Re-membering the Real Presence of the Liturgy of the Word
liturgy? That was the obvious big question I posed when asked what is a major
concern with the current state of liturgy. Now I can say that liturgy has something
to do with the way we pray the Mass and rehearse for life. This presentation
will be an introduction to the Mass with an emphasis on the Liturgy of the Word
for RCIA participants. I will first define the RCIA process, including the
major Church concepts of Mass, Sacrament, and Prayer, to situate myself better
in the Catholic picture. I will then talk about the “Liturgy of the Word.”
There will be a definition of symbol and real presence, followed by a
comparison of the Liturgy of the Word with the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and
finally a breakdown of the individual scenes of the Liturgy of the Word: the
I. Introducing Myself to the Church Story: RCIA, Mass, Sacrament, Prayer
A. Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults
The RCIA program,
developed from Vatican II and earlier calls for reforms in the 50s, is a
preparation of adults to enter the Catholic Community. RCIA is modeled on the 4th
and 5th centuries’ preparation for the Rites of Christian
initiation: Baptism and the Eucharist. Candidates for the Rites went through a
long preparation period of education of two to three years (your inquiry and catechumenate period of instruction or catechesis),
culminating with an intense period of purification and learning, which we call
Lent, leading to the receiving of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist
at the Easter Service. After Easter, you will go through a period of “mystagogia” where you are led further into the mystery of
Christ. All believers are in this period of mystagogia
and initiation. All believers need to be constantly initiated into the life of
Christ. This initiation stresses the “baptismal” character of Lent. Up until
Vatican II and the newer RCIA, we stressed more the penitential aspect of Lent.
The newer RCIA goes back to a time, before the Reformation split, in an
Ecumenical spirit of uniting all the
B. The Mass
The Mass comes from a root word “to send.” Liturgy is from the Greek word meaning the “work of the people.” The Mass is a series of sendings or missions. At the Liturgy service we rehearse the way of Christ so that we can put Christ into the world. The Liturgy of the Mass is the sum and source of Christian life. We should get to know it better. The Mass is like a way of life for professionals in any job. We come together (Entrance Rites), discuss a project (Liturgy of the Word) over lunch (Liturgy of the Eucharist), and leave to do the job (Dismissal Rites).
Rather than a “medicine” view of sacraments (Schmemann 32) injecting us with the divinity of God, we want to take a more process view. The Incarnation of God in this world, through the presence of Jesus Christ, redeems the world. It restores or raises everything to its divine function. In eating, for example, if the goal is to satisfy bodily hunger alone, we have a “material” mentality, but if we eat a meal sharing thoughts with others, the meal becomes holy or “sacra” mental. Sacraments then are realities imbued with the presence of God, along with the graces, to help us realize the divine presence. Christ is the Sacrament of God and the Church is the sacrament of where we get to know and become the Body of Christ. Johan Möhler, a 19th Century Theologian, developed a Church or Ecclesial Christology of where the Church is both an institution and a process where the community becomes the Body of Christ. Alexander Schmemann, a 20th Century Liturgical Theologian, would say that our participation in the liturgy, our “assemblying” in acts of Christian love, bring about the real presence of Christ (191).
Schmemann distinguishes between ornament and icon. The sacrament is only an ornament if we treat it as an object, like a magic potion (Bad Faith and Reification for Postmoderns, Idolatry for Hebrew Scripture Prophets). The icon points to the reality it represents and illustrates how to experience it pastorally (35). “Sacrament” starts me asking questions. What is God in my life? Jesus? How should I think about life and death? Should I intervene in the lives of others? How do I teach?
D. Liturgy as Perfect Prayer
according to liturgical theologian Don Saliers, is
the way of exploring our life unto God. Liturgy and ethics are linked
intrinsically. Liturgy is prayer where we rehearse affections and virtues
befitting a life in Christ (in
Rather their formation requires
participation in those practices that form deep memory, that draw us into the
history of suffering and hope, exodus and liberation, death and resurrection.
They require an honesty of prayer and life that is unsustainable by feeling and
sentiment. They summon us to what Saliers calls a “passional knowing” – a process of being formed in specific
affections and dispositions in the way we live that manifests what is known
about God. (
We develop this deep memory of humanity in the tradition of interpreting Scripture and the Eucharist.
