Saturday, April 9, 2011

Sing Along with King David

This post is linked to Sunday Snippets
Last week we got to the end of the Bible. For the next 3 classes we're going to learn about the Mass.

Tell me, was Jesus a good Jew? Huh? Did Jesus do the things a faithful Jew was supposed to do? Umm...yes? Right: he kept the Sabbath, went to Jerusalem for Passover, obeyed the Commandments. Being a good Jew, what did Jesus do on the Sabbath? Go to church! Well, Jesus hadn't founded the church yet, so where'd he go instead? A sss-synagogue? Yes, a synagogue. That's a Greek word, by the way. Now, remember the time Jesus visited Nazareth after he had grown up. What did the men ask him to do at the synagogue? To read? read what? The Torah? Yes genius, good, he read from Sacred Scripture, which did not include the New Testament. Why not? It wasn't written yet? Yes. But that was what Jews did in synagogue on the Sabbath: pray, maybe sing a Psalm, read from Scripture; and then the rabbi, the teacher, would comment on the readings.

After Jesus ascended to heaven, and the apostles were fired up by Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday, they went out and began to preach about the Messiah to Jews in Jerusalem. The apostles still considered themselves good Jews; after all, the whole Messiah business was Jewish. So they would tell everyone at the Temple and local synagogues the good news about Jesus. The Book of Acts says "And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people." We can guess that the Christians would still attend synagogue on the Jewish Sabbath, which was...Saturday, yes, and then "break bread" on Sunday, Resurrection Day. What else did they remember when they "broke bread"? What does "break bread" mean: to bust up stale bread and watch it fall all over the floor? No it means to eat!  Yeah...a bread snack? No, dinner. Yes, a meal. What meal might they remember when they broke bread? The Last Supper? Yes, Jesus had said "do this in memory of me." So on Saturday the the Bible? Yes, the Old Testament; and on Sunday...they did the Last Supper. Yes.

Unfortunately, like Christ Himself, the Christians were aggravating the scribes and priests and Pharisees. The temple staff thought that the Romans had taken care of their Jesus Problem. But here it is a couple of months after Jesus was crucified, and now there are a dozen apostles getting everyone at the Temple riled up worse than Jesus did!

One day Apostle #1....Peter! yes, and John were at the Temple. "And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody..." The high priest and the Levites told Peter and John to SHUT UP! about Jesus. Did they shut up? No! Right. Even after they were beaten up by the temple guards, "every day in the temple and at home they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ."

But one day Stephen, one of the first deacons, was taken before the high priest and his council and accused of blasphemy, like Jesus had been. He wouldn't shut up either. "Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth against him...Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him." And as y'all heard before, Stephen was the first martyr; and Saul witnessed his death.

So the Christians figured out that the Jewish authorities considered them blasphemers, not good Jews at all. And they began to stay out of the Temple and the synagogues, and read from Scripture on their own. Eventually they observed the new Sabbath, which was...Sunday, yes. They'd pray, listen to readings from the Bible, listen to comments on the readings, sing a Psalm, and then have a Last Supper meal together. What does that sound like? If you were somewhere on Sunday, and you heard Bible readings and then someone talked about the readings, and you sang a Psalm, and then re-enacted the Last Supper where would you be? At church! More specifically, please, what event at church? Oh, Mass!  Yes, at Mass.

Mass still divides into those two main parts: readings from the Bible, and the Last Supper. The first main part is called the Liturgy of the Word [on the board] because...that's when they read the Bible. Yes, and the second main part is the Liturgy of the Eucharist [on the board], because...that's when we have Communion. Yes. Let's look at them in order. I'm going to read from the Missalette to keep us moving along. I'm not going to read every word, just parts. By the way, sometimes I'm going to use a new English translation of the Mass. We'll start using it in church next Advent (2011).

What happens first at Mass? There's a song. Yes, a hymn. After the hymn, the priest says, "The Lord be with you," and we say...and also with you. Yes, it's a greeting. Then we say the Confiteor, a prayer like an Act of Contrition [time permitting I read it all a bit at a time]:

"I confess to Almighty God, and to you my brothers and sisters that I have greatly sinned"...we are reminding ourselves that we're all sinners, which is why we're at Mass. " what I have done and in what I have failed to do." We tend to notice sins of commission more more than sins of omission; what's a sin of omission? If you don't take care of your little brother! Yes, that's a good one. "And I ask the blessed Mary, ever virgin, all the angels and saints..." This reminds us that at Mass we're surrounded by St. Paul's "cloud of witnesses," who are...angels and saints. Yes. "...and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God." So we ask all the faithful in Heaven and Earth to pray for us. How do the saints hear us? Umm...I don't know. Me neither, but God makes it happen.

Now that we've told God we've sinned, what do we ask for? For him to forgive us? Yes, to be merciful. We usually sing "Kyrie Eleison" which is Greek for...Lord have mercy, yes, and Christe- Christ have mercy, yes.

