Vol 42 No 3
The prayer for the Jews on Good Friday:
JOSEPH SOBB SJ
THE LITURGY of Good Friday included and still includes a series of intercessory prayers. These have two parts: first, an extended call to prayer, inviting the congregation to pray for a particular group, and usually indicating the ‘intention’ or ‘focus’ for prayer; and secondly, an oratio style of prayer, similar to the ‘collect’ or ‘opening prayer’ at Mass, as the conclusion. An example of the call to prayer, from the 1960 or 1962 Missale Romanum, reads, ‘Let us pray for the Pope…that God keep him healthy and safe to rule God’s holy people.’
When Benedict XVI allowed the rites of the 1962 Missale Romanum to be more widely used1, attention turned almost instinctively to the wording of the ‘Prayer for the Jews.’ Interestingly, hardly any attention has been given to the other prayers, such as the ‘Prayer for Heretics and Schismatics.’
In February 2008, by a note from the Secretary of State, Pope Benedict XVI disposed that a revised formula2 for the Oremus pro Judaeis in the liturgy of Good Friday be substituted for that to be found in the 1962 Missale Romanum. However, Benedict XVI finds himself having to confront more than a change of wording, but a new situation in Jewish-Christian relations. This had already been signalled in a change introduced by John XXIII in 1960, deleting the term perfidis (perfidious?) to describe the Jews in the ‘Prayer for the Jews.’ In 1964, Paul VI visited Israel (for only half a day!)—the first time a Pope had done so. In 1965, Paul VI promulgated Nostra Aetate, Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions. In 1974 and 1985 further guidelines were issued. In 1986, John Paul II visited the Synagogue in Rome, and in 2000 he went to Israel, and prayed at Yad Vashem and the Temple Wall in Jerusalem.3
In the 1962 Missale Romanum4, the ‘prayer for the Jews’ is preceded by the ‘prayer for heretics and schismatics,’ and followed by the ‘prayer for the Pagans.’ The revised (1970) Missale Romanum5 of Paul VI changed the former to a prayer ‘for the unity of Christians,’ and the latter became two separate prayers ‘for those who do not believe in Christ,’ and ‘for those who do not believe in God.’ The oratio for heretics and schismatics in the 1962 version referring to their being ‘deceived by diabolical fraud,’6 and the oratio for the Pagans asking that they ‘be freed from the worship of idols,’7 remain unaltered in Benedict XVI’s ‘disposition’.
In general, the texts of the intercessory prayers of the 1970 version seem more objective, more ready to recognize the action and presence of God in the hearts of all, more humble. The 1962 texts read as somewhat divisive or alienating, and failing to recognise anything of good in non-Catholic Christians, or Jews, or non-believers. This is an entirely different climate from that which followed Vatican II. Hence, it is important to consider Benedict XVI’s Good Friday prayer not only in the context reflected in the three editions of the Missale Romanum, pre-1960, 1962, 1970, but also in the light of the developments in the more than forty years since Nostra Aetate. The ‘revised’ Good Friday Prayer is not an isolated text, but is part of a much wider area of concern.
A further perspective may be noted at this point. Much of the positive response that we read to Benedict XVI’s encouragement of the 1962 Missale Romanum speaks highly of the so-called Tridentine rite, especially implying that it is, somehow, uniquely ‘traditional’ worship—a fairly limited historical perspective in itself. Its admirers tend to speak in high praise of the rite’s numinous, reverential, inspiring character. In other words, they tend to focus on rituals and other external features, but rarely seem to address the more substantial issues such as the reality of Catholic life and practice in its various manifestations, in major cities and rural townships, from lovers of classical music to frequenters of contemporary pop-music concerts. The even more substantial issue of theological content, too, is often barely treated or even ignored. In liturgical discussion, this is always an impoverishment, sometimes quite misleading, sometimes even grievous. It is obviously very grievous when the actual wording of liturgical prayers and their theology is the focus of significant concern.
The call to prayer, ‘for the Jews,’ in the 1962 version, invites the congregation to ask that God will ‘take away the veil from their hearts,’8 alluding to a passage from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians,9 which, in turn, alludes to Exodus 34:29-35.10 The argumentation in this part of Paul’s letter is quite complex, moving from a veil over Moses’ head to a veil over the hearts of the Jews. Whatever Paul’s situation and purposes at the time this letter was written, when it is used as a call to prayer in a Christian community and designates the Jews in this fashion, it has always appeared quite demeaning, both of Jews and for Christians. The intention is expressed quite bluntly in the 1962 version that they may ‘acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ.’11 The 1970 version, it would seem, recognized this insensitivity, and affirms the Jews as the first to whom God spoke. The intention proposed is that they may ‘grow in love of God and in faithfulness to the covenant.’ The contrast could not be more marked.
