Jewish Affairs

Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great, this sacred synod wants to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies as well as of dialogue. 

Cardinal O'Malley's greetings to the Jewish community on Rosh Hashana, 2009

Vatican II Declaration on the Church’s Relation to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate), #4 (October 28, 1965) 

March 27, 2009 - Holocaust memorial rededicated at Pastoral Center grounds
By Sarah M. Barrett

March 27, 2009 - Audio Slideshow: Holocaust memorial rededicated  

May 8 - 15, 2009 - Program and texts from Pope Benedict XVI's pilgrimage to the Holy Land 


Additional Resources 


Highlights of John Paul II’s Papacy Concerning Catholic-Jewish Relations

Some Highlights of John Paul II’s Papacy Concerning Catholic-Jewish Relations

  • October 16, 1978, Rome – Cardinal Karol Wojtyla is elected pope and takes the name John Paul II.
  • October, 1978 – At a reception at the Vatican, the new pope’s first audience is given to his boyhood Jewish friend, Jerzy Kluger. (The Hidden Pope, by Darcy O’Brien, page 6)
  • March 12, 1979 – Greeting representatives of Jewish organizations at the Vatican, he says that the Second Vatican Council “understood that our two religious communities are connected and closely related at the very level of their respective religious identities. … It is on the basis of all this that we recognize with utmost clarity that the path along which we should proceed with the Jewish religious community is one of fraternal dialogue and fruitful collaboration.” (Pope John Paul II, Spiritual Pilgrimage: Texts on Jews and Judaism 1979 - 1995, Crossroad, New York, 1995, page 4).
  • June 7, 1979, Auschwitz – he declares that no one can look on the Nazi genocide of Jews with indifference. “In particular, I pause with you dear participants in this encounter, before the inscription in Hebrew. This inscription awakens the memory of the people whose sons and daughters were intended for total extermination. This people draws its origin from Abraham, our father in faith …. The very people who received from God the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ itself experienced in a special measure what is meant by killing. It is not permissible for anyone to pass by this inscription with indifference.” (Spiritual Pilgrimage, page 7).
  • November 17, 1980, Mainz – In his address to the West German Jewish community, Pope John Paul observes that, “The first dimension of [our] dialogue, that is, the meeting between the people of God of the Old Covenant, never revoked by God [cf. Rom. 11:29], and that of the New Covenant, is at the same time a dialogue within our Church, that is to say, between the first and the second part of her Bible.” (Spiritual Pilgrimage, page 15).
  • April 13, 1986, Rome – In his address during his historic visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome, Pope John Paul says, “…the Church of Christ discovers her ‘bond’ with Judaism by ‘searching into her own mystery.’ The Jewish religion is not ‘extrinsic’ to us, but in a certain way is ‘intrinsic’ to our own religion. With Judaism, therefore, we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion. You are our dearly beloved brothers and, in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers.” (Spiritual Pilgrimage, page 63).
  • May 9, 1989 - Pope John Paul remembers the Jews of his hometown, Wadowice, “who were victims of persecution and were exterminated by the Nazis.” The pope asks his boyhood Jewish friend, Jerzy Kluger, to represent him at the unveiling of the commemorative plaque on the site of the destroyed Wadowice synagogue. (See Letter to a Jewish Friend, by Gian Franco Svidercoschi, Crossroad, New York, 1994.)
  • December 30, 1993, Rome and Jerusalem – formal diplomatic relations are established between the Holy See and Israel.
  • April 7, 1994 - Concert in the Vatican commemorating the victims of the Holocaust.
  • October 31, 1997 - In a letter to the participants in a symposium on the theme of “The Roots of Anti-Judaism in the Christian Environment,” Pope John Paul writes, “In the Christian world … erroneous and unjust interpretations of the New Testament regarding the Jewish people and their alleged culpability [for the crucifixion of Jesus] have circulated for too long, engendering feelings of hostility toward this people.”
  • March 12, 2000, Rome – On the First Sunday of Lent in the new millennium, Pope John Paul prays publicly to God for forgiveness of Christian sins against Jews during the past millennium. “God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring Your name to the nations:  we are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of Yours to suffer and asking Your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant.” 
  • March 21 – 26, 2000, Israel – Pope John Paul II’s historic pilgrimage to Israel.
  • March 23, 2000, Jerusalem – During his talk in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, Pope John Paul states, “In this place of memories, the mind and heart and soul feel an extreme need for silence. Silence in which to remember. Silence in which to try to make some sense of the memories which come flooding back. Silence because there are no words strong enough to deplore the terrible tragedy of the Shoah.
    “My own personal memories are of all that happened when the Nazis occupied Poland during the war. I remember my Jewish friends and neighbors, some of whom perished, while others survived. I have come to Yad Vashem to pay homage to the millions of Jewish people who, stripped of everything, especially of human dignity, were murdered in the Holocaust. More than half a century has passed, but the memories remain.
    “Here, as at Auschwitz and many other places in Europe, we are overcome by the echo of the heart-rending laments of so many. Men, women and children, cry out to us from the depths of the horror that they knew. How can we fail to heed their cry? No one can forget or ignore what happened. No one can diminish its scale.
    “We wish to remember. But we wish to remember for a purpose, namely to ensure that never again will evil prevail, as it did for the millions of innocent victims of Nazism.”
  • March 26, 2000, Jerusalem – Pope John Paul prays at the Western Wall, formally committing the Catholic Church “to genuine fellowship with the people of the Covenant.” He places a copy of the text of the prayer for forgiveness (from the prayer service in Rome on March 12) in the cracks of the wall.
  • January 15, 2005 – Pope makes a statement on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in which he states, “No one is permitted to pass by the tragedy of the Shoah. That attempt at the systematic destruction of an entire people falls like a shadow on the history of Europe and the whole world; it is a crime which will for ever darken the history of humanity. May it serve, today and for the future, as a warning: there must be no yielding to ideologies which justify contempt for human dignity on the basis of race, color, language or religion. I make this appeal to everyone, and particularly to those who would resort, in the name of religion, to acts of oppression and terrorism.”

