May/June 2016

‘The Psalms bring to the fore the grandeur of his merciful love’

Michael A. Hayes

From its very beginning the Church has recited, pondered and celebrated the Psalms as a great treasury of prayer, which reveals the relationship of God to humankind. The Psalms express all human experience and feeling and reveal the nature and intimate involvement of God in human existence. They have been a constant source of inspiration for all who would articulate the things of God. In his declaration of the Holy Year of Mercy, Misericordiae Vultus, Pope Francis wrote of how the Psalms proclaim God’s mercy. ‘In a special way the Psalms bring to the fore the grandeur of his merciful action: “He forgives all your iniquity, he heals all your diseases, he redeems your life from the pit, he crowns you with steadfast love and mercy” (Ps.103.-4). The mercy of God is not an abstract idea but a concrete reality with which is revealed God’s love as of that of a father or a mother, moved to the very depths out of love for their child’ (6).

St Athanasius in his letter on the Interpretation of the Psalms to Macellinus writes: ‘the Book of Psalms possesses a certain winning exactitude for those who are prayerful… [it] is like a garden…for I believe that the whole of human existence, both the dispositions of the soul and the movements of the thoughts, have been measured out and encompassed in those very words of the Psalter.’ It is worth reflecting on the psalms as a fruitful garden where the movements of all human emotions are found and which offers insights to those who hear and pray them of the ‘grandeur of God’s merciful action’. The Vatican II document on Divine Revelation reminds us that God’s speaks a language that can be understood ‘from the fullness of his love’ and addresses everyone as friends ‘in order to invite and receive them into his own company’ (DV 2).

Mercy is one of God’s most highlighted characteristics in the Psalter. There are some Psalms that particularly speak of God’s mercy and these include, in the Vulgate numbering, Psalms 25, 41, 42/43, 51, 57, 92, 103 119, 136. Taking Psalm 103 as an example, a Psalm related to David, which begins and ends with the same line: ‘Bless Yahweh, my soul’. This praise to God is a kind of a bracket that frames the Psalm; it is indeed a Psalm of praise but, as so often the case in the Psalms, it is praise offered in response to God’s mercy. This benediction to God offered by the soul ‘from the depths of my being’ frames the poem; the rest of the Psalm meditates on the quality of God’s love. Verse 4 speaks of how God ‘crowns you with faithful love and tenderness’ this can also be translated as ‘who crowns you with mercy and compassion’. The word mercy in Hebrew is hesed and can be translated as tenderness, grace, mercy, forgiveness, goodness, benevolence, steadfast love. The word compassion in Hebrew is rahamin and refers to a divine compassion that is a visceral love, expressed as a profound, intense, maternal love. Mercy and compassion become the two arms, as it were, of God holding the individual in love. This unconditional love is declared in verses 8 to 10:

Yahweh is tenderness and pity, slow to anger and rich in faithful love; his indignation does not last for ever, nor his resentment remain at all time;he does not treat us as our sins deserve, nor repay us as befits our offences.

The Psalms invites the reader to have, in the first instance, a disposition of praise, this benediction of God creates a space for the individual to experience the mercy and compassion that God offers to all, this experience in turn offers the individual a karios opportunity, the right or opportune moment, to be received into God’s company.

The proclamation of the Year of Mercy has not ‘discovered’ the idea of God’s mercy, but has invited Christians to recognise it as a key aspect of God, in the innumerable ways it is present in the life and tradition of the Church. The Psalms have been part of Christian expression since the beginning, their celebration of God’s mercy something that the community has always acknowledged. The Year of Mercy invites individual Christians as well as the Christian community to own that reality expressed in the Psalms and live it out in faith.   

Picturing Pentecost

Thomas O’Loughlin

The pictures which illustrate this article on Pentecost present our standard memory of the scene. But where are the other women? Thomas O’Loughlin is Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Nottingham.

