Good Friday Prayer For the Jews Modified in the 1962 Roman Missal

Source: FSSPX News


A note from the Secretary of State of the Holy See, which was published on the first page of the Osservatore Romano of February 5, 2008, announced that Benedict XVI had decided to modify the Good Friday prayer for the Jews in the 1962 Roman Missal. In the new version, the request that God may “deliver [them] from their darkness” and “their blindness” has been removed. The reformed prayer is formulated as follows: “that God our Lord should illuminate their hearts, so that they will recognize Jesus Christ, the Savior of all men.” It also asks that God “grant that when the fullness of peoples enters your Church all of Israel will be saved.” The text will be used, beginning this year, in all the Liturgical celebrations of Good Friday with the Roman Missal, specified the note dated February 4, 2008, and addressed to all the celebrants considered as “qualified [to use it]” by the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum of July 7, 2007.

At the time of the publication of the Motu Proprio liberalizing the use of the pre-Vatican II liturgical books,  several personalities of the Jewish world voiced their concern to see the ancient prayer for the Jews re-introduced into the Roman rite, even the prayer reformed by John XXIII who had caused the adjective “perfidis” (unfaithful),  and the word “perfidiam” (faithlessness) to be removed. The great rabbis of Israel had even written to Benedict XVI to ask him to modify again the Good Friday prayer. Prelates involved in the dialogue with the Jews had made similar appeals to the Sovereign Pontiff and his close collaborators.

However, this modification displeased the great rabbi of Rome Riccardo Di Segni, who, on the very next day, February 6, declared during an interview granted to the Corriere della Sera, that the fact that the new formula maintained an “explicit” request for the conversion of the Jews “was undermining decades of progress” in the dialogue between Jews and Christians. In a communiqué released the same day, and signed by its president Giuseppe Laras, the Assembly of Italian Rabbis asked for a “pause in the dialogue with Catholics so as to reflect on their true intentions.” It underlines that the new text of the prayer substitutes  the “blindness of the Jews” with another expression “whose concept is equivalent” in spite of a formula “apparently less strong” since it now asks that “God enlightens them.” But they especially lament that “the most serious fact is that it re-introduced an invitation to the faithful to pray that the Jews eventually recognize ‘Jesus Christ the Savior’.” “The pope is certainly free to decide what he thinks best for his Church and his faithful, nevertheless it remains that the adoption of such a liturgical formula clearly contradicts and jeopardizes at least forty years of dialogue between Judaism and Catholicism, a dialogue which was often difficult and tormented, and would now seem to have brought about no tangible result,” complained the rabbis, who think that this prayer expresses “an idea of the dialogue as having for its objective the conversion of the Jews to Catholicism, something which is obviously unacceptable to us.”

On February 7, in answer to this reaction, Cardinal Walter Kasper stated: “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. This must be accepted and respected in diversity.” Speaking of the conversion of the Jews for which the modified prayer is asking, the president of the Pontifical Commission for Relationship with Judaism explained that it was a reference to a text of St. Paul the Apostle which “expresses the eschatological hope -- i.e. with reference to the last days, the end of history -- that the people of Israel would also enter the Church when all the other nations do.” The German prelate meant to be reassuring when he specified: “I mean that this expresses a final hope and not a proposal to start a mission among them (the Jews),” and he added: “I must say that I don’t understand why the Jews cannot accept that we can make use of our freedom to formulate our prayers.” “Very bad things occurred when we wanted to force conversion upon the Jews. We understand they keep bad memories of facts for which we have made repentance. But this makes it even more difficult to understand why they cannot accept that we bear witness to our faith, when this is done with full respect for the faith of others,” he declared.

That same day, on the airwaves of Radio Vatican, Cardinal Kasper wished to add the following precisions: “If the prayer speaks of the ‘conversion’ of the Jews, this does not mean we are embarking on a ‘mission’. As a matter of fact, the pope is quoting St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. In chapter 11, St. Paul tells us that we hope that when the fulness of the Gentiles shall come into the Church all Israel also shall be saved. It is an eschatological hope. This does not mean we are embarking on a mission: we must give witness to our faith, this is clear. But, I want to say this: in the past, such a language was often fraught with contempt, as Jules Isaac, a well-know Jew, rightly said. But, today, there is respect in the diversity which exists between us. Now there is respect and no longer contempt.

“Dialogue,” he continued, “always supposes respect for the other’s position. We respect the identity of the Jews; they must respect ours which we cannot hide. Dialogue is precisely based on this diversity: upon what we have in common as well as upon our differences. I do not see this as an obstacle but rather as a challenge for a true theological dialogue.”

On February 14, in the Osservatore Romano, Bishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture returned to the subject to give new reassurance to the Jews: “We repeat it: this is the Christian vision, and the hope of the praying Church. It is not a proposal for a theoretical adhesion nor a missionary strategy for conversion.” “It is the characteristic attitude of supplicant invocation by which we hope -- on behalf of persons which we consider as close, dear and important to us -- for a reality which we consider as precious and saving.” “Of course, this must always be done in the respect of the liberty and of the various paths that the other may choose,” added Bishop Ravasi. “But it is a sign of affection to wish for your brother what you consider as a horizon of light and life.”

For the Roman prelate, “in this perspective, the prayer in question, within the limits of its use and in its specificity, can and must confirm our bond and our dialogue” with the Jews. And he quoted the Good Friday prayer according to the liturgy of the Paul VI Missal: the common and ultimate hope is that “the Jews to whom God spoke first (…) may progress in the love of His Name and in fidelity to His Covenant.”

Editor: Should we see in this reference to the Missal of Paul VI an instance of the “enrichment” of traditional liturgy by conciliar liturgy, according to the wish expressed by the Motu Proprio, with a view to a reform of the reform?

(Sources: AFP/Zenit/Apic/Imedia/Radio Vatican/The Osservatore Romano/Corriere della Sera)

 Our comment:

Because of pressure put upon him by people outside the Catholic Church, the pope thought he had to change the venerable Prayer for the Jews which is an integral part of the Good Friday liturgy. This prayer is among the most ancient; it dates back approximately to the 3rd century, and thus has been recited throughout the history of the Church as a full expression of the Catholic faith.

It is worth noting that Cardinal Kasper’s comments -- which we may consider as authorized -- make of this amputation a real transformation and the expression of a new theology of the relations with the Jewish people. It is in keeping with the liturgical upheaval which is characteristic of the Council and of the ensuing reforms.

Though the necessity of accepting the Messiah to be saved has been kept, we can only deeply deplore the change.