Dramatizing the Passion
by Victor Hoagland, C.P.
A number of church documents followed the declaration "Nostra
Aetate," issued by the Second Vatican Council on October 28, 1965,
dealing with the relationship of the Catholic Church and the Jews. Among
them are "Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism
in Preaching and Catechesis of the Roman Catholic Church," by the
Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews (June 24, 1985)
and Criteria for the Evaluation of Dramatizations of the Passion, by
the U.S. Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs,
National Conference of Catholic Bishops (1988).
Above: The Oberammergau Passion Play (late 19th century). In the early part of the 17th century, the townspeople of Oberammergau, Germany, vowed to perform a play recalling the last week of Christ's life every ten years. Since the end of the Second Vatican Council, the famous play has been the object of scrutiny by Jews and Christians seeking to prevent inaccurate portrayals of the Jewish people. The latest presentation of the play took place in 2000 AD
To begin with, the bishops' document offers a guiding theological principle: "The overall aim of any depiction of the passion should be the unambiguous presentation of the doctrinal understanding of the event in the light of faith -- that is, of the Church's traditional interpretation of the meaning of Christ's death for all humanity ... Therefore, any presentations that explicitly or implicitly seek to shift responsibility from human sin onto this or that historical group, such as the Jews, can only be said to obscure a core gospel truth."
The creeds and the church's doctrinal statements place responsibility
for Jesus' death on all humanity; therefore, dramatic presentations
should lead us to "a profound self-examination of our own guilt,
through sin, for Jesus' death."
Some "stock ideas," which should be avoided, unfortunately
misrepresent the history and traditions of Judaism in Jesus' day. The
document lists some of them:
In summary, the bishops' document says: "Many of the controversies (or antitheses) between Jesus and his fellow Jews, as recorded in the gospels, we know today reflect conflicts that took place long after the time of Christ between the early Christian communities and various Jewish communities (Notes: IV, 29 A). To generalize from such specific and often later conflicts to an either/or opposition between Jesus and Judaism is to anachronize and, more basically, to vitiate the spirit and intent of the gospel texts" (Notes: III, 28; IV,29F).
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