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of Lector's Notes
The Presentation of the Lord, Years A, B, & C,
Proclaiming It: Malachi was passionate, and his imagery is vivid: How will the Lord come to the temple? Suddenly. How will we work? Like the refiner's fire or the fuller's lye. (A fuller was a craftsman who cleansed and thickened cloth.) So bring out the vigor in these expressions. Also emphasize "to the temple" so that your listeners know the locus of the action.
The Theological Background: For example, evidently the addressees had believed that angels played important mediating roles between God and the faithful. Rather than simply dismiss this idea, the author spends chapters 1 and 2 of Hebrews explaining how Jesus, as the very son of God, is superior to the angels. To explain why Jesus had to suffer (and angels do not suffer), he says in chapter 2, verse 9, that Jesus was made for a little while lower than the angels, that he might "taste death" for the sake of all people.
Then he says that this share in our suffering made our leader in salvation (Jesus) perfect. And the author implies something he'll develop later, that Jesus replaces the priests of old Judaism, just like he does the angels. Without using the word "priest" yet, but rather using the verb "consecrate" (the work specific to priests), he says "those consecrated" (that is, us) and the one consecrating (Jesus) have the same Father. So we're Jesus' brothers and all children of God.
It's not the tight Aristotelian logic we like to see on our newspapers' editorial pages, but a different style of argumentation that made much sense its original audience. (And it's a style not completely out of date even today. I remember seeing this kind of argumentation in the books of the twentieth-century American Jewish novelist Chaim Potok, The Chosen and The Promise. They're about brilliant contemporary rabbinical students and their struggles with the ideas of the dominant culture. Recommended reading!)
In any case, all this sets things up for the small paragraph forming our reading.
The question for our congregation: How would a sudden, unexpected visit from the Lord challenge the practices in which we have grown comfortable? In religious life, it is certainly easy to become complacent with arrangements and practices once established. This applies at the congregational level to our Sunday rituals, to our congregational governance, and to the presence we exercise in our larger communities. If the Lord came today for an unannounced inspection, would we pass muster in the area of vigorous worship, parish and diocesan self-administration, zealous mission and witness to the rest of the world?
The question for each individual: Are we as faithful when life presents us new challenges as we are habitual when things go along steadily.
Just as the priest Jesus needed to experience temptation, our devotions and rituals need to be grounded in life's messy and ambiguous experiences.
The priests in question today are all of us, not just the ordained ministers, of course.
In the 1960's and '70's, Catholics saw the Second Vatican Council as an unexpected visit by the Spirit of the Lord, bent on reforming practices with which the church had become comfortable and complacent. Sensing what might be going on, some historians and liturgists predicted that a renewed liturgy of baptism and of the Eucharist would so fulfill the spiritual needs of God's people that other devotional practices would seem less necessary, and no longer propagate themselves. The short history since then has not borne out this prediction, at least not in this author's milieu. This may be because the prediction was just wrong. It could also be because the renewal of the liturgy has been allowed to stop prematurely.
|Several other commentaries on these passages. All are thoughtful, all quite readable, from the scholarly to the popular.
Links may be incomplete more than a few weeks before the "due date."
Saint Louis University's excellent Sunday liturgy site.
SLU may cover this feast only if it falls on a Sunday.
|Bible Study pages of Saint Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, Picayune, Mississippi|
Lutheran pastor and college teacher Dan Nelson's notes for a study group,
from February 2, 2003.
|Father Roger Karban's column from 2003, the smartest three paragraphs about sacrifice that you may ever read.|
The Lectionary selections in the frame at the left, if any, are there for your convenience. The publishers of the page in that frame have no connection, except for membership in the one Body of Christ, with the publisher of this page. Likewise the publishers of the pages on the links above.