Pope’s prayer change disappoints Jews, some traditionalist Catholics

February 6, 2008

Pope Benedict with Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi Yona Metzger in Castelgandolfo, Italy, 15 Sept. 2005/poolPope Benedict’s decision to change a Latin prayer for Jews at Good Friday services has disappointed Jews who wanted more change. It has also left some traditionalist Catholics uneasy, because many wanted no change. Both groups were expecting the decision, because Good Friday is coming soon (March 21) and it will be the first Good Friday since the Pope authorised wider use of the old Latin missal. That missal speaks of the “blindness” of the Jews and asks God to “remove the veil from their hearts.” The new wording says “Let us also pray for the Jews. So that God our Lord enlightens their hearts so that they recognize Jesus Christ savior of all men.” It also asks God that “all Israel be saved.”

Reactions are still coming in but here are a few from both sides.

Some initial reactions from Jewish groups and blogs:

Jews read the Torah in a Moscow synagogue, 12 Jan. 2006/Alexander NatruskinAmerican Jewish Committee international director of interreligious affairs, Rabbi David Rosen: “While we appreciate that the text avoids any derogatory language towards Jews, its regretful that the prayer explicitly calls for Jews to accept Christianity. This differs greatly from the text in the current universal liturgy that prays for the salvation of the Jews in general terms. We hope that through further dialogue, the full implications of the Second Vatican Council’s affirmation of the Jewish covenant might lead to a deeper understanding of the value of the Torah as the vehicle of salvation for the Jewish people.”

Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman: “While we appreciate that some of the deprecatory language has been removed from a new version of the Good Friday prayer for the Conversion of Jews in the 1962 Roman Missal, we 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, namely the desire to end the distinctive Jewish way of life. 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.”

Jewish blogger Tzvee: “First the pope re-instituted the Tridentine Mass, in effect saying to us Jews, ‘We will insult you, just like in the olden times.’ Now the Holy Father has revised the insulting liturgy, in effect saying to us Jews, ‘We still want to convert you. However we will not insult you… as much.’ Alas I now must once again just pray that the Lord remove the blindness from the pope’s eyes and lift the veil from his heart — so that he can begin to respect us Jews and …accept the authenticity of our religion and our revelation and our redemption through our Torah.”

Rabbi Guiseppe Laras , president of the Assembly of Italian Rabbis: “What worries me is the second part of the prayer which retains the prayer for the recognition of Jesus by the Jews. I fear that will set back, if not block, the Jewish-Christian dialogue, since some parts of the Jewish world fear that the dialogue is actually intended to convert Jews to Christianity.”

Some initial reactions from traditionalist Catholics:

Traditionalist Catholic priest leads funeral procession in Mantes-la-Jolie, France, 28 July 1998/Jean-Christophe KahnFather John Zuhlsdorf, traditionalist Catholic blogger: “Frankly, I don’t think many Jews will be pleased with the prayer. I don’t think many traditionalists will either.”

Rome’s Outpost blog: “What I will say of it, with all due respect and love towards our good and Supreme Pontiff, is that it is not as good a prayer as the original …But His Holiness is a wiser man than I.”

The Remnant, a traditionalist U.S. Catholic newspaper: “There is only one thing we need to know about the revised prayer in order to assess whether it is good or bad for the cause of the Gospel: Abe Foxman hates it. He really hates it Foxman and his collaborators did not get what they were clamoring for: a formal abandonment of the necessity of Jewish conversion to Christ. What they got instead is a reformulation of the Good Friday prayer that takes away their issue while petitioning for Jewish conversion in a way that is, if anything, even more objectionable from their standpoint.”

New Liturgical Movement blog quotes British theologian Dr. Alcuin Reid: “Whilst the Holy Father has decided that phrases in the previous prayer are to be changed – and we are free to agree or not with his thinking on this – the change is not a substantial change to the Sacred Liturgy as handed on in tradition, nor is it in radical theological discontinuity with what has gone before. Indeed, it reasserts Catholic doctrine (perhaps rather cleverly) when some, if not many, would have had it denied by insisting that it is inappropriate in the modern day to pray for the conversion of the Jews at all. The Pope has rejected such a stance as inimical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, yesterday, today, and forever.

