30th Week of Ordinary Time – Year A
So the widely-trailed likelihood of a ‘fire-break’, with subsequent restrictions on movement and meetings, has been announced and implemented. In addition society-wide limitations, we have to accept the second closure of churches for public worship, with the exceptions of Funerals and Weddings, and these subject to strict quotas regarding Mourners or Guests.
If you have provided the Parish Office with an email address , (and given your permission) , you will have received by now , through the wonders of technology , a version of this week’s adapted Newsletter/Bulletin , and you may have noticed the ‘streaming’ of all Masses in the coming week – along with a small change in the schedule.
It occurred to me that it would be acceptable to celebrate an evening Mass during the week, (which had been a constant feature in all my previous Parishes ) , in order that those who cannot attend/participate at morning Mass have the opportunity to do so later in the day.
The timetable of Sunday Masses – with the Saturday Vigil and two Sunday morning Masses – seems better if it is maintained ? We all become used to a ‘routine’ and arrange other demands on our time around a pattern of behaviour – so , let’s see how this works for these couple of weeks of the ‘fire-break’.
At the moment , we are up-dating the Parish Database , (last done in 2015), and would welcome new/revised/amended information from Parishioners and Friends of the Parishes , which would allow the possibility of improving and adding to our ‘communications ministry’, with the aim that more people can receive digitally those items that once upon a time appeared on paper…..………………….
What comes to mind immediately are the forms we use in the month of November, when it is our customary practice and privilege to pray for the ‘Holy Souls’. We shall continue this ‘corporal work of mercy’ , in a digital format this year – not only because our churches are closed to Parishioners and Friends at the moment , but even when this ‘fire-break’ ends , we are not permitted to leave forms , sheets of paper and any other similar items in our churches from one Mass to another.
EXPOSITION OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT:
Those who receive the digital Bulletin may also have adverted to the ‘streaming’ of Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament next Friday afternoon, between 2.00 – 5.00 pm. A further thought arises that we could end this period of Eucharistic Devotion with a form of ‘Benediction’. Then a further thought suggests transferring the Service to Sunday afternoon, (which was also a custom in previous Parishes), a reminder of the days when there were no Sunday evening Masses, and ‘Benediction’ was a common feature in Parishes on Sunday afternoons.
Even though October – traditionally the month of the Holy Rosary – is about to end , what do you think about the possibility of providing a ‘streamed’ Rosary Hour during the week ?
We would need a ‘Leader’, or several such People week by week , to share the ministry. I await suggestions.
What else might become a feature in the prayer-life of our Parishes in these changed times – which , are going to be with us far longer than any of us expected at the onset of this pandemic.
That stands for ‘Children’s Liturgy Of the Word’, which is always a feature of our Masses where Children are present. It is a form of active participation that it particularly tailored to their needs. Isn’t it significant that the emphasis is on the ‘Liturgy of the Word’ ?
There is a beautiful example of ‘C.L.O.W.’ in these website pages ; in full colour and aimed at returning ‘All Hallows’ Eve’ to its original understanding, which was still maintained when it was shortened to ‘Hallowe’en’ in popular speech , but then became totally unrecognisable from its Christian origins in the current , commercially-customised ‘Halloween’ , with witches and ghouls to the fore.
I’m hoping that features like this will become part of our website offering, as and when the occasions arise. In addition there will be a weekly CLOW section, (black & white only at the moment), for the Children to colour, after having talked it through with an Adult. So, we begin this week with four pages dealing with Jesus’ teaching about ‘The Greatest Commandment’.
THE LITURGY OF THE WORD:
Moving on from the ‘Children’s Liturgy Of the Word’ , we transition to a few words intended to give context to the Scripture Readings set before us in the Lectionary at Mass this Sunday – with some reflections that may give ‘pause for thought’ in the week ahead ?
The First Reading is from The Book of Exodus, (Chapter 22), that part of the Scroll known as ‘The Book of the Covenant’. This covers Chapters 20 – 23. The contents of this section resemble a number of Law Codes that were developed by Israel’s neighbours in ancient times. In our time , we have rediscovered a good number of these ‘Codes’ , usually written on clay tablets , preserved in the sands that covered the (usually) conquered ruins of so many ancient cities of the Near East.
A particularly notable archaeological find figured in last week’s Bulletin , called the ‘Cyrus Cylinder’ , dug out of the rubble that is all that remains of the magnificent city of Babylon , (of ‘Hanging Gardens’ fame) – a wonder of the ancient world. If you remember, the Persian emperor Cyrus figured prominently in the First Reading at Mass , where he is extolled by Second Isaiah as a man ‘anointed’ by God. If we translate the Greek word into Hebrew, we find that the pagan emperor Cyrus , (apart from being reckoned one of the greatest individuals in human history by many scholars) , is being honoured as a ‘messiah’ of God.
