Guidelines for Ecumenical and Jewish-Catholic Relations

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Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey

Stati Uniti d'America       1980

In 1980 the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey published a booklet containing its Guidelines for Ecumenical and in great detail under many headings and from different aspects. Jewish-Catholic Relations. In particular, this document looks attempting to deal with it with all possible tact and respect Jewish-Catholic Relations. They deal with the topic We publish here those sections which directly concern realistically at the delicate problem of mixed marriages, for the religious convictions of the Jewish partner.

Chapter I

Catholic Principles — Jewish-Catholic Relations


a) Spiritual bonds and historical links between the Church and Judaism, as well as personal dignity, condemn all forms of anti-semitism and discrimination. (GS, p. 2) '
b) It is important to acknowledge common elements in the liturgy (formulas, feasts, rites, etc.) in which the Bible holds an essential place. (GS, p. 3)
c) Facts to be recalled:
— The same God speaks in both old and new covenants.
— Judaism in the time of Christ and the Apostles was a complex reality with many trends and values.
— The Old Testament and Jewish tradition do not constitute a religion of only justice, fear, and legalism with no appeal to love of God and neighbor.
— Jesus and many of his followers were Jewish. His teaching, though profoundly new, reflects the teaching of the Old Testament and uses rabinical methods.
1 GS - Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aerate, December 1, 1974.
— Christ's passion cannot be blamed on all Jews then living nor on Jews of today.
— Even after Jerusalem was destroyed, Judaism developed a tradition rich in religious values.
— The Church awaits the day when all men will serve the Lord in unity. (GS, pp. 4-5)

Because the Church encounters Israel as she ponders her own mystery, Jewish-Catholic relations remain an important problem even where no Jewish communities exist. More, the return to origins of Christian faith helps the ecumenical movement. (GS, pp. 6-7)

Suggested practical steps: Dialogue; care in handling and interpretation of Scripture, liturgical texts, prayers of faithful, commentaries; attention to catechisms, religious texts, histories, mass media; social action; prayer together. (GS, pp. 2-6)

Chapter VI

Catholics with members of the Jewish Religion
At present, elements of worship in common would, practically speaking, be restricted to the areas of spiritual care and of marriages between Jews and Catholics.

a. A Catholic priest may offer prayers at the bedside of a Jewish person and may, if such is desider, dispose him in his last moments. This should be done only of requested by the sick person himself or by a member of his family with his presumed permission.
b. Authorities in charge of Catholic schools and institutions (e.g., hospitals, nursing homes) should offer rabbis every facility for spiritual ministration to their adherents. Means should be used to notify Jewish leaders when a member of their congregation is present.


a. Preparation for Marriage.
1) When a Catholic and a Jew decide to enter into marriage, the priest who is helping them prepare a marriage ceremony should be sensitive to the religious convictions and customs of both parties. Neither party to the marriage should be asked to violate the integrity of his or her faith.
The priest should advise the couple that neither the Catholic Church nor the synagogue encourages mixed marriages; indeed, both the church and the synagogue greatly desire that Catholics marry Catholics and that Jews marry Jews. In counseling the interfaith couple the priest should remind them of the likelihood that the extended family of each party may be reluctant to accept their child's or sibling's spouse, and that tensions frequently arise as family ties are stretched to the breaking point.

2) All other provisions for the marriage preparation will be the same as those for marriages of Catholics with Protestants.

b. The Marriage Ceremony.
1) The regulations for marriages between Catholics and Protestants all apply with equal force to the marriages of Catholics and Jews.

