July 20, 2011

The Word of God in the Mass

In the second section of part two of Verbum Domini, the Holy Father tells us that the Catholic liturgy is the "privileged setting for the Word of God". Sacred Scripture is most "at home" in the Church, in the context of a Mass. Why is that? Well, what is the more full realization: the command to do something or the actual doing? The prophecy or the fulfillment?  In Scripture, Christ's sacrifice is described; at Mass, it becomes present [1364, 1545]. In Scripture, John tells his followers, "behold, the Lamb of God!" (John 1:29); at Mass, we behold the Lamb of God.

Scripture tells us what Christ did and that His Word is efficacious. At Mass, His Word is spoken and His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity is really present. That is where the Church as the Body of Christ gathers, and it is where the Body of Christ in the Eucharist is confected. "It is he who speaks when Scripture is read in Church", the Pope reminds us, quoting from Sacrosanctum Concilium. A speaking voice is most at home with the Body from which that spoken Word comes, just like your voice can be heard in recording but is most natural and most "at home" coming from your body.

Some use the term "Bible Christian" to distinguish themselves from Catholics. But we, too, are people of the Word - and more so because we do not just study it but carry it out. "A faith-filled understanding of sacred Scripture must always refer back to the liturgy..." We don't just believe in Christ, but we also do the things He commanded. Some of these things are done publicly and corporately (all together). This is the public work or "leitourgia". We are Bible Christians, just not Bible-only Christians; studying and living the Word of God is part (though not all) of our sacred work.

So what could we be doing better? The Holy Father tells us that "in pastoral practice, however, the faithful are not always conscious of this connection (between Scripture and Sacrament), nor do they appreciate the unity between gesture and word." He goes on: "The relationship between word and sacramental gesture is the liturgical expression of God's activity in the history of salvation through the performative character of the word itself. In salvation history there is no separation between what God says and what he does." When the priest speaks at Mass (or, for another example, during absolution in the sacrament of Confession), he speaks with Christ's voice. Christ's words are efficacious because He is the Word of God. Christ is Truth, not just one who speaks truth, and when the priest acts and speaks at the altar, it is Christ acting and speaking through him.

What mysterious and wonderful things happen each day at Mass!

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