KC Star op-ed on the new Good Friday prayer

My friend KK sent me the following article from the Kansas City Star, to which I have applied my own emphases and comments.

Prayer retains veiled remarks

Bill Tammeus
Kansas City Star

Earlier this month Pope Benedict XVI ordered good changes in a Latin prayer used in some Good Friday services. He removed language that called Jews blind and that asked God to “remove the veil from their hearts.”

Almost all Jewish leaders who expressed an opinion about the changes were grateful for the deletion of the offensive words. [It is hard to comment on whether something is truly "offensive".  After all, this is very subjective.  The one hearing the words has his own perspective.  I think that has to be taken into account by those who are critical of Pope Benedict having changed the Good Friday prayers.] At the same time, they were profoundly disappointed that Benedict left these words in the prayer: “Let us also pray for the Jews. May the Lord Our God enlighten their hearts so that they may acknowledge Jesus Christ, the savior of all men.”

The clear sense of those words is that the pope and any other Catholic who prays them in the old Latin Mass want all Jews to become Christians. [Well… YAH!  That’s right!]  The prayer devalues Judaism. [No, it doesn’t.]  It assumes that Christianity has replaced Judaism and thus made it not just irrelevant but irredeemably wrong.  [I think this is unreasonably narrow.  Catholics do not see Judaism as "irrelevant" or "wrong" in an absolute sense.  We don’t so much see Judaism as being "replaced" by Christianity as being "brought to its perfection" in Christianity.  Judaism is therefore of priceless value to us, and we venerate what God worked through the Jewish people.  But we nevertheless see that God has taken the next steps in the economy of salvation.  Just because we believe that Christ is the fulfillment of the faith of the Jews, that doesn’t mean we therefore think that Jews are "irredeemable".  On the contrary!]

That certainly would begin to explain the unhappiness many Jewish leaders expressed when they learned what the pope had left in the prayer.  [Some would say "added to".  In many ways the new prayer is stronger!]

But there’s much more to their displeasure than that. It is rooted in an acute awareness of century after century of official anti-Jewish church teachings and actions, of which this is only the latest.  [Ummm…. noooo…. again, the prayer is not "anti-Jewish".  We must deny this premise.  Remember when reading to check the premises the author wants you to accept before moving along with his arguments.] The church finally showed a willingness to move away from this anti-Judaism [See?] in 1965 with a Vatican II document that said Jews no longer should be considered Christ killers.  [ggrrrrr] Later, relations between Catholics and Jews improved dramatically under Pope John Paul II.

But the relentless and shameful anti-Judaism [See?] in Christian history is a story that many American Christians seem to know little about. And yet it helped to create modern anti-Semitism, without which the Holocaust would have been inconceivable.  [So Christianity, not original sin, is responsible for the Holocaust?]

So when a Jewish leader such as Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, reacts to the pope’s prayer change by telling Reuters news service that “it is less offensive in its language but it still is in contradiction to changes that the late Pope John Paul brought about,” [I disagree.  John Paul II did change the landscape of Christian-Jewish relations, but he did not sell out Christian faith in Christ as the only Savior of mankind.] he is taking into account not just what Benedict and John Paul did but the whole sad history of Jewish-Christian relations.

“John Paul taught that the Jewish people are the older brothers of Catholics and that Judaism has its own merits and viability,” Foxman said.  [Yes, of course!  "Merits and viability", just as I was describing above.  Again, that does not mean that any Pope ever thought that what is good in Judaism can be considered good apart from God’s plan, which includes the Word made flesh, the Messiah, who was crucified and raised from the dead.]

Foxman has identified the issue precisely. [Not so precisely, I think.] The prayer the pope revised still raises this question: Is Judaism a legitimate religion?  [See my comments above.]

That prayer, even though it removes some objectionable language, suggests the answer is no. By implication, it argues that God has somehow abrogated the covenant with Abraham in which God chose the people of Israel to bear the heavy burden of being a light to the nations. [Abrogated?  I don’t think that is quite the way to put it.  I would say that God brought that covenant to its perfection with a new covenant.  God is, after all, the perfect master of a hermeneutic of continuity.] It says this to Jews today: Your people missed the boat 2,000 years ago, and it’s time you recognized that and converted.

