The Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum and Prayers for the Jews: Some notes of clarification

(Warning–long post!)

A. The Concerns

1. The Motu Proprio of July 7, 2007, establishes that the single Roman liturgical rite exists in two forms: the “extraordinary form” (following the Missal of Blessed John XXIII issued in 1962) and the “ordinary form” following the Missal of Paul VI (issued by John Paul II in 2002).

2. It is an ancient custom of the Church to pray for the Jewish people at the celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday.

In the ordinary form of the Roman Rite, this prayer reads:

Oremus et pro Iudæis, ut, ad quos prius locutus est Dominus Deus noster, eis tribuat in sui nominis amore et in sui fœderis fidelitate proficere.
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui promissiones tuas Abrahæ eiusque semini contulisti, Ecclesiæ tuæ preces clementer exaudi, ut populus acquisitionis prioris ad redemptionis mereatur plenitudinem pervenire. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.

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.
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.

The extraordinary form contains the following prayer from the liturgy for the celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday:

Oremus et pro Judæis: ut Deus et Dominus noster auferat velamen de cordibus eorum; ut et ipsi agnoscant Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum.
Oremus. Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui Judæos etiam a tua misericordia non repellis: exaudi preces nostras, quas pro illius populi obcæcatione deferimus; ut, agnita veritatis tuæ luce, quæ Christus est, a suis tenebris eruantur. Per eumdem Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum Filium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum. Amen.

Let us pray also for the Jews that the Lord our God may take the veil from their hearts and that they also may acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us pray: Almighty and everlasting God, you do not refuse your mercy even to the Jews; hear the prayers which we offer for the blindness of that people so that they may acknowledge the light of your truth, which is Christ, and be delivered from their darkness. Through the same Jesus Christ, your son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen

This prayer draws heavily on imagery from St Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians, chapters 3 and 4. The invocation for God to “take the veil from their hearts” is from 2 Cor 3:15, while later images of “blindness” and “light” are drawn from 2 Cor 4:3-6.

3. In 1570 Missal of St Pius V, the prayer for the Jews was introduced with the words “Oremus et pro perfidis Judaeis”. On the first Good Friday after his election to the papacy in 1959, Pope John XXIII eliminated the adjective “perfidis” from the prayer. The prayer for the conversion of the Jews in the extraordinary form (following the 1962 Missal of Blessed John XXIII) does not contain the word “perfidis”.

4. Some Jewish groups have reacted to reports about the Motu Proprio with disquiet. Two examples are as follows:

We are extremely disappointed and deeply offended that nearly 40 years after the Vatican rightly removed insulting anti-Jewish language from the Good Friday liturgy, that it would now permit Catholics to utter such hurtful and insulting words by praying for Jews to be converted. This is a theological setback in the religious life of Catholics and a body blow to Catholic-Jewish relations. It is the wrong decision at the wrong time.” (Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League)

The Wiesenthal Center and other Jewish groups expressed concern that a 1962 Good Friday Latin Mass, predating Vatican II, includes prayers “even” for the Jews who live with a “veil of blindness,” and for their conversion, as well as one for the “heathens,” i.e. Muslims. “These words, taken alone could be seen as stepping back from the current Good Friday Mass which underscores the eternity “of the promise to Abraham and his posterity,” he concluded. (Press release from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre)

5. Some Catholics involved in dialogue and relationships with Jews may share these concerns. Although the 1962 Missal of Blessed John XXIII was the form of the rite used exclusively until 1970, it was not altered to take into account the 1965 decree of the Second Vatican Council Nostra Aetate which addressed the relationship of the Church to the Jewish people. Furthermore, the Catholic-Jewish dialogue has progressed considerably since 1962 and that the extraordinary form does not take this into account. As a result of this progress in dialogue and understanding, some Catholic theologians have come to the conclusion that it is “no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church” to pray for the conversion of the Jewish people (cf. Reflections on Covenant and Mission. Nb. Note the significant critique of this point of view by Cardinal Avery Dulles).

B. Some Factors Affecting The Assessment Of The Concerns

1. This is the only prayer regarding the Jewish people in the extraordinary form of the Roman rite. It occurs only in this one celebration which may be used only once a year on Good Friday. This is relevant for two reasons:

a) The Motu Proprio explicitly restricts the use of the extraordinary form during the Sacred Triduum (of which the Good Friday liturgy forms a part) to those parishes where there exists a group who are “stable” in their adherance to it.
b) The celebration of the Lord’s Passion may be conducted only once on Good Friday, which does not allow both forms to be used in the same place. Unless a particular parish is dedicated to the sole use of the extraordinary form (in Australia there are about six such parishes), this will mean that the choice will always be in favour of the ordinary form.