II. The Liturgy of the Word
A. The Sacrament of the Word -- Symbol of God as Real Presence
What in Christ makes us know God? His love? Sacrificial actions? All meanings are tied to the concept of symbol. Symbols are expressions of meaningful experiences. They express what we feel on the inside. Christ’s walking on water is a symbol of His power over life and death and the evils of the material world. Our bodies are symbols of what we are. History is symbolic. The symbolic nature of language and our bodies and history is what connects us to deeper truths. Sandra Schneiders’ The Revelatory Text is about the New Testament being the “Word of God.” Christ is text here. Christ reveals the divine in Himself when we as a reading community appropriate the events and symbols to our lives. When we “reveal” ourselves we are giving the most intimate part of ourselves to someone. It calls for participation. Interpreting the NT makes the word of God become the “Word of God,” -- the real presence. Our transformation to a more sacramental way of living is the revelation.
B. The Liturgy of the Word is a Liturgy of the Eucharist
Sacrosanctum Concilium, a document from Vatican II, calls for the Liturgy of the Word to be in perfect balance with the Liturgy of the Eucharist (the Communion). The Scripture Readings and Homily are not a fore-mass (Cabié 197). We really have two equal tables: one where the Body of Christ is shared with the community in the form of a meal; and the other where the word of God is shared by all. The elements of the Liturgy of the Eucharist have their corresponding elements in the Liturgy of the Word. In the Liturgy of the Eucharist there is the Offering of the Gifts, a Eucharistic Prayer of Thanksgiving where we ask the Holy Spirit to bless the gifts, where we remember (anamnesis) our history, including Christ’s words of institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, where we ask of God to intercede for the living and dead, and a final praise or doxology with an all-agreeing Amen. After a purifying ritual in the Lord’s Prayer we all share the bread and wine, which now has become the Real Presence of Christ. Gregory Dix says there are four elements (7 elements including the wine [see Cabié 7, 210]) where the priest takes the bread and wine, blesses it, breaks the bread (pours the wine), blesses the gifts, and gives them to all in the assembly.
We do the same actions in the liturgy of the Word. We take the book (gifts); we break it open changing the word of God to the Word of God; we bless it with our Amen (“This is the Word of the Lord” – “Thanks be to God”); and we give it to each other in conversation and deed. There is a purification process in the Creed where we renew our Baptism, and there are intercession prayers where we offer to God the things that need to be done to redeem the world. The Catechumens of the early Church were dismissed after the Liturgy of the Word, in order to study more. There is a definite link to the Liturgy of the Eucharist and the sharing of gifts by the Faithful (Schmemann 65). We have a scriptural tradition where eating the word of God means understanding it (Ezekiel).
The Liturgy of the Word is important because it is in our stories that we remember who we are and what we need to do to go in the right direction. A story has a short term point that leads to a long term idea, which eventually leads to a major belief. The Prodigal Son story reminds us of the need to forgive, to ask forgiveness, and to see ourselves constantly as the prodigal in need of help (the older brother).
C. The Order of the Liturgy of the Word
a. The Lectionary
At the Sunday service, there is a Hebrew Scripture (OT) reading,
a Responsorial Psalm, a Christian Scripture (NT) reading, an alleluia verse
announcing the Gospel accompanying the priest’s procession to the lectern or
ambo, and finally the Gospel reading. The 1943 encyclical Divino
Afflante Spiritu encouraged
more scripture reading in daily life. Vatican II continues the spirit by
expanding the lectionary for the
b. Historical and Theological Observations
Scripture Readings were common in
the Rabbinic Hebrew Synagogue Tradition. The Synagogue service was a smaller
“home” type service as opposed to the
The gospel is the living word of God. Luther’s concept of “dir da” and sacrament applies. God is “there for us” in the word. Schmemann refers to the whole Mass as a series of sacraments. The sacrament of the word happens when the “word” assembles the Church for its incarnation. We stand at the word in a posture of prayer and attention (Cabié 66). The silent prayer the priest or deacon says before the gospel is an “epiclesis” asking the Holy Spirit to be present in the reading (Schmemann 76).
b. Pastoral Meanings
Just as some Old Testament Sacrifices were condemned by the prophets as being hypocritical since they had nothing to do with real sacrifice for the poor, the scripture book too cannot be adored without applying its words to real life action. Worshipping the book without really “opening” it is treating it like an idol. It is the homily which will help us link the scriptures to our lives.
