|The Crucifixion: for the Rosary Walk at Aylesford Priory|
“The 1970 prayer which is now used throughout the Church is basically a prayer that the Jewish people would continue to grow in the love of God’s name and in faithfulness of his Covenant, a Covenant which – as St John Paul II made clear in 1980 – has not been revoked. By contrast the prayer produced in 2008 for use in the Extraordinary Form of the liturgy reverted to being a prayer for the conversion of Jews to Christianity.”
The 2008 prayer replaced one expressed in rather strong language, language used by St Paul in 2 Corinthians 3 and 4. Pope Benedict thought it best to express its central idea, and even its central image - of light overcoming darkness - in a slightly different way.
Pope Benedict's prayer reads as follows:
Let us also pray for the Jews: that our God and Lord may illuminate their hearts, that they acknowledge Jesus Christ is the Saviour of all men.
The Novus Ordo Prayer is this:
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.
So what, exactly, is the suggestion? That people of Jewish extraction (or is it just Jews who practice their religion?) are saved by something other than Christ? But that can't be right, at least according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
846 Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.
848 "Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men."
It should be noted that these passages come immediately after the Catechism's treatment of the Jews, and of Muslims, so they'd not been forgotten. Everyone who is going to be saved, is going to be saved, whether through Baptism or through a 'way known only to God', by reference to Christ's blood which was shed for the whole of mankind.
This is made explicit by Vatican II's Declaration on Non-Christian Religions, Nostra aetate, whose anniversary was the occasion for this discussion by the Bishops' Conference (section 4):
Christ underwent His passion and death freely, because of the sins of men and out of infinite love, in order that all may reach salvation. It is, therefore, the burden of the Church's preaching to proclaim the cross of Christ as the sign of God's all-embracing love and as the fountain from which every grace flows.
The idea that Christ did not die for the Jewish people is evidently absurd. (How about Matthew 15:24? 'I was not sent but to the sheep that are lost of the house of Israel'.) The idea that the Jews, before or after the Passion, received the grace of God in any other way than through the 'cross of Christ' would be a fundamental mistake.
Archbishop McDonald refers us to something Pope St John Paul II said in 1980. He must mean a very short speech (a speech- not a very heavyweight exercise of magisterial authority) to the Jewish community of Berlin on 17th November that year. It is not available in English on the Vatican website, but you can read it here. The relevant passage is this:
The first dimension of this dialogue, that is, the meeting between the people of God of the Old Covenant, never revoked by God [cf. Rom. 11:29], and that of the New Covenant, is at the same time a dialogue within our Church, that is to say, between the first and the second part of her Bible.
What does this reference to the Old Covenant mean? Pope St John Paul refers us to Romans 11:29. (These kinds of references are part of the official text, notwithstanding the square brackets; the same passage of St Paul is cited by Nostra aetate to the same effect.) St Paul tells us this:
For the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance.
The context of this verse is all about how the Jews have (mostly) rejected Christ, and have therefore been 'disobedient', but remain 'dear' to God for the sake of the Patriarchs, and St Paul looks forward to their salvation. It is one of the passages which has led to the tradition that the Last Judegement won't happen until 'the conversion of the Jews': that is, it is something which will happen at the end of history.
So, to put all this together, St John Paul II, following Nostra aetate, makes reference to the fact that the Old Covenant still retains its importance, in the sense that God's promise to Israel (of the coming of the Redeemer) has not been taken back, as St Paul expressed it. Archbishop McDonald appears to suggest that there is a tension between this and the aspiration expressed in Pope Benedict's prayer that Jews come to believe in Christ. This is very puzzling, since St Paul himself spent a great deal of time proclaiming the Gospel to Jews, and experienced a great deal of anguish about those who did not accept his message.
In a nutshell: saying, with St Paul, that God does not revoke His promises, cannot contradict praying and working, like St Paul, for the Jews to accept Christ.
Of course this does not mean proselytism (which has become established as meaning encouraging conversions in a bad way, for example by coercion or bribery); it may not mean anything active at all. The Church's evangelisation (the good kind of encouraging conversion) is often carried out simply by the witness of a life of faith- as the old hymn says, By kindly words and virtuous life. The very fact that this kind of evangelisation does not target anyone in particular, means that Jews cannot be excluded from it. From time to time Jewish people do, in fact, come to the Faith: we can't tell them to go away.
The continuing relevance of the Old Covenant for Jews today, from a Catholic point of view, has become a very hot topic, and Pope Benedict himself had a good deal to say about this as a private theologian. That did not stop him, however, from praying that Jews might receive the grace of Christ. It is not as if the grace of Christ is something bad.
We need to be very careful with these old prayers. The original prayer was of great antiquity, and represented a theological perspective from the age of the Fathers of the Church, which has been accepted and honoured by the saints and doctors of every age of the Church since then. Furthermore, the liturgy is a 'theological source': it doesn't have the same authority as Scripture, but like Scripture it does have authority. These old prayers can't simply be brushed aside. The theological content, if not all the language, of the old prayer is preserved in Pope Benedict's version. Its correspondence with documents like the Catechism of the Catholic Church is hardly a coincidence. The prayer's theological content is part of the Faith of the Church.
Incidentally, Nostra aetate is extremely short; I recommend anyone wanting to know what the fuss is about to read the text. All the versions of the Prayer for the Jews from Good Friday are handily given by the Wikipedia article.
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