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I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven

21 ¶ Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

This coming Sunday is the Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time. To help you prepare to enter more deeply into Matthew 18:21–35 at worship, here is the passage and an excerpt from The Navarre Bible commentary series.


21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; 25 and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me; 33 and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” [1]

Forgiveness of injuries. Parable of the unforgiving servant

18:21–35. Peter’s question and particularly Jesus’ reply prescribe the spirit of understanding and mercy which should govern Christians’ behaviour.

In Hebrew the figure of seventy times seven means the same as “always” (cf. Gen 4:24): “Therefore, our Lord did not limit forgiveness to a fixed number, but declared that it must be continuous and forever” (St John Chrysostom, Hom. on St Matthew, 6). Here also we can see the contrast between man’s ungenerous, calculating approach to forgiveness, and God’s infinite mercy. The parable also clearly shows that we are totally in God’s debt. A talent was the equivalent of six thousand denarii, and a denarius a working man’s daily wage. Ten thousand talents, an enormous sum, gives us an idea of the immense value attaching to the pardon we receive from God. Overall, the parable teaches that we must always forgive our brothers, and must do so wholeheartedly.

“Force yourself, if necessary, always to forgive those who offend you, from the very first moment. For the greatest injury or offence that you can suffer from them is as nothing compared with what God has pardoned you” (St Josemaría Escrivá, The Way, 452).[2]


To dig deeper in your own devotional time, contemplate these verses in the Verbum Bible Study software. Or, if you don’t yet own it, request The Navarre Bible: Saint Matthew’s Gospelavailable this month at a special discount.

 

[1] The Holy Bible. (2006). (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, Mt 18:21–35). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
[2] Saint Matthew’s Gospel. (2005). (p. 131). Dublin; New York: Four Courts Press; Scepter Publishers.

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”

You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God

This coming Sunday is the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time. To help you prepare for worship, consider these timeless insights from St. Jerome on the classic passage in defense of the primacy and papal office of St. Peter.

16:15–16. “But you, who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Wise reader, notice from what follows and from the context of the words that the apostles are by no means called men, but gods. For though he had said: “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” he has added: “But you, who do you say that I am?” For the former, since they are thinking human things, are men, but you who are gods, who do you consider me to be? Representing all the apostles, Peter professes: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” He calls him a living God in comparison with those gods that are thought to be gods but are dead. This refers to Saturn, Jove, Ceres, Liberus, Hercules, and the rest of the portents of the idols.

16:17. Jesus answered and said to him: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” For the apostle’s testimony concerning himself, Jesus repays in turn. Peter had said: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” A true confession received its reward: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona.” Why? Because flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but the Father has revealed it. What flesh and blood was not able to reveal, the grace of the Holy Spirit has revealed. Therefore, because of his confession, a name is allotted to him that has been revealed by the Holy Spirit, whose son he is to be called. For indeed, in our language Bar-Jona sounds like “son of the dove.”15 Others take it more simply, that Simon, that is, Peter, is the son of John in accordance with the question found in another passage: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He answered: “Lord, you know.”17 They think there has been a corruption through the fault of the copyists, so that in place of Bar-Johanna, that is, “son of John,” it was written Bar-Jona, with one syllable having been deleted. Now Johanna is translated “grace of the Lord.” Both names can be interpreted mystically. Thus “dove” signifies the Holy Spirit, and “grace of God” signifies a spiritual gift. Moreover, compare his words: “For flesh and blood has not revealed it to you,” with the apostolic narrative in which it says: “I did not immediately take counsel with flesh and blood.”19 In that passage [Paul] is signifying the Jews by the term “flesh and blood.” Thus here too, by another interpretation, it is shown that Christ was revealed to him as the Son of God, not through the teaching of the Pharisees, but by the grace of God.

16:18. “And I say to you.” What do his words mean: “And I say to you”? [They mean this:] Since you have said to me: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” “I also say to you,” not with empty words that have no effect, but “I say to you” because with me to have spoken is to have done.

