In the Book of Exodus, God invites the People of Israel to remember their life experience. Once you were slaves in Egypt. Do not do to others what was done to you. God reminds the People of Israel that he is a God of compassion and he will listen to their cries.
In chapter 22 of Matthew’s Gospel, there is an ongoing debate between the religious leaders and Jesus. They are trying to trip him up. Today they ask a question that we all ask at some point in our living and dying. What is most essential? What must I do? Jesus says love is your purpose: God, themselves, and their neighbor. When he says neighbor, he means everyone. Jesus links love of God and love of neighbour. They cannot be separated. We cannot love one and hate the other. Jesus makes it clear that our lives are linked – we are made for love.
Paul reminds the Thesssalonians that they have received the Word of God, the Spirit of God in difficult circumstances. He reminds them that how they treat him and how they treat others will shape their love for God. They are known everywhere for their faith which is visible in their actions. He encourages them.
On December 4, 1963 the Second Vatican Council produced the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy – it talks about the role of liturgy in our lives.
The Promotion of Liturgical Instruction and Active Participation
14. Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.
In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit; and therefore pastors of souls must zealously strive to achieve it, by means of the necessary instruction, in all their pastoral work.
For the next several Sundays, I want to speak about the Sunday Liturgy/Sacraments – today I want to talk about our Offering and the Preparation of Gifts at the Sunday Eucharist. How we are celebrating the mass right now is not how we ought to celebrate the mass. We are doing the best that we can, given our present lived experience.
I want to highlight a few practical things.
Music – Music and singing are an expression of our praise and thanksgiving. We ought to have music whether it is Christmas, Easter, a long weekend or the long hot days of summer. We don’t have to have voices that will win a Grammy. We sing to praise God. Can you lift your voice in praise of God? Yes! You may not want to but we are called to sing, and when the community sings, we sing. The mass is not a spectator sport. It calls for full, active and conscious participation. We pay attention and we engage. When we are serving at the altar, taking up the collection, placing our contribution in the basket, taking the gifts to the altar we ought to be singing. The leaders of song must resist the temptation to perform – they lead and encourage us. Entertainment is a bonus and not the main purpose.
Historically, the Offering and Preparation of the gifts was just that. Ordinary people shared actual gifts – animals, produce, prepared food, tools, clothing, money, etc. for those who were in need. They shared what they had.
Today, as Catholics we are trying to relearn what it means to share. Sometimes pastors encourage people to bring gifts for the foodbank or the Christmas hamper or for some special occasion. These gifts are presented at the altar or they are placed somewhere in the sanctuary. These practices are good. They remind us we are one people – connected – needed and with needs. God shares. We share.
We Catholics are relearning what it means to give. 40 years ago, a group of ministers in Edmonton were talking about their congregations. An evangelical pastor shared that on average each person in his community offered $45.00 each Sunday. When the Catholic priest did his calculations, he discovered that on average each person in his parish offered $0.33 each Sunday. We often admire the programs and resources that Evangelical Churches have. When we are generous we can make things happen too.
Historically, at the Sunday liturgy, gifts of bread and wine were brought forward, presented to God and shared amongst the people. Jesus offered bread and wine to God, and the priest continues the gesture. The offering of gifts is a reminder to us that here and now we offer ourselves. We give to God what we have received. God transforms the bread and wine and we receive more than we offer. The prayers are spoken out loud or quietly as the community sings. Either practice is acceptable.
After the offering the priest quietly asks God to accept the gifts. He then washes his hands asking God to wash away his sins. At one time the priest washed his hands because they were dirty from receiving the gifts and handling the incense. Today the washing of hands is symbolic. It is about sin and not about clean hands.
Following the washing of hands, the priest invites the people to join with him in prayer asking God to receive the offered gifts as a gesture of praise and thanksgiving. The Offertory prayer sums up our gesture, our desire. This Sunday we ask that what we do by way of service may give glory and praise to God.
