More On Scripture And Liturgy
Sacred Scripture and Christian Liturgy
Rev. Dean Kavouras
January 22, 2020
Sacred Scripture and Christian liturgy are intimately connected, neither has a life of its own. Without Scripture there is no Christian Liturgy, and without Liturgy Scripture is a sealed book in the hands of men weeping loudly because no one is able to open it. (Rev. 5:4)
Sacred Scripture, the Bible, is that corpus of writing different from all other in that it proceeds from the mind of God, while all other writing finds its genesis in the minds of men.
All Christians are familiar with liturgy the noun, but liturgy also has a verbal form, to liturgize.
To liturgize God is to empty oneself altogether of oneself and give oneself altogether over to God. This is what Jesus did by becoming “obedient unto death even the death of the cross.” By this act Christ showed himself the true liturgist and he himself is the church’s liturgist. We learn these truths from a segment of 1st c. liturgy from northern Greece, the city of Philippi, where St. Paul writes:
Have this manner of thinking among yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus who, though being in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be held but emptied himself, took on the form of a servant, and became the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself, and became obedient to the point of death, the death of the cross! Wherefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed upon him the name that is above every name so that at the name of Jesus every knee in heaven, and on earth and under the earth should bend, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:5-11 – author’s translation)
We also learn it from the sermon to the Hebrews 8:1-2 where Jesus is called the “liturgist of the holy place,” that is the Liturgist of Heaven.
Now the point of what we are saying is this, that we have such an high priest who sat down on the right side of the throne of the Majestic One in the heavens; to be the liturgist of the holy place; that is the true tent which the Lord erected and not man. (Hebrews 8:1-2 – author’s translation)
From our Lord’s perfect liturgical act on the cross we find that Christian liturgy consists of two elements: Divine Words and Divine Actions. In the case of Jesus he spread forth his holy hands to receive the nails of salvation while speaking the divine words of Sacred Scripture: “My God my God why have you abandoned me.” (Psalm 22).
The church follows suit. The divine word is, “this do in remembrance of me;” the divine action, “take eat this is my body.”
Once we make this connection we begin to further understand that Eucharist is Liturgy, and Liturgy is Eucharist. We come to the full realization that “This Cup” is the New Testament. That it constitutes and defines the New Testament. The New Testament is not simply the last 27 books of the Bible or that era in time following the birth of the Christ. But it is the celebration of Holy Communion.
Sacred Scripture is the divine narrative that accompanies the divine action, and is only understood within the context of the Mass. In this respect Christians are like the Emmaus disciples whose orbs were opened to comprehend the Scriptures on the occasion of the second Holy Communion.
We find the same teaching in Apocalypse 5:5 where it is only the Eucharistic Lamb, the Lion of Judah, who is able to break the seals, and stop the abject tears of otherwise incognizant people.
Yes, Jesus is the one, true liturgist but also critical is the fact that he never liturgizes the Father alone; but only and always in union with his Bride the Church.
It is true that people use the word liturgy to describe the format of worship and that is sometimes necessary. But we will improve our understanding of things if we will omit the definite article and speak only of “Liturgy” not “the liturgy;” as if Liturgy were an accessory or object foreign to us and outside of ourselves.
SCRIPTURE IS LITURGY
Moving along we should also understand that not only is Liturgy Scripture, in that Liturgy is composed of nothing else than divine words. But also that Scripture is Liturgy.
To appreciate this we will have to close our Protestant eyes and open our catholic ones. If we do we will discover that great swaths of the Bible are given us in the form of ready to use Liturgy and this is no accident.
Consider such examples as the Magnificat, Benedictus, Gloria, Sanctus, Nunc Dimittis, Beatitudes, Lord’s Prayer, much of Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, First John, the Apocalypse of St. John and many, many, many others.
In the Old Testament consider for example the first three chapters of Genesis. The Prayer of Miriam, Exodus chapter 20, Exodus 34:6-7, the Prayer of Hannah to say nothing of the many so-called poetic segments of the Old Testament (half? more than half?) that we should not account as poetry but as pure Liturgy set before human eyes to be prayed by believing lips.
Why is it important that Christians understand that Scripture is given to the church largely in the form of doxology?
1. So that they will comprehend that the worship of God is the primary duty of man and employ Scripture as such. For God has not only commanded us to trust in him and sing his praise but in Scripture gives us his own celestial words by which to do it – the language of men and of angels. (1 Cor. 13:1)
2. So that Christians (especially Protestants) might cease to conceive of the Bible as a database of doctrines, a moral catechism, an ecclesiastical rule book, an almanac of religion or as mere reportage or religious information.
3. So that homilists will understand preaching to be a supremely liturgical act and preach accordingly.
5. So that Lutheran pastors would cease to be theological chemists who create synthetic sermons composed of various admixtures of law and gospel.
6. So that Christians everywhere should stand in utter awe as Scripture is heard, and fall prostrate before God who has given such words to men; and then to intone it back to God with deepest reverence and high gladness.