The Vatican and the Jews

The Vatican has issued an explanatory statement on the revised Good Friday prayer for the 1962 Roman Missal (see also John Allen):

Following the publication of the new Prayer for the Jews for the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal, some groups within the Jewish community have expressed disappointment that it is not in harmony with the official declarations and statements of the Holy See regarding the Jewish people and their faith which have marked the progress of friendly relations between the Jews and the Catholic Church over the last forty years.

The Holy See wishes to reassure that the new formulation of the Prayer, which modifies certain expressions of the 1962 Missal, in no way intends to indicate a change in the Catholic Church’s regard for the Jews which has evolved from the basis of the Second Vatican Council, particularly the Declaration Nostra Aetate. In fact, Pope Benedict XVI, in an audience with the Chief Rabbis of Israel on 15 September 2005, remarked that this document “has proven to be a milestone on the road towards the reconciliation of Christians with the Jewish people.” The continuation of the position found in Nostra Aetate is clearly shown by the fact that the prayer contained in the 1970 Missal continues to be in full use, and is the ordinary form of the prayer of Catholics.

In the context of other affirmations of the Council – on Sacred Scripture (Dei Verbum, 14) and on the Church (Lumen Gentium, 16) – Nostra Aetate presents the fundamental principles which have sustained and today continue to sustain the bonds of esteem, dialogue, love, solidarity and collaboration between Catholics and Jews. It is precisely while examining the mystery of the Church that Nostra Aetate recalls the unique bond with which the people of the New Testament is spiritually linked with the stock of Abraham and rejects every attitude of contempt or discrimination against Jews, firmly repudiating any kind of anti-Semitism.

The Holy See hopes that the explanations made in this statement will help to clarify any misunderstanding. It reiterates the unwavering desire that the concrete progress made in mutual understanding and the growth in esteem between Jews and Christians will continue to develop.

Here’s a little survey of the prayers that have been said on Good Friday for the Jews. The prayer is part of what is called the “bidding prayer.” This is a series of prayer, starting with the universal world, and getting more specific with each successive prayer. There is an invitation to pray for a group of people, “Let us pray,” then an invitation to kneel. There should be a period of silent prayer. Then there is an invitation to stand. Then the priest says the prayer.

First, here’s the version used prior to 1955, which used the term “perfidious” (indicating a lack of faith on the part of the Jews).

Let us pray also for the perfidious Jews: that Almighty God may remove the veil from their hearts; so that they too may acknowledge Jesus Christ our Lord. …

Almighty and eternal God, who dost not exclude from thy mercy even Jewish faithlessness: hear our prayers, which we offer for the blindness of that people; that acknowledging the light of thy Truth, which is Christ, they may be delivered from their darkness.

Here’s the version in the 1962 Missal:

Let us pray also for the Jews, that our God and Lord may remove the veil from their hearts; that they also may acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ. …

Almighty and everlasting God, You drive not even the Jews away from Your mercy; hear our prayers, which we offer for the blindness of that people, that, acknowledging the light of Your truth, which is Christ, they may be rescued from their darkness.

Pope Benedict XVI’s revised prayer for the 1962 Missal reads:

Let us also pray for the Jews, that God our Lord should illuminate their hearts, so that they will recognize Jesus Christ, the Savior of all men. …

All-powerful and eternal God, you who wish that all men be saved and come to the recognition of truth, graciously grant that when the fullness of peoples enters your Church all of Israel will be saved.

This is the version from 1970 that will actually be heard by the vast majority of Catholics:

Let us pray for the Jewish people, the first to hear the word of God, that they may continue to grow in the love of his name and in faithfulness to his covenant. …

Almighty and eternal God, long ago you gave your promise to Abraham and his posterity. Listen to your Church as we pray that the people you first made your own may arrive at the fullness of redemption.