Monday, November 29, 2010

"Praying the Mass" at St. Gregory the Great in Hamilton, NJ

I'll be at St. Gregory the Great in Hamilton, NJ, on Wednesday, December 1st, at 7pm to talk about a prayerful approach to the Mass. Here's the announcement from their bulletin:
If you're in the area, I recommend you stop by for an hour of solid liturgical catechesis in the spirit of Luke 10:27.

O Lord, I am not worthy...

What the centurion said to Jesus, we too will say when the new English translation of the Roman Missal is put into liturgical use next Advent.  There are two reasons that the centurion responded to Jesus' offer to "come and heal" his servant. (cf. Matt. 8:5-13)

On the one hand, Jesus’ going to his house was unnecessary: Jesus, having authority, need only say the word to heal the centurion’s servant. (Personally, I wish the liturgical response in the Latin and in the English were: "and your servant shall be healed.")  On the other, Jesus’ going to his house would have complicated matters: it was unlawful for Him to do so, and He would have been considered ritually impure because of it. (cf. Acts 10:28)

I think the response of the centurion on our lips is a fitting reaction on our part to the Lord’s “condescending love”: “Lord, You needn’t go through all that trouble, You needn’t get mixed up with me. You’re powerful enough to do it from where You are.” Or, as St. Peter exclaimed, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:8)

And yet Christ invites us to Him. (cf. Matt. 11:28) And so there is a meeting (at the very edge of the sanctuary and the nave, if a Communion rail is employed) where we come to Jesus, and He comes to us. He does for us what He did not do for the centurion, and I am most grateful for it. He “goes through the trouble” of coming under my roof (which I understand to be the roof of my mortal frame, the roof of this temple of the Holy Spirit) and “risks” impurity to associate with me in such a sacramental way.

That’s why this newer, closer translation of this is meaningful to me, and I hope it’s meaningful to others as well.

I wonder: if the “yoking” language of Matt. 11:28-30 were employed in the Latin liturgy, if it would need to be “interpreted” by an English translation. I think modern — or at least non-agricultural — man sorely misunderstands the imagery of the yoke, especially as employed by Jesus. But does this misunderstanding require interpreting away the scriptural words and replacing them with a modern idiom? Can’t we have both the scriptural words and a true comprehension of them?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Advent Hymns: People, Look East

I'm going to attempt a series of posts (always a bad idea!) on the blog, looking at Advent and Christmas hymns. I'll explain them and uncover their important doctrinal and theological message.

My first hymn is one of my absolute favorites: "People, Look East". I'll post the five verses as I know them, although I understand that verse 3 ("Birds, though you long...") is not as well-known, and that verse 5 ("Angels, announce...") has a few variations.

This hymn was written by Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965) in 1928.  Farjeon, a Catholic, also penned "Morning Has Broken," an ode of "praise for [creation] springing fresh from the Word," which is perhaps more well-known for being sung by Cat Stevens.

"People, Look East" is a hymn about preparation.  Each verse of this hymn personifies Love:  Guest, Rose, Bird, Star, Lord.  Love is on the way, Love is coming, Love is about to arrive; and so the one who will be receiving Love must prepare accordingly.

1. People, look East: The time is near / of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able: / trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look East and sing today: / Love, the Guest, is on the way.

Love is a guest.  To prepare for his arrival, the house is tidied up, the fireplace is properly cleaned and adorned, and the table is set for the meal.  Preparation in this verse is expressed as a desire to get your house in order so that the guest does not feel unwelcome.  The Lord is, indeed, a Guest:  "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me." (Rev. 3:20)

2. Furrows, be glad! Though earth is bare, / one more seed is planted there.
Give up your strength, the seed to nourish, / that in course the flower may flourish.
People, look East and sing today: / Love, the Rose, is on the way.

A furrow is a groove or trench in dirt, the kind that would result from plowing the soil.  Furrows are dug, seeds or bulbs are planted in them, and then the dirt is raked over to cover what has been planted.  These furrows have perhaps been abandoned for some time, or maybe they just have not produced well; but yet one more seed is planted in them.  The soil, then, should "give up [its] strength" to nourish that seed so that the flower may grow.  The preparation here calls for holding nothing back.  The Lord is a Rose:  "Lo, how a rose e'er-blooming from tender stem hath sprung," says the German hymn.  Jesus is the bud springing forth from the shoot of the stump of Jesse, as we will hear on the Second Sunday of Advent. (cf. Isaiah 11:1-10)

3. Birds, though you long have ceased to build, / guard the nest that must be filled.
Even the hour when wings are frozen / He for fledging time has chosen.
People, look East and sing today: / Love, the Bird, is on the way.

