The Liturgy: Service & Action

Service & Participation in Divine Action

–Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience (September 26, 2012)

 

…After a long series of Catecheses on payer in Scripture, we can ask ourselves: how can I let myself be formed by the Holy Spirit and thereby become able to enter into the atmosphere of God, of prayer with Go. (Emphasis added.)  What is the school in which he teaches me  to pray, comes to help me in my attempts to speak to God correctly?  The first school of prayer…is the Word of God, Sacred Scripture.  Sacred Scripture is an ongoing dialogue between God and man, a progressive dialogue in which God shows himself ever closer, in which we can become ever better acquainted with his face, his voice, his being; and man leans to accept to know God and to talk to God (emphasis added). Therefore, in these weeks, in reading Sacred Scripture we have sought to learn from Scripture, from this ongoing dialogue, how we may enter into contact with God.

However, there is yet another precious “place,” another precious “source” for developing in prayer, a source of living water that is very closely related to the previous one.  I am referring to the liturgy, which is a privileged context in which God speaks to each one of us, here and now, and awaits our answer.

What is the liturgy?  If we open the Catechism of the Catholic Church—ever an invaluable and, I would say, indispensable aid—we can read that the word “liturgy” originally meant: a “service in the name of/on behalf of the people” (n. 1069).  If Christian theology made use of this word of the Greek world, it obviously did so thinking of the new People of God born from Christ who opened his arms on the Cross to unite human beings in the peace of the one God.  A “service on behalf of the people,” a people which did not exist on its own, but was formed through the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ.  Indeed, the People of God does not exist through ties of kinship, place or country. Rather it is always born from the action of the Son of God and from the communion with the Father that he obtains for us (emphasis added)

The Catechism also indicates that “in Christian tradition (the word ‘liturgy’) means the participation of the People of God ‘”in the work of God’” (n. 1069), because the People of God as such exists only through God’s action.

The second development of the Second Vatican Council reminds us of this.  It began its work 50 years ago with the discussion of the draft on the Sacred Liturgy, which was then solemnly promulgated on December 4, 1963, the first text that the Council approved.  That the Document on the Liturgy was the first document to be promulgated by the conciliar assembly was considered by some to have happened by chance.

Among the many projects, the text on the Sacred Liturgy seems to have been the least controversial.  For this very reason it could serve as a sort of exercise in learning conciliar methodology.  However, there is no doubt that what at first sight might seem a coincidence, also turned out to be the best decision, on the basis of the hierarchy of the subjects and of the most important duties of the Church.  In fact, by starting with the theme of the “liturgy’, the Council shed very clear light on the primacy of God and his indisputable priority.  God in the first  place: this itself explains to us the Council’s decision to start with the liturgy.  Wherever the gaze on God is not conclusive, everything else loses its orientation.  The fundamental criterion for the liturgy is its orientation to God, enabling us to take part in his action itself (emphasis added).

However, we might ask ourselves: what is this work of God in which we are called to take part?  The answer that the Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy gives us is apparently twofold.  In n. 5, it points out, in fact, that the works of God are his actions in history which bring us salvation and which culminated in the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ; but in n. 7, the same Constitution defines the celebration of the liturgy as an “action of Christ”.  In fact these two meanings are inseparably linked.  If we ask ourselves who saves the world and man, the only answer is: Jesus of Nazareth, Lord and Christ, the Crucified and Risen One.  And where does the Mystery of the death and Resurrection of Christ that brings salvation become real for us, for me, today?  The answer is: in Christ’s action through the Church, in the liturgy, and especially, in the sacrament of the Eucharist, which makes present the  sacrificial offering of the Son of God who has redeemed us; in the sacrament of Reconciliation, in which one moves from the death of sin to new life; and in the other sacramental acts that sanctify us (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 5).  Thus the Paschal Mystery of the death and Resurrection of Christ is the center of the liturgical theology of the Council (emphasis added).

