That All May Be Saved by David Mills

That All May Be Saved

Why We Still Must Pray for the Jews

Several issues, like the reform of Social Security, have been called “the third rail of American politics,” because touching one of them can kill a politician’s career. The evangelization of the Jews is the third rail of interfaith relations, for obvious reasons, many of which are the fault of Christians. It can kill a promising dialogue and expose any Christian who proposes it to scorn and contempt.

The most recent controversy on the matter came with Pope Benedict’s retention in the Tridentine Mass of a revised version of a prayer “For the conversion of the Jews,” said on Good Friday.

The old version read: “Let us pray also for the Jews, that the Lord our God may take the veil from their hearts and that they also may acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us pray: Almighty and everlasting God, You do not refuse Your mercy even to the Jews; hear the prayers which we offer for the blindness of that people so that they may acknowledge the light of Your truth, which is Christ, and be delivered from their darkness.”

The new version reads: “Let us also pray for the Jews: that God our Lord might enlighten their hearts, so that they might know Jesus Christ as the Savior of all mankind: Almighty and eternal God, whose desire it is that all men might be saved and come to the knowledge of truth, grant in your mercy that as the fullness of mankind enters into your Church, all Israel may be saved, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

A Troubling Prayer

The revision omits the references to “blindness” and “the veil” (the latter taken from St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians), but retains the hope that the Jews will come to know the Lord. And so, not surprisingly, Jewish leaders rejected even this mitigated version.

“We are deeply troubled and disappointed that the framework and intention to petition God for Jews to accept Jesus as Lord was kept intact,” declared Abraham Foxman, the director of the Anti-Defamation League. The revised prayer kept “the most troubling aspect for Jews, namely the desire to end the distinctive Jewish way of life.” He clearly expected, though he did not say so outright, the church to drop the prayer entirely.

He had responded last year to the news that the pope was granting wider permission to use the Tridentine rite, with the older version of the prayer, by declaring that the action “would now permit Catholics to utter such hurtful and insulting words by praying for Jews to be converted. This is a theological setback in the religious life of Catholics and a body blow to Catholic-Jewish relations. It is the wrong decision at the wrong time. It appears the Vatican has chosen to satisfy a right-wing faction in the Church that rejects change and reconciliation.”

At its international meeting in mid-February, the Rabbinical Assembly, an international group representing the world’s Conservative rabbis, declared that it was “dismayed and deeply disturbed” that Benedict had kept the prayer and that they would “seek clarification from the Vatican of the meaning and status of the new text for the Latin Mass which will be heard in Catholic Churches on Good Friday.” This has to be read, I think, as a more polite and tactful request than Foxman’s that the prayer not be prayed.

Others reacted more mildly, stressing the success of the Jewish-Catholic dialogue and playing down the effect of the prayer on that dialogue. “Relationships with the Catholic Church are really quite good,” said the Rabbinical Assembly’s executive vice president, who said of the prayer only that “it really turns back the clock a bit and reverts to some sense that the church is pulling back from the positions it took in Vatican II.”

David Mills has been editor of Touchstone and executive editor of First Things.

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