It will be another thirty weeks before we get to our re-reading of Sacrosanctum Concilium 35. [UPDATED]
But I am teaching an elective, “The RCIA: The Sacraments of Christian Initiation & the Catechumenal Model as Inspiration for Parish Life” and I need help remembering what happened to the implementation of CSL 35, §4;
Bible services should be encouraged, especially on the vigils of the more solemn feasts, on some weekdays in Advent and Lent, and on Sundays and feast days. They are particularly to be commended in places where no priest is available; when this is so, a deacon or some other person authorized by the bishop should preside over the celebration.
I was in the seminary in the sixties and seventies and bible services were ‘in.’ The first two years of the US BCL Newsletter provides documentation and samples (e.g., 17–18), and charts their implementation across the US (56). World Library Publications included 12 such service in their 1966 editions of the People’s Mass Book.
Directory for Masses With Children (November 1, 1973) says:
14. Depending on the capacity of the children, the word of God should have a greater place in these celebrations. In fact, as the children’s spiritual capacity develops, celebrations of the word of God in the strict sense should be held frequently, especially during Advent and Lent. These will help greatly to develop in the children an appreciation of the word of God.
But then what happened? Does anyone remember? Were having bibles services a fad that faded?
I ask because, re-reading the RCIA, I am struck by §79: “Among the rites belonging to the period of the catechumenate, then, celebrations of the word of God are foremost.” Are they foremost, I ask? RCIA §81 elaborates:
During the period of the catechumenate there should be celebrations of the word of God that accord with the liturgical season and that contribute to the instruction of the catechumens and the needs of the community. These celebrations of the word are: first, celebrations held specially for the catechumens; second, participation in the liturgy of the word at the Sunday Mass; third, celebrations held in connection with catechetical instruction.
82. The special celebrations of the word of God arranged for the benefit of the catechumens have as their main purpose:
1. to implant in their hearts the teachings they are receiving: for example, the morality characteristic of the New Testament, the forgiving of injuries and insults, a sense of sin and repentance, the duties Christians must carry out in the world;
2. to give them instruction and experience in the different aspects and ways of prayer;
3. to explain to them the signs, celebrations, and seasons of the liturgy;
4. to prepare them gradually to enter the worship assembly of the entire community.
83. From the very beginning of the period of the catechumenate the catechumens should be taught to keep holy the Lord’s Day.
1. Care should be taken that some of the special celebrations of the word just mentioned (no. 82) are held on Sunday, so that the catechumens will become accustomed to taking an active and practiced part in these celebrations.
2. Gradually the catechumens should be admitted to the first part of the celebration of the Sunday Mass. After the liturgy of the word they should, if possible, be dismissed, but an intention for them is included in the general intercessions (see no. 67 for formularies of dismissal).
84. Celebrations of the word may also be held in connection with catechetical or instructional meetings of the catechumens, so that these will occur in a context of prayer.
Is this going on? Particularly, SPECIAL celebrations of the word of God?
Under the title, “Prayerfully Hearing the Word of God,” the 2001 Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy says:
193. The Council’s call for the “sacred celebrations of the word of God” at significant moments throughout the Liturgical Year (CSL 35, 4), can easily find useful application in devotional exercises made in honour of the Mother of the Word Incarnate. This corresponds perfectly with the orientation of Christian piety and reflects the conviction that it is already a worthy way to honour the Blessed Virgin Mary, since it involves acting as she did in relation to the Word of God. She lovingly accepted the Word and treasured it in her heart, meditated on it in her mind and spread it with her lips. She faithfully put it into practise and modelled her life on it.
194. Celebrations of the Word, because of their thematic and structural content, offer many elements of worship which are at the same time genuine expressions of devotion and opportunities for a systematic catechesis on the Blessed Virgin Mary. Experience, however, proves that celebrations of the Word should not assume a predominantly intellectual or didactic character. Through hymns, prayers, and participation of the faithful they should allow for simple and familiar expressions of popular piety which speak directly to the hearts of the faithful.
