A New Burden on Christian-Jewish Relations: Statement of the Discussion Group 'Jews and Christians' of the Central Committee of German Catholics on the Good Friday Prayer 'For the Jews' in the Extraordinary Rite Version of 2008

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Following its April 2007 statement on the extended permission to use the Tridentine rite, the discussion group again considered the different versions of the Good Friday prayer at its meeting in February 2008 and adopted the following statement:

On February 4, 2008 Pope Benedict XVI promulgated the Good Friday prayer 'For the Jews' in the extraordinary rite [Tridentine] version, which unleashed international protests from Jews and Christians. It struck that nerve, which touches a historic trauma for Jews irrespective of their religious orientation: conversion to believing in Jesus Christ! Ever since the Middle Ages the prayer for the Jews on Good Friday has led to harsh, humiliating and dangerous excesses against the 'perfidious' and 'blind' Jews. Although this vocabulary of traditional enmity towards Jews does not occur in the new intercession, old Jewish fears are evoked by the phrasing that Christians hope for the enlightening of the hearts of the Jews and their acknowledging Jesus Christ.

The new text authorized by Pope Benedict reads in English translation:

   Let us also pray for the Jews. That our Lord and God may enlighten
   their hearts, that they may acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Savior
   of all men. (Let us pray. Let us kneel. Let us stand.)

   Almighty, ever living God, who will that all men would be saved and
   come to the knowledge of the Truth, graciously grant that all
   Israel may be saved when the fullness of the nations enter into
   Your Church. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Irritating questions are raised by this prayer. If the Tridentine rite of 1570 (last revised in the Roman Missal of 1962) spoke of blindness and darkness, and now, however, the new intercession prays for 'enlightening', the question arises if this is not only a friendlier sounding phrasing of the same thing. If the Jews are to arrive at the realization and thus acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as the Saviour of all humanity, do they have then to convert to believing in Jesus Christ--in the course of history or only at its end? Or will they see the Saviour of the world, when the history, which is the time of faith, has come to an end? Is the Jews' acknowledgement of Jesus Christ--when and however takes place--a condition for their salvation? Or are there two ways of salvation: one for the peoples entering into the church, and another for Israel without the church? Does the church go on with her hoping and praying for Israel to be saved leaving it to God? Or must the church feel obliged to invite the Jews by the Evangelization--certainly without any coercion and without any compulsion--to believe in Jesus Christ and the gospel?

Pope Paul VI's Good Friday liturgy renewed in the spirit of the Council has not raised such questions and fears. In the Roman Missal of 1970 the official English translation of the Good Friday prayer reads:

   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 that they may reach the destination
   set by God's providence. (Let us pray. Let us kneel. Let us stand.)

   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.
   Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

What makes these prayers different is obvious. On the one hand in the prayer of 1970, which is said on Good Friday in the ordinary Rite of the Roman Catholic Church almost everywhere, the church expresses unequivocally her appreciation of the dignity of Israel, God's chosen people, to whom God has given the promises and a Covenant, that was never revoked and will never be revoked (cf. …