Nostra Aetate Petitions

Nostra Aetate 40th Anniversary Observance Prayers of Petition
READER: We ask our Catholic brothers and sisters to stand and join in the sung response to these prayers of petition. Our friends from other religions may remain seated in silence.

CHOIR: (sung) “O God hear us, hear our prayer.”

READER: That the members of the Church, through dialogue and collaboration, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, may recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found in other religions, we pray …(sung) “O God hear us, hear our prayer.”

- Adapted from Nostra Aetate, #2

READER: That the Christian faithful, recognizing as foreign to the mind of Christ any discrimination against others based on race, color, condition of life, or religion, may “maintain good fellowship among the nations”(1 Peter 2:12) and live in peace with all people, we pray ... (sung) “O God hear us, hear our prayer.”

- Adapted from Nostra Aetate, #5

READER: That people of faith may place at the service of humanity their religious conviction, founded on the daily practice of listening to God’s message and encountering him in prayerful worship, we pray …(sung) “O God hear us, hear our prayer.”

–Adapted from Pope John Paul II’s address to a group of Christians, Muslims and Jews, Feb. 26, 1986

READER: That through respectful interreligious dialogue, our youth may be taught the ways of respect and understanding, so that they will not be led to misuse religion to promote or justify hatred and violence, we pray ... (sung) “O God hear us, hear our prayer.”

–Adapted from Pope John Paul II’s address on his visit to the Umayyad Great Mosque, May 6, 2001

READER: That as members of the one human family and as believers, we will realize our obligations to the common good, to justice and to solidarity, and that interreligious dialogue will lead to many forms of cooperation, especially in responding to the duty to care for the poor and weak, we pray ... (sung) “O God hear us, hear our prayer.”

–Adapted from Pope John Paul II’s address on his visit to the Umayyad Great Mosque, May 6, 2001

READER: That the Church will continue to build bridges of friendship with the followers of all religions, in order to seek the true good of every person and of society as a whole, we pray ... (sung) “O God hear us, hear our prayer.”

- Adapted from Pope Benedict XVI’s words of appreciation to the ecumenical and interreligious guests who attended his inaugural Mass, April 25, 2005

READER: That the memory of our beloved, late Holy Father John Paul II may be honored through the ongoing work of ecumenical and interreligious outreach, dialogue, and cooperation, to which the Holy Father witnessed with such dedication and vigor throughout his pontificate, we pray ... (sung) “O God hear us, hear our prayer.”

READER: That, during this anniversary year, God will bless the recommitment of the Archdiocese of Boston to the teaching of Nostra Aetate, so that, at every level in our church, we may live what we profess, we pray ... (sung) “O God hear us, hear our prayer.”

READER: That the members of the Massachusetts Interreligious Leaders Group will continue to work together to enhance mutual understanding and respect, support one another in matters of particular concern, collaborate on issues affecting the common good, and cooperate on relief efforts for the needy, we pray ... (sung) “O God hear us, hear our prayer.”

