Today I'm off to Warsaw to give a talk at the diocesan Catechetical Institute Day. I was asked to give a talk on Scripture and Liturgy. I have decided to make the case that Liturgy is Scriptural, and Scripture is Liturgical. I thought I would post it here as well.
Scripture and Liturgy:
First of all, why give a talk on Scripture and Liturgy? It seems as though both of these things are quite important in our spiritual life. So that might be a good first reason. But, why not give a talk on either Scripture or Liturgy? Why Scripture and Liturgy? I want to argue that Scripture and Liturgy grow from the same source and have the same goal. The source is God's will to reveal himself to us, the goal is the praise of God.
Let's get at some definitions. Liturgy: CCC 1068
It is this mystery of Christ that the Church proclaims and celebrates in her liturgy so that the faithful may live from it and bear witness to it in the world: (SC 2)
For it is in the liturgy, especially in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, that "the work of our redemption is accomplished," and it is through the liturgy especially that the faithful are enabled to express in their lives and manifest to others the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church.
This is a good beginning for us when discussing the liturgy. It is proclaiming and celebrating the mystery of Christ. Notice how that is purposefully vague: what does it mean to celebrate and proclaim Christ? Who is Christ? He is the Son of God sent from the Father to bring reconciliation to mankind, which he does by his perfect act of worship on the Cross. If I had to boil it down to one sentence that is what you get: Christ comes from God to bring reconciliation, which he does by worship on the Cross. Therefore, if the liturgy celebrates and proclaims this mystery it should do this as well. It comes from God to bring reconciliation, which it does by the representation of the sacrifice of the cross, which is a perfect act of worship.
As you all know we are preparing to use a new translation of the Roman Missal. It is important to remember that this is not a new Mass, not a new liturgy. It is a new translation of the same Mass, the same liturgy. But, one of the great side effects of having this new translation is that we are, hopefully, getting a new appreciation for the Mass. Now that we will have to go a bit slower and more carefully respond and pray in the mass, we might want to stop and reflect on the nature of the Mass. Do we see it as reconciliation from God by the work of the cross? I often hear complaints: I just don't get anything out of the mass. This is a huge problem, because first and foremost liturgy is an act of God. In other words, it's not about us. The more we remember that the liturgy is an entering into the work of Christ, the more we will get out of it; but, if we think of the liturgy as something meant primarily for us as individuals it will never match up to football games or Broadway shows as a means of entertainment. If we are there to be entertained, we will be bored. If we come there to worship and enter into the very mystery of Christ, we will be enriched.
Here is a definition of liturgy that I had to memorize in seminary: The liturgy is a complexus of sensible signs by means of which, God, in Christ and through Christ, in the Church and through the Church, sanctifies man; and Man, in the Church and through the Church, in Christ and through Christ, renders worship to God. Here are the two movements of the liturgy I have been speaking about: first God moves toward us, in Christ and through Christ, in the Church and through the Church to sanctify humanity, and humanity, in Christ and through Christ, in the Church and through the Church, renders worship to God. Do you see how it is a celebration and proclamation of the very mystery of Christ: Christ comes from the Father to bring reconciliation by his very presence among us (sanctification), this reconciliation is made complete when he offers himself on the cross as the spotless victim (worship). This is what we do at Mass; rather, this is what God does at Mass and we are privileged enough to enter into this saving mystery.
Word of God: St. John's gospel tells us that in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the Word was God. He existed before all things, but in our days he became incarnate of the Virgin and was born. We have always called Jesus Christ the word of God, the second person of the Trinity. Calling Jesus the Word of God means that he is the thought of God, the mind of God, the substance of the divine mind. These terms are analogies because God is a mystery. Exactly how the three persons of God exist in their unity is a mysterious notion. However, we are very sure when we say that Jesus is the Word of God. But we also call the Bible the Word of God. One way to think of the Bible is that it is Jesus, written down. Not just Jesus' words written down, but more like his very person. Remember that the Word of God is exactly that, it is God's word. This means that our human minds cannot really comprehend God's own word. This is why Jesus came to us as a human being, so that we could understand him. Likewise, the Bible comes to us in human language so that we can comprehend it. So we can say that the Bible is the Word of God written down in human language.
