Revelation and Simplicity in Scripture

Author: Cardinal William Joseph Levada

Revelation and Simplicity in Scripture

Cardinal William Joseph Levada

Cardinal Levada at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary

The following is a shortened version of the homily delivered by Cardinal William Joseph Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on the occasion of the Dedication of the Seminary Chapel of Sts Peter and Paul at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, Nebraska, U.S.A., on 3 March [2010].

The Sacred Scriptures, read in the course of a celebration like ours today, are always a revelation — divinely guaranteed — of the deepest meaning of what we are celebrating. And so it is, from centuries of long practice, that we heard today readings from the Book of Revelation and the Gospel of Luke. The passage from the Book of Revelation is an unfolding of the mystery of this day with exuberant, vivid imagery. The sacred liturgy wants us to hear these words and identify them with the beautiful space of this chapel which we are dedicating today. And so what we see here around us — so beautifully expressed in the arrangements of this chapel, in its altar and tabernacle, its lighting, its art — is meant to converge for us with the visions that the seer of the Book of Revelation beheld. We see here in all that surrounds us "the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, beautiful as a bride adorned to meet her maker". From this day forward, whenever the sacred liturgy is celebrated herein, we are meant to realize that the community gathered is nothing less than that new Jerusalem, that spotless bride of Christ. The liturgy, celebrated is nothing less than an invitation into the liturgy of the heavenly Jerusalem.

Such lofty, exuberant symbolism contrasts sharply with the dusty, earthy details of the Gospel account we have heard. One can justifiably wonder at first why the Gospel story of Zaccheus, the short and much disliked tax collector, should be the preeminent Scripture reading of the day of the dedication of a splendid new church. Surely the reason lies in the lines that Jesus addresses to the sinner whom he sees eagerly seeking him from his perch in the sycamore tree. He says, "Zaccheus, hurry down, for this day I must abide in your house". These words provide us a beautiful transition from the Zaccheus scene to the liturgy in which we are involved today. For those firm, determined, magnificent words of Jesus are the same words that Jesus addresses to us — each of us a sinner like Zaccheus — concerning this "house" of God. God's blessings poured out on us in the course of this magnificent liturgy of dedication have in fact this very concrete shape: referring to this new building, Jesus says, "This day I must abide in this house".

Jesus' simple words and intention help us to keep our bearings in the midst of the more lofty and mystical images of the Book of Revelation. We need them both. For the Book of Revelation helps us to remember that in Jesus we are dealing with no one less than the eternal Son of God who is in heaven from all eternity. At the same time the Zaccheus story reminds us that the same eternal Son is "God with us", God with us on our dusty streets, calling sinners by name, one by one, to have him as a guest in their home. Zaccheus' reaction to this invitation is meant to indicate our own attitude now in the course of this celebration. We read, "Zaccheus made haste and came down and received him with joy". Let our sentiments today and our liturgical action be an expression with all our hearts of "receiving Christ with joy" in the midst of this, our house, which Jesus' presence makes to be also the house of God.

Others will mutter when they see Jesus abundantly granting his gracious presence to people like us. They will say, "He has gone to the house of a sinner". But Jesus defends us today, as he did Zaccheus. With the graces of this liturgy of dedication, Jesus himself solemnly pronounces the words, "Today salvation has come to this house".

The vision we see in the New Jerusalem and the vision we see in Jesus at table in the home of Zaccheus is ultimately a vision of communion. Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum,mentioned that the two forms of the usage of the Roman Rite, the extraordinary and ordinary forms, can be mutually enriching to each other. As one example he mentioned that "new Prefaces can and should be introduced in the old Missal". In the missal of Paul VI, there is a beautiful preface to be used on the Anniversary of the Dedication of a Church which can help to enrich the understanding of our celebration today as a vision of communion. Being designated for the anniversary of a dedication, it can indicate to us what we should still be able to pray years from now when we will commemorate this day's dedication. The second part of a preface, as you know, always states in specific terms, the precise motives why "it is right and just" to give the Father thanks and praise. In this preface the motive states, "For in the visible house that you let us build... you, Father, wonderfully manifest and accomplish the mystery of your communion with us". (I am quoting the text of the new English translation of this preface which is in its final states of preparation.)

