A recent report in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz quotes Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone to the effect that the Church might remove a prayer for the conversion of the Jews from the newly revived Latin liturgy for Easter. Many Jewish religious authorities rankle at the prayer, which caused some static in the background of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to a Manhattan synagogue on the eve of Passover. Jews would be better advised to urge the Catholic Church to leave the prayer precisely as it is.
It seems inappropriate for the Jews to ask Christians to stop praying for their conversion, for converting themselves and others is what Christians do. Why don’t Catholics also pray for the conversion of the Muslims? The answer is self-evident from the text of the supposedly offending prayer:
Let us also pray for the Jews: That our God and Lord may illuminate their hearts, that they acknowledge Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men. (Let us pray. Kneel. Rise.) Almighty and eternal God, who want that all men be saved and come to the recognition of the truth, propitiously grant that even as the fulness of the peoples enters Thy Church, all Israel be saved. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
The prayer is not for the conversion of the Jews as individuals , but rather for the salvation of “all Israel.” In this prayer, Church declares that “all Israel” consists of the Jews the Israel of the flesh as well as the Israel of the spirit, that is, the Church as the People of God. It is consistent with Pope John Paul II’s declaration that the Old Covenant never has been revoked, a position reiterated by Benedict XVI. Catholics therefore pray for “all Israel” to become one and to be saved together.
The reason that the Church does not specifically pray for God to illumine the hearts of Muslims (for example) is that it Muslims do not comprise part of the family of Israel. Nor, for that matter, does the Church specifically pray for Hindus, Buddhists, or Zoroastrians. That the Church desires to convert all of humankind goes without saying; what it needs to say, through the Easter prayer, is that it hopes for the healing of the rift within the family of Israel itself. Thus it affirms precisely what the Jews ask of the Christian world, namely that it recognize their unique status as God’s people.
Christians also might observe that the Jews pray for the conversion of all the peoples of the world, not just once a year but three times a day. Every Jewish service for the past 1,700 years has ended with the recitation of “Aleinu,” which calls on the whole world to acknowledge YHWH by His Name:
Therefore we put our hope in You, Hashem our God, that we may soon see Your mighty splendor, to remove detestable idolatry from the earth, and false gods will be utterly cut off, to perfect the universe through the Almighty’s sovereignty. Then all humanity will call upon Your Name, to turn all the earth’s wicked toward You. All the world’s inhabitants will recognize and know that to You every knee should bend, every tongue should swear. (Isaiah 45:23) Before You, Hashem, our God, they will bend every knee and cast themselves down and to the glory of Your Name they will render homage, and they will all accept upon themselves the yoke of Your kingship that You may reign over them soon and eternally. For the kingdom is Yours and You will reign for all eternity in glory as it is written in your Torah: Hashem shall reign for all eternity. (Exodus 15:18) And it is said: Hashem will be King over all the worldon that day Hashem will be One and His Name will be One. (Zechariah 14:9)
It is right and proper for the Jews to desire that all the world should worship YHWH in their way, and inconsistent of them to object to the same desire on the part of Christians. But the critical point is that the dispute over the Easter prayer is a quarrel within Israel. Jews should worry only if and when Christians cease to pray for them, for that would signify that Christians had forgotten the root onto which the wild olive branches are grafted.