Saturday, September 21, 2013

Raza d’Razin: Storytelling, Mystery and Kingdom

by Brother Gilbert Joseph of the Divine Presence

The first four weeks of “Mystery of Christ 4: Church and Sacraments” seems to focus on the wider historical and theological setting of a discussion of the Sacraments and sacramental theology. There is an emphasis on the Paschal mystery.  I have chosen Readings 2, 4, 8 and 9 as the base of my discussion of this topic. These readings cover a wealth of material but I have chosen to focus on the elements of historical setting, storytelling or narrative, Mystery and Kingdom of God. One can only truly understand these elements if they are comprehended in the light of their biblical and Jewish roots or origins.

            Reading 2 is from “Dictionary of the Liturgy” by Lang[1] from a section titled “Select Chronology of Major Events in the History of the Liturgy”.  Lang gives a comprehensive chronology of the history of the liturgy, however for my purposes I wish only to discuss those earlier sections of the chapter that focuses on the Jewish background and setting of the liturgy. Understanding the Liturgy in its Jewish dimension is crucial for a fuller understanding of liturgy and sacraments and the very nature of the church itself. Louis Bouyer[2] was one of the most important theologians and scholars to write comprehensively on the origins of the Eucharistic prayers in the context of the Jewish b’rachas (berakhot/ blessings). It would seem that Lang is drawing on these insights of Bouyer.

            Lang correctly situates Jesus within his own Jewish culture as an observant Jew.[3] He also mentions how Jesus takes the Jewish prayers (such as the Shema) and the Jewish berakhot (blessing prayers) and adapts them to his own Messinaic use.[4] Lang effectively supports his understanding with frequent Scriptural references. Those familiar with the Old Testament and with the living oral tradition of Jewish life and practice almost immediately see these Jewish origins in the Liturgy and Sacraments.

            Lang also discusses how the Eucharist is connected to the Jewish Passover Seder (Meal) and how Jesus adapts those elements in his own Last Supper meal.[5] He also discusses it in connection with the other meals mentioned in the Gospels. N. T. Wright a famous Anglican theologian also mentions how Luke’s Gospels recounts 8 major meals which he links to the Essene Jewish emphasis on the sacred meal or banquet.[6] Lang also mentions that the concept of the Messianic Meal must also include the focus on the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. 
            The Eucharist is both meal and sacrifice. These two elements need to be kept in balance. The original Jewish Passover and the Sabbath meal itself, both include the Meal aspect and a sacrificial aspect. What would the Passover be without the concept of the Passover Lamb and the shedding of its blood for the protection/ redemption of the Israelites? The Sabbath Meal is full of Temple and Sacrificial symbolism and was part of the Pharisee endeavour to bring the sanctity of the Temple spirituality into the home of the ordinary Jew. When the sacrificial aspect is emphasised to the detriment of the meal aspect we can be in danger of turning the Eucharist into a magical ritual for good luck and prosperity that is self-focused rather than other-focused. This over ritualisation can lead away from personal intimacy and encounter and an inordinate concern with outward forms and customs.

            Reading 2 is titled “The Storytelling Rhythm” by Bernier from his book “Eucharist: Celebrating its Rhythms in Our Lives”. Johann Baptiste Metz a Catholic theologian mentions that storytelling is a Jewish trait that Christian theology needs to re-embrace especially since the Shoah. He sees Christian theology needs this “Jewish corrective”. [7]  Bernier also alludes to the Jewish dimension of storytelling in the context of Martin Buber (a famous Jewish writer on Hasidic folktales) telling a delightful story about his own grandfather who was a follower of the Hasidic teaching of the Baal Shem Tov and how this power of a good story, told well, has a therapeutic effect.[8]  This account about the Baal Shem Tov dancing and jumping for joy in prayer, alludes to the opening quote of the chapter about Jesus as the Jewish Lord of the Dance.[9]  
            Bernier is concerned that the story of Jesus is told in the most effective way in the Liturgy. He feels that sometimes the liturgy of the word in the Mass is seen as boring and unimportant compared to the reception of communion in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.[10] The liturgy of the Word reflects the synagogue service whereas the liturgy of the Eucharist reflects the Temple Divine Service.  In a sense this links us to the previous discussion about meal and sacrifice. The liturgy of the Word is a meal or banquet of the food of God’s Word and the liturgy of the Eucharist is a participation and partaking in the Sacrifice of the Cross that all the Temple sacrifices point to (see Hebrews).