2. The Sacrament of the Homily -- the breaking (open) of the word
a. Historical and Theological Observations
The Sermon of the 1570 Mass was not connected with the scripture reading (Cabié 155). In the 4th to the 8th Centuries, the homily was integral to the readings with its goal of putting the “today” into the scriptures (Cabié 67). The Paul VI Mass returns to that idea. The word becomes flesh when applied to real life.
If piety and flesh and blood real presence caused less frequent communion in the Middle Ages because a “too divine” Jesus kept us in awe and afraid of being too sinful to touch his real body, it may also cause us not to put Jesus in our moral lives. We may have a tendency to keep Jesus in the Scripture and not put his word in the everyday world. Otherwise the homily stays on the “idol” level admired or disliked because of its structure and deliverance alone.
b. Pastoral Meanings
The homily serves as a bridge of the mystery being celebrated and the lives of the faithful who hear it (Cabié 202). Saliers says we must make sense of the symbol of the Paschal Mystery. The death and resurrection of Christ has to be made relevant in dealing with the deaths and resurrections of our lives – the things we love and hate that seem to exist side by side and cause us a low grade bitterness/happiness. “Moral” does not just mean acts of charity. Moral concerns our whole attitude to life. For example, as an athlete, I am not as much interested in winning as I am in the way the game should be played. It is the process of participating in which I engage. Christ constantly teaches the how. I need to constantly re-member it.
3. Profession of Faith -- Creed -- The Sacrament of Unity
a. Theological and Historical Notes
With the Profession of Faith we are shifting from a sacramental theology to a more ecclesial theology. In sacramental theology we study the different sacraments and what they do. Baptism would be our initiation into the pouring out of God’s love and a “medicine” to help reverse our fallen nature. Confirmation and Reconciliation would be off-shoots of this sacrament, each with different powers to keep us on the right path. Eucharist and Sacrament of the Sick enable us to experience God’s presence intimately, with Marriage and Holy Orders being ways of life to experience and show God’s love through service (see Lukefahr). Schmemann thinks that sacramental theology departmentalizes the idea of sacrament to the extent that we miss the point. We turn them into idols and miss seeing them as a way of life and really all one sacrament (135).
The Creed calls to mind our Baptism and unity we all have as believers. The Western idea of the Creed is a response to God’s word. The East’s response is that of purifying our belief (Cabié 145). Schmemann says that the Creed makes us start thinking right about Creation (135-6). If we think “world,” we are too materialistic, treating the world as an object to conquer and use. If we think of “creation,” we are looking at the world as an act in progress of God’s love. Our participation in it converts everything in creation to its divine status of spiritual growth. For example, treating nature ecologically is respecting life in a way that will help make nature grow in happiness.
b. Pastoral Meanings
Sin would be the state of not being in communion with God and creation. We would be “out of wack” with creation and our neighbors. (Baudelaire would say we lack the correspondences). When we are fighting and struggling with what we want, the root cause can always be a lack of feeling and giving love.
In the Creed we pray for this unity. It is baptismal. The acceptance of God’s word is the condition for receiving this sacrament of communion. Baptism and the Eucharist are one sacrament. In our world we split people into rich and poor, East and West, etc. In the Creed we affirm our unity, and in this act, we look at each other with more sympathy. In the Eucharist, Aquinas said that there is a transubstantiation of Christ’s presence in the bread and wine. In the Eucharist service we have an “instantiation” of the unity that is needed to feel love. That feeling is communion. Communion and Baptism are one sacrament. It stems from the Church as Sacrament. Rather than be constricted by real body and blood emphasis of Christ, we are starting to focus on all of us, realizing the Body of Christ in Creation. The Creed is only an ornament prayer, if it stays on the printed page. But, saying it over and over can push us to realize what it says. Saying “I love you” can also remind us of doing the things that mean that love. I am “baptized” in love when I say and do the things associated with it. The same is true with being “baptized” in my job or vocation. The pastoral meaning of the Creed and Liturgy of the Word in General is really highlighted in the intercessions where the Church prays for the needs of the whole world.
