It's Saturday evening. I just returned from supper. It's going to be a quiet evening in my room. I'm listening to some great CD's I bought in the Holy Land - the monks and sisters from the abbey of Ste. Marie de la Resurrection. These are religious from France and all their public prayer is in French. They are very inspiring antiphons from the Mass and from the Office. The title of the CD is "Il te mene au Desert" (He leads you to the desert.)
I thought I would write a few reflections on the lectures that we heard for the past few days. Thursday, April 6 we listened to Fr. Michael Monshau, OP on "The Theology of Preaching". Also Thursday, we heard Fr. Michael Galagher, SJ on "The Pastoral Approaches to Unbelief and Culture."
Fr. Munchau began his talk about talking on the revival of Preaching in the Catholic Church, especially as presented by the Second Vatican Council. When the topic of a renewal of preaching was addressed at the Council, there were three groups of bishops who voiced strong approval. Remember we are talking about 1962. The Eastern European Bishops under Soviet control said, "It is the only time we are allowed." The bishops from the 3rd World, and developing nations said, "It's the only time we can catechize." The US and Canadian Bishops said, "Its the only time we have the adults." Three very different reasons, but three very valid reasons. The language of the council documents discusses the language needed in the preaching ministry as relationship language. It speaks of being in union with all people. The preaching needs to be for specific people at specific times. I was thinking to myself as Fr. Munchau said this, does the message for the 5:00PM Mass at St. John Neumann need to be different for the 11:00AM Mass. Different people, different lives, different circumstances. As I was thinking this, Fr. Munchau said, "Maybe your homily for the Saturday afternoon Mass needs to be tailored differently than to the last Mass on Sunday."
(I love when that happens.)
The emphasis of the documents of Vatican II is to restore the language of Scripture and the Ancients (meaning the christian writers of the 1st through the 7th centuries) rather than the Scholastics (Thomas Aquinas, etc.) Before the Council much of the preaching was indoctrination based on the catechicisms of the church. There was a fear that if Catholics read the Bible on their own, they might arrive at interpretations that would harm their faith.
This is not too far from the truth. I remember my grandmother telling us that we were not supposed to read the Bible, even that it was a sin to read the Bible on our own. I'm sure she was just repeating what she had been taught. By the time I was in the 5th grade, because of the very progressive preaching of the Dominican fathers in my home parish of St. Anne, I already understood that the Bible and everyday life were connected.
But hadn't we always heard preaching? Preaching afterall is not new. By the early 60's we were already getting used to the various media, radio, television, newspapers, magazines, and movies as being omnipresent in our homes. We were already becoming used to the 30 second sound bite. And preaching was considered an optional part of the Mass. Now the Vatican II called it a "constitutive part of the liturgy".
We are grounded in the scriptures because from the very beginning our faith was a "word" event. In ancient Jewish time, Moses had the word of God, "I am going to free you". If you had the word of someone, you had their presence. The word of someone heard by three people according to Jewish law created a binding contract. Our faith is born of the Word. Read Genesis 1:1-3. "God said, 'Let there be light', and there was light." God created by speaking the word. Moses had the word of God and so the divine presence is made real. Word leads to Work. God said, and it was. The hebrew word dabar means both word and work. The word of God is the work of God. They are both the presence of God. This word and work led to worship. For the Jews, the temple was the place for sacrifice, the synagogue was the place for teaching, the home and family was the place to know God love.
Refer to Exodus 24 which is the ratification of the convenant. When Moses relates to the people the word of God, they respond that they will do all the Lord asks of them. First there is gthe Word, then there is the work, the ritual, altar, sacrifice, table, action of sprinkling. When Moses did this he established our pattern of worship.
At Mass, God utters his word and becomes present to us.
Read the Gospel of John: 1:1-2.
In the Gospels, Jesus utters the word and the work is done.
Jesus says, be healed, and the healing happens,
Jesus speaks and the people are fed.
Jesus thinks and contemplates and the teaching happens.
When Mary receives the word, it is done. "Let it be done to me according to your word."
And when Mary knows the word, the first thing she does is gets up and goes to do the work of caring for Elizabeth.
Word leads to Work
Vatican II restores the word - work patterns. 15 of the 16 documents of the Second Vatican Council call for preaching.
1. Council calls for greater participation of the congregation. This is not about more jobs to do but the participation is a greater understanding, not a call for more things to do. Jobs and busyiness is not the work implied. The work is charity and justice.
2. Communicative value of Human word in the liturgy. Human language has ability to create community among people, not merely for indoctrination or to validate reality. Relationship becomes the focus of the word. It gives greater dignity to the word in order to lead to the fruitful work. (Justice and charity).
3. The reclamation of the Liturgy of the Word. Fr. Michael reminded us that in the pre-vatican II days, you fulfilled your obligation to attend Mass by being there from the time when the chalice veil was removed to immediately after the priest received communion. If you missed all the readings, you still validly attended Mass. As recently as 1947, preaching was considered "to hold an honored place in the liturgy of the Church, not as a part of it, but as a supplement to it." Homiletic and Pastoral Review, 1947.
IN the following documents of the Second Vatican Council, preaching is spoken in these ways.
Dei Verbum: #21: The Church has always venerated the scripture as she has venerated the Body of the Lord.
Mysterium Fidei #36: Christ is present in the church as it preaches.
Sacrosanctum Concilium #52: The church must provide preaching at mass; the homily is part of the liturgy itself.
Evangeli Nuntiandi #14: The church exists in order to preach the gospel.
(there are 12 more references to the VAT II documents in the printed notes that Fr. Michael gave us. And these are only tiny fragments from the body of the documents.)
4. Reclamation of the Homily: The word of understanding leads to the work of offering and sacrifice and worship.
On Friday, April 7, Fr. Michael Monshau OP gave us a practical workshop in preparing and developing a homily. I'm going to stop here. You don't actually expect me to give away the trade secrets do you?
Its getting late. About Fr. Galagher's presentation, I am going to leave you only with the little poem he left to us at the end of the talk. After speaking 3 hours about the need for a theology that speaks to people in the present age, he refered us to a quotation by Dorothee Soelle: "Most people have no language for describing experiences of depth. Media train us to regard our own life as trivial, shrinking our imagination. What do prayer and poetry have in common? They connect us with our hopes.
Fr. Galagher said the work of theology is to restore spritual imagination in the minds and hearts and lives of people and to give them a language to speak about it - the way the early christians had.
A POEM, by Mary Oliver
from her collection Red Bird, pub. 2008
Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.