Hear, O Israel!

This Sunday’s first reading in the Roman Catholic Lectionary (and one of the two choices for the Revised Common Lectionary) is from Deuteronomy, which not many Christians would probably name as their favorite book of the Bible. Deuteronomy 6:4-6, however, is the first part of the Shema Yisra’el, the text that has formed the centerpiece of Jewish daily prayer in the evening and morning from the time of Jesus until today. The first commandment he gives in this week’s gospel, therefore, was as familiar and everyday and fundamental to his audience as the Lord’s Prayer is for Christians today. We should cherish this prayer and this moment in the Gospel in which Jesus, the scribe, and those around them begin from the most ordinary prayer they know, come close to the heart of faith in God, and fall into a reverent silence.

Readings for this Sunday are available from the USCCB website and an introduction to the Shema is available from Judaism 101.

2 comments

  1. This prayer is a rich treasure! When choosing readings for our wedding, we ended up using having this as our first reading. Non-traditional, I know, but it was so fitting for many reasons, not the least of which were the many relatives and friends that were present. (My was raised in a Jewish home.) As you point out, it is so essential to who we are in faith.

  2. Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever.

    The second line of this part (Barukh sheim k’vod…) is actually not part of this passage from the Torah. It doesn’t even appear anywhere in the Bible. It’s a congregational response from the days of the Temple: whenever the High Priest would say the Divine Name, the people would respond with this line. Today, it is not said aloud except during Yom Kippur services.

    The Byzantine formula for beginning the hours of the office, and similar liturgical services is

    Blessed is our God, always, now and for ever, and to the ages of ages.

    The Byzantine formula for beginning the Liturgies of Saint John Chyrsostom, Saint Basil, the Presanctified, and the Wedding service is

    Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and always and for ever and ever.

    The blessing of the bread after vespers and before the monastic meal concludes with

    Blessed be the Name of the Lord, now and forever (twice)

    It is interesting that we have a prayer that is not found anywhere in the Bible, but is associated with a central Jewish ritual prayer, and is attributed (at least) to the Temple, that is similar to many of the prayers that begin the Byzantine liturgical offices.

    Do other Eastern Rites have similar prayers? Do we know anything about the origin of these formulas? Are they early? or late? I recall something from Taft about the tendency to remodel offices based on other offices, e.g. I think that is how we got the Litany of Peace at its present location in many offices.

    I realize that many Jewish prayers begin with “Blessed …” but these seem to be more specific in content and their location near the beginning of prayer.

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