Mary L. Coloe, Dwelling in the household of God: Johannine Ecclesiology and Spirituality. Collegeville: Liturgical Publications, 2006. ISBN – 13: 978-0-8146-5988-5. ISBN – 10: 0-8146-5988-8.
As I read this fine book it struck me that here is a good biblical scholar at work. And an Australian at that! Drawing on the best of Johannine scholarship, especially from another Johannine scholar, Francis Moloney, Coloe’s central aim is to explore the meaning of the image of the household in the Gospel according to John. .Mary presumes the benefits that have come from gospel study through the judicious use of historical and social criticism . She draws upon her previous work (God Dwells with Us: Temple Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel [Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 2001]) and offers a fresh reading of John’s gospel with a careful analysis of the gospel’s narrative technique (narrative criticism). Her focus is on the evangelist’s use of the symbol of household in selected scenes: Jesus’ initial invitation in Jn 1 to the first disciples to come and stay with him; the wedding in Cana (Jn 2); the narrative and conversation about birth between Jesus and Nicodemus (Jn 3); the events that occur in the household of Lazarus, Martha and Mary (Jn 11 and 12); and the disciples’ experience of the risen Jesus in the Jerusalem household (Jn 20). Through these scenes Mary unravels the household image that permeates them. It is an image, she suggests, that reflects the situation of John’s post-Easter household community. On a deeper level, Mary shows how these household narratives enable the evangelist to reflect on faith, spiritual and theological identity.
A word or two about each of these nominated scenes that compose the body of Mary’s work might help to offer a taste of the richness of her scholarship.
An introductory chapter presents Mary’s central thesis which builds upon her previous book and contemporary biblical, Johannine and household scholarship.
The second Chapter takes up the focus on Jn 1 and explores the way that John witnesses to and is shown as friend of the ‘bridegroom’ Jesus. Nuptial imagery and allusions permeate the gospel’s narrative memory in this opening chapter and continue into the gospel’s next two chapters. John’s direction to his disciples about Jesus and the disciple’s following of Jesus to stay with him underscores the theme of fecundity and prepares for the ‘initial betrothal and formation of God’s household’ (p. 37).
Chapter Three continues to unravel how these marital and household images are present in Jn 1:19-51. John’s disciples gather with Jesus at Pentecost, a celebratory harvest feast. Significantly they also gather at the ‘tenth hour, ‘ the conventional time of a wedding in the Jewish world. These disciples are the first fruits of Jesus’ mission and they anticipate the fruitfulness of Jesus’ post-Easter community. The household is beginning to form.
The nature of this household’s life is the concern of Chapter Four which explores the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus in Jn 3. The Nicodemus episode, saturated by an overt wisdom appreciation (of Sophia) and eschatology, reveals the necessity of being born anew to access God’s presence. This is a birth generated by God’s Spirit through which one enters into God’s life and eternity. It is a future realized in the present through this birth anew. The implications of this birth are further unraveled in Jesus’ engagement with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4) where he is revealed as the true bridegroom seeking to draw the Samaritan community into God’s covenantal fidelity.
Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus raises issues of birth and life which link to Jn 11, a major episode concerned about household. This is the Bethany household of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Here the reader is permitted to know intimately the evangelist’s appreciation of life, eternal life, death and resurrection. Mary further considers that Jn 11 reveals all the features of a miracle story. But of more significance is the language that Martha and Mary use in their encounter with Jesus. Rather than a Johannine high-point of Christological expression, their address to Jesus (as ‘the Christ, the Son of God’) is not extraordinary, nor does it illustrate a depth of faith any different from the conventional Jewish titles already ascribed to Jesus in the gospel. Rather their encounter invites the two to move into the present and away from a fixation on a limited understanding of end-time restoration of life in resurrection. The power of resurrected life is now and Jesus invites the sisters (and John’s audience) to consider the present reality of this end-time resurrection. Thus, narrative time blurs ‘future events [that] impinge on the present’ (p. 89). This realized eschatology borrowed from the wisdom literature also links with John’s corporeal theology and the recognition of the central truth of the ‘Word became flesh.’ Through the flesh of the Word, all flesh now participates in the communion of God’s triune life. Martha and Mary also offer an opportunity for John’s post-Easter audience to appreciate that even members of God’s household are not immune from sorrow, pain and death.
