The First Essentialization
"The history of the liturgy is constantly growing into an ever-new now, and it must also repeatedly prune back a present that has become the past, so that what is essential can reappear with new vigor. The liturgy needs growth and development as well as purgation and refining and in both cases needs to preserve its identity and that purpose without which it would lose the very reason for its existence. And if that is really the case, then the alternative between 'traditionalists' and 'reformers' is woefully inadequate to the situation. He who believes that he can only choose between old and new has already traveled a good way along a dead-end street." (Cardinal Ratzinger – 1994 sermon on the occasion of the retirement of his brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, as choirmaster of Regensburg Cathedral)
Let me begin by stating that it makes very little sense to say that the new Good Friday Prayer for the conversion of the Jews does not involve significant change. There would have been little reason for its issuance, especially considering the controversy which surrounded it, if this were true.
It is my belief that the best way to begin to understand what Benedict XVI has done is to read this new version in its proper setting. The prayer for the Jews is actually the second of three prayers for conversion of various peoples: the first being for heretics and schismatics, and the last being for pagans. The one for heretics and schismatics (Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, etc.) reads as follows:
"Let us pray also for heretics and schismatics: that our Lord God would be pleased to rescue them from all their errors; and recall them to our holy mother the Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Let us pray. Let us kneel down. R. Arise
Almighty and everlasting God, who savest all, and wouldst that no one should perish: look on the souls that are led astray by the deceit of the devil; that having set aside all heretical evil, the hearts of those that err may repent, and return to the unity of Thy truth." Through our Lord…R. Amen
I have emphasized certain words in order to call the reader's attention not only to their extraordinary strength and intensity, but to the immediacy of their intent. These people are in immense danger now! They are in danger of perishing, are led astray by the deceits of the devil, and are in immediate need of rescue, repentance, and return.
This prayer for heretics and schismatics is a true prayer for conversion. Conversion involves two equally important acts. It requires a returning to the" unity of truth" which is only to be found in the Catholic Church. But equally necessary, it necessitates a turning away from something. In the case of heretics and schismatics, this repentance or turning away is from "error," "the deceit of the devil," and "heretical evil." It is important to realize that there cannot be any "turning to" without a corresponding "turning away from."
A similar intensity and immediacy is found in the prayer for pagans:
"Let us pray also for the pagans: that almighty God would remove iniquity from their hearts: that, putting aside their idols, they may be converted to the true and living God, and His only Son, Jesus Christ our God and Lord.
Let us pray. Let us kneel down. R. Arise
"Almighty and everlasting God, who ever seekest not the death, but the life of sinners: mercifully hear our prayer, and deliver them from the worship of idols, and join them to Thy holy Church for the praise and glory of Thy Name." Through our Lord…R. Amen
Again, as we see, it is an intense, emergency situation – one of life and death, demanding deliverance and conversion now. Also clearly delineated is the twofold process – a "turning away from" (iniquity of heart, worship of idols), and a "turning to" (the true and living God and holy Church).
Finally, let us turn to the new Prayer for the conversion of the Jews: (an unofficial translation)
"Let us pray, and also for the Jews.
May our God and Lord illuminate their hearts, so that they may acknowledge Jesus Christ, saviour of all men.
Almighty and everlasting God, who desirest 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"
I am writing this at the beginning of Lent, before having heard the reading of this prayer in the Good Friday liturgy. It is clear to me, however, that what we should first experience (even before engaging in a concerted effort to examine the prayer's contents and meaning) is a kind of literary disconnect. The prayer is different. Its language and tone are different. There are no negative terms, no urgency or immediacy. And, unlike the other two prayers in which the meanings of every word and concept are crystal clear, there is a real obscurity here. What, for instance, does "mercifully grant, that as the fullness of the Gentiles enter in, so all Israel will be saved" mean? Incontestably, this phrase will draw a blank from many of the faithful.
Further, even though this new version is still called the prayer for the conversion of the Jews, it does not correspond to the standard set by the two other conversion prayers. As I have said, there are no negative evaluations: no errors, evils, iniquity, blindness, veil, darkness from which Jews must turn away or repent. The first half of the conversion act is simply not there.
The new prayer, in other words, not only constitutes a literary disconnect, but also confronts us with a theological, spiritual, and psychological discontinuity in relation to the twofold conversion dynamic revealed in the other prayers.
The new prayer asks God to illumine the hearts of Jews "so that they may acknowledge Jesus Christ, saviour of all men." The ironic part of all this is that a Protestant who already "acknowledges Jesus Christ, saviour of all men" is still considered as "led astray by the deceit of the devil," and the demand is made that he repent and "set aside all heretical evil." The Jew, on the other hand, is now considered to be on a path of hopeful "illumination" which, when we contrast their prayer with that for the Protestants, apparently involves no such evils, and therefore requires no such repentance or setting aside. All Protestants in the world would now appear to have the right to demand drastic amendment of their own prayer, and to claim unjust discrimination if the Pope does not comply. Possibly that is the next "essentialization."
Many traditionalists have opined that the new prayer must be good simply because the Jews are still quite upset over it. They fail to realize, I think, that the prayer was not re-written to mollify the Jews, but to bring this liturgical petition into accord with the Pope's "essentialized" view of the relationship between Catholicism and Judaism. In order to understand this relationship we must look closer at the petition contained in the second part of the new prayer:
"grant that, as the fullness of the Gentiles enters into Thy Church, all Israel may be saved."