Most recently, Benedict XVI, in Verbum Domini: On the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church (September 30, 2010), says:
I would now like to take up and develop several proposals and suggestions advanced by the Synod Fathers with a view to making the People of God ever more familiar with the word of God in the context of liturgical actions or, in any event, with reference to them.
a) Celebrations of the word of God The Synod Fathers encouraged all pastors to promote times devoted to the celebration of the word in the communities entrusted to their care. These celebrations are privileged occasions for an encounter with the Lord. This practice will certainly benefit the faithful, and should be considered an important element of liturgical formation. Celebrations of this sort are particularly significant as a preparation for the Sunday Eucharist; they are also a way to help the faithful to delve deeply into the riches of the Lectionary, and to pray and meditate on sacred Scripture, especially during the great liturgical seasons of Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter. The Synod Fathers also recommended celebrations of the word of God on pilgrimages, special feasts, popular missions, spiritual retreats and special days of penance, reparation or pardon. The various expressions of popular piety, albeit not liturgical acts and not to be confused with liturgical celebrations, should nonetheless be inspired by the latter and, above all, give due space to the proclamation and hearing of God’s word; “popular piety can find in the word of God an inexhaustible source of inspiration, insuperable models of prayer and fruitful points for reflection”.
As for the RCIA and celebrations of the Word of God: When I went through the RCIA (1993-1994) it was based completely on this model. Wednesday evening gatherings occurred in the day chapel in the context of a celebration of the Word. Instruction and faith sharing were based upon lection material – only occasionally were there “catechetical presentations.” Sundays we were dismissed from the assembly for an extended Liturgy of the Word, again based upon the lectionary. A very fruitful and successful model for which the parish is known even now. I would add that there is a monastic/lectio character to all this that parishioners find very satisfying and are eager to participate in. The evocation of the Word in the hearts of people is far more formative than barking dogma and “truths.”
In my experience such celebrations are still occurring, but maybe its just that I’m prone to seek them out.
@J. Thomas – comment #1:
Heartening to hear, J. May I ask the name of the parish and and place, or at least the diocese or part of the country?
@Paul F Ford – comment #2:
St. Nicholas Church, O’Fallon IL, Diocese of Belleville in Illinois
I attended just such as service of the Word in a Church of Ireland church this morning. I think we also need smaller biblical prayer groups. The Mass is an uninterpreted block if deprived of its context in the culture of biblical prayer and reflection.
Meanwhile I just came across these reactions to the new translations: http://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2011/09/an-open-letter-to-women-religious
Thanks Paul for raising this question. I have asked it and not been able to get an answer.
I encountered the idea of “bible services” when I was a Jesuit Novice during 1960-62. It was theoretical, coming out of Europe. We didn’t do anything about it. During 1963-64 when I was at Collegeville as an undergraduate some of us pre-divinity students got the idea of replacing Compline with a Bible Service. The idea came from my colleagues; I helped put it together, don’t remember much of the details. So at one point early on, even before SC, it was an “in” thing to do.
Why did it fade out? Perhaps because of the new lectionary? Maybe it made more sense when we had fewer readings and less variety?
Bible Services are a better model for a Divine Office for the parish along the lines of the Anglican Divine Office. They have a nice balance of hymns, readings (OT and NT), psalms and canticles.
Recently in our area the Anglican Services of Lessons and Carols for Advent and Christmas have remodeled parish Advent and Christmas “concerts” into services of lessons and carols. Such services provide greater opportunity for choirs to do choral things beyond the range of the people. St. Thomas in NY with its choir school deliberately models its Vespers as requiring much less participation by the people.
What I would like to see in this “Year of Faith” as a beginning to the “New Evangelization” is to have choirs put the energy they have been putting into twice yearly concerts into a series of Bible Services open to the general public that would integrate our liturgical music heritage (past and present) with Bible readings. Provide a brief running commentary that serves as a catechesis of both Scripture and Liturgical Tradition; avoid sermons and homilies. People would be welcome to come and experience it as a concert. Refreshments, meet and greet, and a small discussion about liturgy, music and scripture afterwards.
In the Vibrant Parish Life Study The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults is ranked as #9 in being well done (so the people noticed it and “understand” it) but only #27 in importance.
The more we can integrate “evangelization” and “re-evangelization” as well as both “catechesis” and “bible study” into the ongoing life of the parish adults the more people will be likely to see a relation of the RCIA to themselves (and not just something for the RCIA members as appears in the above study).
When I was on parish council, we discovered Bible Study was the top priority of parish adults for adult faith formation. They liked the Little Rock Bible Study which uses the Collegeville Bible Commentary. I stayed around to help implement it, interviewed people individually about their experiences and became a great fan of the program.
