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Monday, March 10, 2008

Thoughts on the New Prayers for the Jews

We thought putting this in context would be a good idea. And we find it difficult to go much past the redoubtable Fr Z's explanations.

Here, for your edification:

WDTPRS: The new Good Friday prayer for Jews in the 1962MR
CATEGORY: SESSIUNCULUM — Fr. John Zuhlsdorf @ 8:27 am

I have been thinking a little about the new prayer Pope Benedict XVI has swapped into the 1962 Missale Romanum for Good Friday when we, as a whole Church have always, do now, and will always pray also for the Jews.

I wrote about this issue at some length here.

A have some initial observations.

Most people really wont care one way or another about this prayer.
It is used once a year.
Missals were changed by Popes all along the way.
Our Church is not a fly in amber.
People should actually read the prayer and think about it before freaking out.
Let’s have a look at the prayer as it appears in the 1962 Missale Romanum and now in its revised form in the 1962 Missale. My translations:

MR62 Latin
Oremus et pro Iudaeis: ut Deus et Dominus noster auferat velamen de cordibus eorum; ut et ipsi agnoscant Iesum Christum Dominum nostrum. ...

Omnipotens sempiternae Deus, qui Iudaeos etiam a tua misericordia non repellis: exaudi preces nostras, quas pro illius populi obcaecatione deferimus; ut agnita veritatis tuae luce, quae Christus est, a suis tenebris eruantur. Per eundem Dominum.

MR62 English
Let us also pray for the Jews: that our Lord and God take away the veil from their hearts; that they too may acknowledge Jesus Christ to be our Lord.

Almighty eternal God, who also does not repell the Jews from Your mercy: graciously hear the prayers which we are conveying on behalf of the blindness of that people; so that once the light of Your Truth has been recognized, which is Christ, they may be rescued from their darkness.

Revised ‘62 Latin
Oremus et pro Iudaeis: ut Deus et Dominus noster illuminet corda eorum, ut agnoscant Iesum Christum salvatorem omnium hominum.

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui vis ut omnes homines salvi fiant et ad agnitionem veritatis veniant, concede propitius, ut plenitudine gentium in Ecclesiam Tuam intrante omnis Israel salvus fiat. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.

Revised ‘62 English

Let us also pray for the Jews: that our God and Lord may illuminate their hearts, that they acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men.

Almighty and eternal God, who want that all men be saved and come to the recognition of the truth, propitiously grant that even as the fullness of the peoples enters Your Church, all Israel may be saved. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

In first prayer of the couplet, the older version prayed that the darkness, in the image of a veil, be taken from the hearts of the Jews, presumably to let in the light of Christ, light being a metaphor for the Truth, who also is Christ. In first prayer of the newer version, we pray that God may illuminate, that is shed light, which is a metaphor for the Truth (who is Christ) in the hearts of the Jews.

Okay… it is a little less poetic in the new version. I like the poetry of the previous version and mourn its loss. I found nothing, zero, offensive to Jews in that older version. After, we Christians pray in terms our our own darkness. Still… the first prayers of both the older version and the newer version say the same thing.

The second prayer of the couplet, in the older version begins with a statement that God does not reject the Jews from His mercy. An obvious point. However, the Latin could be read to say in English: "O God, who does not reject even the Jews from Your mercy". In English this could be made to sound rather like the Jews must be pretty bad indeed and that it would be reasonable for a less merciful God to not be merciful. However, Latin, not English, is the language of Mass and this phrase need not have that negative connotation. It is better to render it "also the Jews" and not just "even the Jews". In the next part of the prayer we take it on ourselves to pray on behalf of their "darkness", that is, that they lack the Truth, the light of Christ. That’s fine: we Christians pray for ourselves in those very same terms. We refer to our own dark sins all the time, etc. Then we pray that they will be rescued from darkness, which is a metaphor for error and the possibility of the loss of salvation. No problems there. I think we are pretty much praying for ourselves in those terms to. However, the force of the statement comes as much through the beautiful turn of phrase, the poetry that has an impact on the ear.

The second part of the newer version of the prayer, starts from the larger picture, rather than the smaller group. The older prayer focuses entirely on the Jews. The newer version starts from the fact that all men, whomever they may be, were made to be saved and happy with God in heaven. They are saved through "recognition of the Truth". Christ is that Truth.

The interesting point here is what is being said in "grant that even as the fullness of the peoples enters Your Church, all Israel may be saved".

This is a reference to Romans 11:25-26:

For I would not have you ignorant, brethren, of this mystery (lest you should be wise in your own conceits) that blindness (caecitas) in part has happened in Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles (plentitudo gentium) should come in (intraret). And so all Israel should be saved (omnis Israhel salvus fieret), as it is written: There shall come out of Sion, he that shall deliver and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.

Earlier in Romans St. Paul says that the Church is the fulfillment of the Israel. However, here Paul is saying that God is not therefore finished with the Jews. In chapter 11, Paul is exploring how the Gentiles must be very humble in regard to their salvation. However, Paul says that Israel has, in fact, a blindness problem (caecitatas)... and that this blindness of Israel, that is the part of the Israel that did not covert and come into the Church… until the fullness of the Gentiles should come in. So, Paul focuses on the responsibility of the Gentiles, but he is also saying that God is not finished with the unconverted Jews.

So, in the second part of the second prayer in the new, revised couplet: there is a direct scriptural reference to the "blindness… caecitas" of the Jews. This is very common with our Catholic prayers: often they only mention a fragment of a phrase of Scripture, and we must pick up the context.

If the Jews who hear this newer prayer think they have scored a victory over the Church because the Pope was persuaded to change the text, they are very much deluded. The reference to the blindness of the Jews is still there: you just have to take the veil off your Christian Bible and look up the reference. Frankly, I think that if the Jews who were really grousing at the Holy See look at this prayer, they are not going to like what the find. They won’t be happy until the Pope stands at the center balcony of St. Peter’s and says that Jews are right and that Christ irrelevant to salvation.

If any Catholic traditionalists are angry that the Pope changed the prayer, they too should pick up their Bibles and take a look around, thinking first, about what the prayer really says.

The new prayer has retained the substance of the old prayers. As a matter of fact, Pope Benedict has provided a deeper point of reflection. Let us not forget that the earlier versions, going back to the 1570 editio princeps, are not doctrinally wrong. We are free to change our manner of expression. What Pope Benedict has done is shift the style, yes, but also add a layer for our prayer life, rather than take one away.

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