Revelation: Jesus came to show us the way to the Father. The Word of God, for us, is a word that tells us about the Father. In other words, the Word is revelation. Through the Word, God makes himself known to us. WE can see this in the Old Testament, through Moses and the Prophets God revealed himself. In our own days, this Word of God became man and dwelt among us. Instead of working through mediators, God became one of us and directly revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. In his very person, Jesus reveals God to us. In his coming as a meek and humble baby, Jesus reveals God's humility. In his sage wisdom and advice, Jesus reveals God's wisdom. In his death on the cross, Jesus reveals God's love. In his resurrection, Jesus reveals God's mercy. So, Jesus, without even saying anything, reveals to us much about God. So we have to remember that revelation is not simply words on a paper; rather, revelation is God revealing God to us. Sometimes he uses words, like the Law or the sayings of Jesus, sometimes he just uses actions: both those of the OT and the NT. It is important to remember this as we transition into talking about the Bible.
One good definition for the Bible is that it is God's revelation written down for us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore the Bible helps us to know who God is. The whole of the Bible gives us an insight into who God is and what his relationship is with us.
Revelation is God revealing himself to us. The Word of God is Jesus Christ, who reveals the Father to us. The Bible is revelation, it is the Word of God, written down in human language. Therefore, the Bible is not just any other book; rather, it is holy, it is God's Word, it is the revelation of God's love for us written down by the power of the Holy Spirit and put into human language. So, the first thing we need to do when we approach the Bible is to treat it with the respect and dignity it deserves. It truly is a holy book.
Now, you are probably already seeing the similarities between the liturgy and the Bible. These two are united because of Christ. The liturgy is the celebration and proclamation of the mystery of Christ. The Scripture is the Word of God written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Word of God reveals God, the Word reveals that God, in Christ, is reconciling us to himself through the power of the cross. Both Scripture and Liturgy get to the heart of the very mystery of Christ, no wonder then that they have so much in common. But, I want to explore not only what they have in common, but their interrelation. My thesis going forward is that Liturgy is Scriptural, and Scripture is liturgical. We will want to keep our definitions in mind as we go forward.
First, liturgy is scriptural. One thing you might notice as we prepare for the new translation of the Roman Missal is that some of the scriptural allusions will become a bit clearer. But, this is not to say that the old translation didn't have scriptural allusions. Let's look at a few places where the Liturgy is quite scriptural.
The opening dialogue is quite scriptural. We start in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This comes right from Matthew's gospel: Matthew 28:19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We begin our Christian lives with the sign of the cross at the savior's command, now we start Mass with the same sign, which comes to us from the Bible. Romans 1:7 to all the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We respond, and with your spirit. 2 Timothy 4:22 The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with all of you. We see already that the liturgy receives its voice from the Word of God.
Also, we relive much of what takes place in the Bible, even if we don't quote it directly. For example, one thing I have come to value as a priest are the quite prayers I say during Mass. These prayers are designed to help me remember to pray and to participate in these sacred mysteries. But, they also remind me of my unworthiness and my need for God's presence in my life. If, however, a Deacon is not present, the Priest, bowing before the altar, says quietly:
Cleanse my heart and my lips, almighty God, that I may worthily proclaim your holy Gospel.
"Then I said, "Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember which he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth with it. "See," he said, "now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged" (Is 6:5-7)
I am about to proclaim the Good News, about to stand in the long chain of prophets stretching back to the Old Testament, I am formed by the Word of God as I remember that my lips need to be cleansed like those of Isaiah. Quite beautiful.
