Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Word of God

One of the great things VII wanted to do was to open up the scriptures to the Church, perhaps mindful of Jeromes: Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ. The vision of the Council Fathers was that we should ber immersed in scripture, it should dominate our life, be the basis of our prayer and the source of the charity and social action in the life of he Church but ultimately because it is Life giving. The vision of those who voted placet to Sacrosanctum Concillium was a new generation of scripture hungry Christians, eager and hungry for the Word of God because it is the Word of God.

The problem is it hasn't really worked, the bored faces as the scriptures are read, the lack of knowledge even of the Gospels or of key Old Testament stories suggest not just a failure but that we are possibly worse of than we were before the Council. At least before because of the richness of our devotions to the person of Jesus we might have been able to say to Protestants: you know scripture but we know Christ.

Today we have the scriptures in the vernacular but I suspect that is part of the problem. For many lay people and clergy too there is  too much detail. So much detail in fact that there is failure to communicate that what is being proclaimed is indeed the Word of God. At least in the Extraordinary Form, at High Mass, the ceremonies, the chants, the movement away from the altar, the lights and the smoke of incense at the Gospel, at least signified that some kind of theophany was taken place, that the "Word of God" was being proclaimed. Now, though we hear and can understand the words, it is very easy to forget what is actually happening. It is not apparent that God is speaking, the Word himself is being made present: sensible, hearable amongst us.
I might be wrong but I think our big problem is we have lost a sense that scripture is actually "The Word of the Lord", the utterance of God himself, in the case of the Gospel the direct speech of the Incarnate Word made present in the Church. Perhaps this failure is one important reason for our lack of "Gospel hunger". The details, the actual teaching, obscure the fact that God communicates, that he is Emmanuel, God amongst us.
The basic catechesis of the Extraordinary Form was: God speaks, whereas the Ordinary Form seems more about the details of the teaching - a difference between the wood and the trees, the presence of the speaker and his speech.

In both Catholic and non-Catholic catechesis the obscuring of this simple strain that the Word of God is indeed God's Word is really very problematic because it transforms the very nature of Christianity from being about a relationship with the Trinity to a set of moral precepts. The intention of the older Form was not to obscure the actual text of scripture, though the lack of amplification, the use of a sacral language might well have done this but its real thrust was to reveal God. The newer Form opens up scripture but the tendency has been to see the words as being more important than the idea of the Word.

I find it strange that in the older Form of the Mass I am content to be silent, in the newer Form I feel a compulsion to preach, I normally do it only once, some priests seem to what to do it all through Mass.
Sometimes I wonder whether preaching actually obscures God's Word rather reveals it. Catholics understand scripture as being of itself as "alive and active" but I suspect it can only be that if we have sense of that "awe" which the liturgy so often speaks of, that God actually speaks to us.

As a footnote there is an excellent piece here by Fr Christopher Smith in which he says of the Homily: 
Often Catholics think of preaching as the homily which explains the readings at Mass. Priests attempt to explain what the readings mean. Often they will ignore one or more of the readings appointed for any given day because he can find no obvious connection between them, or he forces a connection between them all. Each Sunday is seen as a discrete unit all to itself, and no attempt is made to set the appointed readings in the context of the other readings in previous or subsequent Sundays. He also attempts to do all of this in five or at most ten minutes. He might tell a joke or share a story, but because it is in Mass, he will generally respect the formal nature of the homily as a part of the Mass. And he will almost never preach outside of Mass.

I content that this situation is an unintended byproduct of Vatican II. Before Vatican II, the homily was not considered a part of the Mass. In fact, it was not considered essential, even on Sundays, although warmly encouraged. In some places, the priest took off, not only the maniple but also the chasuble, as a cue that this sermon was not a part of the Mass. But what has happened is that, the emphasis on the homily as an integral part of the Mass has led some priests to limit their preaching to Mass. It also has led many priests to preach when they probably should have not, because of illness, lack of preparation, lack of knowledge, or just plain lack of ability to speak clearly and properly.
He also suggests that there are other areas where teaching can be done and where the Word can be heard, including the Office and Lectio Divina. I am not arguing for less scripture but a richer appreciation of what it actually is and asking how we create the hunger that Fr Smith describes.


Lady.Rosary said...

It's never an easy task to get the whole community engaged while reading the scripture which is why we have a lot of priests who make their homilies much more fun, interesting and sometimes funny. But as Catholics, we must build the foundation for our kids to stay appreciative of the scripture from the home to the school.

Thomas Windsor said...

I too can find nothing special about the Vernacular Scriptures. There are far too many different translations in English, and too many of the modern ones show the political bias of the translator(s).

Also seeing women with uncovered heads reading St. Paul in Church does not help.

At least with the Vulgate in the Traditional Mass we know the words to be the inerrant Word of God.

Kate said...

I think it's important to have scriptures proclaimed in the vernacular by properly trained lay readers. I have heard many lay readers who do not so much proclaim the scriptures as mumble them, and that is a problem. I have also heard lots of rubbish, unedifying and disorganised homilies in my time, and I don't think priests generally give enough attention to them. I think seminarians should be well-trained in writing and speaking, as this is an important part of their evangelistic mission.

The homily is vital, as it's the only direct teaching some people get (at least until they can be inspired to further involve themselves in the community). And if it's done well, it can be a powerful tool.

GOR said...

I have often thought that tying the homily to the Readings while well-intentioned, was mistaken. I agree that few priests do it well and sometimes it can be difficult to find a common thread. But making it de rigueur was, I feel, too limiting. It used to be – many years ago in Ireland, at least – that the Truths of the Faith would be preached systematically over a period of two or three years. This served to reinforce what people had learned in their catechisms - and probably had never gone beyond after leaving school. Post-Vat II that was lost and people are the poorer for it.

Another aspect militating against understanding Scripture has been the proliferation of translations – from the very literal, to the ‘sense’ of the words, to the ‘gender neutral’ versions. This obscured so many truths found in scriptural phrases and expressions that we had been used to for generations. Even the Devil might have trouble quoting scripture today!

Like the hearers of Our Lord and the Apostles, we do need someone – i.e. the Church - to interpret the meaning of parts of scripture. Otherwise you have the situation in the Protestant world of everyone following his own interpretation. But, attempting to accomplish that in 5 – 10 minutes during Sunday Mass is probably not the best way to proceed.

Anita Moore said...

The first time I ever really saw (and heard) the oneness of Christ and his priest was at Missa Cantata at Pentecost, when the priest was chanting the Gospel and I was following the Latin text in my missal. I did not see anything except Father, or hear anything except Father's voice; and yet it was not his voice. And the words were Christ's, but also, in some way, Father's. It was a sort of window on how the priest is really alter Christus, in spite of his frailties. I can't really describe the experience so as to do it justice. I have never experienced it in the new Mass, at least during the Gospel.

Incidentally, I suspect part of the problem today is the huge variety of readings now at Mass, and also in the Divine Office with the four-week cycle. Repetition of a small set of readings gives rise to familiarity, and makes them more a part of our lives. Now our familiarity with the Scriptures is broader, but also shallower.

nickbris said...

Does this all mean that we should learn Latin ?

I always thought that four Popes over a perion of years worked out what was best for the Church as a whole.

The way forward was thought to be to read the scripture in the vernacular and then for the first time in our lives we would understand and get interested in proceedings instead of just being there to fulfil obligations.

Now that RE has taken second or last place in schools it must be better to be instructed at Mass.

I shall have to spend rest of my life reading out the Nicene Creed as I am far too old now to memorise it

Extraordinary For Me said...

I remember reading some years ago about an experiment conducted after Mass. This person had stood outside a church in which the new Mass had been offered in the vernacular. He asked those coming out about the Epistle (readings) and the Gospel. Very few were able to tell him what they were about - even though they were read aloud to them in their own language. He then conducted the same experiment outside a church where the traditional Latin Mass had been celebrated. Most whom he asked could tell him about the Epistle and Gospel because they had read it from their hand missals while the priest was reading it in Latin.
This is another great difference between the two forms. In the vernacular Mass everyone just sits there, and their own language just washes over the tops of their heads. There is nothing out of the ordinary about it and boredom sets in. 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, heard it all before.' There is much activity but most people are not actually taking part, they are simply going through the motions.
With the traditional Mass many people come with their missals and so are prepared before they even arrive at church. There is an expectation; they know which Mass is being celebrated because they have had to mark their missal with ribbons for the appropriate pages. And in following the Mass they read the prayers - including the Epistle and Gospel - and, in greater part, remember them.
The vernacular is of this world whereas a liturgical language lifts us out of this world - albeit only temporarily.

Juventutem London said...