The call to prayer in the 2008 version subtly changed the 1962 version, yet it is still unattractively negative. The ‘blindness’ theme is muted slightly by asking that God will ‘illuminate their hearts,’12 though clearly the thought is still basically the same as in the 1962 version. The intention in the 1962 version was that ‘they may acknowledge Jesus Christ our Lord.’ In the 2008 version it becomes that ‘they may acknowledge Jesus Christ as saviour of all.’13 This has obviously been influenced by the Vatican document, Dominus Jesus, which appeared above the signature of Josef Ratzinger.14
The oratio of the 1962 version designates the Jews as ‘blind’15 and asks that they may be ‘brought out of their darkness’ by perceiving the light of God’s truth which is Christ.16 Thus it closely follows the theme of the call to prayer. The oratio of the 1970 version, on the other hand, asks that the ‘people first chosen may come to the fullness of redemption,’17 thus taking up the theme of the call to prayer in a positive way. It’s tone is eirenic, rather than aggressive, and, much more a prayer for the Jews, rather than against them. It may also be an indirect (perhaps unconscious?) allusion to Paul’s words in the letter to the Romans18 which is a much more hopeful and positive assessment than that of the 1962 oratio.
The oratio of the 2008 version, however, departs somewhat more radically from its predecessor, the 1962 version. It alludes explicitly to the text of the letter to the Romans,19 and removes the description of the Jews as ‘blind’.20 At this point, then, the oratio of the 2008 version is far less aggressive than that of the 1962 version, and, indeed, because it quotes Romans 11:26, actually more conciliatory than the intention proposed in the call to prayer which precedes it. However, one is led to wonder whether the statement, ‘you wish all to be saved’,21 is not intended to foreshadow the concluding phrase, ‘all Israel may be saved’;22 otherwise, it is difficult to see the particular relevance of that statement in a prayer for the Jews.
A number of questions remain. Clearly, the 2008 version of the prayer for the Jews is slightly, if unevenly, more positive than the 1962 version it replaces. It is likewise biblically based and makes use of less contentious biblical texts. In comparision with the 1970 version, however, it is far less ungrudging, its tone less humble, its vision less generous. It fails to acknowledge the theological development and inter-faith dialogue that has been taking place over the past forty years. Perhaps, of course, this is deliberate—the prayer is meant to reflect the theology of the period and the changes introduced into the prayer are simply to make it less obviously offensive.23 This might also be why the other prayers, for heretics and schismatics, and for pagans, remain unrevised.
Finally, it may be helpful to ponder why the 1970 version did not simply replace the 1962 version. In my opinion, this would have been an important recognition that Christianity and Judaism have a unique relationship, since it is the Jew, Jesus, whom the Christian Community acclaim as Lord. The ‘parting of the ways’ after the catastrophe of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE was a sadness. However, the words of Paul in the letter to the Romans surely should influence all our liturgical prayers, both their spirit and their content: ‘Irrevocable are the gifts and the call of God’.24
Fr Joseph Sobb, Rector of Canisius College, Pymble, lectures in Old Testament Scriptures, and is committed to inter-faith dialogue, particularly with Judaism, and is a member of the NSW Council of Christians and Jews.
1 Summorum Pontificum, July 2007.
2 Henceforth, 2008 version.
3 There is an interesting and typical comment on these activities of John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, and, indeed, Benedict XVI in a website from the Most Holy Family Monastery in New York. All these Popes are deemed ‘manifest heretics’!
4 Henceforth, 1962 version.
5 Henceforth, 1970 version.
6 ‘animas diabolica fraude deceptas’.
7 ‘libera eos ab idolorum cultura’.
8 ‘auferat velamen de cordibus eorum’.
9 2 Corinthians 3:13-15.
10 The latin text of the call to prayer is taken from the Vulgate, ‘velamen positum est super cor eorum’.
11 ‘agnoscant Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum’.
12 ‘illuminet corda eorum’.
13 ‘agnoscant Jesum Christum salvatorem omnium hominum’.
14 Published 6 August 2000.
15 ‘illius populi obcaecatione’.
16 ‘a suis tenebris eruantur’.
17 ‘populus acquisitionis prioris ad redemptionis mereatur plentitudinem pervenire’.
18 Romans 11:24-32. For a very helpful discussion of this passage, see Brendan Byrne, Romans, Sacra Pagina Series, 6, 1996, pages 348-358.
19 ‘plentitudo Gentium intraret’ in the Vulgate becomes ‘plentitudine gentium in Ecclesiam Tuam intrante’ in the oratio, however, which is far more specific than Paul’s words, and would seem to imply that salvation means “entering the Church” .
20 In Romans 11:25, the term is ‘porosis’ (translated as ‘hardening’ in the NRSV, and other contemporary versions, but ‘blindness’ in the King James Version). This word does not appear in the LXX. In the rest of the New Testament it appears only in Mark 3:5 (referring to the Jewish congregation in a synagogue), and in Ephesians 4:18 (referring to the Gentiles). It is translated as ‘caecitas’ in the Vulgate. We might speculate whether Jerome, in choosing ‘caecitas’ was unconsciously influenced by 2 Corinthians 11:14, where the verbal form is ‘eporothe’, or Job 17:7, ‘peporontai’, and where the context, though not the term, is blindness. The most frequent verbal form of ‘harden’ in the First Testament is ‘hzq’, though ‘qsh’ is also used, both being translated ‘skleruno’ in the LXX. In Hebrew, the fairly rare noun does not necessarily carry negative overtones.
21 ‘vis ut omnes homines salvi fiant’
22 ‘omnis Israel salvus fiat’. The Vulgate reads ‘sic omnis Israel salvus fieret’, Romans 11:26.
23 Whether it succeeds in this is unclear; it has been received both positively and negatively, by Jews and by Christians.
24 Romans 11:29.