As The Tablet reports this week, a German bishop has called for Pope Benedict XVI’s revision of the Good Friday prayer for the Jews to be revoked. A nun dedicated to furthering Catholic-Jewish relations says she couldn’t agree more with Heinrich Mussinghoff, the Bishop of Aachen
Bishop Mussinghoff’s request that Pope Francis revoke the Good Friday prayer for the Jewish people according to the Tridentine Rite has come at a fitting moment in this year of the fiftieth anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the groundbreaking Second Vatican Council declaration that set the Church on a new path of dialogue with the Jewish people. Over the past 50 years the Church has been developing a positive attitude towards Judaism after 2,000 years of very painful, almost totally negative history.
Before the Council, the Good Friday prayer referred to the Jewish people as “faithless” and “blind” and called for them to “acknowledge Jesus Christ”. Minor corrections had been made until we received the final revision of the prayer in 1970 which read: “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. 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. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
This wholly positive prayer echoes the words of St Paul in Romans 11, where he speaks of the mystery of God’s mercy when dealing with his own people. In his address to the Jewish community in Mainz in 1980, St John Paul II said that this covenant had “never been revoked” by God. The Jewish people have remained in a covenantal relationship with God through which they access salvation. In the explanatory preface to the printed version of the 1985 Vatican document, Notes on the Correct Way to Present Jews and Judaism in Teaching and Preaching, the then-Mgr (later Cardinal) Jorge Mejia, Secretary of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, said that “the Jews have their own way to God and they must follow it.”
As Bishop Mussinghoff says, it is a matter of deep regret that after Pope Benedict XVI issued his motu proprio liberalising access to the Tridentine Rite, he revised the Good Friday prayer but it still prayed for the conversion of the Jews – “that our God and Lord may illuminate their hearts, that they acknowledge Jesus Christ is the saviour of all men”. This caused grave offence to the Jewish community and alarm to those Catholics involved in the Jewish-Christian dialogue after all the good work done to rebuild relations. For Jews, this brings back memories of centuries of pain when Good Friday was a time of fear for them because of the ancient charge of deicide, a charge that was definitively revoked in Nostra Aetate.
If the call by Bishop Mussinghoff to replace the Pope Benedict’s version of the Good Friday prayer with the 1970 Ordinary Rite version, was heeded, it would be a significant gesture, affirming the great progress made by the Catholic Church in her relations with the Jewish people since Nostra Aetate.
Sr Margaret Shepherd of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion is secretary of the Committee for Catholic Jewish Relations of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales
Top: Bishop Mussinghoff supported the plea by Dr Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany at an event to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Nostra Aetate. Above: Pope Benedict with British-born Rabbi David Rosen in 2010. Rabbi Rosen expressed concern that the revised prayer marked a backwards step in Catholic-Jewish relations. Photos: Kath. Stadtkirche Frankfurt/Doris Wiese-Gutheil, CNS/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters