Modern Liturgy: Lectionary Catechesis
Now we begin the season of the end. Jesus finishes his long journey to Jerusalem, as recorded by Luke. There he finishes his teachings, his miracles, his love -- he finishes all on the cross. The beauty of autumn cannot conceal the mystery of death, with all its fears and hope.
Catechesis this season will cover some important topics that touch us all where we are most vulnerable. If your faith is weakened by the fears of death, let the Lord's teaching make you sturdy.
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Oct. 11)
Jesus cures ten lepers (Lk. 17:11-19) but the only one who returns to give thanks is a Samaritan. This famous story begins the final leg of Jesus' journey to Jerusalem. It is set up by a similar incident (2 Kgs. 5:11-17): Naaman the Syrian (a gentile) is cleansed and gives thanks after his cure.
Catechesis may focus on the importance of thanksgiving in our prayer, and why we call Mass "Eucharist," which means "thanksgiving."
Jesus' healing ministry may stir a discussion on the church's ministry to the sick. The "Introduction of the Rite of Anointing and to the Pastoral Care of the Sick" gives good background. All healings tell us about Jesus' ministry as savior of body and soul. Faith in prayer could be another topic.
Since a Samaritan is involved, we could also focus on enemies and strangers, the obligations of community life, and universal salvation. Catechists could explain why it's good to avoid hegemony, exclusion, ingratitude, and doubt.
The second readings for Sundays 28 through 30 are taken from Paul's Second Letter to Timothy, a continuation of readings begun four weeks ago. These sections are pithy, and almost any word or phrase could rightly become a springboard for catechesis: the resurrection and birth of Jesus, the nature of the Gospel, death and resurrection, and baptism (2:8-13).
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Oct. 18)
This parable makes good melodrama: A helpless widow appeals to a self-centered judge for mercy in her case (Lk. 18:1-8). He gives in not for justice but to get rid of her. The parable implies by contrast the importance of prayer and the great mercy God shows the helpless. Moses demonstrates the power of prayer in his victory over the Amalekites (Ex 17:8-13).
This week we may explore again the purpose and value of prayer -- why we pray and what we may expect from petitionary prayer. The texts highlight perseverant prayer. A good treatment of family prayer can be found in John Paul II's "The Christian Family in the Modern World," 59-62.
The theme of the end times occurs here and will continue through the rest of the church year. The coming of the Son of Man, the plight of persecuted communities, and the justice of Godís judgment are all related to today's Gospel and the whole season.
In the second reading (2 Tm. 3:14 - 4:2) we hear that all Scripture is inspired by God. This text zeroes in on our understanding of scriptural inspiration and could start a discussion on the Bible as the Word of God, the nature of inspiration, and the hermeneutics of interpretation. Why does the Catholic Church not interpret the Bible the same way as the fundamentalists? What does the selection of readings in our lectionary imply about our interpretation of the Bible? What effect does that have on our catechesis?
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Oct. 25)
Two men enter the temple to pray. One prides himself on his accomplishments; the other confesses his unworthiness before God. The first, a Pharisee, gives meaning to the word "pharisaism" -- he observes external religious forms but lacks internal religious piety. Today's first reading praises the attitude of the other prayer: the petitions of those who serve God willingly pierce heaven's clouds (Sir 35:12-14, 16-18).
Topics this week could include the relationship of prayer and moral behavior, sincerity in religious practice, and the nature of salvation.
Another direction to take is the question of how we, like the two men in the parable, present ourselves to others and to God; or, to use the contemporary term, how we market ourselves. It could be interesting to look at the principles of public relations in Vatican II's "Decree on the Means of Social Communication." Does this parable present businesses an example of false and honest marketing?
Paul's Second Letter to Timothy closes with a poignant reflection on Paul's upcoming death (4:6-8, 16-18). The fidelity of God in the face of our needs -- including our fear of death -- may give food for thought.
All Saints (Nov. 1)
This Holy Day falls on a Sunday this year, giving many communities an opportunity to celebrate and reflect upon it all the more.
The Beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12) describe the virtuous life, and the second reading (1 Jn. 3:1-3) promises we shall see God after death.
Catechesis could explain that most "Catholic" of problems -- the role of the saints in intercessory prayer. Statues, votive candles, devotions to particular saints could all form a lively discussion. Other groups may be interested in the whole question of life after death, the process of canonization, or the soon-to-be-revised Roman martyrology.
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Nov. 8)
Jerusalem! Journey's over! Jesus finally arrives at his destination. But in the temple he meets controversy. The Sadducees, who do not believe in the resurrection, taunt Jesus with an argument against it (Lk 20:27-38). Since they accepted only the Pentateuch as inspired writing, Jesus limits his response to that part of the Bible. Otherwise he could have quoted today's first reading (2 Mc 7:1-2,9-14) where we learn that belief in life after death was beginning in the centuries before the birth of Jesus.
With All Souls Day this past week, the change in the seasons, and the tenor of these readings, one could easily catechize on life after death, heaven, hell, and purgatory. The Sacred Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith's document "The Reality of Life After Death" (May 11, 1979) will provide some timely material.
The church year concludes with a letter known for its concern about persecutions and eternal life (2 Thes 2:16-3:5) (32nd Sunday). Still, Paul admonishes each member of the community to do his or her part in carrying out common responsibilities (3:7-12) (33rd Sunday). Catechesis may include justice in our economy, both for families and for nations, and the importance of economic justice in the workplace as well.
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Nov. 15)
The end of the world precedes the end of the church year. Jesus' warnings today have stirred many a fearful pious discussion about cosmic disasters (Lk 21; 5-19). The first reading proclaims the coming of the Day of the Lord for God's people (Mal 3:19-20).
This would be an important week to discuss people's fears about the end of the world, their beliefs in omens, and the need for moral living from day to day.
Another topic that comes to mind today is church history; how in the midst of struggles of every kind, the mission of the church has endured throughout every age and land. Of course, the saga of church history is too involved for a single week's catechesis, but it could provide an interesting spin to this whole season of the year if the catechist wishes to share significant moments of our "family story" within the perspective of eschatology.
Christ the King (Nov. 22)
The choice of today's Gospel still catches us off guard. We expect Christ the King to rule from a glorious throne. Instead, we find him on an ignominious cross (Lk 23:35-43). Watch the details of this episode and you'll see Jesus as Messiah, savior, and the model of persecuted innocence. Jesus who ate with sinners now dies between two of them. This is our king.
The first reading recounts the election of David as king (2:Sm 5:1-3). He is anointed, and from that term comes our word "Christ." The second reading, a great Christological hymn, describes who Jesus is and how we fit with him (Col 1:12-20).
Themes this week include the terms "Christ" and "King," the mystery of sin, redemption, and the cross. Or one could turn to the notion of God's election, and the use of anointing in the liturgy of the church (sacraments, church dedication, etc.).
Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 26)
The season ends as it began, with the importance of giving thanks. The story we heard several weeks ago, the Samaritan leper, is still appropriate today. Themes to explore include creation, redemption, the bounty of God for us, and how that bounty sets an example for us to share our gifts with the poor.