2) Additionally, in exceptional cases, the dispensation from form may be granted to permit a civil ceremony; however, some public form of civilly recognized celebration is required. (SIMM # 11) (2 SIMM - Statement on Implementation of Matrimonia Alexia, January 1, 1971.)

c. Recording Marriages.
Requirements here are the same as for marriages between Catholics and Protestants.

d. After the Marriage.
Priest should show continued concern and readiness to assist the couple and their children. (SIMM # 3b)



1. Preparing for marriage when one partner is a Catholic and the other a Jew presents certain difficulties not usually found in marriages between a Catholic and another Christian. Catholic and Jewish partners come to the priest with questions about their own and others' attitudes toward such a marriage; when, and how an appropriate wedding ceremony can be arranged; the religious faith and upbringing of children of the marriage; and the proper pastoral care and follow-up for themselves after the marriage.
2. The following suggestions for pastoral care are meant to address these concerns. Without replacing the Common Policy for Marriage Preparation or substituting for the Guidelines for the Practice of Ecumenism, these suggestions are offered to assist the priest with the most frequently expressed special concerns that arise when a Catholic wants to marry a Jew.


(a) Of Clergy

3. Because of their concern for the preservation of Judaism, which historically has never approved of the intermarriage of Jews and non-Jews, most rabbis absolutely will not officiate at a marriage between a Catholic and a Jew. The priest should make certain that the couple is aware of this fact. While the bride and groom may wish to seek out a rabbi willing to officiate, they should be certain this officiant is indeed a rabbi, and avoid agreeing to exorbitant fees for his services. Certainly the priest himself should not offer nor attempt to engage the services of a rabbi for this occasion.

(b) Of Families
4. For many reasons, the families of both the Catholic and the Jew may be opposed to the marriage. The Jewish family may not accept the marriage of their son or daughted to a Catholic because in the new family unit Jewish faith and practice could be lost. A Catholic family might well express similar concern. To a degree, the effort of each spouse to learn about the teachings and traditions of the other's faith will help promote harmony between them; but both the couple and the priest involved need to understand that the intermarriage itself creates a family unit that is not considered Jewish. Thus Jews conclude that intermarriage weakens Judaism itself. Without the conversion of the Catholic partner to the Jewish faith, this fundamental Jewish objection to intermarriage can never really be resolved; indeed, in preparing a couple for marriage the priest may well discover that the Jewish partner is being pressured to choose between marrying the Catholic and retaining his or her own Jewish family ties. The priest should take the time to find out and evaluate the reasons for family objection, especially objection of a religious nature.

(c) Of Couple Themselves
5. Frequently the Catholic and Jew desire marriage so strongly that they do not forsee how differences in belief and practices, not to mention cultural conditioning, may seriously interfere with their effort to sustain a married life. Preparation, then, should include an exploration of these differences. Information that would help the priest in this task, as well as in dealing with objections to the marriage for religious reasons, can be found in the materials referred to in the brief bibliography at the conclusion of these suggestions for pastoral care.

(d) Of the Catholic Church
6. While officially discouraging such intermarriage, the Catholic Church recognizes that the natural right of the couple to marry requires us to witness the marriage of a Catholic to a Jew, provided the basic principles are observed. (MM p. 1; SIMM, Introduction.) To offer more effective preparation of such couples, it would be helpful for the priest to establish contact with local rabbis either directly or through area ministerial associations, and communicate from time to time with them. If this cannot be done locally, the priest may contact the Diocesan Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for assistance in establishing this line of communication.

7. Since two separate ceremonies and the combining of rituals are expressly forbidden, and family objections to the wedding are likely, determining the place for the ceremony, the officiant, and the type of ceremony usually will require special care.

