Tridentine Good Friday Prayer

Dialogika Resources

Interview: Cardinal George on Good Friday Prayer and Jesus in the Talmud

The following interview excerpts concern the Tridentine Good Friday prayer, including a comparison made with "unflattering depictions of Jesus in the Talmud." The full articlecan be found at:

I was in Chicago this week, speaking on Thursday to the Illinois Catholic Health Association on "Trends in Ministry." While in town I arranged an interview with Cardinal Francis George, who marks his 10th anniversary this year at the helm of the one of the largest and wealthiest dioceses in the world. If things hold to form, George will also take over as the new president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at their fall meeting in Baltimore Nov. 12-15, becoming, in effect, the public face of the church just as America plunges into an election cycle.

That combination makes George an important figure indeed in the Catholic firmament.

Highlights from my interview with George, which took place in his downtown office on Oct. 2, include:

  • George said he does not foresee widespread use of the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass, despite Pope Benedict XVI's recent decision to permit the old Mass without authorization from local bishops. Most Catholics, he said, instinctively feel, "That's not where we are";
  • George said the American bishops have asked for clarification from the Vatican as to whether the pre-Vatican II rite can be used during Holy Week, a question made acute by a controversial Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews;
  • If the old rite can be used in Holy Week, George said, a more positive prayer for the Jews from the new liturgy will "probably" be substituted for the old one - though at the same time, George said, this discussion could also be an occasion to ask Jews to renounce unflattering depictions of Jesus in the Talmud;

Excerpts from our interview follow:

Allen: A related issue with the old Missal is the Good Friday liturgy, and specifically the prayer for the conversion of the Jews. Where do you think we are with that?

George: First of all, we have to clarify something, because there are two opinions and we've asked the Holy See to clear this up. During the Triduum [the end of Holy Week] you may not have a private Mass. So the first reaction is, well, that means you can't use the old Missal for the Triduum, so that's the end of that. Others come back and say no, that if you have a parish that is only Tridentine, then they would also have the Holy Week ceremonies from that Missal. I'm not sure that's permitted, and that's what we're asking.

Allen: If it is, would your preference be to use the language of new Missal for this prayer on Good Friday, even when people are celebrating the Tridentine rite?

George: If you're celebrating the 1962 Missal, that would involve changing the text of the prayer.

Allen: That can be done, yes?

George: Of course it can be done, and I suspect it probably will be, because the intention is to be sure that our prayers are not offensive to the Jewish people who are our ancestors in the faith. We can't possibly insult them in our liturgy ... Not that any group has a veto on anybody's prayers, because you can go through Jewish texts and find material that is offensive to us. But if we're interested in keeping the dialogue strong, and we have to be, we should be very cautious about any prayer that they find insulting. 'They,' however, is a big tent. What my Jewish rabbi friend down the block finds insulting is different from what Abraham Foxman [national director of the Anti-Defamation League] finds insulting. Also, it does work both ways. Maybe this is an opening to say, 'Would you care to look at some of the Talmudic literature's description of Jesus as a bastard, and so on, and maybe make a few changes in some of that?'

On October 19, 2007, John Allen referred back to the above comments when he included in his column of that date the following further remarks from Cardinal George. See That comment apparently drew protest from some Jewish leaders who felt George was mixing apples and oranges, comparing the normative liturgical prayer of the Catholic church to dusty rabbinical commentaries from centuries ago.

In response, George offered the following clarification, which I am happy to present in full:

"Regarding the possible change or omission of some texts in Talmudic literature that are offensive to Christian believers, the point is not to compare relatively obscure scholarly texts with liturgical prayers that have a much wider audience and influence, but to suggest that the controversy surrounding the texts in the 1962 Roman Missal might be an occasion for opening a wider dialogue. An endless cycle of recrimination neither reflects nor advances the strong and friendly relations that are now taken for granted by many in both the Jewish and the Catholic communities. Trusting in these relationships, why can't we discuss texts that are hurtful to either Jews or Christians and, if appropriate, suggest changes?"