A couple of take aways:
In Exodus, God invites the people to remember where they came from. Jesus reminds the people to pay attention to God, to themselves and to their neighbor. Love is to shape all they do. Paul reminds the early Christians that what they do gives praise to God.
The Offering and Presentation of Gifts at the Sunday Eucharist is accompanied by music – by ritual giving – money and gifts for the work of the Church and for the poor. Our Offering should be generous – we are giving ourselves to God and to those who are in need. We take stock of what we offer, and we ask God to accept us and our offering as an expression of our praise and thanksgiving for what God is doing in and around us.
It is important for us to support our Church with financial donations. Our Church will not grow because of smiles and prayers. We need financial donations.
Let us not forget that what is essential is that we nourish in our hearts a spirit of gratitude for all that God has given us. What is essential is that we make a commitment to share what we have received with others whether it is a can of beans, a shoe box, a cheque or an hour of labor. There are countless ways to serve. We give what we can according to our circumstances.
What am I doing? How am I expressing my thanks and praise?
On Sunday and on every day of the week how am I loving God, myself and my neighbour?
As I mentioned at the beginning of mass, today is Mission Sunday. I want to do a couple of things – comment on the scriptures, talk about Mission Sunday and invite us to think about how our celebration of the mass is impacted by scripture and our lived experience.
In our first reading from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, we hear how God is going to use a pagan King to help restore the People of Israel. This would have been a shock to the people of Israel. How could God use a pagan, an unbeliever to help restore the Kingdom? This would have been a shock and lots of people would have been really mad that God was using a pagan to help his chosen people, to lead them home.
In Matthew’s gospel, the Pharisees are speaking from both sides of their mouth. They build Jesus up as a person of integrity and then they try to trap him so that he will be in trouble with the authorities and with the common people. They are not successful. In a word, Jesus reminds them, you do not have to pit God against the world. We need to learn to live together – to honor and respect each other.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul speaks of his gratitude for all that they have done, for all that they are. Paul acknowledges and expresses his gratitude for the relationship they have with Jesus and how they let their relationship influence their daily life.
This is Mission Sunday – we are invited to think about how we proclaim the Good News – that God loves us – all of us, wherever we are and however we are. We are invited to live our lives in such a way that this message is communicated to all people. Every time we gather here for mass, it is our work to welcome people – to spread the news that God loves us. We are called to share this message with people who are connected to our Church and we are invited to share this message with people who have as yet little or no knowledge of God.
As Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate – our religious community has been founded to share the Good News of Jesus with all people – especially the poor and those who are on the margins of society. Our origins are in the South of France.
The Oblates came to Canada in 1841 and we shared the gospel with countless people – we helped to build parish communities and along with sisters from various communities we helped to establish schools, hospitals, cooperatives and various organizations that ended up having a positive impact on people. Some of our initiatives – like the residential schools we worked in, have also caused long lasting pain – decimating Indigenous people – individuals, communities and cultural traditions. While some people flourished in the Schools, many people suffered and the effects are still being felt today. Today our work in Indigenous communities is about celebrating the rites of the Church. It is also about finding ways to bring healing to lives that have been damaged by the effort to assimilate the Indigenous populations of Canada.
Today, we Oblates are old and we are few in number. We have not walked away from Indigenous people and the struggles they experience. With new awareness, a desire to learn from our mistakes, a desire to work together we are working towards a time of healing and new life. With sorrow and regret, with hope and determination we look forward to a new day where the goodness of each person and each culture will be acknowledged, respected and celebrated.
Our Oblate community does not work only in Canada. In fact, we minister in over 60 countries. OMI Lacombe Canada, the Oblate province that I belong to has members working in the far north, in British Columbia, the Prairie Provinces and Ontario. We also have members working in the United States, in Peru and in Kenya. While we are few in number we are working with local lay leaders to help build up the Church. St. Eugene challenged us to help people become human, Christians and Saints! Our resources continue to be directed to address very basic human needs, housing, health, education and the building up of faith communities so that lives are transformed. If you would like to help us with our work there is information in the bulletin which will help you to become a partner in our work.
