A Papal Masterstroke
Pope's Good Friday Prayer Reinforces Infallible Church Teaching

Christopher A. Ferrara

(Posted 2/05/08 www.RemnantNewspaper.com)The reports were true: The Pope has changed the traditional Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews.  But, amazingly enough, the change is another positive development in this papacy, although I would never have thought so until I actually read the text of the new prayer.

First of all, there is only one thing we need to know about the revised prayer in order to assess whether it is good or bad for the cause of the Gospel: Abe Foxman hates it.  He really hates it. In my article of January 21, 2008 I wrote: “We can only hope the reports are false, or that the Pope, if he does alter the prayer, does so in a way that leaves intact the Church’s unambiguous call for the conversion of the Jewish people, no less than the other peoples of the earth.”  The Pope has done the latter quite resoundingly, and Foxman knows it.

Foxman and his collaborators did not get what they were clamoring for: a formal abandonment of the necessity of Jewish conversion to Christ.  What they got instead is a reformulation of the Good Friday prayer that takes away their issue while petitioning for Jewish conversion in a way that is, if anything, even more objectionable from their standpoint. Here is the prayer as it reads in an unofficial (but apparently quite accurate) translation:

Let us pray also for the Jews.


May our God and Lord enlighten their hearts, so that they may acknowledge Jesus Christ, savior of all men.


Let us pray.

Let us kneel.



Almighty and everlasting God, who desires that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of truth, mercifully grant that, as the fullness of the Gentiles enters into Thy Church, all Israel may be saved. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen. (all emphasis mine)

Yes, the references to “blindness” and “darkness” in the traditional prayer are gone. But like the traditional prayer (which never uses the word “conversion”) the revised prayer explicitly calls upon God to enlighten the Jewish people “so that they may acknowledge Jesus Christ, saviour of all men.” By comparison the traditional prayer states: “that they may also acknowledge Our Lord Jesus Christ.” The traditional prayer does not, however, contain the revised prayer’s petition that “all Israel may be saved.” In fact, neither the word salvation nor saved appears anywhere in the traditional prayer.

Foxman understands exactly what has happened. His press release for the ADL barely conceals his rage over the new prayer’s call for the enlightenment of the Jewish people, their acknowledgment of Christ, and the newly added element of the ultimate conversion of the entire nation of Israel in keeping with the prophecy of Saint Paul, the most renowned Jewish convert in salvation history: "For I would not have you ignorant, brethren, of this mystery, (lest you should be wise in your own conceits), that blindness in part has happened in Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles should come in. And so all Israel should be saved..." (Rom. 11: 25, 26)

As the ADL complains:  “The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said the Vatican’s changes to the Latin Good Friday prayer for the conversion of Jews amount to ‘cosmetic revisions’ and the prayer remains ‘deeply troubling’ because it calls for Jews to ‘acknowledge Jesus Christ as the savior of all men.’” Foxman is quoted directly as follows:

While we appreciate that some of the deprecatory language has been removed from a new version of the Good Friday prayer for the Conversion of Jews in the 1962 Roman Missal, we are deeply troubled and disappointed that the framework and intention to petition God for Jews to accept Jesus as Lord was kept intact.

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 Acetate.

ADL's press release reveals that it feared this would be the outcome of all its squawking: “ADL wrote to Pope Benedict on January 22 expressing concern 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.” In other words, Foxman and the ADL regard the revised prayer as a disaster and a total defeat of their campaign to browbeat the Pope into repudiating the conversion of the Jews.

Consider what the Pope has done here: After Foxman and his fellow agitators had shot their wad at the Vatican over this issue, clearly hoping to derail a Latin Mass restoration, His Holiness responded with a revised Good Friday prayer that not only retains the Church’s call for Jewish conversion, but adds to that call the Pauline element of the final conversion of the entire Jewish nation.  At the same time, the Pope, by removing the references to blindness and darkness, left no further ground for Jewish objection to the prayer besides the idea of Jewish conversion itself. Foxman and company have thus been left with no choice but reveal the real gravamen of their objection to the Good Friday prayer: not that it contains particular words they deem “anti-Semitic,” which words they now admit they viewed only as “cosmetic,” but rather that it calls for Jewish conversion at all, and thereby “departs” from what they thought was the irrevocable innovation of the Church during and after Vatican II.

Can we not see it? Foxman surely does. The Pope has used a change in the Good Friday prayer to undo the false perception of a change in the Church’s teaching on her relation to the Jewish people. And what can Foxman and company do now?  Demand yet another revision of the prayer?  Of course they cannot do that, for then they would seem intolerably petulant and unreasonable even in the eyes of world opinion.  The issue, then, is dead, and we are left with a revised prayer for Jewish conversion that is no more acceptable to the Foxmanites than the traditional one. Indeed, as the Times Online observes: “It is difficult not to conclude that this represents a re-emergence of supercessionism. A discussion of the Pope's views when he was still Joseph Ratzinger shows that the former Pope clearly regarded the ‘new covenant’ as the fulfilment of the covenant of Sinai.”

I think we have witnessed a papal masterstroke.  And I hope traditionalists everywhere will be at least as perceptive as Foxman in assessing what has happened.  I hope we will not see critical traditionalist excurses on the theology and Scriptural derivation of every word in the traditional prayer—as if we were unaware of these points—when the substance of the matter is that the Church retains a perfectly clear prayer for Jewish conversion that has sent the message that her teaching on this score has not changed one iota since Vatican II: the Jewish people are called no less than others to join the new covenant people of God. Here, again, let us have the sense to recognize a favorable development when we see one, instead of assuming the role of theological clerks with permanent desk jobs.  What matters is that the new Good Friday prayer, which the Pope has every right to alter—and which already has been altered by his predecessor—is theologically completely sound and thus displeasing to those who had hoped for another capitulation to the world in the name of Vatican II.

At the same time let us pray that by the grace of God for which we will petition on Good Friday, Foxman and people like him will come recognize what is behind the Church’s call for the conversion of the Jewish people: not enmity toward the Jews, but the infinite love of the “Saviour of all men,” and the certainty that when our short time on this earth is over, all of the elect will be united forever in that mystical communion wherein there is neither Jew nor Greek, but all are one in Christ Jesus.