The Sacrament of Holy Scripture
Holy Scripture has an incarnational character embodying the Word of God addressed to our ancestors and now addressed to us, to become the means whereby the contemporary Church grows in the image and likeness of the God she worships. As the Blessed Sacrament has a kerygmatic character, the Word has a sacramental character. To discern this we must pass beyond a strictly verbal notion of the Word and rediscover its dynamic quality, what Paul Breck describes as ‘its revelatory and saving power as an instrument of the divine will.’ ‘A sacrament is essentially "mystical" or spiritual; and yet it is the most concrete act of all, for the liturgical word is filled more than any other with transcendent presence.’
We are said to drink the blood of Christ not only when we receive it according to the rite of the mysteries, but also when we receive his words, in which life dwells, as he said himself: ‘The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life’ (John 6.63). (Origen Homilies on Numbers, 16, 9 (PG 12, 701)) ‘In truth, before Jesus, Scripture was like water, but since Jesus it has become for us the wine into which Jesus changed the water.’ (Commentary on St John’s Gospel (13, 60))
Our mistake today is to regard the Word as mere inspired text, forgetting that the Scriptures were compiled and edited for proclamation in the public liturgical assembly. Their dynamism and vitality resides in the event of proclamation, announcement, and address to God's people. God’s Word is to renew, revitalize and re-establish our identity as members of God's people and central to our experience is a divine and living Person in dialogue with his people. Our response to him as that Word enables the Church to grow, as it allows itself to be formed by the living God. Every day is a Day of the Lord when we must listen to his voice and realize that bread alone is not sufficient for daily life, but every word that comes from the mouth of God.
Prayer always accompanies Holy Scripture, read publicly in the Eucharist and in the Divine Office, so that the reading may bear greater fruit, and conversely prayer may be more fully developed by the reading and encourage more intense devotion. The Daily Office functions primarily through the medium of the spoken word where hearing and responding to God's Word is mediated through human speech. There is a power in speech that can be underestimated. It is a medium in which we articulate our self-giving and through which God is present to us and when in the company of others it makes us present to them. Speaking aloud gives extra power to the thoughts, emotions and depths of our being which the words articulate, objectifying them so that they can be heard more clearly. Speech becomes God's way of giving himself to us and a medium in which we can objectively gives ourselves to God.
The corporate memories contained in scripture give the Church its self-identity. Without continual reiteration of these memories, the Church would be simply an amorphous conglomeration of people of good will but without real identity. Through the reading and exposition of Scripture, the Christian recovers and appropriates for his own life the experiences of Israel and the early Church: escape from slavery, conquest, captivity, hope of a Messiah, incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and mission. Like Israel the Church's survival depends on recapitulating these memories and hopes. Worship is an 'epiphany of the Church', through the recapitulation of salvation history.
The Lectionary ensures that virtually the whole of the Bible is read over the year and synchronizes with the Christian Year by providing semi-continuous reading and harmonizing with the major Feast Days, Fasts and Seasons, by the provision of relevant reading. This often gives to the scriptural readings and liturgical texts a certain cohesion and subtle relationship integrating with the liturgical season or commemoration being experienced. As the altar is the focus for the Sacrament, so the lectern should be the focus for reflecting the dignity of God's Word.
Incarnation and Eucharist
Scripture then embodies the Word. The incarnation of the Word completes the transformation into Eucharist of the hearing of the Word. Is not this a Eucharist of the mind? – and God must be loved with all one’s mind. A loving preparation of heart and mind prepares us to encounter that paradisal life through the presence of Christ in the Eucharistic bread broken and shared. This Bread from heaven in its turn enlightens the mind.
In the way of typology the meaning of the Old Testament is revealed in Christ by identifying in people and events, types of the Incarnate Word and his work of salvation. It is this union of the human and divine in the person of the Word that makes it possible for the whole of the Bible to become a total and single moment of incarnation. As Origen has said ‘This is how you are to understand the Scriptures – as the one perfect body of the Word’ (Fragment of the homily on Jeremiah, PG 17, 289)
Arthur Middleton is Rector of Boldon, Honorary Canon of Durham and a Tutor at St Chad’s College.
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