28 February 2013


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 39

Welcome to the first post in our readalong of Pope Benedict XIV's Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week! I don't know about you, but I feel both totally out of my depth and totally safe and snug. While I'm hardly the perfect guide for this theological excursion, I think that we're all competent adventurers here and that we have a trusty map and an infallible compass that will not let us down. So if we all hang in there together, this should be great.

Now let's see exactly what we got ourselves into this time . . .

In the foreword to Part One, I stated that my concern was to present "the figure and message of Jesus." Perhaps it would have been good to assign these two words--figure and message--as a subtitle to the book, in order to clarify its underlying intention . . . The quest for the "historical Jesus," as conducted in mainstream critical exegesis in accordance with its hermeneutical presuppositions, lacks sufficient context to exert any significant historical impact. It is focussed too much on the past for it to make possible a personal relationship with Jesus. In the combination of [a faith-hermeneutic and a historical hermeneutic], I have attempted to develop a way of observing and listening to the Jesus of the Gospels that can indeed lead to personal encounter and that, through collective listening with Jesus's disciples across the ages, can indeed attain sure knowledge of the real historical figure of Jesus.

In words of shorter syllables, what the Holy Father means is that not all ways of interpreting the Gospels are created equal. He doesn't quite go out and say that his style of interpretation--which combines the study of the historical context with properly developed faith in Jesus's person and message--is the best one . . . but I will go out on a limb now and say that it's pretty high on the awesomeness scale.

So what kind of vision is available to us when we examine this period of history in almost microscopic detail, with the eyes of faith in its central figure?

Chapter I

Jesus of Nazareth is structured so carefully and cleanly that I feel every chapter comes with an unstated learning objective: "By the end of this chapter, the reader should be able to explain . . ." Chapter I is about the Entry into Jerusalem and the Cleansing of the Temple, but in the interest of time, my own sanity, and everyone else's tolerance, I will only focus on the first one in this post.

By the end of the chapter, every detail of this painting should make sense to you.

There is more than one level on which to understand Jesus's Entry into Jerusalem, and the Holy Father explains three.

First, he provides the allegorical reading of the ascent, which is the sort I used to get in Catholic school all the time. It's lovely, but hardly filling, inasmuch as it begs the question of how we'd understand the same event if the topography of the Holy Land had been any different.

Next, he proceeds to unlock all the allusions that would have spoken directly to Jesus's Jewish contemporaries: the requisition of the donkey, the cries of "Hosanna," the quoting of Psalm 8 . . . All truly fantastic if you were one of the Jews of the day or are a Christian theologian with bean-counting tendencies (Not that there's anything wrong with that!); but what does this mean to the rest of us? As Pope Benedict notes, St. Luke, who was writing for Gentiles, omitted at least one of the specifically Messianic signs from his account of this event because his audience didn't actually need to know it, to know Jesus.

And so the Holy Father guides us to the interpretation of the early Church, which is the reason we still sing the Hosanna in the liturgy and the reason we do so right before the Consecration . . .

The Church greets our Lord in the Holy Eucharist as the one who is coming now, the one who has entered into her midst. At the same time, she greets him as the one who continues to come, the one who leads us toward his coming. As pilgrims, we go up to him; as a pilgrim, he comes to us and takes us up with him in his "ascent" to the Cross and Resurrection, to the definitive Jerusalem that is already growing in the midst of this world in the communion that unites us with his body.

This also gives a new level of meaning to the idea that Scripture can be read properly only when it is read in the light of the Church. It's not just about the Church having the right understanding of this or that verse, but about the Church having a living interpretation in her marrying of Scripture to liturgy.

It is not enough to go to Jesus by reading about Him in the Gospels; this devotion of ours is fulfilled only when He also comes to us in the Mass.

Indeed, every event of the Gospels is made present to us, as if we had really been there 2000 years ago, in the liturgy of the Mass. Assist at Mass every day for three years--which, of course, correspond to Jesus's three years of earthly ministry--and it will be as if you had been right by His side as He walked the earth. The Mass makes Him present in a way that nothing else ever could. It is a time machine that unlocks eternity on every altar of every Catholic church in the world. 

Question of the Day: What is your favourite part of the Mass?

Image Sources: a) Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week by Pope Benedict XVI, b) Entry of Christ into Jerusalem by Pietro Lorenzetti


Spacetraveller said...

Which is your favourite part of the Mass?

Oh, this one is easy!

The part where we all get to eat.
I always get chills up my spine when the communion is about to be announced: Eat this bread....Do this in memory of me...

I am not a 'foodie' as such (or, what I am trying to say is that, I wouldn't admit it in public if I were :P), but I do love to have a big 'banquet-style' bash...If that were one of the 'love languages', this would be it for me, for sure.
So to have this every Sunday (and more) is great.

