Praying the Eucharistic Prayer

Dear Folks,

Our readings today talk about the power of prayer. We know that praying better is not about building technique to be able to manipulate God (an unworthy enterprise that always fails

anyway), but about bringing more and more of ourselves to God, that we may be all His. Part of that is understanding and being more conscious of what we are praying. The Mass, of course, is

our central prayer, and it is good to understand it more and more. Today I’m going to unpack the third Eucharistic prayer. We pray it very often, but perhaps most people don’t give a lot of thought to what we are really saying.

The liturgy of the Eucharist begins with gathering and bringing forward the gifts which represent all we have done with what God has given us. As the bread and wine are placed on the altar, we

intentionally offer ourselves with them, that we may be consecrated.

We pray the prayer over the gifts, then there is the preface, with praises God for His gifts to us. Then comes the Holy, Holy, the hymn with which we unite with the heavenly liturgy (see Isaiah

6 and Revelation 4).

Then we start the Eucharistic prayer proper, and number three begins with praising God for His holiness and the work of creation, and then says how creation is meant to praise Him. God

gathers us to Himself so that “from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name (see Malachi 1:11).”

Then we ask for the Holy Spirit to “graciously make holy these gifts we have brought to you for consecration, that they may become the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is called the “epiclesis” the calling upon, and it is worthy of extra note.

Then we get to the words of institution, recounting what Jesus said and did at the Last Supper, giving Himself sacramentally as He would give Himself on the Cross. This is worthy of extra

special note, and we respond to the moment with proclaiming the mystery of faith.

Next, we speak of celebrating the memorial of the pascal mystery by which we are saved. We remember that in the Bible, remembering means something stronger than we are used to:

making a past event present and effective. (If you read Genesis 8:1; 1Samuel 1:19; Jeremiah 31:34; Luke 1:54 and 72 in that light, I think it will make sense). And we gratefully offer “this holy and living sacrifice.” Jesus died once and will never die again, but His sacrifice has an eternal power, and He allows us to unite ourselves to that sacrifice that we “make become one body, one spirit in Christ.” As we asked for the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine into

the body and blood of Christ, so we ask the Holy Spirit to transform us into the body of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12; and Ephesians 4:1-16). We seek to be ever more perfectly the Body of Christ, and the body that is offered to the Father (see John 17: 20-21; and perhaps 1Corinthians 15:25-28). We ask, “May he make of us an eternal offering to you so that we may obtain an inheritance with your elect” and we mention the saints. Heaven is receiving God’s love and loving Him in return brought to infinity, and that is being an eternal offering to Him. “May this Sacrifice of our reconciliation, we pray, O Lord, advance the peace and salvation of

all the world,” and we pray that the power of Jesus’ Sacrifice continue to transform the people of the world, both those gathered and those scattered throughout the world. Then we pray for those

who have died. Finally comes the doxology: “Through him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, for ever and ever.”

Responding with the Great Amen, the people join in saying the whole prayer. We offer all to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.

This is our faith: God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, gathers a sinful people to Himself by the power of Jesus’ sacrifice, and makes us a part of that union of self-gift, which is heaven

for all eternity, and we want everyone to share in it. To quote an old beer commercial, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

Blessings

Fr. Jim

Being with and doing for

Dear Folks,

The essence of religion is a love relationship with God. Every love relationship (or any kind of friendship) has two aspects: first, being with our beloved for the sake of being with our beloved and second, doing things to please our beloved (someone called it “being with and doing for”).

In our story of Martha and Mary, Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus listening while Martha is busy with the tasks of hospitality. Martha wants Mary to help with tasks, and Jesus said that only one thing is required, that Mary has chosen “the better part”. It may seem that Jesus is rejecting the “doing for” as unimportant and “being with” is the better choice. However, anyone who says “all I have to do is have my prayer time and then I don’t have to act on my faith in any way” had better slow down and take a breath. The Gospels don’t let us get off that easily. We just finished reading the story of the Good Samaritan which was definitely a call to action. The Gospel of Luke is especially strong on acts of mercy toward others.

