The Liturgy of the Word Part II
In preparation for the introduction of the newly translated Roman Missal on the First Sunday of Advent, we continue our consideration of the Liturgy of the Word. In the June installment, we saw how the entire Mass is thoroughly Scriptural. Following the lead of Pope Benedict, we noted that the Liturgy is the "home" of the Scriptures; from the beginning Scripture was proclaimed in the Liturgy; parts of Scripture originated in the Liturgy; and Scripture is not only most fully interpreted in the Liturgy but most importantly, its "truth" comes to fulfillment in us and through the Liturgy.
In looking at the "structure" of the Liturgy of the Word for Sunday Mass, we observed how the readings are related – especially the Old Testament reading to the Gospel. This leads to a larger consideration of the overall unity of Scripture, a consideration that also helps us see how the Second Reading, often from one of St. Paul's letters, relates to the Old Testament reading and the Gospel proclamation at Mass.
This is a natural point to start thinking about the homily. The homily is an integral part of the entire liturgy. It is not "half-time" between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist in which the homilist entertains the congregation or takes a few moments to discuss his personal or political views. Nor is it a lecture interjected in the liturgy in which specialized topics in Scriptural interpretation and theology are presented.
The homily should begin with the homilist's life of prayer. In the week preceding the Lord's Day, the homilist, whether a priest or deacon, needs to pray over the Word he is to proclaim. He needs to allow the Scripture readings on which he is to preach to resonate in his mind, heart, and soul. At the same time, he should consult sources that help him understand and cherish the Word, for example, the writings of the Fathers of the Church or the saints, or papal encyclicals, exhortations, and the like. He should also study what biblical scholars and theologians say about the Scripture readings. In addition, the homilist should look at the readings in relationship to the Mass prayers he will offer that Sunday, perhaps with an eye toward making a link between the readings and the Collect or the Eucharist Prayer. It is also crucial that the homilist think about the readings in light of his own experience – that he allow the readings to "hit home" in his life before he attempts to proclaim a word that will move his hearers to open their hearts to Christ.
A long homily, as all of us know, is not necessarily an effective homily. I am often reminded that the speech introducing President Lincoln at Gettysburg droned on for over an hour whereas Lincoln's immortal Gettysburg Address lasted a matter of minutes. To reiterate, the homily is not a speech or a lecture but a crucial eight to ten minute reflection on the living Word of God into which much has to be packed. Among other things, it is to unfold the Scriptures in their unity, to instruct the congregation in the teaching of the Church, to draw the congregation more deeply into the divine mysteries which the Liturgy re-presents, and to give people of all ages both the inspiration and guidance needed for following Christ as active members of the Church in daily life. And while the homily is not an occasion for the homilist to go on and on about his own personal life, he should let his hearers know that he, too, is seeking to live what he proclaims.
On Sundays and Solemnities, the homily is followed by the recitation of the Creed. This, too, is an important part of the Liturgy of the Word. Normally, the Creed, which issued from both the Council of Nicaea (325) and the First Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (381), is recited. In these Councils, a precise formulation of the Church's teaching on the Trinity, on Christ's saving deeds, and on the Church herself took definitive shape. The Creed is referred to as the "symbol" of the faith. Here, the word "symbol" means "to bring together" – for the Creed synthesizes the entire Christian faith. To put it more simply, it is a summary of who God is and what He has done and is doing in history for the salvation of the world. It is a proclamation of the living Word of God in summary form. The recitation of the Creed underlines the Scripture proclaimed at Mass, as it is most fully understood in its unity with the whole of Scripture as a proclamation of God's mysterious plan of salvation. It also shows how mistaken it is to create some sort of a chasm between Scripture and doctrine. The two go hand in hand.
The Creed is one of the junctures of the Liturgy where all of us will notice how the Roman Missal has been re-translated. Three things will stand out: first, the word "credo" is literally translated – instead of saying, "We believe in one God…," we will say, "I believe in One God." This is not a retreat into individualism but rather a recognition that the worshipping community which proclaims the Creed is made up of individual believers who have personally appropriated the common faith of the Church. The second thing we will notice is the more literal translation of the Creed's reference to the Son of God's eternal relationship to God the Father. The words "one in being with the Father" will be replaced with "consubstantial with the Father." I will grant that the word "consubstantial" is not a household term! However, it accurately reflects the Greek word "homoousios" used in the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople. It also reminds us that there is a Catholic vocabulary which expresses our faith accurately and each of us should have a reasonable command of it. A final point we will notice is that the Creed will no longer say that Christ "was born of the Virgin Mary" but rather that he was "incarnate of the Virgin Mary." Again, this is a more accurate translation of the Creed, using the precise word which describes the mystery of God's Son assuming our human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Elsewhere, even in the current liturgical translations, the word "incarnate" and "incarnation" appears – a word which needs to be a part of our Christian vocabulary.
The Creed is followed by the Universal Prayer or the Prayer of the Faithful. This prayer concludes the Liturgy of the Word in which we have deepened our faith in the God of our salvation. Confident in His mercies, we exercise our baptismal priesthood by offering prayers for salvation of all. We pray for the whole Church: for the Holy Father; for our bishops, priests, and deacons; for those poor and needy; for justice and peace; for those who are sick; for those who have died. In so doing, we are not presenting God with a list of demands or a bill of particulars. Rather, we are simply asking that all of us who believe and those who have not yet discovered the faith may be receptive to all that God has said and done for us and that we might be drawn into the fullness of His life and love. We are seeking not to convince God to do our will but rather that we might do His will – "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is heaven" – this is a good summary of what we pray for in this Universal Prayer. For when we want and love what God wants and loves, then we are united as a community of faith in the communion of life and love that is the Trinity.
Imbued with God's Word, we are then readied for the Liturgy of the Eucharist which follows, and to which the next few installments of this column will be dedicated. Many thanks for reading this!