Liturgical Theology

Qahal

Theology

In the Old Testament we learn about the many covenants through which God brought the people of Israel together. Qahal, a Hebrew word for assembly, describes the means by which this unity came about. Four examples of qahal follow:

1. Mount Sinai (the first and foundational qahal) (Exodus 19)
2. Dedication of the temple by Solomon (1 Kings 8 or 2 Chronicles 6)
3. Passover reform under Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29)
4. Renewal of the covenant under Josiah (2 Kings 23)

Qahal involves a four step process: summons, word, response and sacrifice. In each qahal the elders and people assembled to read the book of the covenant. The people then vowed to devote themselves to God and a sacrifice, also made before God, followed. The term ‘qahal’ is a forerunner of the present day term ‘liturgy’ as both are activities of a body of persons (recall that ‘liturgy’ is derived from two Greek words, together meaning a work of the people).

I recently came across Fr. Louis Bouyer’s book Liturgical Piety. In it he describes Christian liturgy as “a meeting of God's people called together by God, in order that the people may hear God's word, adhere to that Word by prayer and praise, and seal the covenant by sacrifice.” In other words, the four elements of the Christian Eucharistic liturgy – the Gathering Rite, the Liturgy of the Word, Prayer, and the Sacrifice of the Mass – are comparable to the four step process of qahal, but now a mystical union of Christians in one spiritual body has been created, headed by Jesus Christ.

Over the past four years I have seen and experienced much, including the arrival each week of community neighbors, friends, and visitors for the Sunday Eucharistic liturgy. I am always amazed by the stories of how people come to be in our chapel. Quite often they have travelled great distances, or expended great effort, to be a part of our celebration. When talking about this with a friend recently, she said that the first rite of the Mass is truly a gathering rite. We all gather from our separate places and become one assembly, one spiritual body, united in Christ.

Let nothing be preferred to the Work of God – Rule of Benedict 43:3