However, we remember that Christianity is not just a to-do list, but a love relationship, so it starts with paying attention to the person.

“Set me as a seal on your heart, as a seal upon your arm; For Love is strong as Death, longing is fierce as Sheol. Its arrows are arrows of fire, flames of the divine. Deep waters cannot quench love, nor rivers sweep it away. Were one to offer all the wealth of his house for love, he would be utterly despised (Song of Songs 8:6-7).”

Consider all the tasks your loved ones do for you as expressions of their love. If you had enough money, you could probably find people you could pay to do all those tasks, but it wouldn’t be the same. Someone could bake you cookies using your grandmother’s recipe, and serve them to you warm out of the oven, but it wouldn’t be the same as your grandmother doing it out of love. You could probably find people, if you paid them enough, to tell you continuously that they loved you and admired you and you were precious to them, but you know that if you stopped paying them, they would walk out the door and never look back. A love relationship is unique in all reality. That is what God is offering us. That is what God is seeking from us. He doesn’t need our love, but we need to love Him.

Martha was doing tasks, and that was good. Mary was focused on Jesus Himself. Starting with Jesus, she would never neglect tasks that really needed to be done. In fact, one of the key measures of our prayer life is how our behavior is changing. If our prayer is really opening our hearts and minds to God, we will show an increase in the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (see Galatians 5:22-23).

Let us not presume that by our own power we can become good people and make a better world. If we want a better world, we start by attending more closely to Jesus.

Blessings,

Fr Jim

Focus on Love

Dear Folks,

The essence of the Gospel is the gift of self. The Lord gave Himself completely for us, not withholding the last drop of His blood. By His Pascal Mystery, He empowers and invites us to receive that gift, and to give ourselves to Him in return. In this exchange of love is the fullness of life, the fullness of freedom, and the fullness of joy.

There are two problems. One, we are free simply to refuse. We can choose to live for ourselves and our desires alone. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 16:25; see Luke 17:33 and John 12:25).” The other problem is more insidious and more dangerous. It is the false gift of self. It allows us to tell others (and often ourselves) that we are really committing ourselves, but the reality is different.

We all know about people who claim to be your friend when it is convenient for them but ignore you when it is not. Sometimes people make a commitment and either never intended to keep it or change their minds when they find out it will be harder than they thought.

This can take many forms. In the Scriptures, there is a continual problem of false gifts to God. God teaches His people how to be in relationship to Him (in the Old Testament this is embodied in the Torah, and in the New Testament it is embodied in Jesus). People keep trying to make it something less. Isaiah 1 and Psalm 50 are about those who offer ritual sacrifices but do not follow God’s teaching, as if they could just buy Him off and continue to do what they wanted. The scribes and Pharisees in the Gospels were classic examples of those who went through the motions, but their hearts and minds did not belong to God, and they refused to be corrected.

The Scriptures make an analogy between our relationship with God and the relationship between husband and wife. The book of Hosea, Ezekiel 13 and 23, and other texts compare idolatry with adultery. God made sex as the ultimate gift of self between husband and wife and the power to generate life. People keep trying to make it something less, and that has caused serious harm to people’s lives, to families, and to society as a whole. People are exploited, children are neglected or considered disposable, and people lose the power to connect on a deep level. To use it as a toy, a sport, or a casual interaction harms the people involved. All of Catholic sexual morality is to preserve its power as authentic gift of self.

Some do charitable work but are less concerned about what will really help people than about feeling good about themselves or having other people praise them.

This Sunday we read the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). This story, unique to Luke, is a story about authentic charitable work. It involved an emergency, and someone who helped with nothing to gain for himself. His friends would never praise him for helping a Jew, in fact, they would probably sneer in disgust (such was the hatred between Jews and Samaritans). The man he helped would probably be angry he was helped by a Samaritan, and there could not be expectation of gratitude from him. He took a risk stopping in a dangerous place, used his own resources, and now had to walk instead of ride. He even left himself open to extra cost. He probably even had to deal with a feeling of disgust himself for this victim.

