Changes in a Good Friday prayer calling for the conversion of the Jewish people, meant to mollify criticisms by some Jews, has sparked even more criticisms with conservative Judaism’s international assembly of rabbis, the Rabbinical Assembly.
The organization is due to vote on a draft resolution (next week at a meeting in Washington) that warns the change could result in setting back relations between Catholics and Jews. The group is “dismayed and deeply disturbed to learn that Pope Benedict XVI has revised the 1962 text of the Latin mass, retaining the rubric, ‘For the Conversion of The Jews.’ ”
The new version of the payer to be recited in the revived traditional Tridentine Latin liturgy for Good Friday petitions God to enlighten the hearts of Jews “so that they may acknowledge Jesus Christ, the savior of all men.” Most Catholics worship in the vernacular, according to The New York Times and their prayers will not be affected. But last year, the Pope made it easier for traditionalists to celebrate the Latin Mass that was the norm before Vatican II.
The Times reported that the draft resolution warns that the prayer would “cast a harsh shadow over the spirit of mutual respect and collaboration that has marked these past four decades, making it more difficult for Jews to engage constructively in dialogue with Catholics.”
Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the Good Friday mass in Latin prayed for the conversion of Jews, referring to their “blindness” and calling upon God to “lift a veil from their hearts,” The Times recalled, adding that the newly revised prayer asks “Let us pray for the Jews. May the Lord Our God enlighten their hearts so that they may acknowledge Jesus Christ, the savior of all men.”
The changes have not satisfied lay Jewish groups with Rabbi Joel H. Meyers, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the conservative rabbis’ group, telling the Times that leaders from the Reform and Reconstructionist movements had also been in touch with him about issuing a joint statement on the papal revision.
“We have been very much involved in interfaith activities and dialogue for years, and relationships with the Catholic Church are really quite good,” the rabbi told the Times, “I think it really turns back the clock a bit and reverts to some sense that the church is pulling back from the positions it took in Vatican II.”
In Rome, Cardinal Walter Kasper, described by Ha'aretz as "the top Vatican cardinal in charge of relations with Jews," told Corriere Della Sera, a leading Italian newspaper, "We think that reasonably this prayer cannot be an obstacle to dialogue because it reflects the faith of the Church and, furthermore, Jews have prayers in their liturgical texts that we Catholics don't like. I must say that I don't understand why Jews cannot accept that we can make use of our freedom to formulate our prayers. One must accept and respect differences."
Kasper made the cooment the day after world Jewish leaders warned the new prayer could set back inter-religious dialogue for decades.
Speaking to Vatican Radio, Kasper said: "The Holy Father wanted to say 'yes, Jesus Christ is the savior of all men, including the Jews, but this does not mean we are embarking on a mission [to convert Jews]. We are giving witness to our faith."
In the U.S. The Anti-Defamation League described the revision to the prayer "cosmetic revisions," adding that the prayer is still "deeply troubling" because of its call to convert Jews. "The language is better but it's still troubling," Abe Foxman, the national director of the Anti Defamation League told Reuters on Wednesday, Feb. 6.
The Rev. James Massa, executive director of the secretariat of ecumenical and interreligious affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the Times that the prayer would be heard by “a tiny minority of Catholics and they will hear it in Latin.”
“The publication of the prayer and its interpretation by some of our partners in the Jewish community does lower the temperature a bit,” Father Massa said, “but we have persevered other controversies in the past and at the end of the day we are all at the table of dialogue.”
Rabbis di Segni (the Chief Rabbi of Rome) and Rosen [chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations), said that Jewish groups were disappointed and "had hoped the prayer in the [Tridentine] rite would be the same as that of the universal Catholic liturgy known as there Novus Ordo in use since 1970."
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