4. The Intercessions
a. Theological/historical Observations
The intercessions have a priestly character. Cabié comments:
Coming as they do after the dismissal of the catechumens, they are a privilege of the faithful, and they underscore the latter’s priestly character. To present to God the appeals and hopes of the entire human race is to share in the care and concern of the Priest of the New Covenant who gave his life for the salvation of the world. It is to share in his mission. We may say that the intercessions represent the other side of evangelization, since speaking of human beings to God is inseparable from speaking of God to human beings (75).
Cabié says the intercessions mark the end of the Liturgy of the Word and put us on the threshold of the Eucharist proper (75). These intercessions are directions that we as the Body of Christ have to follow. The notion of sacrifice is here. We are offering ourselves to help the situations we pray for. Priests in the times of the Hebrew Scriptures took care of the sacrificial offerings (Leviticus). In the Jewish tradition, people made sin and guilt offerings (reparations of offenses), followed by offerings of atonement (burnt offerings) followed by fellowship offerings. The sequence is one of cleansing of sin, rededicating your life, and re-entry into the loving community. The Passover, freedom, and eating together are tied. The same kind of sequence happens in Christ’s sacrifice. The crucifixion, last supper and the resurrection are tied together.
b. Pastoral Meanings of the Intercessions
disputes about the sacrificial character of the Eucharist are more theological
than pastoral. Flannery O’Connor said that, if Christ died once and for all to
redeem humankind, what are we doing here at this Eucharistic Service? The intercessions show us that we as a
Church, in the Möhler sense, represent the on-going
incarnation of Christ in the world. According to Möhler,
Christ achieved the objective redemption in his sacrifice, but that we have to
“realize” this redemption in our own lives. The “subjective” redemption is what
we accomplish as we continue to try to put more of Christ in the world. The
intercessions are where we have to realize Christ’s presence in the world. In doing the real work of the intercessions,
we become the Church and more like the Body of Christ. In practicing the
intercessions, Bruce Morrill would say that we are making them an
“instantiation” of what they say ( in
III. Conclusions – What is accomplished in the Eucharist-Mass
Sacrifice or “holy doing” is the logic of a Christian life.
It is the defining event of the Paschal Mystery. Paschal has to do with the
rising sun and the East. Through death and suffering, we advance to a higher
quality of living, now, and hopefully afterwards. Cabié
says that the intercessions serve as the threshold to the Eucharistic meal. I interpret that if
we are doing what the intercessions ask, we are already eating with the Prince
of Love. Jesus Christ is the culmination of Creation and Exodus. I want to go
home -- to the love I felt in my parents’ home. I miss it. I find it in other
people -- my friends – my spouse. But even if all these people disappear, I can
find it in Christ. In the Mass I restore my memory of Jesus and who he is and
to whom I belong (see Morrill in
Anderson, E. Byron and Morrill, Bruce T. eds. Liturgy and the Moral Self: Humanity at
Full Stretch Before God.
Cabié, Robert. The Church at Prayer: An Introduction to the Liturgy, II: The
Eucharist. Trans. Matthew J.O’Connell.
Esposito, John L., Fasching, Darrell J., and Lewis, Todd. World Religions Today. New
Lukefahr, Oscar. The Privilege
of Being Catholic.
Möhler, Johann. Symbolism. (From handouts of George Gilmore)
Schmemann, Alexander. The Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom. Trans. Paul Kachur.
Schneiders, Sandra M. The Revelatory Text: Interpreting the New Testament as Sacred
Scripture.2nd ed. Collegeville, MN., The Liturgical Press, 1992.
Remembering Good Friday
Friday “Eucharistic” service comes between the Holy Thursday Mass of the Last Supper
and the Easter Vigil. The whole three days are a vigil. Each part of the Triduum can be seen as a sum in itself of the Paschal
Mystery - Death and Resurrection. Good Friday is the most meaningful service to
me, giving me a feeling of awe at the mysterious presence of Christ’s suffering
love. Easter Sunday services pale in comparison to the glory of love
demonstrated on this “good” Friday. One particular service in
Unlike with the regular Eucharistic service where there is a song and greeting to
establish the unity of the congregation and the theme of the Mass, the priest approaches and lies face down before the bare altar in silence. The unity is intense. It is not a holy day of obligation. The community is there in pure faith. Many were present the preceding
night for the Mass of the Last Supper. Silence also serves as the Penance Rite. The whole service and season of Lent is one of penance. Immaculate Conception Church is pre-Vatican II with the altar area separated from the seating area. However, the altar rail has been removed and an “altar table” set up facing the congregation. We do feel part of the silent symbolic absence of Christ. We are preparing to hear the “Word” of God in our on-going need to be reinitiated into sacramental life.
