared that the Pope might eliminate the petition for the conversion of the Jews. Those fears were misplaced. Of all the people in the world, Pope Benedict may be the one least likely to overlook the central and necessary role of the Catholic Church in the economy of salvation.

When the revised text appeared, with the plea for conversion as clear as ever, some traditionalists (including more than a few CWN readers) raised another objection. The Pope, they said, had bowed to public pressure. The Scriptures offer ample support for the old language, with its reference to "blindness," they argued; why should that language be eliminated to satisfy critics outside the Church?

It's true, of course, that the Bible does speak of "blindness" among those who do not believe. But not every Bible lesson must be incorporated into every prayer. And there is warrant in Scripture, too, for special sensitivity toward those who might be offended by our language. Isaiah said of the Chosen One: "He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench."

Pope Benedict did not bow to outside pressure; he did not back away from the constant teaching of the Church. He made an extra effort, taking a step that he was under no obligation to take, to show goodwill. The Bible-- especially the New Testament-- offers plenty of justification for that approach, too.

Sound Off! Comments

Posted by: - Feb. 11, 2008 8:39 PM ET USA
How 'bout this prayer being inserted into the 1975 Sacramentary and not the 1962 Missal?

Posted by: - Feb. 11, 2008 8:05 PM ET USA
While I was one who quoted "blindness" verses verses in Sound Off regarding this subject I think this shows again our Holy Father's wisdom. There could be an argument that not changing the wording at all would have made less an impact upon the world than this change. We all now have occassion to declare Christ as the necessary saviour of all and people are listening. Our Lady Queen of Apostles and Seat of Wisdom, guide our Pope in telling the world of your Son! Amen.

Posted by: - Feb. 11, 2008 2:55 PM ET USA
All this time spent in ecumenical discussions and we still have not been able to convey that Catholics believe that all who are saved are saved through Jesus Christ. That is very, very, discouraging.

Posted by: - Feb. 11, 2008 1:27 PM ET USA
The Jews don't "convert," rather they repent... What would they "convert "into? Jesus is the "fullness" of Judaism. He was sent to be "King of the Jews..." But He answered and said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 15:24). These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: "Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans, but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6 NIV).

Posted by: - Feb. 11, 2008 11:14 AM ET USA
I love this Pope. Is it possible that those who oppose this prayer do so because in the past they have not heard the Truth spoken in Love? Speaking the truth for the sake of condemnation is the primary job of "the accuser of the bretheren", our enemy. Let us make sure that our hearts follow the wisdom of our Holy Father, and when we pray these words they may truly be our desire for the Jews out of love, a desire to have them share in our great Joy and Salvation, Who is Jesus Christ!

Posted by: - Feb. 08, 2008 5:19 PM ET USA
I think this is a wonderful moment of clarity. So much time and effort has been spent on making sure that "supercessionism" was condemned that it began to be believed by both Jews and Christians that Judaism was identical to Christianity insofar as it obtains salvation for the Jews faithful to it.

Posted by: - Feb. 08, 2008 11:53 AM ET USA
If you read today's reading, and go to the few verses after (todays is Matt. 9:16-17) is all but fitting for this dilemma, and a nice "coincidence."

Posted by: - Feb. 08, 2008 9:52 AM ET USA
Excellent commentary! Let us all pray for the conversion of not only the Jews but all those who have lost their way.

Posted by: - Feb. 08, 2008 9:27 AM ET USA
Apparently, some of our Jewish brothers and sisters have the same lack of understanding of Catholic faith and doctrine as do many Catholic theologians.

Posted by: - Feb. 08, 2008 8:54 AM ET USA
I agree with Leo XVIII, except for the fact that I don't think it is ever possible to make these leaders happy. They always seem to demand more while acquiescing little, or nothing at all. I myself believe it has something to do with a metaphysical lack of infused charity. And BTW, they routinely misrepresent Nostra Aetate, concluding that it says pretty much the opposite of what it actually says. The Catholic Church is the New Israel, and Jesus Christ is the only means of salvation.

