Last week I commented on the importance of God’s Word – how, when we listen to it, question it, and let it question our lives, we are led to new life. I invited us to listen and to invest in the Word of God which is a gift given to us by God. We can invest in the Word or we can let it wash over us like the thousands of other words we hear every day. If we invest in it, as the Bishops at Vatican II urge us to do the Word becomes a source of power, strength, support, energy, a source of faith, food for the soul and a wellspring for our spiritual life – our relationship with God. If we choose not to invest in it we lose out.
Today, through the prophet Ezekiel, God tells his people, that in the same way that a shepherd cares for his sheep providing for them, looking for the lost, rescuing those in danger, giving them a place of rest, healing the injured and strengthening the weak, so God will treat his people. God also reminds the people of Israel that he will judge between the weak and the strong, those who are fat and well cared for and those who are in need. In fact, God says he will ‘destroy those who are fat and strong.’ Disturbing words for the rich and the powerful people of Israel to hear.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus paints a picture of Judgment Day. We know the story well. All the people are gathered and they are separated – sheep on the right, goats on the left. The sheep are invited into the kingdom of God. The king will say to them, I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, sick and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me. We are told the King is questioned, “when did this happen?” The gospel tells us the King says, ‘when you did this to the least of your brothers and sisters, you did it to me!’
When the righteous question him, he confronts them with their unwillingness to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, or visit the prisoners. He tells them, you are destined for eternal punishment.
In his letter to the Corinthians Paul spells out the story of Jesus: he has been raised from the dead and with him all those who belong to him. When the end comes Christ will hand over all things to the Father. All will know that God is everything to all people.
I have talked already about preparing for mass, the entrance rites, the Word of God, and the Preparation and Offering of the gifts. I want to say a word or two about the Preface and the Eucharistic Prayer. After the Offertory prayer a dialogue begins between the priest and the people. The dialogue ends with the Holy, Holy, Holy, which is a joyous acclamation reminding us of the Holiness of God. There are 4 Eucharistic Prayers and special Eucharistic Prayers with themes for children and reconciliation. The Eucharistic Prayer is the Prayer of Christ. As a priest when I pray the Eucharistic Prayer I join Christ in praying that prayer to the Father. Private prayer, devotional prayer is directed to Christ…Liturgical prayer is in/with Christ and directed to the Father.
The Eucharistic Prayer is rooted in the tradition of Jewish Prayers of Blessing. They contain four elements.
1) Blessing or praising God;
2) Remembering and naming God’s saving deeds;
3) Petitions which asking for God`s favour or continued assistance;
4) An acclamation by all the people present
Today our Eucharistic Prayer begins with the Preface which welcomes us into the prayer of Jesus. In this dialogue, the presiding priest invites the people to lift up their hearts in praise and thanksgiving to God. A dialogue is a natural way to begin a conversation or prayer. When we meet people, we begin by asking the question, “How are you?” and the conversation unfolds from there.
In our liturgical prayer, the dialogue helps us to focus our attention on the purpose of our prayer. It reminds us that the Lord is with us, and in his presence, we lift our hearts to God, in order to give thanks and praise.
This is an important element in liturgical prayer, for although the prayer is vocalized by one person, the prayer is offered in the name of everyone present. Thus, at the beginning of the prayer, the presiding priest invites all to join in the prayer articulated by him, with our minds and hearts uplifted.
From the invitation to bless or thank God, the Preface then verbalizes our praise and thanks to God. In the opening part of the prayer we acknowledge that: “It is right and just, our duty and salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God….”
According to the Season or Feast, the Preface then lists the reasons for our thanks to God, citing the great things which were accomplished through Christ. Today as we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King we are giving thanks for all that Christ has done – his offering of self on the altar, for bringing us peace, for the gift of redemption, and the preparation of the Universal and Eternal Kingdom of truth, life, holiness, grace, love, justice and peace.
The word 'Preface' may suggest that it is only a foreword or preliminary to the Eucharistic Prayer. However, the word, Preface, means proclamation. It is the proclamation of the Thanksgiving to God. The sentiment of praising of God is picked up by all the people in the acclamation that follows the Preface, the Holy, Holy, or the “Sanctus” which is the Latin reference.
Everyone joins in the singing of the “Holy, holy…” This acclamation, drawn from the Book of Isaiah, the Psalms and the Gospels, voices the praise of God by everyone gathered in the Church.
After the Preface and the “Holy, holy, holy” we pray the main body of the Eucharistic Prayer. God is again praised as the Holy One, and this leads directly to the epiclesis, the invoking of the power of the Holy Spirit to effect the transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. The Consecration follows immediately with the proclamation of the words of Christ in the account of the Last Supper, called the Institution Narrative.