Why did I and so many other men join the Oblates? Why have we done what we have done? Why, now that we are old do we continue to reach out to others?
In our lives we know Jesus – the Crucified Lord. We know about suffering. In our lives we know Jesus – the Risen Lord. We know about new life, blessing and joy. We want others to know what we know. We want to make a difference. Our God loves us.
Every time we come here to celebrate the Eucharist we are reminded that God loves us.
Every time we come here to celebrate the Eucharist we are reminded of our dignity as children of God. The Word of God reminds us of who we are. When others dismiss us, discount us, marginalize us, God says, “Wait a minute, you are mine! You are precious! I love you with an everlasting love and I am with you until the end of time!”
Every time we come here to the Church we are reminded that we are being sent. At the end of mass, we are not invited to sit around and pray – we are invited to go out into the world. We are to take what God has given us and we are to share this good news, this new life, with the world.
We don’t come here to celebrate how good we are. We come here because we know we need a change of heart. We come here because we know we can do better. We come here to let God help us – to be encouraged and supported.
Coming here Sunday after Sunday our lives are slowly changed. We become more and more like Jesus Christ – the one who invites us, the one who claims us as his own, the one we listen to, the one who teaches us, the one who feeds us and the one who sends us.
The Word of God and the Body of Christ are powerful but they are not magic. When God feeds us, we need to do something with the food offered. We need to let people see that we are trying to become more and more like Christ. It takes effort and it takes commitment. Every day that we draw breath is an opportunity to become more and more like Christ.
This week I invite you to think about the following:
I am a disciple of Jesus. I have taken part in the Mass. I have spent an hour in prayer. What difference will this prayer make in my life? How will people know that Jesus changes me? This week, what will I do to help people know the God who loves them?
I want you to use your memory. I want you to recall the nicest meal you have ever eaten. Recall where you ate it? Who were you with? What made it special? What did you eat? How did you eat? Hold on to that memory and let us give thanks!
In our first reading today there is talk of a special meal. It has all the good stuff. Good food and rich wine, nice location, and everybody is there. Yup! Everyone is invited. Isaiah says, “All people!”
In preparation for the meal God is going to do a few things: He will wipe away the sadness that hovers over the land, he will destroy death itself. God will wipe away the tears that flow from our faces and then he will take away the shame and disgrace that robs us of our joy. In response the people will say, “This is what we have been waiting for.” This will make the meal different. We will definitely want to come and celebrate.
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells the story of another meal – it is a parable and cannot and must not be taken literally. It is different from the first meal story. A king is trying to get people to come to a banquet in honor of his son’s wedding and the folks who should come find reasons not to. Finally, he fills his table, but one of the people he has invited tries to sabotage the meal…he comes but he refuses to wear the wedding garment. He is present but unwilling to join in the celebration. He wants to do things his way. This is not about clothes – it is about refusing to join with the rest of the folks, to do what the rest of the folks are doing – it is doing things his way – apart from everyone else – refusing the generosity and spirit of the King’s meal.
St Paul is speaking to the Philippians about his life. He tells them he has been poor and he has been rich. Because of Christ he has learned to be content with a lot and he has learned to be content with a little. He reminds the Christians at Philippi that Christ will give them all that they need to deal with life if they enter into relationship with him. Christ will change their lives.
For the next few months, I want to talk about the way we prepare for the mass, how we celebrate it and how we let it shape our daily life. I hope that my reflections will do two things. On the one hand, I hope they help us to give more generously of ourselves to the celebration of the mass and I hope they help us to let go of things/habits and practices that get in the way of our full, active and conscious, participation in this most sacred event.
