Tridentine Good Friday Prayer

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"Unending Tension Is Not Possible"

Mainz, Germany

Unending Tension Is Not Possible

The Discussion of the Good Friday Prayer in the Jewish-Christian Dialogue

The Bishop of Mainz and recently retired chairman of the German Conference of Bishops, Cardinal Karl Lehmann offered this guest commentary in the Mainz Church Newspaper, Glaube und Leben ("Faith and Life"). Original available at: Unofficial translation.

In our media-driven society there repeatedly occur conflicts that shoot up like rockets and quickly crash to the ground. One then asks what their lasting effect has been. That is what comes to mind when in the Jewish-Christian dialogue one thinks about the current criticisms of the new formulation of the Good Friday Intercession.

The case is simple but has not been given sufficient attention: Pope Benedict XVI has with respect to the church liturgies in the extraordinary rite of 1962 (confusingly often called "Tridentine") prescribed a new text [of the prayer] for the Jewish people in the Good Friday Liturgy-in contrast to [that of] the renewed liturgy of the year 1970. In the German translation it reads [the German translation of this part of the prayer follows]: We pray for the Jews. That our God and Lord enlighten their hearts so that they recognize Jesus Christ, the Savior of all mankind." It is clear that with this the 1970 formulation will not be withdrawn and the now published version, without doubt, will be used exclusively in the extraordinary rite, which certainly is rarely used on Good Friday. Therefore, in the life of the Church the Prayer of 1970 will remain the standard. It reads unchanged in the common rite: [the German text follows:] Let us pray for the Jewish people, the first to whom Our Lord God spoke, that He may keep them in faithfulness to His covenant and the love of His name so that they will attain the goal to which His counsel guides them." Absolutely nothing will be changed here.

I do not want to leave any doubt: It is also my conviction that it would have been a better solution to use only the Intercession of 1970, which already existed in Latin translation, so that both versions could not be played against each other and so that in such a sensitive case there would be only one statement, one which has found great resonance.

But even if one regrets that there are two versions, there are now many interpretations that not only express misunderstanding but use choices of words that really make one wonder: "Ice Age," "Step Backwards," "Imposition," "Burden." Some Jews, as a consequence, withdrew their participation in the Catholic Day [event] in Osnabrueck. Even if one regrets the duality of the current Intercession, which endangers an unambiguous praying, many accusations are simply unfounded. I just cannot see, for example, a call even for an indirect mission to Jews. Not one iota is being taken away from the esteem for Judaism. One even goes so far as to speak officially that without "retracting the Good Friday Prayer one would not be able to have any more dialogue with the Catholic Church." Walter Cardinal Kasper, who is in charge of religious dialogue with Judaism, has said what is necessary with regard to these charges.

It is shocking to me, how quickly and obviously uninformed are the attacks on the text. With calm and sober reflection some words would not have been allowed to be uttered. With this I not only refer mainly to the Jewish partners but also to those heated comments from Catholic and Protestant sides. In that regard one can agree with Cardinal Kasper who said that the displeasure was "mostly not rational but emotional." That this is even possible also shows how many fears and worries lie beneath the surface and how much one has to learn to deal with each other sensitively.

Because of this one has to ask all participants, in the future, not to get carried away by first impressions, but to trust the partner, even if some expressions cause difficulties. I would have wished for the use of the Intercession of 1970 in its Latin form for the extraordinary rite; but no less do I wish-having also been a participant in this dialogue for many decades-that, in times of crisis, one treats one another in a more reasonable manner. Such dialogue cannot be put under unending tension.