Resources on Catholic - Jewish Relations

Some recommended resources on Catholic-Jewish Relations

Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Catholic Church (1985) and other documents available online

God’s Mercy Endures Forever: Guidelines on the Presentation of Jews and Judaism in Catholic Preaching (1988) – Issued by the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy (BCL), NCCB

Catholic Teaching on the Shoah: Implementing the Holy See’s We Remember (2001) – Issued by the BCEIA, NCCB

Collection: Catholics Remember the Holocaust contains the text of the Vatican statement We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah and the statements of other national bishops’ conferences, with an introduction and commentaries – Issued by the BCEIA, NCCB.

Criteria for the Evaluation of Dramatizations of the Passion (1988) – Issued by the BCEIA, NCCB. See summary at by clicking here.

Other statements by the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Liturgy on Celebrating the Seder, on the Good Friday Reproaches, and on the Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust are available. See summary of considerations on Teaching about Passover and the Seder by clicking here

Proclaiming Shalom: Lectionary Introductions to Foster the Catholic and Jewish Relationship, Philip A. Cunningham. (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1995) Concise introductions to the Sunday readings (following the Catholic lectionary) that place the scriptural texts in context. Can be used for educational purposes in parish bulletins, etc.

VARIOUS RESOURCES on Catholic-Jewish relations (Archdiocese of Boston) 

RESOURCES FOR PREACHING AND TEACHING THE PASSION OF THE LORD (Archdiocese of Boston) 

The Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College
announces a multi-media curriculum for congregational interfaith dialogue

Walking God's Paths
Christians and Jews in Candid Conversation

http://www.bc.edu/research/cjl/meta-elements/texts/cjrelations/resources/education/Walking_Gods_Paths.htm
Produced for: National Council of Synagogues and Bishops Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, USCCB

The Bible, the Jews, and the Death of Jesus:
A Collection of Catholic Documents
Available from the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Publishing Office

Resources for Teaching and Preaching the Passion

The Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College announces a multi-media curriculum for congregational interfaith dialogue

Walking God's Paths
Christians and Jews in Candid Conversation

Produced for:
National Council of Synagogues
Bishops Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, USCCB

A Select Bibliography of Catholic Documents and Statements on Interreligious Relations
Compiled by: Fr. David C. Michael, Associate Director for Interreligious Relations
Archdiocese of Boston Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs

Guidelines for Dramatizing the Passion of the Lord
Summary prepared by Ms. Celia Sirois

Resources for Preaching and Teaching the Passion of the Lord
 
Some Thoughts on Presenting the Passion of the Lord
By Rev. David C. Michael, Associate Director, Archdiocese of Boston Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs

Prayers of Petition for the Church concerning interreligious relations during the anniversary year of Nostra Aetate.
These Prayers of Petition were adapted from various official texts for use during the Archdiocese of Boston's observance of the 40th anniversary of the Vatican II "Declaration on the Church's Relation to Non-Christian Religions" (Nostra Aetate).

Statement on the Liturgical Proclamation of the Passion
The message of the liturgy in proclaiming the passion narratives in full is to enable the assembly to see vividly the love of Christ for each person, despite their sins, a love that even death could not vanquish. The crimes during the Passion of Christ cannot be attributed indiscriminately to all Jews of that time, nor to Jews today. The Jewish people should not be referred to as though rejected or cursed, as if this view followed from Scripture. The Church ever keeps in mind that Jesus, his mother Mary, and the Apostles all were Jewish. As the Church has always held, Christ freely suffered his passion and death because of the sins of all, that all might be saved.
- Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs

Suggested General Intercession for the Easter Vigil[1]
Grateful for our roots in biblical Israel,
and mindful that Jesus was an authentic son of Israel,[2]
We pray tonight in a special way for the Jewish people,
Our elder brothers and sisters in covenant with God:[3]
That our peoples may be a blessing for each other and for the whole world;[4]
Let us pray to the Lord.

Teaching About Passover and the Seder – Some Things to Consider
Summary by Ms. Celia Sirois

The Bible, the Jews and the Passion
Eugene J. Fisher (America, Feb. 16, 2004)

Documentary "I am Joseph Your Brother"
During the 1960s, Pope John XXIII met with a delegation of Jews and said, "I am Joseph Your Brother." This was the beginning of a new relationship between Jews and Catholics.

Inspired by the visit of Pope John Paul II to Israel in the year 2000, the documentary "I am Joseph Your Brother" assesses and reflects on the changes that have occurred in the often difficult and turbulent relationship that has existed for centuries between Jews and Christians, Judaism and Catholicism, and more recently, between the State of Israel and the Vatican.