Vernacular translations of scripture obscure the beauty of the Latin text. Most obvious example (and most frequent it seems) is the parallel mirroring on the Common of Pontiffs for 'Tu es Christus' 'Tu es Petrus'. Also normally they're horrid ('Hail, highly favoured daughter' anyone?). In the EF, it makes little sense to repeat the readings in English without the Introit and the rest of the propers. If they're read exclusively in English, it's normally from the DR which MOSTLY retains aspects of the Latin but is by no means perfect like that. Having English and Latin parallel in a missal helps you understand particular latin words and quickly opens up a world previously closed.

Having readings in the vernacular so, so, so pointless and really quite protestant. Father, you're dead right about the wood and the trees. The smells, the lights, the sound of the gospel tone, the continuity - all this reveals God as beautiful, transcendent and magnificent. When Father Whoever reads the reading in a meaningful way, making sure to look everyone in the eye... well. He means well, and he should be commended for that much.

Physiocrat said...

We need pictures, stained glass, statues, theatre,oratorios even. The protestant culture is all words, words, words.

Visits to art galleries can be useful as a way of getting to see these things.

Mike said...

Lady Rosary said, “as Catholics, we must build the foundation for our kids to stay appreciative of the scripture from the home to the school.”
She may be interested to read:

Sadie Vacantist said...

I attended TLM for the first time in months on Sunday. No sermon. What a blessed relief!

Pablo the Mexican said...

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is Christ crucified.

The Latin Tridentine Mass makes people Catholic because everyone is where they should be; Christ on the cross, men crucifying Him, and women in the pews with their heads covered, and in silence except while in prayer.

The Word of God has become diluted through lay men and women usurping the place of the Priest.


AndrewWS said...

I venture to suggest that all worship (even the TLM) becomes a dead charade if people have neither understanding of what it is all about and an active spiritual life of their own.

What is needed is for people to read the Scriptures themselves with suitable guidance. 'Magnificat' is excellent for this - I have recently started using it. I am told that 'Bible Alive' is good too. And, of course, there's the ancient practice of lectio divina to be explored.

Richard said...

"Before Vatican II, the homily ... was not considered essential, even on Sundays"

I thought the Council of Trent made homilies compulsory for Sunday Masses.

Richard said...

Perhaps we need a Catholic version of the old Anglican Book of Homilies, written so that clergy who were not capable of writing a decent sermon (or too lazy to do so) could just read one.

JWR said...

I don't see why some commenters are so keen for the Scriptures to be read in Latin. Bearing in mind that the inspired originals are in Hebrew and Greek (with the odd passage in Aramaic), Latin is itself a vernacular language when it comes to Scripture...

. said...

Having the readings in the vernacular and said aloud is important for them to be understood. All these arguments against it are nonsense, so far as I see.

Yes, people frequently do not remember the readings (or the homily) after Mass in the Ordinary Form. There are numerous reasons for this. Poor readers is surely one (as Kate mentioned), the weakness of the translations another, and still another that on occasion the passages just aren't particularly memorable. This affects particularly the OT readings, though some of the Epistle selection seems to come from St Paul's Greek syntax exercises rather than actual sentences.

I can also only think it is a great good that more of us hear more of the Gospel and the Bible in the Ordinary Form.

However, I think part of the problem is that for lots of people, this is the only time they receive the Bible all week. We still have this odd attitude that reading or hearing the Bible is a Protestant thing.

One of the greatest bolsterings my faith received was studying the Synoptic Gospels as an A-Level student, and both engaging with the questions of authorship and so on, and also just reading them, cover to cover.

One thing I did learn in that process of reading them, too, was how much was familiar from the (new) Mass. Even if I hadn't been aware of it before, I had already been familiar with a good chunk of the Gospels, at least.

So I think maybe we need to take a page out of the book(s) of the Protestants, and hold Bible study sessions, or some such. Of course, priests are already overtaxed, and lay Catholic preachers are hardly very good... (is the problem just that the Church and the laity have become so disconnected? No, this has nothing to do with the Mass - the 'old' Mass was much more clericalising and clericalised - but I think it does have to do with the formation of little lay curias around priests, and that whole 70s ecclesiology...).

But there is also another element to this failure to reinforce the Scriptures in our minds, and that is... the Divine Office. As lay Catholics we are exhorted to say it. It really should be available, at least in cathedrals. Again, the Anglicans have a march on us there, with their regular Evensongs and Mattinses. I know I keep banging on on this theme on this blog, but the Divine Office is important, and horribly neglected.

Aaron S-C said...

Was the purpose of the Incarnation not precisely that God made Himself present and tangible to men... that men might "hear" God, in person, in their own vernacular.

