Saturday, July 06, 2019

Fota XII Conference, Day 1: Summary of the Lectures

Our thanks to Prof. William A Thomas for this report on the first day of the 12th Fota International Liturgical Conference.

The Fota International Liturgy Conference, organized in Cork, Ireland, each year since 2008, was opened today by Raymond Cardinal Burke, Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of St John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta. After the opening prayers, His Eminence welcomed delegates and speakers alike, and recalled the service and dedication of the St Colman’s Society for Catholic Liturgy, which has promoted the study of the sacred liturgy through these conferences. Delegates and speakers have come from Germany, Great Britain and North America; the theme of this year’s conference is The Roman Ritual: De Benedictionibus and the Rite of Exorcism.

Professor Dieter Boehler S.J. presented the first paper for the conference, entitled “The Priestly Benediction in the Psalter.” Starting with Aaron’s blessing in Numbers 6, “The Lord Bless you and Keep you, May the Lord make His face to Shine upon you and be gracious to you”, Fr Boehler explained how these blessings are an important part of biblical worship and theology. Other Biblical texts such as the 50th chapter of Sirach and Luke 1, 5-23 show the central place that the priestly benedictions occupies in Israel’s service both in the Old and New Testaments. The influence of the wording of Aaron’s blessing can be detected in several places in the Bible, not least in Israel’s prayer book, the Psalter, which shows that Israel’s prayer is answered from above by heavenly blessings.

The paper’s first analysis shows in detail the highly poetic form of the priestly blessing, then looked at several other allusions to the text of these blessings in various psalms. Father Boehler’s main focus was on the Psalms of Ascents or Pilgrims’ Psalms (Pss. 120-134), also known as the Gradual Psalms, which present a kind of spiritual pilgrimage from a point far from God to his nearness. These same 15 poems show a certain correspondence to the 15 words of Aaron’s blessing. In conclusion, he stated that the blessings upward constitute praise, the lifting up of the hands , and that the blessings downward from heaven constitute a new creation, a charis, something freely given by God, expressing His kindness, His grace and the sharing of His life.

The second speaker at the conference was our own Matthew Hazell, MA (Sheffield) from the United Kingdom, who presented a paper entitled “A historical Survey of the Reform of De Benedictionibus (1959-1984)” Of the liturgical books reformed after Vatican II, De Benedictionibus (The Book of Blessings) is one that has received very little attention from liturgists and scholars, even thirty-five years after its promulgation; his paper would attempt to provide a historical survey of its reform, and hopefully encourage more detailed historical and theological research by liturgical scholars.

He began by examining the proposals (vota) of the future Council Fathers submitted during the ante-preparatory period of the Second Vatican Council (1959-60) regarding the reform of sacramentals and blessings, then looked at the various drafts of the relevant articles of Sacrosanctum Concilium from the preparatory period of Vatican II (1960-62) through to the first two sessions of the Council (1962-63), to see what the Council Fathers said about sacramentals and blessings, and how that influenced the final version of the Constitution on the Liturgy. Finally, utilizing the archival material found in the schemata of the Consilium ad exsequendam Constitutionem de Sacra Liturgia, he looked at the two phases of the reform process itself, from 1964 to 1974, and then from 1974 to the promulgation of the reformed De Benedictionibus in 1984. He concluded by highlighting the discussions of the Fathers of the Council who discussed the Reserved Blessings of bishops and how there should be no blessings that a bishop cannot give.

The third speaker, Dr Daniel van Slyke spoke on “Exorcism Rites of the Past and Present: Similarities and Differences” using examples from catechumenal exorcisms, the blessing of water, and the major rites of exorcism to explore the difference between liturgical exorcisms of the past and present. The pre-Vatican II rites and the rites revised after Vatican II provide the immediate points of comparison. Comparing these exorcism rites of the past and present -- both of persons and of things -- reveals markedly different compositions, purported effects, and underlying worldviews. The overall tenor of the revised rite of major exorcism reflects the tenor in the earlier revised catechumenal exorcisms and in the revised rites for blessing objects, and especially water, rites which have lamentably all but disappeared in the Latin Rite today.

The final paper, by Fr Joseph Briody of St John’s Seminary in Brighton, Mass., offered a Scriptural and liturgical reflection on the evil spirit and Saul (1 Sam. 16, 14), and the coming of the Spirit upon David, whose lyre soothed the troubled Saul and banishing the evil spirit. David’s harp becomes symbolic of the Psalter. The paper works through the election and rejection of Saul and Saul’s deficient relationship with the Lord. Only the obedient, submissive one on whom the Spirit rests can be king of Israel. The wider canon expresses a longing for a future, perfect, Davidic king, anointed not only with oil but with the Holy Spirit. There is a dawning realization that it is Jesus, the Son of David, the One anointed with the Holy Spirit, who is the Christ-Messiah and who overcomes evil. The Church continues this liberating work of Christ. While Saul is not demonized in the biblical text, two contrasting models of kingship are presented: Saul or David? The choice between Saul and David indicates the fundamental choice between disobedience and obedience, sin and grace, the evil spirit and the Holy Spirit. When obedience, grace and the Holy Spirit depart, the result is not some kind of no-man’s-land of moral neutrality or spiritual vacuum. The tragic departure of the Holy Spirit from a life leaves one susceptible to the anguish suffered by the first King of Israel: “Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.”

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