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts. 29
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest. Isa 6.3 and Matt 21.9
Of course, the Words of institution are Biblical. They might not be direct quotes from a certain gospel, but they are formed and informed by the Tradition that is kept in the gospel accounts. So you see the words of the liturgy are informed by the Word of God. Hence the introduction to the Lord's prayer: At the Savior's command and formed by divine teaching we dare to say: Our Father. Formed by divine teaching, the Liturgy is formed by the Scriptures.
However, this is not the only role that scripture plays in the liturgy, of course. There is the liturgy of the word. Sacrosanctum Concilium has some important things to say about Scripture and its role in the liturgy.
7. To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of His minister, "the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross" , but especially under the Eucharistic species. By His power He is present in the sacraments, so that when a man baptizes it is really Christ Himself who baptizes . He is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church. He is present, lastly, when the Church prays and sings, for He promised: "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20) .
24. Sacred scripture is of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy. For it is from scripture that lessons are read and explained in the homily, and psalms are sung; the prayers, collects, and liturgical songs are scriptural in their inspiration and their force, and it is from the scriptures that actions and signs derive their meaning. Thus to achieve the restoration, progress, and adaptation of the sacred liturgy, it is essential to promote that warm and living love for scripture to which the venerable tradition of both eastern and western rites gives testimony.
51. The treasures of the bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God's word. In this way a more representative portion of the Holy Scriptures will be read to the people in the course of a prescribed number of years.
So the Scriptures are a part of the Liturgy. When they are read in the Liturgy it is Christ who speaks to us through them. Now remember that we have seen that the liturgy has a two-fold purpose: sanctification of man and the worship of God. It is easy to see how the Scripture sanctifies man, we hear the proclamation of the good news, we are encouraged to right conduct, we are inspired and consoled in difficult times, etc. How is the Scripture liturgical?
Well it would take more time than I have to go through everything I have thought on this matter, but I would like to boil it down.
First, it is interesting to me to think about where the Bible comes from. Do you know how we got the Bible we have? It is called the development of the Canon. It goes through quite a process, different Bishops and Church Fathers accepted certain books, but not other books. Ultimately, it was the faith of the Church that determined if these books were to be accepted. We usually think about the faith as coming from the Bible, but this idea comes from the Protestant reformation. Luther's notion of Sola Scriptura is not scriptural. Nowhere in the Bible does the Bible say that it is the rule of faith. Rather, it was the rule of faith that preceded the Bible, judged the Bible, and accepted the Bible that we have. And one key dimension to this process of judgment was the liturgy. One of the criteria for admission into the canon was use in the sacred Liturgy. So even from the earliest days of the Church the Scriptures were a part of the Liturgy. In fact, you could say that the Bible was born in the Liturgy.
Justin Martyr was killed in about 165 AD. He wrote about early liturgy:
On the day we call the day of the sun, all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place.
The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read, as much as time permits.
When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things.
Then we all rise together and offer prayers* for ourselves . . .and for all others, wherever they may be, so that we may be found righteous by our life and actions, and faithful to the commandments, so as to obtain eternal salvation.
When the prayers are concluded we exchange the kiss.
Then someone brings bread and a cup of water and wine mixed together to him who presides over the brethren.
He takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy
Spirit and for a considerable time he gives thanks (in Greek: eucharistian) that we have been judged worthy of these gifts.
When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all present give voice to an acclamation by saying: 'Amen.'
When he who presides has given thanks and the people have responded, those whom we call deacons give to those present the "eucharisted" bread, wine and water and take them to those who are absent.
There was no Bible like we have it today, but they were reading prophets and memoirs of the apostles. I think one could make the case that the production of the Gospels may have been owed to the fact that the Church needed the stories about Jesus for the celebration of liturgy. If the liturgy is the celebration and proclamation of the mystery of Christ, and if the mystery of Christ is the reconciliation that comes from God, completed in worship, then the Bible must be about the reconciliation that comes from God that is completed in worship. I think we often think of the Bible as being about the mystery of Christ: it tells us about Jesus and the good news, but do we see it as an act of worship. I think that very often we do not think the Bible itself as worship, which is to our detriment. The Bible is not simply a book about God, it is a book by God. It is the mystery of Christ, which always leads to worship. Let's take a quick look at the letter to the Romans to see what I mean.
