We’re back to Ordinary Time in our liturgy after the Feast of the Epiphany and the Baptism of Jesus. Christmas Time is over. Does that mean there’s nothing to do till Lent and the Easter season?
It certainly doesn’t mean we stop praying and living as Christians. The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy insists that daily prayer is at the heart of Ordinary Time and it never stops. (SC 2)
More than just affirming daily prayer, the Second Vatican Council strongly recommended that the scriptures become our daily prayer, and it followed its recommendation by creating a lectionary, daily readings of scripture, so that “ the treasures of the bible be opened more lavishly for the faithful at the table of God’s word.” (SC 51)
We’re beginning today to read from the First Book of Samuel and the Gospel of Mark from our lectionary.
The council’s recommendation to read the scriptures as daily prayer is important. If we were living back in 16th century Spain, for example, at the time of St. Theresa of Avila, we would be shocked by it.
At that time, in response to the Protestant Reformation, the Inquisition forbade books of the scripture in the Spanish language to be read by laypeople and even by nuns, and so Teresa and her nuns only knew the bible from what they heard in church and in the sermons preached to them.
Archbishop Rowan Williams has studied the scriptures Teresa, now a doctor of the church, was allowed to hear. She wrote her “Way of Perfection”, her fundamental instruction of prayer, as the Inquisition was cracking down on scripture commentaries. She’s not a teacher, she writes, just a woman, and she’s aware of how careful you have to be in bad times like these, but even though we don’t have books, Teresa writes, we can still learn how to pray from the Our Father, Hail Mary, and the gospel readings that everyone hears.
The Archbishop remarks that despite her diplomatic language you can see Teresa “seething” against the proscription of the Inquisition.
She probably never read the Book of Samuel (Today’s reading about Hannah’s brush with Eli, the priest, would surely have caught her eye). She knew little about the Gospel of Mark, which was hardly read at all in medieval church lectionaries, and she had no access, of course, to the insights into scripture produced by modern biblical studies.
All of this says that Catholics are living at very privileged time after the Vatican Council. But theologians and commentators are also cautioning that we have to be careful of taking what we have for granted and seeing our liturgy as an accomplishment, rather than a work in progress.
We may have before us more readings from the bible than Teresa had, but that doesn’t say that we have assimilated what they mean and that we’ve created the biblical spirituality the council hoped for.
The liturgy is always a “work”, a daily work, an important work, a daily prayer. It’s the “summit” of the Christian life. We’re at the beginning, not at the end.
“Sacred scripture is of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy. For it is from scripture that lessons are read and explained in the homily, and psalms are sung; the prayers, collects, and liturgical songs are scriptural in their inspiration and their force, and it is from the scriptures that actions and signs derive their meaning. Thus to achieve the restoration, progress, and adaptation of the sacred liturgy, it is essential to promote that warm and living love for scripture to which the venerable tradition of both eastern and western rites gives testimony.” (SC 24)
“The treasures of the bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s word. In this way a more representative portion of the holy scriptures will be read to the people in the course of a prescribed number of years.” (SC 51)