16:18. “For you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.” He himself gave light to the apostles that they might be called the light of the world, and the other designations that were allotted from the Lord. In the same way, to Simon,21 who believed in Christ the rock [petra], was granted the name of Peter [Petrus]. And in accordance with the metaphor of rock [petra], it is rightly said to him: “I will build my Church” upon you.

16:19. “And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound also in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed also in heaven.” The bishops and priests do not understand this passage. They assume for themselves some of the superciliousness of the Pharisees when they either condemn the innocent or think that they can loose the guilty. Yet in the sight of God it is not the verdict of the priests but the life of the accused that is examined.26 We read in Leviticus about lepers that they are commanded to show themselves to the priests and, if they have leprosy, then they are established as unclean by the priest. This does not mean that the priests make them leprous and unclean, but that they have knowledge of the leprous and the non-leprous, and they can discern who is clean and who is unclean. Therefore, just as in that passage it is the priest who “makes” the leper unclean, so also here the priest or bishop binds or looses, not those who are innocent or guilty, but because of his own office. When he hears the various kinds of sins, he knows who should be bound, and who should be loosed.[1]

Do you know which passage in Isaiah is connected with the handing of the keys in Matthew 16:19? To dig deeper in your own devotional time, contemplate these verses in the Verbum Bible Study software. Or, if you don’t yet own it, request Jerome’s commentary—available this month at a special discount.

[1] Jerome. (2008). Commentary on Matthew. (T. P. Halton, Ed., T. P. Scheck, Trans.) (Vol. 117, pp. 190–192). Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press.

Have pity on me, Lord, son of David

Jesus and the Canaanite Woman

This coming Sunday is the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time. To help you prepare for worship, consider these timeless insights from St. Jerome on Sunday’s Gospel reading.

15:21. And having gone out from there, Jesus withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. He leaves his false accusers, the scribes and Pharisees, and goes to the district of Tyre and Sidon in order to cure the residents of Tyre and Sidon. But a Canaanite woman leaves her native land and cries out to procure healing for her daughter. Observe that this Canaanite daughter is healed in the fifteenth place.

15:22. “Have pity on me, Lord, son of David, my daughter is badly vexed by a demon.” She knew to call him “son of David” because she had already come forth from her land and had left the error of the Tyrians and Sidonians by a change of place and of faith. “My daughter is badly vexed by a demon.” I believe that the daughter of the Church refers to the souls of believers, which were badly vexed by a demon. They did not know the Creator and were worshiping stone.

15:23. He answered her not a word. [His silence was] due not to some sort of pharisaical arrogance or superciliousness of the scribes, but that he might not seem to be opposed to his own statement by which he had commanded: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles and do not enter into the cities of the Samaritans.” For he was unwilling to give an occasion to his false accusers, and he was reserving the perfected salvation of the Gentiles for the time of his Passion and Resurrection.

15:23. And his disciples came and were asking him, saying: “Dismiss her, because she is calling out after us.” Even at that time the disciples did not know the mysteries of the Lord. They were either moved by compassion to make this request for the Canaanite woman (whom another evangelist calls a Syrophoenician), or they were longing to be free from her importunity, since she was calling out repeatedly, not as if for a kind physician, but for a harsh one.

15:24. “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He is not saying that he was not also sent to the Gentiles, but that he was sent first to Israel. In that way the transference to the Gentiles would be just, since Israel did not receive the Gospel. He has expressly said: “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Thus, on the basis of this passage, we can also understand the one wandering sheep of another parable.

15:25. But she came and worshiped him, saying. In the person of the Canaanite woman, we should admire the faith, patience, and humility of the Church: faith, by which she believed that her daughter could be healed; patience, by which she perseveres in prayer, after having been so often scorned; humility, by which she compares herself not with dogs but with puppies. Now, pagans are called dogs on account of their idolatry. They have surrendered themselves to the eating of blood, and by the bodies of the dead are carried off into madness. Note that this Canaanite woman with persistence first calls him son of David, then Lord, and finally she worships him as God.