The nest is built before the eggs are laid. The building of a nest is more industrious task than staying put and guarding eggs.  But preparation for the hatchling requires both the labor and the waiting.  And the hour when the egg will hatch may be the least expected — or desired — hour, but it is the one God has chosen.  Our preparation requires self-sacrifice and enduring hardships for the sake of the beloved.  Medieval minds associated Jesus with the pelican (Pie pellicane, the pellican-in-her-piety), which was believed to pierce her own breast to feed her young on her own blood when food was scarce.

4. Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim / one more light the bowl shall brim,
Shining beyond the frosty weather, / bright as sun and moon together.
People, look East and sing today: / Love, the Star, is on the way.

Stars are the sentinels of the sky, "keep[ing] the watch."  They must shine the brighter as the night grows darker.  Yet in the cold and dark of night shall come one more light, a light brighter than both sun and moon together, which "shall brim" "the bowl"; that is, it will cause "the bowl" of the heavens to be filled to the brim with its light.  The stars teach us the need to be watchful in our waiting and preparing.  The Lord is the "star [which] shall come forth out of Jacob" (Num. 24:17) Who was signaled by another star appearing in the heavens which led the Magi to Him. (cf. Matt. 2:2)  He is the "bright" "morning star" Who brings the day. (2 Pet. 1:19; Rev. 2:28; 22:16)

5. Angels, announce on this great feast / Him Who cometh from the East.*
Set ev'ry peak and valley humming / with the word: "The Lord is coming!"
People, look East and sing today: / Love, the Lord, is on the way.

The great feast is that of Christmas, of course, the Nativity of our Lord.  The hymn's repeated call to "look East" is explained here:  the Lord "cometh from the East."  His star rose in the East (cf. Matt. 2:2), and He announced His coming to be like lightning which "comes from the east and shines as far as the west." (Matt. 24:27)  The Lord ascended into Heaven from Mt. Olivet, a "sabbath day's journey" to the East of Jerusalem, and the angels told the Apostles that He would return "in the same way." (Acts 1:9-12)  The angels repeat the message of the prophets, especially Isaiah and John the Baptist.  Every peak and valley should be stirring with that message, "The Lord is coming."  Every peak should be humbled by it, and every valley should be filled with it.  We too are angels, messengers, and we should announce the coming of the Lord, not only on the approaching feast of Christmas, but on every Lord's day, and on every day the Lord graces us with breath and life.

The word "Advent" comes from the Latin adventus ("an arrival, a coming"), from advenire (ad- + venire, "to come to").  Until the One is coming arrives, we are waiting.  But our waiting is not a sit-on-our-hands sort of waiting; it is an active and lively waiting.  Advent is a time of preparation, and I think this hymn presents this theme very well.

Our spiritual houses should be put in order to receive the Lord worthily.  We should rejoice despite whatever spiritual barrenness we may be suffering, and so nurture with all our energies the gift of grace which has been planted in us.  We should brave the cold and dark nights of our souls, being willing to endure sacrifices for the sake of our Lord, Who bore such great burdens for us.  We should stay awake and keep watch; we should remain vigilant, for we know not the hour nor the day of the Lord's return.  And we should not neglect our duty as messengers of our Lord to proclaim His coming in every peak and valley of our lives.

Maranatha!  Come, Lord Jesus!

* Alternate wording: "Angels, announce with shouts of mirth Christ who brings new life to earth" and "Angels, announce to man and beast Him who cometh from the east".

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Crisis with the Roman Missal: 2010 text looking terrible

I'll get right to the point.  The 2008 English translation of the Roman Missal looked very good, very promising.

The 2010 text, on the other hand, looks atrocious.  It is full of errors and oddities and other problems that just make it ugly and stilted.  Please, please, please give us back the 2008 translation.  The 2010 text is going to result in an absolute disaster.  Eyes (and heads) will roll.

Important Update:  the linked text is from April.  It is not the final revised version of the text that we are eagerly awaiting.  But it goes to show you what sort of translation was approved for use back in 2010!  How did it get such approval with all these serious shortcomings?!

