Monday, December 07, 2020

The Truthfulness of the Pre-1955 Good Friday Prayer for the Jews

Abel and Abraham presenting their prototypical offerings with Melchisedech's
As we prepare in Advent to celebrate the birth of the Messiah who, in His earthly life, was sent “only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15, 24), among whom He inaugurated His visible mission “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19, 10), it seems appropriate to reflect on the controversial Good Friday petition for the Jews; since, as Archbishop Fulton Sheen famously remarked:

Every other person who ever came into this world came into it to live. He came into it to die. Death was a stumbling block to Socrates — it interrupted his teaching. But to Christ, death was the goal and fulfillment of His life, the gold that He was seeking. Few of His words or actions are intelligible without reference to His Cross. He presented Himself as a Savior rather than merely as a Teacher.
The prayer for the Jews in the pre-1955 Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday reads as follows:
Let us pray also for the faithless Jews [perfidis Judaeis]: that Almighty God may remove the veil from their hearts; so that they too may acknowledge Jesus Christ our Lord. [No instruction to kneel or to rise is given, but immediately is said:] Almighty and eternal God, who dost not exclude from Thy mercy even Jewish faithlessness [Judaicam perfidiam]: hear our prayers, which we offer for the blindness of that people; that acknowledging the light of thy Truth, which is Christ, they may be delivered from their darkness. Through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Henri de Lubac — no traditionalist, to be sure — devotes an entire chapter of his famous work Medieval Exegesis to the meaning of the word perfidis in patristic literature, and (surprise!) it turns out that it does NOT mean “perfidious” or “treacherous” or “nefarious.” In Christian vocabulary, it is the right word to designate the idea of being unfaithful to a commitment one had undertaken. The Israelites accepted the old covenant, which was ordered to accepting the Messiah. By not having received Him when He came, they were guilty of infidelity to the Lord. Thus, the phraseology is absolutely correct. (Addendum: A Latinist friend pointed out to me that perfidus and its derivatives occur twenty times in the Hispano-Mozarabic Missal: once against those who stoned St. Stephen, a few times against pagans, sometimes against heretics, and at other times against sinners contra religionem without further distinction.)

‘The Synagogue’: outside Bamberg cathedral
Pius XII introduced the first unnecessary change by inserting the standard instruction for kneeling and standing. John XXIII continued the trend of accommodating political pressure by removing the word perfidis/perfidia from the Good Friday prayer. The rite of Paul VI simply jettisoned the traditional prayer altogether, replacing it with a typically Hallmarkian text. It was a final misstep for Benedict XVI, in “rehabilitating” the usus antiquior, to replace the Roncallian version with a brand new prayer of eschatological orientation rather than evangelical, which makes it inferior, as Christian prayer, to the ancient prayer. This succession of changes seems to concede the argument that there really was something “anti-Semitic” about the old prayer, when it does no more than translate the teaching of the New Testament into the lex orandi. Balking at this lex orandi is a backhanded way of balking at divine revelation. In this way, ironically, the ones who show themselves to be guilty of perfidia are the Christians who cease to pray and work for the conversion of all, including the Jews.

Even if, for reasons of prudence, we may need to use or accept the 2008 prayer for the time being, Catholics who make use of the pre-1955 Holy Week liturgy should be in a position to defend the classic prayer, rather than to accept the false premise that there was something wrong with it.

On the now-defunct Foretaste of Wisdom blog there was a fine piece entitled “St. Thomas Aquinas on the Relationship between Christianity and Judaism after Christ,” the substance of which I reproduce below, for the benefit of NLM readers.

