Catholic Biblical Association of America

Continuing Seminar on Biblical Issues in Christian-Jewish Relations

Liturgical Readings of the Passion Project



For sixteen years, this ongoing seminar in the Catholic Biblical Association has explored and discussed scriptural and hermeneutical issues that impact relations between Christians and Jews and on the pastoral life of the Church. 

Its last three annual meetings have been devoted to a study of the liturgical proclamation of the Gospel passion narratives during Holy Week.

For most of Christian history, and especially after the late Middle Ages, the proclamation of the passion narratives provoked hostility and violence against Jews.  They contain polemical and apologetic features about responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus that can potentially assume great destructive power when read in social contexts different from those in which they originated.  Argumentative words written from a position of weakness can become a license for oppression when read form positions of dominance. 

The Seminar studied each Gospel's narrative in turn. There were found to be great differences among the them in terms of their anti-Jewish potential, with Mark having little or none but with John posing great challenges in this regard.

It was decided to prepare sample lections using the principles listed on the right and detailed in an essay found below as exercises in how future lections from the passion narratives might be crafted so as to implement recent Catholic teachings about Jews and Judaism. It is hoped that this work might be of use to ecclesiastical authorities in the future.

The links below organize the work of this project of the Seminar.



Principles Used 

by the Seminar in 

Preparing Passion Lections

  1. The preparation of lections involves exegetical, translational, and pastoral issues.

  2. The proclamation of excerpted biblical texts during the liturgy is a part of the pastoral process of actualizing the scriptures in the particularly potent setting of worship

  3. The prevention of anti-Jewish actualizations of lections is an officially declared pastoral duty in the Roman Catholic Church. "Particular attention is necessary, according to the spirit of the Second Vatican Council (Nostra Aetate, 4), to avoid absolutely any actualization of certain texts of the New Testament which could provoke or reinforce unfavorable attitudes to the Jewish people" [PBC, 1993, IV,A,3].

  4. The lection should present and respect the text’s dramatic structure, theological characteristics and insights, the interactions within the text, and therefore contribute to the pastoral themes of that specific liturgy as much as possible.

  5. As far as possible lections should not prevent the preacher or catechist from critically addressing problematic features of the text. This principle, however, may be outweighed if it seems unlikely that a particular problematic passage can be preached or explained adequately every time the text is proclaimed.

  6. Lectionary excerptions of apologetic or polemical "anti-Jewish" passages should be done so as to free the evangelists’ theological perspectives from potentially misleading disputatious trappings. This would enable the preacher or catechist to stress the text’s spiritual import without being distracted by the pastoral obligation to address anti-Jewish or potentially anti-Jewish phrases that do not significantly contribute to the text’s theological insights.

  7. "If one cannot show beyond reasonable doubt that the particular gospel element selected … will not be offensive or have the potential for negative influence on the audience for whom the presentation is intended, that element cannot, in good conscience, be used" [God's Mercy Endures Forever, C,1,d]. This means that in some cases a particular narrative feature will need to be assessed in terms of its likely reception by the congregation. If a negative outcome is likely, then the passage should be handled according to one of the following strategies. This is true even in those instances when the evangelist might have intended to promote hostility toward Jewish figures.

  8. The existing lectionary employs the following strategies in devising lections (see "Critical Need" essay for examples):

    1. The selection of the beginning and ending of a lection.

    2. The omission of verses that could be confusing or easily misunderstood, overly complicate the reading, or detract from the themes being established for that liturgy.

    3. The translation of certain words or phrases with a view toward their congregational impact.

    4. The insertion of the antecedents of pronouns to provide clarity and avoid confusion.

    5. The incorporation of relevant verses from elsewhere in the biblical book to situate the lection.

The Critical Need for Care in Preparing the Passion Narratives for Liturgical Proclamation

This essay details the nature of the problem, examines Catholic teaching on the subject, and explores how the current lectionary excerpts biblical readings.

A Comparison of the Passion Narratives

Lections should seek to convey the theological insights of the particular biblical author. One way of discerning these insights is in comparing one author's presentation of the same events with another's. The four passion narratives offer an excellent opportunity for this. This chart outlines the passion narratives and may be useful in educational settings. 


Gospel of Matthew

Gospel of Mark

No editing of the present lection was seen to be needed.

Gospel of Luke

Gospel of John 

The issues for this Gospel are many and complex. This essay discusses them and how the Seminar decided to address then. 


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