Other articles from this issue | Version in English | Version in French
Education - Homiletic and Pastoral Aids for Lenten and Holy Week Liturgies
For several years the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles has worked together with the Jewish Community and the two have formed an ongoing Priest] Rabbi Committee. The following material, designed to help priests, deacons and educators generally, is a direct result of this Jewish-Christian dialogue.
The passion narratives and liturgies of Holy Week are central to the entire sense of Christian redemption and offer for us an intense and personal call to reconciliation. Yet this same Holy Week period has at times been distorted by individuals who create false and harmful images and caricatures. Anti-semitic images ranging from "perfidious Jews" to "Christ killer" have at times brought harm and done violence to the essential message of redemption and reconciliation contained in the liturgy of Holy Week.
What follows is a consideration of the challenges facing the homilist and teacher in the Lenten season, then brief and practical comments that can be read before the Sunday and Good Friday readings. These comments, which are designed to create cumulatively a positive climate prior to hearing the Passion narratives, are suitable also to be inserted in Parish bulletins. All three cycles of the present lectionary are treated.
Statement of Challenge
The already challenging task of the homilist during Holy Week is to make present the redemptive nature of the passion and death of Jesus Christ. In a time-conscious and multi media age, this is no light or easy charge. Is the already stretched homilectic seven minutes asked to bear another sensitivity, another prescribed homily topic removing anti-Semitic images?
This would prove an ill-fated pastoral trap. We are not asked to add, nor are we asked to isolate rather we are asked to integrate. The Passion account is highly charged. It is an account of conflict. The events of the Passion account in all the gospels are, for the most part, reflections of an inter-familial struggle. All the actors in the drama, with the exception of Pilate and other Romans, are Jews including Jesus, his disciples and followers. This struggle is heightened with the escalation of the inter-familial tension between Jewish Christians and other Jews. We can approach the ultimate purpose of accurately presenting the mystery-reality of redemption in an integrated fashion, without doing harm to the integrity of our proclamation.
How do we create such an integrated approach? We have indicated the do-nots: do not add length; do not simply preach on anti-Semitism. Ignoring the Hellenistic influences, historical developments and textual difficulties, we should personally place ourselves in the passion narrative; we should acknowledge our personal failure to accept the gospel message. By weaving this within our homily we invite our congregation to personalize the passion event.
Vatican II has called us to build a good image of the Jewish people. The Reproaches of Good Friday should indicate this direction. Present recommendations for revision of the Reproaches are based on strengthening and clarifying the placing of the believer personally within the Passion drama. For we have led Christ to the cross, we have yielded bitterness.
The 'homilist is asked not to lose the overall image of the fabric of revelation God's eternal and forgiving love for all humanity. The homilist must place that forgiving love in the historical events of Christ's passion as well as in the continued drama of the present journey of the Jew and Christian of today. The Jew and Christian of today are pilgrim people with these truths written in their hearts: God always cared for his people, continues to care and always will. Among his people, Christian and Jew, there have always been those who are faithful and trusting.
Suggested Comments to be included in Bulletin and to be read prior to First Reading at Sunday Liturgies during Lent. These comments are not homily material. We believe the constant attention to such comments as these will alert your people gradually to the importance of respect for our Jewish brothers and sisters.
CYCLE A (1984, 1987, 1990, etc.)
First Sunday: Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7 & Psalm 51
From Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday all Christians are called to respond with sincere repentance and joyful thanks to the liturgical unfolding of God's constant love for all his people. Since creation, God's beloved children have stumbled and sinned in response to his generosity. In union with the faithful Hebrew people of the Old Testament and today, we turn to His love with the sincere and humble cry: Be merciful, 0 Lord, for we have sinned.
Second Sunday: Genesis 12:1-4 & Psalm 33
Abraham is our father in faith. Without fear or hesitation he left his homeland and family to venture to the unknown land of God's promise. Our faithful God still blesses all trusting children of Abraham, be they Jew or Christian. "May your kindness, 0 Lord, be upon all who have put their trust in you!".
Third Sunday: Exodus 17:3-7 & Psalm 95
Moses trusted that his God would care for him and his people as they journeyed through the parched desert toward the promised land. In response to murmuring and faithlessness, God stood in front of Moses and provided water for a thirsty people. God stands in the midst of today's society, ready to respond to all who call upon him from church and synagogue: "Lord, you are our God; we have heard your voice and bow down in worship before you; you are the rock of our salvation!"
Fourth Sunday: I Samuel 16:1, 6-7, 10-13 & Psalm 23
Some Jews of Jesus' day refused to believe that he was the promised Messiah who could make the sightless see (today's gospel). Faithfilled Jews of today respectus in our profession of faith in Jesus as our shepherd, the spirit-filled Son of God and Son of David. As faithfilled Christians, we pray that God will lead all who believe in Him to restful waters, where he will refresh all his children with goodness and kindness.
