I am referring to the Cathblog piece this morning by Sr/Dr Mary Coloe fo the Presentation Sisters: “The Jews are not to Blame”.
Dr Coloe is a professor of New Testament at Australian Catholic University. Now, I have had my differences with Dr Coloe over the years (particularly over Pauline stuff), but on this one I think she is quite right. When I first began reading her piece, and saw that she proposed “liturgical changes” to combat any perceived anti-Semitism, I thought “Here we go”, but actually, her suggested changes are minor and reasonable, yet I think will make a big difference.
I once had a phone call from a Jewish woman who had attended mass a mass for a baptism of a friend’s child. It wasn’t Good Friday, but the Gospel was from St John and there were constant mentions of “The Jews”, as is St John’s characteristic way of referring to the Jewish religious leaders. She became quite upset by this, and more upset when the priest, in his preaching, repeatedly used the term “the Jews” as well in the negative sense. Now this was a woman who was quite open to learning about other faiths, and Christianity in particular, but a mental barrier was put up by that experience. It is an unnecessary barrier, if I might say so.
So, to Sr Mary’s suggestions. She avoids completely the old canard about the EF form of the Bidding Prayer, and goes for two small things that would make a big difference to the way in which the Good Friday liturgy is heard by those present:
1) Don’t have the whole congregation take the part of “the Jews” or “the crowd”. This would properly show that “the Jews” were a smaller group (not all) of the Jewish community at the time. (I must say that I have never felt comfortable being asked to shout “Crucify him” during the Good Friday liturgy anyway. I would be interested from Extraordinary Form experts on what the practice is in that liturgy on this point).
2) Where John has “the Jews”, insert instead “the Jewish leaders”. That is completely in accord with the Church’s – and the Pope’s! – interpretation of the meaning “hoi Ioudaioi” at these points.
I don’t think it would be breaking any liturgical rules to do this – please tell me if I am wrong. It is simply a matter of changing a custom and a translation.
On another point, I am thankful for Mary’s piece because she directs readers to the work of Dr Amy-Jill Levine, and in particular her work “The Misunderstood Jew”, which I have just begun reading myself and intended to blog about. I am sorry to say that on all of the several occasions when Dr Levine has been in Melbourne I have missed her talks, because I think that she represents a very helpful point of contact between Jews and Christians.
Levine is a Jewish New Testament scholar. Yes, that’s right! We were talking about her book at the dinner table last night. Maddy got the “joke” immediately: “A Jewish New Testament scholar? The Jews don’t HAVE the New Testament!” I had related to the children the following story from the introduction to “The Misunderstood Jew”:
A friend on the school bus said to me, “You killed our Lord.” “I did not,”, I responded with some indignation. Deicide would be the sort of thing I would have recalled [Levine’s sense of humour is characteristically Jewish!]. “Yes, you did,” the girl insisted, “Our priest said so.” Apparently, she had been taught that “the Jews” were responsible for the death of Jesus. Since I was the only one she knew, I must be guilty. But at the time I did not understand the reasons for the charge or have the means to address it…
When that horrible trip from school was finally over – and thank heaven these were the 1960’s when mommies met their kids at the bus stop – I was in hysterics. Calming me down, my mother learned what had so traumatized me. She assured me that my friend had misspoken. Calls were made, and – to the enormous credit of the local diocese – this hateful teaching was stopped.
But I became obsessed. I initially concluded that the priest had misinterpreted the Bible. It must have been a translation error, I thought, since even in second grade I knew from Hebrew school that it was easy to make a translation error. So I decided I’d learn to read the Christian Bible (no one told me it was in Greek), find the problem, solve it, and then go on to do other things, like learn how to knit or to establish world peace. That was forty-three years ago; I’m still working. The following year, by the way, was the publication of Nostra Aetate, the Vatican document stating that all Jews are not directly responsible for Jesus’ death.
When I told the girls at the dinner table about the accusation that all Jews were guilty of Jesus’ death, Mia looked at me in utter surprise: “People really think that?” she asked. In general, her mystification was similar to mine when I first heard about that, because I was never raised with this idea either. If anyone was responsible for Jesus death, it wasn’t the Jews, or Rome/Pilate either for that matter – it was us and our sins that put hm there (which, incidentally, is the teaching of the 16th Century Catechism of the Council of Trent too).
In any case, it is high time that our liturgical customs and preaching reflected the teaching of the Church, and not this ancient “blood libel”. I think Dr Coloe’s suggestions worth taking on board. Starting this Good Friday. And I recommend Dr Amy-Jill Levine’s work to all readers of this ‘ere blog. It will go nicely with Pope Benedict’s new book for your Lenten reading.