Immersed in Christ: May 31, 2020
PENTECOST SUNDAY (Year A)
“By the mystery of this water and wine…”
The (alternate) Entrance Antiphon proclaims: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts by his Spirit living in us. Alleluia!” 1 What does pouring” suggest to you? Water poured at Baptism? Wine and water poured together at Mass during the Presentation of Gifts? The Holy Spirit poured forth at Pentecost? 2
In the Opening Prayer we pray that the Spirit “sent on the Church” will “continue to work in the world through the hearts of all who believe.” The Responsorial (Psalm 104) asks, “Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.” God does this, first of all, through the witness we bear to the Good News by the power of our baptismal consecration as “prophets.”
In the Prayer over the Gifts we ask as disciples that “the Spirit you promised” will “lead us into all truth.” And more: “Reveal to us the full meaning of this sacrifice.” The Mass is a mystery. We understand it only by the light of the Holy Spirit. The Church calls Eucharist “the source and summit of the Christian life.” So in the measure we understand it, we understand the full mystery of the Good News.
We begin to express this mystery explicitly in the Presentation of Gifts, when we bring up bread and wine to be transformed into the body and blood of Christ. The presider lifts up the bread, then pours water and wine together into the chalice. This is a symbol of Christ’s divinity (the wine) joined to his humanity (the water) at the Incarnation, and of our humanity joined to his divinity by Baptism. As he does he prays: “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”
We already “share in the divinity of Christ” by Baptism. So the intent of the prayer is that we should share more, or “more completely” in Christ’s divinity. But is “divinity” something quantitative, that we can have more or less of?
We become divine by the “grace” (favor) of sharing in God’s divine life. God’s life as such cannot be increased or diminished. We can share in it “more” only by surrendering ourselves more completely — surrendering our humanity, our human lives, our bodies, minds and wills, our physical activity — to be guided, directed, enlightened and empowered by God’s divine life within us. Thinking more and more as God does by surrender to the gift of faith. Desiring more and more what God does by abandonment to the gift of hope. Loving more and more as God does by losing ourselves in union with him through the gift of his divine love. What we are really asking in the prayer is that we might be “poured out,” like the water and wine, to be “lost and found” in sharing Christ’s divinity, as he was “poured out” to be “lost and found” in sharing our humanity. As Jesus said, “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 3
In practical terms, the formula for this surrender — for “growing in grace” — is to let grace express itself in and through our physical words and actions. We “share more” in the divine life of Christ by letting his life become more visible in our actions. This is the definition of Christian witness, to which we are committed by our baptismal consecration as prophets. And so, when we pray, “By the mystery of [the mingling of] this water and wine, may we come to share [more completely] in the divinity of Christ,” we are really praying for continual conversion, for the grace to embody more and more visibly in our lifestyle the divine truth and values preached by Jesus and implanted in our hearts by Baptism. In this act we re-affirm our Baptism, and in particular our baptismal consecration as prophets.
The Presentation of Gifts is a symbolic “re-view” of our Baptism and “pre-view” of the Eucharistic Prayer. Baptism made real for us the mystery of our dying and rising in Christ. We went down into the water as into the grave, giving up our human lives in order to rise up out of the water a “new creation,” the risen body of Christ, living by his divine life. The Eucharistic Prayer makes present for us the same mystery. The bread and wine become the real presence of Christ offering himself on the cross, rising from the dead and returning in triumph and glory: three moments condensed into one in the timeless, eternal “now” of God’s experience and made present to us in the mystery of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is also the mystery of our presence “in him.” We were in the body that hung on the cross, because “for our sake God made Jesus to be sin” by incorporating us, with all of our sins, into his body on the cross, “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” In Baptism we “died in him,” were “buried with him,” “raised with him,” and “seated with him in the heavenly places.” And when Christ comes in glory at the end of time, he will appear in us, who together will “form that perfect man who is Christ come to full stature.” When the host is lifted up at Mass, we are in that host, in the Body that is made present. 4
In the Presentation of Gifts, we “present ourselves” for this, represented by the bread and wine, to be placed on the altar and offered with Christ. Although we sometimes call the Presentation of Gifts the “Offertory,” it is only a preliminary: the real offering is made during the Eucharistic Prayer.
Baptism itself is a preliminary gift of self, one completed by the sacrament of Confirmation. In Baptism we are entirely given. We “die” in Christ and “rise” in him as a “new creation,” sharing in the life of God. We “become Christ” as full members of the Church, his body on earth. Still, it is clear in the Acts of the Apostles that the Church considers Baptism incomplete without the “Gift of the Spirit,” just as the Church was “incomplete” until Pentecost. Jesus “gave birth” to the Church on the cross. In his dying and rising redemption was accomplished. But the Church was not formed or mature enough to be “sent” until the Spirit came.