The Liturgy of the Word and the Intercessions
A lay man in his fifties, from the congregation, approaches the altar and reads about Isaiah’s suffering servant who sacrifices his life for those who think he is a jerk and a criminal. The servant remains a stoic and accepts the punishment.[ii] Another lay person, a young woman in a wheel chair, reads the responsorial psalm and the second reading from Hebrews about sacrificial offerings and Christ as a priest. The Passion is read next in dialog form by three more people from the pews. There are two men and one woman and they seem to vary in age. I think the pastor was trying to get a representation of the entire community participating. We stand for the Passion, a posture that signifies the risen Christ, and our attentiveness to the reading (Cabié 60).
The homily given by Monsignor McSweeney is about the beauty of suffering love. I remember it being compared to a father who, in order to bring down his baby’s fever, sat in cold water with the baby against his skin so that the baby would be less afraid. I do not remember much else about the homily, but the tone. The melody of suffering love as the real true sign of love makes me think of my parents. I feel loved and a little less afraid of loneliness and death. The crucified Christ is the primal experience of this type of sacrificial love and I am able to touch a little of it.
Cabié reminds us that the readings are not to be
considered a “pre-Mass,” but form an integral part of the total Eucharistic
service (197). Years later, I will see Father Charles Bucchantini
There is no profession of faith, but there is a major prayer of General Intercessions where we pray that God gives grace to all earthly and spiritual leaders, to all baptized and non-baptized persons, including atheists. Cabié says that we take on a priestly character as we offer these intercessions (75). At Mass they would be the threshold to the Eucharistic prayer. Here, they give us the proper mood to venerate the Cross.
Liturgy of the Eucharist and Veneration of the Cross
There is no
formal Liturgy of the Eucharist, but the Veneration of the Cross and Communion
Distribution substitute in a fitting fashion. There is a collection before the
veneration for the
The bread has been consecrated at the Holy Thursday Mass. No Eucharistic prayer is needed where the priest needs to say the Institution words “this is my body” and ask the Holy Spirit to bless and sanctify the bread. But, the Veneration of the Cross is an anaphora/Eucharistic prayer in its own right. In anaphoric fashion, the priest says three times “Behold the wood of the cross upon which Christ was crucified” to which we respond “Let us worship.” Worship implies anamnesis and thanksgiving. Anamnesis is practiced in the act of approaching and genuflecting in front of the cross. It helps us remember vividly the sacrifice of Christ and other Christ like sufferers in our life.
The Communion Service starts with the “Our Father” to complete our purification before receiving (Cabié 109). We atone for our sins, asking to be forgiven and to have the power to forgive. We also ask for bread in this prayer. We are only doing bread at this service. Bread is symbolic of the nourishment we need for the journey to the kingdom, while wine is more associated with the banquet in the kingdom (Cabié 217). On Good Friday we are in exile without our teacher. There is no fraction or breaking of the bread with the “Lamb of God” invocations. The bread has been pre-sanctified at the preceding Mass and carried in procession to the tabernacle. All adorations and non-Mass Eucharistic receptions are to be associated with a Eucharistic service (Cabié 250-53). We are not making an idol of the Eucharist. The sanctified bread is a viaticum here helping us on our way just as viaticum for the sick and dying help them for their final journeys (Cabié 236). We are all symbolically dead on this “good” Friday. It is good for us to be reminded in this communion that Christ is still present and that we can reach His presence at the Eucharistic table. The “Amen” that we voice is where our minds touch our bodies. As the “amen” vibrates our vocal chords, our body is touched by the spirit of our consent.
