Matins RR ix: R. Where is Abel thy brother? said the Lord unto Cain, which same made answer: I know not, Lord. Am I my brother’s keeper? And the Lord said: what hast thou done? * Behold, the voice of the brother Abel’s blood crieth to me from the ground. V. And now thou art cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand. Behold, the voice of the brother Abel’s blood crieth to me from the ground. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. Behold, the voice of the brother Abel’s blood crieth to me from the ground.
At Mass: Station at St. Lawrence
Today we read about the creation of the world. Certainly a joyous event! Yet today is clad in purple, deprived of the Gloria in excelsis and deprived of Alleluia. Modern exegetes point out that the first three Chapters of Genesis are much misunderstood. 1 and 2 by so-called creationists and 3 by all Christians. That is … did you think that chapter 3 is a major element to the story of the Bible? Did you believe that we are told of a universal disaster called Original Sin? So much the worse for you.
Modern exegetes know better you see … The story is but a minor player in the Old Testament and even when St. Paul references it in the New it does not indicate such a universal disaster. Oh what a mistake we’ve made! having asserted this spurious fact we can now move on in a world free of original sin and feel so much the better about our modern, liberated, self-assertive, individual, selves. When God says “it is good” He was referring to us! Nay – ME !
Even if a “historical critical reading” would show that “the Fall” is not the obvious meaning for Genesis 3 it wouldn’t matter. Scripture is not the historian’s excavation object. Scripture is a sacred, revelatory text. It is God’s Word. It cannot be understood by treating it as one would treat an ordinary text. And even when it is read as a sacred text we could still get it wrong as St. Paul warns us:
12Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: 13And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: 14But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. 15But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. 16Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away. 17Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there isliberty. 18But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
2 Corinthians, 3.
Modern exegetes – like the ancient Jews – are prevented from understanding the text because they have a veil covering their hearts. Consequently they fail to understand. In the liturgy, the Lord Jesus Christ, removes this veil for us. In the liturgy we turn to God and we receive His Word as He gives it and on His terms (provided we do not go around inventing our own “creative liturgies” based on our preferred doctrinal insights). Liturgy – like Scripture – comes to us as a given. Not as a project. As we allow ourselves to be formed and in-formed the veil is removed we and receive the “knowledge of salvation” the Baptist began to preach (see Benedictus Dominus, Deus Israel in Lauds p. A24).
True creativity does not manifest itself in “interpretative dance” or other such horrors of modern day liturgics. It does not manifest itself in the damage visited upon the Daily Office and Mass of the Protestant Reformes either. The Prayer Book is truly liturgical only insofar it is not blatantly unfaithful to traditional liturgy. Which is why the only way to use the Book of Common Prayer – as a Catholic first – is to re-interpret and reshape it through traditional (pre-Reformation) liturgy. This is why the use of a Missal ought to be a necessity for Catholic Anglicans rather than an option. For the Divine Office the Anglican Breviary, or the Monastic Office ought to be of equal necessity (or perhaps – if it is really too difficult – the English Office Book could be used). Our creativity in liturgics casts a veil over our hearts, be it interpretative dance, historical critical reading, or doctrinaly motivated overhauls of traditional liturgy.
This week the central story for us is going to be the mid-week reading of Genesis 3 the Fall. The introduction of sin, destruction and death into the world. The assault and refusal to repent of Cain – the death of his rightous brother Abel is placed before us today as we pray our way through Matins. Even as we read of the “good” creation we can only look at creation from where we are – outside of Eden. The veil of sin – and angel with a fiery sword – prevent our return to Eden. We cannot see the act of creation, we cannot see creation in its original blessing. We can only from the outside in. We are standing on the blood-soiled earth and dimly grasp how it was once different. How perhaps it will one day be different again.
St. Lawrence – at whose tomb today’s Mass is celebrated – also shed his blood. He too was murdered as was Abel. But in this death there is not mere destruction. This death is not mere tragedy. There is something new, something also announced in Genesis 3 … Lawrence is a Christian Martyr. His death is the path to resurrection, to redemption, to freedom from sin. His death is not empty … Lawrence dies in unison with Jesus Christ. In fact St. Lawrence’s death can be said to “participate” in Jesus’ own death. It is this that makes it different. The Sacrifice of the Mass – which is a real sacrifice, namely that of the Cross of Jesus Christ – celebrated at Lawrence’s tomb is what transforms everything. The Lord Jesus destroys death by death! And here we return to Cain and Abel … Abel’s death – when unveiled – prefigures the death of the Lord Jesus. The evil and senseless murder committed by Cain is transfigured. Abel’s death – as a prefiguration – comes to participate in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. God truly destroys death by means of death. The story of creation becomes a story of our redemption – our re-creation by the Lord. This we will see nine weeks from now. For at the Easter celebration we will be confronted by Baptism. The Creator is the Redeemer. The story of creation is a figure of the Passion of Jesus Christ. In this respect it is interesting to note that an ancient Alexandrian computation of the dates for the creation of the world, the Incarnation (which began in Mary’s womb), and the Resurrection was March 25th. Creation, Incarnation, Resurrection, are in a sense the same day. The point here isn’t historical accuracy but theological precision using history in a symbolic/poetic way).
How wonderful is it to have our hearts unveiled.
Fr. Gregory Wassen