To insist that the Word should be read in Latin lest men forget that God is speaking or the "beauty" of the Latin is obscured seems almost to suggest that the Word should not have taken flesh lest people thought that God was less than God (which of they did), or lost sight of the beauty of God.

I don't know as much on this matter as Fr. Ray, AndrewWS or Juventutem, and thus I warmly invite correction... and I tend to support most aspects of the Old Rite, but the insistence on the Gospel being read in Latin seems unfortunate. Jesus spoke in a common language to men, preached to them, so why should the Church not do the same (as She does... but some seem to find that problematic).

When we talk about losing the "beauty" of the Latin we seem more interested in aesthetic considerations as opposed to men hearing the Word of God.

When I hear the Mass in Latin I often feel disconnected and shut-out, and I have to simply admire the beauty of the Mass, allowing it to wash over me. The current Mass, newly translated, allows one to feel connected to what is happening, as though one is actually being addressed by the Mass and commanded to do something, to listen. This assumption that the vernacular has led to people turning up out of routine, who sit and are bored seems a most uncharitable interpretation of how people connect and engage with the Mass.

As I say, I know fairly little on this subject so I warmly invite fraternal correction.

Richard said...

JWR - it doesn't matter for this purpose that Latin isn't the original language of the scriptures.

The point is the effect of the change from a language that we laity mostly don't understand, to one that we mostly do. Counter-intuitively, that seems to have reduced, rather than increased, the average lay Catholic's knowledge and understanding the bible.

That's the interesting issue.

If it is therefore a good idea to go back to a language that we mostly don't understand, it's then a secondary question as to what that language should be. Latin is then the obvious one (it's traditional, we've got lectionaries ready written, the clergy can mostly read the script, etc. etc.), but by all means argue for Aramaic if you wish.

But that's merely a secondary and much less interesting issue.

Thomas Windsor said...


But which version of the Greek or Hebrew is the inspired original?

The Church has said something very important about the Vulgate (Latin), that most people seem to have forgotten. See the last paragraph of The Decree Concerning the Canonical Scriptures, Council of Trent.

Our choir does not sing the neo-Vulgate psalms for this reason, they are only a good translation.

Physiocrat said...

The Arian (ugh) bishop Ulfila translated the bible into Gothic (a Germanic language now lost but related to Old Norse ie Icelandic) about 30 years earlier than St Jerome translated into Latin.

This was in use by the Gothic tribes who had invaded Italy. The Codex Argentius is a 6th century fancy manuscript version, and was made for the King Theodoric the Great, probably at Ravenna.

I wonder if Latin is not a bit of a Johnny-come-lately.

Anita Moore said...

Aaron Saunderson-Cross said: When I hear the Mass in Latin I often feel disconnected and shut-out, and I have to simply admire the beauty of the Mass, allowing it to wash over me. The current Mass, newly translated, allows one to feel connected to what is happening, as though one is actually being addressed by the Mass and commanded to do something, to listen.

The Mass is not addressed to us. It is the voice of the Church addressed to God. This is a central point that has been lost. We are there, not to get anything out of Mass, but first and foremost to give God the worship that He is due. What we get out of going to Mass is secondary. Scripture says to seek first the kingdom of God and His justice, and then all these things will be added unto us.

By the way, it sounds like, without realizing it, you get the idea of true participation in the Mass, which, contrary to what we have all been taught, does not require us to be busy with some activity or even to understand every single word.

Aaron Saunderson-Cross said...

Anita Moore saind...The Mass is not addressed to us. It is the voice of the Church addressed to God. This is a central point that has been lost. We are there, not to get anything out of Mass, but first and foremost to give God the worship that He is due. What we get out of going to Mass is secondary. Scripture says to seek first the kingdom of God and His justice, and then all these things will be added unto us.


I think this is a very good point, one that I failed to consider in my previous post. I agree that the Mass is the praise and adoration owed to God (Justice), and I suppose the Latin is the "authentic voice" of the Church throughout the ages.

And I suppose we should note that we the laity less "receive Him in communion" as we the laity are "invited to be received by God in communion."

The problem then is that with the vernacular, with priests often facing the congregation throughout most of the liturgy, we fall unconsciously into the belief that actually the Mass is addressing us, entreating us to offer God praise.

Thanks for the correction Anita Moore.

Juventutem London said...

We were actually told in a pamphlet about the new Novus Ordo translation - by both priests of the parish, I think, or at least one - that the scriptures were not the Word of God. I forget the explanation, but one of them wrote that the old translation was unfortunate, because if someone where to point to the scripture and say, 'this is the word of the Lord', our immediate answer should be 'no it jolly well wasn't'. I didn't really understand the point. it seemed to be something about the word of God being in the proclamation or something. Or the fact that the Word is the second person of the Blessed Trinity (I forget if that's what he was saying). Fine, I thought, but I'm not convinced about the scripture not being the Word of God!

