Verbum Domini: the Word of God and the Church

Column Kieran Fenn fms#61 Scripture, reconciliation, anointing The centrality of scripture to all the sacraments is stressed especially in those dealing with healing (reconciliation and the sacrament of the sick)….


Kieran Fenn fms

Verbum Domini: the Word of God and the Church Archdiocese of Wellington#61 Scripture, reconciliation, anointing
The centrality of scripture to all the sacraments is stressed especially in those dealing with healing (reconciliation and the sacrament of the sick).

The word of God is a word of reconciliation. It is through the word that one receives light to recognise one’s sins and is called to conversion and confidence in God’s mercy.

Encouragement is given to prepare for confession by meditating on a suitable scriptural text and to start by reading or listening to biblical exhortation such as provided in the rite.

In anointing the sick, the healing power of the word is a constant call to personal conversion. Page after page of scripture speaks the consolation, support and healing which God brings. Jesus shouldered our pain and suffered out of love for us, giving meaning to sickness and death. In the celebration of the word, the sick are helped to endure their sufferings in faith.

Personal response
If the scriptures are alive for us, the sacraments will live in more effective ways as encounters with the living word, the Lord. Vatican II issued a strong call to renew sacramental life by recognising the underlying biblical basis to the sacraments. We are even encouraged to use the selected scripture reading as the substance for our examen of conscience in the reconciliation rite. I really wonder how we would fare if we examined our fidelity, or lack of it, with regard to the Beatitudes [Mt 5:1-12]. As for the psalms, many hospital chaplains have told me how beautifully certain psalms have helped them in their ministry with the dying.

#62-66 Of prayer and liturgy
The Liturgy of the Hours is a privileged form in which to hear the word of God because it brings the faithful into contact with scripture and the living tradition of the Church. Liturgists are encouraged to make the Morning (Lauds) and Evening Prayer (Vespers) form of the Office more available to the People of God.

The importance of silence in relation to the word of God is stressed. The word can be spoken and heard only in silence, outward and inward. Recollection and inward repose are modelled for us in Mary, woman of the word, woman of silence. Pastors are called on to promote times devoted to the celebration of the word and to foster moments of recollection; with the help of the Holy Spirit, the word of God can find a welcome in our hearts.

Personal response
Unless the homilist has earlier spent time pondering the word of God in silence, listening for and with the Spirit, how can words be spoken then silence observed so that word can enter into the hearts of the people? Would it not be better to allow periods of silence in the Mass, especially in the case of pastors who seem keen on giving a homily before the homily. Our noisy, busy world hardly fosters recollection, but it is the solemn duty of pastors to feed their people.

#67-71 Celebrating the word
A call is made for the proclamation of the word to be more solemnised, the word being carried in procession and the reading of the gospel made the high point of the liturgy of the word. A place of honour should be given to the scriptures even outside the liturgical celebrations. The sacred book should enjoy a place of honour in the Christian temple without prejudicing the tabernacle.

The scripture readings may never be replaced by other texts. The responsorial psalm is also the word of God and should not be replaced by other texts; it is most appropriate that it be sung. Preference should be given to songs in the liturgy which are of clear biblical inspiration.

Personal response
I take great delight in the way the word is honoured in Pacific Island cultures. The procession of the book is wonderful liturgy. What happens with the book after the celebration of the Eucharist? Where does it rest during adoration of the Eucharist? Is it available for reflection during such times? And while the instruction reads ‘never be replaced’ it does not say that a scriptural text special to a deceased cannot be added. Good sense and discretion are sound and desirable pastoral attributes.

#72 The word of God in Church life
Encounter with the word needs preparation; Pope Benedict joined the Synod Fathers in hoping for ‘A new season of greater love for sacred scripture on the part of every member of the People of God, so that their prayerful and faith-filled reading of the bible will, with time, deepen their personal relationship with Jesus’.

To this is added the wonder of St Jerome, ‘How could one live without the knowledge of scripture by which we come to know Christ himself, who is the life of believers?’

Personal response
How is it that the Church that gave the New Testament to Christianity is now seen by other churches as the least biblical of the mainline churches? In my recent teaching for the Pacific Bible College I met three people who said they were Catholics but changed allegiance because they were not being taught the scriptures.

I know that historical issues come into consideration but what price have we paid for our own ‘dark ages’ when the light of the scriptures was dimmed! Let us never forget the contribution of our Protestant brothers and sisters in the biblical field who kept, and still keep, the light of biblical scholarship blazing for us until we were free to pick it up again and contribute to it. Let us pray and work so that our pastors and teachers can bring this light to a people that can once again claim their own heritage as a people of the book, the word and sacrament.

A concluding thought
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the bible. Do you know the story of the 15-year-old Welsh girl, Mary Jones [1784-1866], who saved for six years and walked 25 miles to have her own copy of the bible in her own tongue? It is my privilege to be on the Board of the Bible Society that emerged from such origins.