Ave Maria, it’s a girl!
More than one blessing – ‘for the benefit of all’
By Marianne Dacy
One religious ‘other’ – the Jewish people – has always been in our consciousness as Christians.
For much of our history Christians have disparaged Judaism, thinking that the validity of faith depended upon supplanting the Jewish tradition from which Christianity is derived.
In 1965, in the wake of the Holocaust of World War II, the Second Vatican Council issued an historic statement on the Jews and called on all Catholics to revise their attitudes and relationship with the Jewish people.
The statement in the Declaration of the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions was the culmination point of the initiatives of recent popes and of numerous efforts by the Church towards Catholic-Jewish harmony.
The document known as Nostra Aetate, from its first words “in our time”, included among statements on non-Christian religions a call to dialogue with Jews:
“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 be fostered through biblical and theological studies and mutual dialogues.” (Nostra Aetate 4)
While recalling the covenant of Abraham and the roots of Christianity in Judaism, it acknowledges the conflicts and tensions that have separated Christians and Jews for close on two millennia.
Since 1965 the council’s vision has been further elaborated. The 1975 Vatican guidelines, in particular, give details of catechetical, liturgical and social action that needs to be taken to implement renewal.
In 1985 Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church pointed to a fact largely forgotten that “Jesus was and always remained a Jew, and that Christians must strive to acquire a better knowledge of the basic components of the religious traditions of Judaism”.
Again, in a series of statements and symbolic gestures such as that of March 2000 at the Western Wall of Jerusalem, Pope John Paul II has given positive direction to the dialogue in asking for forgiveness.
Many Christians have thought of their traditions as the ‘fulfilment’ of Judaism.
Theologians have referred to this attitude as ‘supersessionism’, namely, that Christians have replaced the Jews as God’s people because of the Jews’ rejection of Jesus Christ.
Supersessionism left little theological space for the continued existence of Jews over the centuries, leading to anti-semitic attacks and forced conversions.
Today we need to seek ways to educate Christians more adequately to participate in a religiously pluralistic society.
However difficult such conversations may be, we will realise that God has more than one blessing.
“There is much that we have in common. There is much that we can do together for peace, for justice, for a human and fraternal world. May the Lord of heaven and earth lead us to a new and fruitful era of mutual respect and co-operation, for the benefit of all.” (Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, Novo Millennio Ineunte, 2001)
Marianne Dacy, NDS, is national secretary, Australian Council of Christians and Jews