(a) Place
8. In accord with the requirements for the valid marriage of a Catholic, a priest or deacon is ordinarily the officiant at the wedding of a Catholic with a Jew, and the wedding may take place in the sanctuary of the Catholic Church, or in a chapel or other suitable place on the Catholic parish grounds. A rabbi may participate in accord with the Diocesan ecumenical guidelines. This option should be offered the couple first, and its advantages clearly set forth. If, to avoid family alienation, it is necessary to have the wedding in another place, the Diocesan guidelines call for the use of some other sacred place, a synagogue or more likely a nondenominational chapel (as the use of a synagogue is likely to be as "unacceptable' as the use of a Catholic church may be, in view of the danger of family alienation). Less preferred, though at times necessary, is the inside of the private home of one of the spouses, or courtroom or public hall in which a civil official might witness such a marriage. Without denying the appeal of other settings, such as parks, restaurants, gardens, and auditoriums, the priest should help the couple understand that these are not acceptable in the Diocese of Trenton because they often distract the couple and their family and guests from the fundamentally religious understanding of marriage in the community of faith whose prayer and blessings the couple seeks. Finally, if the marriage is not to take place within the Diocese of Trenton, the priest should immediately contact the chancery of the diocese where the marriage will take place, to determine the special guidelines that may apply to the weddings of Catholics with Jews.

(b) Officiant and Ceremony
9. Resolving the question of where the ceremony should take place may well depend on determining who will officiate, and what type of ceremony will be used. If the Catholic clergyman will officiate, the most appropriate place will be the Catholic church, and the ceremony to be used is that from the Catholic ritual for marriage between a Catholic and an unbaptized person. This ceremony is very often acceptable to all concerned in the intermarriage, and offering its use to the couple may lead to the acceptance of the Catholic church as the appropriate place for the ceremony. As pointed out earlier, a rabbi may participate in accord with the diocesan ecumenical guidelines. If a rabbi is to officiate, the ceremony to be used is the Jewish one and the dispensation from canonical form must be obtained. The synagogue would seem preferred, but more likely the couple will need to find a non-denominational chapel or other acceptable place for the ceremony. Finding the acceptable place may not be easy, but in practice a non-denominational chapel in the bride's or groom's community is more likely to be acceptable to all concerned as well as providing adequate space. If the rabbi officiates, the priest may participate in accord with the diocesan ecumenical guidelines. Again, if the marriage is to take place outside the Diocese of Trenton, and the rabbi has invited the Catholic's priest to be present, the priest should find out the policy of the Diocese with regard to such marriages. In practice, where a priest and rabbi are both to be present, the wedding to take place other than in a Catholic Church, and the priest supposed to officiate, the dispensation from form could be obtained ad cautelam to avoid embarrassment in the event the rabbi insists on officiating.
10. Sometimes the resolution of the issues that arise over the wedding ceremony will require that a magistrate, mayor or other civil official witness the marriage. While this suggests the use of a courtroom, public hall or the like, the priest should keep in mind and discuss with the couple the possibility of the civil official witnessing the marriage in one of the other acceptable places, and the opportunity for the priest and even a rabbi to offer some prayer of blessing. Of course, the dispensation from form would be required in this instance, even if the Catholic priest were to be present, because the priest would not be receiving the wedding vows of the couple, nor acting as the official witness of the Church to this wedding.
11. Finally, in seeking to prepare a wedding celebration that is faithful to the spouses' religious traditions and truly an act of worship, the priest and couple should keep in mind that there are a number of ways in which place, rite or ceremony, and officiant can be combined within the guidelines in force in the Diocese of Trenton. Questions about this may be addressed to the Diocesan Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs or to the Chancery Office, as we cannot anticipate all the possible alternatives here.

12. Presuming the couple intend to have children, there will be concern for the children's religious identity and upbringing.

(a) Identity
13. In the Jewish tradition, children find their religious identity, and they are expected to be brought up, in the religion of the mother. If the mother is the Catholic, the children would not be recognized or accepted as Jewish unless she herself became a Jew. If the mother is Jewish, her children are not likely to be accepted as Jewish once they have been baptized as Catholics; and the mother's permitting their baptism could well put her at odds with her family even if the marriage itself does not. For these reasons, the questions the couple has about the religious identity and upbringing of the children need very careful consideration. The bride and groom cannot usually make this decision without reference to their families, and the solutions usually suggested when a Catholic marries a Protestant are not often acceptable or workable where the Catholic marries a Jew.