Fifth Sunday: Ezechiel 37: 12-14 & Psalm 130
God always loved those who were His own in the world. He loved his people who had sinned and were in exile, far from home and far from God. He chose Ezechiel to proclaim to them: "0 my people, I will put my spirit in you that you may live." Within the Jewish people there were always those who responded to his word of hope with love and trust . . . there still are. And the Lord of mercy loves all those who are his own in the world.
Palm Sunday Comment for bulletin:
On this last Sunday of Lent we join the priest in reading the gospel account of Jesus' passion and death. The Church hopes that such a dramatic reading will evoke in us the here and now message of God's Word. We read the passion account, not only because we want to remember Jesus' love for us on Calvary, but also because we are called to make present his saving love in our lives today. Do we accept Christ crucified and risen by the way we live: by giving our lives for others generously? Or do we reject him by lives of sin and doubt and lack of concern for our fellow human beings?
Comment prior to first reading (Isaiah 50: 4-7 & Psalm 22):
Isaiah urges his persecuted and exiled Jewish brothers and sisters to imitate the suffering servant, who depends on God alone to deliver him. Today, Isaiah calls on all faithful children of God to rely solely on the Lord, and to praise him in the midst of his worshipping assembly.
Comment prior to the reading of the Passion (Matthew 26: 14-27:66):
The drama of Lent reaches its climax in our reading of the passion according to St. Matthew. The Roman officials of Palestine, led by Pontius Pilate, together with some chief officials from the Jerusalem Temple, led the people to cry out: "Let his blood be on us and on our children." We cannot make the mistake of blaming the whole Jewish people 33 A.D. or today for Jesus' death. Since we sin, the cry 'crucify him" is our cry. Ours too is the opportunity of Joseph of Arimathea and the women at the tomb: to be among those trusting in God is rewarded by experiencing the powerful presence of the risen Jesus in our lives.
Comments for Good Friday Liturgy /allow Cycle C
CYCLE B (1985, 1988, 1991, etc.)
First Sunday: Genesis 9:8-15 & Psalm 25
From Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday all Christians are called to respond with sincere repentance and joyful thanks to the liturgical unfolding of God's constant love for all his people. After the devastating flood, God blessed Noah with the promise of his everlasting care and protection. The enduring sign of this loving kindness, the rainbow, is meant for all God's people who keep his covenant by his way of repentance, justice, love and truth.
Second Sunday: Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18 & Psalm 116
Abraham is our father in faith. His surrender to God's test of his faith brought him the blessing of descendents as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore. In union with our Jewish brethren, we joyfully offer sacrifice of thanksgiving today in response to the gifts of faith and life we have received from our common Father.
Third Sunday: Exodus 20:1-17 & Psalm 19
Moses heard God's call to fidelity and shared it with the people: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, that place of slavery. You shall have no other gods beside me.° In our zeal for God's law of everlasting life, we trust in him who is always merciful to his faithful children, Christian and Jewish, down to the thousandth generation.
Fourth Sunday: II Chronicles 36:14-17, 19-23 & Psalm 137
The Hebrew people in exile interpreted the loss of their homeland as the result of their infidelity to God. While Cyrus, a Persian king, freed them and allowed them to go back to Jerusalem after sixty years, it wasreally God who called his people home to himself. As Christians, we thank God for his mercy, for new life, and for his invitation to eternal life with him in the heavenly Jerusalem.
Fifth Sunday: Jeremiah 31:31-34 & Psalm 51
God always loved his people, even when they had broken his covenant and were in exile. He chose Jeremiah to proclaim his forgiveness to them and his renewed promise of intimacy as their God. Especially in our weakness, we turn to him and ask: "Create in us a new heart, 0 God; and a steadfast spirit renew within us!"
Palm Sunday Comment for bulletin:
On this last Sunday of Lent we join the priest in reading the gospel account of Jesus' passion and death. The Church hopes that such a dramatic reading will evoke in us the here and now message of God's Word. We read the passion account, not because we want to remember something in the past, but because we are called to make a decision about Jesus Christ in our lives today. Do we accept him by living his life of forgiveness and love? Or do we reject him by lives of sin and doubt?
Comment prior to first reading (Isaiah 50:4-7 & Psalm 22):
Isaiah urges his persecuted and exiled Jewish brothers and sisters to imitate the suffering servant, who depends on God alone to deliver him. Today, faithful Christians are called to rely solely on the Lord, and to praise him in the midst of his worshipping assembly.
Comment prior to the reading of the Passion (Mark 14:1-15:39):
The drama of Lent reaches a climax in our reading of the passion according to St. Mark. The Roman officials misunderstood Jesus' mission and had him put to death. In St. Mark's attempt to arouse sympathy for the innocent Jesus, he blames the chief priest for inciting the crowd to cry out "Crucify him!" We cannot make the mistake of blaming the whole Jewish people (of 33 A.D. or today) for Jesus' death. Since we still sin, the cry "crucify him" is our cry. Ours, too, is the hope of Joseph of Arimathea and the women at the tomb:
to be among those saved by the Lord's loving death and resurrection.
