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Catholic Activity: Relating the Bible to Liturgy



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Without the Bible, there would be no liturgy. Not just because so many of the liturgical texts come from the scriptures, but because the liturgy continues an action which was begun when God created man to be His son. Mrs. Newland discusses ways to show children how the Mass and Scripture are inseparable from one another, and as a result, deepening our understanding for one increases our devotion to the other.


Deep in man's heart God planted an understanding of his creatureliness, an awareness of God's greatness as Creator, and a need to worship Him. Adam would still have worshipped God had there been no Fall, and for the same reasons we worship Him today — but Adam would not have had to show sorrow for sin. Even men who are ignorant of God, who forget Him and deny Him, cannot escape the need to worship. If they will not offer tribute to the one God to whom tribute belongs, they will erect other kinds of gods, substitutes for Him, and they will serve them.

As we know, God could have abandoned man with the Fall, but His love was so great that He determined to redeem man. And it is the Bible which reveals all this to us — how man fell, how with His message to Abraham God initiated His redeeming action among men, how He prepared them through the long years of waiting until the glorious triumph of Christ over sin and death announced at last the redemption of man and his world.

But this redemption is an action which continues even now, and will continue until the coming of Christ in glory to call us to eternity. Christ, in us, moves through the world making His encounter with those men still separated from Him — sometimes our neighbor, classmate, fellow worker, laundryman, grocer, doctor, baby-sitter — any number of people we may meet every day. Through our love and warmth and sympathy He reaches out to draw them back into God's family and to their inheritance as His sons. It is from the Bible that we learn this.

The liturgy is at the heart of this redemptive action. It is the most perfect expression of the Father-son relationship of God and man. The sons face the Father and are filled unendingly with His love and life, and in their sonship they return praise and the dedication of their lives to His work. And because the Bible is the source of man's knowledge of God, because from it God speaks to man of Himself, because its great events foretell the redemption and the life-giving rites of the Mass and the sacraments, it is the perfect source for the words and images and actions of worship.

Once God said to the prophet Jeremia: "See, I place my words in your mouth!" (Jeremia 1:10). He says the same to us as we worship Him in the liturgy with His own words and with rites alive with His own action.

Scripture and liturgy are inseparable, and they are indispensable to the family in teaching and forming its children in the likeness of Christ. In the Bible, the family hears God speak, and they grow to know Him. In the liturgy they meet His Person and grow in His life. Let us explore a few examples of how a familiarity with the Bible affects our life of worship.

The most common answer to the question, "Why do you go to Mass?" is "It's a mortal sin if you don't."

This is because the most neglected of all the religious attitudes of contemporary man is the sense of worship. It is a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, knowingly and without a proper excuse, but this is not the reason for worship — to set up a trap for men who do not worship. It is a way of saying how important it is that we worship God. But there is a better way of expressing our need to worship.

Because we are living at a time when many people deny the existence of God and many ridicule the worship of God, it is important that we understand — and have our children understand — that we worship God because He is God and because He made us. Only a genuine familiarity with the scriptures will develop in our children the fullest sense of worship, for out of the scriptures, like a great bell sounding, comes the message that before all other things men worship God.

From Cain and Abel children learn of worship that is acceptable and of worship that is unacceptable (Genesis 4:3-7); Noe shows them a sacrifice of thanksgiving (Genesis 8:20-22); Abraham does not even hesitate when God asks the sacrifice of his only son, for he knows all things belong to Him (Genesis 22), and Isaac willingly submits to being laid on the mountain altar for the sacrifice because he too knows that God has the right. And God loved Abraham and Isaac for their obedience. Isaac lived to build altars and offer sacrifice on them, as did his son Jacob.

Again and again through Moses, God commanded the Pharao to "Let my people go to worship me" (Exodus 7:16, 26; 8:16; 9:1; 13; 10:3), and nine times Pharao shook his might in God's face, but the tenth time he was struck down himself in the death of his son. "Celebrate your freedom," God commanded the Israelites, "by worshipping me at this rite of the passover year after year forever." And it is still celebrated. every day in the Mass — still a celebration of freedom from slavery in a land ruled by a prince of darkness.

It was with sacrifice on an altar, the blood of bulls marking the people and the altar (which was the symbol of God), that the great covenant between God and the people of Israel was made (Exodus 24:1-12). The pact was an association so intimate that it has been likened to a marriage between God and His people. In this People we see our own beginnings as the Church, for out of all the tribes of the earth these were the people God chose to work with Him to bring forth the Redeemer.

This People still exists, united even more intimately with Christ, for the Church is called the New Israel, and their work with Christ continues in us. With the formal making of the Covenant, worship was more than a matter of concern for only individual Israelites — now all the People of God were bound to assemble before Him at certain times, in certain places, to worship Him according to certain rites and mysteries. Leviticus shows us this. Detailed instructions are given; beauty, splendor, reverence, all the treasures of the earth are requisitioned as befitting the worship of God for He is the Creator of all things and His creatures must worship Him.

