Saturday, 13 November 2010

Liturgy and the Analogy of Scripture

I would be surprised if it is only "recent work" that has brought the Biblical echoes of our Latin liturgical texts to light (my reading of Louis Bouyer alone suggests otherwise), though it might well only be recently that it has become a common awareness among those active in liturgical debate; and it is not so much a "new version" of the Missal as a new English translation that is due for publication and implementation. But with those caveats, this letter in The Tablet this week coincides very well with the quotation from n.52 of Verbum Domini (pdf has numbering, on-line version not), Pope Benedict's apostolic exhortation on Scripture, that follows it:
In the 1960's and early 1970's , when the current translation of the Roman Missal was being produced, it was widely believed among scholars that the language of the Bible had hardly influenced the prayer of the Roman Rite.... Recent work has shown that our Latin liturgical texts are permeated through and through by Biblical echoes, many of which are too subtle to have caught the attention of translators in a hurry. A principal aim of liturgical translation now must be to catch these echoes and pass them on to the People of God. That in itself is enough reason to make a new version of the Missal desirable.
Every liturgical action is by its very nature steeped in sacred Scripture. In the words of the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, “ sacred Scripture is of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy. From it are taken the readings, which are explained in the homily and the psalms that are sung. From Scripture the petitions, prayers and liturgical hymns receive their inspiration and substance. From Scripture the liturgical  actions and signs draw their meaning ”.
The passage from Verbum Domini that first caught my attention, though, was that n.7, entitled "The analogy of the word of God". This passage describes the different ways in which we speak of the "word of God":
The Synod Fathers pointed out that human language operates analogically in speaking of the word of God.
I think we can extend this idea of analogy to the realm of catechesis, and in particular, catechesis in preparation for receiving the Sacrament of the Eucharist for the first time. Such catechesis should have as its purpose and vehicle an education about and for the celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy. But if our catechetical methodology is going to be based on an idea of analogy - that is, of using the language and experience that young people already have as the starting point to introduce a language and experience of the Liturgical celebration - it is important that the analogy used is the correct analogy.

I am not convinced that the analogy used in much of our First Holy Communion catechesis is actually the right one. Does the analogy of "belonging to my family" really communicate the full idea of Baptism, whose relevance to a First Communion programme is its being the first step of Christian initiation that reaches its fulfilment in Eucharistic Communion? Does "saying thank you to others" really express the idea of the Eucharist as "thanksgiving" in its fullest sense of praise and blessing offered to God? And, perhaps most fundamentally, does the idea of Communion as a "special meal", even if qualified by that term "sacred", really capture the idea of Communion as the "heavenly banquet"?

I would suggest, in the light of the two citations above, that our First Communion catechesis needs to replace the "analogy of every day life" with what might be termed an "analogy of Sacred Scripture". This is not quite the same idea as the "analogy of the word of God" as treated in n.7 of Verbum Domini, but it is suggested or indicated by it and is related to it. This analogy would give young people an account of the Liturgy in terms of the relevant passages of Sacred Scripture from which its texts are drawn, and so communicate a true idea of the Liturgy. It would be the correct analogy to use, rather than a misleading one.

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