Lord almighty, help us out here!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"Action items" for the faithful from Verbum Domini

Our Holy Father encourages us to many things in Verbum Domini. Here is a selection of them, most of which were found by searching for the word fragment "encourag" in the text:

I encourage all the faithful to renew their personal and communal encounter with Christ, the word of life made visible, and to become his heralds, so that the gift of divine life – communion – can spread ever more fully throughout the world. (VD 2)

The faithful need to be better helped to grasp the different meanings of the expression, but also to understand its unitary sense. (VD 7)

It is important that the faithful be taught to acknowledge that the root of sin lies in the refusal to hear the word of the Lord, and to accept in Jesus, the Word of God, the forgiveness which opens us to salvation. (VD 26)

In our day the faithful need to be helped to see more clearly the link between Mary of Nazareth and the faith-filled hearing of God's word. I would encourage scholars as well to study the relationship between Mariology and the theology of the word. (VD 27)

I encourage scholars and pastors to help all the faithful to approach these [difficult] passages through an interpretation which enables their meaning to emerge in the light of the mystery of Christ. (VD 42)

Promoting common translations of the Bible is part of the ecumenical enterprise. I would like to thank all those engaged in this important work, and I encourage them to persevere in their efforts. (VD 46)

I encourage the Church's Pastors and all engaged in pastoral work to see that all the faithful learn to savour the deep meaning of the word of God which unfolds each year in the liturgy, revealing the fundamental mysteries of our faith. (VD 52)

To have a deeper experience of the reconciling power of God's word, the individual penitent should be encouraged to prepare for confession by meditating on a suitable text of sacred Scripture and to begin confession by reading or listening to a biblical exhortation such as those provided in the rite. (VD 61)

I also encourage communities of consecrated life to be exemplary in the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, and thus to become a point of reference and an inspiration for the spiritual and pastoral life of the whole Church. (VD 62)

The Synod Fathers encouraged all pastors to promote times devoted to the celebration of the word in the communities entrusted to their care. (VD 65)

I encourage Pastors to foster moments of recollection whereby, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, the word of God can find a welcome in our hearts. (VD 66)

I encourage our Christian communities to offer every possible practical assistance to our brothers and sisters suffering from [seeing and hearing] impairments, so that they too can be able to experience a living contact with the word of the Lord. (VD 71)

I encourage pastors and the faithful to recognize the importance of [making the Bible the inspiration of every ordinary and extraordinary pastoral outreach]: it will also be the best way to deal with certain pastoral problems which were discussed at the Synod and have to do, for example, with the proliferation of sects which spread a distorted and manipulative reading of sacred Scripture. (VD 73)

The General Catechetical Directory contains valuable guidelines for a biblically inspired catechesis and I readily encourage that these be consulted. (VD 74)

A knowledge of biblical personages, events and well-known sayings should thus be encouraged; this can also be promoted by the judicious memorization of some passages which are particularly expressive of the Christian mysteries. (VD 74)

The Synod frequently encouraged all Christians to grow in their relationship with the word of God, not only because of their Baptism, but also in accordance with their call to various states in life. (VD 77)

Mindful of the inseparable bond between the word of God and Mary of Nazareth, along with the Synod Fathers I urge that Marian prayer be encouraged among the faithful, above all in life of families, since it is an aid to meditating on the holy mysteries found in the Scriptures. (VD 88)

The Synod also recommended that the faithful be encouraged to pray the Angelus. (VD 88)

As we proclaim the Gospel, let us encourage one another to do good and to commit ourselves to justice, reconciliation and peace. (VD 99)

I therefore encourage the faithful to meditate often on the Apostle Paul's hymn to charity [1 Cor. 13] and to draw inspiration from it. (VD 103)

I encourage the competent offices and groups to promote in the Church a solid formation of artists with regard to sacred Scripture in the light of the Church's living Tradition and her magisterium. (VD 112)

During the Synod, it was clear that a number of local Churches still lack a complete translation of the Bible in their own languages. ... I would encourage the investment of resources in this area. (VD 115)

The Synod asked Conferences of Bishops, wherever it is appropriate and helpful, to encourage meetings aimed at helping Christians and Muslims to come to better knowledge of one another, in order to promote the values which society needs for a peaceful and positive coexistence. (VD 118)

I wish once more to encourage all the People of God, pastors, consecrated persons and the laity, to become increasingly familiar with the sacred Scriptures. (VD 121)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Verbum Domini — "The God Who Speaks" (6-14)

This is the second installment of my commentary on Pope Benedict's post-synodal apostolic exhortation on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church, Verbum Domini (which you can download here). This covers Part One, Section One (Verbum Dei: The God Who Speaks, paragraphs 6-21); this particular post addresses paragraphs 6-14.

