People generally use the Sambuhay Missalette as a help for getting through the Mass. After Vatican II, it was one of the means used by parishes to educate the lay faithful in the ways of the then “new” Mass and help them become more participative. While the form of the Missalette has not changed during these forty-some years, its content has been enhanced so that it no longer is simply a guide to the Sunday Mass. The Society of St. Paul — at least in the Philippines — has come up with a format that makes the Missalette a veritable help for helping people make the Sunday mass an inspiration during the rest of the week apart from giving them resources for gaining a deeper biblical culture. The Sunday Missalette can now be used not only by catechists, but also by BEC leaders as they help their cell group members study and reflect on the Sunday Gospel.1
This article is about how to use the Sambuhay Sunday Missalette intelligently and is intended for BEC leaders who have to prepare their own weekly “lesson plans” with a minimum of resources. I have made a list of these minimum resources here. To use the missalette for a BEC meeting, one should have had studied the Sunday gospel. In other words, the use of the missalette presupposes that one already has a grasp of the meaning of the Sunday gospel. The missalette would help the BEC leader “situate” one’s understanding of the gospel reading in the liturgy and give hints as to how to help the members of the cell group apply the gospel reading to their lives.
Let’s take an example from the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A).
The Gospel reading is taken from Matthew 18:15-20. First, one will have to study it, going through the exercises that have been described in this article. Creating the sentence flow would allow one to see the movement of the discourse and helps one to see keywords and ideas. The process of “breaking-up” (paghihimay-himay) the text and putting them back together again helps one understand that in the text, a process of reconciliation is being described. Further research, that is, the consultation of the marginal and foot notes of one’s Bible should help one see that the concern here is not so much to right a wrong, but to restore both parties — the offender and the offended — to each other and to God. “Reconciliation” is after all “to change a relationship of enmity to friendship.” A third step, the study of the biblical index of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for the individual verses would help one see the passage as understood by the Church and in the light of its ministry of reconciliation, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” After the one has gathered enough notes from this three-step process, one is now ready to use the missalette.
The Features of the Missalette
The Sambuhay Missalette currently has features that will help one look for applications of the text:
The cover page has a reflection or essay where an invited writer shares his/her thoughts and experiences on the readings of the day. The article is one writer’s “application” of a Sunday text or texts. Depending on the training of the writer (he may be student in the seminary, a veteran missionary, a professor of biblical theology, or a trained exegete), the article may look technical in parts, but it always ends up giving an explanation of the theme of the liturgy and some indications as to how the Scriptural readings are to be understood in a given situation. Sometimes, stories and experiences are shared to this effect.
Inside the missalette, brief introductions to the liturgy and to the first and second readings are given. In our parish, these are read by the Commentator as part of their catechetical function. The introductions form part of the mystagogy of the celebration. “Mystagogy” is like a “blow-by-blow account”: a commentary on every step of the celebration with the purpose of helping the faithful “get into the groove” of the mystery being re-presented.
Apart from the brief introductions, there is also the “Prayers of the Faithful”. Currently, these petitions are formulated in such a way that they express the local Church’s prayer AS flowing from the message of the mass readings. In other words, the individual petitions are not random formularies but are meant to express the praying heart’s response to the Word of God proclaimed and heard in the midst of the assembly.
In the back page, there is a “Note Box” that sometimes contains an exegetical or theological note based on the Gospel reading. During this year of St. Paul, the “Note Box” contains insights into Paul and his work. In the past, it contained word studies, geographical illustrations and other materials one normally finds in biblical dictionaries. This is one feature which — like the front cover essays — makes the Sambuhay worth collecting.
So how does one take advantage of these features?
