ROME – On Good Friday, two days before Easter, a prayer titled “Let us Pray for the Conversion of the Jews” was recited in Latin by traditionalist Catholic congregations in Italy, plus 16 sections of the Society of Saint Pius.
The ultra-conservative society, whose excommunication was lifted by Pope Benedict XVI last year, has yet to be fully reintegrated into the Catholic Church, because of its refusal to accept the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
In 2007, in an effort to bring the traditionalist elements of the Church back into the fold, Benedict issued a “Motu Proprio” declaration allowing wider use of the 1962, pre-Vatican II Roman Missal containing this prayer, which was previously restricted to small groups. Three years ago only 30 Italian churches were affected by that decision, as opposed to the 118 that regularly use the liturgy today.
The word “conversion,” however, was not supposed to have been part of the title of this traditionalist Good Friday prayer. The official text, personally revised by the pope after Israel’s Chief Rabbinate expressed concerns regarding its content, was circulated in a note by Cardinal Bertone, the Vatican’s secretary of state, in February 2008, bearing a new official title – “Oremus et pro Iudaeis,” or “Let us Pray for the Jews.” However, quite unexpectedly, that title has been changed to “Let us Pray for the Conversion of the Jews” in the brand new luxury re-edition of the missal currently flying off the shelves in Vatican bookstores.
For months, Vatican officials assured representatives of Jewish organizations that the error in the draft would be amended, and during recent bilateral meetings it seemed that they were unaware of the fact that a new edition had already been published bearing the “mistaken” title.
The reissuing of traditionalist liturgies is the responsibility of the formerly independent Ecclesia Dei Commission, which was incorporated into Cardinal William Levada’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (known until 1908 as the Inquisition) during the fallout from the Bishop Richard Williamson Holocaust-denying affair. Under the present papacy, the network of internal communications seems to be functioning at an even slower pace than before the changes were made.
The current text of the prayer is a compromise between the Tridentine version and the contemporary, universal prayer spoken in all languages across the world since Pope Paul VI’s reform in 1970. It states, “Let us pray to the Lord our God for the Jews, whom God chose first above all men to receive His Word, that He may help them to progress in the love of His Name and in faithfulness to His Covenant... so that the firstborn People of Your Covenant may reach the fullness of redemption.”
This formulation was a great step forward in comparison to the text of the old Latin prayer, which – although Pope John XXIII, who called the Second Vatican Council, had removed the expression “perfidious Jews” – still contained several objectionable expressions. These included an invocation to “remove the veil over the hearts” of Jews so that they may “recognize our Lord Jesus Christ,” and a reference to the “blindness” of the Jewish people.
The recently revised version of the Roman Missal’s Good Friday prayer, approved and supposedly written by Benedict, does not contain these offensive expressions. However, it is still considered a step back from the “normal,” contemporary, multilingual versions used by the vast majority of the world’s Catholics.
The newly legitimized Latin text now disseminated in traditionalist communities states, “Let us pray for the Jews. May the Lord our God illuminate their hearts so that they can recognize Jesus Christ, Saviour of all mankind. Almighty and Eternal God, You who want all men to be saved and know the truth, concede the grace that by entering into the fullness of peoples within Your Church, all of Israel may be saved. Amen.”
Despite suggestions by Catholic and Jewish leaders committed to
interfaith dialogue to the effect that the Latin version of the
multilingual 1970 prayer be used instead of the 1962 prayer, Benedict
preferred to rewrite the old Tridentine text. His decision was
eventually accepted by Jewish leaders after Cardinal Walter Kasper,
president of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with
Jews, wrote a letter and editorial explaining that no missionary
activity was being proposed by the Church and emphasizing that hopes
for the conversion of the Jews referred only to “eschatological times,”
or the Messianic Age.
The question remains, however, how and why did the reissue of the Good
Friday prayer appear without a correction of the problematic title?
A Vatican spokesmen told The Jerusalem Post
“the printing of this title was an error which will be rectified”;
however, considering that the expensive new edition was made available
only a month ago, the correction may be long in coming.