The God of the Universe is a God Who speaks: He does not simply place some clues scattered throughout time and space, He actively speaks in — and to — His creation. He reveals Himself to His people through His Word, the Logos, Who is uncreated, God from God. This revelation is a dialogue within God, Who is a Trinity of Persons, as well as a dialogue with humanity. "God makes himself known to us as a mystery of infinite love in which the Father eternally utters his Word in the Holy Spirit. Consequently the Word, who from the beginning is with God and is God, reveals God himself in the dialogue of love between the divine persons, and invites us to share in that love." (VD 6)

The expression "the word of God" can be understood in many ways; I quote paragraph 7 in its entirety (with my own emphases).
The analogy of the word of God

In the light of these considerations, born of meditation on the Christian mystery expressed in the Prologue of John, we now need to consider what the Synod Fathers affirmed about the different ways in which we speak of "the word of God". They rightly referred to a symphony of the word, to a single word expressed in multiple ways: "a polyphonic hymn". The Synod Fathers pointed out that human language operates analogically in speaking of the word of God. In effect, this expression, while referring to God's self-communication, also takes on a number of different meanings which need to be carefully considered and related among themselves, from the standpoint both of theological reflection and pastoral practice. As the Prologue of John clearly shows us, the Logos refers in the first place to the eternal Word, the only Son, begotten of the Father before all ages and consubstantial with him: the word was with God, and the word was God. But this same Word, Saint John tells us, "became flesh" ( Jn 1:14); hence Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, is truly the Word of God who has become consubstantial with us. Thus the expression "word of God" here refers to the person of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the Father, made man.

While the Christ event is at the heart of divine revelation, we also need to realize that creation itself, the liber naturae, is an essential part of this symphony of many voices in which the one word is spoken. We also profess our faith that God has spoken his word in salvation history; he has made his voice heard; by the power of his Spirit "he has spoken through the prophets". God's word is thus spoken throughout the history of salvation, and most fully in the mystery of the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Son of God. Then too, the word of God is that word preached by the Apostles in obedience to the command of the Risen Jesus: "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation" (Mk 16:15). The word of God is thus handed on in the Church's living Tradition. Finally, the word of God, attested and divinely inspired, is sacred Scripture, the Old and New Testaments. All this helps us to see that, while in the Church we greatly venerate the sacred Scriptures, the Christian faith is not a "religion of the book": Christianity is the "religion of the word of God", not of "a written and mute word, but of the incarnate and living Word". Consequently the Scripture is to be proclaimed, heard, read, received and experienced as the word of God, in the stream of the apostolic Tradition from which it is inseparable.

As the Synod Fathers stated, the expression "word of God" is used analogically, and we should be aware of this. The faithful need to be better helped to grasp the different meanings of the expression, but also to understand its unitary sense. From the theological standpoint too, there is a need for further study of how the different meanings of this expression are interrelated, so that the unity of God's plan and, within it, the centrality of the person of Christ, may shine forth more clearly.
There is a great deal to meditate upon when we consider the ways in which that Word has been communicated to mankind throughout history. However, we must caution against considering all religions as genuine receptions and interpretations of that Word.

Because "[c]reation is born of the Logos" it "indelibly bears the mark of the creative Reason which orders and directs it." (VD 8) Thus the cosmos is an echo of the Word of God; as St. Bonaventure says, "every creature is a word of God, since it proclaims God." (VD 8) This relationship between creation and the Word centers on the creation of man: "Contemplating the cosmos from the perspective of salvation history, we come to realize the unique and singular position occupied by man in creation." (VD 9) Or, to put it more astonishingly: "human salvation is the reason underlying everything." (VD 9) One consequence of this is that the Word of God has been made present in the "natural law" written on the human heart: "Listening to the word of God leads us first and foremost to value the need to live in accordance with this law 'written on human hearts' (cf. Rom 2:15; 7:23). Jesus Christ then gives mankind the new law, the law of the Gospel, which takes up and eminently fulfils the natural law, setting us free from the law of sin..." (VD 9)

[At this point, I think it's worthwhile to comment on the sheer number of scriptural references made in this document, more than in any other document I can recall reading. There are over 240!]

For the one who recognizes the presence of the Word of God in creation, each creature is seen as a precious creation of God: "Those who know God's word also know fully the significance of each creature." (VD 10) At the same time, we are called to recognize that creatures are just that: creatures, not the Creator. "[T]he realist is the one who recognizes in the word of God the foundation of all things. This realism is particularly needed in our own time, when many things in which we trust for building our lives, things in which we are tempted to put our hopes, prove ephemeral." (VD 10) Thus these creations, because they are less than their Creator, are "incapable of fulfilling the deepest yearnings of the human heart." (VD 10)

Having looked at the Word in creation, and then specifically in the creation of Man, we now consider the Word in its Christological context. Paragraph 11 begins by quoting the opening of the letter to the Hebrews: "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world." (Heb. 1:1-2) It is affirmed, then, that "the entire Old Testament already appears to us as a history in which God communicates his word." (VD 11) This communication from God is seamless from the Old to the New Testament, because the Word becomes flesh in Jesus Christ, whose "unique and singular history is the definitive word which God speaks to humanity." (VD 11)

[Here, Pope Benedict quotes Deus Caritas Est 1, that "Being Christian is [the result of] the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction," just as I had in my previous post. I quoted DCE without having read this far in the document, so it's a small delight to me to able to draw a connection that the Holy Father drew as well!]

