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The USCCB’s Good Friday pastoral note

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The U.S. bishops’ conference announced recently that it will require a pastoral note on antisemitism to be placed in worship aids and pew missals ahead of all Good Friday passion narratives, beginning this year.

Pope Francis with Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni of Rome, 27.04.2015.
Pope Francis greets Chief Rabbi Riccardo di Segni of Rome, in April 2015. Credit: Vatican Media.

The new requirement was announced last year in a memo from the heads of USCCB Committees on Divine Worship and Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs to publishers of missals and worship aids.

Notice of the memo was also included in the Committee on Divine Worship’s January 2024 newsletter, which noted that the conference has previously provided guidance on homilies and a similar statement for the Good Friday passion in the 1990s and 2000s.

The goal of the statement, the newsletter said, is “to help ensure that the proclamation of the Lord’s Passion is not misused to promote anti-Jewish sentiment.”

The note on antisemitism, which is available in both English and Spanish, reads:

“The passion narratives are proclaimed in full so that all see vividly the love of Christ for each person. In light of this, the crimes during the Passion of Christ cannot be attributed, in either preaching or catechesis, 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.”

The text is drawn from the Second Vatican Council’s Nostra aetate and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which teaches explicitly that “Jews are not collectively responsible for Jesus’ death.”

“[W]e cannot lay responsibility for the trial on the Jews in Jerusalem as a whole,” it says. “Still less can we extend responsibility to other Jews of different times and places.”

Why the new USCCB pastoral note? And why now? What was the process to create the note?

The Pillar spoke with Rebecca Cohen, program and research specialist of the USCCB’s Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. 

That interview is below. It has been edited for length and clarity.

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How did this pastoral note come about?

Historically, the “passion note” originated with the bishops’ Committee on Liturgy, which back in the ‘80s recommended that it be put into different worship aids.

Over the years, there's not been any kind of enforcement on it or any type of expectation that it be included, and so it wasn’t always used. 

As it disappeared more and more, the bishops decided that it was good to go ahead and require it. We worked on it a little bit to revise the language, but it's very similar to the pastoral note that has appeared in many worship aids in the past.

What is the process for a note like this to be required in worship aids? Is that something that gets decided at the committee level? Did the whole body of bishops have to vote on this?

It’s a partnership between the Committee on Ecumenical and Religious Affairs and the Committee on Divine Worship.

The Ecumenical and Religious Affairs Committee developed the note. They voted on it and then suggested it to the Committee on Divine Worship, which then voted on it and confirmed it. They had that final say.

So the Ecumenical and Religious Affairs Committee effectively developed the text, which was then recommended to the Committee on Divine Worship as a requirement, and then that committee adopted it as a requirement?


And then we have asked that the office which handles [liturgical] publication actually enforce this. Most liturgical aids which include, let’s say anything out of the New American Bible, have to go through our publication copyright office. 

And so that office would be the one to ask that [the note] be included, if they see that it’s not.

There’s now a rise in antisemitism in America, which the U.S bishops have spoken about. Was that the initial impetus for requiring this?

It’s been about two years now since the Ecumenical and Religious Affairs Committee adopted an initiative to confront antisemitism. 

Within that initiative, this was among one of the first projects we set in motion.

The initiative was in answer to rising antisemitism here in the U.S., and it is a project beyond just our committee. It came as we got questions from bishops, asking what the conference is doing to address antisemitism. And so we developed a plan in different ways that could address antisemitism.

One of the most important ways of addressing antisemitism right now is ensuring that there is a clear commitment to the teaching of Nostra aetate on how we understand Jews and Judaism. That's a starting point which helps us be a springboard to confront antisemitism.

In terms of the pastoral note in, itself it reflects foundational concepts that we wanted to ensure were getting across. 

And so when we take that teaching to heart, that will make us allies against antisemitism.

What are some of your office’s other initiatives on this front?

There was a review of the New American Bible in terms of its [explanatory] notes. 

There’s some [USCCB] work on an antisemitism project in collaboration with the American Jewish Committee that is currently in process. We have also established a young adult dialogue that will be launching very shortly. Just to name a few.

Looking broadly, what do you think is the important message for Catholics to understand about their role in combating antisemitism?

One, we cannot deny that our roots as Christians are in Judaism and therefore cannot be antisemitic. And two, [antisemitism] raises the same issues as racism - we cannot abide people denying the equality of all [people].

There are a lot of conversations right now about the relationship between antisemitism and support for Israel, and how to parse those things out. 

How can a Catholic think about Israel and foreign policy in the Middle East, and also the troubling sin of antisemitism? What are the ways in which a Catholic can think through those things?

Most political questions about that would actually be handled by a different office than ours - the [USCCB’s] Office of International Justice and Peace

But I think one of the major items — in terms of where we are relationally with the Jewish people — is to understand how Jewish people understand themselves. For many, the state of Israel is part of their identity in one way or another. That’s something to be respected, and it’s something the Commission for Religious Relations for the Jews has called us to respect.

Additionally, the Church itself has continued to work for a two-state solution and to advocate for that. I think that is an important point to also keep in mind.

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