For 'Fear of the Jews'?
Pope's Good Friday Prayer Sparks International Furor

Michael J. Matt
Editor, The Remnant


(Posted February 8, 2008 As the whole world knows by now, this week the Vatican released Pope Benedict’s revised version of the traditional Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews. What some feared might entail a dismantling of the traditional prayer has at least in one sense served to reinforce it. 

The text of the new prayer reads as follows:

Let us also pray for the Jews: that God our Lord might enlighten their hearts, so that they might acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Savior of all mankind. Let us pray. Let us bend our knees (kneel). Please rise.
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.

In his press release of February 5, 2008, the ADL’s Abe Foxman astutely observes that the revised prayer is an unambiguous deviation from the Novus Ordo “teaching” on conversion:

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.

It seems that Mr. Foxman is concerned that the Pope’s new prayer may signal a papal abandonment of the novel teachings on salvation enshrined at least unofficially in the Novus Ordo’s Good Friday prayer—a prayer that evidently had signaled to Mr. Foxman and others that the Church had set aside her traditional teaching.

It’s difficult to fault Mr. Foxman for arriving at this conclusion given that the 1973 ICEL English translation of the Good Friday prayer insinuates as much:

Let us 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. (Prayer in silence. Then the priest says:) Almighty and eternal God, long ago you gave your promise to Abraham and his posterity. Listen to your Church as we pray that the people you first made your own may arrive at the fullness of redemption. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Contrast this with Benedict's new prayer—“may our God and Lord enlighten their hearts, so that they may acknowledge Jesus Christ, savior of all men”— and it’s no wonder Abe Foxman is displeased. Far from complying with demands to castrate the traditional Good Friday prayer, the Pope has issued a new prayer which is already being decried as a papal nod to the pre-Conciliar teaching, and, by implication, a reversal of the post-Conciliar novelties on salvation and conversion.  In as much as the Pope has also called for mutual enrichment between the old and new forms of the Roman Rite, this development is seen by critics as signaling a sea change in the universal Church. Roman Chief Rabbi Riccardo di Segni concurs: "This is a fundamental obstacle for the dialogue between Jews and Christians, a step back by 45 years" (Il Messaggero).

A few Catholic bloggers beg to differ, arguing that any modification of the prayer indicates the Chair of Peter is, out of fear of political reprisals, taking dictation from special interest groups, tantamount to the apostles hiding themselves in the upper room out of “fear of the Jews”. Given the adverse reaction to the new prayer on the part of those same special interest groups, however, it would appear this critique misses the point. Far from taking dictation the Pope has settled the matter by reiterating the missionary mandate of the Church. Why else formulate a prayer that could in no sense mollify even the most timid critic of the 1962 version?

All speculation aside, the Pope is now personally responsible for an official prayer of the Church that asks God to bless the Jewish people with grace sufficient to acknowledge Jesus Christ as savior of all men and for all Israel to be saved—a clear invocation of Romans 11! This, coupled with the untouched prayers for heretics, pagans and schismatics has prompted Rabbi David Rosen  of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations in Israel to conclude that the Church has not abandoned the dogma extra Ecclesiam nulla salus after all: "It's pretty clear that there's no fullness of salvation outside the Church under the prayer's language.”  

When the Roman Rabbinical Assembly undertook measures this week to “suspend dialogue” with the Catholic Church out of protest, even Cardinal Walter Kasper got his hackles up:

"I must say that I don't understand why Jews cannot accept that we can make use of our freedom to formulate our prayers," Kasper, a German, told the Corriere della Sera.  "One must accept and respect differences."

In a subsequent interview on Vatican Radio, however, the progressivist Cardinal Kasper, perhaps sensing that this could indeed set false ecumenism back 45 years, reportedly made a desperate pitch to undermine the Pope’s prayer by placing his usual modernist spin on the Scriptural text Benedict used as the bedrock of his new prayer.  Trotting out a hackneyed favorite of the Modernists, Kasper argued that Romans 11 simply must refer to an “eschatological hope for the end of the ages” and not conversion per se—an imaginative reworking of Scripture that may float in the mind of Walter Kasper but, as unilateral Jewish protest of the new prayer now bears out, certainly doesn't anywhere else. It's no wonder this statement from the Cardinal mysteriously disappeared from the report on where it had originated a day before.  One need only reference the Haydock Bible’s commentary on Romans 11 to understand that St. Paul is clearly speaking of conversion—the “conversion of all nations, and then all Israel should be saved, when they shall submit to the faith of Christ, as it is written by the prophet Isaiah...”  In a singular demonstration of the disorientation of the ecumenical mind, however, Cardinal Kasper would have the world believe that the Catholic Church now prays that Jewish people living at the "end of ages" might be saved through Jesus Christ but that those who happen to live and die between now and then can, evidently, go to hell. And this, the Cardinal supposes, will be less offensive?  With all due respect to His Eminence, we'll stick with St. Paul and the Holy Father on this one!  It doesn’t happen often but Abe Foxman and The Remnant absolutely agree on one thing: the Pope’s new prayer constitutes a papal reiteration of traditional Catholic dogma.  Period!

Thus, while it was not necessary for anyone (much less the Pope) to point out the obvious—that the traditional Good Friday prayer is Biblical, supremely charitable to those who do not know Christ, and anything but anti-Semitic (as even the highly respected Rabbi Jacob Neusner has publicly contended)—the new Good Friday prayer not only stands in stark contrast to its watered down counterpart in the Novus Ordo, but also, through this reference to 'all Israel', actually adds a precision to the prayer as it appears in the 1962 missal. With St. Paul, who says in Romans 11, " I say then: Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away his people, which he foreknew"--the Holy Father is reaching out to the Jewish people, not condemning them.

