Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Thursday, June 21, 2018

MsgrLiptak_TNIf the Church’s Sacred Liturgy is the home of the word of God, Pope Benedict XVI argues in his latest Apostolic Exhortation, Verbum Domini (11 Nov.), it follows that a "Faith-filled understanding of Sacred Scripture must always refer back to the Liturgy."

This observation is especially true of the summit of Liturgy; namely, the Mass. Word and Eucharist, Benedict continues, "are so deeply bound together that we cannot understand one without the other" – so much so that God’s word in Scripture "sacramentally takes flesh" in the mystery of the Mass. Which means that the Mass "opens us to an understanding of Scripture, just as Scripture … illumines and explains the mystery of the Eucharist."

The Holy Father takes all this to its obvious conclusion when he states: "Unless we acknowledge the Lord’s Real Presence in the Eucharist, our understanding of Scripture remains imperfect."

For many years now, in my writing, preaching and teaching, I searched for a phrase that would sum up, for me, at least, what I came to describe theologically as the "quasi-sacramental" character of Revelation. The quest was undertaken in an effort to explain the truth that the word of God is a graced word; a word whose inner power can literally conquer the world. Several great non-Roman Christian theologians have spent considerable years in an attempt to explain this theologism to a confused and erring world – the peerless Karl Barth, for example.

A breakthrough in my own analysis occurred first when Pope John Paul II referred to the sacramental character of Revelation. And now, under the guidance of another towering theologian in the Chair of St. Peter, Benedict is speaking about the sacramentality of the word of God. Once this language becomes more understandable, the link between Ordination and the word of God (i.e., proclamation of the Gospel, preaching the homily at Mass) is sure to become more clear.

Pope Benedict cites St. Jerome, the Church’s greatest Scripture Scholar, in this regard:

"For me, the Gospel is the Body of Christ; for me, the Holy Scriptures are his teaching. And when [Christ] says: whoever does not eat my flesh and drink my blood…, even though these words can also be understood of the [Eucharistic] Mystery, Christ’s Body and Blood are really the word of Scripture, God’s teaching. When we approach the [Eucharistic] Mystery, if a crumb falls to the ground, we are troubled. Yet when we are listening to the word of God, and God’s word and Christ’s Flesh and Blood are being poured into our ears yet we pay no heed, what great peril should we not feel?"

Here, the Holy Father is clearly reaffirming the ancient doctrine that Christ’s Real Presence under the species of bread and wine is "analogously present in the word" proclaimed during the Liturgy.

At Mass, of course, God’s word is proclaimed from a collection of texts (pericopes – from the Greek signifying "sections") known as the Lectionary (from the Latin noun for "readings"). The various readings for Sundays and special Solemnities or Feasts are structured in three parts, known as the A, B and C Cycles. A separate Lectionary for weekdays is built upon a two-year "Cycle." (A very special Lectionary is available for Marian celebrations.) These Sunday and Weekday Lectionaries effectively "open up" all the riches of the Bible, so that anyone who attends Mass regularly on Sundays plus weekdays eventually hears most pages of the Bible read during Mass.

Having taken liturgy courses in a Protestant theological school, I am acutely aware that many non-Roman Christian ministers prefer reading directly from the Bible during their principal liturgies, declining the use of a Lectionary for various reasons. At the same time, however, I am also aware that many of our non-Roman colleagues do, in fact, accept and prefer to use a Lectionary; indeed, many elect to read from our Catholic Lectionary. Hence, as Benedict also notes, the Lectionary has enormous ecumenical benefits. (I once served several years as Editor of a daily homiletic service based on the Catholic Lectionary, but whose subscribers were almost 40 percent non-Roman Christian preachers. Hence, I have first-hand knowledge of how much our Catholic Lectionaries are appreciated by separated Christian Communities.)

Msgr. David Q. Liptak is Executive Editor of The Catholic Transcript and censor librorum for the Archdiocese of Hartford.