The Art of Celebration VIII: The Liturgy of the Word

The restorative, formative power of Scripture has been recognised from the Church’s beginning.

At the beginning the Church had, in writing, the scriptures of the Jewish people only – but from and in these she learnt to know Christ and to witness to Christ.

This is made most evident in St Luke’s account of the disciples meeting with the risen Lord during their long and at first sad walk to Emmaus.

It is evident too in the addresses given by the likes of Peter and Stephen in Acts of the Apostles, (cf Acts 3 and Acts 7.)

Even during the time of the composition of the New Testament certain apostolic writings were being recognised as Scripture, (cf 2 Peter 3.15-16). And by 2nd Century it seems that the Bible, as the Church knows it now, was at least well on the way to formation. Justin Martyr, c150AD, notes that at the beginning of Sunday Liturgy

the records of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as time allows

And that pattern endures to today – renewed and restored in the wake of Vatican II

What is the Liturgy of the Word about? It is most evidently a ritual in which scripture is read aloud to the congregation. But we need to be mindful that this reading is only a means to an end: the word is read so that people might hear it and take it to heart, and indeed be changed, renewed, by it.

So when we consider the Liturgy of the Word from the perspective of people’s participation in it, to the fore needs to be how what is done helps people to listen, and take it to heart.

There follows below some paragraphs from the introduction to the Missal. I have highlighted phrases which emphasise what the performance of the rite is expected to achieve.

B) The Liturgy of the Word

55.       The main part of the Liturgy of the Word is made up of the readings from Sacred Scripture together with the chants occurring between them. As for the Homily, the Profession of Faith and the Universal Prayer, they develop and conclude it. For in the readings, as explained by the Homily, God speaks to his people, opening up to them the mystery of redemption and salvation, and offering spiritual nourishment; and Christ himself is present through his word in the midst of the faithful. By silence and by singing, the people make this divine word their own, and affirm their adherence to it by means of the Profession of Faith; finally, having been nourished by the divine word, the people pour out their petitions by means of the Universal Prayer for the needs of the whole Church and for the salvation of the whole world.

Silence

56.       The Liturgy of the Word is to be celebrated in such a way as to favour meditation, and so any kind of haste such as hinders recollection is clearly to be avoided. In the course of it, brief periods of silence are also appropriate, accommodated to the assembled congregation; by means of these, under the action of the Holy Spirit, the word of God may be grasped by the heart and a response through prayer may be prepared. It may be appropriate to observe such periods of silence, for example, before the Liturgy of the word itself begins, after the First and Second Reading, and lastly at the conclusion of the Homily.

General Instruction of the Roman Missal

The congregation is invited to listen, and the listening that the celebration of the Liturgy is intended to foster is much more than dutiful listening. It is more fundamentally about personal response to, engagement with, the living Christ who is present through his word in the midst of the people.

So to the fore in our evaluation of the appropriateness, worthiness, of any celebration of the Liturgy of the Word must be not only evaluation of the quality of the proclamation, but also of the way in which the performance of the ritual allows time and space for response to, engagement with, the living Christ.

The Missal clearly considers the provision of silence as important to enable quality listening and response. Yet significant silence is invariably in short supply, if not indeed virtually absent. And in consequence we experience the Liturgy of the Word as being much more about things being read, than it is about things being pondered on, let alone responded to – by the congregation as a whole and within the liturgical action

Why is this? In part it may be an unhelpful hangover from the way the Tridentine Mass came to be celebrated – i.e. with the Liturgy celebrated in a language most often congregation did not understand, with hand missals regularly discouraged by the Church, and the congregation encouraged to its own private and often aliturgical devotions rather than participating in the Mass more regularly.

It may also be that many in the congregation are lacking confidence in praying with Scripture, and – in any case, may not many of them have got used to thinking that, after all if there is anything in these words  the priest will explain to us what he thinks we need to know in the sermon? (Sorry, ‘homily’.)

There may well be other explanations also. But when the focus is more singly on listening that listening and responding, how far we are from the vision of renewal that came from Vatican Council II and that is well provided for in the Missal’s General Intruction.

In the Eucharistic Prayer bread and wine is transformed into Christ’s Body and Blood for a hungry people. In the Liturgy of the Word it is intended that that hungry people itself be transformed through its being fed with the word so we might learn to long to become more and more like the Word, healed to become more like him, strengthened to be more like him – and more ready to take up our share in his work in the world.

