Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent
Psalm 147: 12-13, 15-16, 19-20 (R. 12a)
The Word Repeated
The liturgy is circular, not linear. The liturgy is fond of repetition, returning again and again to the same word, ever spiraling into the heart of the mystery. Rightly celebrated, the liturgy creates for the Word an acoustical space within the community and within the heart of each one. Within this space, the Word, continually repeated and echoed, reaches optimal resonance. Meditatio is the ceaseless repetition of the sacred text. The repetition of the Word softens the heart, breaks it, and pierces it. Meditation, like holy preaching, is essentially the repetition of the Word in other words.
Day and Night
You may recall that on Ash Wednesday the Communion Antiphon was taken from Psalm 1. “Blessed is the man whose heart is set on the law of the Lord, on that law, day and night, his thoughts still dwell” (Ps 1:2-3). Are we to hear in this antiphon a subtle suggestion that Lent invites us to begin again, to start over at the First Psalm? Yes, of course — but even more — it is a program of Lenten observance, an invitation to repeat the word tirelessly, to repeat the word ceaselessly, to repeat the word assiduously until, having pierced the heart, it becomes prayer within, and returns to the source whence it came. “My word that goes forth from My mouth shall not return to Me empty, says the Lord, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Is 55:11).
Nourished by the Word
Today’s Collect presents the Word of God as nourishment. The Latin text says that we are eruditi (schooled) by our Lenten observance and nutriti (nourished) by the Word of God. The Word proclaimed and heard, the Word repeated, the Word prayed, the Word returning to the Father is the Eucharist of the intelligence.
Food, if it is to profit an organism, must be assimilated. This is why repetition of the same texts, in the same way, at the same time is so important to our prayer. The liturgy itself, repeating the Word in other words, by means of antiphons, responsories, and other chants, by preaching, and by prayer texts quarried from the Scriptures, allows us to assimilate the Word, to chew it, to savour it, and to hold it in the heart.
The Fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets
Today’s Gospel can remain somewhat obscure unless we scrutinize it through the lens of the First Reading and the Responsorial Psalm. “Do not think that I have come to set aside the law and the prophets; I have not come to set them aside, but to bring them to perfection” (Mt 5:17). The “law and the prophets” include the Psalter; Jesus numbers King David among the prophets. After the resurrection, Jesus is explicit. “This is what I told you, He said, while I still walked in your company; how all that was written of Me in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, must be fulfilled” (Lk 24:44).
Communion with the Prayer of Christ
To fulfill means to fill full. Today’s Gospel speaks to all of us who have made the psalms our bread in the wilderness. Christ, coming not to set aside but to fulfill, has filled the Psalter full of himself. Christ has made the Psalter the sacrament of His presence and the means of our communion with His prayer to the Father in the Spirit. Why do we pray the same psalms over and over again, day after day and week after week? So as to be filled full with the perfect prayer of Christ to the Father. It may help you to think of this from time to time: when we chant the psalms in choir, or murmur them on our own in secret, we are allowing the Holy Spirit to fill us full with the prayer of Christ and to make of our hearts a place wherein that prayer finds a unique resonance.
Moses and Christ
Moses addresses the people in today’s first lesson from Deuteronomy. In Moses’ voice we hear already the incomparable accents of Christ: “Behold, I have taught you statutes and ordinances, as the Lord my God commanded me” (Dt 4:5). Moses’ discourse is fulfilled in the word of Christ, “I do not do anything of My own impulse, but speak as My Father has instructed Me to speak” (Jn 8:28) and again, “My words are what I have learned in the house of My Father” (Jn 8:38).
Moses orders the people to keep the Torah, to hold fast to the word. “Take heed and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life” (Dt 4:9). To keep the Torah implies more than mere conformity to its legal prescriptions. The keeping of the Torah and the reaping of its blessings is linked to humble repetition of the word “by day and by night” (Ps 1:2-3).
Of old the rabbis taught that Torah on the lips becomes Torah in the heart. This principle is in no way abrogated by the New Dispensation. To keep the Word is to experience it as a sacrament, as a means of holy communion with one who gave it. “Thy words were found and I ate them, and thy words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jer 15:16).
Supper with the Word
In the Responsorial Psalm we heard yet another repetition of the Word in other words, “See how He issues His command to the earth, how swift His word runs” (Ps 147:4). God send out His Word to make himself present, to feed with nothing less than himself those who open to Him the door of their hearts. “See where I stand at the door, knocking; if anyone listens to My voice and opens the door, I will come in to visit him, and take My supper with him, and he shall sup with Me” (Ap 3:20).
The Word is the sacrament of divine intimacy. By the Word, it pleases God to make himself more interior to us than we are to ourselves. Just as the mystery of the Eucharist, eaten and drunk, sanctifies the mind and body, penetrating to the inmost being of the one who receives it, so too does the Word, striking the ears, indwell the heart.
The repetition of the Word prolongs the Eucharist, carries the grace of the Eucharist into every moment of the day and night. “This is how you are to understand the Scriptures,” says Origen, “as the one perfect body of the Word” (Fragment of a Homily on Jeremiah). From the ambo as from the altar, it is the one Christ who says, “Take this; this is My body” (Mk 14:22).