Thursday, 20 August 2015

The wonders of the liturgy of the word

Jephthah meeting his daughter
Again and again I am struck by the bizarre choices of the new rite of Mass, and especially the lectionary. I have mentioned it before, here.

Today (Thursday in week 20 of Ordinary Time, year 2) we had the wonderful account in the book of Judges of Jephthah and his daughter.

The daughter of Jephthah bewailing her virginity
You remember it (Judges 11): Jephthah promises to God that if he succeeds in the battle against the Ammonites that he would sacrifice the first person he saw on returning home as a holocaust to the LORD.

Issue one: does God want a human sacrifice? If He does, does He want it to be one of his own people and not an enemy?

Jephthah wins the battle and goes home, but there the first person he sees is his daughter. Jephthah explains the promise he has made, his daughter accepts it and goes off into the hills for a couple of months with her maiden companions to bewail her virginity.

Issue two: Jephthah is about to sacrifice his daughter. He cannot reason with God, either that he meant 'man' and not 'virgin daughter', or that it was the heat of battle and he would have promised anything, or that it was just unfair that his innocent daughter is about to be slain. Even though Abraham bargained with God in the destruction of Sodom. 

Issue three: Jephthah's daughter simply accepts the situation. 

Bewailing over, a spot of sacrificing to be done
Jephthah's daughter returns and is sacrifice as a holocaust to the LORD.

Issue four: this is represented in the Old Testament as something eminently edifying. The daughter has upheld her father's promise and the father, though I'm sure sad, has defeated the Ammonites.

And the reader says "The Word of the Lord" - and we all say "Thanks be to God".

If you were at Holy Mass this morning and heard this reading, did the priest mention it at all? Did he try to explain it? Did he preach about what it could possibly mean? Why it was in the Bible? Why it was being proclaimed at Mass? How it related to Christ and His Church? If God wanted Jephthah to sacrifice his daughter? What God out of it? If this is anything to do with our faith?

If you are a priest, did you just ignore it? Walk out thankful that no one had mentioned it? Shrug it off?

The men who devised the Lectionary decided that this story of the sacrifice of Jephthah's daughter was to be included in the readings of Holy Mass on this very day every two years for... well, I'm not entirely sure for what reason.

I have no idea why it has been included. It is not for the edification of the people, or the enhancement of Holy Mass. Sure it can scandalize the faithful, detract from the liturgical action that is about to take place, and cause pointless consternation, but that cannot be the reason why it is included.

I am at a loss. Simply at a loss.

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