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Music & Liturgy Reflections

Liturgy Reflection | April 20th, 2023

By April 20, 2023No Comments

This orientation toward the Temple, and thus the connection of the synagogue’s liturgy of the Word with the sacrificial liturgy of the Temple, can be seen in its form of prayer. The prayers said at the unrolling and reading of the scrolls of Scripture developed out of the ritual prayers originally linked to the sacrificial actions in the Temple and now regarded, in accord with the tradition of the time without the Temple, as an equivalent of sacrifice. The first of the two great prayers of the synagogue rite comes to a climax in the common recitation of the Kiddush, of which the hymn of the seraphim in Isaiah chapter 6 and the hymn of the cherubim in Ezekiel chapter 3 are a part. Bouyer makes this comment: “But the truth must be that the association of men with these heavenly canticles, in the worship of the Temple, had probably been a central feature of the offering of the sacrifice of incense morning and evening of every day” (p. 22). Who would not be reminded of the Trisagion of the Christian liturgy, the “thrice holy” hymn at the beginning of the Canon? Here the congregation does not offer its own thoughts or poetry but is taken out of itself and given the privilege of sharing in the cosmic song of praise of the cherubim and seraphim. The other great prayer of the synagogue culminates in “the recitation of the Abodah which, according to the rabbis, was formerly the consecration prayer of the daily burnt offering in the Temple” (p. 22). The petition added to it about the coming of the Messiah and the final restoration of Israel may be seen, according to Bouyer, “as the expression of the essence of the sacrificial worship” (p. 22). Let us remind ourselves here of that transition from animal sacrifices to “worship in harmony with logos” which characterizes the path from the Old Testament into the New. Finally, we must mention the fact that no special architectural form was created for the synagogue. The “typical Greek building for public meetings: the basilica”, was used (p. 17). Its aisles, divided off by rows of columns, enabled people entering the building to circulate around it.

(Ratzinger, J. (2000). The Spirit of the Liturgy (J. Saward, Trans.; pp. 66–67). Ignatius Press.)
  • It is clear that the most important act taking place in the Synagogue and the Temple is worship itself.  While the worship that is possible in the Synagogue is reliant on the the scrolls and encountering the Word of God, it is possible only by the deeper sense of sacrifice which we read about earlier.  This sense of sacrifice means the orientation – at least inward – toward the Temple is essential.
  • The Synagogue’s architecture had a more pragmatic and functional orientation, which is not to say that they were ugly.  These buildings were not the Temple, so, in a certain way, the best they could do is permit people to gather together for teaching and study of the Word.