Abraham – Father of Faith and Works

Abraham – Father of Faith and Works
From the Footprints of God series

The Footprints of God DVD series takes us through the landscape of our faith, with each title focusing on a Biblical personality. The passionate presenter Stephen Ray combines the familiar stories of these personalities with explanations and links from the Bible as well as the teachings of saints, the Church Fathers and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. All of this is shot on—beautiful—location in the Holy Land and other important sites.

The first title in the series, Abraham – Father of Faith and Works, explains how God sets His plan of salvation in motion with the calling of Abraham. It emphasises how Abraham is saved not just because of his faith but also his obedience to God and his good works. At each significant step in his life, he is faced with a challenging call, for example, to leave his family’s home and go to the unfamiliar Canaan, or to sacrifice his son Isaac, but he obeys. While Abraham is thus our father of faith whom God made His covenant with, the overarching assurance is that God has a plan, it will prevail and He will keep His promises.

This title also highlights the instances of typology found in the story of Abraham. For example, the offering of bread and wine by the priest Melchizedek prefigures the Eucharist, and the wedding of Isaac and Rebekah prefigures the marriage of the Lamb (Christ) and His bride, the Church. There is also God’s visit to Abraham in the form of the three men, who are seen as representing the Holy Trinity. Here, Ray asks us to reflect on how we receive the Lord. Are we sons and daughters of Abraham in welcoming the Lord or are we like the chief priests and scribes who rejected Jesus?

Places featured in this title include the Temple of Ziggurat (main temple in Ur, where Abraham came from), Bethel (where he built an altar to God), Hebron (where he settled) and Mamre (where God visited him), and Mount Moriah (where Isaac was supposed to have been sacrificed).

written for Spotlight (May 2016)

♫ Makes me think of Yahweh, You Are Near

Other titles in the Footprints of God series include:  Jesus – the Word Became Flesh, Mary – the Mother of God, Moses – Signs, Sacraments, Salvation, Paul – Contending for the Faith, and Apostolic Fathers – Handing on the Faith.

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The Lamb’s Supper

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The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth
by Scott Hahn
(Doubleday, 1999)

 This was one of the books that got me reading in greater earnest. I didn’t have any idea then about Scott Hahn or his story and I was taken by his tale of his first Mass:
As the Mass moved on… something hit me. My Bible wasn’t just beside me. It was before me—in the words of the Mass! One line was from Isaiah, another from the Psalms, another from Paul. The experience was overwhelming. I wanted to stop everything and shout, “Hey, can I explain what’s happening from Scripture? This is great!”

This kind of reaction to the Mass both saddens yet amuses me because it makes me wonder what exactly people think we are doing at Mass. A more important question, of course, is how we Catholics understand it ourselves, and it was enlightening to read of it in relation to the Book of Revelation.

Right there at his first Mass, Hahn understood that the focus of Mass is Jesus, the “Lamb of God” of John’s Gospel and Who is mentioned 28 times in Revelation. Several Masses along, he recognised in the liturgy more elements of the Bible, especially from Revelation. His book explains this link and it is the fruit of his years of study of Revelation and liturgy, and his coming to the Catholic faith.

Hahn emphasises that the early Church Fathers were the first to explain the relationship between Revelation and Mass. For them, Revelation was “incomprehensible apart from the liturgy”. In the Jewish worship of the Old Testament, Israel prayed “in imitation of the angels” but in the Mass, we worship “together with the angels” (Rev 19:10), as stated in the Preface, and then done when singing Holy, Holy, Holy and in the Eucharistic prayers, hence his view of the Mass as “heaven on earth”.

He acknowledges the “futuristic” sense of Revelation but focuses on how Revelation is relevant to us in the here and now of Mass. On one level, Revelation looks to the parousia (“coming” of Christ; original meaning in Greek – “presence”), the new Jerusalem, and new heaven and earth. At the same time, it also points to Jesus’ “real and abiding presence”, nowhere more “real and abiding” than in the Mass.

A historical nugget recorded by St. Epiphanius was about Hadrian’s arrival in Jerusalem in 130AD. Jerusalem was “still in ruins” and what was left standing were “a few houses” as well as “the little church of God on the spot where the disciples went to the upper room”. The upper room, believed to be the scene of Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, had survived the sack of Jerusalem (70AD)…

One of Hahn’s perspectives is of Revelation as a “courtroom scene”, with God as judge and Jerusalem on trial, and the angels helping to “execute” God’s judgment in some clearly liturgical scenes. Every time we attend Mass, we find ourselves within this judgment scene.