15:27. But she said: “Yes, Lord, for even the puppies eat from the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters.” I know, she says, that I do not deserve the sons’ bread. I am incapable of taking whole food or of sitting at the table with the Father. But I am content with what is left over for the puppies, so that by the humility of crumbs I might come to the greatness of the whole loaf. Oh, what a marvelous transformation of things! Israel was once a son, and we were the dogs. The arrangement of the titles is changed due to the difference in faith. Of Israel it is later said: “Many dogs have surrounded me”; and: “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the mutilation.” But with the Syrophoenician woman and with the woman who flowed with blood, we have heard: “Great is your faith; let it be done to you according to your faith”; and: “Daughter, your faith has saved you.”

How might this scene with the Canaanite woman help us understand the relationship of Christianity with other religions? To dig deeper in your own devotional time, contemplate these verses in the Verbum Bible Study software. Or, if you don’t yet own it, request Jerome’s commentary—available this month at a special discount.

Jerome. (2008). Commentary on Matthew. (T. P. Halton, Ed., T. P. Scheck, Trans.) (Vol. 117, pp. 182–183). Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press.

Deacon Kevin on the Permanent Diaconate

Our guest speaker is Deacon Kevin Bagley, Verbum Director.

Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for gain; they must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” (1 Tim 3: 8,9).

The Diaconate was established in the days of the early church. When we read in the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 6, that there was concern that the widows of the Hellenists were being neglected in the daily distribution of food, the Twelve called together the community of disciples and appointed seven men to assist them in the various corporal and spiritual needs of the community, and to assist in preaching the word of God (Acts 8:40). Because of this important ministry, the deacon was expected to be a man of religious and moral integrity (I Tim 3: 8-11).One of the first deacons, Stephen, also became the first known martyr for Christ.

In the Catholic church, there are two kinds of deacon, those who receive the order as they progress on to priesthood (transitional deacons), and those who receive the order and remain deacons (permanent deacons). While the transitional deacon has not changed much from the time of its inception, the order we call the permanent diaconate flourished in the first four centuries. Then, for rather complex reasons, the order went into decline in the Roman Church. In the Eastern church, the order flourished and is still an integral part of their clergy to this day, playing an active and dominant role in church functions.

The Second Vatican Council restored the diaconate as a permanent ministry in the Church. In Article 29 of Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, the diaconate was restored as a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy. Deacons rank at the lower level of the hierarchy, upon whom hands are imposed by the bishop—not into the priesthod, but into a ministry of service to the bishop. The permanent deacon is ordained into the distinct ministry of service. This ministry of service occurs in three distinct areas of the Church’s life: in the proclamation of the word, in the celebration of the sacraments, and in the community’s social ministry and charitable works.

One who aspires to the permanent diaconate publicly proclaims his will to offer himself in service to God and the Church in the exercise of a sacred order. By the administration of Holy Orders, the deacon becomes a cleric and is incardinated into a diocese for service to the Bishop. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Holy See to restore the permanent diaconate in the United States in April, 1968, and the first permanent deacons in the United States were ordained in May and June of 1971.

If you’d like to learn more on the history and purpose of the permanent diaconate, check out the Paulist Press Diaconate Collection, on pre-pub now!

paulist-press-diaconate-collection

 

 

Faith and Hope

Last week, we learned with sorrow of the passing of Pope Francis’ relatives, including his nephew’s wife and two very young children, in a car accident in Argentina. A Vatican Radio message relayed the Pope’s wish that “all those who share in his grief join with him in prayer.”

Death, especially when it comes suddenly and unexpectedly, can challenge our faith. In times of grief, we always have recourse to our faith in God and our fellowship with one another. The Order of Christian Funerals provides a helpful reminder of our hope in life to come:

Trusting in God, We have prayed together for our beloved deceased, there is sadness in parting, but we take comfort in the hope that one day we shall see them  again and enjoy their friendship. the mercy of God will gather us together again in the joy of his kingdom. Therefore let us console one another in the faith of Jesus Christ. — USCCB. Order of Christian Funerals. “Final Commendation B.” Totowa, NJ: Catholic Book Publishing Corporation, 1998. 104.

