During my studies in Rome I had a course on the Jewish Liturgy given by Professor Kurt Khruby a learned priest who showed us the dependence of our own liturgical ritual on the Book of Nehemiah where Ezra, the priest-scribe, reads from the Torah in front of the Great Assembly of God. (Kahal Adonai). In rereading this passage throughout the years I am always led to think of our liturgy of the word. In its structure it does seem very similar to what we read today from Nehemiah.
Reverence for the holy word of God is definitely a message we can take from our first reading Nehemiah 8:1-4ff. It is followed by the beautiful Psalm 19 which is in praise of God’s word and gives us a great lifting of our hearts to listen attentively to the word of God that we hear each day. The reading helps us to rejoice in the Divine Code of Laws that God has given to us. The corporate existence of the Israelites was built upon this and we follow them in our listening to the Torah readings, the Psalms, and the Gospels.
As a historical and traditional note we can look upon Ezra, the priest-prophet-scribe in this way: “Jewish tradition ascribes to him (Ezra) the foundation of the Keneseth Haggedolah, ‘the Great Assembly,’ which formed the link between the prophets and the early schools of the rabbis.” (Dr. Judah Slotki).
I see this passage of Nehemiah when I remember and look back at Luke’s presentation of Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth where he takes the scroll of Isaiah and reads from it then applies it to what is actually happening in the sight of the people in his own person. He will do exactly what that sacred text says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; therefore, he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind and release to prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord.” (see Luke 4:14-30).
Returning to what is found in Nehemiah we realize that this message is cause for a celebration in food and drink on the first day of the new year (Rosh Hahshanah, a day of holy convocation. This reminds us of the second part of our Eucharistic liturgy where we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus under the elements of bread and wine. We rejoice with Nehemiah and Ezra as we hear these words, “Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength.”
Father Bertrand Buby, S.M. obtained his licentiate in Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute and his doctorate in Marian Theology from the International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton and is professor emeritus for the Religious Studies Department of the University of Dayton. He has taught Scripture and Marian theology and presently teaches Scripture at the Inernational Marian Institute (I.M.R.I). He is the author of the trilogy MARY OF GALILEE, and also of Mary Faithful Disciple, With a Listening Heart (Pslam commentary), a commentary on the Book of Revelation. Fr. Buby was past president of the Mariological Society of America and has written articles for the marian journal called Marian Studies. He is a member of the Pontifical International Marian Academy (P.A.M.I.) and lives with ten other Marianists near the University of Dayton. Vist marypage.org. for more information.