(b) Upbringing
14. When it comes to the "promises" that the Catholic makes in order to obtain the required dispensation for marriage, what appears as "offensive" to Jews is not the fact that the Catholic must make the promises, but rather the fact that, if the Catholic intends to keep this promise, the family is thus "lost" to the Jewish people. Couples will ask, then, whether it is really necessary to make the promises at all, in view of this real danger of family alienation.
15. In such circumstances, the couple may want to opt for what seems to them the easier solution—to promise the families and the church what is necessary for them to marry, but in reality to plan to raise their children without any formal religion until the children are old enough to decide for themselves. While it appears the path of least resistance, it is also the one choice that marriage preparation needs most surely to discourage.

(c) The Decision
16. Since the issue of children reflects so seriously the difference that exists culturally and religiously between the Catholic and the Jewish partner in marriage, this issue should not be avoided or put off. The couple needs to recognize that, when they decide to baptize and educate the children as Catholics, an agreement to teach the children also about Judaism will not really satisfy the requirements of the Jewish faith. Their decision about the religious identity and upbringing of the children, even more than their decision to marry, may well be the point at which they must choose between family ties and their marriage. The priest needs to help the couple accept the responsibility for making this decision on their own, a decision which comes as an unavoidable consequence of their decision to marry. The couple should dearly understand that the promise to do all in one's power to see to the Catholic baptism and education of the children does not require the Catholic to separate from the Jewish partner if it becomes morally impossible to keep the promise once sincerely made. The priest should explore with the couple the extent to which the Catholic could accept the children being taught about the history and traditions of Judaism. The couple should be encouraged to learn about each other's beliefs and practices, and to meet if possible with a rabbi to find out to what extent their children might be welcome in the Jewish community with which the Jewish partner would want to affiliate. Material suggested in the bibliography could also be useful to the couple in making the important decision about the religious identity and upbringing of the children.

17. All the foregoing involves Pastoral Care, but in addition to the questions of attitude, ceremony and children, there is the matter of following up the preparation of the couple and helping them especially in the early years of their marriage.

(a) Continuing Education
18. Behind the opposition to intermarriage, there is also the matter of prejudice born of centuries of antagonism. It exists on both sides and can do more harm than a staunch devotion to one's religious convictions. The couple needs to be counseled to continue to study and understand each other's heritage and traditions, both through materials suggested in the books recommended in the bibliography below, and through additional adult religious education.

(b) Family Contacts
19. The priest involved in the couple's preparation for marriage should make the effort to contact and meet the parents of the Jewish spouse, and his or her rabbi if possible. Often the parents feel more comfortable explaining their objections to the marriage if the priest appears willing to listen, and this attention to their concern often moderates their anxiety about the upcoming marriage. It may even help them accept the decision of their son or daughter about marriage. In meeting with the parents, the priest's effort to understand their feelings should be paramount.

(c) Follow-up for Couple
20. Some plan should be made, during marriage preparation, to contact the couple periodically after the wedding, for at least the first few years, to see how they are doing and to offer such assistance as may be available at the time.

(d) Rabbi-Piest Contacts
21. Prior to the wedding, the priest should contact the rabbi who has been asked to officiate or be present at the wedding, to discuss both the details of the ceremony and the more general issues connected with this couple's decision to marry. An attitude of fraternal cooperation should mark the priest's contact with thesereligious leaders. The priest should keep in mind that the possibility of intermarriage often presents a much more serious concern and danger in their view than it ordinarily does in ours. Follow-up contacts after the wedding with the Jewish partner's rabbi might be in order if the couple agrees such contact would be helpful. If contact with the rabbi is attempted but unfruitful, the priest can consult with the Diocesan Cammission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for further assistance in this regard.

Ronald Luka, CMF, When a Catholic and a Jew Marry, Paulist Press, 1972.
Samuel Sandmel, When a Jew and Christian Marry, Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1977.
Each of these books in paperback has a further bibliography

Review SIDIC Vol XV No. 1 - 1982 (25-29)

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Inserito 01/01/1970