Running in the back of our minds as we pray, preach, and think are the great images that we share in common. They are so common in fact that for most of us, most of the time, they are invisible – yet these great images are potent because they can both open up a world for us or they can lock us into narrow ways. Imagination is the great liberator (therefore dictators dislike the free-spirit of artists) and it can be a gaoler (and hence tyrants want an official art to spread their message). We as Christians have many common images: the image of the crib, or the crucifixion, and, thanks to Luke’s great word picture in Acts 2, of the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost. So, with us about to celebrate this feast, rather than reflect on what it might ‘mean’ or some abstract bit of theology, let just consider how we imagine it, the picture it brings up in our minds when we hear the word. So, stop reading now, and just let the image come into your mind, note all the bits of the picture, and perhaps you might sketch it on the back of an envelope or list what you see in your memory.

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Liturgy in the era of a Jesuit Pope (2)

Andrew Cameron-Mowat SJ

The second of two articles on how liturgists can respond to the style and approach of Pope Francis. Andrew Cameron-Mowat SJ is Parish Priest of Farm Street Church, Mayfair, London.

Pope Francis addressed Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, then prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, on the conclusion of the symposium ‘Sacrosanctum Concilium. Gratitude for and Commitment to a Great Ecclesial Movement,’ organized in collaboration with the Pontifical Lateran University.

‘Sacrosanctum Concilium, and the developments since then have improved our understanding of the liturgy in the light of the divine Revelation, as the “exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ” in which the whole public worship is performed by the mystical body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the head and his members. Christ is revealed as the true protagonist of every celebration, and he associates with himself “the Church … his beloved Bride who calls to her Lord, and through him offers worship to the Eternal Father.” This action, which takes place through the power of the Holy Spirit, possesses a profound creative force able to attract every man and, in some way, the whole of Creation.’

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Catholic-Jewish relations and preaching the Gospel

Ronald D. Witherup PSS

The author presents an overview of a recent Vatican document on Catholic-Jewish relations. Ronald D. Witherup PSS is Superior General of the Society of the Priests of Saint Sulpice.

One of the anniversaries of the Vatican Council II that went without too much fanfare was the fiftieth anniversary of the remarkable conciliar document Nostra Aetate, the Declaration on Interreligious Dialogue1. On 10 December 2015, the Holy See released another document to mark this anniversary, ‘The Gifts and the Calling of God Are Irrevocable’ (Rom 11.29): A Reflection on Theological Questions Pertaining to Catholic-Jewish Relations on the Occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of Nostra Aetate (No. 4). Given a recent increase in anti-Semitic violence in various parts of the world, especially in Europe, this new document deserves more attention.

Aspirations and limitations
At the outset, we should acknowledge that Nostra Aetate is directed to the larger question of interreligious dialogue; so it includes Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. But this latest document is restricted to Jewish-Catholic dialogue, the specific topic of article 4 of Nostra Aetate. Some experts think that contemporary interreligious dialogue must of necessity include at least a three-way conversation between Christians, Jews, and Muslims2.

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Arthur Hughes, Missionary and Papal Envoy to Egypt, 1902 – 1949

Maurice Billingsley

Arthur Hughes was a London Eastender who became first a missionary priest, and later Papal Envoy to Egypt during World War II. This article looks at his life. Maurice Billingsley is a former teacher and chairs the Friends of the Franciscan Study Centre, Canterbury.

Pastor, bureaucrat or spy?
The position of papal diplomat is an intriguing one: for Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican Foreign Minister, a nuncio is a conduit between Rome and the local Church, one who ‘sees a microcosm of the problems that the world is facing, and that they are inter-related.’ So is a Nuncio a pastor, a bureaucrat or a spy?

The British Security Services in Egypt seemed to take the third view in 1942, when they sought the replacement of the Italian Apostolic Delegate. How much Bishop Gustavo Testa might have added to the flow of rumour and information to the Axis powers is unclear; nevertheless Pius XII substituted him with an Englishman. (Testa eventually became Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.)

Arthur Hughes saw many of the world’s problems in this posting; there would be paperwork and cloak, if not dagger, intrigue and swashbuckling in his new mission, but he deserves above all to be remembered as an outstanding pastor and servant of God.

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