Prayer for the Jews

When Pope Benedict XVI issued his motu proprio allowing for a broader use of the “extraordinary form” of the Latin liturgy, one concern that was raised was the prayer for the Jews in the Good Friday service.

The concern was twofold. First, the language of the Tridentine liturgy referred to the blindness and faithlessness of the Jewish people, which many Jews understandably find offensive. Second, the prayer bluntly called for the conversion of Jews, which flies in the face of the ecumenical and inter-religious tap-dancing of recent decades.

This week the Holy Father ordered a change in the text of the prayer for Jews for the Good Friday service. The official version is in Latin, and will be prayed in Latin, but here is an English translation:

Let us also pray for the Jews: that God our Lord might enlighten their hearts, so that they might know Jesus Christ as the Savior of all mankind.
Let us pray.
Let us bend our knees (kneel).
Please rise.
Almighty and eternal God, whose desire it is that all men might be saved and come to the knowledge of truth, grant in your mercy that as the fullness of mankind enters into your Church, all Israel may be saved, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

There are some important things to note here:

(1) This change applies only to the older form of the liturgy. The prayer used at most parish services will remain as is.

(2) In revising the prayer, the Pope took to heart the concerns of the Jewish community regarding language that could be interpreted as being unduly harsh or inflammatory, given modern sensibilities.

(3) The Pope did not, and indeed could not, back away from the fact that all people, including the Jews, need Jesus Christ, the one Savior of the world.

(4) In the way he revised this prayer, the Pope gave the Church an interpretive key for understanding Christian-Jewish relations. As one commentator put it: “Since the Church’s doctrine must be the same for both the ordinary and extraordinary usages of the Roman Rite, the newly composed prayer clarifies the sense in which the existing one must be understood.”  

Despite initial, largely “unenlightened” criticism, Pope Benedict seems to have once again cut through the politics in unabashedly yet charitably proclaiming the truth that Jesus Christ is “the true light that enlightens every man” (Jn. 1:9).

One response

  1. In his “interpretation” of the Pope’s action, Cardinal Walter Kasper stated that it is not meant to convey “an organized mission” to convert the Jews. The good Cardinal has made in the past some other ambiguous statements regarding efforts to “convert” others to the Church (e.g., the Russian and other Orthodox), and his latest pronouncement would have surely caused some astonishment to SS. Peter and Paul.

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