Little Rock includes four elements: 1) 20 minutes a day of home study which encourages personal prayer and lectio divina, 2) an hour of weekly group study which includes conversational prayer.
The third element is a weekly lecture or video which I would change into a weekly Bible Service and make it available to everyone in the parish whether or not they take part in the individual and group study. Element 4 is prayer which is spread across all three of the other elements. Little Rock has both thematic studies as well as individual book studies.
Many Catholics as well as people in the community would find a weekly Bible Service a helpful introduction to the Bible in a Catholic context of para-liturgical prayer. Such Bible Services are something that people could use as they need, and not feel an obligation to join a group or the parish or the Catholic Church. One of the group meetings could be held afterward for people who might want to consider joining a Catholic Bible study group.
I think the terminology is obscuring the success of this venture.
No one calls them Bible services. They are routinely described as either Celebrations of the Word, or a Liturgy of the Word, or sometimes simply a prayer service — yet one that is clearly arranged around readings of Scripture. These are quite often offered in connection with catechesis and parish gatherings, at conferences and ministry gatherings, and even in homes. Every publisher of Catholic textbooks also includes such services in the curriculum for the religious education of children and youth.
They are extremely common. We just have started calling them something else.
My sense is that “Bible service” sounded rather Protestant to those who first implemented such services. But the popularity of this phenomenon is undeniable.
@Rita Ferrone – comment #6:
I agree. Just last night I has a “Vigil for the Deceased” with primarily Protestants in attendance and at the start to help them understand the service I called it a “Scripture Service.” The same is true of Funeral Service outside of Mass as well as the Nuptial Liturgy outside of Mass and even Communion Service led by a deacon or lay person. As well in terms of devotionals, such as Benediction, would include Scripture and Psalm readings also. And of course The Liturgy of the Hours is primarily Scripture. Often opening prayers at pastoral councils, stewardship councils and other meetings will have Scripture with brief discussion. Also small faith groups meeting in homes pray the Scriptures too. Our parish next week will have a solemn rosary with Scripture reading meditations between the Mysteries. However the decline in attendance in public popular devotions may have led also to the disappearance of “Bible Services.” In that period the Mass became the end all and be all, even home Masses.
I believe Paul is referring to what were called Bible vigils back in the 70’s. As I recall they were widespread for some time until people decided why not just have special masses. Then those became the rage until the mid-80’s or so when the anti-reformers frowned on them. Wish I had a better recollection.
In Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP), meetings start with a little ceremony called “Bible Enthronement” which, at least in the sessions I’ve led, serves as a bible service.
We also typically begin our parish ministry meetings with a proclamation of the Gospel of the coming Sunday, followed up some group reflection/discussion, even if only for a couple of minutes.
In my experience, the prayer piety of the parish meetings, e.g. Parish Council, planning meetings, retreat like meetings, is definitely more biblical and likely to begin with a Scripture reading, and perhaps shared reflections. All too often the reading is the Sunday reading (either last Sundays or next Sundays) except for retreat like meeting which often have a theme.
However Paul’s quotes mostly refer to parish-wide Scripture Services not to functional meetings that are likely to be attended only by specialized groups (even if like Parish Council they are theoretically opened to everyone).
Dei Verbum is perhaps the most important document of Vatican II in the longer run. However its practical effort, although large, has been mainly limited to the Lectionary cycle. Most of the Biblical renewal among Catholics has been do to that. Both the Divine Office and Biblical Services have failed as other places for feeding the Biblical renewal among Catholics.
I well remember the furore at Farm Street Jesuit Church, London, in the early 1960s when the previous Sunday afternoon devotions (Litany of Loreto, Bona Mors, etc + Benediction) were all swept away by the then rector in favour of bible services. This only lasted a year or two, since diminishing attendances spoke rather eloquently about what were in fact used not as opportunities for meditating on scripture but as further opportunities for moralising preaching (based on the scriptures) to those who had already been assailed by it on Sunday morning…
Increased reflection on scripture has, as Rita points out, blossomed under different names.
In the wake of SC 35.4 and the 1988 Directory on Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest, “celebrations of the word of God” became common — often, however, linked with the distribution of Communion which has tended to weaken their impact as services of the word.