ADL online guide: Nostra Aetate: Transforming the Catholic-Jewish Relationship.
(http://www.adl.org/main_Interfaith/nostra_aetate.htm) includes essays by some of the world's leading Jewish-Catholic interfaith experts who analyze the history and significance of Nostra Aetate, (http://www.adl.org/main_Interfaith/nostra_aetate_whatisit.htm) as well as a practical "how-to" guide on teaching the lessons of Nostra Aetate to new generations of Catholics and Jews.

SIDIC: "Service International de Documentation Judeo-Chretienne"
High quality information, documents and book reviews pertaining to Jewish-Christian Relations. Published by the SIDIC center in Rome.

The Catholic Church and the Jewish People: Recent Reflections from Rome.
Edited by Philip A. Cunningham, Norbert J. Hofmann, S.D.B., and Joseph Sievers.
Published by Fordham University Press, November, 2007.

Prepared to mark the fortieth anniversary of the groundbreaking Second Vatican Council's Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, Nostra Aetate, this new book provides a convenient snapshot of the relationship between Catholics and Jews as it has unfolded in official encounters. This collection of essays originated as a lecture series at the Pontifical Gregorian Univeristy in Rome that was organized by two of the volume's co-editors, Nobert Hofmann, Secretary of the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, and Joseph Sievers, Director of the Cardinal Bea Centre for Judaic Studies at the Gregorian. The third co-editor, Philip Cunningham, oversaw the translations and edited the lectures for an English readership. Contributors to the book include Vatican leaders, prominent rabbis and diplomats, and scholars of Christian-Jewish relations. The articles consider the long-term and short-term histories of relations between the two peoples, explore various facets of a Catholic theology of Judaism, and provide for the first time an up-to-date compendium of the statements from an ongoing dialogue between the Vatican and the Israeli Rabbinate. Areas of agreement and subjects that cause tensions are both discussed. The collection is recommended for clergy, educators, and anyone concerned about the new and evolving rapprochement between Jews and Catholics.

Documents for Preaching and Teaching the Passion of the Lord

Resources for Preaching and Teaching the Passion of the Lord
In the Christian world …erroneous and unjust interpretations of the New Testament relative to the Jewish people and their presumed guilt [for the crucifixion] have circulated for too long, engendering sentiments of hostility toward this people.
- Pope John Paul II

The Jews are “the people of God of the Old Covenant, never revoked by God.”
- Pope John Paul II

The overall aim of any depiction of the passion should be the unambiguous presentation of the doctrinal understanding of the event in the light of faith, that is, of the Church’s traditional interpretation of the meaning of Christ’s death for all humanity. Nostra Aetate states this central gospel truth quite clearly: “Christ in his boundless love freely underwent his passion and death because of the sins of all, so that all might attain salvation.”
- “Criteria for the Evaluation of Dramatizations of the Passion” USCCB 

The Bible, the Jews, and the Death of Jesus:
A Collection of Catholic Documents
Introduction by Bishop Stephen Blaire, Chairman of the Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs
Available from the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Publishing Office

Official documents

Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, Nostra Aetate , #4, (Vatican Council II, 1965)

Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Catholic Church (1985)

Criteria for the Evaluation of Dramatizations of the Passion (1988)

God's Mercy Endures Forever: Guidelines on the Presentation of Jews and Judaism in Catholic Preaching (1988)

Other resources 

“How to Read the Passion Narratives” by Raymond Brown, S.S.
The Archdiocese of Boston’s Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs has a limited number of the above article available at a nominal fee to the parishes of the Archdiocese of Boston:

“The Passion of Jesus” by Ronald Witherup, S.S.
online by clicking here.

 “Who Killed Jesus?” by Daniel J. Harrington, S.J.
online by clicking here. 

"The Death of Jesus and Anti-Semitism: Seeking Interfaith Understanding" by Raymond E. Brown, S.S.
online by clicking here. 

"The Romans in Israel" by Elizabeth McNamer
online by clicking here.

Guidelines for Dramatizing the Passion of the Lord

Guidelines for Dramatizing the Passion of the Lord
Summary prepared by Ms. Celia Sirois
For complete text, Criteria for the Evaluation of Dramatizations of the Passion,  click here . 

Since the Middle Ages, dramatizing the Passion of Jesus has been, for Christian teachers, an effective way of conveying the central mystery of the faith. Such productions, however, combining as they do theological reflection and historical reconstruction in an artistic form, must be undertaken with due caution. The same dramatic power that makes them able to impart the extent of Christ’s love so effectively can as forcefully serve to impute to all Jews of all time the responsibility for Christ’s death. Mindful of this, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has, in a number of documents*, offered practical guidelines for dramatizing the Passion of Jesus. What follows is a digest of their directives, which apply as well to the Stations of the Cross.

