Vice-Director of the École Biblique and director of The Bible in Its Traditions program, Fr. Olivier-Thomas Venard adds to his responsibilities: Pope Francis appointed him on Sunday, January 15 as consultant for the Congregation for Divine Worship, directed by Cardinal Sarah. Three questions to a lover of the holy liturgy.
You have just been appointed a consultant to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the discipline of the sacraments, what connection do you have with the liturgy?
First, as a Christian, it is to the great traditional Latin liturgy, discovered with the Benedictines when I was 23 years old, that I owe a first « conversion ». Then, as a Dominican brother and priest, I am above all a practitioner of the liturgy. In the Province of Toulouse, of which I am a son, we like to unfold the ritual generously, and I remember with emotion the long conversations with our fr. André Gouzes at the Abbey of Sylvanès. Today I am a cantor at St. Stephen’s Priory in Jerusalem, where we are trying to open up the holy Liturgy especially for pilgrims from all over the world who fill the basilica at Christmas and Easter.
Do you have any particular thoughts on this topic so far?
Yes, my personal research, whether in literature, theology or biblical exegesis, is focused by the liturgical act. In particular, Sacra Pagina, the third volume of my trilogy of theological Poetics, is centered on three liturgical experiences: the Book, the Cross and the Eucharist. I also wrote with Sr Marie de Langeac o.p. (Genevieve Trainar) Adoro, my shortest book but the one I prefer: a « little treatise on the presence of God featuring three Dominican voices » directly inspired by the famous poem of our brother Thomas Aquinas. Also, as part of our research program The Bible in Its Traditions, I composed a full liturgical annotation on the Passion, with Sr Marie-Madeleine Saint Aubin o.s.b. (Monastery of Sainte-Marie-des-Deux-Montagnes, Quebec).
More than historical or canonical issues, it is the poetics and aesthetics of the liturgy that captivate me; in a liturgy worthy of the name, these have to be in keeping with the poetics and aesthetics of Christ in the Gospel, because it is He who acts in the Liturgy. It is this link between “christophany” and liturgy that we must truly deepen; for this we must no doubt also renew our gaze upon the Scriptures. This explains the words of the founder of the École Biblique, the Venerable Fr. Marie-Joseph Lagrange, « I like to hear the Gospel sung by the Deacon at the lectern amid clouds of incense: the words then penetrate my soul more deeply than when I find them in a journal article »… When you unroll the Torah scroll in the synagogue, or when we open the Gospel Book in the church, we are not about to read in order to « inform » or to “understand »: we are going to continue to « live » the sacred story. When one opens the Book, in liturgy, the divine Word speaks to us here and now: something must happen! If it can be useful, I will be happy to propose such contributions, inspired by poetics and Judaism, to the next deliberations of the Congregation.
As a religious and biblical scholar, as deputy director of the Bible School, how did you receive this appointment?
Among the first people at the time to give me an indication of this appointment were the Little Sisters of Jesus, who are giants of charity: as religious, what a grace to feel thus associated with the heart of the life of the Church … It is also an honor to be invited to help, however modestly, in the ministry of Peter and an invitation to pray for our Pope! It is a joy at last to have to collaborate with Cardinal Sarah, for whom I have the greatest admiration.
The Bible is never more itself than when it is proclaimed in the liturgy, which is the proper hermeneutical framework of Scripture; therefore, as a member of the École Biblique, I could only accept this nomination. It even encourages me to realize a dream that I have nourished for several years: to launch a seminar « Bible and Liturgy » here next year.