            Reading 8 emphasises the Mystery of the kingdom of God with a special focus on the parables of Jesus. Reading 8 is by Robert L Browning and Roy A Reed and is titled “The Sacraments: Action Parables of the Kingdom of God”. They see that all the sacraments are meant to draw one into the kingdom of God.[11]They see this kingdom in strong eschatological terms. 

            Both Readings 8 and 9 discuss how the word sacrament is mysterion in the Eastern Greek Church. In the Syriac churches the Aramaic word Raza (in the singular) is used and Razin (in the plural) refers to the Eucharist. [12] The term Raza d’Razin (Mystery of Mysteries or Secret of Secrets) is also found in Jewish mysticism.[13] In Hebrew the term is Sod Sodot. The Gospels refer to these ‘mysteries of the kingdom’ and the parables seek to illustrate them.[14]

            In order to understand these ‘mysteries’ more fully it is necessary to return to what Emmanuel Levinas (a French Jewish post- modernist philosophy and Talmudic scholar) calls the immemorial past (Bereshit/In the Beginning) in Genesis. The Zohar’s section on Raza d’Razin speaks of the wisdom of the faces and the wisdom of the hand that are both alluded to in Genesis 1, read according to the mystical level (Raza/ Sod). The early Jewish Church applied these concepts to the encounter of the face of the Hidden Messiah in the Eucharist which was made manifest through the hand/hands of the priest. This was the lifted offering (terumah) of the New Covenant. The word ‘Terumah’ is hidden in the Hebrew text of Genesis 1:1-3, beginning with the letter ‘tav’ of ‘Bereshit’ counting every 26 letters.

            Browning and Reed open up a truly universal Jewish dimension of understanding the sacraments and especially the Eucharist as ‘mysteries of the kingdom’ by not limiting them to the direct verses about the sacraments. They see the parables and many other parts of scripture being interpreted through a sacramental and Eucharistic prism and paradigm.[15]

            Reading 9 by Mary Grey titled “From Mystery to Sacrament” is a delightful piece of literary bricolage which complements Reading 8 and its discussion on ‘mysterion’.  She links the idea of the liturgy as a Divine Song with the concept of Mystery. The idea of a Divine Song has Jewish roots in the immemorial past when God sang the Creation into existence in Genesis 1. This ‘Song of Creation’ later manifests as the ‘Song of Moses’ and the ‘Song of Miriam’ as well as the Song of the future.  This Song is associated with the coming of the Messiah.[16]  The Messiah’s liturgical Mystery is the Lord’s Song.

            Grey states that the consciousness of the Divine Mystery as holiness and transcendence “first surfaced and became explicit in the history of Israel”.[17]  She also links this to the idea of covenant and the mystery of God’s Love. [18] Thus the sacraments or ‘mysteries of the kingdom’ are an outpouring of God’s love and mercy. Grey talks about the teaching of the Eastern Fathers “God is thirsty for man”. [19] This reveals that the covenant is an intimate relationship between man and God. Thus the sacraments are like a Divine Kiss and Embrace drawing man into ever deeper intimacy with his Lover.

            She also discusses the very Jewish concept of Jacob’s Ladder in regards to Jesus proclaiming himself as Jacob’s Ladder in John 1:51. This is also an image found in St John of the Cross in regards to the Dark Night of the Soul. One of the central mysteries of the Jewish Kabbalah is the concept of the Divine Man (Adam Kadmon) in the form of the Sefirot (divine attributes or Emanations) as Jacob’s Ladder. The seven lower Sefirot could be linked with the seven sacraments of the New Covenant.