The overriding preoccupation of any dramatization of the Passion must be, in the words of Ellis Rivkin, not who killed Christ, but what killed Christ, namely, our sins.

Those scripting a Passion play must use the best available biblical scholarship to elucidate the gospel texts which were not written to preserve historical facts so much as to proclaim the saving truth about Jesus.

Harmonizing the four accounts of Jesus’ Passion — i.e. constructing a single story of the Passion by combining elements from the four gospel versions — risks violating the integrity of the texts, each of which offers a distinct theological interpretation of Jesus ’ death.

Because of the nature of the gospels, the choice of what gospel passages to use in the making of a Passion play must be guided by the Church’s teaching that “the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God as if this followed from Sacred Scripture” (Nostra Aetate 4). The claim that a passage is “in the Bible” does not suffice to justify its inclusion.

As ignorance of Judaism often leads to misinterpretation of events, the complexity of the Jewish world of Jesus must be carefully researched and correctly represented; e.g., it is important to know that the high priest was appointed by the Roman procurator.

Crowd scenes must represent this rich diversity and reflect a range of responses to Jesus among the crowd as among their leaders.

The Jewishness of Jesus and his followers must be taken seriously. They must be portrayed as Jews among Jews and not set apart by means of costuming or makeup.

Stereotypes of Jews and Judaism (e.g. depicting Jews as avaricious) must be avoided. [This is especially important in portraying Judas, whose name means Jew, and who is given money for betraying Jesus.]

The Pharisees are not mentioned in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ Passion and therefore should not be depicted as responsible for his death. The Jews most directly implicated in the death of Jesus are the Temple priests.

Roman soldiers should be on stage throughout the play to keep before the audience the pervasive and oppressive reality of Roman occupation.

Problematic passages, like Matthew’s “his blood be on us and on our children” (27:25), that can be misconstrued as blaming all Jews of all time for the death of Jesus, should be omitted. As a general rule in these cases, the Bishops suggest that “if one cannot show beyond reasonable doubt that the particular gospel element selected or paraphrased will not be offensive or have the potential for negative influence on the audience for whom the presentation is intended, the element cannot, in good conscience, be used” (“Criteria,” p. 12).

This is a digest of the Bishops’ teaching. Pertinent documents of the USCCB are “God’s Mercy Endures Forever: Guidelines on the Presentation of Jews and Judaism in Catholic Preaching” (1988) and “Criteria for the Evaluation of Dramatizations of the Passion” (1988).

Thoughts on Presenting the Passion of the Lord

Some Thoughts on Presenting the Passion of the Lord
By Rev. David C. Michael, Associate Director, Archdiocese of Boston Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs

… What happened in Jesus’ passion cannot be charged against all the Jews without distinction then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new People of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the Word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.
- Vatican II “Declaration of the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions”
(Nostra Aetate, #4)

Since Vatican II, the Catholic Church has been engaged in an ongoing process of dialogue with the Jewish people. Over the years the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, whose President, Cardinal Walter Kasper, is one of the Catholic Church’s most distinguished theologians, has released three documents which are part of the official Catholic teaching concerning our understanding of and relationship to Judaism and the Jewish people. The Commission’s 1985 “Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Catholic Church” has been an extremely important contribution in this regard. In an effort to make current official teaching available to American Catholics, the American Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs has published several helpful texts, which are normative for use in the United States. Among these are “God’s Mercy Endures Forever: Guidelines on the Presentation of Jews and Judaism in Catholic Preaching” (1988) and “Criteria for the Evaluation of Dramatizations of the Passion” (1988).

Christians need to, and have a right to, tell the foundational story of Christianity, which is the redemption of humanity in Christ. Catholics tell this story liturgically every year on Passion/Palm Sunday and during the Triduum. However, that proclamation always occurs within a broader context: the passion is never simply isolated from the complete biblical/liturgical proclamation of the Gospel throughout the rest of the year. This provides a perspective for Catholics to understand the meaning of the passion. The essential question is not, “Who killed Jesus?” but rather, “Why did Jesus die?” Not without reason, Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate emphasized the theological meaning of Jesus’ death: “Besides, as the Church has always held and holds now, Christ underwent his passion and death freely, because of the sins of men and out of infinite love, in order that all may reach salvation. It is, therefore, the burden of the Church's preaching to proclaim the cross of Christ as the sign of God's all-embracing love and as the fountain from which every grace flows.” On this basis the “Criteria” concludes that “any presentations that explicitly or implicitly seek to shift responsibility from human sin onto this or that historical group, such as the Jews, can only be said to obscure a core gospel truth” (“Criteria,” #1).