On a superficial level , it might seem eminently reasonable that the prophet should be so enamoured of Cyrus – after all , he was among the captives in Babylon when the Persians entered the city in October 539 BC , (how many years ago was that , and in this month , I ask myself ?) , after having destroyed the Babylonian empire definitively , but NOT going on to destroy their capital. Instead, the victor issued a decree freeing all foreign captives who had been dragged into ‘Babylonian Exile’ by that tyrannical and rapacious regime , where the Jewish exiles famously sat by the ‘rivers of Babylon’ , (in fact irrigation canals), and wept over their fate. This pagan ruler next gave leave to anyone who wished, to return home.
Not only that , Cyrus actively assisted the returning Jews with gifts of gold and silver to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and , most significantly of all , to re-erect in all its splendour , the great Temple of Solomon , that had been defiled , despoiled and destroyed by the brutal , barbarous Babylonians in 587 BC.
In short, Cyrus deserved fulsome from the Jews praise for his actions – and you can ‘read all about it’ in the biblical Books of Ezra and Nehemiah. In the estimation of his peers he came to be regarded as the embodiment of truth, justice and self-control.
But is this how history has remembered him – if he is remembered at all?
As his empire expanded, Cyrus came upon monuments in conquered lands which announced the decrees of a great Law-Giver from even more ancient times, one Hammurabi, who lived nigh on 1,500 before him. Cyrus commanded that these Laws be displayed throughout the Persian Empire for all to learn. A black, stone pillar was recovered in 1901, from beneath the ruins of the ancient Persian capital of Susa, and on it was carved part of the ‘Code of Hammurabi’. The inscription and injunctions read perfectly well to modern ears and sensibilities, dealing as they do with property rights, culpable negligence in regard to house building and compensation to be paid where vandalism has occurred. None of these matters would be out of place today!
How paradoxical , therefore , in the Book of Esther , probably the most unpleasant Book in the Bible , which contains no mention of God in the Hebrew translation , where the Jewish-born heroine , originally named Hadassah in her own tongue , adopts the Persianname ‘ester , (possibly meaning ‘star’), when her outstanding beauty catches the eye of the king of the Persians , whom she marries without hesitation , and then uses her royal privilege in order to bring about the complete annihilation and slaughter of all the enemies of the Jews in ‘her’ empire.
Scripture scholars acknowledge the difficulty modern readers experience with the Book of Esther. We are offended by the attitude of the Jews to their foes in this work of pious fiction, no matter how odious the latter may be. However, the religious value of the tale does not lie in the actions of the non-existent ‘Queen Esther’ – the point of the story is that God will always rescue his People, no matter how mortal their plight may appear.
Let’s draw this to a close: It would have been impossible for a Jewish author to compose a ‘court tale’, or any kind of tale, where a Jew might marry a Babylonian – the difference in cultures was too great, BUT with the Persians there were certain common values. For example, a grandson of Cyrus, who became emperor in his time, had these words inscribed on his tomb: “support the right and fight the lie…….reward the loyal, punish those who do harm.”
The People of Israel readily adopted and adapted what was useful to them in the traditions of other cultures. From the Persians they got the idea of ‘angels’ , as messengers of God ; they noted the influence of the ‘Magi’ – those wise officials who advised the emperor ; they were impressed by the Persian fondness for building walled gardens , large and small , where beauty , harmony and a sense of well-being prevailed – gardens which the Persians called ‘paradises’…… This word entered their vocabulary.
However , no matter how magnificent or munificent the monarch , the Israelites were not beguiled by the trappings of earthly majesty. Immediately before the extract from the Book of Exodus which is read at Mass this Sunday , Moses descends from Mount Sinai with tablets of ‘stone’ on which are carved the Ten Commandments. He makes no attempt to claim that they are to be called the ‘Code of Moses’.
All the great law-givers of history had their day, but does anyone cite by name the ‘Code of Hammurabi’ in our day? or the ‘Cylinder of Cyrus’ , or the severe ‘Code of Draco’ , from which we get the adjective ‘draconian’ , heard so often these days. Who cites the ‘Code of Solon’ in arguing a point?
Conversely , people still listen to the prescripts of to the ‘The Commandments’ for sure guidance and conform their lives with utter conviction by the words proclaimed in today’s Gospel : “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart , with all your soul , and with all your mind…….and……..you must love your neighbour as yourself.”
Take care, keep well , keep safe and may the good Lord Bless us day by day.