Immersed in Christ: February 4, 2021
Thursday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Hebrews 12:18-24; Psalm 48; Mark 6:7-13.
“God, in your temple we ponder your love.”
When we are at Mass, where are we? What do we see that tells us?
Hebrews says what we have come to is not like God’s meeting with Moses to give the Ten Commandments, when there was “thunder and lightning... a thick cloud on the mountain, and a blast of a trumpet so loud that all the people who were in the camp trembled.” They said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.”
What we have come to is “nothing known to the senses.” At Mass we don’t see anything extraordinary, but the truth is, we “have drawn near to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven.” We are “behind the veil” with Jesus our High Priest. In him we have entered into the presence of God in a way that entrance into the “sanctuary” and “Holy of Holies” only faintly symbolized. 1
Does what we do see tell us this?
It should. We see the altar, “where the sacrifice of the cross is made present.” This tells us we have come “to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” We see the lectern “from which the word of God is proclaimed,” where “the Father who is in heaven meets his children with great love and speaks with them.”2
But during the “dark ages of the liturgy” this was obscured. The laity were told they were unworthy to “draw near.” Only priests belonged in the “sanctuary,” which was strictly forbidden to women. In the tenth century the Mass was seen as:
•a liturgy of sacrifice and supplication (rather than communion and thanksgiving);
•something performed by a single priest...;
•something done ‘for,’ not ‘with’ the people;
•spoken in Latin, not any living language;
•whispered silently, not proclaimed aloud.
These changes were reflected in architecture.... The notion that the priest ‘led’ the people to God meant that altars were placed against the rear wall. This allowed people to stand ‘behind’ their leader, rather than ‘around’ the altar for a sacrifice which they ‘all’ offered. The people now watched, and from an increasing distance, separated... by ornate sanctuary screens, and then by communion rails....
The liturgy, which had once been a communal prayer, was now a clerical ritual, isolated by distance and language. Instead of casting light on the Christian mysteries, the liturgy itself had now become a mystery.3
Today there is a “backlash” tendency to reject Vatican II’s restored vision of the Church (and therefore of Mass) by giving the impression that those who are “priests in the Priest” by Baptism, but not “elders” (presbyters) by Holy Orders have an inferior status at Mass (and therefore in the Church). This is a clear denial of the message of Hebrews. There is a clear distinction of roles and ministries in the Church and liturgy, but they are all ministries of Christ himself, whose body we equally are, and in whom we all have equal access to God. 4
Meditation: 1. What do I see at Mass? 2. What does it say to me?
1 See Exodus 19:12-24,20:19. This explains the old lectionary mistranslation, “untouchable mountain.” See also Thursday, Week Three: Hebrews 10:19-25.
2 General Instruction on the Roman Missal, 1985, no. 259, 272; Vatican II, “Liturgy,” no. 33; “Revelation,” no. 21.
3 See Priesthood: A Re-examination of the Roman Catholic Theology of the Presbyterate by Patrick Dunn, now Bishop of Auckland, New Zealand, p. 84. 4 Corinthians, chapters 12-13.