The faces of
the congregation are in deep thought. Are they experiencing moments of
anamnesis like me? I remember Holy
Thursday processions of my childhood with the Latin “Pange
Lingua” being chanted. I was an altar boy in the all-Latin services with my
parents, in the congregation, pouring their love on me. Years later, after the
We are sent
away in silence. There is no formal “Ite Missa Est.” The communion here is so intense that any words
of sending would be redundant. We have atoned for our sins, rededicated
ourselves to the cross and have re-felt a sense of community. To some the
Resurrection service is to come. To others, like myself, it has already
happened. When you tell someone you love him or her, you have already been
loving them. When does Christ’s presence become real? In some mysterious time
before we arrive at
Cabié, Robert. The Church at Prayer: An Introduction to the Liturgy, II: The
Eucharist. Trans. Matthew J.O’Connell.
Liturgy and the Moral Self: Humanity at Full Stretch Before God. Edited by E. Byron Anderson and Bruce T. Morrill. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press 1998. Pages xii+231. Paper, $27.95. ISBN0-8146-6168-8.
This book consists of a group of essays in honor of Don E. Saliers, Professor of Theology and Worship at Emory, and specialist in liturgy and ethics. The essays are in response to Saliers’s 1979 essay “Liturgy and Ethics: Some New Beginnings.” Rebecca Chopp, theologian at Emory, sets the tone of the book in the “foreword,” calling on theology to “teach” Christian paths and codify them in worship where all seek sanctifying grace and liberation from suffering (xi). This book is for theologians, for people working in liturgy, and for people who want more insights on the nature of prayer and, on why weekly devotion is a life necessity. Liturgy will be defined as public prayer that points the community to right living. There are four groups of essays that define prayer, liturgy and ethics; establish goals for a liturgical theology; explore deeper meanings of prayer as life-forming; and conclude with how words and music can form a liturgical aesthetic that will also be an ethic.
In prophetic fashion the introductory essay by the editors proclaims that prayer should not only be reflective contemplation about God, but an example of actual ethical living too. The law of prayer (lex orandi) does not precede the law of belief (lex credendi), but is in dialectical relation to it. They credit Saliers with promoting prayer as a provider of experiential and theological framework of Christian belief (5). The law of action is a necessary addition to the law of prayer and belief (8). Since liturgy is public prayer, each liturgical service should be a rehearsal of how we will act in real life (8). In prayer we get to know our “deep” selves. Saliers will provide a “deep soul” liturgy (11-13) that will provide symbols for us to put in action. In his essay, Saliers maintains that there should be no gap between liturgy and ethics, between rhetoric and reality (15). Christian virtues and affections (the way we “feel”) are formed in the modes of communal prayer (17-18). The major prayers are prayed in the liturgy. We praise God as the source of good. We recall God’s history. We confess our wrongs and ask God to intercede for others. The intercession prayers are where the liturgy and prayer connect to ethics and right living. We should act as God’s agents in interceding for those in need. We need a liturgy that will help us continually re-enter the Christian life of virtue and affection (23-4). Readers will see the need of a regular observance of liturgy. Prayer and liturgy is where we glorify God and sanctify ourselves (30-1). Liturgy is a rehearsal to live life prayerfully (27). One of the discussed areas is the possibility that a too strong focus on ethics in prayer may reduce its aesthetical characteristics where prayer does its praising and confessing (33-5). Saliers believes both the ethical and aesthetic can exist side by side. The remaining essays react to Saliers’ call.
In the Liturgy and Theology
section, Gordon Lathrop, Liturgy Professor at the Lutheran Theological
Seminary, opens with a “map” of liturgical prayer orienting us to ethics.