This week, let us join with the worldwide church in offering our prayers for the consolation of the bereaved and to remind us all of the hope of eternal life that our faith gives us.

The Mystery of the Eucharist

Today’s guest post is by Robert Klesko, Verbum’s Catholic Educational Resources Product Manager

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you …” (Ex. 16:4)

“…and the bread that I give is my flesh, for the life of the world” (Jn. 6:52)

These two passages thrust us from Moses forward to Christ, revealing God’s great care for his people. Yet as plain as the words of Scripture are, we continue to ask like the Israelites “What is it?” (Ex. 16:15) and to proclaim “This is a hard teaching” (Jn. 6:61). The Eucharist is “a hard teaching,” and this is why the Catholic faith has written eloquently and often on the theology of the Eucharist. This theology is compiled in Fr. James T. O’Connor’s The Hidden Manna: A Theology of the Eucharist, available on sale this month from Verbum.

The Hidden Manna takes you on a journey through the Church’s development of the doctrine of the Eucharist from apostolic times through Vatican II and the pontificate of Pope St. John Paul II. The journey, in many respects, mirrors the journey of the people of Israel. Israel, when encountering the manna, asks “what is it?” (Ex. 16:15) and the Church echoes the same question before the great mystery of the Blessed Sacrament. For truly, who can conceive of God raining down bread from heaven, and who can conceive that that same God would take on our human flesh and give us that same flesh as Eucharistic food? The word “mystery” appears again and again in O’Connor’s exposition of the theology of the Eucharist, and rightly so.

When we grapple with a mystery, we are prone to grumble—and this is another way in which the journey to understanding the Eucharistic mystery is like the journey of Israel. O’Connor states:

Israel’s grumbling never ceased.  “Now these things occurred as types to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did” (1 Cor. 10:6). It was then all a type of the Passover of the new Lamb, who has freed us from sin and misery, fed us with a more miraculous Food and Drink, and endured our grumbling.

“We never see anything but this manna! We detest this miserable food!” Even the miraculous wearied them, and they grumbled against it. Type that it was, it is sobering to reflect that we can say the same of the Eucharist: we are sick of it; it bores us; it does not satisfy. And we turn to other foods.

O’Connor captures an aspect of Christian life that Pope Francis has often spoken of, joylessness even in the face of such a great gift. Like Israel, many modern Catholics grumble and become disenchanted with the gift of the Eucharist.

Perhaps you have someone in your own life who has fallen away from the faith because the Eucharist, the central act of worship of the Christian people, has become ordinary. When reading of the Church’s understanding of the doctrine of the Eucharist, “ordinary” is a word that is never used. Perhaps all we need to draw the fallen away back to Eucharistic fellowship is to expose them to the beauty, mystery, and truth of the theology of the Eucharist. O’Connor quotes the great author, poet, and Catholic, J.R.R. Tolkien on his journey from spiritual darkness to the intense light and truth of the Eucharist:

Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament … There you will find romance, glory, honor, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth, and more than that: death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, that every man’s heart desires. (Letters, 53-55).

The journey from darkness to light, falsehood to truth, which so permeates all of Tolkien’s writings, is a direct result of his profound love of the Blessed Sacrament. The Hidden Manna draws on the theology and experience of Christendom’s greatest champions and provides pages of deep insight and inspiration.

The Hidden Manna would make an excellent addition to any Verbum library, but perhaps it would be best given as a gift, like the Eucharist itself. Whether you take advantage of this sale to deepen your own understanding of the Eucharist or give it as a gift to a friend in need of being brought back to the table of the Lord, The Hidden Manna is a tremendous asset to the Church. The secret of The Hidden Manna is the paradox that Christ is never really hidden, he is there waiting for us in every tabernacle, at every Mass—there waiting for us to partake of this truly wonderful gift!

Enrich and Deepen Your Faith with Scott Hahn’s 2-Volume Set!

