What Is Not True About the Good Friday Prayer for Jews

Scholar Points to Errors in Understanding

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ROME, JAN. 27, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Dialogue between Jews and Christians is a sensitive issue, and there have been many misunderstandings about the new Good Friday prayer for the Jews, says a scholar in the matter.



According to Father Michel Remaud, director of the Christian Institute of Jewish Studies and Hebrew Literature of Jerusalem, the Good Friday prayer for the Jews used in the "extraordinary rite" is not a prayer for their conversion, but rather a prayer for the Jewish people.

He said the text approved by Benedict XVI does not say "Oremus pro conversione Judæorum" (Let us pray for the conversion of the Jews), but "Oremus et pro Judæis" (Let us also pray for the Jews).

The prayer continues: "That God our Lord should illuminate their hearts, so that they will recognize Jesus Christ, the Savior of all men."

This prayer was released last February, following the July 2007 document "Summorum Pontificum," which permitted an increased use of the 1962 Missal. The Good Friday prayer for the Jews used in the ordinary rite, that is, by the vast majority of Catholics, was not changed.

The Italian episcopal conference had planned a day of dialogue Jan. 16 with leaders of Judaism, just ahead of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The rabbis, however, declined to participate because of Benedict XVI's approval of this prayer.

In something as delicate as Christian-Jewish relations, Father Remaud suggested, "one has to be rigorous."

The priest proposed that the heart of the issue is this: "The Christian who expresses his faith utilizing formulas from the New Testament -- should he be accused of a will to convert when he dialogues with the Jews?"

Liturgical elements

The scholar contended that precision in liturgical terms is also important regarding this issue. And in this regard, he lamented that the press is often inaccurate.

For example, to refer to the 1962 Missal as the "Latin Mass" is erroneous, given that Latin can be the language for the Mass celebrated according to the missal approved after Vatican II by Paul VI.

In fact, this Mass, the ordinary rite, is often celebrated in Latin in international settings.

"To refer to the ritual previous to the 1969 reform, journalists have created the expression -- comfortable but inadequate -- of 'Latin Mass,'" Father Remaud observed. In fact, he added, the missal prepared to reflect the reforms is originally in Latin.

Furthermore, the priest continued, to speak of the Good Friday prayer for the Jews in relation to Mass is also incorrect, given that on Good Friday, there is no Mass celebrated. The Good Friday liturgy, the commemoration of Our Lord's Passion, includes a long list of prayers, including the prayer for the Jews, our "older brothers," as Pope John Paul II referred to them in the synagogue of Rome in 1986.

The prayers said on Good Friday are "'universal' -- for all of humanity. The office proper to this day includes a long series of prayers in which all categories of believers that make up humanity -- and nonbelievers -- are commended to God," Father Remaud added.

"Until 1959," he said, "they prayed, among other intentions, in Latin 'pro perfidis judæis.'" But, "even after the suppression made by John XXIII of the adjective 'perfidos,' the prayer continued using formulas that could be considered hurtful for Jews."

"Perfidos," the priest clarified, does not have a pejorative sense in Latin as it can in vernacular tongues. The word comes from "per" and "fides," that is, to persist or remain in faith.

The formula fell into disuse some years after with the promulgation of the Paul VI Missal, he added, partially because of the pejorative connotation the formula had taken on.

Its use only continued in the communities who received permission from the Church to celebrate the Mass according to the 1962 Missal, after they had returned to communion with Rome from the schism led by Marcel Lefebvre. Thus, for 24 years, the old prayer was used in these Catholic communities, and no one protested, observed Father Remaud.

"Paradoxically," he said, "it is precisely the decision to correct this formula, judged unacceptable and utilized by a very restricted group of Catholics, that has stirred up all this indignation."

Finally, Father Remaud noted that much of the dismay of the Jewish leaders is centered on a word that does not exist in the prayer: conversion.

"To ask God to illuminate hearts is one thing, and to pressure people to try to convince them is another," he said. "The difference is more than a nuance."

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On the Net:

Unofficial English translation of the Latin prayer: www.zenit.org/article-21705?l=english