So, what is the Pope’s “crime”?  Relying principally on Romans 11—the heart and soul of the controversy—he crafted a prayer that omits two words that according to the modern lexicon of politically correct speech, are deemed “offensive” enough to drive away (rather than attract) potential converts to the Catholic Faith. This is well within the Pope’s prerogative (as the Good Friday prayer is part of the Propers and not the Ordinary of the liturgy).  But as one Catholic priest reminded us this week, there’s much more to it than that:

The integrity of the faith itself is even more important than keeping the old Good Friday prayer word-for-word unchanged. And for years now the faith has been in grave danger because of the widespread and uncorrected heresy, propagated even by Cardinals such as Kasper and Keeler, that the Jews don't need Christ, and that the Church no longer seeks nor prays for their conversion. The Pope has now knocked that heresy firmly on the head by composing a new Good Friday prayer which clearly prays for their conversion! That is far more effective a weapon against the heresy than if he had just left the old prayer unchanged, because then the modernists could still say that, well, that was just an unfortunate 'survival', a 'relic', from the centuries-old and out-of-date Tridentine Missal that doesn't reflect the 'modern' Church's 'new' doctrine.

Furthermore, it would be shortsighted indeed to underestimate the level of courage required of the German Pope and former Hitler youth (in his memoirs, Ratzinger writes that he was enrolled in the Nazi youth movement against his will when he was 14 in 1941, when membership was compulsory. He was soon thereafter released because of his studies for the priesthood) to promulgate a prayer that pleads for the Jewish people to acknowledge Christ, especially in the politically charged atmosphere of the increasingly fascist EU. “Fear of the Jews” motivated the Holy Father?  Really?  Fear of God and a fraternal love of the Jews seems a more likely motivation.

Even after the ADL had written to the Pope on January 22, 2008, warning that “a revised Good Friday prayer that Jews abandon their own religious identity, would be devastating to the deepening relationship and dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people”, the Pope elected to set political concerns aside in order to offer the Jewish people an invitation to share in the salvific embrace of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. How is this a capitulation?  It’s not as if Benedict is some Prime Minister or political hack jockeying for political position.  On the contrary, he’s the Pope, Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Christ, Visible Head of the Church--- it’s his job to let the world know what it is that the Catholic Church teaches. 

So, when even the ADL rightly calls the changes to the prayer mere "cosmetic revisions" rendered virtually meaningless by the Pope’s renewed call for Jews to "acknowledge Jesus Christ as the savior of all men”, perhaps Catholics should think twice before ruling out the possibility that the Holy Ghost had a hand in this.

After all, restricting the freedom of the Catholic religion could well be at the heart of this entire controversy—the silencing of the voice of Jesus Christ in the modern world.  But Benedict was not fooled. Instead of observing a solemn silence (let’s not forget what political hay can be made of papal “silence” these days!), the Holy Father addressed the objections of non-Catholics in an eminently pastoral way and then attempted to remove the last obstacle in the path of the rapid spread of the traditional Mass throughout the world—a trumped-up charge that those attached to it are a small group of anti-Semites whose “guilt” is evidenced by their annual prayer for their Jewish brothers and sisters on Good Friday. Benedict, it seems, recognizing the outrageousness of that charge, has gone out on yet another limb for Tradition. If the Political Correctness Police wish to brand traditional Catholics with the iron of anti-Semitism they’ll have to start with the Bishop of Rome.  Lots of luck!

Acknowledging the existence of absolute Truth has nothing whatsoever to do with hating those who have not come to recognize that Truth. On the contrary, Catholics are called upon by God to share their Faith with the world and lovingly invite their fellow men to come to the table of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is a mortal sin to judge or hate (or wish harm to) those who have not embraced our Faith.  The charge of anti-Semitism against the Good Friday prayer, therefore, is a canard.  If the spoken (or prayed) desire to share one’s faith with one’s fellow creatures is to constitute “hate speech” in our "enlightened" society, how soon can we expect the local sheriffs to start rounding up Jehovah’s Witnesses?  Really, the silliness has to stop!

As Daniel Thompson rightly notes in his article “Catholics Pray for Conversion of Jews” (, it's time to move on:

The Catholic magisterium teaches that the Jews are God’s special people, and that He particularly desires that they should acknowledge the divine Messiah. To an orthodox Jew, this is blasphemy. Fine. The two religions contradict each other utterly on this point, and we should be mature enough to recognise that fact.

Would that the Hall Monitors on both sides of the Good Friday prayer debate would simmer down! Pope Benedict has done nothing more than perform the duty of his office by pastorally reminding the world that the Church cannot abandon the mandate of Christ to convert all nations, including Israel, without abandoning her identity as the Church He founded. That the Pope should retain the right to assert this is, it seems to us, something the vast majority of reasonable people in the world today—be they Catholic, Protestant or Jew—will regard as his inalienable right and a perfectly reasonable thing for the head of the Catholic Church to do.  It is, after all, his job!

Bottom line? Pope Benedict has placed his signature to an authoritative call for all men, including the Jews, to recognize Jesus Christ as Savior—the first such call by a Pope since pre-conciliar times! If that doesn’t constitute proof that the Holy Ghost has not abandoned the papal office, what would?

Catholicism wins. Political Correctness loses.  And the Church’s critics know it.

Long live Benedict XVI!