Immersed in Christ: August 9, 2020
Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)
“Lord, be true to your covenant”
If you were a Jew, would you find it exciting just to know that you belong to a People who have a Covenant with God? As a Christian, are you aware that you belong to a covenanted People? How does this affect your life?
In the Entrance Antiphon we ask God, “Be true to your Covenant.” All the Old Testament readings this week are going to deal with the mystery and history of God’s Covenant with his People. And we will see how the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass “remembers” and celebrates his “new and eternal Covenant” with us.
The Opening Prayer begins by “naming” God, identifying him, not only as “almighty and ever-living,” but also as our “Father.” The Eucharistic Prayer also begins this way: giving thanks for God’s great deeds in the Preface that culminates in the acclamation, “Holy, holy, holy....” and continuing, “Father, you are holy indeed, the fountain of all holiness.... and all creation rightly gives you praise.”
We continue in the Opening Prayer, “Increase your Spirit within us.” In the double “epiclesis” — the “calling down” of the Spirit right before and after the “Consecration” (the “words of institution” from the Last Supper) 1 that is the center of the Eucharistic Prayer — we will ask God to send his Spirit, first “upon these gifts” of bread and wine, “that they may become the Body and Blood of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.” Then, after the words of institution, we ask the Spirit to “come down” again, but this time on the Church, that we may be “brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit.” The key to understanding the Eucharistic Prayer is in the word union: union with Christ in his self-offering; union with all the members of the Church in the “communion in the Holy Spirit” that is the fruit of that offering. We will see this more fully in the days ahead.
In the Responsorial (Psalm 85) we ask that through this celebration of Eucharist we might understand, appreciate, and live by the mystery we are remembering: “Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.”
Mystery of the holy
1Kings 19: 9-13 gives a foundation for the “naming” or identification of God that is the first element of the Eucharistic Prayer — which typically begins, “Lord, (or “Father”) you are holy indeed” (E.P. II, III). In this cardinal passage for understanding the experience of God, Elijah recognizes that nothing created can really be an adequate expression of his presence. The “Lord” is not in the whirlwind, the earthquake or the fire. But after them all Elijah heard “a tiny whispering sound.” A better translation is probably “a sound of sheer silence.” When Elijah “heard this he hid his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.” Then God spoke to him.
With the Eucharistic Prayer we enter into the deep mystery of the Mass. We are no longer just a group of people assembled in a church building, in our own time and space. We are the Church itself, the real presence of Christ, present to and making present in time but timelessly, the once-and-for-all but eternally enduring event of the redemption of the world.
Essentially, the Church is the historically continuing presence in the world of the incarnate Word of God.... Therefore the Church is most tangibly and intensively an “event” where (through the words of consecration/institution) Christ himself is present in his own congregation as the crucified Lord and resurrected Savior, the fount of salvation, where the Redemption makes itself felt in the congregation by becoming sacramentally visible. Where the “New and Eternal Covenant which he founded on the cross is most palpably and actually present in the holy remembrance of its first institution.
Therefore the celebration of the Eucharist is the most intensive event of the Church. For by this celebration Christ is not only present in the Church’s liturgical solemnity as the Redeemer of his body, as the salvation and Lord of the Church, but in the Eucharist the union of the faithful with Christ and with one another is also most tangibly realized. Inasmuch as the celebration of the Eucharist is the sacramental anticipation of the heavenly marriage banquet, the final, eternal form of the community of saints shines forth even now in this solemnity, just as the source of the Church, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, is present in it. 2
We should enter into the Eucharistic Prayer as Elijah entered into the presence of God when he “hid his face in his cloak and stood at the entrance of the cave.” We should be overawed as we identify God as “holy indeed,” beyond all holiness that can be portrayed, imaged, described or intellectually comprehended. This is the background of everything we celebrate in the Eucharistic Prayer.
Jesus is holy
After the preview of Eucharist in the “multiplication of loaves,” Matthew 14:22-33 presents Jesus again as someone beyond human understanding. The disciples may not recognize him clearly yet as God, but they see him as certainly and mysteriously more than an ordinary human. Their profession of faith, “Truly you are the Son of God,” in itself probably meant nothing more than “You are the Messiah.” But in the context it was a preview of the resurrection. It reflected people’s recognition and non-recognition of the Jesus when he appeared to them after the resurrection. The disciples thought he was a “ghost.”
The point for us is that Jesus is not just human but God, and he was not taken away from us at death, but is still with us — no matter how much the Church or any individual in it seems to be “sinking.” He is not bound by human laws of time and space. He is God. We affirm this at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer: ‘Lord, you are holy indeed....”
Romans 9:1-15 reveals the loving holiness of God as made visible in his dealings with the Israelites:
To them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises... the patriarchs, and from them... comes the Messiah. Blessed forever be God, who is over all. Amen.
This is the way the opening words of Eucharistic Prayer IV “name” the holiness of God: “Father, we acknowledge your greatness. All your actions show your wisdom and love.” Eucharist is a remembering. When Jesus said at the Last Supper, Do this in remembrance of me,” it was in the context of recalling the Covenant and all the “great deeds” it included: “This is the blood of the Covenant. This cup is the New Covenant in my blood.” 3
In the Eucharistic Prayer, what we remember above all is the greatest deed of God, the one that “showed his wisdom and love” more than all others: the death and rising of Jesus that brought humanity into the new and final union with God that constitutes the New Covenant. This is the union of sharing in God’s own life, becoming the body of Christ himself by Baptism, being one body with all other humans who share in the gift of God’s divine life.
This union was brought about in the only way it could be: by our dying with and in Christ, so that our sins would be, not just “forgiven” but “taken away” in the annihilation of death. Jesus had to be offered and die as the “Lamb of God” for this to be made possible. It became actual for each one of us when, in Baptism,” we “presented our bodies as a living sacrifice to God” to be Christ’s body; to die as his sinful body on the cross and rise as his purified body to let him live in and through us again on earth. We went down into the waters as into a grave, and we rose out of them a “new creation,” having “become Christ” through the gift of incorporation into his body as sharers in his own divine life. 4
This means we ourselves are “holy.” The New Covenant is not just a “contract,” an agreement, or a set of mutual promises. It is the mystery of being made one in a way no mere agreement of minds and wills can unite persons. It is the mystery of being made one with God and with each other through sharing in one and the same life. And it is the Life of God. “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”
This is the mystery we celebrate in the Eucharistic Prayer. No wonder we begin, “Father, you are holy indeed... the fountain of all holiness... and all creation rightly gives you praise.”
What more do you see in the Eucharistic Prayer than you saw before?
Enter into the Eucharistic Prayer with awe, conscious of the holiness of God.
1 Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24 Luke 22:19-20; 1Corinthians 11:23-26. 2 Karl Rahner, S.J., The Episcopate and the Primacy, Herder (New York, 1962) or Quaestiones Disputatae 4. See in this last line the Eucharist as “source and summit” of the Christian life. The Rite of Communion in particular is an embodied anticipation of the “marriage banquet of the Lamb,” proclaimed in the lines quoted from Revelation 19:9. 3 Luke 22:20 says “new covenant.” Matthew 26:28 and Mark 14:24 include “new” in variant readings. The liturgy adds “and eternal” (in Latin) but this is not in the Gospel texts. 4 Romans 12:1; 2Corinthians 5:14-21; Galatians 6:15; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 795. View Today's Readings Here