Now you might think it is interesting that I will use Romans as an example. Many people think of this as Paul's great act of theology. But, I want to show that while Paul is writing about Christ, the letter is liturgical at heart. In other words, it proclaims the mystery of Christ, but it finds its fulfillment in liturgical expression of worship. In Romans 1, 6, 8, and 12, Paul relies upon experiential language. The process he outlined in those chapters is one of conversion, and one that closely follows not only Paul's personal life, but the very life of Christ. If the letter to the Romans is Paul's gospel in written form, then his gospel is not a series of intellectual arguments, but it is a life lived in response to an experience of Jesus Christ. Not only is the encounter with Jesus experiential, but the results are experiential as well if we consider that the consequence of meeting Jesus is to live like he did: Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). Romans contains theological language, but this language is a vehicle for Paul to communicate his experience of Jesus.
I would like to share with you the insight of Beverly Roberts Gaventa. This scripture scholar has an interesting take on the letter to the Romans. Often considered a theological treatise, Romans certainly qualifies for the first movement of scripture, the edifying or sanctifying side of things. But, is Romans liturgical, does it move us to prayer? She contends "that Romans is not to be characterized solely by the movement 'beyond' prayer or celebration [i.e. religious experience], but that the letter also reflects the move from theology to experience, particularly by the movement from critical reflection to doxology."
In Romans 1, Paul writes that the "wrath of God is revealed against godlessness and unrighteousness (Rom 1:18)." The cause for the outpouring of this wrath is instructive: "although they knew God, they did not glorify (evdo,xasan) him as God or give him thanks (Rom 1:21)." Gaventa points out that this wrath of God is one of the reasons Paul wished to write to the Romans, for he wanted to be sure that they gave right worship, glory, to God. To think of Romans as purely theological would miss this important point.
Gaventa then explores the Christ-event in Romans as a way of overcoming that wrath. She writes, "when the letter turns to the consequences of the Christ event, it also turns to expressions of praise and thanksgiving." Gaventa shows that Paul's thanksgiving in 6:17-18 summarizes all he said in 5:12-6:23: "Thanks be to God that you, who were slaves of Sin, have now become genuinely obedient to the type of teaching to which you were handed over, having been freed from Sin, you have become slaves of righteousness." While this is a statement of thanksgiving, which would fall under the heading of worship, i.e. religious experience, it captures the theological mystery of the new life of righteousness found in Christ that frees us from slavery to sin.
Paul hoped, as shown by Gaventa, that his explanation of his experience would itself lead to the praise and worship of God. Paul did not hope to write an air-tight defense of Christianity. Rather, he hoped that through his life and ministry others might walk in the newness of life that he experienced through his encounter with the Risen Christ. The pinnacle of this walking was found in Romans 12:21: "Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good." The peak of religious experience is a love of God so powerful that it becomes love. Another word for this is Liturgy. So, I hope I have made the case that Liturgy is Scriptural, and Scripture is Liturgical.
Time permitting the following passages from Romans could be explored to prove that scripture and liturgy seem to have the same goal, sanctification and worship:
For I am not ashamed of the Gospel,
for the Gospel is the power (du,namij) of God to the salvation of all who believe,
to the Jew first and then the Greek.
For the righteousness (dikaiosu,nh) of God is revealed in it from faith to faith,
just as it was written: "The righteous one will live through faith."
1Therefore there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.
3 do you not know that
all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
4 Therefore, we were buried with him through baptism into death,
so that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father,
just so also we might walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have become united with a likeness of his death,
Then so shall we be (by likeness) of his resurrection.
6 We know this, that our old human self (a;nqrwpoj) was co-crucified
in order that the body of sin might be made powerless
and we might no longer be a slave to sin.
a: 7 For the one who dies is made free (dedikai,wtai) from sin
b: 8: but if we died with Christ,
b': we believe that we will also live with him
a': 9 Since we know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more,
death has no longer rules over him 10 for he died, he died once to sin.