The Mass also mirrors the structure of Revelation. The first 11 chapters contain the “proclamation” of the letters to the churches and the opening of the scroll, with the word “repent” appearing eight times in the first three chapters. This is reflected in the Penitential Rite and the Liturgy of the Word in the first part of Mass. From Chapter 11 onwards, we are brought to God’s Temple and move towards the climactic ending of the marriage supper of the Lamb, reflected in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Here is part of his list showing that “the golden thread of liturgy is what holds together the apocalyptic pearls of John’s vision”.

an altar 8:3-4; 11:1; 14:18
priests (presbyteroi) 4:4; 11:15; 14:3; 19:4
vestments 1:13; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9; 15:6; 19:3-14
lamp stands (Menorah) 1:12; 2:5
penitence Chp 2 & 3
incense 5:8; 8:3-5
the book, or scroll 5:1
the Eucharistic Host 2:17
chalices 15:7; Chp 16; 21:9
the Gloria 15:3-4
the Alleluia 19:1, 3, 4, 6
Holy Holy Holy 4:8
Lamb of God 5:6 and throughout
intercession of angels and saints 5:8; 6:9-10; 8:3-4
antiphonal chant 4:8-11; 5:9-14; 7:10-12; 18:1-8
readings from Scripture Chp 2-3; 5; 8:2-11
the priesthood of the faithful 1:6; 20:6
the marriage supper of the Lamb 19:9, 17

Indeed, at every Mass, our Lord says:
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev 3:20)

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Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev 22:20)

♫ Makes me think of Behold the Lamb

The Scripture Source Book for Catholics

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The Scripture Source Book for Catholics
by Rev. Peter Klein
(Our Sunday Visitor Curriculum Division, 2008)

Simply put, this book is for Catholics who want to know more about Scripture. It explains the many aspects in which the Church is scriptural. Its two broad areas – Scripture from the Catholic perspective and Scripture in the life of the Catholic Church – are covered in seven chapters.

Scripture from the Catholic perspective

  1. Word of God – Revelation

God revealed Himself to Adam and Eve, then by His covenant with Noah, by His promise to Abraham, by His freeing of the Israelites from slavery through Moses and by the Incarnation of His Son, from Whom we receive the “ultimate” revelation of God’s Word. From then, it has been the responsibility of the missionary Church to transmit this divine revelation. This is done through Sacred Scripture and Tradition, what was handed down to the Apostles and through them. Along with Tradition and Sacred Scripture stands the Magisterium of the Church – “no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20).

  1. Words of People – Sacred Scripture

Klein notes that “Christianity is not first of all a religion of the book but of a person” and that for the early Christians, what was “canonical” was what Peter, James and Paul preached, “in continuity with what Jesus had proclaimed”.

After years of depending on oral tradition, people began to write and document so that the teachings could be passed down in a concrete and “accurate” way. The books of both the Old and New Testaments were put together by the communities and edited over many years.

Only “fragments” of written works date back to the time of the Exodus, and these include the Song of Miriam and the Song of Deborah. It was around the time of David’s establishment of his capital at Jerusalem (1000BC) that written records were produced in great earnest.

The earliest Christian Scriptures were the letters of Paul and the others, the first complete one being 1 Thessalonians (around AD50). A first version of the Gospel (Mark’s) emerged around AD70. By around the 300s, the 39-book Old Testament canons were “widely recognised” and by around 400, the 27-book New Testament was “generally accepted”.

There was also other early Christian literature, such as letters, sermons and the Didache.

  1. Book of Covenants – Moral formation in the Old and New Testaments

The Old Testament can “stand on its own” and it “prepares for the New”. The New Testament reveals the fulfilment of God’s divine plan and Jesus’ role in our salvation. Therefore, the Gospels are “the heart of all the Scriptures”. One significant thread that ties the Old and New Testaments is typology, by which Jesus (as well as other New Testament people or events) is revealed in the Old Testament through “types” or prefigurations.

