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Evansville, Indiana
November 6, 1987     The Message
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November 6, 1987

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Faith Today Supplement, The Message, Catholic Diocese of Evansville, November 6, 1987 1 -L/Faith Todav A supplement to Catholic newspapers published by NATIONAL CATHOLIC NEWS SF'RVICE 1312 Massaduses Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005. with grant assistance from The Cathohc Church' It;ll EXTENSION so,ety 35 E0st Wodef Dr.. Oicago. lilies 60601 Atl contents copyflght1987 by NC News Service..x By Father Eugene LaVerdiere, SSS NC News Service l n the course of a lifetime, Jews are much more likely to attend a service in a Catholic church than Catholics are even to enter a synagogue. The reason is simple: Among Catholics, just about every religious event takes place in a church. Among Jews, many religious events unfold in the home. Take, for example, the events from Holy Thursday to Easter and the Jewish Passover. While Catholics gather as communities in churches to celebrate the Lord's Supper, Jews gather as families in homes to celebrate the Seder meal. MDD As a student of Scripture, I often have had the opportunity to attend a synagogue service. I confess that I love the sound of Hebrew when it is well read and I much ap- preciate the plaintive tones of the cantor's chant. They never fail to strike deep into my spirit. It is then that I truly know that Jews and Christians are inextricably bound as brothers and sisters in one family of God. To understand what the synagogue building and services are all about, a few comparisons with a Catholic church and the Sunday Eucharist cin be helpful. When Catholics come together for Mass, they do two principal things: They celebrate what we call the Liturgy of the Word and im- mediately afterward the Liturgy of the Eucharist. When Jews gather on the Sabbath, they celebrate a Liturgy of the Word. Historically, the Catholic Liturgy of the Word, with its readings, psalms, prayers and homily, was influenced profoundly by the early synagogue liturgy. This was in keeping with the practice of Jesus and the tradition of the earliest Christians, who were Jews still closely associated with the synagogue. The synagogue service, however, has nothing resembling the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Religious meals are very important among Jews, but their place is the home, not the synagogue. This big difference in our religious services has practical con- sequences for the architecture and physical appearance of Catholic churches and synagogues. Catholic churches have a triple architectural focus. *There is the ambo, the special lectern on which we display the Bible and where we proclaim its message in the Liturgy of the Word. eThere is the altar, where the Eucharist is celebrated. eAnd there is the tabernacle where the Eucharist is reserved for the sick and for prayer. Synagogues have a double focus. oA major feature is the lectern. eThe tabernacle also holds a pro- minent place. It is here that the scrolls of the Torah I that is, the Law, the first five books of the Bi- ble -- are kept. [3 [3 [3 There is no better place than Israel to visit and study the various kinds of synagogues. Some of the large modern synagogues of Jerusalem are comparable to churches built in the United States during the past few years. In the old traditional synagogues of Galilee, however, the similarities are less obvious. These synagogues are very small. The lecterns are like large pulpits which rise high in the middle of the synagogue and take up much space. The congregation sits all around along the walls. In these little synagogues of Galilee we feel the warmth and strength of Jewish tradition. As out- siders we are not made to feel unwelcome, though in this small setting we might experience the uneasy feeling that we are invading someone's privacy. One incident, more than any other, typifies the joy, the affec- tion, the love and the reverence which fills a small synagogue at its prayerful best. It took place in Israel. We were a busload of students, mostly priests, visiting excavations in the southern part of the country in the autumn. Passing through a neighborhood in a small town, we heard music and saw singing and dancing. In the midst of the small congrega- tion, the rabbi was dancing with the scrolls of the Law. All eyes were fixed on him as he spun to the music, raising and lowering the scrolls, delighting in God's gift of the Law. It was the Jewish feast of the Joy of the Torah. Now, 20 years later, I still can see the rabbi holding up the scrolls, the children leaping, the adults bowing, all eyes shining. Remembering that moment, I sometimes think how wonderful it would be if Catholics had a feast to celebrate the Joy of the Gospel. (Father La Verdtere is editor of EmmanueL) The synagogues of Galilee i For Father Eugene LaVerdlere, the sound of Hebrew well read and the plaintive tones of the cantor's chant during a synagogue service "never fail to strike deep Into my spirit. It Is then that I truly know that Jews and Christians are inextricably bound as brothers and sisters in one family of God." This week, Faith Today explores the special traditions of Jews and the common religious heritage they share with Christians. Inside, Rabbi Daniel Polish explains the importance of the home, the center of Jewish religious practice. . .i