But he lives, he lives for God
11 So you too must consider yourselves dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.
12 So, sin must not, then, rule (basileue,tw) in your mortal body, so as to obey its desires.
13 Do not give over your members as weapons of wickedness,
but give yourselves over to God as if coming to life out of death
and your members as weapons of the righteousness of God.
14 for sin will not rule over you,
for you are not under the law, but under grace.
b: 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus
has freed you from the law of sin and of death.
3For that which the law was unable to do in its weakened state because of the flesh,
God sent his own son the likeness of sinful flesh (to do),
and, on account of sin, condemned sin in the flesh
4in order that the righteous decree of the law might be fulfilled in us
who do not walk around according to the flesh
but according to the Spirit.
c: 5For those who are according to the flesh think of things of the flesh,
but those of the Spirit, (think of) the spiritual things.
6For the way of thinking of the flesh is death,
but the way of thinking of the Spirit is life and peace.
7 The aim of the flesh is hostile to God,
for it does not submit to the law of God, for it is unable.
8And those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
d: 9But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit,
if in fact the Spirit of God lives in you.
But if someone does not have the spirit of Christ, this one is not of him.
10But if Christ is in you,
the body (is) dead because of sin,
but the spirit (is) life because of righteousness.
11If the Spirit of the one who raised Christ from the dead lives in you,
the one who raised Christ from the dead will make living also your mortal bodies
through the same spirit dwelling in you
e: 12So then brothers we are debtors not to the flesh to live according to the flesh.
13For if you live according to the flesh you are about to die.
But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
14For as many as are led by the spirit are sons of God.
15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery (which would send you back) back into fear,
but you received a spirit of adoption in which we cry out: "Abba Father."
16The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
17But if children, also heirs, heirs of God, and fellowheirs with Christ,
if in fact we suffer with him so that we might also be glorified.
1 I beg you, then, brothers
through the mercies of God,
to hand over (parasth/sai) your bodies as a living, holy, and acceptable sacrifice to God which is a form of worship.
2 And do not conform yourselves to this age,
transformed (metamorfou/sqe) by the renewal of your mind (noo.j)
so that you discover what is the will of God, the good, and pleasing, and perfect.
B: 3 For, I say to every one of you
by the grace given to me
not to think of himself higher than he ought to think,
but think soundly,
as God has assigned a measure of faith to each.
4 For just as in one body
we have many parts,
but all the parts do not have the same function
5 In this way,
many though we are we are one body in Christ,
but individual parts of each other,
6 And having charismata according to the excellent grace given to us,
if prophecy, according to the right proportion of faith,
7 If service, in serving,
if teaching, in teaching
8 If urging, in urging,
if giving, in sincerity;
if ruling, with zeal;
if mercy, in cheerfulness
C: 9 Love is genuine.
Hating the evil,
joining together in the good
10 Loving one another in brotherly love,
outdoing one another in respect
11 Not being lazy in zeal,
burning with the spirit,
being slaves of the Lord,
12 Rejoicing in hope,
enduring in tribulation,
adhering to prayer
13 Sharing in the needs of the holy ones,
Pursue (persecute) hospitality
D: 14 Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse.
15 Rejoice with the one who rejoices.
Weep with the one who weeps.
16 Think the same thing about one another,
not focusing on the exalted, but accommodating yourselves to the lowly (thinking).
Do not make yourselves out to be wise people (fro,nimoi).
17 Paying not an evil for an evil,
having regard for the beautiful before (in the sight of) all men.
18 if possible, to the extent that it is up to you, living peacefully with all people,
19 Not taking vengeance for yourself, beloved,
but leave room [lit. give a place] for (the) wrath (of God),
for it is written "vengeance is mine, I will repay," says the Lord
20 But if your enemy is hungry, feed him,
if thirsty, give drink to him,
for doing this you will heap up burning coals upon his head
21 Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with the good.