– – – –

It is likely that when (if?) we begin to work to make silence a more secure and constitutive feature of the Liturgy of the Word we will need a strategy to help the congregation as a whole to use the silence with profit. We will need too a strategy of confidence-building that all members of the congregation will be ready to fruitfully consider the scripture and prayerfully respond to it.  And we will need perseverance too, to sustain the process of change until these things can become second nature to ministers and (other) congregants…

Until we do this it is sadly the case that this Liturgy of the Word is somewhat empty of meaning to many our congregations, and clerical. When the opportunity for the congregation to enter into personal and particular relationship with the living Word is frustrated and compromised, the power of God’s Word, life and energy leaches from what is offered to the congregation. And this at the very time we should have benefit of these things as we prepare for our great Thanksgiving and for our sacramental Communion with the Lord.

Reflection Questions

  • What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of the Liturgy of the Word?
  • Who in your parish community might be interested in exploring some of the challenges presented by what theGeneral Instruction of the Missal establishes as the Church’s expectations for the Liturgy of the Word?
  • What might prove to be challenges to bringing about change – where it is necessary?
  • What reasons can you suggest for addressing those challenges?
  • What strategies for renewal might be employed during Mass? During on-going formation for readers and musicians, and clergy? By way of continuing formation for the congregation more broadly?

A log with links to previous postings in this series is kept here.

Acknowledgements as

~ Excerpts from the English translation and chants of The Roman Missal © 2010, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. All rights reserved.
Commentary: (c) 2021, Allen Morris
Photograph: (c) 2015, Allen Morris. Weekday chapel, Cathédrale de la Résurrection d’Évry.

Origins and Influences IX: Eucharist in the 150s AD

Justin Martyr, as he is usually termed, was born c100AD in Samaria, Palestine. He converted to Christianity, probably from paganism. His surviving works are all defences of, arguments for, Christianity – and in two of them he addresses the theme of the Eucharist.

The first of them, The Dialogue with Trypho, offers a conversation between Justin and Trypho, a Jew. In conversation, Justin tries to persuade Trypho to convert to Christianity, and answers his various objections. In the dialogue Justin argues that the Eucharist is the Sacrifice pleasing to God, which is offered now by the Church in the bread and cup of thanksgiving. (cf Malachi 1.10b-12a). He argues this has replaced the sacrifices of Judaism (which, in any case, had ceased with the destruction of Jerusalem’s Temple).

The second, the First Apology, dated around 150AD, is addressed to the Emperor, Antoninus Pius, arguing against the persecution of the Church, and defending the virtue of Christianity. For our purposes it is most notable for giving us our earliest (relatively) full description of how Christians celebrated Eucharist.

In the Apology Justin actually gives us two descriptions, the first being the conclusion of a longer baptismal liturgy and the second seemingly an account of the more usual Sunday practice.

The conclusion of a Baptismal Liturgy

65.1 After we have thus baptized him who has believed and has given his assent, we take him to those who are called brethren where they are assembled, to make common prayers earnestly for ourselves and for him who has been enlightened’ and for all others everywhere, that, having learned the truth, we may be deemed worthy to be found good citizens also in our actions and guardians of the Commandments, so that we may be saved with eternal salvation.

When we have ended the prayers, we greet one another with a kiss.

Then bread and a cup of water and (a cup) of mixed wine are brought to him who presides over the brethren, and he takes them and sends up praise and glory to the Father of all in the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and gives thanks at some length that we have been deemed worthy of these things from him. When he has finished the prayers and the thanksgiving, all the people give their assent by saying “Amen.” “Amen” is the Hebrew for “So be it.”

And when the president has given thanks and all the people have assented, those whom we call deacons give to each of those present a portion of the bread and wine and water over which thanks have been given, and take them to those who are not present.

There are a number of points that are worth commenting on.

  • The common prayers would seem to be akin to the Prayer of the Faithful of Mass today. Prayers offered by the Church for the world, for herself and for particular needs.
  • The kiss -the sign of peace – here follows the common prayers, preceding the bringing of the offerings to the altar, perhaps in conscious obedience to Jesus’ words at Matthew 5.23-24: “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift”
  • The elements brought to the altar may have been not only the bread and cup of wine mixed with water but also a second cup which was of water only. There is a certain ambiguity in the Latin, one cup with wine and water mixed or a cup of water and a cup of wine mixed with water. There is a plausibility with either reading, but Justin does not explain further on the significance of the two cups.
  • There is little detail given of the prayer of Thanksgiving, the Eucharistic Prayer, but Justin notes the particular significance of the congregation’s concluding and affirming Amen.
  • The Prayer is offered by the ‘President’. Justin uses the word proestos – a Greek word meaning ‘leader’ – the implication being this is a corporate work carried out by a leader with others, not a (for example, priestly) work for the congregation.
  • Deacons distribute the Eucharistic food and drink to the gathered assembly, and then take some of it to those who are not present. Again there seems to be an emphasis on the integrity of the body of the faithful – all of those present, and with those unable to be present.

