The Jews Again
Rorate Caeli, in its questionable “wisdom,” has decided to make use of Bishop Hilarion Alfayev’s condemnation of the Catholic Church’s decision to modify the Good Friday prayer for the Jews to advance its own polemic against the contradiction of a Catholic prelate allowing the parishes of his diocese to be used by the Orthodox, but not the Catholic Society of St. Pius X. This usage, of course, demonstrates once again the myopia of the R.C. “crowd.”
The decision to revise the Good Friday prayer for the Jews is not, as some maintain, a “modernist” invention of the Church, but rather began during the reign of Pope Pius XII. (A fuller overview of the changes can be found at Wikipeida here.) Bishop Hilarion’s critique of the most recent change to the prayer, instituted by Pope Benedict XVI, is little more than an extension of the Russian Orthodox Church’s longstanding anti-Semitism — one that has nothing to do with Judaism as a religion and everything to do with the Jews as a people. As any Orthodox (or ex-Orthodox) ought to know, the hymnography of Holy Saturday Matins (typically sung on the evening of Holy Friday) amounts to little more than a shifting of the blame for the Crucifixion from the sins of mankind writ large to the specific sin of the Jews. Of all of the hymns of the Orthodox Church, these are — to say the least — the most vacuous, contemptible, and antithetical to the missionary spirit of Christianity that one can find among those with valid Apostolic succession. Fr. Alexander Schmemann, in his journals, lamented at the emptiness and, indeed, the ignorance of these hymns, and yet it should come as no surprise that many Orthodox in traditional Orthodox lands uphold them as valid expressions of Christian doctrine. Others have called for them to be removed from the liturgy altogether, citing that the Triodion from which they are taken is of relatively recent vintage and that the hymns deserve nothing close to the veneration of, say, the ancient canon of St. Andrew of Crete or the hymns composed by St. John of Damascus.
It is important to remember that the Orthodox polemic against the Jews is a blight on their otherwise magnificent history, just as the persecution of Jewish populations in Europe over the centuries is a blight on the Catholic Church — particularly to the extent that churchmen ordained such actions. Bishop Bernard Fellay has recently clarified the distinction between Judaism as a religion and the Jewish people — yet it is a distinction which, sadly, is still lost on some of the leaders of the Orthodox Church. But that is something for the Orthodox to eventually work out. In the meantime, Catholics — even traditionalists — should be wary of leveraging Orthodox critiques that emanate from doctrinaire anti-Semitism for their own purposes. It took the Catholic Church centuries to come to grips with its complicity in atrocities committed against men who, like you and I, are made in the image and likeness of God. We, as Catholics, should be proud of that fact and pray that our estranged brethren in the East do the same.