Josue and the people celebrate the Pasch on crossing into the Promised Land, (Josue 5:10-12), and the Judges offer sacrifices of petition before starting out on their campaigns. The high priest Samuel delivers God's condemnation of Saul for the king's transgression with respect to sacrifice (I Kings 13:8-14), and Oza is struck down by the Lord for his irreverence as he attended the Ark of the Covenant on its way to Jerusalem. David is so awed by God's anger that he leaves the Ark in the care of the holy man Obededom until God is appeased (II Kings 6). The lesson is clear: this God is not like the stone, wooden, brass, and golden gods of the other nations. This is the Author of Life and the Lord of the universe. He loves His people as the apple of His eye — but let them not forget Who He is!

A tragic little postscript tells of Michol, David's wife and first love. She so lacks appreciation for the splendor of the Word of God enshrined in the Ark that she scorns David for dancing in the street before the sacred procession. Never again, says the text, did she bear a child. In other words, never again did David go to her with husbandly love in his heart; a wife who could not understand his desire to worship the Lord with his whole being could never share his love. How beautifully this teaches our young people that among all the qualifications of a good husband or wife, the shared love of God is most important.

On we go to the great temple built by Solomon, the rites and sacrifices, the columns of smoke rising morning and night from the altars where animals and incense are burned, where the blood of victims confirms over and over the bond between this community and its God. The glory and might of Israel notwithstanding, her greatest glory was her fidelity as a divine community to the worship of the Lord, and the cause of her downfall was to forget this. Not only her riches and power were lost, but integrity, wisdom, chastity, courage, strength — everything.

Was it, perhaps, out of this background that a teen-age boy answered his friend's question, "Why do you go to Mass? Because your parents make you?"

"No! You've got to go — or nothing will be right with you."

Again and again the prophets chanted their warnings that God did not want burnt offerings if they were not offered with sincere hearts. Jeremia (7:11) roared in the name of the Lord: "Has this house which bears my name become in your eye a den of thieves?" Little did we realize when Our Lord used these words that He was stirring up in His own people a memory of a nation defeated and dragged into exile for failing to worship. There would be anguish and purification before they returned to rebuild their temple.

The teen-ager's little brother was listening to the story of this return, told in Esdras and Nehemia. He protested when he heard the Samaritans offer to help build the temple "for we too have recourse to the same God whom you worship; witness the sacrifices we have been offering to him since the Assyrian king . . . settled us here" (I Esdras 4:2).

"But it wasn't a right kind of worship!" he said. "They got priests to offer sacrifices to get rid of the lions that were pestering them — not because they loved God!"

The boy was quite right; he had remembered it from back in the books of Kings. We do not worship God because it is useful or convenient, but because He is God and because we love Him.

Painfully they rebuilt their temple and bemoaned the fact that it was a poor imitation of past splendors, until the prophet Aggai asked them: "Does it (the temple) seem like nothing in your eyes?...Greater will be the future glory of this house than the former, says the Lord of hosts (Aggai 2:3; 2:9). And a faint recollection stirs in us. "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19).

Little by little we see the things we have not seen before. We peel away the crust of our insensitivity until all the old and familiar are suddenly revealed anew. The Lord took Peter, James, and John up with Him to a high mountain, and Jesus "was transfigured before them. And his face shone as the sun, and his garments became white as snow" (Matthew 17:2). Here was that future glory made visible in the Transfigured Christ for the briefest moment — and they wanted to stay with Him there on the mountain forever.

But the plan was wider and broader and higher and deeper than that, and the glory was not for just a few but for all. Soon it would rise from the grave to be visible to all, a glory the members of His Church already share (though not in their bodies until their own resurrection) in their oneness with Him, united to His life, nourished by the food that is the glorified Christ. He is the Temple, the place where the Living God dwells, and in Him each one of His members has become a temple.

Worship — one people, witnessing Christ, we stand together at Mass before the great God Who bound Himself with His love to us, and call out together: "Praise to the Lord!"

This is the why of Mass participation. Nowhere in all the scriptures were the People of God silent spectators to the act of worship. Loudly they shouted their "Amen!" So let it be! Loudly they sang their "Alleluia!" The scripture readings for their instruction (as in the first part of our Mass) are said to have been initiated during the time of the Exile by the prophet Ezechiel who determined his people would not forget their God and their unique role as His People.

Christ sacrificed Himself on the Cross in order to bring back into that union of love and worship all His brothers lost to His Father. And He has told us, "Do this in commemoration of me." Our Mass ends with, "Go, the Mass is ended," and we go forth filled with Christ, carrying Him out into his world which He has redeemed and which awaits rebuilding, restoring, recreating by us — for we make Christ present to the world.

Who is man that he should be so important? He is the son of God. To be the sons of such a Father? No wonder we worship Him!


I will discuss with my family the reasons for going to Mass in order to discover their understanding of worship. I will plan to explore with them some of the Bible worship and sacrifice stories, and together we will try to enrich our understanding of worship and our attitude towards the Mass. I will suggest that we might, from time to time, speak of our "going to Mass," as "going to offer sacrifice."

(For families in parishes that do not have active lay participation in the Mass:) I will inquire about the possibilities of lay participation for our parish, offer my assistance to the pastor and priests in the possible rehearsal of groups of families who might be willing to "lift up their voices" throughout the church and give courage to other parishioners to respond. I will (if I am a good reader) offer any assistance that might be needed to initiate participation for our people.

Activity Source: Homemade Christians by Mary Reed Newland, George A. Pflaum, Dayton, Ohio, 1964