Why I have faith in this Pope

November 24, 2016 23:22

Like any aspiring Jewish journalist, I keep up with what other faith-based newspapers are saying about the Jews. Online publication of these news-sheets makes this task much easier than hitherto. For the most part, what internet searches for them throw up are mundane reports of a vaguely "interfaith" and frankly inconsequential nature. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when, on opening my electronic edition of last week's Catholic Herald, I was confronted with an astonishing report. "The bishops of England and Wales (the report revealed) have appealed to Rome to change the Good Friday prayer for Jews as it is said in the Extraordinary Form."

By "bishops" is of course meant Roman Catholic bishops. "Extraordinary Form" - as any yeshiva bocher will tell you - is the description applied by His Late Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to describe the form of liturgy sanctioned for use in the Catholic church by his predecessor, the so-called "good" Pope John XXIII. It is known more popularly as the Tridentine Mass - the Latin Mass that was superseded by the decision of the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65 to permit masses to be recited in local languages.

In the matter of Jews, the Second Vatican Council reached some brave conclusions. It stressed the Jewish roots of Christianity and God's love for the Jewish people. It declared that "although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God". These bold statements appear to have angered many of the Catholic faithful, and the demotion of the Tridentine Mass appears to have angered many more. Benedict XVI - formerly Joseph Ratzinger, one-time member of the Hitler Youth who, as the Vatican website calmly put it, "enrolled in the auxiliary anti-aircraft service" of Nazi Germany - was determined to make amends. He revived the Tridentine Mass, with the result that each year, on Good Friday (commemorating the execution of Jesus), the Roman Catholic faithful are once more enjoined to pray "for the conversion of the Jews". Where the faithful were once expected to "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," they are now enjoined to cry out "Let us pray also for the Jews, that the Lord our God may take the veil from their hearts and that they may also acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ."

Enter Archbishop Kevin McDonald, born in Stoke-upon-Trent and formerly Bishop of Northampton. As chairman of the Roman Catholic Bishops' Committee for Catholic-Jewish Relations, Archbishop McDonald (the Catholic Herald reported), has pointed out that the difference in wording had caused "great confusion and upset in the Jewish community." It must therefore be amended, because God's covenant with the Jewish people (McDonald insists) has not been revoked. "The prayer produced… for use in the Extraordinary Form of the liturgy reverted to being a prayer for the conversion of Jews to Christianity." It should be changed because "such a change would be important both for giving clarity and consistency to Catholic teaching and for helping to progress Catholic-Jewish dialogue."

I have never been an enthusiast for inter-faith dialogue. But I do acknowledge the importance of understanding what one faith says about another. In this case, the indisputable fact is that the Christian view of the Jews and of Judaism has played a seminal part in the theological construction and bloody impact of anti-Jewish prejudice for two millennia. Post-Holocaust, and as the recent history of the Tridentine Mass illustrates, the Catholic church has blown hot and cold when confronted with evidence of its own contribution to this catastrophe. But the current Pontiff, Pope Francis, is on record as condemning as antisemitic, attacks both on Jews and on Israel. Two years ago, addressing a Jewish audience at the Vatican, he is reported to have said that "A Christian cannot be antisemitic," due to "our common roots" with the Jewish people. He has of course visited Israel and prayed at the Western Wall. Vatican-watchers tell me that there is a good chance he will heed the advice of Archbishop McDonald and sanction some revision to the cruel words of the Tridentine Mass. I hope they are right.

Catholics now pray for the conversion of the Jews

November 24, 2016 23:22

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