When it comes to the interpretation of scripture, Catholics have to hold two truths in tension: while on the one hand, the Church teaches that the scriptures tell us, firmly, faithfully, and without error, the truth which is necessary for salvation, on the other hand, the Church teaches that the scriptures are not mere historical transcripts to be interpreted in a literal way. The Gospels are post-Easter proclamations of faith (see John 20:30-31). They are religious reflections on the meaning of what Jesus said and did by those who believe that Jesus is the risen Lord (see “Criteria,” C.1.b). Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit each of the four evangelists emphasizes different aspects of the mystery of the Lord, a mystery so profound that it defies simplistic presentation. Fr. Raymond Brown, the renowned scripture scholar, suggested the image of a person walking around a large diamond to look at it from different angles. A true picture of the whole emerges only because the viewpoints are different. One needs also to keep in mind that because the New Testament is mediated through history, the gospels show a process of development (Pontifical Biblical Commission, Sancta Mater Ecclesia, 1964). “Hence it cannot be ruled out that some references hostile or less than favorable to the Jews have their historical context in conflicts between the nascent church and the Jewish community. Certain controversies reflect Christian-Jewish relations long after the time of Jesus” (“Notes,” #29).

It is not, then, a case of whether or not to tell the story of Jesus’ passion, but how to tell it. In fact, the expression “the passion” can itself be further nuanced since there are four distinct passion accounts with each gospel portraying the death of Jesus in a different manner. Therefore, if one wishes to create a passion play, one either has to attempt to combine the four distinct passion accounts into one version (called a “harmonization”) or to dramatize only one account. If one attempts the former, there are decisions to be made concerning the differing details in the four distinct accounts. For example, in John 18, the experience of Jesus in “the garden” (not called “Gethsemane”) is one that could hardly be characterized as bitter suffering. On the other hand, in Mark 14, Jesus goes to “Gethsemane” (not called a “garden”) where his suffering is quite intense. When Jesus dies in Mark, the centurion calls him “the Son of God,” but when Jesus dies in Luke, the centurion calls Jesus “an innocent man.” Where this need to make choices becomes especially tricky is in those passages that, historically, have been the source of anti-Jewish interpretation. For example, in Mark 15 it is the “chief priests, with the elders and scribes and whole council” (in other words, specific leaders within the Jerusalem community) who turn Jesus over to Roman authority. And it is the chief priests (again, specific individuals) who stir up “the crowd.” (How big a crowd? Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands? Mark doesn’t say.) In John, on the other hand, while the “they” who bring Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate is ambiguous (18:28), “the crowd” (of Mark) suddenly becomes “the Jews” (18:31b). Depending on the choice one makes in creating a script, one can either highlight or diminish the responsibility of individuals or groups for the crucifixion of Jesus. Unarguably, the statement with the most sinister history of misuse against the Jewish people is found only in one gospel: “Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children’” (Matthew 27:25). Does one include this passage without at least also providing some context for a responsible interpretation of its meaning? (See The Gospel of Matthew by Fr. Daniel Harrington, The Liturgical Press, 1991.) The dilemma of choice becomes even more acute if one departs from the words of scripture in order to compose a script freestyle. For example, how does one portray Pontius Pilate, under whom, as we profess in our Creed, Jesus was crucified? Is Pilate a manipulated pawn or is he, as his contemporaries knew him, a cruel man given to violent solutions when political threats arose to Roman power?

I do not believe that most Christians are conscious of this dilemma. What is especially difficult for Christians to comprehend is that when the passion is proclaimed, we “hear” one story while Jews “hear” an entirely different one. That is because we both begin from different starting points. While Christians hear the proclamation of the reconciling love of God for all humanity, Jews hear a story filtered through their experience of centuries of denigration and persecution. I believe that most Christians have no intention whatsoever of perpetuating the disparagement of the Jewish people. Such a possibility simply doesn’t occur to us because the specific details seem to get lost in the overall message of the Lord’s immense love, a love to which he was faithful even through bitter suffering unto death. We need to tell the story of the passion, but we also need not to become defensive or resentful when we consider the words of Pope John Paul that, “…erroneous and unjust interpretations of the New Testament relative to the Jewish people and their presumed guilt circulated for too long, engendering sentiments of hostility toward this people.” Sadly, while there is a long history of anti-Jewish interpretation on the part of Catholics and other Christians, there is also – not without reason - a corresponding history of suspicion and ignorance of Christianity on the part of Jews. How shall we overcome this? Surely it will not be through diatribe and mutual recrimination.