The faith of the apostles teaches us that "the eternal Word became one of us. The divine Word is truly expressed in human words." (VD 11) In the patristic and medieval tradition, this act of condescension was called the "abbrevation" of the Word, a rather clever play on words... pun intended! Benedict quotes from his homily of December 24, 2006:
"The Fathers of the Church found in their Greek translation of the Old Testament a passage from the prophet Isaiah that Saint Paul also quotes in order to show how God's new ways had already been foretold in the Old Testament. There we read: 'The Lord made his word short, he abbreviated it.' (Is 10:23; Rom 9:28) ... The Son himself is the Word, the Logos: the eternal word became small – small enough to fit into a manger. He became a child, so that the word could be grasped by us." (VD 12)
In Jesus, the Word was expressed in "perfect humanity" and perfect obedience to the will of the Father. (VD 12) This Word goes to the extreme of becoming "muted" in the crucifixion: "Jesus' mission is ultimately fulfilled in the paschal mystery: here we find ourselves before the 'word of the cross' (1 Cor 1:18). The word is muted; it becomes mortal silence, for it has 'spoken' exhaustively, holding back nothing of what it had to tell us." (VD 12) This silencing of the Word is then given its "authentic and definitive meaning" in the "most luminous mystery of the resurrection." (VD 12) So it is in the Paschal mystery that "the unity of the divine plan" is made clear: the New Testament repeatedly asserts that the Paschal mystery is accomplished "in accordance with the Scriptures." (VD 13)

Because Jesus is the Word incarnate, He is "the culmination of revelation [and] the fulfilment of God's promises." (VD 14) This means that "the Christian dispensation, since it is the new and definitive covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ." (VD 14, quoting Dei Verbum 4) Benedict quotes the same passage from St. John of the Cross that Fr. Corapi quotes often as well: "Since he has given us his Son, his only word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything at once in this sole word – and he has no more to say... because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has spoken all at once by giving us this All who is his Son." (VD 14)

Pope Benedict then provides some helpful guidelines for the reception and application of private revelation, which I quote in full with my emphases:
Consequently the Synod pointed to the need to "help the faithful to distinguish the word of God from private revelations" whose role "is not to 'complete' Christ's definitive revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history". The value of private revelations is essentially different from that of the one public revelation: the latter demands faith; in it God himself speaks to us through human words and the mediation of the living community of the Church. The criterion for judging the truth of a private revelation is its orientation to Christ himself. If it leads us away from him, then it certainly does not come from the Holy Spirit, who guides us more deeply into the Gospel, and not away from it. Private revelation is an aid to this faith, and it demonstrates its credibility precisely because it refers back to the one public revelation. Ecclesiastical approval of a private revelation essentially means that its message contains nothing contrary to faith and morals; it is licit to make it public and the faithful are authorized to give to it their prudent adhesion. A private revelation can introduce new emphases, give rise to new forms of piety, or deepen older ones. It can have a certain prophetic character (cf. 1 Th 5:19-21) and can be a valuable aid for better understanding and living the Gospel at a certain time; consequently it should not be treated lightly. It is a help which is proffered, but its use is not obligatory. In any event, it must be a matter of nourishing faith, hope and love, which are for everyone the permanent path of salvation. (VD 14)
The next post in this series will complete looking at "The God Who Speaks", paragraphs 15-22.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pope Benedict on the liturgy's symbolism

In the technological culture of today, the Gospel is the guide and the permanent paradigm of inculturation, purifying, healing and elevating the better elements of the new languages and new forms of communication. For this difficult and fascinating task, the Church can draw on the extraordinary patrimony of symbols, images, rites and gestures of her tradition. In particular, the rich and dense symbolism of the liturgy must shine forth in all its power as a communicative element, to the point of deeply touching the human conscience, heart and intellect. The Christian tradition has always been closely linked to the liturgy and to the language of art, the beauty of which has its special communicative power. (ZENIT)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Verbum Domini — Introduction (1-5)

This is the first installment of my commentary on Pope Benedict's post-synodal apostolic exhortation on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church, Verbum Domini (which you can download here). This covers the introduction (paragraphs 1-5).