Chapter Six reviews Mary’s insights into the temple symbolism in John’s gospel: Jesus is the ‘tabernacling’ presence of the divine Logos of which the temple is gospel’s narrative symbol. This primary Christological symbol is transferred to those who believe in him. They, too, become God’s temple. This transference becomes the focus of Mary’s remaining chapters. As Jesus gathers with his own (Jn 13) he washes his disciples’ feet, illustrating the way of household service reflective of Jesus’ love for them. A centerpiece of the discourse of Jn 14:1-15:17 (Chapter Eight) is the image of the vine and branches, emphasizing the intimate relationship between Jesus and his disciples (called to ‘remain’ in him). The intimacy of this language underscores the indwelling of the Spirit in Jesus and those with them. Participation in the Johnannine household brings salvation, the experience of life now that grounds faith and praxis. This quality of the divine abiding in every believer becomes reinforced in Jn 20 and the gospel’s Easter story. The risen Jesus’ encounter with the disciples and Thomas in particular speaks to future believers who seek to ‘stretch out their hand in a physical act of faith’ (p. 189).
In a final chapter, Mary draws together her household study on John’s gospel by offering four possible trajectories for future reflection: the household symbolized in John’s gospel critiques and deconstructs the household established on patriarchy; John’s household encourages inclusion of all and invites us to reclaim women’s liturgical leadership; the gospel is about a love story, which embraces humanity and creation. John’s gospel also encourages an ecological sensitivity; finally, John’s vision of reciprocal indwelling is the primary quality emphasized in the gospel. This lies at the heart of every household.
In what already is a long review, it is difficult to do justice to the intricacy of Mary’s narrative study. Nor is it possible to describe adequately the depth of her scholarship present here. This book is important for the way it advances Johannine scholarship. But it is also important for its exploration of a central theme in early Christian writing—the necessity of a household of disciples characterized by friendship, openness and intimacy. The disenchantment which many seem to have with the Christian church reinforces the necessity of reclaiming such a household for contemporary disciples. Dwelling in the Household of God allows us to hear the voice of one early Christian community in addressing this need.
Gerard Moore, Understanding the ‘General Instruction of the Roman Missal’. Strathfield: St Pauls, 2007. ISBN 978 1 921032 38 7.
In 2004 Gerard Moore published his Why the Mass Matters. A Guide to Praying the Mass (Strathfield: St Pauls). Having found this book to be very helpful for myself as a celebrant and for work with parish liturgy groups I looked forward to the author’s second publication focusing on Understanding the ‘General Instruction of the Roman Missal’. This second text is a useful, timely and informative contribution to the liturgical apostolate. Clergy and liturgy coordinators will be the primary beneficiaries of what is principally a work of liturgical theology. The author has been sensitive to the needs of his readers by incorporating most of the references within the text, an approach that enables the reader to follow more easily the main elements of his presentation. The ‘General Instruction of the Roman Missal’ (variously referred to at GIRM, the Instruction, or by its Latin title Institutio) is the primary reference. The work is particularly relevant at this time as English speaking Catholic dioceses await the revised sacramentary and lectionary.
The text of the Instruction sits at the front of the Roman Missal ‘often unread and little understood’ (ix). As an exercise in liturgical theology Moore attempts ‘to explore the inner dynamics and theological streams at the heart of the Instruction’ (ix). The author is convinced that the document is ‘one of the most underrated documents of the renewal of the liturgy and the Church. It is a guide to the reform of the Mass and its proper celebration. It offers a broad and rich understanding of the Eucharist, challenging many of our presuppositions and practices.’(xi) I approached the text from the position of one who has presided at parish Masses for thirty-seven years and with only a hazy memory of the Instruction studied during my seminary days in the late 1960s. At the end of a close reading it is possible to congratulate the author on achieving his stated aims and, furthermore, of enabling the reader to appreciate the significance of the GIRM for ongoing liturgical renewal in the church. It is not an easy read mainly because each of the five chapters is presented concisely and in some depth. The division of the material into chapters assists the reader as do the sub-headings and conclusions provided at the end of each chapter.
