Thursday, 4 December 2008

Archbishop Coleridge: Pray the Angelus, the rosary, Divine Office and read the Bible!

A friend of mine recently alerted me to an Advent letter from Archbishop of Coleridge of Canberra-Goulburn, who fired up by the recent bishop's Synod on Scripture, has urged his flock to read the Bible everyday.

My friend was unconvinced, suggesting that Catholics should focus on meditating on the truths of faith each day, but not necessarily as they are encapsulated in Scripture.
Now I'm a strong proponent of Catholics knowing Scripture better and reading it regularly - I suspect we must be one of the most ignorant generations of Catholics in this regard, not least due to the iconoclasm of the last few decades! Still, I had a certain amount of sympathy for his view. But having now read the Archbishop's letter, I think he does a great job of linking Scripture reading to more generally accepted traditional practices as the means to do it - including saying the Angelus each day, the rosary, Divine Office and much more!
I'm not entirely convinced about some of his arguments - he locates himself very firmly in the post-Vatican II school that in my view reduces Tradition to very minor role indeed (but then he is a Biblical scholar!). Still it is well worth reading and reflecting on. So I thought I'd reproduce some of the key points of his letter with a few comments. You can read the whole thing though here.
Archbishop Coleridge's letter

"...In these Advent days, we prepare for the coming among us of the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary. In that sense, the recent Synod of Bishops in Rome, with its theme "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church", was an Advent moment.... I want to ensure that, in the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, the Synod leads to a deeper listening to the Word of God and a more powerful speaking of the Word in this part of the world. Much depends upon that.

It was often said that this was a Synod about the Bible, but that was only partly true. The Synod was really about the divine communication which comes to us in a host of ways. The Bible is an epicentre of God’s communication with us but, as Catholics see it, Scripture does not exhaust the mystery. [This is a key point, and rather understated in the letter, which mentions the word Tradition only once! Verbum Dei and the Catechism however make it clear that Catholics reverence equally Scripture and Tradition.] We live in a world where God often seems silent or absent to many people; and that is why it is crucial that Christians offer the counter-cultural service of listening to and speaking the Word of God. In that sense, to speak of the Word of God is to speak of mission; and one of the surprises for me was how a Synod on the Word of God became a Synod on mission. I came away from Rome more convinced than ever that this is a time when the Church must become missionary or run the risk of going out of business. [Too true!] But to become more missionary we must learn anew to listen to and speak the Word of God; and what better moment than Advent to ask how this might be done?

...The communication of God is always a communication of love, but God’s love is spoken both in words and in silences. If we experience the silence of God, the key questions will always be, What does this mean? How could this be this love? To listen to the silences of God will require than we learn a deeper culture of silence, which is not easy in a culture as relentlessly noisy as ours. It will demand that we learn a new way of contemplation which not only looks but listens.

In the past, we have perhaps thought of the Bible and the so-called "biblical apostolate" as one among many elements of the life of the Church. But what was brilliantly clear at the Synod was that the Word of God in Scripture is not just one among many elements: it is the matrix of all. [Hmm, ...isn't God himself the matrix of all?] This means that in the Church every element of our prayer, our planning and our performance must relate consciously and explicitly to the Word of God in Scripture. I cannot stress this enough. It was what the Second Vatican Council meant when it gave its great teaching in the document known as Dei Verbum, the very first of the many documents produced by the Council. Dei Verbum came first because, according to the Council, the Word of God was the ground of all else.

...One thing which the Synod stressed was the need for everyone in the Church to enter more deeply into the experience of praying the Scriptures. Here the Synod Fathers were echoing the clear and strong statements made by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, both of whom have seen the praying of Scripture as a key to the future for the Church. There are many different ways of praying the Scripture, one of which draws upon the ancient monastic practice known as Lectio Divina, which is Latin that can be translated literally as "divine reading". I would like to make available throughout the Archdiocese simple methods of Lectio Divina which can be used by individuals and groups....[In principle I think this is right, but in practice lectio divina too often gets reduced to simplistic approaches to Scripture that are counter-productive, and indeed the sample he attaches for Advent is, to my mind, very much in the 'Scripture is self-evident' camp. The best formulation I know of for lectio comes from Dom Paul Delatte, and includes six stages - read, think, study, meditate, pray, contemplate. The need for good commentaries and other materials to link us to the patristic and other interpretations of the text, and enable us to penetrate all four levels of meaning in Scripture is crucial to success in my view. ]

I would urge every Catholic to read and pray the Bible every day....

Another thing that I would like to see is that every meeting in the Archdiocese – especially in Church agencies, parishes and schools – begin with a Gospel reflection, a kind of mini Lectio Divina. It is our custom to begin meetings with prayer, but I would ask now that the prayer take the form of a brief Gospel reflection, that it begin with a listening to the Word of God, move into silence, and only then become the words which we speak to God [This strikes me as overkill - prayers have been composed to distill key thoughts for us for a reason.]