The opening sentences are worth quoting verbatim (pun certainly intended!).
"The word of the Lord abides for ever. This word is the Gospel which was preached to you." (1 Pet 1:25; cf. Is 40:8) With this assertion from the First Letter of Saint Peter, which takes up the words of the Prophet Isaiah, we find ourselves before the mystery of God, who has made himself known through the gift of his word. This word, which abides for ever, entered into time. God spoke his eternal Word humanly; his Word "became flesh." (Jn 1:14) This is the good news. This is the proclamation which has come down the centuries to us today. (Verbum Domini [VD] 1)
This certainly sets the tone for the whole document. Benedict is writing to us about the good news, the Word-made-flesh, Who abides forever.

For those of us — myself included — who aren't aware just how much work goes into these bishops' synods, Benedict lists the documents he will be revisiting in his exhortation:
the Lineamenta, the Instrumentum Laboris, the Relationes ante and post disceptationem, the texts of the interventions, both those delivered on the Synod floor and those presented in written form, the reports of the smaller discussion groups, the Final Message to the People of God and, above all, a number of specific proposals (Propositiones) which the Fathers considered especially significant. (VD 1)
The purpose of the exhortation is "to point out certain fundamental approaches to a rediscovery of God's word in the life of the Church as a wellspring of constant renewal" so that "the word will be ever more fully at the heart of every ecclesial activity." (VD 1)

Then the Holy Father quotes the beginning of St. John's first epistle, drawing attention to the direct contact the Apostles had with the Word of life, and their desire to bring others into fellowship — that is, communion — with that Word Who is Jesus, and with His Father. We have had contact with that Word, too: "Being Christian is [the result of] the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction." (Deus Caritas Est [DCE] 1) We must renew this encounter with Christ and be His heralds so that this gift of communion with God can be spread throughout the earth. It is "the Church's gift and unescapable duty to communicate that joy" which is sharing in the God's divine life, since God alone has "the words of eternal life." (VD 2; John 6:68)

Benedict considers the Church's journey with the Word since Vatican II's Dei Verbum. The previous Synod's theme was "The Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church's Life and Mission," and this theme naturally led to the Synod on the Word of God: "the Church is built upon the word of God; she is born from and lives by that word." (VD 3) The faithful draw strength from the Scriptures, growing by hearing, celebrating, and studying them. He notes the increase in Catholic biblical studies in ecclesial (not merely academic) life over the past few decades. The Catholic Commentary on Scripture, the Ignatius Study Bible series, and of course the Great Adventure Bible Timeline come to my mind as excellent examples of this. The years between Vatican II and this Synod
have also witnessed a growing awareness of the "trinitarian and salvation-historical horizon of revelation" against which Jesus Christ is to be acknowledged as "mediator and fullness of all revelation." (VD 3)
The Church continually preaches Christ as "completed and perfected revelation" to every generation. (VD 3) The Synod was called "to review the implementation of the [Second Vatican] Council's directives [regarding the Word of God], and to confront the new challenges which the present time sets before Christian believers." (VD 3)

At this point, I think I found an error in a footnote. It is said that "In the last forty years, the Church's magisterium has also issued numerous statements on" questions pertaining to revelation and Scripture. (VD 3) A footnote lists Pope Paul VI's Summa Dei Verbum by mistake, I think — while this document's title includes "Dei Verbum" in it, it is about seminaries; it does not mention "Scripture" nor "Bible" at all, only "Biblical" once. I think an overzealous researcher for magisterial pronouncements included this one without vetting it first!

In paragraph 4, His Holiness makes an important note about the way in which the Scriptures must be read: "we can deepen our relationship with the word of God only within the 'we' of the Church, in mutual listening and acceptance." (VD 4) Put another way, the Scriptures must be read in the Church, that is, from within the Tradition of the Church. That being said, he also drew attention to the participation by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, and by a rabbi who offered "a precious witness on the Hebrew Scriptures." (VD 4) With these perspectives, there is also "an ongoing Pentecost" in the Church today: "various peoples are still waiting for the word of God to be proclaimed in their own language and in their own culture." (VD 4)

This emphasis on evangelization brings to mind St. Paul, whose year was being celebrated during the Synod:
Paul's life was completely marked by his zeal for the spread of God's word. How can we not be moved by his stirring words about his mission as a preacher of the word of God: "I do everything for the Gospel" (1 Cor 9:23); or, as he writes in the Letter to the Romans: "I am not ashamed of the Gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith." (1:16) Whenever we reflect on the word of God in the life and mission of the Church, we cannot but think of Saint Paul and his life spent in spreading the message of salvation in Christ to all peoples.
Finally, the pope reiterates his desire that the fruits of the Synod's labor "have a real effect on the life of the Church: on our personal relationship with the sacred Scriptures, on their interpretation in the liturgy and catechesis, and in scientific research, so that the Bible may not be simply a word from the past, but a living and timely word." (VD 5)