Statement on the Liturgical Proclamation of the Passion
Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs

The message of the liturgy in proclaiming the passion narratives in full is to enable the assembly to see vividly the love of Christ for each person, despite their sins, a love that even death could not vanquish. The crimes during the Passion of Christ cannot be attributed indiscriminately to all Jews of that time, nor to Jews today. The Jewish people should not be referred to as though rejected or cursed, as if this view followed from Scripture. The Church ever keeps in mind that Jesus, his mother Mary, and the apostles all were Jewish. As the Church has always held, Christ freely suffered his passion and death because of the sins of all, that all might be saved.

FOR INCLUSION IN ALL WORSHIP AIDS AND PROGRAMS

Teaching About Passover and the Seder

Some Things to Consider

Summary by Ms. Celia Sirois

In 1988 the Bishops’ Committee on Liturgy, an arm of the USCCB, recognizing that it was becoming more and more common for Christians to take part in a Passover Seder each year, made general recommendations concerning this growing phenomenon.  While acknowledging that “this practice can have educational and spiritual value,” they urged Catholics to approach “this sacred feast. . . with sensitivity to those to whom the seder truly belongs,” the Jewish people.  The recommendations of the Bishops’ Committee first appeared in a document entitled God’s Mercy Endures Forever and, in 1997, they were expanded in a leaflet published by the SIDIC Center in Rome.  What follows is a digest of their most salient points. 

As the Bishops state, the Passover Seder belongs to the Jews.  It is Jewish liturgy and, as such, can only be celebrated by Jews.

Because Christianity is rooted in Judaism, there are good reasons for Christians to understand Passover.  (a) Since the Passover Seder is a “constitutive rite of Judaism,” attending a Seder is an excellent way of coming to know Judaism on its own terms, as the Church encourages us to do.  (b) Since Jesus lived and died as a Jew, his human understanding and experience of God were shaped by this “constitutive rite.”  Familiarity with the components of the Passover Seder can help us to appreciate Jesus’ action and intention at the Last Supper.  (c) Since the Eucharist has its origins in the Passover meal, a better know- ledge of this Jewish liturgy can, as the Catechism says, enhance our understanding of certain aspects of Christian liturgy.

When Christians reenact parts of the Passover Seder it is not a liturgical celebration, but a learning experience.  Therefore, the liturgical term Seder should not be used for these educational activities.

The Bishops are emphatic on this point:  “It is wrong. . . to ‘baptize’ the Seder by ending it with New Testament readings about the Last Supper or, worse, [by turning] it into a prologue to the Eucharist.”

In order to ensure that the rites of the seder are respected in all their integrity, as the Bishops advise, Christians who want to take part in a Seder should either participate in a Passover Seder as guests in a Jewish home or synagogue, or invite a rabbi or an observant Jew to con-duct a learning activity about the Seder.

The Bishops conclude with a reminder that Easter is the Christian counterpart to the Jewish Passover and “the rites of the Triduum are the [Church’s] annual memorial of the events of Jesus’ dying and rising.”  Preparing students for these rites should be the focus of catechesis.

What are Catholic-Jewish relations all about?

On October 28, 1965, the Second Vatican Council made an official statement on the Catholic Church’s understanding of Judaism and the Jewish people in paragraph 4 of The Declaration on The Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (often referred to by its Latin title, Nostra Aetate). Among other things, the Church affirmed its own roots in Judaism and acknowledged the ongoing validity of the Covenant God made with the Jewish people.  The Church also declared that neither all the Jewish people without distinction at the time of Jesus nor all the Jews of today can be held responsible for the death of Jesus, and that the Church deplores the “hatred, persecutions, and displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.” 

Nostra Aetate was the first step in an ongoing process of re-examining our relationship with Judaism and the Jewish people.  Since Nostra Aetate, many other official documents and statements have been promulgated by the Church.  These documents have been both the result of a maturing dialogue and the incentive toward continued work on our relationship with the Jewish people. 

Today, in the Church at all levels and in many places, there is a vibrant and fruitful effort to renew our relationship with the Jewish people, a process that is not always without its tensions, controversies, disappointments, and setbacks.  Nevertheless, it is an effort to which the Church is irrevocably committed.  The implications of this process for every aspect of Church life, faith and practice are profound and challenging, for as we encounter Judaism with a new understanding, we encounter ourselves in a new way for we are, as Pope John Paul has said, linked together at the very level of our identities.

Surely, we have had much sad history to overcome. There is a long history of anti-Semitism on the part of Catholics and other Christians, and there is also a corresponding history of suspicion and ignorance of Christianity on the part of Jews.  Our efforts as a Church to dismantle the “teaching of contempt” for Jews and to understand and affirm the meaning of the land of Israel for Jews are now the doctrine and practice of the Catholic Church. 