This petition actually clarifies what the earlier phrase "illuminate their hearts" means. It takes the prophecy of St. Paul (Rom 11; 23-26) in regard to a "grafting in again" of the Jews after the fullness of the Gentiles has come into the Church, and turns it into a prayer. It therefore effectively petitions God, not for removal and repentance of Jewish errors and blindness and their immediate conversion to the one true faith and Church, but rather for an entering into a process of "illumination" which will unfold down through history and culminate in the conversion of the Jews close to the end of time.
The reader should understand that in St. Paul's terminology the phrase "all Israel" refers to the Church (Gal 4:22-31) and to all those who are "spiritual Israelites" down through all ages. But in Romans 11:23-26, St. Paul also uses this term to specifically apply to a "grafting in again" of large numbers of Jews who will convert after the fullness of the Gentiles has come into the Church. In other words, in accord with having stripped the new prayer of all negative language which would indicate the spiritual desolation and darkness of this people, there is here no petition for their conversion now. This fact places this new prayer in direct contradiction to not only the still-retained other conversion prayers, but also to the previous version of the prayer for the Jews, which is now abrogated.
We are dealing, in other words, with a sort of evolutionary view of conversion – a dialectical process of growth and illumination which will culminate in some future Omega Point of fulfillment. This evolutionary view of conversion and unity, in Benedict XVI's thinking, applies to both the Protestants and Jews. Thus, in the very recently published book God and the World (2000), the interviewer (Peter Seewald) proposes the following question to Cardinal Ratzinger: "The Church prays for Christians to be reunited. But who ought to join up with whom?" The Cardinal replied:
“The formula that the great ecumenists have invented is that we go forward together. It’s not a matter of our wanting to achieve certain processes of integration, but we hope that the Lord will awaken people’s faith everywhere in such a way that it overflows from one to the other, and the one Church is there. As Catholics, we are persuaded that the basic shape of this one Church is given us in the Catholic Church, but that she is moving toward the future and will allow herself to be educated and led by the Lord. In that sense we do not picture for ourselves any particular modes of integration, but simply look to march on in faith under the leadership of the Lord – who knows the way (P. 452-53).”
“We can only humbly seek to essentialize our faith, that is, to recognize what are the really essential elements in it – the things we have not made but have received from the Lord – and in this attitude of turning to the Lord and to the center, to open ourselves in this essentializing so that he may lead us onward, he alone (P. 453).” (emphasis mine)
When the Cardinal denies that the goal of unity demands any particular process of integration, he, of course, denies the necessity of conversion now. When he says that this process towards unity is a "moving towards the future" in which the Church "will allow herself to be educated", he is also applying the notion of "evolutionary conversion" and "illumination" to the Church which also must be "educated" and therefore allow herself to undergo change. And when he ties this process of mutual illumination and evolutionary conversion to essentialization, he is revealing his agenda for making the changes in both the Traditional Mass and in Magisterial teachings (explored in my article The Suffering Continues) which are necessary to further this dialectical growth towards the Omega Point of unity in Christ.
The meaning of the new prayer for the Jews is perfectly expressed in Fr. Cantalamessa's (Preacher of the Pontifical Household) Sept. 30, 2005 commentary on the Sunday Gospel (as reported in Zenit News on the same date):
" If Jews one day come (as Paul hopes) to a more positive judgment of Jesus, this must occur through an inner process, as the end of a search of their own (something that in part is occurring). We Christians cannot be the ones who seek to convert them. We have lost the right to do so by the way in which this was done in the past. First the wounds must be healed through dialogue and reconciliation.
I do not see how a Christian who really loves Israel cannot hope that the latter will one day come to the discovery of Jesus, whom the Gospel describes as "glory to the people Israel" (Luke 2:32)). I do not think this is proselytism.
But now what is most important is to do away with the obstacles we have placed to this reconciliation, the 'bad light' in which we have placed Jesus in their eyes."
(Zenit, September 30, 2005.)
Here we have all the elements contained in the new prayer: no negative judgments upon the Jews that would require repentance and immediate conversion; an interior process of illumination that the Jews are to be allowed to pursue, free of any attempt at proselytism; and finally, a parallel process of evolution and dialogue in which the Catholic Church must also be illumined, purified, and essentialized.
All this is a sin against the Jews themselves. The unconverted Jew is always in a desperate situation requiring both our prayer for immediate conversion and our missionary activity. St. Paul writes:
"For you brethren, are become followers of the churches of God which are in Judea, in Christ Jesus; for you also have suffered the same things from your own countrymen, even as they have from the Jews,
Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and the prophets, and have persecuted us, and please not God, and are adversaries to all men;
Prohibiting us to speak to the Gentiles, that they may be saved, to fill up their sins always; for the wrath of God is come upon them to the end." (Thess 3: 14-16).
All of this was affirmed, either explicitly or implicitly, in the old prayer for the conversion of the Jews. All of this is undermined, explicitly or implicitly, in the new.
Essentialization has come to the Traditional Mass.
Authored by: James Larson - © 2008
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