We remember that Jesus Himself is the perfect model of selfless love. He was already on the highest throne in heaven, and had nothing to gain by saving us, but He did at great cost to himself. This is the challenge He gives us today.

Blessings,

Fr Jim

Call to Adapt

Dear Folks,

Jesus said, “The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few.” I have found that many Catholics see themselves primarily as customers in church, while others see themselves as

co-workers in mission. Jesus instructs us to pray for more laborers.

I don’t think people reject Christianity because their current lives are so joyful and fulfilled.

I keep hearing about how people are less contented and less happy nowadays, and more filled with fear, anger, and resentment. We see a lot of this around us. Many people can’t cope with not getting their way, in fact, we see so many cases nowadays of people going

ballistic when things don’t go the way they should. This suggests their happiness and their hope are very fragile.

Our first reading is a call to rejoice and exult. We remember that when we are inviting people to the faith, or inviting them deeper into the faith, we are not telling them they have to give up the good life for a lesser existence out of fear of divine retribution, but rather to a more abundant, more free, more wonderful life.

Consider Jesus sending out the 72 to proclaim the Kingdom with “no money bag, no sack, and no sandals…(Luke 10:4).” We notice that Jesus had recently sent out the 12, also without the usual travel supplies (Luke 9:1-6). We know that the disciples usually had

some funds, with the common money bag in the care of someone they trusted completely (John 13:9). This was an exercise in doing things the hard way. I am reminded of the boy scout exercise where the scout was sent out to spend the night alone in the woods with a pocketknife, two raw hot dogs, and two matches. It was training in dealing with difficult circumstances. Robert Lewis Stevenson once said, “Life is not about holding good cards. It is about playing a bad hand well.”

The more we grow as disciples, the more we are ready to adapt to circumstances we would not have chosen. Jesus makes us resilient. Knowing that the victory has been won, and if we do not lose faith, we will share in the victory, helps us see bad news in perspective. The bad circumstances are temporary, but the Kingdom is forever. St. Paul teaches the Philippians that we can rejoice even in bad times and harsh circumstances. When things go badly, we can always ask two questions: “God, what do you want me to

learn from this?” and “God, how do you want me to serve the Kingdom in this circumstance?” We don’t need to lose our tempers or get nasty, but patiently keep working to make things better.

If we want people to believe that we have something special, then we have to be different from most people. If people notice that we are continually telling the joyful truth of the Good News and striving to serve in both good times and in bad, that might cause some to ask: “What do they have that makes them like that? I’d like to learn more.”

Blessings,

Fr Jim

Commitment

Dear Folks,

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it. But he should ask in faith, not doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed about by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a man of two minds, unstable in all his ways (James 1:5-8). This does not mean that if doubts pop into our minds it kills the power of our prayer. If we look more closely at the text, we see it refers to people who want to follow Jesus sometimes, but then want to switch back and forth between the way of Jesus and the way of the world. Which way is the wind blowing?

When the Israelites were in the desert, they actually became nostalgic for their slavery in Egypt. “The riffraff among them were so greedy for meat that even the Israelites lamented again, ‘If only we had meat for food” We remember the fish we used to eat without cost in Egypt, and the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks the onions, and the garlic. But now we have nothing to look forward to but this manna (Numbers 11:4-6).” This is the classic image of the Christian who has converted but is starting to get nostalgic for his old sinful ways (we remember how they were fun, and not how futile they ultimately were). It is one thing to be faithful when we are full of fervor and we are not (at the moment) being tempted, but when the road is long and hard, that is when we are really tested.

