Monday, 15 February 2016
Do we still believe in praying for the Jews?
In the past few months there has been much said about the call of the English and German Bishops for a change in the Old Rite Good Friday prayers about praying that the veil be lifted from the eyes of the Jews and they recognise Christ as their Saviour.
In doing so it questions the fundamental Christian calling of announcing the Good News to all the world, as was Our Lord’s clear command. If this announcement is what we should do, and I think that this is clear, are there any exceptions? Are we to preach to the whole world or are we not? Is Christ the only way to salvation, or is there another way?
What about the Old Testament Covenant with the Jews? Does it still work? If they follow it, will they gain Heaven? And if they do attain salvation, is it because they are simply being true to the Ancient Faith, or is it because somehow Christ-manqué is present in the Covenant (but don’t tell them)?
And what about the Muslims? The Vatican II documents are keen to lump Jews and Muslims together, while still preserving the privileged link between Christianity and Judaism.
The images that Vatican II used were of circles around the revelation of Christ. The first circle has Catholicism (and Churches in full communion) at the centre. Then the Orthodox. Then the Protestants. The next circle was the faiths which acknowledged one God, and a personal one at that. Jews first, then Muslims. Next were faiths who worship god/s in some form. After that those who seek for the good in some manner.
You see that this is all very inclusive, but there are lines in between these circles. We are now not supposed to preach to those who go under the heading of Christian – the first circle.* But Vatican II says plainly that we should ‘evangelise’ the rest.’ Ad Gentes is quite clear on this.
So what are we supposed to do now?
Are we supposed to tell forth the truths entrusted to the Catholic Church to the whole world or not? Logically, at a stretch, you can sort of make a case for the first (Christian) circle. But now we are making distinctions between those (Jews and Muslims) who Vatican II deliberately put together. It was Pope Paul VI who let it be known that the Muslims were to be included with the Jews… not John XXIII and not the Council Fathers.
Let me make this clear. It is eminently possible, and I would say desirable, that there is no proselytism (deliberate preaching with the aim of conversion) of the Jews. This is not as a principle, so I am not saying that they occupy a new theological place in the scheme of salvation, as many Church theologians seem to want to do. Rather I would say that it should not happen because we cannot effectively preach the message of Christ because of recent, and not so recent, history and our share in it. Today, preaching the conversion of the Jews is so clouded by the evil of the last century, that the message of Christ becomes too severely distorted to be honest, effective or even, perhaps, kind.
I think that the new statements can be read in this way – in theory ‘yes’, in practice ‘no’. The Church cannot preach conversion in this present age, but we, you and I, can pray for it and yearn for it.
* Try fitting the Salvation Army into this. As they do not practise baptism, I honestly have no idea where they are included. But I have immense admiration for them.