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Benign Neglect -- or, Saved by the Bell

By Diogenes (bio - articles ) | Apr 01, 2006

Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the Pontifical Household, made this noteworthy observation in his first Lenten sermon two weeks ago (via Amy).

It has been written that the Gospels are "accounts of the Passion preceded by a long Introduction." But sadly the latter, which is the most important part of the Gospels, is also the least appreciated in the course of the liturgical year, as it is read only once a year, in Holy Week, when, because of the duration of the rites, it is moreover impossible to pause to comment and explain it.

Cantalamessa, unsurprisingly, focuses on the negative aspects of this neglect:

There was a time when preaching on the Passion occupied a place of honor in all popular missions. Today, when these occasions have become rare, many Christians reach the end of their lives without ever having experienced Calvary.

He's right of course: when the Passion is read in its entirety there isn't room for a homily.

If that's a misfortune, however, it's a mixed misfortune. Much of the wallop that the Passion still delivers is due to the fact that the gospels have been allowed to speak for themselves. Is this a bad thing? Call to mind your standard Gumbletonian homily -- in which any spiritual teeth the readings might have are yanked by his hermeneutic pliers -- and imagine the same treatment applied to the Agony in the Garden and the Way of the Cross and multipled by 40,000. It doesn't bear thinking about.

In fact, we can congratulate ourselves on the present dispensation. The summer school Bultmannians and subscription homily services and Liturgy Training Publication schoolmarms haven't gotten their vandal's paws on the Passion -- with the result that the gospels in question have been spared forty years of spiritual corrosion. During the proclamation of the Passion, when we kneel in silence after the death of Jesus, we still feel what we were meant to feel. For a few moments, the two intervening millennia have ceased to matter.

Perhaps God has preserved for his children this one block of Scripture until the LTP-OCP-FDLC brigade has definitively retired from the field, whereupon (as Cantalamessa suggests) the preached parish mission may allow a new and less destructive generation to appropriate the Passion more fully.

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