Christianity calls for us even to give up ownership of ourselves. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, who you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).” There has been a lot of buzz about Tim Glemkowski’s book “Made for Mission.” He talks about the core mission of the Church, which is to form disciples. “A disciple is someone who does what Simon and Andrew did when they left their nets and followed Jesus. A disciple is someone who has bade, in Saint John Paul II’s words, a “personal and conscious decision’ to give their entire life to God.” He contrasts this with the rich young man in Matt 19:16-22, who was challenged to give up everything and follow Jesus, instead walked away sadly. Giving our whole lives to Jesus does not necessarily mean that we sell or give away all our stuff, but we now decide that everything we have, including the twenty-four hours of each day and all our skills and opportunities, actually belong to Jesus and are for his purposes. We are now stewards of all these things.

If crisises are coming to our Church (and it is hard to imagine they are not), that will likely shift the cultural Christians from the intentional disciples. Those with shallow commitment will likely drift away, but the intentional disciples will grow stronger.

Have you had an encounter with Christ that has lead you to give yourself entirely to Him?

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Realizing What a Treasure we Have

Dear Folks,

This is the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. We read the story of the multiplying of the loaves and fishes in the Gospel of Luke, which prepares us to learn that Jesus is the Bread of life.

Notice that the Twelve underestimate Jesus, though not unreasonably. They had seen Jesus healing the sick and calming a storm, but this was new. Our natural tendency is to underestimate the gifts of God. Throughout history there have been constant attempts to trim down the Gospel message and make it less than what it is. The Arian heresy said that Jesus is not God, but that God sent one of His creations to suffer. The Docetists claimed that Jesus was not truly human and did not really suffer. These make the message of God’s love less complete, and therefore less demanding on us. Lately, there have been attempts to explain away miracles and even the resurrection itself as not really having happened. I have heard people argue that what really happened with the multiplying of the loaves was that when Jesus started sharing, other people started sharing what they had and there were a bunch of folks who were secretly carrying bread and fish. The first problem with this is that there is nothing in the text that indicates this. If this were a lesson about sharing, why would all four Gospel writers hide the real message so that no one could figure it out until the twentieth century?

We have read many times that 70% percent of Catholics don’t believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. That should amaze and horrify us, but not surprise us. I encountered programs for preparing for first communion that talked about Eucharist as our family meal with nothing about how the bread and wine actually become Jesus, much less how it is our personal participation in Jesus’ sacrifice. I would ask the director why and was told, “Because it was so overemphasized in the past.” I never saw the logic to that, but I know there was a lot of it out there.

The point is that for generations now, we have been led to believe the Catholic faith is much less than what it is. My message is not, “Woe is us; we should be ashamed” but rather, “Oh, we are in for such a treat.” The more we open this treasure we have been given, the more wonderful we will find it is. In 1987 I graduated from a Jesuit school of theology with honors. I had some great teachers. What I have learned about the faith since then has been amazing. What I have learned in the last ten years has been precious beyond diamonds. I am looking forward to what God will teach me next.

You may have heard the story of Joshua Bell, one of the world’s great violinists, with his priceless Stradivarius violin played in a subway station for 43 minutes wearing a t-shirt and blue jeans. Over a thousand people passed by. 27 gave money ($52.17) and seven stopped and listened for a bit. What if they’d had any notion of the great gift they were given?

The challenge for today: think of ourselves as God’s kindergarteners. We have so many wonderful things to discover. Let us look for God to be teaching us. Let us look for God to be touching us. Let us look for God to be changing us into more than what we are now. Especially when we come to Mass this weekend, let us remember what is happening; there is a mystery and a treasure deeper and wider than the ocean. Let us expect God to do

something.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Do We Want More Priests?

Dear Folks,

We rejoice to have ordained three new priests for our diocese. I am confident that they shall be a great gift to our Church for many years to come.

Now the more difficult news. We still don’t have enough priests to fill the current openings. We have parishes without priests, and no extra priests to send there.