  1. Journal of God’s People – The Word of God

The Church’s mission is: first and foremost, message (kerygma, coming from Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition), followed by fellowship (koinonia) and service (diakonia). The Church’s stewardship of the message includes translating, interpreting and analysing the Scriptures, and producing commentaries. Here, the Magisterium functions as “servant” of the word: “it teaches only what has been handed on to it… listens to it devoutly, guards it reverently and expounds it faithfully”.

Scripture in the Life of the Church

  1. The Lectionary – Liturgical catechesis

Scripture is organised in the Lectionary (“collection of readings”) for liturgical proclamation. The three-year cycle of Gospel readings for Sunday Masses provides a “semi continuous” reading of a particular Gospel in the assigned year. Scriptures specific to Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter are thematically organised for those liturgical seasons.

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On top of this, Scripture features significantly throughout the Mass, from the first Sign of the Cross and greeting, to the end of Mass.

The sacraments are founded on Scripture and so “preaching of the Word is an essential part of the celebration of the sacraments”. Sacramentals, such as anointing, and the use of candles, incense and ashes, also have scriptural foundation.

  1. Prayer Book of the Church – Integration of daily prayer

The Liturgy of Hoursconsecrates to God the whole cycle of day and night, as it has done from early Christian times”. It includes hymns, antiphons, psalms, Gospel canticles, Scripture reading and prayers, with Fridays, Sundays as well as feast days and liturgical seasons given a “special character”.

  1. Light of the Faithful – Personal prayer life of the faithful

The Scriptures underlie devotions such as the Sacred Heart devotion, the Way of the Cross, Litanies, Holy Hours, Novenas and the mysteries of the Rosary. We are also encouraged to pray with Scripture. For example, we might use the Lectio Divina method (reading, meditation, responding, contemplation) or pray prayers from Scripture.

If you happen to read this reference book from cover to cover (which I did!) you will find yourself at the end of it at four very interesting appendices:
– The Four-fold sense of Scripture (literal, allegorical, moral, anagogical)
– Figures of speech in Scripture
– Words & phrases with a Scriptural origin or allusion
– A history of the translation of Scripture into English.

So much to learn!

God dwells in His Word
♫ How Lovely is Your Dwelling Place

Pilgrimage in the Footsteps of Jesus

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Pilgrimage in the Footsteps of Jesus
by Stephen J. Binz
(Twenty-Third Publications, 2006)

We’re used to making our Advent and Lent spiritual journeys. We might also walk further with Jesus, then, or walk where He walked.

Pilgrimage in the Footsteps of Jesus is one of the titles in the Threshold Bible Study series, in which Bible study programmes are organised according to themes that run through different parts of the Bible. This is an alternative to Bible study by book.  It takes us on a reading and study pilgrimage of the “geography of salvation”. We visit significant places of Our Lord’s life and study the related events and Bible passage(s) at each stop.

There are 30 chapters, moving from Nazareth (the Annunciation) to the Mount of Olives (the Ascension). Each chapter is anchored at a pilgrimage site, such as the Basilica of the Annunciation and Shrine of the Ascension, with a (rather small) picture of each place. There is a Bible passage (sometimes more than one), a write-up and reflection on the passage, questions for reflection and discussion, and a prayer.

For example, session 28 is at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The Bible reading is Mark 15:42-16:8, recounting Jesus’ burial and resurrection. The reflection reminds us that this may be the “last station of the sorrowful way of the cross” but it is also the “beginning of the glorious way of resurrection.” The angel points out the empty tomb but also says “He has been raised; he is not here”. Binz writes that the “truest pilgrimage is going out to tell others the good news and living the new life given to us by our risen Lord.”

This chapter is followed by the last two stops: Church of Peter’s Primacy at Tabgha (John 21:1-19) and Shrine of the Ascension (Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:6-12). The final chapter reiterates a life-giving purpose of pilgrimage: “the other side of pilgrimage means going somewhere else in order to bring God in a new way to that place… We can discover God’s presence in the least likely places, and we can bring the presence of God to places that wait in darkness for the dawning light of our Risen Lord.”

In other words, we are called to share our Easter joy with others.

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Happy Easter!
Join in the Dance

Other titles in the Threshold series include Advent Light, The Resurrection and the Life, The Mysteries of the Rosary, The Beast and the Lamb and The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts.