Fr. Lawrence Frizzell speaks on Nostra Aetate at Beth Israel Synagogue on Nov. 29.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Fr. Lawrence Frizzell speaks on Nostra Aetate at Beth Israel Synagogue on Nov. 29.

December 7, 2015
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Edmonton - The Second Vatican Council made historic changes to Church policies and theology that have led to improved relations with other religions, especially the Jewish people.

The publication in 1965 of Nostra Aetate, Latin for In Our Time, revolutionized the Church's approach to Jews and Judaism.

Father Lawrence Frizzell, an Edmonton priest who has spent 50 years as a leader in Catholic-Jewish relations in the United States, spoke about the document at Beth Israel Synagogue Nov. 29.

"For 50 years, Nostra Aetate has served as the blueprint for the Catholic Church's efforts to promote peace, harmony and understanding with other religions," he said.

Nostra Aetate repudiates the centuries-old "deicide" charge against all Jews, stresses the religious bond shared by Jews and Catholics, reaffirms the eternal covenant between God and the people of Israel, and dismisses Church interest in trying to baptize Jews.

For the first time in history, Nostra Aetate called for Catholics and Jews to engage in friendly dialogue and discussions to better understand each other's faith. After intense debate and some strong opposition, Nostra Aetate was approved at Vatican II on Oct. 28, 1965.

"Why was such a document necessary?" he asked. "No previous ecumenical council had presented such a series of statements. The attitude of Catholics to their Jewish neighbours required guidance because common sense did not prevail over prejudice and bigotry."

Frizzell noted that over the centuries Christian teachers and preachers had often blamed all Jews for the death of Jesus. For many Christians the accusation focused on all Jews of that time and of later generations.

The accusation often included the charge of deicide - that the Jews killed Jesus knowing he was the Son of God.

HOLY WEEK PERSECUTION

In many countries for centuries, the Jewish minority was periodically persecuted, especially during Holy Week, because preachers misdirected the focus of the liturgical proclamation of Jesus' passion and death.

"The council's declaration teaches that the Jews as a people 'must not be presented as repudiated or cursed by God,'" Frizzell said.

The council document might have remained on the shelf except for the determination of the Holy See and Church leaders in European and North American countries to implement it, he said.

He gave special credit to the Sisters of Sion and others for their dedication to improving Catholic-Jewish relations.

ENDING BIGOTRY

In the 1960s, he said, the Sisters of Sion in Canada began teaching of the need to end anti-Jewish bigotry. Textbooks were corrected and care was placed on how teachers presented the message orally.

Recent developments include documents of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, one released in 2000 and the other in August.

Frizzell said in the decades after the Vatican II, the Church's focus was on Jewish-Christian relations but slowly its gestures at openness to other religions have received remarkable responses.

"We humans cannot allow despair and hatred to prevail but must promote the positive seeds of understanding to be planted so the future will not witness atrocities to be committed with the claim that this is willed from above."