Comments for Good Friday Liturgy follow Cycle C
CYCLE C (1983, 1986, 1989, etc.)
First Sunday: Deuteronomy 26:4-10 & Psalm 91
When God delivered his chosen people from Egyptian slavery, wonder and joy filled their hearts as they pondered his saving power. Gratefully they responded to his love by offering in return the first fruits of all he had given them. From Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday all Christians are likewise called to celebrate actively the liturgical unfolding of God's love for all his people and to offer him thanks through deeds of repentance, love, justice and truth.
Second Sunday: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 & Psalm 27
Because of his everlasting love, God made a covenant with Abraham and his descendants to give them an inheritance which would last forever. Abraham is our Father in Faith. We Christians share his belief that God, who is faithful to his promises, will continue to he rich in mercy to all who call upon him, Christian or Jew.
Third Sunday: Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15 & Psalm 103
The "God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" revealed to Moses that he would care for him and his suffering fellow-Jews in Egypt. In their intimate relationship, God made known his name to Moses. As God is kind and merciful to all who call upon him, so we should care for those who seek our help, Christian or Jew, black or white.
Fourth Sunday: Joshua 5:9-12 & Psalm 34
The valiant and faithful Joshua led his people into the promised land. But it was really God who brought the Jews through the desert and into the land, nourishing them and continuing to nourish them in the Promised Land. As Christians, we join our Jewish brothers and sisters in praying the responsorial psalm: "taste and see how good the Lord is." We have both tasted and seen his goodness, in his wonderful gifts.
Fifth Sunday: Isaiah 43:16-21 & Psalm 126
God formed the Jewish people for himself, and chose Isaiah to proclaim a new way in the desert. Theyhad sinned and were in exile, far from home and far from God. Within the Jewish people there were always those who were faithful and trusting there still are. The Lord will always do great things for those who trust in him.
Palm Sunday Comment for bulletin:
On this last Sunday of Lent we join the priest in reading the gospel account of Jesus' passion and death. The Church hopes that such a dramatic reading will evoke in us a prompt and heartfelt response to God's saving Word. We read the passion account, not because we want to remember something in the past, hut because we are called to make a decision about Jesus Christ in our lives today. Do we accept him by living his life of forgiveness and love? Or do we reject him by lives of sin and doubt?
Comment prior to first reading (Isaiah 50:4-7 & Psalm 22):
The Lord God is the help of those who turn to him in faith. Isaiah urges his persecuted and exiled Jewish brothers and sisters to imitate the suffering servant, who depends on God alone to deliver him. Today, faithful Christians are called to rely solely on the Lord, and to praise him in the midst of his worshipping assembly.
Comment prior to the reading of the Passion (Luke 22:14-23:56):
The drama of Lent reaches its climax in our reading of the passion according to St. Luke. The Roman officials of Palestine, led by Pontius Pilate, together with a few officials from the Jerusalem Temple, misunderstood Jesus' mission. Let's not make the mistake of blaming the whole Jewish people (of 33 A.D. or today) for Jesus' death. Since we sin, the cry "crucify him" is our cry. Ours too is the hope of the thief, that we will one day hear Jesus' word of forgiveness: "I assure you, this day you will be with me in paradise."
GOOD FRIDAY LITURGY CYCLE A, B and C
First Reading: Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12
The faithful and suffering servant of God, of whatever time or nation or religion, is the one through whom God's love will come to many. Isaiah was a faithful preacher of repentance and hope, as was Jesus. All of God's people, Christian and Jew, rejoice in God's intense and relentless love for us. We praise him for pardoning all our offenses; especially by living lives full of forgiveness of others.
Passion Reading: John 18:1 - 19:42
In the passion and death of Jesus according to St. John, which we are about to proclaim together, we announce the heart of the Christian message: God loves all men and women unto death, even death on a cross. The hostility between the earliest of Christians and their Jewish brothers and sisters, as manifested in the gospel of John, cannot be continued today. The timeless message of reconciliation and love for all humanity has to replace early Christians' prejudice against their Jewish contemporaries before Jesus' work will ever truly be finished.
Reproaches of Good Friday
(While the Reproaches are a pastoral option, for those who elect to use the option, the following comments are recommended):
As the veneration of the cross takes place, our recitation of the Reproaches places us even more personally within the drama of the passion. "My people, what have I done to you, how have I offended you?" the "you° of these phrases is ourselves. What of the descriptive images stated in these Reproaches? We ourselves are those brought out of slave
are those led safely through the desert, and we ourselves rib we ourselves
have been planted as the fairest vine. In turn, we have yielded bitterness, we have offered him stale vinegar. In these Reproaches we acknowledge our sin and yet seek a return to fidelity and trust.