Friday, March 23, 2007

Scenes From a Sesquicentennial

As you know, last weekend marked the 150th anniversary of the American College Louvain, and quite the party was had.

The ACL site features a wrap-up of the festivities, and the homily (.pdf) given on St Patrick's Day by Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Snips o' Darth:
I want the very celebration of the liturgy in which we are now engaged to give shape to my remarks. We have just heard the Word of God, and we are about to celebrate the Eucharist, and someone ordained in the line of apostolic succession is standing here preaching. Do not these very facts already tell us a great deal about the nature of theology? They do if we reflect on them and let them shape our “way of thinking.”

Sound theology must derive from an awareness of what wonderful mysteries are taking place during the celebration of the liturgy. These wonders begin with the proclamation of the Word. The Word of God recalls the wonderful deeds of God in the history of salvation. But this is not a question of mere memory. Whenever it is proclaimed, the Word of God becomes a new communication of salvation for those who hear it. The event from the past that is proclaimed becomes “event” for the listening assembly. And ultimately all the events of Scripture merge into the one event that encompasses them all; namely, Christ in the hour of his Paschal Mystery. The moment of listening to the Word in the liturgy—the Word which proclaims ultimately the Lord’s death and resurrection—becomes in the very hearing an event of salvation for those who listen, nothing less than the same event which the words proclaim. This is the liturgical reality. But that this is so, and how it can be so, and how we can deepen our understanding of it—all that is the task of theology. Theology thus derives, in part, from the Word of God as read in the liturgy; and it is meant to return us to an ever deeper love and understanding of that Word as we celebrate it in the liturgy. Apostolic preaching—that is, the preaching of the bishop or of the priest or deacon ordained by him—is meant to be the guarantee in the liturgical assembly that this kind of theology is nourishing the Christian people. “The faith that comes to us from the Apostles”!

But that is not all, for in a marvelous way the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which follows the Liturgy of the Word, echoes the pattern of the Word becoming flesh in the mystery of the Incarnation. All the words of the Law and the Prophets become concrete reality in the Word made flesh. Echoing this pattern, the scriptural words proclaimed in the liturgy become sacrament; that is, the ritual actions and words performed around the community’s gifts of bread and wine proclaim in their own way and at an even deeper level—at a more concrete level—the one and only event of salvation: the Lord’s death and resurrection. And they proclaim that past event as the very event of the community’s present celebration. The bread and cup are a “communion,” as St. Paul says, in the body of Christ, in the blood of Christ (1 Cor 10,16). That is, the bread and cup put the celebrating community into participatory relation with the event of salvation history, an hour which does not pass away.

Theology must speak of these things. Theology exists because of these things. The theologian must be capable of understanding them more deeply, explaining them, defending them against error, indicating ways to proclaim them, lifting the community’s minds and hearts up toward them. The Scriptures must be expounded in this way, and not left at the level of an exegetical exercise which explains the text only in its original historical context. All the texts must be brought to the event that encompasses them: the Lord’s death and resurrection. That through the Eucharist about to be celebrated we have communion in the very same death and resurrection—this too must be proclaimed and explained....

It would be my hope—for this seminary and indeed for the whole Church—that doctrine might become a more vital and active dimension of a priest’s ministry and preaching—not doctrine merely as this is usefully discussed in speculative schools and learned writing, but rather this doctrine brought to life by continual nourishment from its eucharistic source, this doctrine as the precise and beautiful formulation of the deepest sense of what is happening in the liturgical assembly when the Word of God is proclaimed and the eucharistic rites are celebrated....

The most important doctrines remain the same through the ages and need to be approached again and again by theology and in our preaching; namely, the divine and human natures of Christ; their union in the divine person of the Son; and the mystery of the Holy Trinity which Christ reveals in his Paschal Mystery. I am not suggesting that theologians and preachers ought simply to stand up and talk more about these things. Rather, I am drawing our attention once again to the fact that these doctrines are the deepest sense of what the Scriptures proclaim and that this deepest sense was discovered precisely when the Scriptures were proclaimed in the liturgical assembly and when the Scriptures became sacrament in the eucharistic rite.

PHOTO: American College of the Immaculate Conception