Let us take another step forward and ask ourselves: how does the enactment of Christ’s Paschal Mystery become possible (emphasis added)?  Twenty-five years after the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium Blessed Pope John Paul II, wrote: “In order to reenact his Paschal Mystery, Christ is ever present in his Church, especially in liturgical celebrations.  Hence the Liturgy is the privileged place for the encounter of Christians with god and the One whom he has sent, Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 17:3)” (Vicesimum quintus annus, n. 7).  Along the same lines we read in the Catechism: “sacramental celebration is a meeting of God’s children with their Father, in Christ and the Holy Spirit; this meeting takes the form of a dialogue, through actions and words” (n. 1153), (emphasis added).  Therefore the first requirement for a good liturgical celebration is that there should be prayer and a conversation with God, first of all listening and consequently a response.  St. Benedict, speaking in his rule of prayer in the Psalms, pointed out to his monks: mens concordet voci, “the mind must be in accord with the voice”.  The Saint teaches that in the rayers of the Psalms words must precede our thought.  It does not usually happen like this because we have to think and then what we have thought is converted into words.  Here, instead, in the liturgy, the opposite is true, words come first.  God has given us the word and the sacred liturgy offers us words; we must enter into the words, into their meaning and receive them within us, we must attune ourselves to these words; in this way we become children of God, we become like God.  As Sacrosanctum Concilium recalls, “in order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds be attuned to their voices, and that they cooperate with heavenly grace lest they receive it vain” (n. 11)  A fundamental, primary element of the dialogue with God in the liturgy is the agreement between what we say with our lips and what we carry in our hearts.  By entering into the words of the great history of prayer, we ourselves are conformed to the spirit of the words and are enabled to speak to God.

In line with this I would just like to mention one of the moments during the liturgy itself; it calls us and helps us to find this harmonization, this conformation of ourselves ot what we hear, say and do in the celebration of the liturgy.  I am referring to the invitation that the celebrant expresses before the Eucharistic Prayer: “Sursum corda”, let us lift up our hearts above the confusion of our apprehensions, our desires, our narrowness, our distraction.  Our hearts, our innermost selves, must open in docility to the word of God and must be recollected in the Church’s prayer, to receive her guidance to God from the very words that we hear and say.  The eyes of the heart must be turned to the Lord, who is in our midst: this is a fundamental disposition.

Whenever we live out the liturgy with this basic approach, our heaerts are, as it were, removed from the force of gravity which has pulled them downwards and are inwardly uplifted, towards  the truth, towards love, towards God.  As the Catechism says: “in the sacramental liturgy of the Church, the mission of Christ and of this Holy Spirit proclaims, makes present, and communicates the mystery of salvation, which is continued in the heart that prays.  The spiritual writers sometimes compare the heart to an altar” (n. 2655), (emphasis added): altare Dei est cor nostrum.

            Dear Friends, we celebrate and live the liturgy well only if we remain in a prayerful attitude, and not if we want “to do something”, to make ourselves seen or to act, but if we direct our hearts to God and remain in a prayerful attitude, uniting ourselves with the Mystery of Christ and with his conversation as Son with the Father.  God himself teaches us to pray, St. Paul says (cf. Rom 8:26).  He himself gave us the appropriate words with which to address him, words that we find in the Psalter, in the great orations of the sacred liturgy and in the Eucharistic celebration itself.  Let us pray the Lord to be every day more aware of the fact that the liturgy is an action of God an of man; prayer that wells up form the Holy Spirit and from us, wholly directed to the Father, in union with the Son of God made man (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2564).  Many thanks.

Pope Benedict XVI

General Audience

Wednesday; September 26, 2012

 

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The Great Missionary Commission

 

World Mission Sunday; October 21, 2012

Is 60:1-6; Rom 10:9-18; Mt 28: 16-20

Deacon Jim McFadden; Divine Savior Catholic Church

 

         The great missionary commission is straightforward and all-encompassing.  The disciples, which means all of us who have been baptized and initiated into the Church, the Body of Christ, are to go out and make other disciples of all nations.

Who me?  Yes, you; yes, me!  We have received this commission from Jesus, who is God among us!  We are being sent simply because he has told us to do so.  It’s that simple.

