Good Friday Prayer for the Jews

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When Pope Benedict XVI issued a motu proprio (decree) on July 7 authorizing wider use of the Latin Tridentine Mass, some Jews and Catholics feared that the decree would revive an ancient Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews that referred to the “blindness” of Jews, and asked God to “take the veil from their hearts.” Several Jewish organizations, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center, issued statements; the one by Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League was especially strong, calling the papal decision “a theological setback” and “a body blow to Catholic-Jewish relations.”

However, this prayer was superseded in 1965 by a revision approved by Pope Paul VI, even before the new Vatican II Roman Missal was promulgated in 1970. A decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites of March 7, 1965, revised the prayers of Holy Week, and in particular changed the Prayer for the Jews recited on Good Friday. The title was changed from “Prayer for the Conversion of the Jews” to “Prayer for the Jews,” and references to such language as “blindness” and “take the veil from their hearts” was eliminated. Perhaps some have overlooked this revision because the 1965 prayer was in general use only between 1965 and 1970.

The text of this decree may be found in Latin in Acta Apostolicae Sedis v. 57, pp. 412-413 and in English in Bouscaren & O’Connor, Canon Law Digest v. 6, pp.108-109. Unfortunately, neither source gives the text of the revised prayer; the Latin text is appended below with my translation into English. The English translation by Associated Press, published with the article “Prayers on Jews Revised by Pontiff,” New York Times, April 1, 1965, is imprecise.

This decree of March 7, 1965 is still in effect whenever the Tridentine Missal is used. Pope Benedict XVI stated in his motu proprio “Summorum Pontificum” (Art. 1) that the (Tridentine) Roman Missal promulgated by Pius V in 1570 and republished by John XXIII in 1962 has never been abrogated; the March 7, 1965 decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites hasn’t been abrogated either.

The Latin text:

“Oremus et pro Iudaeis: ut Deus et Dominus noster faciem suam super eos illuminare dignetur; ut et ipsi agnoscant omnium Redemptorem, Iesum Christum Dominum nostrum.

“Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui promissiones tuas Abrahae et semini eius ontulisti: Ecclesiae tuae preces clementer exaudi; ut populus acquisitionis antiquae ad Redemptionis mereatur plenitudinem pervenire.”

My translation:

“Let us pray also for the Jews: that our Lord and God let his face shine upon them; that they also may recognize the Redeemer of all, Jesus Christ our Lord.

“Almighty and Eternal God, who has given thy promises to Abraham and his seed: hear with kindness the prayers of thy Church; that the people chosen of old may be able to attain the fullness of Redemption.”

I should add that while the 1965 version of the Prayer for the Jews is an improvement over the ancient version, yet it is inferior to the Vatican II version of 1970. In the interest of good Catholic-Jewish relations, the possibility suggested by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, that the Vatican II version of 1970 be used in all Good Friday services (Latin and vernacular), is the most desirable outcome.

I may also add that given the great improvement in Jewish-Catholic relations over the forty-odd years since the Second Vatican Council, it’s deplorable that Mr. Foxman was so quick to issue his statement, without waiting for the matter to be clarified. There was no need for haste, as the next Good Friday falls on March 21, 2008. If there was “a body blow to Catholic-Jewish relations,” the blow was delivered by Mr. Foxman himself.

More information on this subject may be found at the web site of the International Council of Christians and Jews.