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In its Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions of 1965, the Second Vatican Council issued an historic statement on the Jews and summoned all Catholics to reappraise their attitude toward and relationship with the Jewish people. The statement was, in effect, a culminating point of initiatives and pronouncements of recent pontiffs and of numerous endeavors in the Church concerned with Catholic-Jewish harmony.
The call of the council to a dialogical encounter with Jews may be seen as one of the more important fruits of the spirit of renewal generated by the council in its deliberations and decrees. The council's call is an acknowledgement of the conflicts and tensions that have separated Christians and Jews through the centuries and of the Church's determination, as far as possible, to eliminate them. It serves both in word and action as a recognition of the manifold sufferings and injustices inflicted upon the Jewish people by Christians in our own times as well as in the past. It speaks from the highest level of the Church's authority to serve notice that injustices directed against the Jews at any time from any source can never receive Catholic sanction or support.
The message of the council's statement is clear. Recalling in moving terms the "spiritual bond that ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham's stock," the Fathers of the council remind us of the special place Jews hold in the Christian perspective, for "now as before God holds them as most dear for the sake of the patriarchs; he has not withdrawn his gifts or calling." Jews, therefore, the Fathers caution, are not "to be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from Holy Scripture." The Passion of Jesus, moreover, "cannot be attributed without distinction to all Jews then alive, nor can it be attributed to the Jews of today." The Church, the statement declares, "decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews at any time and by anyone."
In light of these principles the Fathers enjoin that "all see to it that nothing is taught, either in catechetic work or in the preaching of the Word of God, that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ." Rather should Christians and Jews "further their mutual knowledge of and respect for one another, a knowledge and respect deriving primarily from biblical and theological studies and fraternal dialogues."
The council's vision has been further specified and given urgency by subsequent pronouncements of the Holy See and of episcopal conferences and dioceses throughout the world. The 1975 Vatican guidelines, especially, detail catechetical, liturgical and social action steps that now need to be taken to implement the council's call for renewal. The statement of the American bishops of November 1975 refers to the task "as yet hardly begun, to explore the continuing relationship of the Jewish people with God and their spiritual bonds with the New Covenant and the fulfillment of God's plan for both Church and Synagogue."
In a series of remarkable statements (see Sources), Pope John Paul II has sought to give positive direction to the dialogue, reminding us that "the links between the Church and the Jewish people are grounded in the design of the God of the Covenant" (March 6, 1982). The Holy Father has underscored, time and again, the vital importance of collaboration with the Jews for the working out of the Church's own mission in the world:
Our common heritage impels us toward this, our common heritage of service to humanity and its immense spiritual and material needs. Through different but finally convergent ways we will be able to reach, with the help of the Lord who has never ceased loving his people (cf. Rom 11:l), this true brotherhood in reconciliation and respect, and to contribute to a full implementation of God's plan in history (March 6, 1982).
The Roman Catholic Church in this country is provided with an historic opportunity to advance this cause--an opportunity to continue the leadership taken in that direction by our American bishops during the great debate on the declaration at the council. In the years since that time, much has been done in the United States to develop an atmosphere of mutual respect and spiritual kinship between Jews and Catholics.
The largest Jewish community in the world lives in the United States. In a land that has welcomed immigrants and refugees from persecution, our Church has committed itself without reserve to the ideal of equal opportunity and justice for all. In such a setting the American Catholic community is providentially situated to distinguish itself in pursuit of the purposes of the council's mandate for the Church as a whole.
b. As the council statement requires, the presentation of the Crucifixion story should be made in such a way as not to implicate all Jews of Jesus' time or of today in a collective guilt for the crime. This is important for catechesis and homilies, especially during Lent and Holy Week, as well as for any dramatizations of the events, such as Passion Plays.
c. In keeping with the Church's strong repudiation of anti-Semitism, a frank and honest treatment is needed in our history books, courses and seminary curricula of the history of Christian anti-Semitism, which climaxed in so much persecution, and of the Nazi attempt to destroy the Jewish population of Europe.
d. Continuing studies are needed of the life of Jesus and of the primitive Church in the setting of the richly diverse and creative religious, social and cultural life of the Jewish community in the first century.
e. An explicit rejection should be made of the historically inaccurate notion that Judaism of that time, especially that of Pharisaism, was a decadent formalism and hypocrisy. Scholars are increasingly aware of the closeness on many central doctrines between Jesus' teaching and that of the Pharisees. Many Jewish teachers adopted positions similar to those of Jesus on the critical religious and social issues of the time.
f. Catholic scholars need to assess the living and complex reality of Judaism after Christ, for example, in rabbinic literature and the permanent election of the Jewish people, alluded to by St. Paul (Rom 9:29), and to incorporate the theological and spiritual re-suits into Catholic teaching.
g. Further analysis of the use and implications for today of such expressions as "the Jews" by St. John and other New Testament references that appear to place all Jews in a negative light is also called for. (These expressions and references should be fully and precisely clarified in accordance with the intent of the conciliar statement and subsequent teachings that Jews are not to be "presented as rejected or accursed by God as if this followed from Holy Scripture.")
The Second Vatican Council, Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate), October 28, 1965, U.S. Catholic Conference Office of Publishing and Promotion Services.
Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration "Nostra Aerate" (n. 4), December 1, 1974; Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis of the Roman Catholic Church, June 24, 1985; U.S. Catholic Conference Office of Publishing and Promotion Services.
Pope John Paul II, Homily at Auschwitz, June 7, 1979; Address to the Jewish Community, Mainz, W. Germany, November 17, 1980; Address to Delegates of Episcopal Conferences on Relations with Judaism, March 6, 1982; Redemptionis Anno, Good Friday, April 20, 1984; Address to International Council of Christians and Jews, July 6, 1984.
National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Statement on Catholic-Jewish Relations, November 20, 1975, U.S. Catholic Conference Office of Publishing and Promotion Services.
Recent Statements of Presidents of the NCCB:
Archbishop Joseph Bernardin, "Address to the American Jewish Committee," May 14, 1975, earlier version excerpted in Origins 4 (March 13, 1975): 597-98; "On Israel and the U.N.," September 3, 1975, and "On U.N. Vote on Zionism," November 11, 1975, in Middle East Issues, U.S. Catholic Conference Office of Publishing and Promotion Services, 1976.
Archbishop John R. Roach, "A Renewed Vision of Catholic-Jewish Relations," address to the executive committee of the Synagogue Council of America, March 12, 1981, Origins 10 (May 7, 1981): 751-52.
Bishop James Malone, "The State of Jewish-Christian Relations," address to the Eighth National Workshop on Jewish-Christian Relations, October 29, 1984, Origins 14 (December 6, 1984): 406-9.
In addition, numerous dioceses and archdioceses in the United States have now issued their own local guidelines to implement these statements. These and other resources for programming can be obtained from:
The Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations National Conference of Catholic Bishops 1312 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20005-4105
Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs
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