I would also ask that, as far as possible, the Angelus – a deeply biblical prayer – be prayed every day at midday in all our communities and also by individuals... [Yes, excellent idea, a beautiful and much neglected devotion!]

I would also ask that, especially in the months of May dedicated to Our Lady and October dedicated to the Rosary, the Rosary or some part of the Rosary (perhaps a decade) be prayed by communities and individuals every day. The Rosary is again a deeply biblical prayer, the power of which we would be foolish to ignore.

Another and still more powerful way of praying the Scripture is the Liturgy of the Hours, known also as the Divine Office. Once it was the preserve of the clergy and religious, for whom it remains a serious duty and obligation. But the Second Vatican Council made it clear that the Office was to be the prayer of the whole Church. It has a particular status and power because it is liturgy rather than devotion, and like every element of the Church’s liturgy it is profoundly biblical in all its parts. To pray the Liturgy of the Hours is to swim in the Scriptures and to steep every moment of the day in the Word of God. The prime moments of the Liturgy of the Hours are Morning and Evening Prayer, often known as Lauds and Vespers. I would urge every community and individual to pray each day some form or some part of Lauds and Vespers, either within Mass or outside Mass. [I particularly liked the reference to within Mass, although I suspect he doesn't mean this quite as literally as it sounds and as some of us might take it!]
 ...A wider praying of the Liturgy of the Hours should be a high priority throughout the Archdiocese. It is the prayer of the whole Church, and it is therefore the prayer of Christ himself, a prayer not just for ourselves but for the Church and the whole world. In that sense, it is part of our mission [Simpler Offices like the Little Office of Our Lady, that use a limited number of psalms and doesn't change everyday, might be a good choice here - Urban II made it compulsory for all clergy and religious, and urged the laity to pray it as well, when he launched the Crusade. Indeed, during the Middle Ages it was the most popular of all Offices, frequented by the laity who often knew it off by heart. In an age that perhaps needs a new crusade, maybe it needs to be revived....]

The Mass is the prime place for the Word of God to be proclaimed and heard, not just in Scripture but in every aspect of the liturgy. The presence of Christ in the Word looks to and is fulfilled in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Both are real presences in their different way, and the Synod spoke often of the sacramentality of the Word of God in Scripture. That is why, even outside Mass, we need to reverence the Scripture in every way possible. We have the tabernacle as a visible sign of the Lord’s presence in the Eucharist, a sign which not only indicates but reverences the One who is present in the Blessed Sacrament. I would invite all churches and chapels in the Archdiocese to consider ways in which the Scripture too can be reverenced, even outside the liturgical action... [ok, here is my suggestion - return to the medieval idea of jewel encrusted, beautifully illuminated Bibles displayed in pride of place in Church!]

The homily is another major concern, and one proposal to emerge from the Synod was the preparation of a General Homiletic Directory to provide preachers and those who form the preachers of the future with a solid and well informed framework.... It was not prompted by an exaggerated sense of what a homily can achieve, but neither did it underestimate the power of preaching even in an age which is more visual than aural....

It is important too that the songs and chants of the liturgy maintain the deeply biblical character which typifies the texts of the Roman liturgy. In its classical form, the Roman Rite used only the Psalms at Mass; freely composed hymns were assigned to the Liturgy of the Hours. That may not be the way to go now, but in our musical repertoire we need to guard against non-biblical texts which are poetically weak and theologically feeble or worse. If we move away from Scripture in the songs and chants we choose, the question is always, Why and to what effect?"


Son of Trypho said...

This is a good thing on the whole but I cannot help but recall
2 Peter 3:16 which gives a warning concerning biblical interpretation and its dangers.

There is a significant danger, with the faith in the state that it is currently in, that too much Scripture, wrongly interpreted, could cause further damage. Could you imagine the Ethiopian asking for advice, not from Philip (Acts 8) but from someone like Fr Dresser?

Quasi Seminarian said...

Ah Lectio Divina, I remember in Broken Bay that there were 4 weekend homilies by the Bishop on it.

Now since I spent 6 months learning it from my Novice Master which involved 1 5 day retreat and 5 weekend retreats not to mention the daily classes. To be frank I see it as a waste of time to teach it to the people in such a way.

I did learn Lectio Divina naturally by taking a reading and just letting it talk to me. Takes 3 seconds to teach people that. No need to overly confuse it with fancy shmancy terms. Set aside some time, 30 mins preferably and talk to God, then try to fancify it.

I do seriously doubt that anyone really took it up.

Anonymous said...

Where precisely does one find a good traditional Office with the Latin and English?

Quasi Seminarian said...

Ah I believe I must correct my statement.

I believe that it is a waste of time to do teach people via the 4 Sunday homilies which were not that impressive.

I do not believe that it is a waste to teach it as I was taught, rather I believe that proper teaching for any spiritual subject is both important and something every Catholic should attain.

I hope no one took what I said the wrong way.