A couple of things stand out in sacred scripture today – God’s invitation to all people to come to the mountain and share in the banquet. We hear it in the first reading and we hear it from the mouth of Jesus. St. Paul suggests that a relationship with Jesus will change how we engage life – whether we are rich or poor, our lives are changed when we enter into a relationship with Jesus.
What is key is this, God calls each of us by name. Each of us and all of us. So often we see each other as strangers or enemies. We try to control what others think and how they behave. We look at one another with the attitude that if you were as smart as me the world would be a better place.
The God most of us know is watching us, waiting for us to fail, ready to punish us. The God most people talk about is cranky and small minded, waiting for us to make a mistake. The God of Jesus looks at us, and loves us as we are! Not as we should be. As we are – today! While we were sinners he was willing to die for us.
God calls us! Every person who walks this earth is invited to the banquet of God – to the Lord’s table. The desire of God is that our tears, our disgrace our shame, our dying is wiped away. The desire of our God is that we come to the table that God has prepared, ready and willing to celebrate. Not reluctantly or grudgingly but freely and with the desire to be with others.
If we are honest – every person in this building is a sinner – starting with me. We are not here because we are better than anyone else – we are here because God has called us. We are looking for freedom, for forgiveness, and for belonging. We want a God who will liberate us. We want to see ourselves as God sees us. At the same time, we are frightened. We are afraid of what we are and we are afraid of what we are not. We know how many times we fail and it is hard to believe that anyone, including God, can love us just as we are. It is hard to believe that God can love some of the people we know, some of the people who make up this world.
We are here at mass (physically or virtually) because God has called us. We might be here because we can hear the words of our parents or grandparents saying – you have to go to mass. We might be here because someone has said, “Get in the car, you are going to Church!” We might be here because that is just what people in our family do – they go to mass. We might be here because deep in the depths of our being we have heard the voice of God calling our name.
When we scrape away all the reasons for being here – some easy and delightful, some painful and worrisome – we are here because God has called us here. God wants us to taste his promise, his love. God wants to wipe away the sadness that covers our world, he wants to destroy death, wipe away our tears, our shame, our disgrace, our fears and our anxieties. God loves us and wants us at his banquet.
So, come Saturday or Sunday someone is inviting you to take part in mass – set aside their reasons. I invite you to hear in their invitation, the voice of God saying to you, I love you. Get in touch with the promise of God who wants to heal you, feed you and nourish you so that you can see that your wonderful and painful life has value. Hear God telling you that you matter to him and to the world.
Coming to mass is not just about you however, it is about all of us – God’s people. When we gather for mass we do what the community does. I stand when the community stands, sit when the community sits, kneel when the community kneels. I am silent when the community is silent, I sing when the community sings and I pray the prayers the community prays. Liturgy is the public prayer/the public work of the people; all sacraments are public prayer and they invite us to prepare in a special way.
Our liturgical celebrations are not about what I want – they are about us as a community. They are about welcome and hospitality. They are about reaching out and sharing what I have with others. They are about listening and learning. They are about being fed from the two tables, the table of the Word of God AND the table of the Eucharist. They are about leaving here with a desire to make the world a better place for all people and not just the rich, the powerful, and those who are like me. When I leave this place, God is asking me to move beyond my – SELF so that the other is lifted up, transformed. I don’t come to mass for me, for what I want or need. I come to mass as I am (wonderful, gifted, limited and broken). I come for God and the People of God.
As we continue our prayer today let us lift our gaze from me and mine to the God who loves us and who calls us here. We are the folks standing at the crossroads – we are the ones who are being invited in to the banquet. We are the ones who have been asked to put on the wedding garment. Can I let go of me, so that I can put on the wedding garment? The garment that signals I care about the common good above my own wants and needs. The garment that signals my desire to care for the earth above my desire for profit. The garment that signals my desire to care for all people regardless of their race, language or way of life.
Fr. Doug Jeffrey, OMI