German media are reporting on a fiftieth anniversary panel discussion of Nostra aetate, the “Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions” of the Second Vatican Council, organized by the German Catholic bishops’ conference. It was meant to be a respectful look back and a celebration of good relationship between Christians and Jews in Germany.
But it turned out differently than planned.
Josef Schuster, the president of the Central Council of Jews, unexpectedly called for the revocation of the newly formulated Good Friday petition for the Jews which Pope Benedict wrote in 2008. Even more unexpected, Bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff expressed agreement with Schuster. Bishop Mussinghoff is president of the sub-commission for religious relations with Jews in the German bishops’ conference.
For centuries, the Catholic Church prayed in the petitions of Good Friday that God “remove the veil” from the hearts of “faithless” and “blind” Jews and that they be “delivered from their darkness.” This prayer was taken by some as a sign of deeply-rooted Catholic anti-Semitism.
The revised prayer as part of the liturgical reforms immediately following the Second Vatican Council (now called the “Ordinary Form”) prays rather for the Jews to whom God first spoke, that they may remain faithful to his covenant.
In 2007, Pope Benedict allowed the preconciliar liturgical rite (now called the “Extraordinary Form”) to be celebrated freely again – as part of his attempted move toward reconciliation with the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X which rejects the Second Vatican Council. Benedict re-wrote the offensive preconciliar petition, but this version met with protest from Jewish leaders because it prayers that the hearts of Jews will be enlightened and that they recognize Jesus Christ as the savior of all people. This was seen as an expression of superiority and a call for mission to the Jews, even though this has been repeatedly denied by the Catholic Church.
Mussinghoff surprised the audience by expressing agreement with Schuster in his call to revoke Benedict’s revised Good Friday Prayer. Mussinghoff also called for a definitive end to negotiations with the Society of St. Pius X. Mussinghoff stated that he cannot understand or comprehend the new version. “We have a wonderful formulation in the Ordinary Form, and I would very much welcome it if the new form of the petition in the Extraordinary Form were revoked,” he said. It is a “burden” for Jewish-Christian relations and could be easily revoked. He had “never understood why Pope Benedict added this petition in the old rite” and added, “If I may say so, and with all due respect, that was not a good idea.”
The Vatican’s representative, Fr. Norbert Hofmann, secretary of the papal commission for religious relations with Jews, who was sent to the meeting in the absence of Cardinal Kurt Koch, apparently felt obligated to rise to the defense of Pope Benedict. He said that Pope Benedict “certainly chose the new formulation with good intentions and theological precision,” since the version that was in the old rite until then was “much worse.” Certainly the new petition is “a delicate matter diplomatically,” but it is certainly no “call to mission.” Hoffmann noted that sensibilities in Germany, in view of its history, is much greater than in the rest of the world.
Hofmann advised that Schuster bring his concern directly to the Vatican, namely the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Schuster, Mussinghoff, and Vatican Cardinal Kurt Koch (whose prepared speech was read by Hofmann) emphasized in the discussion that Jewish-Christian relations as a whole are very good. This should not be obscured by smaller or greater strains at times.
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History of the Good Friday Prayer for Jews
The petition for the Jews is part of the Solemn Intercessions of Good Friday which came into being in the 6th century. The Roman, Ambrosian, and Gallican liturgies of the 6th century had petitions for Jews, heretics, and pagans only on Good Friday.
The term perfidus (“faithless, without faith”) is first witnessed as part of a prayer for the Jews in 592 by Bishop Gregory of Tours. Since 750 the Good Friday petitions have called the Jews “faithless” (perfidis) and their faith “Jewish infidelity” (iudaica perfidia).
Since 800 the custom arose in Carolingian lands of not kneeling down for this petition or saying “Amen” after it, as was done for the other petitions. Amalarius of Metz explained it around 820 thus: “For all prayers we bend the knee, … except when we pray pro perfidis Judaeis. For they bent their knee before Christ, and thereby turned a good custom into its opposite, for they did it in mockery.”
The 1570 Missal of Pius V places this petition in the eighth place, between petitions for heretics and pagans:
Oremus et pro perfidis Judaeis, ut Deus et Dominus noster auferat velamen de cordibus eorum, ut et ipsi cognoscant [also found: et agnoscant] Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum.
