February 3rd, Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Thanks be to God for the Lectionary. I have been a Catholic priest for approximately 57 years and if you allowed for a couple of weeks of vacation or times on Sundays when I was not preaching, I probably averaged Sunday sermons 40 times a year. That is roughly 2,200 times to stand in a pulpit and try to present the message of Jesus Christ to a congregation. That is a lot of preaching but it is really not difficult at all. The Church’s wonderful system of a liturgical year, rotating seasons on a three year cycle with three texts for every Mass, gives us more than ample material. On occasions over the years I have had clergy complain that they didn’t know what to preach about on a particular Sunday or at a particular place. To me that is a mystery.
Today is a perfect example. We have two marvelous concepts placed before us by the Church in its liturgy. The first is St. Paul’s magnificent letter from I Corinthians about the nature of love and that while all virtues are good, love surpasses them all.
The Gospel except is from that dramatic scene in the 4th chapter of Luke where Jesus says to the congregation in his hometown synagogue after reading an Isaiah text announcing the coming of the Messiah, “Today the scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” There you have it! The first statement by our Lord himself that he is the Messiah. Jesus’ listeners took him very seriously and so accused him of claiming to be divine and then attempted to kill him. Read those two texts together. Everything to be said about love in human relations and about the mystery of the incarnation that God so loved the human family that he came among us and assumed a human nature.
There is always plenty to think about, talk about and pray about when it comes to our faith!
Posts tagged: liturgy
February 3rd, Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Within the last few weeks, there has been a considerable amount of negative publicity about the Catholic Church, much of it justified. For that reason, I have decided to talk to my friends via the blog about a number of things that I find delightful and encouraging about life inside the Catholic Church. Today, I am going to talk about our liturgical unity across the planet.
Most of my priestly life has been spent in Texas but over the years, I have done a considerable amount of travel in Europe, South America and even a little bit in Africa. Wherever I went in those countries, I was completely at home when it came to celebrating or attending Mass. There is a wonderful unity in the celebration of Eucharist and it extends across the entire planet. This fact was even more true prior to 1965 when the Church relaxed its position that Mass should always be celebrated in the Latin language. After that year, the individual countries were able to use the language dominant to this or that country. It was a much appreciated change and it has been seen as a real gift over the last 50 years. While there will always be some Catholics who regret the loss of Latin, most of us would never want to go back to it.
Apart from the language issues, there is still, however, wonderful liturgical unity in the Church. The format, the signs, the symbols are uniform across the planet even if the language shifts from nation to nation. If you slide into a pew in Mexico City or Paris, you may not know the language but you are perfectly comfortable with what is going on. Many central city parishes that are used to having a vast flow of tourists passing through make available various translations of the services.
When you look at the Church as a totality, it is truly awesome. There are roughly one billion, two hundred million members living their faith in about 200 countries under extraordinarily different circumstances. Who knows how many languages are used by the people who form the Church. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that there is a strong bond of unity that is very real, very important and is at the center of Church life. That bond is the sacred liturgy. Whether we gather in small communities or great throngs, we gather about the altar to celebrate the fact that Jesus is still with us, we are one with him and through him we are one with each other.
The Feast of the Nativity (Christmas Day) is in many ways the happiest day in the Church year while the Feast of the Resurrection (Easter) is the most important day in our religious calendar. However, in my opinion, today, Holy Thursday in Holy Week, does not suffer by comparison with these two other great feasts.
On Holy Thursday, we celebrate the establishment of the ordained priesthood and, of course, we celebrate the center of our faith, the Eucharist, the gift by which Jesus gives us his continued presence as the supreme source of our spiritual life and growth. Holy Thursday is also one of the most interesting in our liturgies in which we participate. It begins with explosive joy with the Church being decked with flowers, candles, golden vestments – every material thing that an individual parish can produce in order to reflect beauty, joy and a desire to use the best that we have in our service of worshiping. The same liturgy will end with an extinguishing the candles, the removal of the flowers the elimination of music and the transfer of the church from an explosive place of joy into a very large tomb as we move into the next day, this sacred Friday, a day we rightly call Good, in which we concentrate on the fact that God loves us so much that he gave us his only begotten Son.
I would hope that you will be able to attend the services on either of these two days but if that is impossible, please make every effort at some serious thoughtfulness, deep and committed prayer and an openness to God’s Spirit, which in a special way envelopes us during these special days of Holy Week.