Chapter 1 grounds the theological approach of the book in five significant liturgical principles which assist us to understand the Instruction and interpret its provisions. The pastoral effectiveness of each celebration of the Eucharist heads the list of principles. Three considerations ensure pastoral effectiveness: the needs of the participants, their spiritual well-being and preparation, and their capacity. For the celebration of the Eucharist to be pastorally effective it is necessary to encourage full, active, and conscious participation by all present. The author makes the obvious, but often overlooked, point that the ‘Roman Mass…is not a finished work. Rather, it seeks to be responsive to the actual participants so as to draw them further into the paschal mystery being celebrated.’ (11) The role of genre and function in our worship constitute the third principle which applies to the rites, texts, music, gestures, posture, ministries, architecture, furnishings, and vestments. Genre and function provides us with a critical tool for appraising both our performance of the liturgy as well as the integrity of the liturgy itself. It also allows us to ask what is to happen when a particular liturgical genre is unsuited to a culture or idiom or language. The fourth principle presented concerns the dignity, beauty, and solemnity that should be present in all liturgical celebrations. Traditionally the Roman liturgy has a preference for nobility and simplicity in all things. As a consequence the aesthetics of liturgical practice must be firmly attached to the paschal mystery, not to the canons of art alone. The spirit of the celebration is the fifth and final principle and is located in the very reason for our worship. Since our eucharistic liturgy is an action of Christ and the Church, his body, it is the celebration of the salvation that God continues to work for us through the paschal mystery and the gift of the Spirit. This necessitates a certain liturgical spirituality. It also poses two significant challenges for worship. First, it means we have to ask what sort of Church we make manifest in the liturgy and, second, it makes obvious that each act of worship is more than a ritualised performance. It is primarily an experience of faith and conversion.
Chapter 2 explores a number of explicitly theological themes in the Instruction: how the document understands ‘tradition’, the relationship of the Mass from Vatican II to that from the Council of Trent, the contribution of the GIRM to the discussion of unity, the adequacy of its theology of symbol and the sense it accords to the liturgical expression lex orandi lex credendi. Moore’s discussion of symbols points to a tension between two very different understandings of sacraments and grace. It parallels his later consideration of priesthood. The rites within the Mass are seen to be symbolic in that they allow the Church to be made manifest and enable faith to come to expression. One emphasis on sacraments as conferring grace derives from medieval and tridentine concerns regarding the efficacious nature of the sacraments. This was frequently almost without regard for the actual manner of celebration. The patristic concern for the fruitful celebration of the sacraments, on the other hand, emphasises the experience of the paschal mystery itself. This accords with contemporary theological reflection which points to the fact that reality and truth are only known to us in and through the symbols that mediate them. Moore further elaborates this tension in a discussion of the symbolic aspects of the gifts of bread and wine, the rite of peace and the rite of communion. This leads him to conclude that ‘our practices and their underpinning theologies work to inhibit our rites being fully signs and symbols of the heavenly realities.’(38) A similar tension is to be found in the way worship relates to doctrine. In the GIRM worship is placed at the service of doctrine. Early Church tradition affirmed, however, that the law of prayer governed the law of belief. This did not mean that the law of prayer was reduced to the content of prayers. Rather, the law of prayer had three levels. First, it had to be based on scripture. Second, it had to be attested to by practice across the churches. Only then could the content of prayers be examined for their theological value. It was in this way that the living tradition of prayer had something to offer the development and formulation of doctrine.
The celebration of the Eucharist reveals the mystery of the Church. This topic is explored in detail in Chapter 3. There is no single theology of Church to be found in the GIRM. Throughout the document there are allusions to the Church as bride, as holy people of God, as body of Christ, and as the community of the baptised. These biblical references are set alongside the Church as apostolic and the Church as foretaste of the reign of God. Ultimately the document makes no attempt at a systematic theology of Church. How the Instruction understands the actual historical reality of the current Church is indicated by the interconnected range of structures considered implicitly and explicitly in the document. The principal ecclesial concern is with the Church as hierarchical organisation. Chapter 4 takes this up when it considers the people of God arrayed hierarchically especially in the celebration of the Eucharist. The author outlines clearly a number of tensions and unresolved questions embedded in this discussion. One is the role of the diocesan bishop and the differentiation of his office from others who are also ordained sacerdos. As mentioned above, the document functions with two understandings of the celebrating priest—as ‘acting in the person of Christ’ and as ‘president of the assembly’. Furthermore, the place of the deacon and the rights and obligations of the faithful in the celebration of the Mass merit ongoing detailed reflection. Moore concludes his study of the hierarchical community at worship by wondering what impression someone might have of the Mass should they walk in off the street. He asks: Would they be struck by the diverse modes of the presence of Christ in the celebration and at the same time feel something of the mystery of the Church and the wonder of salvation? Without doubt important questions!
