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Commentaties in Missals
The work of liturgical commissions in various countries and the new lectionary being prepared by the Conailium Liturgicum in Rome should be a source of great enrichment for the whole Christian people. In no area, howover, will this enrichment come about automatically. This is especially true for a correct understanding of the Old Testament and of Judaism where the half-truths propounded by pseudo-scholarship and the misinformation of centuries must be energetically re-considered. It is very important that the manner in which certain texts are presented be carefully reviewed so that the impression they give may be based on a true appreciation of their real meaning. Many passages, in St. John for instance, can only be correctly understood within the context in which they were written, a context with which most Christians are not yet familiar. Thus commentators of biblical texts in missals and other books of devotion have an important role and a great responsibility to explain with truth and honesty the message of God to men.
That Christians, in general, have in the past been exposed to and continue to receive inadequate education and information in regard to Judaism was made clear enough through studies published in SIDIC I-2 on catechetical instruction in various countries. This inadequate formation is reinforced by the commentaries on biblical texts and liturgical holy days which are to be found in many of the missals used by Christians to the present day. There is often an over generalisation and emphasis on the vices of the "Jews" or the Pharisees at the time of Christ, and almost no appreciation of the values to which the early Christian Church was heir. In a cursory examination of French, German, English, Dutch and Italian missals, we notice that most of their commentaries are based on the same ideas. "The Jews look for Jesus, but within their own frame of thought which was too narrow to be capable of understanding the mystery of Christ". (Missel de l'Assembl4e chr4tienne, Monday in Passion Week commentary on the Gospel Jn. 7; cf. Das Messbuch der Heiligen Kirche, p. 269). "The prophet's prayer to God in this situation is marked by the desire of vengeance, so characteristic of the Jewish spirit of the time". (Saturday of Pas- sion Week, Missel de l'Assembl4e chr4tienne; cf. Das Messbuch, p.284).
The overall impression is given that there was an almost complete break between the "Old" Covenant and the "New"; the "superiority" of the New Covenant over the Old is stressed: for example, the commentary on the wedding feast of Cana states: "The symbolism is twofold: The wedding stands for the Covenant, the water changed into wine for the superiority of the new over the old covenant... "
It has been forgotten that Christ's mission was to fulfil the Law and the Prophets, that his "spirituality" was an immediate outgrowth of the Je-wibh, "spirituality" of the three or four centuries which preceded his coming, and not a complete break with his heritage. "The future seems to the Jews as a time of plenty, so much so that the reaper will harvest as soon as the grain has been planted. Contrary to this view, Christ insisted that growth of the harvest was the result of slow patient-work" (Missel de l'A.c., p. 974, Wednesday of the Ember days. of September).
There are many examples of a summary and categorical judgement passed on the motives and attitudes of the Jews in the time of Christ, a judgement which seems to spring from self-righteousness little in keeping with a profession of Christian humility: "The Jews do not hear the voice of Jesus; they do not understand him; not because his words were unclear, but they did not want to understand the Truth which he spoke" (Messbuch, Wednesday in Passion Week, p.275).
The commentaries for the Mass for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, which includes the reading of the Gospel recounting Christ's words about the destruction of Jerusalem provi4e much material for misunderstanding. Reasons are given for the "failure of the Jewish people" such as their narrowness of vision, "they often gave their own interpretation of the Law, a sort of blindness which made it impossible for them to recognise the signs Christ performed, or to understand them, some mysterious pre-destination, greediness,another form of pride", and all these amply justified by an abundance of biblical texts
(cf. Missel de l'Ass. chr. p. 728-729. Messbuch, pp. 516-517).
Although the whole prayer for the Jews on Good Friday is in need of revision, in only one missal, the "Messale Quotidiane dei Fideli" of P. G. Feder, S.J., did we find that the title "for the conversion of the Jews" had not been changed.
Several praiseworthy attempts are being made to rectify this one-sided image which is given of Judaism. In Sources de Vie, Missel des Vacances,p.119, an important advance is made in the statement "The two great laws of love come therefore from the Old Testament (cf. Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18). This is because love is the centre of all relationship of God with men, the old as well as the new". A frequent cause of misunderstanding occurs when the Old Testament is spoken of as being a regime of fear while the New is that of love, but the truth is brought out once more in Missel de l'Assembl4e chr4tienne, p.702, where it is said, "The prophets of the O. T. had already established a relationship between sacrifice and charity; they had already made the latter a necessary condition of the former". And an attempt is made to bring out the bond between Jews and Christians. "The Jew and the Christian, each knows that his religion depends on the Word of God..." (Missel de l'Ass. chr. p. 742), and once, in the Schott Missal, the concession is made that "Christ did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfil it" (p. 273).
Let us hope that editions of missals and books of devotion under revision will carry on the positive work already begun and bring about a changein the mentality of the Christian people. Though the past has given grounds for "the Jewish conviction... that it was exactly through such teachings (cf.Prosper Gu4ranger; p.30 this issue) which, throughout the centuries, had become an integral part of Christian prayers, ..., that an atmosphere was created in which anti-Semitism could have flourished" (1) may the future be marked by an atmosphere of love and understanding for all.
(1) 1966 Liturgical Week, Houston, Texas, U.S.A. Rabbi Arthur Gilbert - The Problem of Anti-Semitism in the Perspective of Vatican II's Declaration on Judaism: A critical review and reaction.