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SIDIC Periodical XI - 1978/1
Catechesis: Transmission of the Faith (Pages 23 - 24)

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Serving the Word: suggested guidelines for homilists
Eugene Fisher


Following are guidelines written for homilists by Dr. Eugene Fisher, Executive Secretary of the Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations of the United States Catholic Conference. These guidelines are the summation of his longer paper entitled «Continuity and Discontinuity in the Scriptural Readings”, to be printed in the May issue of Liturgy. We recommend that you read the full text there in order to fully appreciate the historical and exegetical context in which Dr. Fisher has established these guidelines.

I would like to suggest a few basic principles that can serve as parameters for preaching on the relation. ship between the first reading and the gospel during the Sunday homily. From these general principles, some immediate and concrete guidelines can be drawn.


1. Affirm the value of the whole Bible. The Hebrew Scriptures are the word of God and have validity in and of themselves. Allow the word to be spoken directly to the congregation without posing later doctrines as filters between them and the text.

2. Place the typology inherent in the Lectionary selections in its proper historical setting, neither overemphasizing nor avoiding it. Always seek to draw out the original meaning that the Hebrew Scriptural portion had for its original audience. Show that this meaning is in no way vitiated or diminished by New Testament applications or understandings. (See Gerard S. Sloyan's Commentary on the New Lectionary, New York: Paulist Press, 1975.)

3. Avoid € salvation history* or developmental approaches which would demean the Hebrew Bible by implying that it was merely a crude or unfinished propaedeutic for the New Testament, or otherwise insufficient as revelation. It is the same God who speaks in both.

4. Avoid dualism. The Vatican Guidelines of 1975 state that the Hebrew Bible a and the Jewish tradition founded on it must not be set against the New Testament
M such a way that the former seems to constitute a religion of only justice, fear and legalism, with no appeal to the love of God and neighbour (cf. Dent. 6:5, Lev. 19:18, Mt. 22:34-40) ».


1. Preserve a humility of vision in respect of the promises. This is especially important when dealing with the readings from the prophets (e.g., Isaiah and Jeremiah) during Advent and Lent. While Jesus in amysterious way a fulfilled J.> these promises, the Vatican Guidelines caution that a it is nonetheless true that we still await their perfect fulfillment in his glorious return at the end of time ».

2. Stress the continuity between the Scriptures as a living relationship between root and branch (Romans 9-11). Judaism and Christianity stand in partnership, not in opposition, in witnessing to the Name of the One God to whom Jesus prayed and in the mission to build the kingdom of God on earth. The Vatican Guidelines note: « With the prophets and the apostle Paul, the Church awaits the day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and `serve him with one accord' (Zeph. 3:9). »

3. Explain the profound Jewishness of Jesus and his teaching and its parallels to the teaching of the Pharisees, with whom Jesus had in common almost every point of his own teaching. It is this that gives the Hebrew Bible its basic relevancy for the Christian: that Jesus and the Apostles accepted it as the word of God for them and that Jesus' message presumes in his hearers people imbued with the divine message of the Torah and that Jesus' prayer to and his relationship with the Father is to and with the One God revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures.

4. Exploit the positive elements of readings such as Romans 9-11, which the American bishops in their 1975 statement called along-neglected passages which help us to construct a new and positive attitude toward the Jewish people. J.>

5. Use Jewish sources in expounding the meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures and as background for the Apostolic Writings. They are Jewish works and can only be properly understood from within the framework of that richly complex and vital tradition. Rabbinic sayings often parallel and shed light on those of Jesus. (A good source for homiletic sayings from the Talmud can be found in Montefiore and Loewe, Rabbinic Anthology, New York: Schocken and Co., 1974.) Both the Vatican Guidelines and the 1975 Statement of the American Bishops stress that a the history of Judaism did not end with the destruction of Jerusalem but went on to develop a religious tradition . . . rich in religious values ». Since we share a common Scripture and a common understanding of God as embodied in that Scripture, we can learn much about prayer and religious practice from the living Judaism of today.


1. Avoid the use of the term Old Testament ». It is not « old » but a living reality addressed to us today. Preferable arc terms such as « The Hebrew Scriptures » and « The Apostolic Writings ».

2. Avoid or explain fully stereotypical uses of words such as « the Jews Y.' in John and # the Pharisees in Matthew. The Vatican Guidelines mandate this even for liturgical translations, noting that « Judaism in the time of Christ and the Apostles was a complex reality, embracing many different trends o. This reality cannot be adequately presented in simplistic categories, but must be explained in detail—or not used at all.

3. « With respect to liturgical readings, care will be taken to see that homilies based on them will not distort their meaning, especially when it is a question of passages that seem to show the Jewish people as such in an unfavorable light » (Vatican Guidelines).

4. The Hebrew Scriptures and Judaism should not be characterized as « superceded, » « abrogated, » or « merely preparatory » to the Apostolic Writings. Rather they should be seen as having « perpetual value » and # continuing validity ,>.

5. Stress the links between the Christian liturgy and the Jewish liturgy from which it sprang. Note the common elements without diminishing the uniqueness of either tradition. Use the short versions of the Passion Narratives during Holy Week so that adequate time can be devoted to explaining the historical background of this season.

6. If the long version of the Passion is used, allow time during Lent for presentation of full historical background. (See Eugene Fisher, Faith Without Prejudice, New York: Paulist Press, 1977, Chapters 1-4.) Preparation can also be given through catechetical programming in this period.

7. Use a suitable Psalm or other song in place of the Improperia (Reproaches) on Good Friday.

8. Evaluate the Stations of the Cross used in the parish and omit or change any anti-Jewish references or implications. (An alternate form of the stations can be found in Faith Without Prejudice, pp. 115-18.)


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