I also like the shaking of hands bit...but my hands are almost always cold, so the flinches/grimaces I induce in winter offsets this otherwise pleasant part of Mass.

Whoa, this book seems heavy, E.
I shall try and get it, in whichever language I can get it in. Will let you know, and hopefully, I won't be too late for the readalong!

Enbrethiliel said...


If this book were literally as heavy as its subject matter, it would have the mass of a Romanesque cathedral! (Did you see what I did there??? . . . It was a bit of an accident, though!)

The Question of the Day seemed appropriate because this part of Pope Benedict's book is already about my favourite part of the Mass. I love singing the Hosanna with the Angels. Now I can remember that I'm also singing it with the participants of the first ever Palm Sunday . . . and with the entire Church, past, present, future, and generally eternal. =) And of course I love the Consecration as well!

Communion probably should be my favourite part, but I "fast" from it more often than I'd like to admit--because I haven't been able to get myself to Confession for a serious sin, or just because my scruples have been acting up.

I still get comments on posts for completed readalongs, and they are very welcome, so please don't worry about not being on time. Heck, I probably won't be on time! =P Catch up whenever you can! =)

mrsdarwin said...

When I'm sitting in the congregation, one of my favorite parts of the Mass is a passive time -- the preparation of the gifts, ESPECIALLY when underscored by some beautiful music. I love the drama of those moments: the priest receiving the gifts, offering them to God, the prayers, the handwashing. It gears us up for the central moment of the consecration of the Eucharist.

When I'm singing (which is more and more these days), one of my favorite moments is after Communion. I've been singing the Communion propers, in both Latin and English, and it's amazing how they tie together all the readings from the day and give a focus for meditation. From the congregation, I've realized how much the meditation music after communion can affect prayer -- if it's banal, it really is hard to focus your thoughts. The propers, however, especially in the vernacular, are simple and provide a lot of good spiritual nourishment.

Enbrethiliel said...


The preparation of the gifts is actually a painful time for me because I don't like the way Philippine churches do it. =( During my two years in New Zealand, I loved the focus and decorum of doing the collection first and then taking it up with the rest of the gifts. In contrast, Philippine liturgy is a mess of multitasking. The collection baskets are passed around while the gifts are being brought up to the altar; and sometimes the offerings aren't ready until right before the consecration, which leads to some logistical awkwardness I won't also bore you with. =S

I can imagine that this was allowed because some churches are so big that you could spend almost ten minutes getting all the baskets together in the back--but that's a pathetic excuse. The point is not the saving of time, but the sanctification of time.

Communion is definitely the worst time to have bad music during Mass. I vastly prefer no music to bad music; yet I can't quite say what "good" music is. But now, so that this ranty reply to your great comment can end on a positive note, let me add that I would love to be in the congregation when you are singing, Mrs. Darwin. =)

Now I wonder if anyone is going to chime in with an answer that's clearly from the Extraordinary Form! =P

r said...

The recounting of the Last Supper has always been my favorite part, I think, even before I learned that it really is the most important part!

Jenny said...

Sadly, I've never been to Mass before. I think you're either amazing or crazy to take on this book, though. Every time I read something that heavy it takes me months just to wrap my head around it.

Enbrethiliel said...


R -- It is indeed the most important part, but I'm afraid I often prefer the readings! =P

Jenny -- Jesus of Nazareth has been unexpectedly easy to read! I think Pope Benedict has a knack for explaining complex ideas in simple ways. There are some terms which might be a bit off-putting because they only theologians tend to use them, but as soon as you know what they mean, it gets much easier. It's like the difference between learning a new ballroom dance routine when you're a total beginning and when you know the "language" of the steps. =)

Spacetraveller said...

Hey E,

I am back (belatedly) with my far from elegant thoughts on Chapter 1, which I have just finished.

He seems to focus quite a lot on the 'origin' of Jesus, doesn't he? The questions 'Who are you?' and 'Where do you come from?' were certainly asked of Jesus quite a bit in the run-up to His crucifixion, and Pope Benedict explores the different versions of the 'wherefrom' of Jesus by the synoptic gospels.
What's so reassuring to me is that in the end, he chooses the one where He is Joseph's son as the best one, because that makes Jesus truly human, i.e. 'Son of man'.

Quite a rollercoaster chapter!

For sure, immeasurably intellectually challenging, but surprisingly...enjoyable too :-)

Now where's that aspirin for my headache? LOL.

Enbrethiliel said...


I'm still in awe of your decision to read this book in German! And I guess I shouldn't be too surprised that you're also finding it to be as enjoyable as it is challenging. Pope Benedict has a real gift for communicating these deep ideas, doesn't he?

Thanks so much for joining the readalong, Spacetraveller! =)

PS -- If you want aspirin, the line starts behind me. ;-)