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Christian Prayer: Its Relationship With Judaism
Marie Hélène Fournier
According to Judaism Prayer is one of the three pillars which sustain the world (Pirke Avot 1:2). For Christians Prayer is at the heart of the Gospel and is a means of fulfilling the Covenant. This common ground between Judaism and Christianity often goes unrecognised. Does Christian Prayer reveal the Jewish People as "the elder brother"? How could this relationship before God be evoked in a way that respects both the closeness and the differences between them? It took five years to reformulate the seventh century prayer which is used on Good Friday, (the second day of the Easter triduum), in the liturgy. This invocation, the sixth of ten general intercessions, was published in the revised missal in 1969, approved by Pope Paul VI and adopted in 1970:
Let us pray for the Jewish People, the first to hear the Word of God, that they may continue to grow in Me love of God's name and in faithfulness to the covenant.
Almighty and eternal God, long ago you have your promise to Abraham and his posterity. Listen to your Church as we pray that the people you first mode your own may arrive at the fulness of redemption. We make his prayer through Christ our Lord.
The Church adopts a new attitude in this prayer. At last she expresses her gratitude for the Jewish People living today, recognising God's fidelity to them and their particular destiny (cf. Nostra Aetate 4, 1965).
Can Jews and Christians now Pray Together?
Does this mean that Christians and Jews can now address their common Father together? Present practice is more complex. It is true Zephaniah 3:9 and Malachy 1:11 foresee a time when the Lord will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord. But apart from the justifiable resistance of the Jews themselves, the fifty years after the Shoah have also left their mark on Christians. They have learnt discretion and respect with regard to their "elder brother" who is different, to his sensitivity and history. They accept the burden of their own Christian history. They have understood that it is time to "stay silent" in order to reformulate the Christian perception of the relationship with Judaism. A time of revision is needed; a good many old theological ideas must be corrected and expressed in a new language which appreciates this vital bond.
In this paper I will simply try to describe an experience of prayer which takes into account the brothers and sisters who walk with their God, the same God, at our side. Liturgy is an essential element in the formation of Christians. It is the guide of life. For some Jews, both friends and critics, it is the acid test of the aggiornamento in the Church. It is an essential dimension of the way of dialogue as long as it is accompanied by the kind of life which authenticates it. I will comment briefly on four types of Christian prayer which have some link with Judaism.
Joining in the Prayer of the Other
Cordial relations have begun. On certain special occasions Christians take part in Jewish Prayer: marriage, bereavement, commemorative ceremonies, Sabbath and Passover meals, obviously without making these "Jewish-Christian" rites. It needs to be said that there are a few "Judaizers" who run the risk of making these special occasions part of their ordinary life. Out of curiosity, some young Jews also like to frequent this or that church or take part in pilgrimages at big feasts. This sort of imprudent behaviour can be harmful; it can give rise to confusion which impedes the slow progress towards an open dialogue, respectful of the distinctiveness of each and the differences between them. A sound formation is needed which affirms each one's identity and yet allows for an unambiguous openness to the other.
Prayer in the Presence of the Other
It must be remembered that Judaism does not normally use the type of spontaneous prayer that has a certain popularity with Christians, especially in groups influenced by the charismatic renewal. Official Jewish prayer is in Hebrew and is the liturgy of the synagogue. This must be taken into account in those conferences where participants are easily accepted as guests at each other's services, especially on Shabbat and on Sunday.
There can be occasions during a Christian service in a conference hall or a church, when Jews are present, when it is appropriate to formulate prayer intentions interspersed with a biblical verse. It could be the moment to express in a natural way a broad ecumenical attitude by recalling God's love for everyone; it could take the form of praise: "Blessed are You Lord, King of the universe, may You be praised O Lord..."; or supplication: "Lord have mercy"; or repentance and commitment: "Bring us back to you O Lord — give us a new heart O Lord..."; or gratitude and remembrance of history: "Give thanks to the Lord for the Lord is good... remember us"; or hope: "Give peace O Lord to those who trust in you — Father unite us so that the world may believe in your love".
These profoundly biblical attitudes form part of a common heritage. This could also be a suitable time to evoke a festival or an event which the Jewish community are actually celebrating. In order to avoid the pitfalls of improvisation it is wise for Christians to prepare these intentions beforehand. Many Jewish friends have been moved by the evolution they have seen in the Church with regard to their community on these occasions.
In the Hebrew courses organised by Rev. Jacques Maigret, the Kyrie, Sanctus, Agnus Dei and Pater are sung in Hebrew at the Eucharist; the melodies used are those of the Hebrew Church in Jerusalem. Sometimes verses from the psalms and traditional Jewish songs like Hinneh ma tov, Oseh shalom, Yehudah Leolam, Todah la El, La menatzeah, are also used, and thus become part of the Christian repertoire.