Our thanksgiving/eucharistic food

This account of the Eucharist which concludes the Baptismal Liturgy is followed by a further exploration of the nature of Eucharist

66.1 And we call this food “thanksgiving“; and no one may partake of it unless he is convinced of the truth of our teaching, and has been cleansed with the washing for forgiveness of sins and regeneration, and lives as Christ handed down.

For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but just as our Saviour Jesus Christ, being incarnate through the word of God, took flesh and blood for our salvation, so too we have been taught that the food over which thanks have been given by a word of prayer which is from him, (the food) from which our flesh and blood are fed by transformation, is both the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.

For the apostles in the records composed by them which are called gospels, have handed down thus what was commanded of them: that Jesus took bread, gave thanks, and said, “Do this for the remembrance of me; this is my body”; and likewise he took the cup, gave thanks, and said “This is my blood”; and gave to them alone.

And the evil demons have imitated this and handed it down to be done also in the mysteries of Mithras. For as you know or may learn, bread and a cup of water are used with certain formulas in their rites of initiation.

  • The  food and drink is named after the action, the praying over them – thanksgiving/eucharistein.
  • The eucharistic food and drink is reserved for those who have been baptised. This same care is there right from the beginning that the Eucharist is food and drink for those who have been baptised and who live as Christ handed down. We have previously observed in the Didache.
  • Justin considers the gospels to have been written by the apostles. Scholars now see the link between the apostles Matthew and John and the gospels that bear their names as less immediate. Mark and Luke of course were not apostles, although traditionally Mark and Luke were close to Peter and Paul respectively.
  • Mithraism was a religion popular in the 1st and 2nd Centuries. It had elaborate initiation rites and, as Justin notes, these included a share meal. It seems unlikely that there was direct influence of Christianity on Mithraism or vice versa.

The Sunday Liturgy

67.1 And thereafter we continually remind one another of these things. Those who have the means help all those in need; and we are always together.

And we bless the Maker of all things through his Son Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit over all that we offer.

And  on the day called Sunday an assembly is held in one place of all who live in town or country, and the records of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as time allows.

Then, when the reader has finished, the president in a discourse admonishes and exhorts (us) to imitate these good things

Then we all stand up together and send up prayers; and as we said before, when we have finished praying, bread and wine and water are brought up, and the president likewise sends up prayers and thanksgivings to the best of his ability, and the people assent, saying the Amen; and the (elements over which) thanks have been given are distributed, and everyone partakes; and they are sent through the deacons to those who are not present.

And the wealthy who so desire give what they wish, as each chooses; and what is collected is deposited with the president.

He helps orphans and widows, and those who through sickness or any other cause are in need, and those in prison, and strangers sojourning among us; in a word, he takes care of all those who are in need.

And we all assemble together on Sunday, because it is the first day, on which God transformed darkness and matter, and made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour rose from the dead on that day; for they crucified him the day before Saturday; and the day after Saturday, which is Sunday, he appeared to his apostles and disciples, and taught them these things which we have presented to you also for your consideration.

I will not comment on all the significant elements of the passage above, only those which did not appear in the previous excerpts from Justin’s 1st Apology.

  • Justin twice observes that the community gathers on Sunday – in the opening and closing sentences of this section. The reason for Sunday gathering will be explored below, but here it suffices to note that Justin does not tell us when on Sunday the assembly gathers. Is it on Saturday evening, in Roman counting, but the beginning of Sunday, according to Jewish custom? Or is it Sunday itself, as it were? We don’t know. Neither do we know whether at this time the weekly gathering was still preceded by a shared meal as was the earlier custom, or whether there had been a separation between them, even a jettisoning of the shared meal in favour of (only) the Eucharistic rite.
  • Justin says readings from apostles or prophets are read. Does this mean sometimes readings came from the Old Testament and sometimes from the New? Or might it be both. Either way the reading seems to be determined not by set readings from a Lectionary but reading (and listening!) according to the time available.
  • The reader reads, and the presider, with the rest of the assembly listens. Then the presider gives his discourse. This same model is the norm proposed by the Roman rite today where readers, psalmist and deacon proclaim the word, and then the priest/bishop preaches.
  • In the same way that there does not seem to have been a Lectionary, neither did the President have the convenience of a Missal with composed Eucharistic Prayers – he prayed to the best of his ability. Later, perhaps in order to protect against heresy being imported, presidents were required to use given texts for the thanksgiving.
  • If we have doubt as to whether this is Mass, perhaps the reference to a collection will assuage those doubts!
  • It is perhaps surprising that what is collected (money, food? We are not told) is lodged with the president. Surprising only because one might have thought it would be given to the deacons to dstribute – but Justin only witnesses to their service of the distribution of the eucharistic food (and drink?). It is the president who is singled out as the caregiver here.
  • And finally Justin again returns to Sunday and now gives expounds on its meaning.

