Responding to Liturgy...
In her "take" this Sunday Kate is writing passionately about her love of the Word in Liturgy. That so many no longer seem moved by Scripture begs many questions. She seeks to share what excites her about the Word when it is proclaimed in the Liturgy.
Last week I was moved by Ian Elmer's essay on the current thinking amongst scholars and the institution on what we mean by the expression God "inspired" the Sacred Scriptures. I wrote what I considered was an "amazing" response — well it amazed me in the sense that I wasn't sure where it came from. Unfortunately I lost it in the way we all do at times, by opening another application or just clicking the wrong box. In trying to re-write something you have already written once, it is often difficult to capture the "spirit" that inspired the first writing. This is what I was endeavouring to say...
The Best Book in the world is only a mass of words on paper UNLESS it is opened and read. If it is NEVER opened and read it's only value may be what the author gained by the writing or for use to light a fire.
When I first learned that the Scriptures had been tampered with, "fudged" and some of them were dodgey at best left me feeling like a complete dupe. I felt cheated! Downright lied to by my own Church! OK that was sometime ago — about 15 years and I was quite the Conservative and obviously a very uneducated and naïve Catholic.
Further faith education over the years has increased my knowledge and excited my already passionate interest in history, Biblical history, and Archaeology. Ian's posts on Biblical Scholarship makes me feel like I'm getting a free "degree" in Post Grad studies, in my pj's, in my own home!
Over the years I have also developed what would be classed as a very big 'little' passion for Liturgy … especially the Eucharistic Liturgy. Scripture is at the heart of liturgy.
Ancient nomadic peoples gathered and told their stories during special ceremonies or around their campfires, long before written language, as such, was developed. Much like our own Indigenous people's dream time stories. This is the 'genesis' of scripture. Liturgy is scripture's 'home'. These stories having been told often and having evoked a 'response' from the listeners eventually were written down. The traditions and religious 'truths' of one people were inscribed and gifted to other people (us). They are then 'read' at gatherings and continue to evoke a 'response'.
The similarity of the Synagogal Liturgy with the present day Liturgy of the Word is both exciting and inspiring. This is how Jesus worshipped publicly!
"When he came to Nazareth where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom" (emphasis added). [Luke 4: 16]
I was surprised to learn of the variety and depth of biblical analysis that exegetes use to interpret biblical texts, the different types of criticism and the numbers of questions that they ask and try to answer. For example...
Source Criticism: Where the text is placed in its historical context. What was the culture of the time and place it was written? Who wrote it? Who was it written for? What was the purpose for writing it?
The Literary Form: What the genre of this text is. Is it myth? Poetry? Narrative? History?
Redaction Criticism: How accurate this text is to the original writing. How many authors? What were their sources? How many editions/revisions has this text gone through?
The Dogmatic Constitution of Divine Revelation say to us: "Hence the exegete must look for that meaning which the sacred writer, in a determined situation and given the circumstances of his time and culture, intended to express and did in fact express, through the medium of a contemporary literary form. Rightly to understand what the sacred author wanted to affirm in his work, due attention must be paid both to the customary and characteristic patterns of perception, speech and narrative which prevailed at the age of the sacred writer, and to the conventions which the people of his time followed in their dealings with one another." [Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (12: 6, 7, 8)]
I was very surprised by the revelation that parts of our Lectionary have been adapted. That there are parts added (not in the original), and large amounts of difficult texts edited out was news to me. (I may elucidate on the parts left out in another Take at a later date – especially the loss of Women in the pericopes we use in the liturgy. It is a subject worthy of its own discussion.)
This has all sorts of implications for the revision of our texts. I admit to feeling cheated by the fact that I had been led to believe that what was in the Lectionary was "purely" Biblical and at first thought that to believe it was God-inspired was a "lie".
It gives me pause for thought though that the Scriptures are actually authenticated by the 'response' of the people 'assembled'. That is, readings that were included in the Bible were accepted by the Church because they were used at liturgies and accepted by the people. I always believed that the Bible was God's word, written by divine inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Like I said it was what I had been taught and never questioned in my naivety that the Church did indeed have "all the answers" and would NEVER lie to us. This now makes so much more sense to me in that the Spirit is at work when a 'listening' assembly is transformed by proclamation of the Word in their midst.
The 'response' to the Word is manifold. It takes the form of ritual words and actions, singing, prayer –psalms, intercessions, the act of faith; Eucharist – praise and thanksgiving, eating and drinking (in response to the Word proclaimed) in the Eucharistic Prayer; change of heart – conversion, evangelisation, discipleship – living the Word in the world. The word is life-changing, challenging and lived. This is the 'response' that authenticates scripture. This is how the Word is described as 'alive' or 'living' - in the people responding to it. "The word constantly proclaimed in the liturgy is always, then a living active word..." [Lectionary for Mass: Introduction, Chapter 1 , no 4.]
I am always amazed when I hear a Scripture text that I have heard or read at least a couple of hundred times and still "hear" something new in it. The text obviously hasn't changed … so the change must be in me … or in what the Spirit wants me to "hear" at this Salvific moment in my life
Therefore the key principle for understanding and developing the theology of the celebration of the Liturgy of the Word is that Christ is truly present when the Word is proclaimed within a "listening" (consciously active) Assembly and that this assembly is fed with the Word.
Many church documents use language in relation to the Word that speak of food...
"The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures as she venerated the Body of the Lord, in so far as she never ceases, particularly in the sacred liturgy, to partake of the bread of life and to offer it to the faithful from the one table of the Word of God and the Body of Christ" [Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, no 21]
This illustrates that the Word of God is food just as the consecrated bread and wine are food. "In the beginning was the Word, .............and the Word became flesh....." [John 1: 1,14] Christ is God's word. It is Christ himself – His flesh and blood – we are fed in Eucharist and in the proclaiming of Scripture.
When the word is proclaimed in the assembly Christ is present as Sacrosanctum Concilium tells us "(Christ) is present in His word since it is He himself who speaks when the Holy Scriptures are read in the Church." [No.7] Thus Christ is present in the person proclaiming the word. The minister (lector/deacon/presider) embodies the word, enfleshes it, and gives voice to God so that God's people might hear God speak to them.
Christ is present in the 'listening' assembly – i.e. the people gathered to worship participating fully, actively and consciously. The voice proclaiming the word needs ears to hear it. There is no point in proclaiming, aloud, the word, if there are no listeners. The listeners, having 'heard', then respond. This then becomes a corporate action. It is dialogue between God and God's people. The Word proclaimed reveals God through Christ and Christ's saving action. The listeners respond by being transformed — made new, and going on to live what they have been transformed into – i.e. the Body of Christ.
This may seem a little more "scholarly" than my usual Take. It is however the way I feel about "hearing" Christ in the Liturgy. The only response I came make to such personal dialogue is to then participate in His body & blood. This is a transformative experience for me especially in a communal setting. The challenge for me then is to go out and be what I have been transformed into — the Body of Christ.
That so many Catholics, no longer experience this and it has little or no impact on many when they do begs many questions. Especially in the Presider "opening" that word to make it relevant to the lives of those gathered.
The transformative experience I have when participating in the liturgy in the ways I have tried to describe negates the feeling of being cheated by the compilers of our Lectionary. Even "fudged" the Word changes hearts … well at least I know it changes mine.
We welcome your thoughts in response to this commentary in our forum.