In an effort to stem fears over a revised prayer in the Tridentine rite Mass that Jews will recognise Christ as Saviour, the Holy See has reaffirmed the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate's condemnation of anti-Semitism.
"The Holy See wishes to reassure the new formulation of the prayer, which modifies certain expressions of the 1962 Missal, in no way intends to indicate a change in the Catholic Church's regard for the Jews, which has evolved from the basis of the Second Vatican Council," a statement from the Vatican press office outlines.
In early February, the Vatican published Pope Benedict's revision of the Good Friday prayer, which is used only in the liturgy celebrated according to the 1962 Roman Missal, or Tridentine rite, CNS reports. The rite is no longer widely used by Catholics but may be used by some church communities under recently revised norms.
The new prayer removed language referring to the "blindness" of the Jews, but it prays that Jews will recognise Jesus, as the saviour, and that "all Israel may be saved."
According to the April 4 statement, some members of the Jewish community felt the new prayer was "not in harmony with the official declarations and statements of the Holy See regarding the Jewish people and their faith which have marked the progress of friendly relations between the Jews and the Catholic Church over the last 40 years."
In particular, some Jews, as well as some Catholics, felt the prayer contained an explicit call to attempt to convert Jews to Christianity.
In an article published in Germany in late March and scheduled for publication in the Vatican newspaper, Cardinal Walter Kasper said that on the basis of a long history of compulsory catechesis and forced conversion, "many Jews consider a mission to the Jews as a threat to their existence."
"The Catholic Church has no organised or institutionalised mission to the Jews," said the cardinal, who is president of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.
That statement of fact, he said, is backed up with a theological position in the revised 1962 prayer's second line: "Almighty and everlasting God, you who want all men to be saved and to reach the awareness of the truth, graciously grant that, as the full number of the Gentiles comes into your church, all Israel may be saved."
At the same time, Cardinal Kasper said, Christians do believe in the promise of salvation in Jesus Christ and no one should be surprised that Christians pray for the salvation of all people and that "tactfully and respectfully" they give witness to their faith in Jesus.
While the Vatican's April 4 statement did not mention missionary activity or attempts to convert Jews, it did affirm the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, particularly its recognition of "the unique bond with which the people of the New Testament is spiritually linked with the stock of Abraham," its condemnation of anti-Semitism as well as its promotion of "esteem, dialogue, love, solidarity and collaboration between Christians and Jews."
Rabbi David Rosen, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, told Catholic News Service the Vatican statement was "an important clarification."
"I think it contains a very important implicit statement - which I would have been happier to see made explicit - that if one accepts (the Vatican II document) 'Nostra Aetate,' then they must demonstrate esteem for Judaism, which precludes proselytism," Rabbi Rosen said.
Meanwhile, Haaretz reports that Rabbi Jack Bemporad, a US scholar who has been active on Vatican-Jewish committees, said that the Vatican's statement, along with the planned visit to the synagogue, is a sign that Benedict wants to tell people that he is close to the Jewish community.
But New York based Anti-Defamation League president Rabbi Abraham Foxman was quoted in the European Jewish Press as saying:
Vatican: Revised prayer does not reverse Vatican II teaching on Jews (Catholic News Service, 4/4/07)Latin prayer: US Jewish group finds Vatican statement ‘does not go far enough’ (European Jewish Press, 6/6/08)