First Reading: Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10


          Eugene Ulrich, “Our Sharper Focus on the Bible and Theology Thanks to the Dead Sea Scrolls"[1]

          This article is disturbing for many reasons.  The first is the realization that “over half of the books of the Hebrew Bible circulated in variant literary editions at the time of the origins of Christianity and rabbinic Judaism.” (page 9)  The rabbis only established the Masoretic text in the Eighth/Ninth Centuries AD, after Christianity had long claimed to supersede Judaism.  What follows from that is that at least some of the self-assurance of the teaching Magisterium is misplaced.  The post-Vatican II 2004 President of the Catholic Biblical Association writes this article.

          Ulrich bemoans that the attitude toward the Dead Sea Scrolls is pious reassurance, rather than serious study.  As he words it, “The goal is not so much the truth as feeling safe.” (page 10).  I would say religious politics is overriding truth.

          Ulrich takes a stand at how to approach the Masoretic text.  He concludes, “a critical eclecticism … one may now consider the preferable method.” (page 16).

          Staying with the Masoretic text, Ulrich explains:


Of course, throughout history there have been claims that neither God nor Catholic faith changes in any substantial way.  But history is replete with examples of different types of change.  One right under our nose, of course, is the church’s position on historical-critical biblical scholarship.  The church in the twentieth century succeeded in making a major reversal of its position that was required by the growth in human knowledge.  One could say that, if the church did not change, there would be no Catholic Biblical Association and no one would be reading this address.


In footnote 66, Ulrich writes,


… though it is commonplace to accuse contemporary culture of antireligious and amoral influence, it is also true that it is this culture, with its scientific and sociological advances, that has raised our level of morality with respect to the plight of the poor and the oppressed, when we discern God’s will as requiring the abolition of slavery, curbing violence, assuring religious freedom, securing greater respect for women and women’s rights, and so forth.


Ulrich is concerned about “… the considerable role played by the community in forming and endorsing the tradition [of sacred writing] as Scripture.” (page 24).  Ulrich gets involved with birth control as he writes about “Method in Theology and Church Decision Making.”


… we have the anomalous situation of the “official” Magisterium condemning family planning whereas “(b)y 1993 more than 85 percent of American Catholics approve of birth control. … Simply put, the vast majority of American Catholics, both clergy and laity does not believe that the practice of birth control is sinful.”


The quote Ulrich uses is from Jay P. Dolan, In Search of an American Catholicism: A History of Religion and Culture in Tension.  In footnote 68, Ulrich also cites,


Garry Wills, a historian at Northwestern University (Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit {New York: Doubleday, 2000} 94), reports that “nine of the twelve bishops, fifteen of the nineteen theologians, and thirty of the thirty-five nonepiscopal members of the commission” voted in favor of changing the official teaching.


Finally, on page 23, Ulrich quotes Wills, “`as if distorting the truth in the present were not a worse thing than mistaking it in the past.’”


While I have cited Ulrich repeatedly, as shown below, until now I have avoided his excursion into moral theology.


Date                Reading         Name                          CBQ reference

2/8/04             75C                 5th Ordinary                Our Sharper Focus on the Bible and Theology Thanks to the Dead Sea Scrolls


3/2005            37*38A           Palm Sunday             A Scroll Containing “Biblical” and “Apocryphal” Psalms: A preliminary Edition of 4QPsf (4Q88) [1998]


12/25/05         14B                 Christmas                  A Scroll Containing “Biblical” and “Apocryphal” Psalms: A preliminary Edition of 4QPsf (4Q88) [1998]


3/19/06           29B                 3rd Lent                       Our Sharper Focus on the Bible and Theology Thanks to the Dead Sea Scrolls


4/30/06           47B                 3rd Easter                   The non-attestation of a Tripartite Canon in 4QMMT [2003]


5/14/06           53B                 5th Easter                   A Scroll Containing “Biblical” and “Apocryphal” Psalms: A preliminary Edition of 4QPsf (4Q88) [1998]


6/25/06           95B                 12th Ordinary              A Scroll Containing “Biblical” and “Apocryphal” Psalms: A preliminary Edition of 4QPsf (4Q88) [1998]


I think the Faithful are now at a point where, to remain silent, is a disservice.


          Neh 8:1-12

          Alexei Sivertsev, “Sects and Households: Social Structure of the Proto-Sectarian Movement of Nehemiah 10 and the Dead Sea Sect"[2]

          Families authorize the renewed covenant.  Sivertsev defines adulthood as the “ability to establish and maintain his own family,” a definition that still makes some sense.  The renewed authorization of the covenant probably occurred after the return from Babylonian exile in the Fifth Century B.C.  These family groups were rural, rather than urban.