The three parts of his exhortation follow the prologue of St. John's Gospel (John 1:1-14), "a magnificent text [...] which offers a synthesis of the entire Christian faith." (VD 5) These three parts are Verbum Dei (The Word of God), Verbum in Ecclesia (The Word in the Church), and Verbum Mundo (The Word to the World).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Verbum Domini — Plain Text and MS Word

Here are links to three versions of Verbum Domini.  They're smaller in page-count than the 208-page PDF!
  1. Plain text
  2. MS Word (letter, 58 pages)
  3. MS Word (folio, 84 pages)
These documents do not differ from the original English PDF, except for formatting, and the exclusion of the Index from the end of the document. In the MS Word documents, the footnotes included as actual footnotes; in the plain-text document, they are endnotes.

Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhoratation Verbum Domini due today!

Pope Benedict is expected to publish his second Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation today. His first was Sacramentum Caritatis, following the Synod on the Eucharist; this one is Verbum Domini, following the Synod on the Word of God.

Dr. Brant Pitre has the same concern I do:
Some have speculated that the delay is tied to the debate over inerrancy and interpretation that took place during the synod; I have no way of verifying or falsifying that, but it will be interesting to see whether the exhortation addresses it, since Proposition 12 from the bishops requested clarification on “the inspiration and truth” of Scripture. Will Benedict give it in this exhortation? We’ll find out.
For those of you who had not followed the Synod's proceedings, there was a garish statement made in the instrumentum laboris (the "working document") that "with regards to what might be inspired in the many parts of Sacred Scripture, inerrancy applies only to 'that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation' (DV 11)." (15c) That needs to be answered by the Pope!

Update (9:30 am) — Around noon, Vatican time, the document was released, as reported by this Vatican press release.  Apparently, it's been released as a PDF.  Normally, I would say, that's cool.  But the English text is a 208-page PDF with a large font-size.  Not cool.  The Latin PDF is 150 pages; still crazy.  I'd prefer the HTML version so I can copy the text and format it in a Word document that doesn't require 100+ sheets of paper!

Update (3:09 pm) — I've produced three versions (one plain-text, two MS Word) of Verbum Domini in place of the 208-page PDF.  You can download them here.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Augustine on catechesis (1-6)

As I read St. Augustine's De Catechizandis Rudibus (DCR), I'm going to share some highlights and my commentary with you, faithful reader!

First, a bit of context about this document. A deacon in Carthage named — get this — Deogratis had asked St. Augustine to "send [him] in writing something which might be of service to [him] in the matter of catechising the uninstructed." Deogratias had "the reputation of possessing a rich gift in catechising, due at once to an intimate acquaintance with the faith, and to an attractive method of discourse." But he expressed some reservations to Augustine "regarding the point at which our statement of [some Christian doctrine] ought to commence, and the limit to which it should be allowed to proceed" and whether catechists "ought to make use of any kind of exhortation, or simply specify those precepts in the observance of which the person to whom [they] are discoursing may know the Christian life and profession to be maintained." Deogratias was also doubtful how he can be profitable to his audience if, during a long address, he seems "profitless and distasteful" even to himself! (DCR 1)

So Augustine gladly takes up the task of responding to Deogratias. (DCR 2) First, he lets Deogratias know that it is possible for a speech to be profitable to an audience and yet seem distasteful to the one speaking it. (DCR 3-4) Then Augustine tells him about the manner of "narration" to use in catechesis:
5. The narration is full when each person is catechised in the first instance from what is written in the text, In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth, on to the present times of the Church. This does not imply, however, either that we ought to repeat by memory the entire Pentateuch, and the entire Books of Judges, and Kings, and Esdras, and the entire Gospel and Acts of the Apostles, if we have learned all these word for word; or that we should put all the matters which are contained in these volumes into our own words, and in that manner unfold and expound them as a whole. For neither does the time admit of that, nor does any necessity demand it.

But what we ought to do is to give a comprehensive statement of all things, summarily and generally, so that certain of the more wonderful facts may be selected which are listened to with superior gratification, and which have been ranked so remarkably among the exact turning-points (of the history); that, instead of exhibiting them to view only in their wrappings, if we may so speak, and then instantly snatching them from our sight, we ought to dwell on them for a certain space, and thus, as it were, unfold them and open them out to vision, and present them to the minds of the hearers as things to be examined and admired. But as for all other details, these should be passed over rapidly, and thus far introduced and woven into the narrative. The effect of pursuing this plan is, that the particular facts which we wish to see specially commended to attention obtain greater prominence in consequence of the others being made to yield to them; while, at the same time, neither does the learner, whose interest we are anxious to stimulate by our statement, come to these subjects with a mind already exhausted, nor is confusion induced upon the memory of the person whom we ought to be instructing by our teaching.
This sounds a bit like the Great Adventure Bible Timeline, which follows fourteen books of the Bible that provide a constant narrative, dwelling on major events (especially the establishing of covenants) in those books, while letting you know where the other books fit into the big picture.

