Nostra Aetate good step in right direction

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in 1965, I was strolling from my home to the shopping center in the middle of the small south suburb of Chicago into which I’d moved from the heart of the city two years before.
I was passing St. Irenaeus Catholic Church just as a crowd was leaving after Mass when suddenly there was a loud voice; like the people still near the church door, I stopped to listen. One man among the many was shouting: “Did anyone ask you if you would like this? Nobody ever asked me if I would like this…”
This man made it clear how unhappy he was that the Church had stopped requiring all Masses to be said in Latin, and was allowing — even encouraging — priests around the world to conduct them in their vernacular languages, whatever those might be. Ages-old prayers in modern English obviously were not to his taste.
I don’t think he was also railing against Nostra Aetate, which — like the loosening of language requirements — was also promulgated by the Catholic Church 50 years ago. But many things were happening “In Our Time,” which is what the Latin “Nostra Aetate” means, recognized by the then-reigning Pope Paul VI. In English, this document’s official name is The Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, but it’s quite widely taken as His Holiness reaching out most particularly to Jews, and basically — after more than 2000 years — absolving us of the crucifixion of Jesus.
So, on a recent beautiful Wednesday evening, I drove from my Dallas home to the Meyerson Symphony Hall for the special program lauding Nostra Aetate on its 50th anniversary.
“Nostra Aetate — 50 Years Later: Commemorating Jewish-Catholic Relations” was in every way exactly what I’d expected. The Meyerson Symphony Hall was filled — first floor, at least — with the faithful of both faiths eager to hear what was billed as “a joint address.”
The first speaker was Bishop Brian Farrell, whose imposing title is Vatican Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The second, with a title no less imposing, was Rabbi David Rosen, formerly the Chief Rabbi of Ireland, and now the American Jewish Committee’s international director of interreligious affairs.
But first, there was music! The choirs of the University of Dallas, our region’s major Catholic institution of higher education, and of well-known Temple Emanu-El, posed an interesting contrast: I quickly realized that while many Temple choir members had been around a half-century ago when Nostra Aetate was born, this event was pure history to all those University singers of today.
And with this came another realization: Those youngsters may still be around when the proclamation reaches its century mark. I will not; my children will not; my grandchildren may or may not be. But my two great-grandsons, preschoolers today, will be in their 50s, and I would hope leaders in their own Jewish communities of the time, celebrating the event.
Nothing said by the speakers really surprised me; my high point was hearing the Bishop state so forthrightly that no Christian can really understand his or her faith without reading the Old Testament, because that was what Jesus knew — and, of course, Jesus was Jewish himself.
Like other gatherings of this kind — although not always of this import — music welcomed and dismissed. Tucked into every program, so all could join in song, was The God of Abraham Praise, the hymn’s words written by Judaism’s 12th-century genius Moses Maimonides, its melody — played out by the Meyerson’s imposing organ — composed some 500 years later.
I was as uplifted as anyone else when the evening ended. But I am also a realist. When I reached home, and turned on EWTV, the Catholic channel, I was quickly brought back to earth by a priest advising the faithful that one of their main duties is to bring Jews to Jesus. Nostra Aetate has certainly not changed everything…

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