Aaron Saunderson-Cross said...

Chapter 6. 31 Be not solicitous therefore, saying, What shall we eat: or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed? 32 For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things. 33 Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ, according to St. Matthew.

I think this should characterize a holy man's life! I pray that it will characterize mine. The beauty of this is that as Catholics we know that Holy Mother Church offers to us the principle and authentic means by which we may seek the kingdom of God and the praise and worship owed to Him.

John Nolan said...

OF, 25th per annum, Cycle A. Four verses from Isiah 55, five from Philippians 1, sixteen from Matthew 20. Sunday Missal gives a one-line introduction to each.

EF, 14th after Pentecost. Nine verses from Galations 5; ten verses from Matthew 6. The St Andrew Daily Missal gives an introduction to the Mass eight paragraphs long. The first three refer to the Office lessons from Ecclesiasticus and Job, with commentary from St Gregory. The next five refer to all the Propers (including those which in most OF celebrations are replaced by hymns), putting them in context and also providing links to the Office, with further commentary from St Augustine. There are two lengthy footnotes. And it doesn't end there. When we reach the Epistle we find a four-paragraph introduction ending with a link to the Gospel which in turn is introduced by three paragraphs; and the Introit, Gradual, Alleluia and Offertory each merit a paragraph - again referring to the Scriptural content of the Mass and Office. They are in effect meditations on the texts as well as explanations.

I leave readers to draw their own conclusions.

sean said...

i have been reading the old testament itself for the first time over the past few weeks and i have to say i am struck by its dryness outside of the major episodes. i am thinking that there must be diminishing returns in increasing the volume of old testament readings in the mass, a falling short against the notion that more is better. perhaps less is indeed more.

Igumen Gregory said...

What a joy to see Bp. Perry celebrating Mass. He is such a fine man and fervent Christian/

JWR said...

"The point is the effect of the "hange from a language that we laity mostly don't understand, to one that we mostly do. Counter-intuitively, that seems to have reduced, rather than increased, the average lay Catholic's knowledge and understanding the bible."

I think you might be mistaking the change in language for the truly decisive factor, which is a change in culture. The Church of England,for example, has always had her scriptural readings in the venacular; but in the last forty years has experienced the same decline in liturgy and scriptural study as has the Roman Catholic Church.

Evagrius Ponticus said...

I'm amused by this "Mass is addressed to God" truism. I suppose the "orate, fratres" is addressed to God (oops! No, that doesn't work! The two natures of Christ, maybe?). The priest's declaration "Verbum Domini", and the response "Deo Gratias" is, I suppose, not a poetic coda to something the people were to hear, but rather (exclusively) a profound meditation on the second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, that only happens to be appended to his reading of the Epistle or Gospel.

No doubt when the priest says "Dominus vobiscum", he is actually making an eccentric statement about the Hypostatic Union. After all, it's all, exclusively, addressed directly and solely to God.

The homily, if it is present, I am sure, should be said silently by the priest, as it is in fact his own internal meditation.

The existence of an ambo/lectern in virtually every church into the medieval period is, I suppose, just a peculiar architectural anomaly, designed for no purpose other than decoration.

No doubt the use of one in even the EF of the Ambrosian Rite is a peculiar, 1970s corruption.

Look: there are serious objections to the Missal of Paul VI, but they're not these hardworn ones (lecterns, vernacular, versus populum, spoken Canon, etc) which either anathematise the past, or unusual but accepted practices under the older form, or both.

It is also true that the Mass is not about us, and, yes, addressed to God. But to adduce from this that the readings therefore are not for the edification of listeners (like that dangerous modernist Justin Martyr tells us), is sheer nonsense. This is not an either/or.

Anita Moore said...

Evagrius Ponticus says:

I'm amused by this "Mass is addressed to God" truism.

...and then, worked up into a lather of snideness, goes on to cite lines that are addressed to the congregation for the purpose of knocking down this "amusing" truism.

First of all, you read a lot more into my comments than what they actually said. Secondly, what can you find to argue with in the proposition that the Sacrifice of the Mass is directed to God? Who else has a right to our worship? Thirdly, even those parts of the Mass that are addressed to the congregation are meant to direct us toward joining ourselves and our prayers to that same Sacrifice.

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