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The Mystic Meaning of the Missale Romanum Michael P. Foley For most of its history, the Roman Rite has been understood in light of its “mystic” or allegorical sense, a sense that went on to inform sacred art and architecture, sacred music, and even secular literature. Today, however, this hermeneutic or method of interpretation that was once prized by previous generations is so unknown to the average Catholic believer that most could not even say what is meant by a mystic meaning. In an effort to provide, not a thorough treatment of the subject but a fresh propaedeutic for it, I would like to discuss several aspects of the mystical meaning of liturgical worship, and I would like to do so by beginning with a triptych of sorts. In sacred art, a triptych is a three-paneled carved or painted work chiefly used as an altarpiece. The larger central panel is the most significant, with the lateral panels usually complementing or elucidating it in some manner. The triptych as a whole, in turn, is ordered towards that which transpires in front of it: the sacrifice of the Mass. As an altar backdrop, triptychs highlight one or more facets of the divine mysteries, functioning as a window into what is happening liturgically. Like its painted counterpart, the “verbal triptych” that I wish to make our backdrop today also consists of three panels. And not unlike many other triptychs, the triptych that I have in mind is primarily scriptural; in fact, it is a presentation of three moments in the history not of liturgy but of biblical interpretation. Once this hermeneutical triptych is placed upon the altar of our minds, we can then inquire into the Roman Rite’s mystical significance.   Plenary Address of the 2009 General Conference of the Society for Catholic Liturgy, held 29 January to 1 February 2009 at the St Cecelia Cathedral Cultural Center in Omaha, Nebraska. It has been modified somewhat to incorporate points from the question-and-answer period that followed. The author wishes to express his gratitude to the participants of that discussion and to the organizers of the conference. Antiphon 13.2 (2009): 103-125 104 Michael P. Foley A Hermeneutical Triptych: Panel One The first and central panel of our triptych is Galatians 4:22-26, the passage where St Paul remarks: For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman and the other by a free woman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh: but he of the free woman, was by promise. Which things are said by an allegory. For these are the two testaments. The one from Mount Sina, engendering unto bondage, which is Agar. For Sina is a mountain in Arabia, which hath affinity to that Jerusalem which now is: and is in bondage with her children. But that Jerusalem which is above is free: which is our mother. We can express the meaning of Paul’s statements in the following manner: Abraham Isaac Ishmael (promise) (flesh) Literal, historical: Jews Arabs _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ “Allegorical”: Christians Jews St Paul’s interpretation here of Genesis 16 and 17 is astonishing. As his audience well knew, Isaac, the son born according to a divine promise and a miraculous conception, became the father of the Hebrews, and Ishmael, the son born according to the flesh in the usual manner, became (at least in the eyes of later Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions) the father of the Arabs. But Paul claims that because Isaac was born by virtue of Abraham’s faith in God’s promise and Ishmael was not, and because Ishmael, as the son of a slave, remains in bondage, the real sons of Isaac are those who live by faith, that is, the Christians (whose mother is the Church, the liberated Jerusalem), while the real sons of Ishmael are the non-Christian or quasi-Christian Jews who continue to live in “slavish” fidelity to...


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