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Music & Liturgy Reflections

Liturgy Reflection | April 13th, 2023

By April 13, 2023No Comments

The synagogue, in its shrine of the Torah, contains a kind of Ark of the Covenant, which means it is the place of a kind of “real presence”. Here are kept the scrolls of the Torah, the living Word of God, through which he sits on his throne in Israel among his own people. The shrine is surrounded, therefore, with signs of reverence befitting the mysterious presence of God. It is protected by a curtain, before which burn the seven lights of the menorah, the seven-branch candlestick. Now the furnishing of the synagogue with an “Ark of the Covenant” does not in any way signify that the local community has become, so to speak, independent, self-sufficient. No, it is the place where the local community reaches out beyond itself to the Temple, to the commonality of the one People of God as defined by the one God. The Torah is in all places one and the same. And so the Ark points beyond itself, to the one place of its presence that God chose for himself—the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem. This Holy of Holies, as Bouyer puts it, remained “the ultimate focus of the synagogal worship” (p. 15). “Thus have all the synagogues, at the time of Our Lord and since that time, been oriented” (p. 15). The rabbi and the people gaze at the “Ark of the Covenant”, and in so doing, they orient themselves toward Jerusalem, turn themselves toward the Holy of Holies in the Temple as the place of God’s presence for his people. This remained the case even after the destruction of the Temple. The empty Holy of Holies had already been an expression of hope, and so, too, now is the destroyed Temple, which waits for the return of the Shekinah, for its restoration by the Messiah when he comes.

(Ratzinger, J. (2000). The Spirit of the Liturgy (J. Saward, Trans.; pp. 65–66). Ignatius Press.)
  • This way of looking at the synagogue and, in our minds, comparing it to our Catholic churches, can be a fruitful meditation on the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  Unlike the Jews, for Catholics it is no longer the written word that directs our minds to the presence of God in our midst, it is the Word made flesh in under the sacramental sign of unleavened bread and wine.  Catholics have even been reproached, historically, for not paying sufficient attention to the Scriptures.  We have enshrined in our places of worship, not the written word, but the true substance of the Word, and the real presence of the second person of the Trinity.  We are not a people of the book, but rather of the Eternal Word – and that Word became flesh.
  • However, treating the Scriptures with dignity is certainly a path to renewed and deepened reverence for the Eucharist – the Body of Christ.