2. The Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum does not introduce anything new to the Church. The form of the mass now known as the “extraordinary form” (which includes the prayer for the conversion of the Jews in the Good Friday liturgy) has been in continuous use even since 1970. Pope Benedict writes in his letter to the Bishops that “this Missal was never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, was always permitted.” It is now almost twenty years since Pope John Paul II provided explicit guidelines for its use in his Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei (2 July 1988).

3. Pope Benedict XVI emphasised that there are not two different Latin rites, but one rite in two forms. In his letter to the Bishops, he also emphasises that

“There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place. Needless to say, in order to experience full communion, the priests of the communities adhering to the former usage cannot, as a matter of principle, exclude celebrating according to the n
ew books. The total exclusion of the new rite would not in fact be consistent with the recognition of its value and holiness.”

This would appear to exclude a ‘hermeneutic of rupture’ and to affirm a ‘hermeneutic of continuity’ whereby the faith of the Church is to be seen reflected in both forms of the Latin rite. One cannot hold the theology of one rite against the theology of the other. Apparent ‘contradictions’ between the lex orandi (law of prayer) and lex credendi (law of belief) will require hermeneutical reflection.

4. In his letter to the Bishops, the Holy Father invites Bishops to send in accounts of their experience over the next three years, saying that “If truly serious difficulties come to light, ways to remedy them can be sought.” Thus there are avenues for addressing the Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews if it is found to be causing “serious difficulties” for Catholic-Jewish relationships.

5. Until now, the “pre-Vatican II” form of the Latin rite has remained static in the form of the 1962 Missal. However, the Motu Proprio and its accompanying letter to Bishops explicity indicate that “the two Forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching” and that consequently changes may be made to the extraordinary form in the future. At this point only very modest changes are indicated (eg. ” new Saints and some of the new Prefaces can and should be inserted in the old Missal.”) However, the “Ecclesia Dei” Commission has been asked to study the “practical possibilities in this regard”, and it is not inconceivable that the prayer for the conversion of the Jews may be also modified if it is found to be one of the “serious difficulties” reported to the Holy See. This would not have been possible without the current Motu Proprio.

6. The doctrine of the Church’s relationship with the Jewish people—including questions about the salvific effect of the Mosaic Covenant, the evangelisation of Jews, and prayer for the conversion of the Jewish people—is still undergoing a process of development and clarification. After two thousand years we are facing these questions in a new situation. The experience of the Shoah has awakened the Church to the deplorable history of anti-semitism in relation to which it has not been innocent. It will take much time, effort, prayer and charity for the parameters of our new relationship to be fully revealed. The language of prayer in both Church and Synagogue will be an important and significant part of of this understanding.

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10 Responses to The Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum and Prayers for the Jews: Some notes of clarification

  1. Peregrinus says:

    A masterly overview of the issues, David.

    My own thoughts, for what they are worth:

    There is a genuine and I think legitimate diversity of theological opinions within the church as to the precise way in which the church’s mission to the Jews should be conceived and implemented.

    The Prayer for the Jews in the 1970 and subsequent editions of the missal may or may not have been crafted with the specific intention of accommodating that diversity, but it certainly does a very good job of it. The 1962 Prayer, by contrast, does not.

    The liturgy of the church should reflect the belief of the church and, if that belief is diverse, the liturgy should accommodate that diversity. (That does not mean, however, that one form of the Roman rite should reflect one theological opinion while another form should reflect an opposing opinion.)

    In addition the 1970 Prayer appears, from what I can see, to be generally well-received by representatives of the Jewish community.

    These are both powerful arguments in favour of the 1970 Prayer.

    The 1962 missal has been in the same form since 1962 (obviously). Despite the claims of those who assert that the mass never changed before Vatican II and that Trent prohibited change in perpetuity, I suspect that this is one of the longest periods, if not the longest, during which an edition of the Roman Missal has continued to be celebrated without any reform or amendment at all.

    I think there is already a recognition that, if the 1962 Missal is not to be fossilized, it must be open to reform and amendment, and the Motu Proprio reflects this.

    Concerns over the prayer for the Jews are one of the most prominent illustrations of the need for continuing renewal of the liturgy, and of what can happen if this is not done.

    On the other hand, the whole point of maintaining the extraordinary form as a separate form of the Roman rite is lost if we argue that any reform made in the 1970 or subsequent missals must necessarily be appropriate for the 1962 missal also.

    Thus, while I think some change to the 1962 missal is warranted, and while that change should reflect the teaching of Vatican II on relations with the Jews, the legitimate diversity of theological opinion on the subject and the concerns of Jews, it does not follow that unreflecting adoption of the 1970 Prayer is the only or best solution. But I do think that this is one area where the church’s experience of crafting and using the 1970 prayer can be very instructive.