Baptism becomes more than a cleansing. We become immersed in those in need to
the extent that we develop affections (feelings) to help them. He might have
given more concrete examples of how liturgy could map us in the ethical
direction. James White, a liturgical theologian at
The next group of essays is about prayer and its power to personally transform itself into a way of life. Byron Anderson, Professor of Worship at Christian Theological Seminary, analyzes a Charles Wesley hymn, “ O For a Heart to Praise My God.” Poetry and song can be the handmaid of piety if we analyze the poems and songs we use. This essay is a must for music and prayer choosers. For active participation we need to choose significant songs and use certain songs over and over so that they stay lodged in our memory. Once we situate a text in our hearts so that we can make it a way of life (a personal praxis), an “instantiation” occurs (123-4). Transubstantiation comes to my mind. Here we make the song fit in our instant of time, making its presence real for us. The next step would be to go from personal praxis to assembly praxis in worship. Peter Fink, a sacramental theologian at Weston Jesuit School of Theology, teaches us how to live prayerfully according to the Loyolian method of spiritual exercises. Readers will learn how the “exercises” enable us to go from contemplative to active prayer and moral action. I would have liked to see examples of applying the exercises to liturgy. Mary Stamps, of the Episcopal House of Prayer, advocates “Christomorphism” in the Benedictine way. This essay is similar to the preceding one in which we go from monastery life and inner actions to a realization of these actions in the world. I did not get a real feel of the Benedictine way, though. Roberta Bondi, Professor of Historical Theology at Emory, teaches us a new point of view on the Lord’s Prayer. This essay is in letter form. She alleviates a parish’s concern that the Lord’s Prayer is too “patriarchal.” She assures us that Jesus is really against traditional family values where the man is the ruler, etc. (154-5). In Christ’s Kingdom there are no brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. We have new bonds of charity that keep us together. The “our” in the “Our Father” unites me with both my friends and foes, and gives me a spirit of understanding and reconciliation (159-62). The “our” is more important than the “father.” She unites mysticism with ethics here the way the “fathers of the desert” did. She ironically studies the “fathers” while pursuing a non-patriarchic position. Bondi does not lack confidence. Readers interested in psychology will find this essay useful. Gail Ramshaw, Professor of Religion at LaSalle, shows us how to pry ourselves open and interpret the metaphors of the prayers we use. She uses the “Reproaches,” a 10th Century prayer of the United Methodists that is about the Exodus and prophetic reproaches to Israel for not recognizing the Messiah. She says we need to see that the “other” in this prayer is not the guilty Jewish people, but we ourselves who also need the waters of the Red Sea for baptism (170-3). Once we see we are the “other,” we then can get to know ourselves better and become part of the body of Christ. Literature teachers will find this essay particularly insightful on point of view.
The final group of essays deals with words and music - - how to combine writing and praying with feeling in a true body and spirit worship. The liturgical aesthetic formed will be ethical too. Brian Wren, a hymn writer and theologian, says that “clunky” prayers will also make us live in a “clunky” way. He critiques his own Confiteor prayer, suggesting ways to make it more appropriate to group worship. As opposed to sermon writing, prayer needs to be more elegant in its choice of words. He rewrites his “heavy” prayer into a simpler deeper one. I see here that the poetic process from prose to poetry is the progress of thoughts to prayer. Paul Westermeyer, Professor of Church Music at Luther Seminary, focuses on the problem of ethics versus beauty. Does ethical prayer necessarily exclude beauty? Does didactic and useful mean ugly? He deals with the praise, confession, and petition parts of prayer, but does not really talk about intercessory prayers where real ethics are involved. He needs to clarify his section on Neihbur, Augustine and Christ and culture. Don Saliers concludes, emphasizing that the ethical has to be integrated in the liturgy. We need to retrieve the sense of symbol, especially the symbol of the paschal mystery and the meal (218-22). Symbol here is in the sense of experience and not a mere representation of an action. We need to see the meal as an offertory sacrifice of eating with Christ. We do this by recognizing the gap between the rich and the poor, between rhetoric and action. In recognizing it, we stay faithful. We “hang in” there and make a grammar of music and liturgy that can bring us closer to feeling like Christ and acting like Christ. We need ethical reminders of this weekly.
[i] The present day Durham Church (2002) has a wider variety of people. The Franciscans in charge work at developing a sense of world community.
[ii] In later years I was a lector who was disappointed in not being the prime narrator for this service. I was quite humbled when I prepared to read this section. It became one of the most beautiful expressions of love I ever experienced reading. I read the passage at the service as if I actually knew the person. I was quite touched and felt very bad about wanting to play the big lector role. The moral here is that no one should be a performer. All should be participants.
[iii] In Paris, in 1971, at a community center for foreign students studying there, the Eucharistic service used readings from modern literature to supplement the gospel. I thought it was an excellent way to make the gospel relevant. The sense of community was primal too, since the priest forced us to relate to each other in our primitive learned French.