(NB: Not all Catholics are dissatisfied — most will not attend Good Friday services where this prayer is said anyway. Several Catholic media have reported the change without comment. Domradio, the radio of the archdiocese of Cologne in Germany, was quite positive: “Signs of reconciliation – the Pope changes the controversial Good Friday prayer for the Jews.”)

Question: Evangelisation is an essential part of Christianity. It would have been difficult to imagine Pope Benedict scrapping it. Do you think he went far enough in changing the old Latin prayer to reflect today’s relations between Christians and Jews?


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This anti-pope is showing his true colors. All he demonstrates is that he can contradict Sacred Doctrine, and the Christ, who is the TRUTH! When will Roman Catholics get the message. Vatican II is a false Council of the Roman Catholic Church,and their popes teach heresy, period!

Posted by rr | Report as abusive

The Judaist commentators quoted seem to want to “evangelise” Catholics into adopting their religion. It’s hypocrisy. I’m not offended when a Protestant or an atheist tells me I’m wrong. I see it as an invitation to a challenging, gentlemanly debate.

I think the Pope was wrong to make any change. The original words have a Biblical provenance. Once one recognises Scripture as Divine Revelation, it can only be an object of systematic, scientific study. In other words, to paraphrase Pontius Pilate: what God has Divinely inspired, God has Divinely inspired. This change smacks of editing.

Posted by Kevin | Report as abusive

“Went far enough” is a misleading question if ever there was one.

Posted by Caspian | Report as abusive

““First the pope re-instituted the Tridentine Mass, in effect saying to us Jews, ‘We will insult you, just like in the olden times.’”

What amazing narcissism. As if the motu propori had anything to do with Jews…. Get over yourself.

Posted by Kevin V | Report as abusive

I’m not sure I see what the problem is. Why is it so offensive that Catholics pray for the conversion of others? If one truely believes in his religion don’t you want everyone to share in that happiness? If Catholics didnt believe that their way was THE way then why would they remain Catholic? And none of the Jewish leaders EVER mention the derogatory language directed towards Christians in the Talmud. What gives the Jewish leaders the right to tell Catholics how to pray? Will they tell Buddhists not to chant next. Maybe if they removed all of the derogatory language from the Talmud and stopped Jews praying at the wall from spitting on Christians THEN there will be something to talk about

Posted by Douglas Nesmith | Report as abusive

Caspian, by changing the Latin prayer, the Pope clearly wanted to make a conciliatory gesture towards Jews offended by its wording. But he also did not want to go as far as some Jewish commentators suggested, which was to simply take over the prayer adopted in 1970 for vernacular services on Good Friday. So asking whether he went far enough to achieve a conciliatory effect is justified.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

I’m not sure I see what the problem is. Why is it so offensive that Catholics pray for the conversion of others?

Well, I can give you 6 million reasons why Jews are sensitive to being singled out by the church. Try standing in our shoes for just a minute.

Posted by tzvee | Report as abusive

The Jews thank God in their services every day that they were not made Gentiles. This is extremely offensive to me as a Gentile. But I would never dream of throwing a tantrum over it. The pope did the right thing by maintaining Catholic belief that Jesus is the King of the Jews and the whole world.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

To be relgious is to be a peace maker; the one who constantly seeks to mitigate conflicts and nurtures goodwill for co-existence of God’s creation and to live in peace and harmony. Indeed that is the chief purpose of religion, any religion.

I see the same way as Tom Heneghan, it was a gesture, one small step towards reconciliation.

However, Pope Ratzinger has fallen short to be called a peacmaker. His words have created conflicts and uproar and not peace in the past and now.

Let people worship every which way they want, after all they are inovoking that invisible in their own way and God responds to all, if not who wants him, her or it.

As beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, faith is in the heart of the believer.

Mike Ghouse

Posted by Mike Ghouse | Report as abusive

The pope is probably among the most peaceful, unassuming and humble men on the planet – – despite being the intellectual superior of the vast majority of his carping critics. His words are far more understanding than those of the perpetually outraged Abraham Foxman.

But being peaceful does not require him to deny the identity of Jesus Christ and he will never do that. Jewish people really have no business telling Christians how to pray. And when will they give up their obnoxious prayer thanking God for not making them Gentiles? Maybe Abe Foxman can get a press release out on that in the spirit of ecumenical dialogue.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

The Pope did a change in a good way.

So now… what about the Talmud’s words on Jesus and Mary?

One way informations

How many people knew this?

Posted by Vatican Diplomacy | Report as abusive

The Holy Father reiterated the truthful teaching and tradition of The Holy Roman Catholic Church in his revision of the Good Friday prayer for the Jews. Those who are opposed to it,reread it carefully. It is most wonderful. Lets not forget that the first Catholics were Jews,Jesus, his mother Mary, his earthly father Joseph, and the Twelve Apostles.

Posted by ssoldie | Report as abusive

The real shame of all of this, is that there is a general lack of respect for the idea that G-d provides many avenues to coming to know Him/Her. What provides a meaningful relationship for me, may not provide a meaningful relationship for you. Though I left Christianity many years ago, I still respect the faith and piety of those who adhere to hit. Teaching the “Good News” of Gospels need not mean getting everyone to be theologically aligned. It may mean to simply live and act in a way that brings others to realize the Divine in us all through our actions, and to lift up the fallen to see their own Divinity. Why must we constantly feel that our personal truth has to be everyone’s truth for it to be valid. Live as if your theology is true; be an example; don’t worry about whether the next guy is a Jew, Muslim or Christian. Worry about intolerance that leads to dehumanizing and stripping away the Divinity assigned to every human being as we are all made in the Image of G-d (Genesis, Chapter 1).

Posted by Andrew | Report as abusive

Jews have no right to interfere with Catholic worship, just as Catholics have no right to interfere with Jewish worship. The prayer never should have been changed, especially considering all the Jewish prayers that are offensive to non-Jews and all the insulting language in the Talmud that is directed at non-Jews. It seems that these Jews who are upset by the prayer just want special treatment, and I find it to be disgustingly arrogant.

Posted by Jeff | Report as abusive

I am a Jew. I ask this out of respect and not anger: If, at every service, Jews prayed for Catholics to see the error of their way and reject the false Mesiah, would you not find it offensive? I try very hard to respect your belief that the Mesiah has come. Is it too much to ask that you respect my belief that he has not?

Posted by Rob | Report as abusive

Here is a recent history of this prayer:
http://www.liturgy.co.nz/worship/matters .html

Posted by Bosco Peters | Report as abusive


“If, at every service, Jews prayed for Catholics to see the error of their way and reject the false Mesiah,…”

Then I, as a Catholic, would not be at all offended. Really… I mean that. In fact I would consider this likely to be a necessary and coherent corollary to their faith. I doubt many Catholics would be so offended; though perhaps a few militantly secularist Catholics would be… in precisely the same way that they are offended that their own Church prays for the conversion of Jews. But then… secularist Catholics are more or less co-religionists with secularist Jews anyway.

Of course, the particular prayer in question is emphatically NOT uttered at EVERY Catholic service, but rather only in the Good Friday liturgy and only in certain (still relatively rare) uses of of the Latin rite.

Posted by Steve Nicoloso | Report as abusive

Rob, the Jews thank God for not making them Gentiles, as was pointed out above. That’s about as offensive as it gets. So there’s no need for your hypothetical.

Posted by Rick | Report as abusive

The Holy Father is entirely faithful to the Gospel and the Tradition of the Church – as with the apostle St Paul – in love desiring Israel would recognise their own Messiah. Wheres the problem with that?

Posted by victor | Report as abusive