Already in 1973 the Instruction on Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist outside Mass had stipulated (para 65) that “during the exposition there should be prayers, songs, and readings to direct the attention of the faithful to the worship of Christ the Lord” — a rubric which has been largely ignored by those who practise exposition. It seems clear that a major thrust here was to find a way of revaluing the absorption of scripture by the people through the insertion of readings into what had previously been silent gazing at a monstrance or ciborium. As an initiative, it has totally failed.
Unlike some other Christian Churches, which are very much based around the transforming power of the Word of God, the Catholic Church has suffered from being a Eucharist-dominated Church, with less weight being placed upon the Word than on the Eucharist. Fifty years after SC, and only 43 after a new Order of Mass made it incumbent on us to listen to God’s Word (before that, you did not need to arrive until after the end of the Liturgy of the Word), we still remain to a large extent an unbiblical people, even though we have made great strides… What is now needed is a real attempt to find a balance between the Table of the Word and the Table of the Eucharist in our spiritual lives.
I wonder whether in a certain way, the influence of evangelical or pentecostal worship has also contributed to the decrease in Celebrations of the Word. I find that a good number of the youth, if they aren’t in the Latin-Mass crowd, tend to attend communal services that are strongly inspired by certain forms of evangelical-pentecostal worship.
These forms do not actually use a lot of Scripture. They have a strong musical component (‘praise-and-worship’ which often segues into ‘adoration’ [not referring to a Eucharistic practice here] ) followed occasionally by a prayer (with a praise and intercessory bent) and then a long sermon. There is very little Scripture actually read aside from the text used by the preacher since participants (at least in Protestant settings) are often assumed to have necessary familiarity, or review the texts at home in an individual setting.
I think in some ways the increasing adoption of this form by those most likely to engage in some form of large-scale, communal prayer other than the usual traditional Catholic fare of Mass-and-devotions might be a factor in the decline of formal, large scale communal celebrations around the Word. This is not to say that a number of places don’t have bible studies or similar opportunities- but the ones I’ve attended often tend to be small and more informal settings.
Sorry, friends, to let this conversation lapse. It was a full week at the seminary.
This sounds plausible to me, Jack.
Sounds like an excellent idea. This would give choirs something to work on.
This explanation rings a louder bell with me. The 70s saw a proliferation of special Masses. Are you also saying that the reform-of-the-reformers frowned on bible services or on special masses?
I agree with you, Rita, that no one anymore calls them “bible services” but that was their name when they first became popular, after 1965.
I don’t think I live in such an ivory tower that I am out of touch with what’s happening in parish life: My experience is that celebrations of the word, especially for catechumens, are not common.
We’re having our regional religious education congress next weekend and I will be sure to browse in all of the publishers’ teachers manuals to check this out. Can you give me any leads?
@Paul F Ford – comment #16:
I am sure you are not in an ivory tower. When I go around the country talking with people who minister in the RCIA, I often talk with them about this. When I ask: Are you doing a celebration of the word, few hands are raised. When I ask, do you begin with a prayer service using scripture, all the hands go up. It’s as simple as that. It may be I have a self-selected crowd: the people who come for ongoing training and formation. In the great world out there, this represents a fraction of the people actually doing things that are called RCIA.
About the religious education materials, look especially at Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt materials for the sacraments. It’s all liturgical catechesis. Maureen Kelly was principally behind it. Since they were bought by Our Sunday Visitor, I do not know if any of them have gone out of print, but I imagine they are still on the market. Their basel cell curriculum also uses “prayer experiences” that use scripture.
At St. Mary’s Press look for the Confirmation program written by Rita Burns Senseman. Again, it’s liturgical catechesis through and through, and scripture anchors the prayer services.
RCL-Benziger has them too, I believe. Hope this helps.
Right on, PI, right on! This is what the Pontifical Biblical Commission was getting at in their 1995 document, “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church”:
This is my impression as well. I shy away from being as categorical as “As an initiative, it has totally failed.” But that is why I introduced this topic for discussion. I cannot reach the same conclusions as Rita does.
I’m searching for such a balance and seem to find it in RCIA §81.
This is what I think RCIA §81 is calling us to do. My question is: Is anyone doing it?
This is certainly the case in Southern California. But my Protestant friends are finding that one cannot presume that Protestants have any more familiarity with the Bible than Catholics do.