Someone might say, “Isn’t ‘evangelization’ a Protestant thing?  Evangelization is way outside of my comfort zone.  Besides, I prefer my religion to be private—a way to get me into heaven.”  Notice how Jesus issued the command:  he didn’t say, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…if you’re comfortable doing that.  Or, do so if that is your preference.”  No, he simply said, “Do it!”

Brothers and sisters, it’s not the case that the Church has a mission it can choose among several options.  Rather, the Mission of Christ has a Church!  As the People of God  we have the same mission as Jesus because the Church and the Risen Christ are one and the same because we are the Body of Christ and Jesus is our head.

At our baptism we were anointed as priest, prophet, and king.  As our Catechism reminds us, “Lay people fulfill their prophetic mission by evangelization,” that is the proclamation of Christ by word and testimony of life (CCC, 905). 

         To whom do we evangelize?  EVERYONE!  We are to make disciples of all nations.   That means that all social and cultural boundaries are dissolved; ethnic and gender restrictions are lifted.  We are to bring the Good News to all nations because Jesus has the words of eternal life.  Our Lord is challenging us to share what we have received in extravagant abundance.

Where does one evangelize?  For lay people, because they are in the world, their evangelization has a certain property and efficacy because they bring the Good News to their ordinary experience.  They bring it to their familial relationships, to the workplace, and their social, political, and economic relationships.  They bring the Good News to whom God has brought into their life.

Within our Divine Savior parish, there are young people whose hearts are on fire with the Good News of Jesus.  They are falling in love with our Lord and they want to share with others what they have received.  Listen to their testimonials.

 

“The Two of Them Shall Become One Flesh”

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B); 10-7-12

Gn 2:18-24; Ps 128:1-6; Heb 2:9-11; Mk 10:2-16

Deacon Jim McFadden; Divine Savior Catholic Church

 

            Today, the Church gives us wonderful readings on marriage.  I think one of the most significant contributions of Vatican II was its theology and spirituality of marriage.  For too long the Church regarded marriage as a second-rate vocation reserved for those who couldn’t measure up to the spiritual calling of priests or consecrated religious.  Vatican II convinced us that this attitude is “No where” as Neil Young once intoned; it’s something to be discarded.

As Vatican II reinforced, all people, celibate or noncelibate, married  or ordained, are called to holiness by virtue of their baptismal promises  As such, marriage is every bit a vocation as the priesthood or religious life is.  During the course of this shared reflection, I’d like you to frame it with this conviction that marriage is a vocation, a calling from God.

Married people are meant to work out their salvation in each other’s presence. Each has the responsibility to mirror God’s love to the other and help the other to reach his/her own fullest being.  Each has the responsibility to hold the other’s well being equal to—and at times foremost to—one’s own.

            A sacramental marriage sees  itself as part of God’s plan.  The marriage is rooted in God.  You might say God is the third person in the marriage commitment.  Hence when conflicts arise, it is not him vs. her.  Whose ego will win out, but the couple seeks out the third

way, a solution both can live with rooted in God’s love

The Church brings our attention to marriage by going back to the very beginning: to that symbolically charged language in the Book of Genesis—the story of Adam and Eve.  God creates Adam, then says “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make a suitable partner for him” (GN 2:18).

Why is it not good for man to be alone?  The answer gets to the nature of God: though God is One, he is a community of three persons sharing one divine nature.    Life is shared equally among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: just as the Father and Son are co-eternal and equal, their shared love spirates the Holy Spirit who is equal to them. Human beings are made in God’s image and likeness and thus we are not meant to be alone; we are made to give and receive love.

When two people come together in this intimacy, in this deep friendship, they are mirroring the way God is.  So, in this Genesis account, we see from the very beginning a symbolic rendering of God’s way of being.  So, the first human being needed an equal to whom he could relate.  The Greek philosopher Aristotle referred to a friend as “a second self.”  He thought you couldn’t really be friends with someone who was your inferior, below your intellect or character; but, friendship could be shared with someone who is your equal who could function as your second self as a real friend.

