Question: The local paper has a Jewish section. I’ve noticed that, very often, the prayers they print are similar to Catholic prayers. Is there a relationship between the Jewish and Catholic religions?
Answer: Absolutely! Catholicism is the fulfillment of Judaism. Almost all of what Catholics call the Old Testament can be found in the books which the Jews consider scriptural. (The few remaining books, Tobias, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiaticus, Baruch, 1 & 2 Machabees, and parts of Daniel and Esther were written by Jews in Greek instead of Hebrew and are therefore omitted from the Jewish Canon of Scripture.) The Ten Commandments, which embody God’s Natural Law, found in the Books of Exodus and Deuteronomy, are the basis for all human moral and civil law. A great deal of the material found in both Jewish and Catholic prayers is taken from the Scriptures—especially the Psalms—so the similarities are not accidental, but the result of having a common source.
Like traditional Catholics, orthodox Jews employ a liturgical language. The revelations by God to Moses and most of the prophets were written down in Hebrew, and that language is used for the public worship of traditional Judaism. Even though Jews in Palestine were speaking Aramaic by the time of Christ, and now speak the various languages of the modern world, Hebrew remains the official liturgical language of the observant Jew. Hebrew is to the Jew as Latin is to the Catholic.
The synagogue service of the Jews is similar to our “Mass of the Catechumens,” a series of scriptural readings and a commentary or sermon by someone trained in their meaning. The rabbi who presides over the synagogue is a doctor of the Old Testament law. Like the Protestant minister, the rabbi has no priestly character—both serve as teachers, administrators and presiders, but have no sacrificial function.
Up until the time of Christ, the center of Jewish worship was at the single Temple in Jerusalem, where bloody animal and non-bloody cereal sacrifices and offerings were made to God, who dwelled in the Holy of Holies, in accordance with His instructions which are found in the books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The descendants of Moses’ brother Aaron were true priests—intermediaries between God and man, offering sacrifice on behalf of sinful mankind. These sacrifices were planned by God as a foreshadowing of the bloody Sacrifice on the Cross, and its un-bloody renewal in the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass. When the Catholic priest offers Holy Mass, he joins Jesus Christ in offering the Sacrifice of the Cross—the perfect fulfillment of the imperfect offerings of the Temple—perfect because, in the Catholic Sacrifice, the Victim offered to God is the perfect Victim, Christ Himself.
God’s presence—the Shekinah—inhabited the Holy of Holies, just beyond the altar of the Temple at Jerusalem, a real and local presence somewhat like the Eucharistic Presence in the tabernacles on the altars of Catholic churches. The tearing of the veil of the Holy of Holies, “from the top even to the bottom,” suggests that the Shekinah no longer dwelt in the Temple after the crucifixion of Christ.[i] Not long after (A.D. 70), the Temple would be completely destroyed as our Lord predicted.[ii] The animal sacrifices to God were forever concluded and fulfilled in the Holy Sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
The Passover seder—the sacrifice each year commemorating the Exodus from bondage in Egypt—provided the context for the Last Supper and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The unleavened bread and pure grape wine become the Body and Blood of Christ—the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb pointed to the Sacrifice of the true Lamb of God on the Cross—the liberation from the bondage of sin.
In every Mass we ask God to accept the offering of the Eucharistic Sacrifice: “as Thou didst deign to accept the offerings of Abel, Thy just servant, and the sacrifice of Abraham our Patriarch, and that which Thy chief priest Melchisedech offered unto Thee, a holy sacrifice and a spotless victim.” Abel, Abraham, and Melchisedech were priests of the Old Testament even before Moses and Aaron. Abel, the first to offer sacrifice to God, put to death by his envious brother; Abraham, the obedient one of God, willing to sacrifice his only son; and Melchisedech, the mysterious king-priest, offered a sacrifice of bread and wine. All of these Old Testament priests point to the eternal priesthood of the New Testament.