A familiar pattern for the Eucharist

Taken all together these descriptions of the Church’s prayer can provide the following structure pretty similar to the outline of our celebrations of Mass today,

  • Gathering of the Assembly
  • Readings
  • Homily
  • Prayer of the Faithful
  • Kiss of Peace
  • Presentation of the gifts/collection for the poor
  • Prayers and thanksgiving by the Presider
  • Distribution of the ‘eucharistized’ bread and wine

There are of course differences to what we do know, but not many. And maybe those differences challenge us about how we are and how we do things – maybe particularly the effects of doing things by the book; the direct link between our Sunday assembly and the care of those not able to be present, and of those in need.

Reflection questions

  • What most strikes you in Justin’s account of the Thanksgiving?
  • Is there anything notable absent from it?
  • What do you think are the positives and what might be the negatives of Liturgy from the Books?
  • How is ministry encouraged in your community?
  • How does the community take responsibility for the care of absent members and the needy?

A log with links to previous postings in this series is kept here.

Acknowledgements

  • Translation of First Apology taken from R.C.D Jasper and G.J Cuming, Prayers of the Eucharist Early and Reformed. 3rd revised edition. Collegeville: Pueblo Publishing, The Liturgical Press, 1990.
  • The Roman Missal (c) 2010, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. All rights reserved.
  • Photograph (c) 2012, Allen Morris. Statue of St Justin Martyr, from church of Justin Martyr, Nablus, Palestinian Authority territory.
  • Graphic (c) Jonathan Stewart, 2007
  • Text (c) 2021, Allen Morris.

The Art of Celebration VII: The blessing and sprinkling of water

Again, it is fortuitous that we consider this optional feature of Sunday Mass during the Easter season – for this season is the particular time singled out in the Roman Missal for this blessing and sprinkling to especially but occasionally substitute for the Penitential Act.

This optional rite echoes the rite which is a required part of the Easter Vigil when after those to be baptised have been baptised and confirmed, the faithful present are invited to renew their promise of of baptismal faith (although they can also be invited to renew this promise during the baptismal liturgy iteself (Roman Missal, The Easter Vigil, 49).

On Easter Day the renewal of promises and the sprinkling follows the homily and takes the place of the Creed.

Dear brethren (brothers and sisters), through the Paschal Mystery
we have been buried with Christ in Baptism,
so that we may walk with him in newness of life.
And so, now that our Lenten observance is concluded,
let us renew the promises of Holy Baptism,
by which we once renounced Satan and his works
and promised to serve God in the holy Catholic Church.

There follows the renewal of baptismal promises and then the priest says:

And the Priest concludes:

And may almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has given us new birth by water and the Holy Spirit
and bestowed on us forgiveness of our sins,
keep us by his grace,
in Christ Jesus our Lord,
for eternal life.  All: Amen.

And then the priest sprinkles the assembly with water blessed at the Vigil.

The prayer highlights the way our keeping of Lent prepares us for continuing to live the life of Easter, and the way we were initiated to that life in Baptism.

On other Sundays there is no renewal of promises and the sprinkling (and prior blessing of water, if needed) replaces the Penitential Act. Perhaps in consequence of the absence of the promises on other Easter Sundays the prayer of Blessing is more extensive, echoing some of the principal themes of the blessing of water at the Vigil (and Baptism).

On these other Sundays of Easter Time the priest introduces the rite, saying:

Dear brethren (brothers and sisters),
let us humbly beseech the Lord our God
to bless this water he has created,
which will be sprinkled on us
as a memorial of our Baptism.
May he help us by his grace
to remain faithful to the Spirit we have received.

If there is a weakness in the prayer of blessing that follows it is that it is mostly looking back – to saving mysteries, to baptism celebrated etc, rather to the living of the Baptismal life, (which is better expressed in the concluding words of the introduction.

Lord our God,
in your mercy be present to your people’s prayers,
and, for us who recall the wondrous work of our creation
and the still greater work of our redemption,
graciously bless this water.
For you created water to make the fields fruitful
and to refresh and cleanse our bodies.
You also made water the instrument of your mercy:
for through water you freed your people from slavery
and quenched their thirst in the desert;
through water the Prophets proclaimed the new covenant
you were to enter upon with the human race;
and last of all,
through water, which Christ made holy in the Jordan,
you have renewed our corrupted nature
in the bath of regeneration.
Therefore, may this water be for us
a memorial of the Baptism we have received,
and grant that we may share
in the gladness of our brothers and sisters
who at Easter have received their Baptism.
Through Christ our Lord.
R. Amen.