However Christians must be careful not to trivialise songs that are specifically Jewish, like the Shema Israel or Avinu Malkenu, which belong in the Siddur and are at the heart of Jewish prayer. On the other hand even though every line of the Our Father has roots in Jewish tradition, (and this is important because in this synthesis the Gospels transmit the tradition Jesus received from his people), Christians must understand that Jews cannot say this prayer with them, or hear it without some misgivings, for it is used in our liturgy with ari introduction that makes it specifically Christian:
Lei us pray with confidence to the Father in the words our Saviour gave us. — or
United in the same Spirit we say with confidence the prayer our Saviour gave us...
When there are non-Jewish visitors to the synagogue the rabbi may choose to recite the prayers for the State and its government, for visitors or a suitable psalm in the vernacular. These are ways in which "prayer hospitality" can be shown.
The meeting for peace at Assisi was an example of this kind of prayer. Ali the religions joined in the same intention, each praying in turn for peace in their own specific way but listening with respect to each other. Since then W.C.R.P., Pax Christi and other interconfessional groups have also proposed certain topics for prayer, for example racial harmony, peace in the Middle East, but leaving each religion free to choose its own expression. Thus no-one is hurt but all are united in mutual respect before the One who hears the prayer of everyone.
Study/Prayer with a tent of the Hebrew Bible
In Belgium the group Encounter between Christians and Jews choose a short psalm to use at the end of each meeting. A translation closely following the Hebrew, with the tetragram rendered as Adonai is prepared and a brief explanation based on commentaries from both traditions is given. All then read the psalm together. Psalms used have included ps. 87 (Psalm of Zion), ps. 114 (Going forth from Egypt), ps. 121(I lift up my eyes), ps. 122 (Let us go to the house of the Lord), ps. 126 (Return of captives), ps. 133 (It is good), the psalms of ascent. The choice depended on the theme of the meeting or the festive season. For some years the lectures given by Armand Abecassis at the house of the Jesuits began with the reading of a psalm. This prayer created an atmosphere of attention and a readiness to listen to Jewish commentary on the Torah. When the course was transferred to the Université Libre this practice had to be discontinued and the change in atmosphere could be felt.
Prayer in the Absence of the Other but Conscious of a Spiritual Bond
If being rooted in Judaism is a dimension both of Christian history and faith, then it touches Christian identity at its deepest level. As priests and lay Christians become aware of this bond, it is more usual to include an intention mentioning the Jewish People in the Sunday Eucharist. This occurs at the approach of Jewish festivals or when a synagogue in the neighbourhood makes it opportune. It helps towards understanding when the commentary on the first reading from the Hebrew bible refers to the Jewish tradition.
The Belgium Protestant Churches now organise a "Judaism Sunday" in October. Leaflets are published for the use of pastors and are sent to each community by the Consistorial Secretariate. Certain Pastors prepare a special service for Yom Kippur, in the spirit of the Jewish feast, expressing repentance for the sins of Christians with regard to Jews. Catholics are invited to this service. They, in turn, invited Protestants to share in a "Celebration of Thanksgiving for the Jewish Roots of Christianity" in Brussels Cathedra] (1987); Eight hundred people gathered for this event. Some Catholic parishes hold "Prayer related to Judaism" just before the week for Christian Unity in January in order to show that recognition of and gratitude for the Jewish roots of Christianity is the pivotal point of ecumenism. It would be helpful if these various activities were co-ordinated. Perhaps a date dose to Yom Kippur would be appropriate in Europe.
In conclusion an outline of what could be the content of a Christian Prayer conscious of its link with Judaism is given:
As well as the biblical attitude already mentioned, each feast is an invitation to celebrate the great moments in the Covenant which, according to Franz Rosensweig, structure Jewish and Christian history and liturgy (cf. The Star of Redemption): Creation, Revelation, Redemption, the Prophetic vision of the final reconciliation. The memory of the Patriarchs and the pioneers in the history of the People of God in the Scriptures, including the women, have a piace. Other elements of the "common patrimony" are explored by Franz Mussner in Tractate on the Jews.
In evoking events which have deeply marked the fabric of history, a place must be given in public prayer to the shattering experience of the Shoah, and also to the existence of the State of Israel, its well-being and efforts "to give peace a chance" for all inhabitants of this Holy Land, and the common fight for justice through development.
Up to the present the formulation of these prayers depends on private initiative and certain prayer and encounter groups. A greater coordination at the liturgical level would seem to be necessary. Desires include:
A feast of the Patriarchs in the weeks leading up to Advent;
A day celebrating the Creation;A fast to commemorate the Shoah.
All the above are for the Christian liturgical calendar.
In addition a regular liturgical publication which would provide an informed and balanced orientation for Christian prayer is needed. It should include suggestions (in line with the Vatican Guidelines of 1975 and the Notes for Preachers and Catechists of 1985) for parishes and prayer groups who want to recover their Jewish roots.
is important to remind all Christians that this is an essential element of Christian identity. It creates an openness to the common patrimony with Judaism, a spirit of gratitude as well as respect for a different expression and practice.
* M. Hélène Fournier is a Sister of Our Lady of Sion and Founder of Ein Shalom, Centre for Jewish-Christian Documentation in Brussels.