Tridentine Good Friday Prayer

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Opinion: "Don't Tell Catholics What They Believe"

From The Jerusalem Post Internet Edition


I for one am getting annoyed. For past past several weeks, as part of the discussion of the new papal prayer for the Jews composed for the Good Friday liturgy by Pope Benedict XVI, several Jewish scholars have published pieces telling Jews not to be too harsh on the Pope since he is only articulating what the Catholic Church has always believed in this regard. In this connection I think of pieces by leading Jewish scholars such as Prof. David Berger in The Jerusalem Post and most recently Prof. Jacob Neusner in the The Forward. While I would not put both essays in the exact same category—Neusner's is far more problematical—they equally share a narrow understanding of what the Catholic Church has said regarding the Jews over the past 40 years.

There has been a profound turnabout in official Catholic thinking, something that neither Neusner nor Berger acknowledge in their articles.

The Canadian theologian Dr. Gregory Baum who as an expert at the II Vatican Council had a role in the creation of the text of the chapter four of the conciliar Declaration of Non-Christian Religions which dealt with the Church's relationship with the Jewish People said in a major address to the Catholic Theological Society of America's 1986 meeting in Chicago that this chapter four represented the most radical change in the ordinary teaching of the Church to emerge from the Council. Indeed it was as it moved from a theology of Jewish exclusion from the covenant after Christ to a theology of continuing Jewish inclusion after Christ. As a person involved in the drafting of this Declaration known by its Latin name Nostra Aetate ("In our time...") Baum ought to know its intent!

The 1970 Missal prayer for the Jews used on Good Friday represents this sea-change in Catholic theology on the Jewish question. It stresses continued Jewish faithfulness rather than Jewish conversion as does the 1962 version of the prayer now revised by Pope Benedict XVI to exclude the harsh language about a "veil over Jewish eyes" and their "blindness" but retaining the basic conversionist thrust of the 1962 prayer. It too is a "papal" prayer since it had the formal approval of Pope Paul VI. So Benedict's prayer is only one papal prayer, not the papal prayer and largely presents a pre-Vatican II approach to the Jews;

I would hope that respected scholars such as Berger and Neusner would improve their grasp of current Catholic thinking before going to their computers to dash off an opinion piece. While they may not have intended this, their views tend to strengthen the position of conservative forces within contemporary Catholicism which are attempting to undermine all aspects of Vatican II, including its ground-breaking statement on the Jews.

The conservative Zenith Catholic news service had published Neusner's piece as the Jewish response to Pope Benedict XVI's prayer ignoring the criticism of other Jewish leaders and groups (as well as Catholic leaders) and it also appeared in a right-wing German newspaper, Die Tagespost , on February 29th.

The 1974 Vatican Guidelines on Catholic-Jewish Relations issued for the tenth anniversary of Nostra Aetate called on Catholics to come to understand Jews "as they define themselves." I would expect that in the future Jewish scholars writing on Catholic beliefs would heed the same advice from their side.

The writer, a priest, is visiting professor at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and at the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium. He is also president of the International Council of Christians & Jews based at Martin Buber House, Heppenheim, Germany.