In September of 1938, commenting on this text in the Canon of the Mass, Pope Pius XI, told a group of Belgian pilgrims, “Abraham is called our patriarch, our ancestor. Anti-Semitism is not compatible with the reality of this text; it is a movement which Christians cannot share. No, it is not possible for Christians to take part in anti-Semitism. We are Semites spiritually.”[iii] The great Pope referred, of course, to the rising of Nazism—but he would have been equally scandalized by the notion that Catholicism might be reckoned equal in value with Judaism, rather than the divinely mandated development and fulfillment of the latter. Again, Pope Pius spoke with Nazism (and, very likely, with other forms of totalitarianism) in mind:
14. No faith in God can for long survive pure and unalloyed without the support of faith in Christ. "No one knoweth who the Son is, but the Father: and who the Father is, but the Son and to whom the Son will reveal Him" (Luke x. 22). "Now this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent" (John xvii. 3). Nobody, therefore, can say: "I believe in God, and that is enough religion for me," for the Savior's words brook no evasion: "Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father. He that confesseth the Son hath the Father also" (1 John ii. 23).
15. In Jesus Christ, Son of God made Man, there shone the plentitude of divine revelation. "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets last of all, in these days hath spoken to us by His Son" (Heb. i. 1). The sacred books of the Old Testament are exclusively the word of God, and constitute a substantial part of his revelation; they are penetrated by a subdued light, harmonizing with the slow development of revelation, the dawn of the bright day of the redemption. As should be expected in historical and didactic books, they reflect in many particulars the imperfection, the weakness and sinfulness of man. But side by side with innumerable touches of greatness and nobleness, they also record the story of the chosen people, bearers of the Revelation and the Promise, repeatedly straying from God and turning to the world. Eyes not blinded by prejudice or passion will see in this prevarication, as reported by the Biblical history, the luminous splendor of the divine light revealing the saving plan which finally triumphs over every fault and sin. It is precisely in the twilight of this background that one perceives the striking perspective of the divine tutorship of salvation, as it warms, admonishes, strikes, raises and beautifies its elect. ...Nothing but ignorance and pride could blind one to the treasures hoarded in the Old Testament.
16. Whoever wishes to see banished from church and school the Biblical history and the wise doctrines of the Old Testament, blasphemes the name of God, blasphemes the Almighty's plan of salvation, and makes limited and narrow human thought the judge of God's designs over the history of the world: he denies his faith in the true Christ, such as He appeared in the flesh, the Christ who took His human nature from a people that was to crucify Him; and he understands nothing of that universal tragedy of the Son of God who to His torturer's sacrilege opposed the divine and priestly sacrifice of His redeeming death, and made the new alliance the goal of the old alliance, its realization and its crown.
17. The peak of the revelation as reached in the Gospel of Christ is final and permanent. It knows no retouches by human hand; it admits no substitutes or arbitrary alternatives such as certain leaders pretend to draw from the so-called myth of race and blood. Since Christ, the Lord's Anointed, finished the task of Redemption, and by breaking up the reign of sin deserved for us the grace of being the children God, since that day no other name under heaven has been given to men, whereby we must be saved (Acts iv. 12). No man, were every science, power and worldly strength incarnated in him, can lay any other foundation but that which is laid: which is Christ Jesus (1 Cor. iii 11). Should any man dare, in sacrilegious disregard of the essential differences between God and His creature, between the God-man and the children of man, to place a mortal, were he the greatest of all times, by the side of, or over, or against, Christ, he would deserve to be called prophet of nothingness, to whom the terrifying words of Scripture would be applicable: "He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh at them" (Psalms ii. 3). [iv]
Yet, deluded by Modernism, some members of the Catholic hierarchy today insist that belief in Jesus Christ is not necessary for the salvation of Jewish people who cling to the Law of Moses. They pay no attention to the words of our Lord to the gentile Centurion:
Amen I say to you, I have not found such great faith in Israel. And I say to you that many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven: But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into the exterior darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.[v]
There are a great many similarities between authentic Judaism and authentic Catholicism. It is the height of uncharity to cease praying that the Jewish people may some day accept Jesus Christ. It is—how do they say it?—“anti-Semitic.” Spiritually, we are Semites, and there is no room in our Holy Faith to despise our forebears in God’s divine revelation.
[i] Matthew xxvii: 51.
[ii] Matthew xxiii: 38-xxiv: 2.
[iii] The New York Times December 12, 1938, p. 1, 1, .http://www.catholicleague.org/pius/piusnyt/piusxiandxii.htm
[iv] Pope Pius XI, Mit brennender Sorge, March 14, 1937. Paragraph numbering as given at www.vatican.va may vary in other editions. The material in color was omitted from the print edition of The Parish Bulletin.
[v] Matthew viii: 10-12.