In our first reading from the Book of Wisdom the author speaks of wisdom as if Wisdom were a person. Many Christians suggest that ‘Wisdom’ IS the ‘Holy Spirit’. Others are uncomfortable with this idea because the reference to Wisdom suggests that ‘Wisdom’ is a ‘She’ and they prefer masculine references for God! Regardless of the pronouns we use, the author suggests that Wisdom is a quality, a gift that is available to us. When we possess Wisdom, we see the world differently. Wisdom enables us to respond to our ups and downs in a life-giving manner. Not only that, but the author suggests that we ought to seek wisdom to help us live a well-balanced life. An added consolation is that Wisdom seeks those who seek her!
In the Gospel, Matthew tells the story of the bridegroom and the ten bridesmaids who are waiting for the bridegroom. When the bridegroom does not arrive as expected, the fact that some have come well prepared becomes a significant factor. When five leave to get oil for their lamps the bridegroom arrives; the doors are closed, and the party starts. Because they were late the five are not admitted to the party. A rather harsh outcome. The insight is this: we know Jesus is the bridegroom; he is coming, there is no secret. We should be prepared.
In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, Paul tries to encourage and comfort the early Christians who were concerned about what happens at death. Paul assures them that Christ will take care of them – they will not be left alone. Those who are alive and those who have died will welcomed by Christ.
Last week, I talked about how important it is to prepare for the celebration of mass. I repeated what has been taught in Sacred Scripture and the Church. Our God calls us to be holy. Our God calls us to gather with the community, to welcome one another, to hear the Word of God, to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus and to take what we have received and share it in the world.
Today we look at the opening rites of mass. As we gather, we begin mass by singing a hymn. The music gets our attention, it gathers us, and it reminds us of what we are doing. We stop being individuals gathered here, and we become one body, one people and we all do the same thing; we sing.
Everyone, musicians, the leaders of song, the children, the adults, and to the extent possible, the people in the procession; we all take part in the singing of the hymn. This is not a time for a performance or for critiquing others. It is a time for us to get involved, a time for full, conscious, and active participation by the entire assembly. The building should ring out with the voices of everyone gathered.
When the hymn ends the priest greets the people with the sign of the Cross. We say the words and we do the gesture – everyone, we help the children make the sign of the cross. Our AMEN means yes, so be it. The sign of the Cross reminds us that we gather here not in our name but in the name of our God. A God who is Creator – we exist because of God; A God who is Redeemer – our sins are forgiven because of the sacrifice of Christ; and a God who is Sanctifier – we are made holy, a temple because of God’s presence in our bodies.
The priest greets us: ‘The Lord be with you!’ reminding us that the Living God is with us and within us. It is what God does! God dwells with us! We all respond with confidence, “And with your Spirit!” The whole congregation affirms that God is with the priest too. If God is not with us folks, we are in trouble – our presence and our actions are meaningless.
The priest then invites us into silent reflection, a time of preparation. All that is happening – our accomplishments, our failures, the unfinished work, the discussions, the plans for the day, the good news from our family, our fatigue – whatever is within us we bring to this moment and we leave it in the hands of the Lord. We give thanks and we ask for mercy. There are three different rituals we can use. Regardless of the ritual we use, we acknowledge our sin and God’s kindness and we join ourselves to the prayer of the Church, preparing ourselves to hear the Word of God and to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus. This moment of giving thanks and asking for mercy is concluded with the Gloria. A hymn that unites us more broadly with each other and with the angels and saints in giving praise to God.The hymn itself reminds us of the holiness of God – the power and immensity of God. As spiritual writers often say – it reminds us of the transcendence of God.
It also reminds us of what we do as God’s people – we give praise and thanks to our God and three times we ask for forgiveness.
While this hymn reminds us of who God is, it also reminds us of who we are, a people made in the image and likeness of God. It reminds us of our oneness. We are one Body; one People and we are one with the angels and the saints in praising God. Often when I celebrate mass people opt out of this prayer – for whatever reason they stand silent choosing not to sing or pray the words. Praying this prayer connects us to each other and to God. Our praise of God should ring out so that our brothers and sisters can hear us and be encouraged.
In the Sunday mass we make our faith visible through our words and gestures. During the week we live the gospel in the things we say and do – we do that in our own circle – our family, our school, our community, our workplace. On Sunday, our individuality gives way to community. I do what the community does, and we become one in our words and gestures.
Have you ever said to yourself before a difficult task – I can do this! These rituals at the beginning of mass mark us as disciples of Jesus – they provide us with an opportunity to say, I can do this, I am a child of God – we can do this, we are children of God. When we engage in these rituals, we are saying, “I want to be one with the Body of Christ – I want to be one with God.”
The beginning prayers at mass help prepare us to connect with one another, they help remind us of who we are, and they prepare us to hear the word of God.
This week the Word encourages us to seek the Holy Spirit. The Word urges us to prepare ourselves for an encounter with the Lord. The Word also reminds us we are never alone; when we are anxious about dying Jesus is with us.
Perhaps as our week unfolds, we can take time to look for the Holy Spirit, the voice of God spoken around us. Many of us want a dramatic sign or a loud voice so that we know God is with us. Perhaps we are missing the God who does not shout but rather whispers within us and around us.
Fr. Doug Jeffrey, OMI