          Neh 8:5-8

          Mark F. Whitters, “Jesus in the Footsteps of Jeremiah"[3]

          Examines the parallel between Jesus opening the scrolls in the temple and Ezra doing the same.  Just as Ezra brought in a new age and teaching authority, so does Jesus.



Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 19:8, 9, 10, 15 (cf. John 6:63c)


Carroll Stuhlmueller, C.P. offers seven principles for reading the Psalms. The First Principle is presented September 22, 2002, the Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Lectionary Reading 133A.  The Second and Seventh Principles are presented September 8, 2002, the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Lectionary reading 127A.  The Third Principle is treated here, below. The Fourth Principle is presented December 1, 2002, the First Sunday in Advent, Lectionary reading 2B.  The Fifth Principle will be presented next Sunday, the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 28, 2007, Lectionary reading 72C.  The Sixth Principle will be presented July 8, 2007, Lectionary reading 102C.


Chapter Two


Methods for Studying and Praying the Psalms

First Principle “Today” Has Its Own Grace


Second Principle Read the Text of the Psalm



Third Principle: Read the Text with Imagination[4]


Very few parts of the Bible originated in mystic isolation separated from us in opaque silence.  The Bible generally unravels in stories, teeming with conversation and movement, color and sound.  We need to read and listen with imagination. Yet, as the psalms ritually reenact these stories of salvation, they blend silent adoration with singing and procession.  Imagination never excludes ecstatic prayer.

Before returning to Psalm 95 to exemplify this third principle or method for reading and praying with the Bible with imagination, a few incidents in the career of Moses, the founder of Israel’s religion and its great lawgiver, need consideration because the second part of Psalm 95 reminisces about the days with Moses at Meribah and Massah in the Sinai desert.

When Moses first ascended Mount Sinai, “there was thunder and lightning, as well as a thick cloud on the mountain, and a blast of a trumpet so loud that all the people who were in the camp trembled” (Exod 19:16).  This same chapter, if reread carefully, records Moses’ frequent return trips to the people before again reentering the cloud, smoke, and thunder of God’s presence.  Notice, for instance, the trips up and down the mountain in verses 3, 13, 20, 24-25.

Moses was even to spend forty days and forty nights, without eating any food or drinking any water: “he neither ate bread nor drank water” (Exod 34:28; see also Exod 24:18).  When Moses returned to the people, “the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.  When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him” (Exod 34:39-30).  As a result, except when conversing with God, Moses “put a veil on his face” (34:33).  Moses’ actions, up and down the mountain, in and out of the meeting tent, as well as his drawing and withdrawing a veil over his face, radiate with light—everything involves the imagination if listeners and readers are to feel the impact of the biblical account.

Likewise, Psalm 95 invites its audience into a liturgical procession with sound and sight, until the audience is at the sanctuary and filled with awe.  There is much for the imagination. The psalm invites those assembled to “come into (God’s) presence” (v. 2).  The people encourage one another to “make a joyful noise to (God) with songs of praise!” (v. 2b).  Verse 4 addresses “the depths of the heights of the mountains,” possibly those that flank the Kidron Valley that separates Mount Zion on the west and the three mounts of temptation, evil counsel, and olives on the east.  The appeal to the imagination invites listeners and readers to reach out to glimpse the desert farther to the east and the Mediterranean Sea which guards Israel on the far west.  The psalmist continues to proclaim: “The sea is his, for he made it, / And the dry land, which his hands have formed.”

One’s imagination continues with the procession through the Kidron Valley until it arrives at the base of the temple.  Here it ascends, passes through the outer gate, and leads the people into the courtyard immediately before the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies (cf. Exod 26:31-37; 40:16-33).  In this open area, which included the altar of holocaust, the people were invited to “bow down” and “kneel before the Lord” (v. 6).  Awesome silence settles over the congregation.  Picturing the people grouped together, one then hears the cantor sing: “We are the people of his pasture, / and the sheep of his hand” (Ps 95:7a).

One’s imagination, in fact one’s whole attitude of joyful singing with musical instruments, can easily picture different groups of people.  While the entire congregation sings the two refrains (vv. 1-2, 6), a special choir intones more elaborately the motivation for processing to the sanctuary (vv. 3-5) and prostrating before the Holy Place (v. 7a).  One can spot as well the different musicians.  No doubt, children are running along and shouting as they did in Jesus’ day (see Matt 21:15-16).

Finally, Psalm 95 causes one to experience a jolt caused by the sudden change to a prophetic threat against false, formalistic worship:


O that today you would listen to his voice!

             Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,

             As on the day at Massah in the wilderness (Ps 95:7b-8).