Weaker still are the prayers offered for blessing the water outside of Easter Time. They rather narrowly focus on forgiveness and protection – presenting the faithful as more or less passive recipients of grace rather than active collaborators with it.

To occasionally replace the Penitential Act with the rite of blessing and sprinkling does help vary the experience of a congregation, provide a reminder of the foundational importance of baptism, and open us up to another way of contemplating and praying about God’s saving work, freeing us from the bonds of sin and for a life focussed on love and service.

Of particular importance for the prayerful engagement with this rite is the chant that accompanies the sprinkling.

The Missal offers a range of mostly scriptural texts, and also allows for other appropriate chants.

During Easter Time

Antiphon 1                                                                                       Cf. Ez 47: 1-2, 9
I saw water flowing from the Temple,
from its right-hand side, alleluia:
and all to whom this water came
were saved and shall say: alleluia, alleluia.

Antiphon 2                                                                              Cf. Wis 3: 8; Ez 36: 25
On the day of my resurrection, says the Lord, alleluia,
I will gather the nations and assemble the kingdoms
and I will pour clean water upon you, alleluia.

Antiphon 3                                                                                      Cf. Dan 3: 77, 79
You springs and all that moves in the waters,
sing a hymn to God, alleluia.

Antiphon 4                                                                                                  1 Pet 2: 9
O chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation,
proclaim the mighty works of him
who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light, alleluia.

Antiphon 5
From your side, O Christ,
bursts forth a spring of water,
by which the squalor of the world is washed away
and life is made new again, alleluia.

Outside Easter Time

Antiphon 1                                                                                                    Ps 50: 9
Sprinkle me with hyssop, O Lord, and I shall be cleansed;
wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.

Antiphon 2                                                                                             Ez 36: 25-26
I will pour clean water upon you,
and you will be made clean of all your impurities,
and I shall give you a new spirit, says the Lord.

Hymn                                                                                                   Cf. 1 Pet 1: 3-5
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who in his great mercy has given us new birth into a living hope
through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
into an inheritance that will not perish,
preserved for us in heaven
for the salvation to be revealed in the last time!

The texts for the chant repay our use in meditation during the Liturgy and outside it too – they are somewhat stronger than the prayers provided!

Questions for reflection

  • When and why is the Blessing and Sprinkling rite used in your community?
  • How is its meaning presented to the assembly?
  • What music is used, and who is it sung by?
  • In what other ways and when is the significance of baptism explored with your Sunday congregation?

A log with links to previous postings in this series is kept here.

Acknowledgements as

~ Excerpts from the English translation and chants of The Roman Missal © 2010, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. All rights reserved.
~ Commentary: (c) 2021, Allen Morris
~ Photograph: (c) 2003, Allen Morris. Stained glass, former Dominican chapoel, Eindhoven Netherlands.

Origins and influences V: The Breaking of Bread

In an earlier blog I noted that although we can have an idea that there is a direct and straight line from the Last Supper to our Mass of today that is not so. Jesus did not distribute a missal to each of the apostles and say ‘do this in memory of me’.

What were they to do, in memory of him? Everything he had done at the meal?

There is no indication that they ever did that. Whatever the Passover element of the meal was – and we do not know what it was, with any certainty – never seems to have been repeated. If it was a Passover meal, remember in John’s Gospel the meal is before the Passover. But there is no indication that there was a regular gathering for the mutual washing of feet either.

What we do know about that line of connection in the earliest days of the Church, between the Last Supper, the Lord’s Supper – and for sure there is a line of connection – we glean from scripture.

The first thing that we see is that the Breaking of Bread becomes a significant ritual for the early followers of Jesus.

The Breaking of Bread

That term, the Breaking of Bread, is used especially in the writings of Luke. It comes first in the climax of the Emmaus story which takes up almost the whole of the last chapter of Luke’s Gospel and in which Jesus helps his disciples slowly put together the things they will need to understand what has happened in the Easter Mystery, the Paschal Mystery, of his Passion, Death and Resurrection. First he engages them in a reconsideration of scripture, helping them to begin see that his death rather than being a betrayal of hope is in fact hope’s fulfilment. And second he takes, blesses and breaks bread with them: and it is at the breaking of the bread that they recognise him.

That language of the breaking of the bread continues to be used by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles.

The Fellowship of the Believers
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Acts 2.42-47

Eutychus Raised from the Dead
On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third storey and was taken up dead. But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.

Acts 20.7-12

Breaking bread in a storm
As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.” And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves. (We were in all 276 persons in the ship.) And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, throwing out the wheat into the sea.

