Immersed in Christ: October 11, 2020
THE TWENTY-EIGHTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR A
Being Faithful to Faith
What do you love most about the Church? How do you experience God’s action in the Church, especially in the way he blesses you?
The Responsorial (Psalm 23) sets the tone of today’s celebration: “I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” We are rejoicing in what God is doing and will succeed in doing through his Church.
The first and second readings both speak of God’s generosity in providing for his people. We don’t always recognize what God is doing for us, but the message is that God is inviting us to a wedding feast. The Rite of Communion proclaims: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb!” The Entrance Antiphon assures us that, though we may fail to respond, the bottom line is not what we are, but what God is: “But you are forgiving, God of Israel.”
More than forgiving. We proclaim Jesus the “Lamb of God” who “takes away the sins of the world.” Jesus does not just forgive; he annihilates our sin.
In the Opening Prayers we ask God to make his “love the foundation of our lives.” And we ask him: ”Send your Spirit to unite us…that we may rejoice in your presence.” Today’s celebration is inspired by the vision of peace, love and joy that God is bringing about in the world through his Church. We proclaim this in the Gloria, paraphrasing the angels’ song of praise: “Glory to God in high heaven; peace on earth to those on whom his favor rests.” And we pray in the Rite of Communion “Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles, ‘Peace I leave you, my peace I give you,’ look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will.” Unlike our misguided predecessors who killed and slaughtered during the Crusades under the mendacious banner “Deus vult”—“God wills it!”—we know what really is “in accordance with your will.” It is “peace and unity.” This inspires us to work with the Father, in Christ, by the power of the Spirit, to bring it about.
“On this mountain…”
Isaiah 25: 6-10 holds up before us the vision of the “wedding banquet,” which is the image Jesus used to describe the fruits of his victory and the fullness of his redemption in heaven: “a feast of rich food and choice wines” in which all evil is overcome. “He will destroy the veil that veils all peoples.” There will be no more blindness and distortion of truth; no more racial, religious or nationalistic division. All people will have forgiven each other any wrongs they have suffered at the hands of other individuals or nations. “The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.” And we will see the full glory of God revealed in the glory of Jesus shining through his redeemed and glorified body — the human race transformed and made perfect in love. “On that day it will be said: ‘Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!’”
This is what we pray for in the Our Father: “Give us this day…” and “Forgive us… as we forgive….” A more accurate translation of these petitions would be “Give us today our future bread,” the bread of the banquet, Jesus himself, who is the Bread of Life and our joy in heaven. The Church, in her liturgical instructions, says “daily bread” means Eucharist: “In the Lord’s Prayer, daily food is prayed for, which for Christians means preeminently the Eucharistic bread….” that is, Jesus himself. And when we pray, “Forgive us… as we forgive…,” we are in fact looking forward to the “end time,” when God will have brought about the perfect “unity and peace of his kingdom” through universal, mutual forgiveness and reconciliation. This is what we look forward to when we declare, “I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” 1
The wedding banquet
In Matthew 22: 1-14 Jesus uses the image of a wedding banquet to describe the “reign of God.” But one guest would not wear the special wedding robe that was provided for the party. When the host saw this he was furious, and he said, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
This seems to be a rather extreme reaction to the violation of a dress code! But that is not what it was. The guest was refusing to enter into the celebration. He was there on his own terms, not to celebrate the wedding. This was an insult to the host and to everyone there.
This is something we see every Sunday at Mass, when people are present, but on their own terms. Some come to Mass, not to enter into the real spirit of the celebration, but to participate in some way that pleases them, but not according to the real nature of the Mass.
The Mass is a “communal prayer.” It is something we do together, as a community. It is not supposed to be a gathering of individuals who are watching the priest celebrate and who are participating on their own terms, following the words and the actions in their own way, according to their own devotion. The Mass is like a dance: we all enter into it, we all dance to the same music, we let the music and the motions unite us, and by “losing ourselves” as individuals in the dance we “find ourselves” as a community.
When all who are present “put on the wedding robe,” accept to participate in the Mass, not on their own terms, but as the Church urges us to do, then we will all experience the Mass as a preview, a foretaste, of the “wedding banquet of the Lamb.” All will be united in love. All will be giving themselves, sharing themselves with each other in song and response; not holding back behind walls of protective reserve, not sitting separated, each one isolated in defensive individuality, but all together, caught up in and losing themselves in communal celebration. Then we will experience the Mass as a celebration. Then we will all be clothed in the equalizing, unifying, self-transcending robe of the wedding feast where all are “clothed in Christ,” made one in the Spirit. 2
Most Catholics are not ready for this. We are afraid to put on the wedding robe. We want to remain in our own clothing, distinct from others, free to participate on our own terms, doing or not doing what the liturgy calls us to do. We are reluctant even to sit with others — especially up front — because then we will be giving up some control over whether or how much we participate. And so we make the Mass less than authentic for ourselves and everyone else. If we are “lifers” in the Church, and have learned to get something out of the Mass regardless of how it is celebrated, we will be able to profit by praying privately while Mass is going on. But we will be falsifying the true nature of the Mass and perpetuating the false perceptions introduced over the centuries that made Vatican II call for the “restoration” of the liturgy. We will see the Mass as a gathering of people who come to watch and to pray individually while the priest offers the sacrifice for them. 3
But if we can “lose ourselves” in celebration to “find ourselves” as a community, this will carry over to the rest of life. We will “lose ourselves” in the life and work of the Church to “find ourselves” as the redeeming body of Christ wherever we are, and whatever we are engaged in. This will enable us and encourage others to say, “I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life!”
The Spirit in the Church:
In Philippians 4: 12-20 St. Paul gives us a glimpse of the Spirit of God active in the Church. Writing from prison, Paul says, “I am experienced in being brought low,” but “I have learned how to cope with every circumstance.” The Holy Spirit is his support: “In him who is the source of my strength I have strength for everything.”
But the Spirit is also supporting Paul through the ministry of others. He writes to the Philippians, “It was kind of you to want to share in my hardships…. My God in turn will supply your needs fully, in a way worthy of his magnificent riches in Christ Jesus.”
Both in heaven and on earth, what we experience is the love of God inspiring us all, uniting us all, expressing itself mutually in us all. This is the reality of the “wedding banquet.” It is why we rejoice to say, “I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”
How can you make Mass an experience of joyful community celebration?
Show leadership in following the Church’s instructions at Mass.
1 See General Instruction, no.81, and Raymond Brown, “The Pater Noster As An Eschatological Prayer,” New Testament Essays, pp. 301-308, (Image Books, 1968). 2 Galatians 3:27. 3 See Vatican II, The Sacred Liturgy, no. 21.
View Today's Readings Here