In Boston we are fortunate to have an ongoing relationship of cooperation and trust between Catholic and Jewish leadership.  In this we have been the recipients of the labors of many men and women over several decades who have remained committed to the ideals of Catholic-Jewish relations even when the path to that end seemed difficult and uncertain.  On the local scene, the shape of these seminal issues is being realized gradually over many years by means of the warm relationship of dialogue and cooperation shared by the Archdiocese of Boston and the Jewish community.  One important example of this is the joint ADL-Archdiocesan program New Directions Program for Teachers. The goal of this program, in which over a thousand have already participated, is to teach Catholic and Jewish religious educators to understand and teach about the beliefs of the other with accuracy and sensitivity.

If there ever were a question as to whether or not we could move beyond our sad and difficult history, that doubt was removed definitively by Pope John Paul’s own pilgrimage to Israel in the year 2000. Among all the other compelling events of that visit, it was with particularly deep joy that we watched the poignant scene of the Holy Father’s private moments at the Kotel, the Western Wall of the Temple.  When he placed in the cracks of those ancient stones that prayer of repentance for the sins of the members of the Church against the Children of the Covenant, he seemed to be saying to Christians everywhere that to forget our spiritual solidarity with the Jewish people is not only to risk the sin of bigotry – and worse - but also to cut ourselves off from our own deepest identity as fellow children of the One God. 

We must, then, not deny our history. Neither must we be slaves to it.  Who could have ever envisioned the reconciling possibilities that God would hold out to us since the Second Vatican Council?  With God’s strength as our guide and guarantee, it is together as believers that we must go forward, keeping in our hearts the counsel of Pope John Paul that before we Christians and Jews can be a blessing to the world, we must be a blessing to one another.

How can I be involved in Catholic-Jewish relations?

Work with your pastor to establish a Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations for your cluster of parishes. A collaborative effort will make for a more effective outreach and more efficient use of resources. For training sessions and/or for advice on appropriate and helpful resources, contact the Archdiocesan Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

Offer to work with interfaith clergy associations in your area. Local clergy are always busy with their own congregational responsibilities and would welcome the assistance of trained helpers, especially on occasions like Thanksgiving, which is often an appropriate opportunity for interfaith prayer and action.

Encourage relationship-building between your parish and your local synagogue. Offer to assist your pastor in his own work of outreach to members of other religions.

Set up a study group to learn more about the Church and interreligious relations. To see one such curriculum, click here .

Organize a New Directions Program for the religious educators in your parish religious education program or school. Reach out to other parishes in your vicinity. The New Directions Program, co-sponsored by the Archdiocese of Boston and the Anti-Defamation League, has been highly successful in teaching Catholic religious educators how to teach about Judaism with accuracy and respect. In addition to the basic workshop, New Directions also provides higher level workshops.

Organize a local dialogue using Walking God’s Paths. This six-part video/ multimedia program has been produced by the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College on behalf of The National Council of Synagogues and the Bishops Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops). Contact the Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for advice.

Invite speakers to address your parishioners, religious education program, or RCIA. Contact the Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for advice.

Articles, Presentations and Book Reviews

Review of Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews by James Carroll
by Fr. David C. Michael

New Testament Scholar Concerned with “Carroll’s Sword ”
John J. Clabeaux, Ph. D.,
Scholar-consultant for “Catholics and Jews Together” (RCAB and ADL).

Review of In My Brother’s Image: Twin Brothers Separated by Faith After the Holocaust by Eugene Pogany (Viking Penguin, 2000)
by Fr. David C. Michael

Letter of Fr. David C. Michael to The Jewish Advocate Concerning Dominus Jesus
Presentations by Cardinal Walter Kasper, President- Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews

Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews

New Directions Program for Teachers

Workshops
Workshop FAQ
Resources for teachers relating to the film The Passion of the Christ

New Directions is sponsored by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston and the Anti-Defamation League of New England. The Archdiocese of Boston has, for many years, enjoyed a positive working relationship with the Jewish community.  This ongoing collaboration has created a broad educational initiative jointly sponsored by the Archdiocese and the Anti-Defamation League.  For more information, contact: The Office of the Secretary for Education 

Where We Have Come From

In 1965 the world's Catholic bishops, gathered at the Second Vatican Council, issued the Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, Nostra Aetate. Section 4 of that document was a landmark in Catholic-Jewish relations.  In a few forceful words, the bishops renounced almost two thousand years of anti-Jewish teaching, repudiated anti-Semitism in all its forms and urged Catholics to recognize and to reclaim their common heritage with the Jewish people.  Today, dialogue is the hallmark of Catholic-Jewish relations.