As the new President of the "Ecclesia Dei" Commission, I want to seize on this phrase "the mystery of your communion with us". The Priestly Fraternity of St Peter has a special charism to assist the Holy Father in preserving the unity of the Church for those attached to the traditional form of the Mass through the implementation of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum.The different rites of the Church in the East and West testify to the diversity of liturgical traditions that have grown up in and with the Church since apostolic times. Yet, as St Paul insists, there is "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Eph. 4:5). This is why the Holy Father stressed the continuity that we can see between the extraordinary and ordinary forms of the Roman Rite. Whenever and wherever the Church celebrates the Eucharist, according to whatever rite or form of that rite, it is always the same "mystery of communion" that is being wonderfully manifest and accomplished. Liturgical diversity is not inconsistent with the unity of the Catholic faith. This has been clear through the centuries in the diversity of rites, East and West; and it is clear with special relevance to your priestly Fraternity in Summorum Pontificum.It is also this same principle that is operative in the new Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, establishing ordinariates for former Anglicans who desire full communion with the Catholic Church while at the same time preserving some of the richness of their liturgical and spiritual patrimony.

The fact that we are here to dedicate a seminary chapel in honor of Sts Peter and Paul gives me occasion to recall that every priest is ordained for the service of the Church: its true and perfect worship of the all-holy God, its mission to proclaim the Gospel to every creature, to baptize all in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. In fulfillment of this mission given by Christ to his Church, the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter has as its special charism to labor lovingly for the unity of Christ's Church by ensuring that those who follow the extraordinary form of the liturgy of the Latin rite understand that the unity of faith cannot be found outside the testimony of the Apostolic College under its Head, the Successor of Peter, the Pope. In this way, the tear in the fabric of unity evidenced by those who would reject the Second Vatican Council as the work of the Holy Spirit must be repaired by loyal testimony to the living tradition of the Church, in accord with the directives of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict .

Dear brothers, dear seminarians: this chapel cannot be just another building in the seminary complex. It is the heart of the seminary. It is the place where, as Pope John Paul II said, seminarians are "trained to share in the intimate dispositions which the Eucharist fosters: gratitude for heavenly benefits received, because the Eucharist is thanksgiving; an attitude of self-offering, which will impel them to unite the offering of themselves to the Eucharistic offering of Christ; charity nourished by a sacrament which is a sign of unity and sharing; the yearning to contemplate and bow in adoration before Christ, who is really present under the Eucharistic species" (Pastores Dabo Vobis,n. 48). It is here in this chapel that we find the true focus and direction for our priestly formation and priestly lives.

We know that the communion accomplished by Eucharist is verified in communion with Peter and his successors. Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo Ecclesiam meam. My presence here today, as one named by the Holy Father as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and as President of the "Ecclesia Dei" Commission, makes concrete the images of this preface: a Church scattered throughout the world but nonetheless joined more and more together as the Lord's body, precisely by celebrating the mystery of communion in the Lord's body. Now, more than ever, we feel the Church longing, as the preface says, "to reach her fullness in the vision of peace". This prayer is clearly inspired by today's first reading from the Book of Revelation to which we already referred, for the phrase is completed, "to reach her fullness in the vision of peace, the heavenly city of Jerusalem".

The seminarians who will be ordained priests from this seminary will be ordained to serve this "vision of peace" as instruments of communion. It is a vision we see in the "new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God". It is a vision we see in Jesus at table with sinners in the home of Zaccheus. It is a vision we see in this new church and in the rites we are celebrating now. Let us hurry down and welcome Christ with joy in the communion of the one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in the Eucharist celebrated here.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
31 March 2010, page 13

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