The priest is directed to continue without kneeling and without a pause, and omitting Amen at the end:
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui etiam judaicam perfidiam a tua misericordia non repellis, exaudi preces nostras, quas pro illius populi obcæcatione deferimus, ut agnita veritatis tuæ luce, quæ Christus est, a suis tenebris eruantur. Per eundem Dominum nostrum.
Some bishops in Tuscany omitted the petition for the Jews around 1800, but this custom did not last or affect the rest of the Church.
In 1925 the Jewish convert to Catholicism Franziska van Leer asked her friend Cardinal Wilhelmus Marinus van Rossum to advocate for a change in this prayer, but without success.
In 1926 the Catholic organization of clergy “Amici Israel” (“friends of Israel”) was founded. By 1928 it numbered some 3,000 priests, 287 bishops, and 19 cardinals. They sought to remove anti-Semitic elements from the Catholic liturgy, and they formally asked the Vatican to remove or replace perfidis/perfidia and the omission of kneeling. They proposed replacing perfidiam Judaicam with plebem Judaicam (“the Jewish people”), as was found in an Ambrosian manuscript fo the 11th century. The proposal was rejected.
In the reform of the Holy Week liturgy under Pius XII, the petition was given the title Pro conversione Judaeorum (“for the conversion of the Jews”) in 1955, and pausing for silent prayer, kneeling, and saying “Amen” were introduced. This form became mandatory in 1956.
On Good Friday 1959 in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope John XXIII omitted the words perfidis and judaicam perfidiam, without having announced any reformist intentions beforehand. The Congregation for Rites (predecessor to today’s Congregation for Divine Worship) decided later in 1959 that henceforth these words were to be omitted.
On Good Friday 1962, a cardinal in the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome prayed the obsolete 1956 version in the presence of Pope John XXIII. The pope interrupted him and demanded that he repeat the prayer in the revised form.
In 1965 Pope Paul VI approved changing the title of the petition to Pro Iudaeis (For the Jews”) and rewording the prayer to include mention of God’s covenant with Abraham:
Oremus et pro Iudaeis; ut Deus et Dominus noster faciem suam super eos illuminare dignetur; ut et ipsi agnoscant omnium Redemptorem, Iesum Christum Dominum nostrum.
[Oremus. Flectamus genua. – Levate.]
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui promissiones tuas Abrahae et semini eius contulisti: Ecclesiae tuae preces clementer exaudi; ut populus acquisitionis antiquae ad Redemptionis mereatur plenitudinem pervenire. Per Dominum nostrum. [Omnes: R.] Amen.“
The current version appeared in the reformed Missal of 1970:
Oremus et pro Iudaeis, ut ad quos prius locutus est Dominus Deus noster, eis tribuat in sui nominis amore et in sui foederis fidelitate proficere.
[Flectamus genua. – Levate.]
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui promissiones tuas Abrahae eiusque semini contulisti, Ecclesiae tuae preces clementer exaudi, ut populus acquisitionis prioris ad redemptionis mereatur plenitudinem pervenire. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
In 1984, Pope John Paul II issued an indult allowing use of the preconciliar liturgical 1962 missal with permission from the bishop.
In 2007 Pope Benedict allowed the preconciliar books to be used without need for special permission of the bishop. The Zentralkomitee der deutschen Katholiken (“central committee of German Catholics”) immediately warned that the 1962 version of the prayer contradicted the document Nostra Aetate of the Second Vatican Council. Many Jewish groups and individuals also protested.
In 2008, Pope Benedict altered the 1962 prayer for use in the Extraordinary Form as follows, leaving unchanged the title Pro conversione Judaeorum:
Oremus et pro Iudaeis. Ut Deus et Dominus noster illuminet corda eorum, ut agnoscant Iesum Christum salvatorem omnium hominum.
[Oremus. Flectamus genua. – Levate.]
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui vis ut omnes homines salvi fiant et ad agnitionem veritatis veniant, concede propitius, ut plenitudine gentium in Ecclesiam Tuam intrante omnis Israel salvus fiat. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
The Society of St. Pius X has continued to use the unrevised text and rejected Benedict’s revision, called it superfluous and a regrettable concession to representative of Judaism.
On April 4, 2008, Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone released a statement of Pope Benedict saying that the pope’s revision was no deviation from the Second Vatican Council and would remain but an exception.
Source: German Wikipedia.