Scripture and the Liturgy

Scripture and liturgy go hand in hand. In the Early Church as it is now, Scripture holds a high place in the liturgy. Without Scripture it could be said that there would be no liturgy. Commentaries and exegesis were done during the liturgy in the Early Church and not in an academic setting. The Church Fathers were pastors and preachers.

In Letter and Spirit: From Written Text to Living Word in the Liturgy (Doubleday 2005), Scott Hahn discusses the ways that Scripture is highly liturgical. For example in the Book of Exodus he shows that instructions are given on how to celebrate the Passover. He shows that many of the events in the Bible have a liturgical style to them. One of these is the Battle of Jericho where the Israelites marched around the city seven times with the Ark of the Covenant and blowing trumpets.

Hahn discusses the various covenants in the Bible which have liturgical connections because a sacrifice of some sort was made. The Passion and Death of Christ is the ultimate and perfect covenant sacrifice. Hahn shows how covenants were usually between humans. For God to enter into covenants with humans is unusual. God was always faithful while the humans were not. God’s plan for salvation worked out even if the humans involved were not faithful.

Hahn discusses the controversy over what writings were Scripture and which were not. There was one test for this. If it was being read during the liturgy there was a good chance that it was divinely inspired.

The Christian liturgy has its roots in the Jewish liturgy of the Temple and of the synagogue. Hahn quotes several Jewish authorities showing that Christians have continued what the Jews had started with the liturgy. Those Christians are the ones that have liturgical worship like the Roman Catholics, Orthodox and a few others. Hahn shows that those who do not have liturgical worship are not successors of the Jewish religion. Jewish worship is very liturgical and the Old Testament is evidence of that.

Hahn discusses what liturgy is: that it is a re-presenting of a historical event like the crucifixion or the Resurrection now. This discussion would be hard for some to understand because it could be considered on a spiritual level. It is complicated to discuss this. Liturgy is imitating the heavenly liturgy which Hahn shows the Book of Revelation as showing what that is. The Israelites and early Christians were very careful about performing the liturgy as accurately and as perfectly as possible. The Letter to the Hebrews is another scriptural example of the importance of Scripture and the liturgy. It too is important because it embodies Tradition. Liturgy celebrates the Faith. What was contrary to the Faith was not celebrated in the liturgy.

Hahn’s book is not for the general reader. The reader needs to have some basic background of scripture and the liturgy. He quotes lots of people and other authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church and documents from Vatican II.

Scott Hahn is the head of the newly established Pope Benedict XVI Chair of Biblical Theology and Liturgical Proclamation at St. Vincent’s Seminary, Latrobe, PA. He is also the founder and director of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, Steubenville, Ohio. He has written several books including, Understanding the Scripture (2005), Queen Mother (2005), Path to Freedom (2004), Why Stay Catholic? (2003), The Lamb’s Supper (2003), Rome Sweet Home (1993) and he wrote a foreword for Pope Benedict XVI’s (then Cardinal Ratzinger) 1993 book The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood.

Letter and Spirit: From Written Text to Living Word in the Liturgy is recommended for theological libraries and those people interested in the study of Scripture and/or liturgy.

(Br. Benet Exton, O.S.B., writes from St. Gregory’s University, Shawnee, Oklahoma.)

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