Sunday, August 25, 2013
Some of us play an intellectual game at Mass of finding fault with the way the Mass is celebrated. We may be motivated to do this out of a false sense of piety born from a desire to have everything perfect. But the Mass is not a place for us to sit back like movie critics and to find fault; rather, it is a place to encounter Jesus Christ.
Some of those who encountered the Son of God during His earthly ministry complained about His lowly estate. When our Lord took on our human nature, as Saint Paul says, He “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7). Part of this lowering was being raised in Galilee. Galileans were considered uneducated and backward by the religious elite in Jerusalem. Recent Bible studies have revealed hints that Jesus was thought of in this way by some of His contemporaries.
We can see this in the Scriptures themselves, when our Lord’s Aramaic is not as perfect as the Jews living in Jerusalem would have spoken it. Examples of this are citied in the Lord’s use of “talitha kum” [tah-lee-tha koom] for “little girl get up”; the words He uses mistakenly mix the masculine with the feminine grammatically. It is also hinted at during His crucifixion when He cries out, “Eli, Eli, la’ma sabach-tha’ni?”[E-lie, E-lie, lah-mah sah bahk thah nee] We are told it means, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). But those residents of Jerusalem heard him say it and did not understand, and thought He was invoking Elijah.
This might scandalize some of us who expect that if God were to become human, He would be perfect in every way. But a reading of the Gospels shows us that God truly lowered Himself, from being born in a stable to having “nowhere to lay his head” during His life on earth.
If we are waiting for the perfect priest to say the perfect Mass for us, we will miss out on the great graces our Lord wishes to bring to us. The people who experienced Jesus walking on the face of the earth had their excuses. “Surely this man was of little consequence,” they would have said to themselves, “there was nothing special about him.” And so they missed the opportunity of an eternal lifetime – to meet the Son of God.
We, too, can miss Him when we play the same game. It might be the priest celebrant, the choir, the worship space, the people around us. But being a critical spectator of the Mass distracts us from the gifts God wishes to bestow upon us during the sacred act of the Mass.
Sunday, August 18, 2013
It is very possible that you may not know what “Mass” means. After all, you probably have always heard the Mass said in your own language. But “Mass” is derived from the way the Mass was ended in Latin.
“Mass” is an English rendering of the Latin term “missa.” In Latin the Mass ends with “ite messa est,” which translated into English means, “Go, it is sent,” the “it” being the Church.
Because of the familiarity of the ending, the celebration of our Lord’s Supper eventually became known simply as “Mass.” There were actually two dismissals in the celebration – one in which those who were not fully Catholic but wanted to be, known as Catechumens, were dismissed right after the homily, and the dismissal at the end, when all the fully initiated Catholics, the faithful, were dismissed. There were two “Masses,” namely the Mass of the Catechumens and the Mass of the Faithful.
The fact that we call this greatest of Christian prayers the “dismissal” points to the essence of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Our Lord calls us to Himself and through His saving act invites us to a unity with God the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus makes communion with God possible. But following Jesus does not stop with communion, for once He has united us to Himself, He then sends us forth with a mission – a dismissal.
“Go” is one of His final words to His disciples as He ascends into heaven in the Gospel of Matthew when he commissions them to make disciples of all the nations. So, the very way every Mass ends with “go” is at the heart of what we come to the Mass for – to be empowered by God and sent forth again.
Saint Peter spoke up for the apostles in John’s Gospel when Jesus asked his disciples whether they wanted to leave Him like those who couldn’t bear it when He said He would give them His flesh to eat. Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).
The “go” that is the very meaning of the word “Mass” receives its meaning from our communion with our Lord Jesus Christ during the Mass, where we come to know Him.
Sunday, August 11, 2013
The deacon says, “For our Holy Father and all the leaders of the Church, we pray to the Lord.” And all of us immediately know to respond by saying: “Lord, hear our prayer.” This form of prayer was new to Catholics after the Second Vatican Council, but now the response is almost automatic. The danger with automatic responses, of course, is that we tend to forget the deeper meaning of what we do and say.
The petitions that follow the Creed are called the Prayers of the Faithful or the General Intercessions. Each name tells us something important about this prayer.
It’s called the Prayer of the Faithful because this prayer is said by those who are baptized. As Christ prayed for the good of the people, so we are called to offer prayers and intercessions for the needs of all people today.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says that this prayer generally includes four main categories of intentions: “for the Church, for public authorities and the salvation of the whole world, for those burdened by any kind of difficulty and for the local community” (#70). There may be more than one petition in any of those categories, but these general areas remind us that the prayer is to be universal in scope. It seeks to address the needs of all people, near and far. Thus the prayer is also called the General Intercessions – because they are general in nature.
While they are general in scope, the petitions are also current and local. They address the needs of our world in our own time, and they reflect local needs as well as global ones. The rest of the prayers at Mass are prescribed in the official books – we are not free to rewrite or create them. In the Prayers of the Faithful, in contrast, we are expected to write our own – otherwise they could not reflect what is happening at this particular time in this particular place.
But what do we mean when we say “We pray to the Lord?” This statement requires us to remember that the Church teaches that we are the Body of Christ. When we ask Christ to care for the ill, or end war and poverty, we are also taking on the commission of doing so ourselves. We are not passive. We understand that faith is a verb and we are all called to action when we say, “Lord, hear our prayer.”
Sunday, August 4, 2013
Our church buildings sustained substantial damage in the perfect storms we had last week. Water found its way into the building through a 35-year-old cast iron pipe that failed as well as through cinderblock walls in the east corridor which were not sealed properly when installed in the early 1980's. Water is one of the most important and fascinating compounds in the universe, but much like it carved the Grand Canyon from solid rock, it erodes and decays even churches built in its path.
As destructive as water can be, all life depends upon water. We would die without it. Therefore, it is not surprising that God uses water to bring about His plan of salvation.
Ancient people made associations with water based on its physical properties. One property of water is that it can dissolve other substances, making it useful for cleansing. This idea can be seen in Jewish law, which includes numerous ritual washings.
It is also evident in the story of Noah's ark. Sin was so rife in Noah's time that God cleansed the earth from its inhabitants by means of a great flood. Only Noah, his family, and the animals with them survived. The story of Noah's ark is a sign of salvation and new life.
Moses led the Jews who had been enslaved in Egypt to freedom through the waters of the Red Sea and forty years later Joshua led them through the waters of the Jordan and into the promised land.
The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan reminds us that God's promise to Abraham's descendants had yet to be fulfilled. If we think like First Century people, we understand that water is a mysterious force. It can swallow up a person or a boat in seconds. Therefore, they saw baptism as a kind of death. So baptism represents both new life on the one hand and the mystery of the cross and communion with Jesus' death on the other.
Throughout our history, we have seen how God has involved himself in our affairs through the use of water: from His breathing upon the waters of Creation to our own baptism in Christ.
Water also plays a significant role in our own lives. When we walk into the sanctuary, we bless ourselves with water to remind us of our baptismal promises. We also see the damage it has done to our church building.
Father Tim encourages everyone to take a look at the damage and to keep an eye on our progress as we uncover the underlying causes of the problems and set them right – giving our church building new life. Please pray for each other and our efforts.