In Canada and in our diocese, it is our custom to kneel from the end of the Holy, Holy, Holy, to the Institution of the Eucharist. Different countries and different dioceses do different things. If you are visiting a parish it is good to observe and do what the people do even if your personal practice in your home diocese. This is where the expression, “When in Rome do as the Romans do” is helpful. After all we are one body and so we act together.
As this week unfolds let us remember that God is our shepherd. Let us imitate God in all that we do, giving food and drink to those who are in need, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked and caring for the sick and those who are imprisoned. What we do to the least of our sisters and brothers we do to Christ. To the praise and thanks giving we offer our God when we come to mass let us add our daily care for our sisters and brothers. To the care we give our sisters and brothers we add our thanksgiving and praise here at the Mass.
Note: Information on the Liturgy is taken from the CCCB document on Liturgy (see CCCB website) "How Do We Pray" (2011)
This Sunday we read from the Book of Proverbs which is really a collection of sayings put together around various themes. At first glance it would seem that the author is focused on what a good wife is like – how she lives, her relationship with her husband and the work that she does. And that is ok…but the text is really about what a faithful believer is all about – how they live, the way they nurture relationships and the way they care about others.
The author concludes by saying that all of the things we do must be seen in the context of our relationship with God – Fear of the Lord is the crowning jewel of a good wife. In other words, the reader must recognize that our relationship with God is more important than anything else. A woman may be skilled, courageous, generous, wise and kind but she, like all of us, must recognize that God is Lord of all.
I read the shorter version of the Gospel today. In it we get a clear indication from Jesus of how important it is to try. The servants who take what the master has given and try to do something with it are rewarded. God gives us gifts and they are to be used!
In our second reading, we listen as Paul encourages the Thessalonians to remember who they are and what they have been taught. Many of these early Christians were anxious because Jesus had not returned as they had expected him to. They were worried about what was going to happen and Paul comforts them, encourages them and challenges them to have faith. Whenever Christ comes they need to be ready and they can be, because they are children of the light. They have everything they need to be ready – they need not be anxious.
Last week in my homily I talked about the opening rites of the mass and how we are preparing ourselves to hear the Word and receive the Body and Blood of Jesus. I closed my homily with the invitation to listen to the Holy Spirit and to be prepared to hear God not in the loud noises of life but in the quiet whispers that tease us in the middle of our work.
I want to continue to reflect on the mass with you. After the Opening Prayer which always helps us to be still and focus, we listen to the readings. The readings reveal to us the mind and heart of God, how God sees us, who we are, they give us light and they mark out pathways that will enable us to live life fully.
In the Vatican II documents the bishops dedicate one document to Sacred Scripture. It is entitled “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation” or for those of you who like Latin “Dei Verbum” which means “Word of God”. The bishops suggest that we listen to the Word of God “so that by hearing the message of salvation the whole world may believe, by believing it may hope, and by hoping it may love.” Paragraph 1
As we read the document we are told that when we read Sacred Scripture, God is revealed – God is speaking to us. My Scripture professor said to us, “When you proclaim Sacred Scripture on Sunday you are speaking for God and when you listen you are listening to God.” The point he was trying to make is that the scripture which is proclaimed is in fact God speaking to us. As the Bishops say, “For in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her children, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life.” Paragraph 21
Outside of the Easter Season the first reading is always from the Hebrew Testament or the Old Testament. Throughout the Church year we listen to various psalms. The second reading is always taken from the New Testament or the Greek Testament. The gospel readings are taken from one of the four gospels.
We often hear Catholics do not read the bible – we don’t read scripture. On Sundays we have a three-year cycle and during the course of the cycle we read the gospels and we read generous portions of the Old Testament and the New Testament letters. On weekdays we have a two-year cycle. Between the weekdays and the Sundays there is not a whole lot of the bible that we don’t read.
Our challenge is listening. We often don’t pay attention to the readings that we hear. The lector proclaims the scriptures and unless we are well prepared the readings go over our heads. Often times we cannot remember where the reading was from. We rely on the priest to tell us about the readings or to speak about something interesting. If he is interesting we pay attention – if we are distracted or if the priest is not interesting we shut down and wait for the final blessing.
As you know I like to ask questions; questions like – what did you hear? What did Jesus say or do? I like to engage people’s minds and hearts. When we take part in the Sunday mass we have a responsibility to read God’s Word – to let it touch our lives. When we listen to the Word we are changed, transformed; our life with God, our life in God is deepened. We may hear a scripture passage when we are 20 years old and it might draw forth from us a certain behavior. When I hear that same passage when I am 30, 50 or 70 it will ask something else of me. The Word of God meets us where we are at and at different moments we should hear it differently. We need to take the time to hear it and let it question our life.