Each religion, of course, must determine its own doctrine and beliefs.  [Including the Catholic Church?  Apparently not, according to some.] If official Catholicism [As opposed to which other Catholicism?] wants to teach that Judaism has been superseded and is irrelevant, [See?  There is that premise from above that we refused to accept.] it is free to do so. But in that case, all the Jewish-Catholic dialogue of the last several decades can have had only one ultimate Catholic purpose: the conversion of Jews. [And everyone else, too.   This is a surprise?   At the same time I recognize how foreign this idea may be to Jews, who do not attempt to make coverts.]

I know Jews who have freely converted to Christianity, and I’m happy to welcome them into my own Protestant faith community. [This author isn’t Jewish, but he sure has a bone to pick with the Catholic Church!] But it must be terribly difficult for Jews to ponder becoming Christian when Christianity has spent almost 2,000 years denigrating Judaism and oppressing Jews.  [Grrr…]

So the pope and other Catholics should not be surprised when Jews express offense at the newly revised prayer. [I can live with that.  I can live with practicing Jews praying the infamous, and racist, "shelo asani goi" every day.] Any such surprise is evidence of a mysterious tone-deafness that fails to imagine or anticipate how one’s words will be heard by others.  [This raises the question about whether we simply choose to be offended or not.]

If the church’s liturgy continues to promote the belief that Jews are lost infidels beyond God’s redemption,  [This smacks of the hysterical.] Catholics should not expect Jews to rejoice in so demeaning a designation.

To reach Bill Tammeus, send e-mail to wtammeus@kc.rr.com. Visit his Web log at http:// billtammeus.typepad.com.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Legisperitus says:

    It’s always been my understanding that the Catholic religion is the legitimate continuation of the Faith of the Old Testament, whereas modern Talmudic Judaism is what “replaced” that Faith for all those who did not accept its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

  2. prof. basto says:

    The blog Rorate Caeli is supporting the initiative of The Ramnant Newspaper
    of sendig to Pope Benedict XVI an International Declaration of Support
    regarding the attacks by Jewish leaders over the change of the Good Friday
    Prayer. Those wishing to sing the declaration must do so before Monday noon,
    and must manifest their wish to have their signature added by sending an
    e-mail to:


    The declaration “will be delivered in the hands of people inside the Vatican
    most able to ensure the Holy Father will personally see it”, according to
    The Ramnant.

    See Rorate’s statement of support and plea for signatures at:


    See the declaration at:


  3. Jeff Pinyan says:

    Why do so many people just NOT get it? Why do they come up with their own rationales and descriptions and meanings behind the prayer and liturgy of the Church instead of asking Her? This prayer comes from Scripture, both by quote and by intention! And it seems to me that, yes, 2000 years ago, the Apostles were going around to the Jews telling them that they’d “missed the boat”.

  4. KK says:

    Thank you for addressing this. I will forward your comments to Mr. Tammeus for his prayerful reflection and hopefully – enlightenment.

  5. John Paul says:

    Sometimes I am still confused by what the Church really is teaching about the
    Old Law/Covenant. Is it sufficient unto their salvation? That is really the
    only question that matters. Until Vatican II, the Church had always said “No,”
    as much as it can declare on such things.
    Since Nostra Aetate, and the various pronouncements of JPII (and now Cardinal
    Kasper), we seem to hear that the “Old Covenant” is still there for the Jews,
    because God keeps his promises, as they say.
    All of this leads back to the old and continuing debates: Ecumenism, “Outside
    the Church there is no salvation,” Ecumenism of “return” is no longer taught
    or expected, etc…
    I think I know where I stand on this, but what exactly is the Church’s
    official position on the Jews? And can Nostra Aetate rescind all the other

  6. Cole M says:

    As a Kansas City native, this is not surprising. I remember hearing about other columns by Tammeus which have been of equally poor quality. It’s just another manifestation of syncretism; every religion is okay because they all lead to the same place. Ergo, it’s wrong to want to convert others to one’s own religion because that’s intolerant and hateful. That, plus hackneyed old tripe about Christianity being the source of anti-Semitism, etc., etc. Someone ought to take a public stand and refute this sort of thing, that is, if there’s a media outlet that will let someone do so.

Comments are closed.