Acts 27.33-38

Trying to understand and account for what is being described in scripture is not always straightforward!

Very many would, without hesitation, see the reference in Acts 2 to the breaking of bread as a reference to the first believers celebrating Eucharist (in one form or other).

And it is regularly suggested that the gathering at which Eutychus quite literally drops off during Paul’s preaching (or at least speechifying) was a Sunday gathering for Mass.

However what about what happens in the third episode? There is quite a lot of what we take now to be eucharistic language in Luke’s account: ‘he took bread and giving thanks (in Greek ‘eucharistein)’he broke it and began to eat. With all of that language employed Luke seems to imply this is a very eucharistic moment, (even in our later sacramental understanding of the term) and surely something more is going on than Paul was simply telling everyone to have a bite to eat and pull themselves together. But was he celebrating Eucharist? Did he share it with others?

Interpreting the words of scripture, scholars will sometimes push the evidence towards more or less tentative conclusions so as to test out their theories. But for others us it is often enough to notice ‘the grey areas’, and value the resonances, the points of connection, between what is said and what we – in a very different age and in very different circumstances – say and do, without demanding to know ‘was it Mass or wasn’t it?’

The word eucharistein – giving thanks noted above in that somewhat problematic account of Paul in the boat – gives us our English word ‘Eucharist’. The noun is used c 150AD by Justin Martyr in his Frist Apology – of which more in some weeks time.

And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do youe in remembrance of Me, this is My body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My blood;” and gave it to them alone. …

Justin, First Apology 66.1

By the time of Justin Eucharist has taken on a technical meaning (and the Eucharistic Rite, as we will see has taken on what is to us a very recognisable form). But in the New Testament, and in the First and early Second Century, at least, there is also a good deal of fluidity. The Eucharistic controversies, and the centralisation of Church authority, that it has helped (and sometimes hindered?) our appreciation of the Eucharist – and certainly brought a forensic clarity to what is considered valid and invalid, licit and illicit – lie far in the future.

There is evidence of -at least – ritual diversity in the Eucharistic practice of the early Church – some may have had rituals using bread only; others with bread and water; others with bread and water and wine. We have no need to judge the propriety of what they did. It is enough to note what they did, these people who sought to live in communion with the risen Christ and understood themselves to eat and (generally, also) drink their communion in his Body, of his flesh.

What did matter in these formative times was that whether or not the breaking of bread, for example, was done in communion with Jesus, in memory of him, and under the uniting power of the Holy Spirit. The niceties of ritual practice seem to have been of less importance, at least for a while.

While there clearly was variety, the dominant tradition which has been handed on to us, is that first expounded in Paul. But for Paul too – though he knows Eucharist as a ritual  that involves bread and wine and which echoes what Jesus did at the last supper – Eucharist is also more than the ritual. It is thanksgiving, and it is about a life of thanksgiving, a life lived in Communion with Christ, and with his Body the Church.

So Paul eucharistises – he give thanks (and uses the language of eucharistein) – for the Church in Corinth (1 Cor 1.4); he partakes with thanksgiving (again he uses eucharistein) over most any food set before him (unless he knows it has been offered in sacrifice to false gods (1 Cor 30); and he urges those he writes to eucharistise always and everywhere (cf Eph 1.16, 1 Th 5.18 and 2 Th2.13), as well as at the meal that is specifically memorial of Christ.

If we allow ourselves to loosen up a little with regard to what Eucharist has been for others, we have the opportunity to broaden our appreciation of what it is that we are part of when we celebrate Eucharist today. For all of the wonder of how Eucharist engages us in what happened in the Upper Room at the Lord’s Supper, and what Christ suffered and achieved at Calvary, there is more too.

Next week we look at some of that more – in the Gospel accounts of other meals that Jesus shared with his disciples, and in some of the earliest non-scriptural accounts of Eucharistic prayer.

Acknowledgements

  • Translation of Scripture: English Standard Version (c) 2001-9, Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
  • Quotation from Justin Martyr taken from https://earlychurchtexts.com/public/justin_eucharist.htm 
  • Photographs. (c) 2005, Allen Morris, First Station, Clifton Cathedral. (c) 2017, Allen Morris, Eutychus, Chester Cathedral; (c) 2018, Allen Morris. Glass fragments, Coventry Cathedral. Stained glass, Hull Minster; (c) 2014, St Paul, St Trophime, Arles, France.
  • Text (c) 2021, Allen Morris.

Gospel reading for the 4th Sunday of Advent

The Gospel this Sunday gives account to the Lord’s taking flesh in/of the Virgin Mary.

For 9 months Mary will carry our Saviour in her womb, cherishing the life, nourishing him from her body.