This guest post was written by James Battle, Catholic Marketing Specialist here at Verbum

As a Catholic convert, two Verbum books have especially encouraged and accelerated my faith. I own hard copies of both of them:  one I read cover-to-cover, but the other was far denser, and I never finished it. Buying a book I do not finish is not unusual for me. I know, like many other bibliophiles, that there are many books bought in the heat of the moment, and sit on the shelf unfinished, waiting for the proper mood or motivation. What is unusual, though, is that both books were written by the same author: Scott Hahn.

The Lamb’s Supper  is a book I picked up early in my conversion process, shortly after I began attending Mass. I was consistently struck by the way the liturgy is packed full of scriptural references and symbolism from the book of Revelations. It was truly eye-opening! The Lamb’s Supper very quickly made the initially confusing Mass sensible, especially since I was an outsider who had a particular fascination with St. John’s prophetic and strange symbolism. It was easy to read, and served as a guidebook that tied scripture to the liturgy. I enjoyed Dr. Hahn’s writing so much that I eventually picked up Hail, Holy Queen—although I was warned that it was not bedside table reading.

That advice turned out to be quite accurate. Hail, Holy Queen was not merely peppered with scriptural references—there were often many in each paragraph—but also, there were many references to Catholic tradition: the Church Fathers, Vatican II documents, papal encyclicals, and the Catechism. These were all much newer to me at the time, and so the book sat.

After picking up the 2-volume Scott Hahn collection in Verbum, however, The Lamb’s Supper turned from a scriptural guide into a base camp for scaling the mountain of Catholic tradition regarding marriage, the Communion of Saints, apostolic succession, and much more.

It was Hail, Holy Queen that I found most profoundly transformative, however. Since all of the footnotes and references to Church documents and tradition are just a click away in Verbum, I ditched my hard copy and read the digital version. Using my Verbum library, I followed Dr. Hahn’s line of thought much more easily than with the printed book, because I could read up on source material instantly and was able to fully understand what the author was communicating. In short: I didn’t know what I didn’t know. That is, until I was able to dive in with just a few clicks.

Even if you have favorite books in paper form—get the Verbum edition! You will love reading your favorite passages in a new light with the source material right at hand. If you have books in print that you’ve never finished—get the Verbum edition! Regardless of what motivated you to purchase the book in the first place, Verbum will make all the information contained with the text easier to access and understand. Also, you can always join the Verbum group on Faithlife, and find like-minded friends who will be glad to read along and explore the Faith with you.

This 2-volume set from Scott Hahn is discounted through the end of July. Take advantage of the opportunity to enrich and deepen your faith today!

 

Lift Up Your Hearts

Take 28% off Lift Up Your Hearts on Pre-Publication

Right now, you can pre-order the Lift Up Your Hearts collection for 28% off!

The liturgy “is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives . . . the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true church” (Sancrosanctum Concilium 2). Verbum now brings you the Lift Up Your Hearts collection, a three-volume bundle of homiletic and liturgical helps for every Sunday and feast day during each year of the lectionary cycle. These volumes are linked and easily searchable, preparing you to give homilies that will inspire your parishioners all week long.

Lift Up Your Hearts isn’t just for priests and deacons, though it is ideal for this sort of work. It’s also great for parishioners looking for a deeper experience of the Sunday readings, or for liturgical ministers seeking insight into their participation in the Mass. Aptly named, Lift Up Your Hearts presents an engaging and deep exploration of the Word of God expressed living and true in the Mass and the public prayers of the Church.

Pre-order early to save 28% while this collection is on Pre-Publication. Regularly $45.95, these three volumes can be yours for $32.95. Pre-order yours today!

Or, better yet, check out the Homilies Bundle, which offers even bigger savings.