  2. Schütz says:

    You are quite right on all these issues, Peregrinus. The fact of the matter is that we have here a situation that needs clarification both from a doctrinal (lex credendi) and liturgical (lex orandi) view point, and, because of the current confusion, neither view point really clarifies the other as one would normally expect. If I might presume to suggest a “next project” for the International Theological Commission, they could do worse than take these issues up along the same lines as they treated the Limbo question–and with the same thoroughness. In a sense the two issues are related, as they are both about what is “necessary” for salvation.

  3. Thomas Pink says:

    The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith does not see much room for diversity here. It endorses the 1962 prayer and understands the 1970 as consistent with it – which is the general position, clearly, of Pope Benedict, regarding the relation of the two rites in his Motu Proprio. Since the International Theological Commission tends to reflect CDF thinking, what a Commission report would say is fairly predictable. See very recent interview with CDF Secretary Amato – link

    Q: Your Excellency, there are those who accuse the motu proprio “Summorum Pontificum” of being anti-conciliar, because it offers full citizenship to a missal in which there is a prayer for the conversion of the Jews. Is it truly contrary to the letter and spirit of the Council to formulate this prayer?

    A: Certainly not. In the Mass, we Catholics pray always and in the first place for our conversion. And we strike our breasts for our sins. And then we pray for the conversion of all Christians and all non-Christians. The Gospel is for all.”

    Q: But the objection is raised that the prayer for the conversion of the Jews was definitively surpassed by the one in which the Lord is asked to help them to progress in fidelity to his covenant.

    A: Jesus himself affirms, in the Gospel of Saint Mark: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel,” and his first interlocutors were his Jewish confreres. We Christians can do nothing other than re-propose what Jesus taught us. In freedom and without imposition, obviously, but also without self-censorship. “

  4. Peregrinus says:

    We are all called to conversion, and indeed to continuing conversion, but “conversion” can have more than one meaning, and there is undeniably a range of theological opinion within the church on the conversion to which the Jews are called, given their enduring Covenant with God.

    It;’s not really enough to say that Jesus called the Jews to repentance and to hear and accept his message. Jews of his time were not faced with the alternatives of being Jews or Christians, as Jews of our time are, and we need to consider carefully what the gospel of Christ calls them to in that situation.

    I’m not sure that I agree with David that we need an effort to find a definitive answer, or even a narrowing of the range of answers offered. For a long time we thought we had a pretty clear answer, and that answer was used to back up some fairly hideous crimes. I think we need to be wary of a rush for certainty in this area, and we also need to be very sensitive to the fears and feelings to which our own past actions have contributed.

    There’s no doubt that our theological insights here have been informed, and perhaps transformed, by the experience of the last two generations. I’m not sure that this is a process which can or should be “short-circuited” by an attempt at this point to form and teach an authoritative view. After all, the fact that the church has a teaching authority doesn’t mean that she must always exercise it on every question at the first opportunity.

    It seems to me that there is a lot to be said for not only allowing but encouraging continuing exploration and reflection on this topic, and encouraging the continuing exchange of views. There are not many positions the church has taken for which it has ever subsequently found it necessary to make a formal apology, but this is one of them. Why should we be in a mad rush to adopt a definite position on this question?

  5. Schütz says:

    We should always be in a mad rush to head off a denial of the gospel, Peregrinus. And this is what the claim that we should not evangelise Jewish people or pray for their conversion sounds like to many Christians. It sounds as if we are saying “The Gospel is for everyone, except for the Jews”. And that sounds like a denial of the Gospel, hence the urgency of the need to address this question.

    I agree that sensitivity is required. Absolutely. When Jewish folk hear us talking about evangelisation or mission or conversion, they feel threatened. Just as we feel threatened when Muslim folk talk about bringing the great blessings of Sharia law to our society or seeking to create an Islamic state.

    And the matter is so sensitive because it isn’t just their identity as Jews that they feel is being threatened, but their lives. It is sad to have to say this, but the “convert or perish” option exists as a reality in their historical narrative.

    And dialogue will go nowhere if they begin to think for a moment that the purpose of our entering into dialogue with them is to “convert” them to Christianity.

    So it is urgent that the Church find a path to walk between being a threat to our Jewish brothers and sisters and denying the very gospel which the Church exists to proclaim.

    I will, at some near future date, blog on why I believe it is theological and historical nonsense to claim that we are to proclaim the gospel to all people–except the Jews. The changed circumstance of post-20th century experience alters the WAY we proclaim the gospel, not the option to proclaim it. Renewed appreciation for the fact that we can hear the Word of God from our Jewish brothers and sisters does not excuse us from the obligation we have to speak the Word God has given us to them.

    And I believe that if the Church has the faculty to teach us in this area then it has the responsibility of doing so. Although I grant that at this point and perhaps for decades to come the Church may only be able to give guidance, rather than definitive answers.