In the gospel the master gave each servant a gift. Some of the servants invested their gifts and some did not. As Catholics we have been given the mass and whether we take part in the mass physically or virtually we are invited to invest ourselves. If we invest we get a return; no investment, no return.
The wife who nurtures her relationship with the Lord is considered a good wife. A Catholic who nurtures his or her relationship with the Lord is considered a good Catholic. How do I invest in God’s Word? By reading the Word of God I am reminded of who I am, I am reminded of God’s promises and I am reminded of how God sees me. This week what will I invest in?
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.
Today is the feast of All Saints. This great feast reminds us that we are called to holiness – not just some of us – but all of us! At the second Vatican Council, the Bishops write in paragraph 40 of Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, “Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity;(4*) by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history.”
In summary, this paragraph reminds us that we are called to be holy. We have been given gifts to advance our holiness and to help one another. Our cooperation with God has the power to transform the world. St. Eugene de Mazenod, the founder of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, said that our task is to help people, to become human, to become Christian and to become saints. Whatever role we play in life the call holiness is ours.
Our first reading today is taken from the Book of Revelation and it speaks of holiness. The author speaks of a vision/a dream he had, where he observes various things, hears various things and speaks with angels and elders. In his vision he hears conversations about the work of the angels and the number of people to be saved. He sees the people gathered around the throne of God and how they all act together in their posture and their words of praise. He hears of how they have suffered because of their love and service of God. This suffering in the service of their brothers and sisters has made a difference and it shapes who they are.
In the Gospel Matthew shares his version of the Beatitudes – 8 attitudes and behaviors that mark us as faithful disciples of Jesus. 8 attitudes that shape our relationship to God and to our brothers and sisters.
In the second reading John tells us about the love of God. He reminds us of how important it is to know Jesus. Without a relationship with Jesus our lives are empty and meaningless.
I am often asked, “Father why do we have to go to mass?” Depending on who asks the question I tell them, “You don’t have to!” Which usually causes a little shock!
We come to mass in response to an invite from God. An invite that is built into our bodies, our hearts, our spirits and our minds. It is there from the moment we are conceived because as you know we belong to God. God calls us to mass. We have the option of saying yes or no. We might ‘have to come’ because our parents say we have to, but as adults we come because Christ calls us here. Christ wants our response/our presence to be freely given.
How we prepare to respond to this invitation is important. Based on the scriptures today, I want to suggest a few things we can do to prepare for mass which will enable our response to bear fruit.
In many churches, before mass you will hear/see people praying the rosary or engaging in various devotions. In many churches the priest is hearing confessions. In fact, we should be focused on the mass, on what is about to take place. We should read and ponder the sacred texts we are about to hear. We ought to focus on God’s Word so that when it is proclaimed we hear it and because we have thought about it we let it shape our lives. We ask questions like, “what is God saying to me/us in this Word? What does God reveal about life? How am I/are we being invited to think about God, myself/ourselves, my/our brothers and sisters, the world in which I/we live? What do /weI need to change in my/our life?”
If we are able to – fast before mass. Let our body, our mind, our heart and spirit hunger for God. Let our body experience hunger/thirst as a sign of how empty we are without God and how much we long for God’s Kingdom.
God is revealed in people and in conversations – pay attention to those around us. Every time we come to mass we should try to encounter the people we are praying with/not just those we know. Several years ago, I was serving in a small parish and one of our members died. I was surprised by how few people came to the funeral. I asked some of the folks, why they did not come. They offered various responses, “I was too busy, not a family member, did not know her, don’t like funerals.” I said, “But she was in Church every Sunday.” They said, “Yeah, but I did not know her.” We need to meet and talk to the people we pray with. We need to know that we matter and we need to let others know that they matter. Can we love God and not care about the people standing next to us? Before we pray, we take time to meet the people who are around us.
When we arrive at the Church building we should prepare ourselves to change our attitude and our behavior. Today, Jesus sets out 8 attitudes and behaviors that mark us as disciples; we are called to praise God; we are called to know Jesus. As a disciple of Jesus what do I need to do so that my life is a little more like his.
When we do important things (meetings, rituals, jobs, work school), we prepare. Arriving on time for mass enables me to prepare for an encounter with God. For me, there are few things as important as an invitation from a God who longs to feed us with his Word, his Body and Blood and the presence of his brothers and sisters.
This week let us pause and examine how we prepare for mass. What needs to change so that I am ready to say yes when Jesus calls my name, now and at the Hour of Death?
Fr. Doug Jeffrey, OMI