Carnival and the Sacramental

Last year, Andrew wrote a fantastic piece about how the meaning of Mardi Gras has dramatically changed. Andrew dismissed the idea that medieval Carnival was simply a “pressure valve” to release social tension, or a carrying-over of the “folk culture” against the repressive culture of the upper classes. Instead, it’s more helpful to understand that the medieval person lived with a different sense of time:

To the medieval mind there were really two courses of time. There was the linear time of sequence—one thing came after the next, forever—and there was the higher-order time through which the transcendent came into contact with the immanent . . . Before the reign of Grace, there had been a time of the reign of the body . . . it was a time of moral and social chaos . . . Carnival was a participation in this part of the drama of redemption. [read more]

1200px-Lingelbach_Karneval_in_Rom_001c

Today I want to elaborate on this idea and show not only that Carnival was an explicitly theological event, but that it even has biblical precedent.

In 2 Samuel 6:14, King David does something very similar to the carnival actors in the Middle Ages. He “plays the fool,” dancing nearly unclothed in the streets with reckless abandon:

michal despise david-1Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the LORD with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets. As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart . . . . When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!” David said to Michal “It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”

There are two things I want to point out here:

1)   David, in the face of the “moral criticism” coming from Michal, defends his actions by saying that he did them “before the LORD.” David didn’t act for the sake of carnal indulgence or merriment—his antics had a fundamentally theological meaning and purpose.

2)   David mentions that he will be “humiliated” in his own eyes. What is happening here except for a kind of role reversal? Just as paupers and layfolk would, in medieval Carnivals, play priests and bishops (reversing their social and ecclesial roles), so too David acted like a “fool,” abandoning, temporarily, his dignified position as king.

These two elements—his reckless abandon before the LORD and his “self humiliation” are both elements we can see in the medieval Carnival. But it’s important to remember that these actions always exist within the larger season of Lent—a season of repentance and one of the few (if not only) times a person would participate in the Sacrament of Confession every year. Carnival was part of a drama, connected to the meaning of sin and redemption, fundamentally linked to the worship of God.

Though the scene of David’s dancing in 2 Samuel isn’t a Carnival per se, it does show that there is biblical precedent for the kinds of ecstatic action that we see in Christian celebrations like Carnival in the Middle Ages. It’s hard for us to understand the role that something like Carnival plays in a modern age that’s moved so far from a sacramental worldview. But we can see that, in the context of a world in which time is marked by seasons within a liturgical framework, the actions of individuals and communities take on different meaning.

The question we face in the midst of suffering or celebration doesn’t terminate in whether or not our experience was “good” or “bad”—but rather what meaning our experience has. As Andrew mentioned last year, the debauchery of Carnival in the Middle Ages certainly wasn’t “morally good” behavior—but then again, King David’s half-nude dancing wasn’t exactly morally exemplary. But this is the whole point—our behavior takes on a different meaning in the context in which it was enacted. Does this mean that all of the behavior in a medieval Carnival was good? Of course not. But to ignore the liturgical context in which these events transpired is to miss the heart of both Carnival and Lent.

Can Carnival today mean what it meant in the Middle Ages? Most likely not—we live in a culture broken away from a Christian sacramental view of the world: our shared conception of time is not liturgical. Because of this, Mardis Gras tends to end up being revelry for revelry’s sake, with no understanding of the great drama of sin and redemption that surrounds all our social acting. I don’t think this means we can’t enjoy ourselves on Tuesday night, however. In fact, just the opposite—if we think carefully about Mardis Gras’ historical meaning, then—as we celebrate, like King David, “before the LORD”—our celebration becomes truly meaningful.

As we go forth into a season of fasting and repentance, let us remember that the same principle applies to our suffering as well as our celebration. We celebrate with reckless abandon, and sacrifice our whole lives—not for ourselves or before our fellow men, but before God.

“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established” (Prov. 16:3).

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Study the Liturgy with the Verbum Plus Libraries

Study the liturgy in new, powerful ways with the Verbum Plus Libraries. In addition to the updated Lectionary Layout, we’ve added a new lectionary section in the Passage Guide, so you can see where and when in the liturgy the passage you’re looking for is located. Watch the video below for more information:

 
Don’t forget—you can save 10% on any Verbum Plus library with the coupon code ADVENT13 all through Advent! Get a Verbum Plus library today and start studying the Scriptures and liturgy like never-before.

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