Why Not Pray for People?

Dr. Michael Liccione has some thoughtful and important things to say about the Pope's new motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum regarding the use of the 1962 rubrics for Mass. I entirely agree with what he has to say there regarding the value of the old rubrics compared to the new when it is remembered that Vatican II did not mandate either the use of the vernacular or the elimination of the ad orientem position of the celebrant or, indeed, any of the other idiocies and banalities that one now commonly finds at Mass.

One item that has caused some controversy, however, is in need of closer examination. The older form of the Mass makes use of a prayer on Good Friday that some people, especially Jews, find objectionable. It is a prayer for the conversion of folks who do not believe in Christ, and specifically mentioned among such people are the Jews:
Oremus et pro Iudaeis: ut Deus et Dominus noster auferat velamen de cordibus eorum; ut et ipsi agnoscant Iesum Christum Dominum nostrum. Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui Iudaeos etiam a tua misericordia non repellis: exaudi preces nostras, quas pro illius populi obcaecatione deferimus; ut, agnita veritatis tuae luce, quae Christus est, a suis tenebris eruantur.
The newer Mass has re-worded that prayer considerably:
Oremus et pro Iudaeis, ut, ad quos prius locutus est Dominus Deus noster, eis tribuat in sui nominis amore et in sui foederis fidelitate proficere. Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui promissiones tuas Abrahae eiusque semini contulisti, Ecclesiae tuae preces clementer exaudi, ut populus acquisitionis prioris ad redemptionis mereatur plenitudinem pervenire.
From a strictly literary-critical standpoint, it does seem rather difficult to escape the emphasis of the older prayer on the veil that has covered the heart of the Jewish people, preventing them from seeing the truth of Christ and leaving them in the shadows, while the newer prayer emphasizes the role of the Jewish people in the history of salvation, noting their priority of place in God's promise to Abraham and the great hope of fullness of redemption for all who turn to Christ in love. From a more theological standpoint, however, a standpoint devoid of the vitriol of mundane emotivism, the prayers say roughly the same thing: the Jews are God's own chosen people, and we pray for them to gain the full reward that was intended for them from the beginning and that is now in the possession of their heirs, the Christian Church. One can only object to this sentiment if one antecedently rejects the idea that there is such a thing as a Christian Church that is in possession of the fullness of God's promise of salvation. In short, only a non-Christian could really be bothered by what this prayer is asking for, regardless of whether one objects to its precise wording.

That people will feel offended, however, should come as no surprise. Who isn't offended when some self-important cretin says to you, with a sneer, "I'll pray for you", making it rather evident what the person's true feelings towards you are? True prayer isn't uttered as a way of distancing ourselves from the object of our intentions. Christ himself makes an object lesson of precisely this attitude, when he points out the hypocrisy of the man who audibly gave thanks to God by saying "I thank you that I am not like this sinner", contrasting that prayer with the heartfelt contrition of the sinner himself, who prayed "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner", clearly favoring the latter to the former. The difference in the case of the Church's prayer for the conversion of the Jews (along with all the other non-believers), is that the Church is praying from the position of the sinner, not the position of the hypocrite. The prayer is made on Good Friday, the day of all days when Christians everywhere meditate most fully on man's fallen and sinful nature, and beg God's forgiveness not only for themselves but for all mankind. Indeed, to pray for the conversion of the Jews (along with all the other non-believers) is actually an act of hope: it makes clear the Christian belief that it is not in fact pointless to pray for anyone's salvation, because we have been given the right, by Christ's sacrifice on Good Friday, to trust in God's mercy and love. We collectively beat our breasts and say "Lord, have mercy on us all, sinners that we are, and bring us all into your Kingdom: us, the non Catholic Christians, the Jews, the other non-Christian theists, the atheists."

Clearly, anyone who does not accept the Christian creed will find such prayer pointless at best and sanctimonious at worst. It does not occur to such people to examine the motivations of Christian prayer as grounded in genuine belief, that is, they fail to ask themselves, what would I pray for if I believed all of the things that the Christian Church professes to believe? Seen from that perspective, it becomes clear that it would be a major failing not to pray for the Jews and other non-Christians. To fail to pray for them at such a time would be a dereliction of our duty and a sin against charity. It would be the height of arrogance and hardheartedness, as if we were saying "Save us Lord, and let the others fend for themselves." Once we've gotten ourselves into the lifeboat it is our duty to try to pull in as many of the others still in the water that we can manage to get hold of. It would be horrible to say to ourselves "Let's just start rowing, those other folks would be offended if we tried to pull them into the boat, as if we didn't think that their own swimming abilities were sufficient to get them to land."

So we pray for everyone, including the Jews, because it is our duty. Because the Jews remain God's chosen people, we pray for them especially: they are the living Sacrament of God's love and mercy, and we dare not neglect to pray for their welfare, since such neglect would demonstrate our own failure as Sons and Daughters of Abraham.

Comments

Mike L said…
Scott:

Thanks for the spelling correction. I've edited my post accordingly.

I especially like your take on what our attitude to the Jews should be.

Best,
Mike

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