By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Italian Jewish leaders have decided not to participate in the annual day of Catholic-Jewish dialogue ceremonies with the Vatican this January in protest of a recently restored prayer in the Tridentine version of the Church’s Good Friday service that calls for the conversion of the Jews.
According to the Catholic News Service, the president of the Italian Rabbinical Assembly, Rabbi Giuseppe Laras announced on Nov. 18 that they would not be participating in the Jan. 17, 2009 event because, “according to our point of view, nothing satisfactory” has come out of discussions about Pope Benedict XVI’s new text for the Tridentine-rite Good Friday prayer for the Jews.
At the heart of the controversy is a prayer of petition recited on Good Friday in the Old Latin Mass which was revived last year by Pope Benedict XVI.
In the old version of the prayer, instituted by Pope John XXIII in 1960, the prayer read:
“Let us pray also for the Jews: that almighty God may remove the veil from their hearts; so that they too may acknowledge Jesus Christ our Lord. . . . Almighty and eternal God, who dost also not exclude from thy mercy the Jews: hear our prayers, which we offer for the blindness of that people; that acknowledging the light of thy Truth, which is Christ, they may be delivered from their darkness.”
In the new version of the prayer, published by the Vatican last February, the word “blindness” was removed and instead people are asked to pray for God to “enlighten (Jews’) hearts so that they may acknowledge Jesus Christ, the savior of all men” and voice the hope that “all Israel may be saved.”
The new version drew complaints from Jewish leaders around the world and led to the decision by the Italian Rabbinical Assembly to forego the annual event which they have co-sponsored with the Vatican since 1990.
Rabbi Laras said the pope’s text encourages Catholics to pray that Jews would recognize Christ as the savior. In addition, he said, by praying they would be enlightened the prayer implies that the Jews are blind to the truth.
However, he did acknowledge and welcome on-going dialogue about the prayer.
Bishop Vincenzo Paglia of Terni, Narni and Amelia, president of the Italian bishops’ commission for ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, told Vatican Radio Nov. 20, “Obviously we are pained by the decision taken by the rabbinical assembly.”
He noted that Vatican officials have reassured Jewish leaders by pointing out that the prayer “puts everything into the hands of the Lord” and refers to the church’s hope for the salvation of all people at the end of time.
Bishop Paglia said the Italian bishops would mark Jan. 17, 2009, as a day for “Jewish-Christian reflection,” in the hope that it would “deepen further the indispensable connection and relationship between Christians and Jews.”
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