Pope Benedict Under Attack: Updated
by Christopher A. Ferrara
As this column first went to press, an international alliance of Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis, along with Abe Foxman’s B’Nai B’rith Anti-Defamation League, was organizing to agitate against Pope Benedict XVI’s revised formulation of the Good Friday Solemn Prayer for the Conversion of the Jews in the traditional Latin liturgy, whose universal availability the Pope confirmed in his Motu Proprio last July, which declared that the traditional Latin Mass was “never abrogated [never legally forbidden]” by Paul VI.
The Pope issued the revised prayer after months of complaining about the traditional prayer by Foxman and other Jewish spokesmen following the Motu Proprio. The revised prayer, which omits references to “blindness” and “darkness” in the traditional prayer, reads as follows (unofficial English translation):
Let us pray, also for the Jews.
May our God and Lord enlighten their hearts, so that they may acknowledge Jesus Christ, saviour of all men.
Let us pray. Let us kneel. Arise.
Almighty and everlasting God, who desirest that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of truth, mercifully grant that, as the fullness of the Gentiles [“the nations”] enters into Thy Church, all Israel may be saved. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
The first part of the revised prayer states an intention — “May our God and Lord enlighten their hearts, so that they may acknowledge Jesus Christ, saviour of all men” — which is indistinguishable from the intention of the original prayer, which reads: “That our God and Lord would withdraw the veil from their hearts: that they may also acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ.” The phrase “remove the veil from their hearts” as distinct from “enlighten their hearts” is hardly necessary to preserve the traditional intention of the prayer. The intention in both the old and the revised prayer is precisely the same: that the Jewish people recognize Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah whose coming their own Scriptures prophesy.
Further, the second part of the prayer is clearly drawn from the teaching of Saint Paul in Romans, Chapter 11: “For I would not have you ignorant, brethren, of this mystery (lest you should be wise in your own conceits), that blindness in part has happened in Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles [the nations] should come in.” Hence even the concept of spiritual “blindness” in the traditional prayer is retained, albeit only by reference.
I must disagree with Catholic critics who pronounce the new prayer “ambiguous.” The new prayer is an unambiguous call for the enlightenment — same word as the old prayer — of the Jewish people so that they will acknowledge — same word as the old prayer — Christ. Moreover, the new prayer adds an explicit call, based on Saint Paul’s prophecy [“and so all Israel should be saved” Rom. 11:26], for the ultimate salvation — the new prayer says “saved” — of the entire Jewish people by the same acknowledgment of Christ. There is no other possible reading of Romans 11, which is all about the new covenant people of the Church, including Saint Paul and other Jewish converts—then, now, and until the end of time. The suggestion by Cardinal Kasper (ever ready to undermine the Faith) that the prayer can be read to reduce Jewish conversion to a future eschatological event at the end of time is simply not supported by the language of the prayer or the teaching of Saint Paul on which it is based.
The prayer’s lack of ambiguity is precisely why the Pope is under fire from Jewish groups. As we now see, the words “blindness” and “darkness” in the old prayer were never really the issue. The issue, rather, was always the call for Jewish conversion as such. Pope Benedict was under pressure to abandon that call, and with it the infallible teaching of the Church on the necessity for all men to come to Christ for salvation. But the Pope has refused to do so. Thus, as Foxman complains, he and the ADL are
deeply troubled and disappointed that the framework and intention to petition God for Jews to accept Jesus as Lord was kept intact. Alterations of language without change to the 1962 prayer’s conversionary intent amount to cosmetic revisions, while retaining the most troubling aspect for Jews… Still named the ‘Prayer for Conversion of the Jews,’ it is a major departure from the teachings and actions of Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, and numerous authoritative Catholic documents, including Nostra Aetate.
That is, Foxman and company are furious that the illusion of a change in Church teaching on the relation of the Jewish people to Jesus Christ has proven to be just that. Nothing has changed. The Jewish people, no less than the other peoples of the earth, need Jesus Christ for salvation. That the Pope has reaffirmed this in 2008 completely destroys the argument that the Church abandoned this teaching in 1965 at Vatican II. Indeed, the head of the Italian Rabbinical Assembly, Giuseppe Laras, has declared a suspension of “dialogue” precisely because he sees the new prayer as “turn[ing] back the hands of the clock 43 years” (Corriere della Sera, 6 February 2008).
The international Rabbinical Assembly, at a just-concluded meeting in Washington, has adopted a resolution [watered down from the proposed resolution originally reported] expressing it is “dismayed and deeply disturbed” by the new prayer and asking the Vatican to “clarify” the meaning and “status” of the prayer. That is, the Assembly and other agitators, especially Foxman, hope to pressure the Pope to back away from the revised prayer with a “clarification” that neuters it.
Catholics must not allow this to happen. Whatever one thinks of the prudence of his decision, the Holy Father has made a good faith effort to placate some of the Church’s Jewish critics, but they have shown themselves to be implacable. They want “dialogue” only on their terms: that the Pope abandon the loving call to the Jewish people to join the Catholic Church, wherein, as Saint Paul (the most renowned of Jewish converts) teaches, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free… but all are one in Christ Jesus.”
Meanwhile, press accounts note ominously that the Pope’s action “reignites old tensions” (USA Today) and “could set back Jewish-Catholic relations” (NY Times). The world’s hostile reaction to the new prayer reminds me of what Father Felix Sarda y Salvany observed in his classic little work Liberalism is a Sin: “Satan, bad as he is, is not a fool, and sees clearly where the flow falls with most effect…. What he most abhors and defames possesses an unimpeachable guaranty of its truth.”
Thus, even those Catholics who think the new prayer is an ill-advised concession to outside pressure should stand by the Pope against those who oppose it on grounds that it is contrary to “the spirit of Vatican II” — a “spirit” that Satan heartily approves.
At this moment, in keeping with the Message of Fatima, our Pope, who “will have much to suffer,” needs prayers (especially the Rosary) and a militant Catholic defense. Whether or not they like the new Good Friday prayer, I call upon all Catholics to defend the Holy Father in this time of trial. For should the Pope capitulate to the growing pressure now being applied to him and issue yet another version of the prayer or some “clarification” that really does abandon the call for the conversion of the Jews, we will bear part of the blame if we fail to stand by our elderly and rather retiring pontiff, who has been under sustained attack ever since he liberated the Latin Mass in July.Our Lady of Fatima, strengthen our Pope!