            There is much else that could be discussed from these readings. I have endeavoured to briefly touch on those aspects of these four readings that are open to a Jewish focus due to my own background in religious and Hasidic Judaism. When one perceives the Catholic ‘mysteries of the kingdom’ in the light of their Jewish roots a much deeper and enriching understanding is possible. This brief analysis seeks to reflect on the Jewish concepts of storytelling, mystery and kingdom in order to enrich our appreciation of the sacraments and sacramental theology. I also found that due to my Jewish knowledge and understanding that I could also appreciate and perceive levels beyond the obvious in these four writings that the authors themselves may never have perceived when they wrote them. 

[1] Rev. Jovian P Lang OFM, Dictionary of the Liturgy New York; Catholic Book Publishing, 1989.
[2] Louis Bouyer, Eucharist: Theology and Spirituality of the Eucharistic Prayer. (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press), 1968.
[3] Rev. Jovian P Lang OFM, Dictionary of the Liturgy, 662.
[4] Rev. Jovian P Lang OFM, Dictionary of the Liturgy,  662.
[5] Rev. Jovian P Lang OFM, Dictionary of the Liturgy,  662.
[6] Nicholas T Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, (USA: Fortress Press, 1996),  558.
[7] Sandra Heinen (editor), Roy Sommer (editor), Narratologia: Narratology in the Age of Cross-Disciplinary Narrative Research (Walter de Gruyter; Berlin, 2009), 275.
[8] Paul Bernier, Eucharist: Celebrating Its Rhythms in Our Lives (Notre Dame, Indiana; Ave Maria Press), 61.
[9] Paul Bernier, Eucharist: Celebrating Its Rhythms in Our Lives, 65.
[10] Paul Bernier, Eucharist: Celebrating Its Rhythms in Our Lives, 63.
[11] Rober L Browning and Roy A Reed, The Sacraments in Religious Education and Liturgy: An Ecumenical Model ( Birmingham, Alabama; Religious Education Press, 1985), 47.
[12]  Rev William Thoma “The Sacramental Theology of the Assyrian Church of the East”
[13] Zohar 70 a &b (Raza d’Razin)
[14] Rober L Browning and Roy A Reed, The Sacraments in Religious Education and Liturgy: An Ecumenical Model, 52
[15] Rober L Browning and Roy A Reed, The Sacraments in Religious Education and Liturgy: An Ecumenical Model, 51
[16] Rabbi Chaim Kramer, Mashiach: Who? What? Why? How? Where? And When?, (Jeruslaem/New York; Breslov Research Institute, 1994), 66.
[17] Mary C Grey, In Search of the Sacred:The Sacraments and Parish Renewal, (Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire; Anthony Clarke, 1983), 16.
[18] Mary C Grey, In Search of the Sacred:The Sacraments and Parish Renewal, 16.
[19] Mary C Grey, In Search of the Sacred:The Sacraments and Parish Renewal, 17.

Bernier, Paul.  Eucharist: Celebrating Its Rhythms in Our Lives Notre Dame, Indiana; Ave Maria Press.
Browning, Robert L and Reed, Roy A. The Sacraments in Religious Education and Liturgy: An          Ecumenical ModelBirmingham, Alabama; Religious Education Press, 1985.
Grey, Mary C. In Search of the Sacred:The Sacraments and Parish Renewal, Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire; Anthony Clarke, 1983.
Heinen, Sandra (editor), Sommer, Roy (editor), Narratologia: Narratology in the Age of Cross-Disciplinary Narrative Research Berlin; Walter de Gruyter, 2009.
Kramer, chaim (Rabbi).  Mashiach: Who? What? Why? How? Where? And When?, Jerusalem/New York; Breslov Research Institute, 1994.
Lang, Jovian P. Dictionary of the Liturgy New York; Catholic Book Publishing, 1989.
Thoma, William (Rev). “The Sacramental Theology of the Assyrian Church of the East”
Wright, Nicholas T. Jesus and the Victory of God, USA: Fortress Press, 1996.

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