1. Christianity is the continuity (fulfilment) of the faith of the Judaism of the Old Covenant.

As regards the substance of the articles of faith, they have not received any increase as time went on: since whatever those who lived later have believed, was contained, albeit implicitly, in the faith of those Fathers who preceded them. (Summa theologiae, II-II, Q. 1, art. 7)

2. Judaism after Christ is not the continuity of the faith of the Judaism of the Old Covenant.

Accordingly we must say that if unbelief be considered in comparison to faith, there are several species of unbelief, determinate in number. For, since the sin of unbelief consists in resisting the faith, this may happen in two ways: either the faith is resisted before it has been accepted, and such is the unbelief of pagans or heathens; or the Christian faith is resisted after it has been accepted, and this either in the figure, and such is the unbelief of the Jews, or in the very manifestation of truth, and such is the unbelief of heretics. Hence we may, in a general way, reckon these three as species of unbelief. (Summa theologiae, I-II, Q. 10, art. 5)

3. The Old Law was a step, a bridge from the law of nature to the new law of the Gospel. It is inherently temporary and ordered beyond itself.

Hence, the New Law is called a law of love and consequently is called an image, because it has an express likeness to future goods. But the Old Law represents that image by certain carnal things and very remotely. Therefore, it is called a shadow (as in) Colossians 2:17: “These are but a shadow of the things to come.” This, therefore, is the condition of the Old Testament, that it has the shadow of future things and not their image. (Super Heb., X.1, no. 480)

In the present state of life, we are unable to gaze on the Divine Truth in Itself, and we need the ray of Divine light to shine upon us under the form of certain sensible figures, as Dionysius states (Coel. Hier. i); in various ways, however, according to the various states of human knowledge. For under the Old Law, neither was the Divine Truth manifest in Itself, nor was the way leading to that manifestation as yet opened out, as the Apostle declares (Hebrews 9:8). Hence the external worship of the Old Law needed to be figurative not only of the future truth to be manifested in our heavenly country, but also of Christ, Who is the way leading to that heavenly manifestation. But under the New Law this way is already revealed: and therefore it needs no longer to be foreshadowed as something future, but to be brought to our minds as something past or present: and the truth of the glory to come, which is not yet revealed, alone needs to be foreshadowed. This is what the Apostle says (Hebrews 11:1): “The Law has a shadow of the good things to come, not the very image of the things”: for a shadow is less than an image; so that the image belongs to the New Law, but the shadow to the Old. (Summa theologiae, I-II, Q. 101, art. 2)

The salutiferous Cross foreshadowed under Moses
4. That the Old Law is said to be “everlasting” and that the call of God is “without repentance” does not establish that the Old Law remains in force as such or that it was not God’s intention to bring it to an end in the fullness of time.

The Old Law is said to be “for ever” simply and absolutely, as regards its moral precepts; but as regards the ceremonial precepts it lasts for ever in respect of the reality which those ceremonies foreshadowed. (Summa theologiae, I-II, Q. 103, art. 3 ad 1; see also the corpus in full)

In this way one avoids the opinion of the Jews, who believe that the sacraments of the Law must be observed forever precisely because they were established by God, since God has no regrets and is not changed. But without change or regret one who disposes things may dispose things differently in harmony with a difference of times; thus, the father of a family gives one set of orders to a small child and another to one already grown. Thus, God also harmoniously gave one set of sacraments and commandments before the Incarnation to point to the future, and another set after the Incarnation to deliver things present and bring to mind things past. (Summa contra Gentiles, IV.57, 2)

5. Professing “Judaism” after the time of Christ — that is, holding on to the Old Covenant in its oldness after it has been fulfilled — is objectively a grave sin based on a grave theological error:

All ceremonies are professions of faith, in which the interior worship of God consists. Now man can make profession of his inward faith, by deeds as well as by words: and in either profession, if he make a false declaration, he sins mortally. Now, though our faith in Christ is the same as that of the fathers of old; yet, since they came before Christ, whereas we come after Him, the same faith is expressed in different words, by us and by them. For by them was it said: “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son,” where the verbs are in the future tense: whereas we express the same by means of verbs in the past tense, and say that she “conceived and bore.” In like manner the ceremonies of the Old Law betokened Christ as having yet to be born and to suffer: whereas our sacraments signify Him as already born and having suffered. Consequently, just as it would be a mortal sin now for anyone, in making a profession of faith, to say that Christ is yet to be born, which the fathers of old said devoutly and truthfully; so too it would be a mortal sin now to observe those ceremonies which the fathers of old fulfilled with devotion and fidelity. Such is the teaching Augustine (Contra Faust. xix, 16), who says: “It is no longer promised that He shall be born, shall suffer and rise again, truths of which their sacraments were a kind of image: but it is declared that He is already born, has suffered and risen again; of which our sacraments, in which Christians share, are the actual representation.” (Summa theologiae, I-II, Q. 103, art. 4)

6. The Old and New Laws are not parallel; the Old Law was a step in God’s divine economy, in which the New Law is the goal.