  6. Mike says:

    David, good post, and good last comment.

    Peregrinus, I don’t quite understand one comment you make:
    “For a long time we thought we had a pretty clear answer, and that answer was used to back up some fairly hideous crimes”.

    “In those days” we believed two things: Firstly that Jews need Christ as much as anyone else. Secondly that the Jews, collectively, were guilty of the death of Christ (more so than the rest of us!). This second belief was false, and was rightly put to rest by Vatican II. The first belief was not affected by Vatican II, as far as I can tell.

    This second belief was certainly used to justify atrocities. But if the if hideous crimes have been committed in the name of evangelisation – forced conversions and so on – I don’t see how making an exception for one small group of people would change much.

    I know that some theologians have suggested that the Jews should not be evangelised, but have there been any official church statements that have given this any credence?

  7. Schütz says:

    No, there haven’t been any official church statements, not really. Certainly Nostra Aetate does not suggest that Jewish are exempt from the need for salvation in Christ.

    It is, however, a valuable exercise to read through the magisterial pronouncements quoted in the US document Reflections on Covenant and Mission” (which is not in itself a document of the magisterium), and see how they stitch the argument together. For instance, they quote John Paul II who said that Jews are “the people of God of the Old Covenant, never revoked by God,” “the present-day people of the covenant concluded with Moses,” and “partners in a covenant of eternal love which was never revoked.”

    All of that is quite true, of course, and agrees with Jesus only sattement that he did not come to abolish the law, and Paul’s various statements about the continuing significance of the Sinai covenant. But does it add up to: “therefore we don’t pray for the conversion of the Jews to Christ”?

    I will say it before, and will say it again: the Early Christian Church agonised not over whether to evangelise Jews, but whether and how to evangelise the Gentiles. Of course, aside from the Shoah, the other big difference of context today from way back then is that now it is a case of Gentile Christians proclaiming Christ to Jewish non-Christians, rather than the other way around. That, as I said before, can make a huge difference to how the Gospel is heard and received, but I don’t think it means that we are excused from the obligation of proclaiming it.

  8. Past Elder says:


    The idea that the Jews collectively bear more guilt than the rest of us for the crucifixion was specifically repudiated by the Catechism of the Council of Trent.

    Since my copy is out in the garage in boxes of other useless books, you’ll have to look up the reference for yourselves.

    What I was taught in the bad old days before the Spirit of Vatican II blew us out of mediaeval triumphalism, cough, was that in the end Jesus was executed by Roman, not Jewish, authority, and in a manner not allowed, due to its barbarity, under Jewish law; therefore, Rome being the ruler of the world they knew, Roman authority being that under which the sentence was given, and Roman methods thpse used in carrying it out, if there even were some special burden of guilt it would rest not with the Jews but with the Gentiles who could have stopped it but didn’t and without whose approval it could not have happened, so the sins of all men equally brought about the death of Jesus.

    Then again, maybe that was just someone’s private opinion. Oh wait, teaching your private opinion for Catholic doctrine wasn’t allowed back then.

  9. Mike says:

    Past Elder,

    You are right.

    I presume your “Hogwash” was directed at my saying that we once believed that the Jews were collectively responsible for the death of Christ.

    1) I acknowledge it was never church doctrine, much less dogma.
    2) Although I am much to young to witness personally to this, I acknowledge that not nearly as people taught this, as might be commonly believed. Just as we get cranks who falsely claim that the church once denied that women have souls, that “the Inquisition” killed millions, and that religion is the cause of all wars, we have a good degree of misinformation about what “church teaching” on the Jews was pre-Vatican II – and harbour a lot of chronological snobbery when discussing the general state of things before Vatican II. I *think* I am with you on that one.
    3) Nevertheless, many people did have this perception that the Jews had this “blood on their hands” and used it to justify crimes.
    4) Some still have this perception today, and use it to rail against Jews.

    SO. I didn’t belabor points 1 and 2 in my original post because I believed it would be unnecessary in this particular forum.

  10. Past Elder says:

    Well Mike, I’d certainly agree that there are more than enough misinformed and/or bigoted people to go around for all our churches, denominations, ecclesial unions, trans parochial entities, or whatever else they are being called these days.

    Traditional Catholic thinking, as distinct from the heretical or nearly so Nostra Aetate, about the consequence to the Jews for the rejection of Christ has nothing to do with the various atrocities against Jews over history, but with a naturalism re Judaism. There is a good article on this on the site.

    It’s interesting that among the most ardent supporters of modern Israel are American “evangelicals”, for many of whom the establishment of the modern state is a sign of the end times.

    I wish I saw as much concern over the millions more who died under our ally Stalin as for those who died under our enemy Hitler. Where is their “never again”? Or similar victims in Southeast Asia and Africa?

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