Augustine then goes to talk about the attitude of the catechist, which should be one of charity, and how the charity of God — expressed in the preparation for the advent of His Son and its realization in the Incarnation — is the necessary lens through which all the Scriptures must be read:
6. In all things, indeed, not only ought our own eye to be kept fixed upon the end of the commandment, which is charity, out of a pure heart, and a good conscience, and faith unfeigned, to which we should make all that we utter refer; but in like manner ought the gaze of the person whom we are instructing by our utterance to be moved toward the same, and guided in that direction.

And, in truth, for no other reason were all those things which we read in the Holy Scriptures written, previous to the Lord's advent, but for this—namely, that His advent might be pressed upon the attention, and that the Church which was to be, should be intimated beforehand, that is to say, the people of God throughout all nations; which Church is His body, wherewith also are united and numbered all the saints who lived in this world, even before His advent, and who believed then in His future coming, just as we believe in His past coming.
Now Augustine interprets the birth of Jacob as a type of salvation history! This is an amazing exercise in biblical typology:
For (to use an illustration) Jacob, at the time when he was being born, first put forth from the womb a hand, with which also he held the foot of the brother who was taking priority of him in the act of birth; and next indeed the head followed, and thereafter, at last, and as matter of course, the rest of the members: while, nevertheless the head in point of dignity and power has precedence, not only of those members which followed it then, but also of the very hand which anticipated it in the process of the birth, and is really the first, although not in the matter of the time of appearing, at least in the order of nature.

And in an analogous manner, the Lord Jesus Christ, previous to His appearing in the flesh, and coming forth in a certain manner out of the womb of His secrecy, before the eyes of men as Man, the Mediator between God and men, who is over all, God blessed for ever, sent before Him, in the person of the holy patriarchs and prophets, a certain portion of His body, wherewith, as by a hand, He gave token beforetime of His own approaching birth, and also supplanted the people who were prior to Him in their pride, using for that purpose the bonds of the law, as if they were His five fingers. For through five epochs of times there was no cessation in the foretelling and prophesying of His own destined coming; and in a manner consonant with this, he through whom the law was given wrote five books; and proud men, who were carnally minded, and sought to establish their own righteousness, were not filled with blessing by the open hand of Christ, but were debarred from such good by the hand compressed and closed; and therefore their feet were tied, and they fell, while we are risen, and stand upright.

But although, as I have said, the Lord Christ did thus send before Him a certain portion of His body, in the person of those holy men who came before Him as regards the time of birth, nevertheless He is Himself the Head of the body, the Church, and all these have been attached to that same body of which He is the head, in virtue of their believing in Him whom they announced prophetically. For they were not sundered (from that body) in consequence of fulfilling their course before Him, but rather were they made one with the same by reason of their obedience. For although the hand may be put forward away before the head, still it has its connection beneath the head.

Wherefore all things which were written aforetime were written in order that we might be taught thereby, and were our figures, and happened in a figure in the case of these men. Moreover they were written for our sakes, upon whom the end of the ages has come.
Brilliant!  Of course, it's not the only interpretation of Jacob's birth, but it's an interpretation which treats of all Scripture and salvation history as a whole, and which serves to illustrate Augustine's point that all that is written in the Bible about the time before Christ's advent is meant to point to it and prepare us for it.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

On memorization in catechesis

Yesterday, Rich Leonardi at Ten Reasons posted a quote from Ven. Pope John Paul II's 1979 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae.  It emphasized the importance of memorization in the building up of our Catholic faith.
A certain memorization of the words of Jesus, of important Bible passages, of the Ten Commandments, of the formulas of profession of the faith, of the liturgical texts, of the essential prayers, of key doctrinal ideas, etc., far from being opposed to the dignity of young Christians, or constituting an obstacle to personal dialogue with the Lord, is a real need, as the synod fathers forcefully recalled. We must be realists. The blossoms, if we may call them that, of faith and piety do not grow in the desert places of a memory-less catechesis.
Believe it or not, I haven't read this document!  It's one I should, though, given its subject matter. But I've decided, first, to read St. Augustine's work De Catechezandis Rudibus.