It is said that there are several ways of skinning a cat (although I doubt whether one could name at least one). I use the Sambuhay for preparing my Sunday sermons and this is what I usually do to “enhance” the notes I have prepared:
The Introduction to the Readings
After studying the Gospel reading (see the steps described above), I first check the introduction to the first reading. The first reading is usually coordinated with the Gospel reading through typology. In the case of the 23rd Sunday of OT, the first reading is taken from Ezekiel 33:7-9. The introduction for it describes the reading as about the call of Ezekiel to be a watchman for Israel so as to dissuade them from wickedness and lead them to conversion. A final note connects it, not to the Gospel reading as such, but to what Jesus wants his disciples to be for those who have “strayed”. The reading from Ezekiel itself — in the light of the introduction — helps me zero in on the mandate to Ezekiel as watchman (v. 7) and the particulars of this mandate (vv. 8-9). Looking at the text within its context adds more to my understanding of the first reading: the work of Ezekiel would be similar to the vigilant guard in the tower who should blow the trumpet when an enemy attacks (Ezekiel 33:1-6). The rest of the section (vv. 10-21) speaks of individual responsibility and sheds further light on vv. 8-9. What is important here is that the responsibility of Ezekiel as the watchman of Israel is identified as what Jesus wants for his Church. Seen in the light of the day’s Gospel reading, the process described in Matthew becomes a means for creating an environment where repentance and conversion is possible.
The second reading — sometimes an alternative text to preach on with a message of its own distinct from that of the Gospel and the first reading — for the 23rd Sunday is on Christian charity and puts the message of conversion and reconciliation within the life-style of the Church which should be that of a love that is unselfish and life-giving, like the love of God manifested in and through Jesus.
The Prayers of the Faithful
After the readings, I usually check the prayers of the faithful and see how the petitions have been formulated. In the picture on the right (click for a larger view) one notices that some petitions have been expressed in such a way as to highlight the Church’s ministry of reconciliation, and the ways particular groups of people can fulfill such ministry in their particular work. A BEC leader can use the prayers of the faithful at the conclusion of the BEC meeting or reformulate some of the petitions so as to express the needs of his/her community. Quite recently, the makers of the missalette have added a portion in the prayers of the faithful where the local church/community can add its own petition (s). That too can be used in the BEC meeting for individual members to add their own petitions.
The Note Box
Sometimes, the Note Box at the back of the Missalette can shed light on the Gospel and the other readings. Since during this Pauline year the Note Box is on Paul and his ministry, one would be right to expect that it would be instructive for understanding the situation of the Christian mission in the first century, the life of the early Christians and the theology of Paul. For the 23rd Sunday, the Note Box informs us about the Gentile missions and how Paul understood his work in this area. Reflection on this note could help one understand the passage in the Gospel selection — if one has not already — which says that the one who refuses to admit one’s fault before the Church should be treated like “a Gentile and a publican.” We already know from previous Sunday readings how Jesus treats a publican like Matthew or a Gentile like the Roman centurion and the woman from the regions of Tyre and Sidon. They are to be treated not as outsiders (or tiwalag, as fundamentalist cults or sects would treat them) but as objects of Christ’s saving work. For Matthew the publican and the Gentilic Canaanite woman, the key concept is mercy. To treat a hardened Christian like a Gentile or a publican is to treat them as objects of mercy, for “it is mercy I want, not sacrifice. (HHosea 6:6)”
The Introductory Reflection/Essay
The last thing one studies in the Missalette is the introductory reflection or essay. It is the fruit of the last stage of a Gospel reading’s “application” and therefore is studied last. 2 The article for the 23rd Sunday is entitled “Heal and Reconcile” and explains the reader understand the liturgical texts within the Church’s ministry of reconciliation as a work of love that is accomplished in acts of mercy. The essay, like the Note Box can be collected in a dossier that can also serve as a future reference. But it can also contribute to a stock knowledge that will help one understand how the passages of Scriptures are applied to the questions of the contemporary Church.
- As promised in an earlier blog, I am making availabe through this post an exercise already discussed in one of seminars given to the Olympia I BEC. The seminar was given before the celebration of Dominica in albis during the current liturgical year (A) and was intended to help the community prepare their own liturgical fiesta celebration. Studying the Sunday Missalette can yield fruits beneficial for pastoral work but only after one has studied the Gospel text independently of it. Only in this way can the pastoral worker really make use of it as a tool for the application of the Gospel of which a liturgical celebration is just one instant.↩
- The introductory article was written especially for those who come early to Mass so that while they wait for the celebration to begin, they can have some “healthy reading” to occupy their minds with and help them prepare themselves.↩