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)
Fr. Doug Jeffrey, OMI