By Father Edward McNamara, LC
ROME, 24 June 2014 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: During our sacred liturgy on Pentecost Sunday, in place of the homily, two leaders from the local mosque were invited to "join us in prayer in light of the example given by our Holy Father." The first gentleman shared his views on God and how we are all searching for peace and how it can be found only in God. He explained that Muslims believe in the same God as Christians and that they too believe that "Jesus was a prophet, like the great Mohammed." The second gentleman proceeded to read various selections from the Quran in English and then sung those same verses in Arabic. He read several passages about Mary as well. At the end of their "prayers for peace," the woman who introduced them explained to the congregation, and I quote, that "Our Muslim brothers would now be leaving the Liturgy of the Word as we prepare to recite the Creed which further isolates us from them." I do not take issue with Muslims being invited and present at our holy Mass as observers. My question is, was this a grave offense to have them speak in place of the homily, read from the Quran, and state (several times) that they too "believe that Jesus was a great prophet"? I personally felt a prisoner in my own house and felt ashamed because I did not have the courage of the early martyrs to stand and say, "Jesus was not JUST a prophet but the Son of GOD." I was horrified to hear our Creed be referred to in our own house as a point of "isolation." I feel our Creed is not a point of isolation, but truth that should not be apologized for, just because we have visitors from another faith with us. Am I overreacting? — H.C., Orlando, Florida
A: While our Holy Father has gone to great lengths to promote mutual understanding and acceptance among people of different faiths, he, like his predecessors, has made every effort to avoid any religious syncretism, and I do not recall any incidence where non-Christian prayers were introduced into a Christian liturgical act of worship, much less into a Mass.
Therefore, first of all I think calling on Pope Francis' example for this act is simply incorrect.
Second, I do not believe that the Muslim gentlemen involved in this episode would ever think of inviting a Christian minister to Friday prayers to tell his fellow Muslims that Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God and God's definitive revelation to man. In saying this I am not criticizing the Muslims for lack of reciprocity but would simply say that this would be perfectly coherent from a Muslim point of view, since allowing the Christian to say so would be tantamount to denying the central tenet of Islam itself.
I believe it should also be equally obvious to a Catholic minister that there can be no place for expounding a non-Christian religion within the context of a Christian liturgical rite.
There are certainly times and places where the explaining of a non-Christian religion can be done with mutual benefit but never in a Christian liturgical context. All Christian liturgy is a proclamation of faith, and to expound another religion is to deny the very reason for being present at the act of worship. In this sense we are not only "isolated" from Muslims by the Creed but from the moment we make the sign of the cross and proclaim the Trinity at the very beginning of Mass.
To put it plainly: Although there can and should be mutual respect and peace between them, from the standpoint of religious beliefs, Islam and Christianity are incompatible religions. There are indeed some shared values and common points of religious practice, but both religions hold as absolute truths tenets that are mutually exclusive. We can agree to disagree in a friendly manner but must accept that there can be no common ground in the matter of central religious beliefs. Only then can fruitful dialogue ensue.
In this sense we can now address the affirmations made by the Muslims during the Mass. Insofar as both faiths believe there is one God, then it is certain that we both adore the same God. From a more speculative point of view, however, some scholars would argue that the underlying concepts of the nature and attributes of the divinity are not always compatible in both religions.
Likewise, the affirmation that Muslims regard Jesus as a great prophet like Mohammed is practically meaningless for Christians.
To use another example: A Christian could tell Jews that the Christians hold Isaiah to be a great prophet. It would be a true statement. However, this does not mean that a Jew could accept the Christian belief that certain texts of Isaiah foretell the life and death of Jesus. To do so would be to deny the Jewish faith.
For Christians, Christ is the Son of God and God's definitive revelation to man. A Christian cannot accept that Mohammed is a prophet in the Christian sense, since all prophecy ceased before Christ and necessarily led to him. Nor can Christianity give any credence to the Quran as divine Revelation, because there can be no public Revelation after the time of the apostles. To affirm otherwise would be to deny a central belief of our faith.
Finally, although it might seem to be legalese, the homily may not be omitted on such a major feast. It may not be delivered by anyone other than an ordained minister and should reflect the faith.
As the instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum says:
"64. The homily, which is given in the course of the celebration of Holy Mass and is a part of the Liturgy itself, 'should ordinarily be given by the Priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating Priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to a Deacon, but never to a layperson. In particular cases and for a just cause, the homily may even be given by a Bishop or a Priest who is present at the celebration but cannot concelebrate.'
"65. It should be borne in mind that any previous norm that may have admitted non-ordained faithful to give the homily during the eucharistic celebration is to be considered abrogated by the norm of canon 767 §1. This practice is reprobated, so that it cannot be permitted to attain the force of custom.
"66. The prohibition of the admission of laypersons to preach within the Mass applies also to seminarians, students of theological disciplines, and those who have assumed the function of those known as 'pastoral assistants'; nor is there to be any exception for any other kind of layperson, or group, or community, or association.
"67. Particular care is to be taken so that the homily is firmly based upon the mysteries of salvation, expounding the mysteries of the Faith and the norms of Christian life from the biblical readings and liturgical texts throughout the course of the liturgical year and providing commentary on the texts of the Ordinary or the Proper of the Mass, or of some other rite of the Church. It is clear that all interpretations of Sacred Scripture are to be referred back to Christ himself as the one upon whom the entire economy of salvation hinges, though this should be done in light of the specific context of the liturgical celebration. In the homily to be given, care is to be taken so that the light of Christ may shine upon life's events. Even so, this is to be done so as not to obscure the true and unadulterated word of God: for instance, treating only of politics or profane subjects, or drawing upon notions derived from contemporary pseudo-religious currents as a source."