Accordingly then two laws may be distinguished from one another in two ways. First, through being altogether diverse, from the fact that they are ordained to diverse ends: thus a state-law ordained to democratic government, would differ specifically from a law ordained to government by the aristocracy. Secondly, two laws may be distinguished from one another, through one of them being more closely connected with the end, and the other more remotely: thus in one and the same state there is one law enjoined on men of mature age, who can forthwith accomplish that which pertains to the common good; and another law regulating the education of children who need to be taught how they are to achieve manly deeds later on. We must therefore say that, according to the first way, the New Law is not distinct from the Old Law: because they both have the same end, namely, man’s subjection to God; and there is but one God of the New and of the Old Testament, according to Romans 3:30: “It is one God that justifieth circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.” According to the second way, the New Law is distinct from the Old Law: because the Old Law is like a pedagogue of children, as the Apostle says (Galatians 3:24), whereas the New Law is the law of perfection, since it is the law of charity, of which the Apostle says (Colossians 3:14) that it is “the bond of perfection.” (Summa theologiae, I-II, Q. 107, art. 1; see also the responses to the objections)

Abraham pays tithes to Melchisedech
In all of this, St. Thomas shows himself to be the faithful interpreter of Tradition, as this quotation from St. Augustine shows:

For we see that priesthood has been changed; and there can be no hope that what was promised to that house may some time be fulfilled, because that which succeeds on its being rejected and changed is rather predicted as eternal. He who says this does not yet understand, or does not recollect, that this very priesthood after the order of Aaron was appointed as the shadow of a future eternal priesthood; and therefore, when eternity is promised to it, it is not promised to the mere shadow and figure, but to what is shadowed forth and prefigured by it. But lest it should be thought the shadow itself was to remain, therefore its mutation also behooved to be foretold. (City of God, XVII, 6)

In light of this rock-solid teaching from the Church’s Common Doctor, it is impossible to maintain that the traditional (pre-1955) version of the prayer for the conversion of the Jews on Good Friday constitutes an “antisemitic” attack on them. Rather, it expresses accurately, elegantly, and charitably the teaching of the New Testament and of the Church, ordered to the salvation of all mankind in Christ, — especially the people chosen in view of the Christ, the true and natural Son of God.

I should like to close with a quotation from an article published in (of all places) Theological Studies in the year 1947, by John M. Oesterreicher, “Pro Perfidis Judaeis,” and happily available on the internet:

To conclude with a proposal made from time to time: that the Church should modify the expression perfidia Judaica and restore the ancient order for the Good Friday prayer, I should like to venture an opinion. The Church will hardly alter the words perfidia Judaica, which, as we have shown, are not intended to dishonor the Jews, and this because she may not and will not forget Christ’s claim for recognition from His own people. She, the custodian of truth, must call things by their proper names; thus, Israel’s resistance to Christ, unbelief. Indeed, she would be an enemy of the Jews did she conceal from them the source of their unrest.

In 1947, it was still possible for a scholar naively to say: “The Church will hardly alter the words…” And yet, as a friend pointed out to me, the same author, Oesterreicher, later took to “Judaizing” opinions. After the reformatory carnage through which we have passed since then, is it possible we might learn a lesson or two from our mistakes as we work to restore the traditional Roman rite?

Recommended further reading:

Christ delivering the fathers of the Old Covenant from hell

All photos (except Bamberg cathedral) courtesy of Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.

Visit Dr. Kwasniewski’s website, SoundCloud page, and YouTube channel.

[This article was updated.]

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