Going back to Genesis none of the other creatures that God created was a suitable partner.  Why not?  Because they weren’t Adam’s equal.  He couldn’t relate to them on the same level intellectually, psychologically, or culturally.  Then we hear that from his rib, the first woman is made.  Don’t read this indicating Eve’s inferiority; as someone once countered: “God saved the best for last!”

Seriously though, coming from Adam’s rib is a sign of Eve’s radical equality with Adam.  When Adam sees her, he exults: “This one at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (v 23a).  Marriage is then this deepest, most enduring type of friendship, a relationship of equals.

We hear this next:  “That why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh” (v. 24).  Notice how vivid, dramatic, and even sensual that line is.  As we say today: it’s very sexy and it’s a beautiful way to express human sexuality.  There is in the Bible none of Plato’s disdain for the body, which is viewed as a trap or prison for the soul.  We also find in religious traditions throughout the world a suspicious attitude toward the body, which leads to a distain for sexuality.  That’s just not biblical because from the very beginning, God intended these two—a man and a woman—to come together in this great intimate friendship which expresses itself in physical love.

The person who really saw this was Pope John Paul II in his Theology of the Body, in which he says that sexuality does not draw us away from God, but that passionate love is the way that God embraces the world and the reason why sexuality is so central to marriage.

Here’s the theme that I think is the most important to garner from the Genesis account: Marriage is not a secular phenomenon; it’s not merely a social arrangement; rather, marriage has been brought about by God for God’s purposes; it has an essential place in God’s Grand Plan.  Now, marriage is found throughout the world and it does have social, political, and economic overtones.  But, the biblical perspective is that it’s more than that because it’s part of God’s plan. When two people are brought together, they do so for God’s purposes.  All of this is contained in that beautifully understated Genesis account.

With all these principles in mind, let’s turn to the Gospel, which has a similar theme.  The Pharisees we see are trying to trip Jesus by asking him about divorce, which was back then as it is today a very vexed question.   Moses had allowed divorce under certain circumstances.  But, even the Pharisees thought that there was something off about this.   Jesus, in answering them, articulates his very strong teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.  It seems that Jesus is appealing to the Genesis text that we considered.  Then he draws his famous conclusion: “Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate”  (Mk 10:9).

This assertion makes no sense within a purely secular context. If two human beings fall in love, enjoy each other’s company, have children together, we can imagine them falling out of love, no longer enjoying each other’s company, and deciding to separate.

However, and this is the hinge, if we place marriage within the context of a vocation from God, then everything changes.  If we, indeed, hold that it is God who has brought a couple together, not just for their benefit, but to express symbolically who he is, to accomplish God’s purposes together, then we can’t imagine that couple not being together.

This is why the Church, when it nullifies a marriage, is saying that a sacramental marriage never existed.  An annulment is not what some would cynically call “Catholic divorce,” but a recognition that a particular couple was not brought together by God’s designs.  The Church is simply acknowledging that fact when she says that this marriage is annulled.

And one more thing regarding the controversial topic of the indissolubility of marriage.  Too often this law is seen as an external imposition—an authoritarian Church interfering with our freedom.  But, remember what the great spiritual writer G.K. Chesterton once that when two people romantically fall in love, they say extravagant things:  “I will love you forever…I will forsake all others in order to have you…You’re the center of my life.”  One can imagine two young people falling love and saying these aspirations.  What they don’t say is “Yeah, I’ll hang out with you until somebody better comes around.”  Chesterton then said that the Church is not imposing a law upon people; it’s simply ratifying this instinct.  The Church is applauding this affirmation and recognizing that it comes from God and then raises it to a higher pitch—supernaturalizing it as a sacrament and calling the couple to love each other unconditionally.  The Church is helping the couple recognize that the deep love they have for each other, which they are willing to pledge to one another romantically, is actually an ingredient in a much higher love and exists for a much greater purpose which only intensifies their sense of the indissolubility of their love.  I think this where the indissolubility of marriage comes from—the very heart of the Church.

Brothers and sisters, spend some time with these readings; reflect upon them and exult in the fact that marriage is a great call to holiness.  Marriage is a reality deeply blessed by God and reflects the way God is.