Thursday, September 27, 2012

Wrapping Up on Proverbs

That's it!  If you blinked, you missed it.  Proverbs has just three days of seriatim reading during ferial days, and now they're done.  In this post, we wrap up Proverbs, giving a liturgical perspective on the book:
Liturgical Perspective
Proverbs emphasizes the practice of virtue in daily life in an international context, so there is less focus on the liturgy than in some other books.  Nonetheless, a Christian reading of the Book does perceive some important liturgical themes, even beyond a few individual proverbs that encourage diligent participation in the cult (Prov. 3:9).
            Proverbs identifies “Fear of the LORD” as the beginning of wisdom, and the term “fear” conveys an attitude of reverence, which is broader than, but would include, formal acts of worship. 
Far from being secular, wisdom in Proverbs flows out of a fundamental attitude and lifestyle characterized by religious reverence of the God of Israel.
            Both Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly in the Prologue are characterized as calling out to men from “the heights of the city.”  The heights of any ancient city, including Jerusalem, were the sacred precincts, where the temple or temples were located.  Thus, Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly are portrayed as competing forms of worship.  Lady Wisdom represents the cult of the LORD, characterized by marriage and covenant fidelity; whereas Lady Folly represents foreign cults, characterized by fertility rituals and promiscuity: 
Prov. 9:1   Wisdom has built her house, she has set up her seven pillars.  2 She has slaughtered her beasts, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table.  3 She has sent out her maids to call from the highest places in the town, 4 “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” To him who is without sense she says, 5 “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.  6 Leave simpleness, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”
Wisdom’s “house” with “seven pillars” is a Temple image; the banquet with slaughtered beasts and mixed wine is a sacred or sacrificial meal.  For good reason, then, the Lectionary treats this passage as a Eucharistic type to be read in conjunction with the Bread of Life discourse in John 6.
            The nuptial theme that runs throughout Proverbs, in which the reader is encouraged to enter into covenantal relationship with Divine Wisdom, also points forward to the nuptial nature of the Eucharistic Liturgy, in which the Church, the Bride, embraces the Body of her Bridegroom, who is Wisdom incarnate, in a covenant-making (or –renewing) act of communion. 
            One can say, in light of the New Covenant, that the Fear of the LORD, understood as a disposition of worship, is both the beginning of Wisdom and its end (telos), just as the Eucharist is both source and summit of the Christian life.

The Use of Proverbs in the Liturgy
The three most significant passages of Proverbs used in the Lectionary are three of the poems in which Wisdom is personified as a woman, in Prov. 8, 9, and 31.  The significance of Prov. 8:22-31, the poem of Wisdom at work in Creation, to early Church development of the doctrine of the Trinity is reflected in the choice of this text for Trinity Sunday in Year C.  Proverbs 9:1-6, the invitation to the banquet set by Wisdom on the heights of the city, is clearly revealed as a Eucharistic type by its association with John 6:51-58, during the reading of the entirety of the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6 during Ordinary Time of Year B (Weeks 17–21).  Finally, Lectionary holds up the poem of the noble woman of Prov. 31 as an example of diligence in Christian discipleship, in combination with the Parable of the Talents (33rd Sunday in OT, Year A) or else on the feast days of saints, especially married women who attained sanctity.  Thus, in the Church’s memory, perpetuated in the Liturgy, Proverbs is treasured for its presentation of Wisdom as a person, which the Church sees fulfilled in Christ and those who conform themselves to him.
Readings from Proverbs for Sundays, Feast Days, Liturgical Seasons, and Other Occasions
MSO=Masses for Special Occasions; OM=Optional Memorial; VM=Votive Mass; Rit=Ritual
The one who seeks wisdom diligently will ultimately find it.
Proper of St. Benedict; Rit. Blessing of Abbots/ Abbesses, opt. 1
St. Benedict exemplified the diligent search for wisdom; Abbots and Abbesses likewise need set an example in this regard.
Above all, one should acquire wisdom and treasure her carefully, and she will bestow long life and honor.
Rit. Blessing of Abbots/ Abbesses, opt. 2
Wisdom is a necessary attribute for the leader of a monastic community.
God acquired Wisdom before all creatures, and Wisdom assisted as a workman in the process of creation.
Holy Trinity Sunday (C); Common of the BVM, opt. 5
Wisdom active in creation is the Second Person of the Trinity, now fully revealed in Jesus Christ.  Mary, who bore the Son of God, is likewise associated as the Seat of Wisdom.
Wisdom builds her house, sets her table, and invites all the simple to a rich feast.
20th Sun. in OT (B); Rit. Installation of Acolytes; VM. Most Holy Eucharist
Read with John 6:51-58, Wisdom’s invitation to a feast appears as a clear type of the Eucharistic banquet, where Christ, who is God’s wisdom, offers himself as food.  Acolytes are like the “maidservants” of Wisdom who help set the table and invite the guests.
31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31
The noble woman is of great value; she does good all her days, and receives praise at the city gates.
33rd Sun. in OT (A); Common of Holy Men and Women, opt. 11; Proper of St. Frances of Rome & St. Jane Frances de Chantal; Rit. Conferral of Marriage, opt. 6
Read with the parable of the three servants and the talents (Matt 25:14-30), the noble wife of Prov. 31 becomes the image and example of the faithful servant of Christ who works diligently to bring good to her Divine Bridegroom in his absence.  This eulogy of the excellent wife is particularly appropriate for canonized married women, and for the conferral of the sacrament of marriage. 

Reading of Proverbs for Daily Mass: Ordinary Time, Year II: Week 25
Passage Read
A collection of aphorisms about living in peace with one’s neighbors.
Another collection of proverbs, concerned mostly with the proper dispositions of the  “heart” or center of a man’s existence.
These proverbs urge reverence for the Word of God and moderation of lifestyle

VI. In Brief
The Book of Proverbs is a collection of practical advice for daily living, including observations and exhortations in support of practicing the natural virtues and the natural law.  Its relationship with the larger structure of biblical theology is secured by its association with Solomon.  From a canonical perspective, it represents the international form of divine instruction Solomon provided for the international empire he ruled by virtue of the Davidic covenant.  The book is remarkable for its personification of God’s attribute of Wisdom as a woman, indeed, the ideal wife.  The Church has seen in this personification an anticipation of the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity, and of the role of Mary, Seat of Wisdom. 

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