The Liturgy as Typology
This week is the ‘Revelation to Joseph’. We hear that Joseph is considering what to do about his ‘situation’. He is engaged to Mary and she is pregnant and not from him. We hear in the in the entrance hymn:
Joseph thought within his heart
to dismiss her quietly, but in sleep an angel came
and spoke in a dream to him:
“Be not afraid, Joseph, David’s son.
Truly this child that she bears
is the One who made the world.”
The Lord, God of all, dwells in the pure Virgin’s womb.
He took flesh, becoming man, of his own will,
to redeem the human race.
This week the cantor announces the Gospel with a verse from Genesis about another Joseph in the Old Testament:
“He made him overseer of his house,
and put him in charge of all he had.” (Gen 39:4)
Why would the liturgy refer to another Joseph? So often our liturgy uses typology which draws on something from the past so that we can understand in the present.
Everything is placed in the liturgy with purpose.
Both Joseph son of Jacob and Joseph of Nazareth have dreams in which angels come to them and tell them what will happen. Both Josephs’ are made overseers of households. Joseph son of Jacob is made overseer of the household of his Egyptian master and Joseph of Nazareth is made overseer of the household of God, that is, Mary and the baby Jesus within her womb.
The typology does not end there. In Genesis we learn that Joseph was rejected by his jealous brothers and sold as a slave. Joseph was taken to Egypt where he became successful and was promoted in the Court of Egypt. He ultimately saved his brothers who came to him desperate and hungry (read Genesis 37, 39-40 and 50). Joseph son of Jacob is a type of Christ, sent to save his brothers who rejected him.
Joseph of Nazareth also saves his family. When Jesus and Mary’s lives are threatened by Herod, Joseph takes his family and flees, the Son of God returns to Egypt.
So what is the purpose of the typology? It is a way of teaching and one which was adopted by the early Church. So often people misunderstand the Gospel’s because they do not understand the use of typology by the early Syriac thinkers and writers. It is a instrument that continues to be used by our Maronite Liturgy.
Joseph son of Jacob. Joseph of Nazareth and Christ himself all remind us that even in times of despair to trust in the what God has told us. The liturgy reminds us that God has come to save both those who have listened to him and those who have turned away from him and it is not too late, he wants to help us.
We are all dreamers. The liturgy at the Prayer of Forgiveness reminds us that the divine revelation is also ours. The divine revelation that Joseph received dispelled his fear and the divine revelation we receive this Sunday should dispel our own fears and fills us with joy.
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