In this Gift the divine life of Baptism becomes visible in our actions. And it is associated with being “sent” as witnesses of the Good News. That is what a “witness” is: someone whose visible behavior or style of life raises “irresistible questions” that cannot be answered without the proclamation of the Gospel. That is what it means to be a prophet. 5
In Acts, if the Gift of the Spirit was not made manifest at Baptism, it was given later through the “laying on of hands” by an Apostle. We associate this today with the sacrament of Confirmation, in which a bishop, as head of the local church and inheritor of the mission of the Twelve, “confirms” or certifies, that the Church recognizes one’s Baptism as “complete,” and makes it complete by the “laying on of hands.” We were already “saved” as graced members of Christ and of the Church, but now we are officially accepted. And urged to be mature.
Grace is life. It grows gradually, and reaches maturity in mission, just as human life reaches maturity when society judges that one is sufficiently developed to take on adult responsibilities and go to work! This was Paul’s point when he urged the Corinthians to “grow up” by making it their focus to “build up the Church.”6
The first act of “building up the Church” is to bear witness to the Good News by letting grace, the life of the risen Jesus within us, become visible in our actions. That is witness. For that the Spirit is given. That is what it means to be a “prophet.” And to this is we commit ourselves anew in the Presentation of Gifts.
E pluribus unum
Acts 2: 1-11 tells us that for the Jewish feast of Pentecost—one of the three major festivals: Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, that called for a pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem: 7 — “they were all in one place together.” Presumably, this means all the “believers” who Acts 1:15 says “numbered about one hundred twenty persons.” When the Spirit came, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”
At the Tower of Babel pride led to conflicts, violence and eventual dispersion—which in time led to different languages and inability to communicate. In our day every peer group speaks the special “language of its culture,” which both teaches and distorts truth, restricting our ability to understand other people and God himself. God’s answer to all this is to pour out his Spirit on the “prophets.” These are all the believers who accept their baptismal consecration as prophets and stand up in the power of the “Gift of the Spirit” to challenge the assumptions of their culture, including unexamined teachings and practices of “cultural Catholicism” that the Second Vatican Council “urges all concerned to remove or correct” in the measure that they are abusive, excessive or defective. 8
The Presentation of Gifts encourages us to trust that, as the bread and wine we bring forward will be transformed into the divine Body and Blood of Christ, we who, like bread, are “fruit of the earth and the work of human hands” can also be transformed and empowered to speak the “language of the Spirit” that reunites the dispersed and divided members of the human race. This is the promise of Eucharist: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”9
Losing ourselves to be found as one
1Corinthians 12: 3-7, 12-13 reminds us that the Spirit unifies:
There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, varieties of services, but the same Lord, varieties of activities, but the same God who activates all of them in everyone.
The Spirit is given to individuals for the good of the whole community: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” And so in the Presentation of Gifts we are brought forward as separate hosts, but pledged to be one bread, one Body in Christ.
Through locked doors
Prophets can polarize. Those who march by a different drummer can throw those in line out of step. So it is significant that John 20:19-23 tells us Jesus came through “locked doors.” Those who fear the challenge of truth and freedom will divide into clinging groups of partisans — hiding behind locked doors, employing both offensive and defensive tactics for the preservation of their inertia. Jesus sent his Spirit into the Church for deliverance from sin and fear: “Peace.... As the Father has sent me, so I send you.... Whose sins you forgive are forgiven.” The prophets say, as Jesus did, “Peace be with you.” But there is no true peace, or unity, except in truth and freedom. If the prophets break through locked doors, it is to deliver. “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.”
What does the Presentation of Gifts express for you now?
During the Presentation of Gifts recommit to your Baptism and specifically to your baptismal consecration as prophet.
1 See Romans 5:5, 8:11. 2 Poured out as a seal of covenant: Exodus 24:6-8; Leviticus 4:30; Matthew 26:7, 28; Luke 22:20. Poured out as self-emptying or offering: Isaiah 53:12; Philippians 2:7, 17. Poured forth or in as gift: Isaiah 44:3; Ezekiel 39:29; Zechariah 12:10; Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17, 33; 10:45; Romans 5:5; Titus 3:6. 3 See Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 10:39; 16:35. 4 1Corinthians 15:18; 2Corinthians 5:21; Romans 6:8; Ephesians 1:10, 2:6, 4:7-16; Colossians 2:12, 3:1. 5 Luke 24:48-49; Acts 1:8; 2:8; 8:14-17; 10:44-47; 19:2-6; Pope Paul VI, Evangelization in the Modern World, nos. 21, 42; The Rites of the Catholic Church, “Confirmation Within Mass.” Homily, no. 22; The Laying on of Hands, nos. 24-25. 6 1Corinthnians, chapters 12-14. 7 See Jerome Biblical Commentary, 1968, on Exodus 23:14-17 and J. McKenzie, S.J., Dictionary of the Bible: Pentecost was the “day of first fruits” of the grain harvest and became “the anniversary of the giving of the law to Moses”; hence a “renewal of the covenant.” For us it is the day of first fruits of the New Covenant, the “birthday of the universal Church." 8 See Vatican II: The Church, nos. 48, 51. 9 1Corinthians 10:17.