But Mary is more than simply the place of conception, and mother to the baby – worthy enough as those roles are. She is also a model for discipleship, a model of living in response to God’s love and faithfulness, and witness to other of that glory.

We see aspects of that in her response to Gabriel, and her willingness to serve in the way that she confirms to the angel.

It is maybe even better witnessed to in the Mystery of the Visitation – an account of which follows in Luke’s Gospel after this Sunday’s reading. There Mary evidences love of God and love of neighbour – and gives to us a song that the Church sings to this day in her evening prayer.

One fine way of spending in time in prayer in these coming days before Christmas is to pray the Rosary. Some help is available here for those who are not familiar with the prayer, or would like a fresh approach.


Living Eucharist – in its usual form – is taking a holiday from today until the weekend of the 2nd/3rd January. Between now and then, each day, there will simply be a posting of the Gospel of the day.

Have a happy Christmas when it comes and may the Christmas season fill you with hope and confidence as we enter 2021.


Luke 1:26-38
Gospel reading for the 4th Sunday of Advent

 (NB the text set for Sunday is given below in bold and in ‘quote sections’ below; the rest is the immediate biblical text from which the Lectionary text is extracted)

Birth of Jesus Foretold

1.26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Mary Visits Elizabeth
39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

Mary’s Song of Praise: The Magnificat
46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47  and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48  for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49  for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50  And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51  He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52  he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53  he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54  He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55  as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.

 
 
Acknowledgements
~ Translation of Scriptures: English Standard Version (c) 2001-9, Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers
~ Commentary: © 2020, Allen Morris
~ Photograph:© 2016, Allen Morris. Stained glass, Slipper Chapel, Walsingham.

Responsorial Psalm for the 3rd Sunday of Advent

The Church’s song in this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word is Mary’s song, the Magnificat, sung in response to Elizabeth’s greeting, and recognition of the presence of the Lord Jesus in his mother’s womb.

In Advent we wait for what is to come: Mary, in her song, gives thanks for what has been and what presently is.

May her prayer and her example nudge us in that same direction too.

Luke 1:46-50, 53-54
Responsorial Psalm for the 3rd Sunday of Advent

(NB the text set for Sunday is given below in bold and in ‘quote sections’ below; the rest is the immediate biblical text from which the Lectionary text is extracted)

Canticle of Mary (Magnificat)

46 My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 For he has looked upon his handmaid in her lowliness;
for behold, from this day forward,
all generations will call me blessed.

49 For the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is from age to age
for those who fear him.

51 He has made known the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit of heart.  
52 He has cast down the mighty from their thrones
and has exalted those who are lowly.

53 He has filled the hungry with good things,
and has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
mindful of his mercy,

55 Even as he promised to our fathers,
to Abraham and his descendants for ever.


Acknowledgements
~ Translation of Psalm: From Abbey Psalms and Canticles, prepared by the monks of Conception Abbey © 2008, 2010 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC
~ Commentary: © 2020, Allen Morris
~ Photograph:© 2014, Allen Morris. Carving, Cloister, St Trophime, Arles, France.


 

Collect for the 3rd Sunday of Advent

The Collect seems to assure God that his people “faithfully await the feast of the Lord’s Nativity”.

The phrase got me wondering, what does it mean, ‘faithfully to await’ the feast of the Lord’s Nativity?

Simply to have faith, and to wait?

Or something more? Is it in faith to know a waiting that is existential; that is grounded in a sense of our unpreparedness (despite faith, and with longing for things to be different) and confronts us with our unreadiness, and so our need for what God can do to help us up and on?

An active, engaged waiting? To help us up and on, not just to the feast of Christmas, not even to a celebration of God born in human flesh – but to a fresh awareness, appreciation, appropriation, of why that birth matters.

And that birth matters, because it is a part of the great saving work of God begun with the incarnation and birth, brought to fresh focus in the Paschal Mystery in the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus, and manifest now – please God – in our keeping of Advent, waiting and working inspired by the closeness of the Kingdom of God, even to us.

Collect for the 3rd Sunday of Advent

O God, who see how your people
faithfully await the feast of the Lord’s Nativity,
enable us, we pray,
to attain the joys of so great a salvation
and to celebrate them always
with solemn worship and glad rejoicing.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

 
Acknowledgements

~ Translation of the Collect: English translation of The Roman Missal ©  2010, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. All rights reserved
~ Commentary: © 2020, Allen Morris
~ Photograph:© 2014, Allen Morris. Palais des Papes, Avignon.

Second reading for the 2nd Sunday of Advent

St Peter calls the Church to be ready to receive, welcome, and benefit from the coming of the Lord at the end of time – at the beginning of God’s new time and new Creation.