Next we sing the Gloria. Who can tell me where the first line comes from: "Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people of good will." No guesses, you've heard it this year...around Christmas...from Luke's gospel...someone said it about baby Jesus...the Wise Men! No, close though. The angels said it to the shepherds! Yes, good! When you say it, remember the story.

And who said this line: "Lord God, Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world..." John the Baptist! Yes, genius, when Jesus came to be baptized in the...Jordan River!  Yes.

After the Gloria, the priest says a short prayer, and we...stand on our heads? We sit down! Yes. Now the Liturgy of the Word begins. At Mass we hear a lot of reading out of the Bible, and maybe even listen to it! What's the first reading called? The First Reading? Yes [on the board]. Since it's first, what Testament would the readings come from? The Old? Yes. So we might hear a reading from Genesis or Isaiah.

Trick question: what's next? The Second Reading! Wrong, I win! The Second Reading doesn't come next! The next thing isn't usually read; it's sung. A person in the choir sings part, and we sing part. What is that? King David wrote most of them...Psalms! [on the board] Yes, and why do we sing them? 'cause they were songs? Yes. We looked at some Psalms a few months ago. If you listen to the words you can usually tell what was on David's mind when he wrote each one: he was happy, or sad, or thankful, or feeling remorse. What's remorse? It's means to feel sad and sorry that you did something wrong. So when you sing a Psalm, imagine King David singing it too. Hey, here's a bit from Psalm 141 that tells us something about Mass: "I call upon thee, O LORD...Give ear to my voice, when I call to thee! Let my prayer be counted as incense before thee, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice!" What does incense do? Smell good? Yes; what does the smoke do? Go up? Yes; in a spiritual sense, where is it going up to? Heaven? Yes, like our prayers. When you're at Mass and incense is burned, remember your prayers should rise up to heaven like the incense.

After the Psalm comes...the next reading...The Second Reading! [on the board] Uh-huh. The lector tells you what the reading will be. He might say, "A reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans;" so would the Second Reading be from the Gospels? No, the Epistles! Yes, because "Epistle" is Greek for...letter. Yes. And because Paul and the other Epistle-writers usually wrote letters to scold people or correct their mistakes, Epistles aren't as easy to understand as the Old Testament stories are. They'll become more interesting as you get older.

And all this time we've been sitting down. What now? We stand up? Yes, and sing the Alleluia. What's the next reading? The Gospel. Yes. [on the board] Why do we stand up? 'Cause they're about Jesus. Yes, that's one way we show respect. Gospel readings are always Jesus stories, and they're easy to follow.

And after the Gospel? We sit down. Yes, and the priest...talks. Well yes, but it's a prepared talk, a sermon; and it's usually based on the readings.

This part of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word, is very much like what Jesus or the disciples would have experienced in the synagogue: prayer, Psalm-singing, Scripture-reading, and comments by the rabbi. We have at least 4 readings every Sunday. Special Masses may have more. For example, the Easter Vigil Mass may have 8 readings, starting in Genesis and ending with the Gospel account of Jesus's Resurrection.

Now tell me: suppose the priest really liked Christmas, so all he wanted to read and talk about year-round was Christmas. Would that be ok? No.Why not? Because it's just once a year? Umm, yes. Look at the whole Bible: it's huge, but Christmas [I hold the Bible and pinch a few pages toward the back] just takes up a few pages. To ignore the whole rest of the Bible would be wrong. To make sure we get a big picture of the Bible, the Church has a schedule of readings. Every three years we go through the whole Bible with readings picked out by the Church from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the Epistles, the Gospels, and other New Testament books like Acts and Revelations. Lots of times the readings are connected. For example, suppose you heard this bit of Isaiah for the first reading: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." That's a prophecy; what virgin makes the prophecy come true? Mary? Yes. So what Gospel reading would go with it? Something about Christmas? Yes, or the Annunciation, when Gabriel told Mary she'd have a baby even though she wasn't married yet. Or how about this bit from Psalm 22: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?... a company of evildoers encircle me; they have pierced my hands and feet..." What does that match up to in the Gospels? When Jesus was crucified! Yes, you see how it works; but you have to pay attention.

Y'all remember that it matters to Jesus not just what we believe, but...what we do, yes, our "works," as the Bible says. If the Church wanted to emphasize that one Sunday, she could schedule readings that included these verses [I have these bits sticky-tabbed to preclude fumbling] :

First Reading from Proverbs 24:12; "Rescue those who are being dragged to death...If you say, "I don't know this man!"....[God] will know it, and he will repay [you] according to [your] works."

Psalm 62:12-13: "Power belongs to God; so too, Lord, does kindness...And you reward each of us according to our works."

Second Reading from Paul's Letter to the Romans: "[God] will reward every man according to his works: to those who by perseverance in good works seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life..." (2:4-7)

And for the Gospel reading, Jesus says, "For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works." (Matt 16:27) Remember we must! Yes. If the soul has faith, the body...does things! Yes, good works. Faith'n'works, body'n'soul.

So the readings are never just randomly pulled out of a hat; pay attention to how they go together and Mass will be more interesting to you.

continued in the next post