Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I Can Say It Better than God Did, VI

I hadn't seen this kind of thing for so long that I forgot that it existed. Then I saw it again, recently. Bad practices just never seem to go away. The minister about to read from the Scriptures first pauses, and then takes a few moments to explain to the people what the Scriptures are about to say to them. No doubt this device is supposed to help the listeners tune in, as it were, and pay closer attention; then they will retain what they have heard all the more. So what's wrong with that, you ask? Nothing, really, if what you are about to read is on the same level of significance. But if what you are about to read happens to be the Word of the Living God, then an introduction gains for itself the unsavory effect, however unintended, of reducing the significance and power of what follows. Imagine, if you will, having someone introduce a speaker at a conference, or the President of the United States, or any dignitary, by not only telling us the person's credentials, but also by telling us what he is about to say. It does not highlight, but denigrates, the importance of the speech itself. How much more is this the case when it comes to Sacred Scripture. What you subliminally but very clearly say when you preface the words of God with your own explanation of them is that your words and His words are on the same level; or worse, that your words are on a higher level, necessary to explain His. When on the contrary the explanation comes in the sermon, as it should, then you are leaving the Scriptures alone as the authority on which you preach.

When we say that the Word of God is like a double-edged sword, that it has the power of salvation, that it is full of the Holy Ghost, we belie what we say if we feel constrained by a need to engage in personal ad-lib introductions.

Consider the introduction John the Baptist gave for Jesus: He introduced Him with the words of the prophet: Prepare ye the way of the Lord. So also, when we introduce the Holy Gospel, we do so by the words of Moses and the Prophets (Old Testament reading) and the words of the Apostles (Epistle reading). In this case we use God's words to introduce God's words, and then, as everyone rises from his seat for the Gospel, we acknowledge that the most significant and powerful words of all are the words of Christ.

9 comments:

Ryan said...

I agree in whole with your comments, but when we have pericopes that seem to come out of nowhere, or at least are missing some of the context I am sorely tempted. For example, last Sunday's OT lesson about David' sin. We started out with David taking the wife of Uriah after Uriah's death. Joe Pewsitter is thinking who is Uriah and where is this going and what does this have to do with sheep. While the impact line does come in; the story in Scripture is not organized in the way the pericope is snipped out. My solutions been from time to time to read MORE Scripture for context than use an introduction, of course that may not be 'kosher' either.

Father Eckardt said...

I'd say that it might be preferable to put your comments all in the sermon. Moreover, it is assumed that over time, the congregation will become more familiar with the passage itself; especially, that is, if there is a One Year pericopal series in play. That's another issue . . .

Paul T. McCain said...

Iconoclast that I am notwithstanding, what bugs me the most is pastors who have the urge to offer a running commentary through the service rather than just reading the liturgy. It's almost as if they think they need to offer the congregation "color commentary" on what is happening, or provide a sort of "closed captioning." This urge to make the liturgy "more meaningful" or "more special" or "more relevant" or "more" whatever seems to result in pastor's adding words, throwing in little quips and asides. The worst, of course, are those pastors who feel that they must interject little humorous asides as they go, kind of an "Aw, shucks folks, we need to lighten this all up a bit. Don't be too serious."

It is at times like this that I do want to do some "clastic" thing, but not to icons, rather to pastors.

And as for the "let me explain this reading before I read it" thing -- that does drive me nuts. I always want to yell out, "Excuse me, pastor, but can you just please read the Bible? We'll hear your take on it in a few minutes in the sermon." Sometimes I want to yell, "Oh, please just shut up and do the liturgy." But that would not be appropriate.

Growl. Mutter. Mutter. Grumble.

Father Eckardt said...

"pastors who have the urge to offer a running commentary through the service . . ."

Indeed, such urges we can all do quite without. The urge I get at such times is to roll my eyes. But that, of course, would also be rude.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

Here we notice that the Word of God is He rather than It. HE discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart; HE divides soul and spirit, joints ane marrow.

Fr John W Fenton said...

The Catholic parish I occasionally attend due to teaching duties follows the annoying habit of introducing the liturgy with a monologue. As I tell my philosophy students (two of which are thespians), "Don't tell me about the play before it begins; just do the play!"

Father Eckardt said...

I would agree with you if this were a Johannine logion, which it is not. For we know that the Word of God is both He and It. The writer to the Hebrews is less inclined than St. John, to use "Word" in the personal (i.e., former) sense. Thus, here, when we read "The word of God is living and powerful . . . He discerns the thoughts" it is better to take the pronoun "He" as a reference to "God" rather than to "The word of God." Besides all this, your point was, exactly, what?

Father Eckardt said...

Meanwhile (now on to the next comment), Fr. Fenton, it is a pleasure to hear from you. Yes, annoying indeed. I don't even like it when musical performances are peppered with explanations from the conductor.

Father Eckardt said...

Um, that came out odd. I didn't mean "annoying indeed" to hear from you, but "annoying indeed" in agreement with your reference to the "annoying habit of introducing the liturgy with a monologue." Someone reading my comment by itself might scratch his head: "A pleasure to hear from you. Annoying, indeed!"