Saturday, 19 February 2011

Become One Body, One Spirit in Christ: the Liturgy of the Word

In a large part, the section of the DVD devoted to the Liturgy of the Word provides a descriptive account of that part of the Liturgy of the Mass. It takes the form of a video clip and sections of text taken from the essay that accompanies the whole section on "Celebrating the Eucharist".

According to the catechesis of the DVD, the Liturgy of the Word is to be seen as a dialogue in which God speaks to his people, and the people respond in attentive listening, in song and in a silence that permits the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts. The Ordinary Form provides for more readings, particularly on a Sunday, than did the Extraordinary Form which preceded it, so this is a more significant point in the celebration of the Ordinary Form than it is in the celebration of the Extraordinary Form.

If this is the theory, is it really the experience of our Sunday liturgy? Are we really able to listen to the readings, let alone the homily, with real attention and understanding? At the very least, I think we can recognise that it is a challenge for many of the lay faithful to do this, and that their success in doing it is likely to vary from week to week.

There are two things that I think the DVD communicates well. One is the dynamic of a Word that is read in the Liturgical assembly - and I use that word "assembly" to attempt to echo the three great gatherings of the people of the Old Testament to which Louis Bouyer draws attention, in an analogy to the Eucharistic gathering, at the beginning of chapter 3 of Life and Liturgy. The essay on the DVD gives an account of how the Christian celebration of the Liturgy of the Word has its origins in the participation by the early Christians in the Synagogue worship that comprised precisely such a reading and exposition of the Jewish scriptures; Louis Bouyer's suggestion is that this in turn has a history reaching back to the teaching of Moses on Sinai. It is therefore of the nature of the Liturgy of the Word that it is a liturgy of a word - to act it out as drama or as dance offends the nature of the Liturgy of the Word. God speaks, and we listen. As a Liturgical action, we can take part in this dynamic even if we are not able to achieve a fully attentive listening at a human level; the imperfection of our listening can be carried by the signification of the Liturgical action itself.

The second point that is well communicated is that of the particular dignity that belongs to the reading of the Gospel. The use of a Book of the Gospels on Sundays and great feasts can readily indicate this, even when Mass is celebrated without solemnity. The point is that the Gospel, being an account of the life and action of Our Lord himself represents a higher point of the presence of God in the reading of the Word, and the highest point therefore of the Liturgy of the Word.

A useful adjunct to this section of the DVD is the sections of the Exhortation of Pope Benedict XVI Verbum Domini (n.55ff) which talk of the "sacramentality of the word".
The sacramentality of the word can thus be understood by analogy with the real presence of Christ under the appearances of the consecrated bread and wine. By approaching the altar and partaking in the Eucharistic banquet we truly share in the body and blood of Christ. The proclamation of God’s word at the celebration entails an acknowledgment that Christ himself is present, that he speaks to us, and that he wishes to be heard...Christ, truly present under the species of bread and wine, is analogously present in the word proclaimed in the liturgy.
Clearly we ought to listen properly to the reading of Scripture in the ordinary human sense of listening and hearing; but even when we find we are not able to do so, there remains an objective participation in the presence of God in his Word as it is proclaimed in the Liturgical action.

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