Chapter 6 takes up the Eucharistic celebration itself. As the action of Christ and the people of God it necessarily invites us to consider the trinitarian dimensions of our worship and the nature of the action we are undertaking. ‘Christian liturgical prayer is God centered, Spirit inspired, and Christ joined.’(117) While our prayer is addressed to God it is Christ who is at the centre of eucharistic worship. The traditional rule has been that in eucharistic celebration prayer is addressed to God, through Christ, in the Spirit. The author observes that there is too exclusive an emphasis on the place of Christ and a corresponding underplaying of the roles of the Father and the Spirit in the GIRM. In focusing on Christ’s paschal mystery and our sacramental celebration and memorial of the mystery of the Last Supper, the cross, and resurrection the Instruction gives emphasis to the interconnection of sacrifice, sacrament, meal, and memorial. This ‘constantly reminds us of the richness of the mystery, the strengths of each particular focal point, and the need to keep all these in play in a single act of worship around the ‘table’ of God’s word and Christ’s Body and Blood’.(117-118)
Gerard Moore has provided the reader with an informed yet critical reading of the GIRM. He has respected the integrity of the liturgical text and yet has indicated a number of tension points, inadequacies and possibilities for greater flexibility all in the service of a liturgy that should encourage full, active, and conscious participation.
—Laurence J. McNamara CM
Denis Edwards, Ecology At The Heart Of Faith. New York, Maryknoll, 2006. ISBN 13:9781570756658 (pbk). $24.00, pp 146.
My experience of a ‘first-round’ of reactions to this work of Denis Edwards resulted in queries raised by theological students concerning the title: How can ecology be at the heart of faith? Surely the Trinity, or Jesus, or the Eucharist should constitute the heart of faith? It is always good when an apparently startling title invites curiosity. Edwards’ sub-title invites exploration: The Change of Heart That Leads to a New Way of Living – an exploration that immediately catches the reader in a contextual web of ‘grace’ by virtue of a poem by Peter Edwards (1951–1994).
Readers familiar with Edwards’ work in recent years will appreciate how this deliberately designed ‘user-friendly’ book brings together and builds upon his earlier works that focus upon ecological theology. Readers who may not be familiar, for example, with Jesus and the Cosmos (1991), Made from Stardust (1992), Jesus and the Wisdom of God: An Ecological Theology (1995) or The God of Evolution: A Trinitarian Theology (1999) or with Edwards’ articles in theological journals, will find in this work a beautifully constructed synthesis of what it means to be people of religious, and especially Christian, faith in times of global crisis. They will recognise the potential for an ‘overflow’ from this book into other traditions (Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Confucian) as their faiths seek also to address the conversion of heart and ecological commitment needed in Earth’s global community now.
All chapters converge into the final Chapter 8 (carrying the title of the book) where arguments for the appropriateness of Edwards’ title are fully substantiated. It is here that aspects discussed in previous chapters come to most satisfactory resolution: the role of human beings made imago Dei within evolutionary processes and in kinship with the whole of creation (Ch 2); the dynamic and intimate presence of the Creator Spirit both in the Christ-event and as ‘midwife’ in the birth of all that is ‘new’ (Ch 3); how the mystery of the Incarnation and the following of Jesus must involve ecological commitment (Ch 4); how the great Eastern and Western Traditions of the Trinity with respect to God as Communion are expressed in the diversity of a relational universe (Ch 5); how theologies of the final transformation of all things in Christ may impel an ecological spirituality (Ch 6); and how an ecological theology of the Eucharist as sacrament of the Cosmic Christ includes the participation of all God’s creatures in divine Trinitarian communion, and can lead one into ‘a mysticism of ecological praxis’ (Ch 7).
This work reveals the passionately held convictions of Denis Edwards. It is recommended for theological students, for adult discussion groups and for everyone who wants to ‘catch the Fire’ of divine Love gracing creation.
—Marie Farrell rsm