As well as this second coming at the end of time, Christians from the beginning have also been conscious of the opportunities to welcome the Lord afresh into their lives in the present moment to – to welcome him by being alert to the potential to live lovingly now, and also to the sad lapse that leads us to lack of charity and to blindness to the Lord’s real presence to us in the here and now.

2 Peter 3:8-14
Second reading for the 2nd Sunday of Advent

(NB the text set for Sunday is given below in bold and in ‘quote sections’ below; the rest is the immediate biblical text from which the Lectionary text is extracted)

The Day of the Lord Will Come
3.1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Saviour through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Final Words
14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.

15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.


 
Acknowledgements
~ Translation of Scriptures: English Standard Version (c) 2001-9, Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers
~ Commentary: © 2020, Allen Morris
~ Photograph:© 2017, Allen Morris. Stained glass, St Nicholas church, Henley-in -Arden, Warwickshire.

Collect for the 2nd Sunday of Advent

Wisdom comes for us all in many forms, but most fully, most perfectly as God’s living Word, Jesus Christ himself.

There are many opportunities for us to engage with God’s Wisdom, but none has the power or effect of spending time with Jesus himself, in Word, in Holy Communion – in the Eucharist and in the communion of the Church.

The Gospels have a privileged role in strengthening this communion.

  • During the Church that begins this Advent it will be the Gospel of Mark that we hear most regularly on Sundays.
  • Why not reacquaint yourself with the Gospel as a whole? To read the work as a whole gives us a richer understanding of Jesus and his work, and his meaning for us and our lives, than we get from isolated passages.
  • This Sunday’s Gospel reading at Mass is the first verses of Mark’s Gospel. Start there, and just keep reading!

Collect for the 2nd Sunday of Advent

Almighty and merciful God,
may no earthly undertaking hinder those
who set out in haste to meet your Son,
but may our learning of heavenly wisdom
gain us admittance to his company.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.


 
Acknowledgements

~ Translation of the Collect: English translation of The Roman Missal ©  2010, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. All rights reserved
~ Commentary: © 2020, Allen Morris
~ Photograph:© 2015, Allen Morris. Cover for Book of Scriptures, Treasury, The Kremlin, Moscow.

First reading for the first Sunday of Advent

The prophet helps Israel and the Church know its place before the Lord.  
 
We are clay and he is the potter. He is one fine potter, but in us he does not seem to have the most promising material to work with.
 
We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
 
And yet God is the potter and in his hands there is hope for the raw clay. We can become, – and when we look around, we see how of us some do become – something beautiful through God’s handiwork.

Advent is a season of hope, a season when once more the promises of the Lord warm our hearts and lives back to life….

Isaiah 63:16-17,64:1,3-8
First reading for the 1st Sunday of Advent  

(NB the text set for Sunday is given below in bold and in ‘quote sections’ below; the rest is the immediate biblical text from which the Lectionary text is extracted) 

Prayer for Mercy
63.15  Look down from heaven and see,
from your holy and beautiful habitation.
Where are your zeal and your might?
The stirring of your inner parts and your compassion
are held back from me.

16  For you are our Father,
though Abraham does not know us,
and Israel does not acknowledge us;
you, O LORD, are our Father,
our Redeemer from of old is your name.
17  O LORD, why do you make us wander from your ways
and harden our heart, so that we fear you not?
Return for the sake of your servants,
the tribes of your heritage.

18  Your holy people held possession for a little while;
our adversaries have trampled down your sanctuary.
19  We have become like those over whom you have never ruled,
like those who are not called by your name.

64.1 Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains might quake at your presence—

2  as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
and that the nations might tremble at your presence!

3  When you did awesome things that we did not look for,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
 
4  From of old no one has heard
or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
who acts for those who wait for him.
5  You meet him who joyfully works righteousness,
those who remember you in your ways.
Behold, you were angry, and we sinned;
in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?
6  We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
7  There is no one who calls upon your name,
who rouses himself to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.
 
8
 But now, O LORD, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.

9  Be not so terribly angry, O LORD,
and remember not iniquity forever.
Behold, please look, we are all your people.
10  Your holy cities have become a wilderness;
Zion has become a wilderness,
Jerusalem a desolation.
11  Our holy and beautiful house,
where our fathers praised you,
has been burned by fire,
and all our pleasant places have become ruins.
12  Will you restrain yourself at these things, O LORD?
Will you keep silent, and afflict us so terribly?

Acknowledgements
~ Translation of Scriptures: English Standard Version (c) 2001-9, Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers
~ Commentary: © 2020, Allen Morris
~ Photograph:© 2017, Allen Morris. Gladstone Pottery Museum