What I dream of, Joshua, is something like a chapel of the word, actually a catechumenon, with a be-candled ambo in the center of the space and benches against the walls, a place for a reverent hearing of the word of God, great biblical preaching, open to everyone in the community, perfect for the more formal, larger-scale communal celebrations of the Word that you speak of.
A poll on the Bible was done in nine countries — the United States, Britain, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Russia, Italy, Spain and Poland -for the Catholic Biblical Federation in preparation for the Synod of the Word. It got wide coverage in the press (see following comment for links). Some 13,000 interviews had been completed during the course of the survey which interviewed Christians and non-Christians Most of the respondents were Christian. Except for in the United States, Britain and Russia, most of the Christian respondents were Catholic.
1. Bible and Modern Culture : “continues to inspire interest and fascination among a broad majority even in highly secularized and post-confessional cultures.” “it is widely held that it is an inspired work capable of giving meaning to life, and that it has far greater authority than other ecclesial manifestations “”
2. Ecumenism “Scripture remains the most effective ‘place’ Christians have to progress together along the path of unity. “There no longer appear to be major differences in Biblical reading patterns and Biblical familiarity between countries with Catholic majorities and those with Protestant majorities”
3. Fundamentalism : Fundamentalists, who take a literal view of Scripture, do not know more about the Bible. Critical readers who see the Bible as the word of God but in need of interpretation, are over-represented at the highest levels of Biblical literacy. Fundamentalists actually score lower on basic Biblical awareness.
In virtually every country surveyed, those who take a “critical” view of the Bible represent a larger share of the population than either “fundamentalists” or “reductionists,” those who see the Bible simply as literature or a collection of myths and legends
4. United States:
In the United States, “fundamentalists” are 27 percent of the population, “critics” 51 percent, and “reductionists” 20 percent
Asked if they had read a phrase from the Bible in the past 12 months, 75 percent of American respondents said yes, while between 20 percent and 38 percent of respondents in the other eight countries said yes.
Americans were the largest group who said they had a Bible at home (93 percent) and the French were the lowest (48 percent). The average American household owns three Bibles, according to a 1993 Barna Research study. A nationwide Harris Poll released earlier in April showed that the Bible was American’s favorite book of all time.
Americans were also the most willing to donate money to spread the Bible message.
But Americans don’t score better than anyone else on tests of basic Biblical literacy
International poll: Critics, not fundamentalists, know the Bible better
By John L Allen Jr Created May 3 2008 – 03:40
US Among Most Bible-Literate Nations
By Philip Pullella, Reuters
Posted: 2008-04-28 22:03:48
Poll: U.S. More Bible-Wired, Prayerful than Europe’s Christian Nations
When compared to people living in Europe’s most Christian-populated nations, Americans are the most prayerful and most likely to be connected to the Bible, according to a new study released on Monday.
Tue, Apr. 29, 2008 Posted: 08:50:06 AM EST
Bible Lovers Not Defined by Denomination, Politics
Survey Presented in Vatican as Lead Up to Synod
Americans more versed in the Bible than Europeans, Vatican study says
By Francis X. Rocca Religion News Service
@Jack Rakosky – comment #25:
Jack, you have been an exceptionally helpful dialogue partner. Thank you for your diligence.
My experience of the RCIA throughout the United States and Canada shows me that, by and large, special word services for catechumens (and baptized uncatechized canidates in the process) are not a regular part of the RCIA process. However, many parishes begin their “catechetical session” during the week following the Sunday Mass (with its dismissal and “breaking open the word” session) with a re-reading of one of the scriptures from the previous Sunday’s Lectionary texts.
While many RCIA ministers are attempting a more holistic approach to Christian formation (accommodating all of the “four pillars” of an apprenticeship catechesis urged by RCIA, 75), most parishes are still working on a syllabus model, with a strictly content approach to catechesis. This means that the celebration of these special celebrations of the word are not occurring in most RCIA processes in parishes. For those committed to a “Lectionary-based” model, the Sunday celebration of the Word at Mass remains the foundational element for this catechesis.
@Jerry Galipeau – comment #26:
Jerry, you certainly confirm my experience. Have you any hope that this situation might change for the better?
Paul, of course I have hope that the situation might change. I firmly believe that a “learning by doing” model, if ever adopted, can help change the face of the RCIA (not to mention, the face of the earth!)