Although Seton Hall University’s Father Lawrence Frizzell calls the prayer “a disappointment,” he believes it may not be “a harbinger of things to come.” Photos courtesy Seton Hall University
February 21, 2008
Leaders of interfaith dialogue are expressing concern that a Good Friday prayer newly revised by Pope Benedict XVI could set back cordial relations between Catholics and Jews.
The Latin-language “Prayer for Conversion of the Jews” urges Catholics to “pray for the Jews. May the Lord our God illuminate their hearts so that they may recognize Jesus Christ as savior of all men.”
It also asks God to “kindly allow that, as all peoples enter into your Church, all of Israel may be saved.”
The pontiff’s action on Feb. 5 reinstitutes a prayer that was dropped from Easter Week liturgy after the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, which ended in 1965.
Prior to Vatican II, the “conversion prayer” spoke in more controversial language about the “blindness” of the Jews and urged that they “be rescued from their darkness.”
To Allyson Gall, executive director of the American Jewish Committee’s Metro New Jersey Area, the prayer is “a step backward. This is something that was written in the pope’s own hand. It was not written by an aide. He made a conscious decision he wants the wording this way. That is regrettable.”
But Gall noted that the prayer is recited only on Good Friday in commemoration of the crucifixion, and its recitation is limited to the small number of Catholic churches where the Mass is celebrated in Latin.
“In terms of the actual impact on Catholics or other people, forget about it,” she said. “But the point is, why did the pope do it? Up until now, the impression has been that things have moved along well and there really was a recognition that ‘Jews are Jews. They keep their own covenant, they forever are Jews, and leave them alone. We are not going to try to convert them.’
“Now you have this little bit of a slip. It is regrettable because it is a step backward, but on the other hand, it is going to impact very few people.”
“This is not what we had hoped for,” said Father Lawrence Frizzell, director of the Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University in South Orange. “There has been considerable discussion among those of us involved in Jewish-Christian relations,” said Frizzell, who has worked with Gall on interfaith projects. “I don’t know how to interpret this in terms of the larger picture. I would say in terms of people involved in Jewish-Christian relations, this is a disappointment. But I don’t want to say this is a harbinger of things to come.”
Pope Benedict XVI is triggering controversy over his new Good Friday prayer that Jews “recognize Jesus Christ as savior of all men.”
However, Alan Brill, a Seton Hall colleague of Frizzell in Judeo-Christian studies and the Cooperman/Ross Endowed Professor in honor of Sister Rose Thering, said that although it may be “much ado about nothing,” he is concerned about the prayer’s future implications.
“It does not say anything negative. It does not say the Jews have to convert. It does not imply any problem — just that the Jews should have their eyes enlightened.”
“It is a preview of things to come, but the question is, what are the things to come?” Brill said. “Those who wish a greater reconciliation between Jews and Catholics are deeply hurt. They have had 40 years of forward momentum, but there may be no more.”
Citing Benedict’s pledge that the use of the prayer will be reevaluated in three years, Brill said it “creates openings for further changes away from things that had been better. This is the opening of a door, and we don’t know what’s coming.”
The professor said that the prayer’s inclusion marks “the end of the era of John Paul II, the era of reconciliation. A lot of Catholics spent their lives on reconciliation with Jews in light of the Holocaust. This is sending everyone back to business as usual. It does not say the Jews are wrong and should convert now, but we lost the momentum of things getting better and better.”
Abraham Foxman, executive director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a Feb. 5 statement: “We are deeply troubled and disappointed that the framework and intention to petition God for Jews to accept Jesus as Lord was kept intact.”
Then, in a Jan. 22 letter to the pontiff, Foxman wrote, “We think that a revised Good Friday prayer that Jews abandon their own religious identity, as being reported in the news media, would be highly devastating to the deepening relationship and dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people.”
Seton Hall interfaith scholar Alan Brill says, “Those who wish a greater reconciliation between Jews and Catholics are deeply hurt.”
The director of the nonprofit Center for Interreligious Understanding in Secaucus, Rabbi Jack Bemporad, said he would like the Catholic Church to provide “more clarification. I think the proper posture of the Jewish community is not first to come down on them and then ask for clarification. This should be an opportunity for dialogue, not for condemnation.”
Although at the moment the prayer will be recited only in Latin, Brill foresees a time when it will be translated into other languages that Catholics speak.
“I can see this happening in three or six or nine years,” he predicted. “That’s the real danger. It becomes ‘What is the image of the Jew?’ The image of the Jew becomes negative once again. It is not about anti-Semitism in New Jersey. The question is what does this Mass do when performed in Africa or in South America. That’s what I worry about. Not here.”
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