Posted by: - Feb. 08, 2008 8:22 AM ET USA
Today, the jews need every prayer they can get. I need every prayer I can get. So what else is new? Someone here needs to grow up and smell the coffee.

Posted by: - Feb. 08, 2008 2:32 AM ET USA
Rabbi Rosen says he “hoped for a more explicit Catholic recognition of 'the value of the Torah as the vehicle of salvation for the Jewish people.'" Unfortunately, the Jewish religion generally reads the Torah in light of the Talmud, which horribly blasphemes our Lord. Until Jewish people humbly recognize the Truth of Jesus Christ in the pages of the Torah and convert, they are on a sad path to perdition. Our Lord’s stern words at John 8:39-47 illustrate this clearly.

Posted by: - Feb. 08, 2008 1:48 AM ET USA
Actually, the revised prayer does not pray for the conversion of the Jews, either individually or collectively. It prays that the Jews “might know Jesus Christ as the Savior of all mankind” and that “as the fullness of mankind enters into Your Church, all Israel may be saved.” This is very subtle and theologically rich (much more so than the Novus Ordo prayer), suggesting, perhaps, what St. Paul hints at in Romans 11. To wit: All Israel will be saved at and by Christ’s parousia.

Posted by: - Feb. 08, 2008 1:41 AM ET USA
Some Jewish leaders have turned a legitimate watchfulness for anti-Semitism into a fetish for politically correct mush in all language. The victims of real anti-Semitism would be appalled. I can just hear what Russian Jews might have said to their Tsarist tormentors, “Go ahead and pray for my conversion all you want, just don’t burn my home, barn, fields, or kill me or my children.”

Posted by: - Feb. 07, 2008 11:35 PM ET USA
So, if I understand this correctly, the Pope mandated a change that affects only traditional order priests, and the extremely rare diocesan priest using the 1962 Triduum, in order to appease the complaints of Jews. He did this by removing biblical language and substituting new biblical language, which unfortunately lends itself to an erroneous interpretation that conversion of Jews is sought only AFTER all Gentiles have converted. The result, however, is a prayer which still offends Jews? Huh?

Posted by: - Feb. 07, 2008 11:23 PM ET USA
So we have to be "sensitive" to Jewish brethren, but then they take offense at this attempt. If they are so secure in their beliefs, why can they not let us be secure in ours? Why do Christians (particularly Catholics) have to spend so much time worrying about offending other faith practices?

Posted by: - Feb. 07, 2008 9:06 PM ET USA
To pray for everyone's conversion EXCEPT the Jews would be anti-Semitic. Even St. Paul stated, "My heart's desire and prayer to God on their [the Jews] behalf is that they be saved." And I'm sure there were Jews then who criticized Paul for what he said.

Posted by: - Feb. 07, 2008 7:49 PM ET USA
To make these complainers happy would be to reject a fundamental tenet of Christianity as well as the words of our Lord --- that it is necessary to believe in Him to gain salvation.

Posted by: - Feb. 07, 2008 7:32 PM ET USA
God bless the Holy Father's courage. He remembers that he is God's bishop, acting in the example of St Stephen, the Twelve Apostles and others. Remember St Vincent Ferrar, how he barged into a synagogue and converted thousands on the spot? Some of our bishops should heed his example, like Cdl McCarrick who offered prayers to "Allah" when a Middle Eastern dignitary visited CUA.

Posted by: - Feb. 07, 2008 6:20 PM ET USA
Lex orandi - lex credendi. If the Pope had stopped us from praying for our Jewish elder brothers' conversion, he would have made an alteration in the truth expressed in the word "supersession." The Old Covenant is fulfilled in the New; the covenant with Abraham is consummated in the sacrifice of the beloved Son on the cross. Let us continue to pray for their acceptance of salvation in Christ.

Posted by: - Feb. 07, 2008 6:19 PM ET USA
God bless Pope Benedict and keep him firm in the Truth.

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