If one has been picturing and resonating with the intense, joyful scene, then one needs a further explanation.  If one recalls the earlier discussion of the first principle about today having its own grace and the influence of the book of Deuteronomy on the composer of this psalm, then one can picture an action between verse 7a and verse 7b.  In the spirit and style of Deuteronomy, a Levite comes forward to proclaim the sacred Scripture or Tradition and then to preach about its meaning and application.  See, for instance, Deut 31:9-13, 24-29 or a later, very similar instance during the reform of Ezra the scribe: “Then Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, `Amen, Amen,’ lifting up their hands. … So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation.  They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Neh 8:6, 8).

Moreover, in the pronouncement of Ezra and Nehemiah to the people who are fearful about their sinfulness: “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep” (Neh 8:9), there is yet another parallel that illuminates the seeming disjuncture of verse 7a-b.

Imaginative, reverent, and attentive involvement in the stages of action in Psalm 95 could enable hearers and readers to supplement the psalm with the proclamation of Scripture and a sermon between verse 7a and verse 7b.  The prophetic threat then in verses 7b-11, in the spirit of the previous passage from Nehemiah 8—9 or again from Deuteronomy 31, becomes the solemn closing of the sacred service in Psalm 95.  As the people leave the sanctuary and return home, they must not imitate the disobedience and insolence of their ancestors in the wilderness with Moses. Otherwise, they will not enter into God’s rest.


Fourth Principle: Read the Psalms According to Its Key Words



Fifth Principle: Read the Psalm with Other Parallel Passages



Sixth Principle: Read the Psalms according to the Liturgy and Classic Spiritual Writers



Seventh Principle: Consult Commentaries





The Lectionary translation of Psalm 19 differs from Stuhlmueller, but the differences are minimal.


Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:12-30

          1 Cor 12:4-29

          David J. Downs, "`Early Catholicism’ and Apocalypticism in the Pastoral Epistles”[5]

          The early church of Saint Paul did not exclude women, as did the later Pastoral Epistles.


          1 Corinthians 12:25

          Neil Ormerod, “A Dialectic Engagement with the Social Sciences in an Ecclesiological Context”[6]

          Ormerod explores the relationship between the social sciences and theology. He identifies four social science typologies and uses 1 Corinthians 12:25 to make a case for examining the church from a functionalist typology. In this typology, social scientists fit the facts to see how they maintain the social system.  This typology leaves no room for dissension.  The other typologies leave more room.  Ormerod writes to insist that theology not ignore the social sciences.

          I am disturbed because the social sciences are not used to develop liturgies.


          1 Cor 12:27-28

          Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., “The Structured Ministry of the Church in the Pastoral Epistles"[7]

          Agrees that the early church was not as structured as what came later.  The idea of “the body of Christ,” however was used to structure church organization in the Deutero-Pauline Epistles (Col 2:17; Eph 4:12; cf. Col 1:18, Eph 1:23; 4:15-16).


          1 Cor 12:27

          Jeremy Corley, “The Pauline Authorship of 1 Corinthians 13"[8]

          “Parts of it [Christ’s body]" is particularly Pauline.


Alleluia: cf. Luke 4:18


Gospel: Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21

            Luke 1:1

            Donald A. Hagner, review of P. J. Williams, Andrew D. Clarke, Peter M. Head, and David Instone-Brewer (eds.), The New Testament in Its First Century Setting: Essays on Context and background in Honour of B. W. Winter on His 65th Birthday.[9]

          Peter M. Head writes a fifteen page technical article, “Papyrological Perspectives on Luke’s Predecessors (Luke 1:1).”


          Luke 1:4

          Joseph Plevnik, "`The Eleven and Those with Them’ According to Luke"[10]

          Luke writes to guarantee the apostolic message.



Please pass along suggestions you may have for improving the changed format. Thank you. For more on sources see the Appendix file. Personal Notes are on the web site at

[1] the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 66, No. 1 (October 2004) 9.


[2] the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 67, No. 1 (January 2005) #1 63 ff. esp. 75.


[3] the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 68, No. 2 (October 2006) 242.


[4] Carroll Stuhlmueller, C.P., The Spirituality of the Psalms (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 2002) ISBN 0-8146-2599, 13-15.


[5] the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 67, No. 4 (October 2005) 647.


[6] Theological Studies, Vol. 66, No. 4 (December 2005) 825.


[7] the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 66, No. 4 (October 2004) 583, 595.


[8] the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 66, No. 2 (October 2004) 260, 262.


[9] the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 67, No. 3 (October 2005) 555.


[10] the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 40, No. 2 (October 1978) 210.