How can we be a church that better nurtures vocations to the priesthood? Imagine a young man growing up in the Church surrounded by adults who deeply love the Eucharist, who

are fiercely dedicated to growing in holiness, and who are zealous for the mission of the Church. I suggest that we would have to build a fence around the seminaries to keep them

from getting overrun with applicants.

The more Catholics demonstrate love for the Eucharist, the more someone could believe that it is worth dedicating his life to celebrating the Eucharist. Obviously, putting a high

priority on attending every Sunday and holy days is a good first step, and participating fully consciously, and actively is a second (see my recent articles on the subject; we can all grow

in that area). We can also learn more about its meaning. There is some great stuff on FORMED and there are some great books. Anything by Brant Pitre, Tim Grey, Edward Sri, or Scott Hahn is well worth reading (I especially love Edward Sri’s “Biblical Walk Through

the Mass” and Brant Pitre’s “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist”. There is another book called “Music and Meaning in the Mass” by Annamarie Carinalli, and it looks from a

very different angle. Have you been to a weekday Mass just because it is a good thing? Even once a year? How about adoration when we have Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament? Yes, I know that schedules are hard, but if you can’t come once a week, how

about once a month? Every three months? Try once a year? The biggest step is usually the first one. You might find you need to do it more often. When we talk about the Mass, do we do it in a way that conveys awe, reverence, and love? This could help us grow in

holiness.

How to grow in holiness in a huge topic, but think about how often during the course of the day we attend to the presence of God? Do we seek to have a well-rounded prayer life? There are many different ways to pray, and each one engages a different aspect of

ourselves. How many choices do we make in the course of the day that are attempts to put God first?

If someone sees the Church accomplishing great things, it is easier to believe that it is worthwhile giving his life to being a leader in the Church. We can all only do so much, but if we do what we can, I trust God will make it enough. How anxious are we to support and

participate in what our church is accomplishing? Or do we have to be coaxed? Do we give up if we are offended or frustrated? How good are we at cooperating with those who see things differently?

Each one of us can make a difference. If we are concerned about not enough priests, we can channel that concern into making our parishes more fertile ground for vocations. These are just some ideas. What others do you have?

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Pentecost and Peacemaking

Dear Folks,

This is Pentecost, the great feast of the Holy Spirit, and the birthday of the Catholic Church.

The Holy Spirit came and brought people together, breaking down barriers between people, and enabling them to have relationships. This is a path to peace. This is the path to peace.

With the recent shooting that was in the news, I think it is good to talk about some violence in our society. There has been so much lately, such increases in different kinds of violence and cruelty, from shootings to rioting, to assaulting people on the subway, to suicide. What has caused this? I think as a society we need to put our collective energy behind building some values, some norms, and some habits.

On is empathy, an awareness and attentiveness to the state of another person. Often, we are focused on how things affect us, but deep awareness of what’s happening in others is precious.

This is built in good relationships, interacting sharing, and working together (texting is not enough). Essential is good fathering and good mothering. Could we agree that fathering and mothering are crucial, heroic vocations that should be honored and celebrated? Could we work to develop respect for people when we disagree, and try to understand them rather than insult them? This requires recognizing that the way things look to us in not always how they look to others, and we can’t just demand they see things our way.

Humans have a desperate need for agency. I have observed that we humans have a real need to make a mark in the world, ideally to do great and noble things, but if we feel we cannot, it is easy to make a mark by being destructive. We must nurture the potential greatness in each person, so they can see themselves as heroes and not victims. We must build the fortitude to keep going when that road gets harder than expected (which it will). We must focus on strategy and tactics for making changes large and small.

We need reverence for boundaries. Because we think we are right does not give us the license to use tactics that we would condemn in the other side (they think they are right too). We must measure violence by those on our side with the same scale we measure violence by our opponents. We need support and for law enforcement and consistent enforcement of laws.

Some people have been proposing what they consider the solution, and berating those who do not agree. They do not make a case for their solution but seem to presume it is obviously the thing to do, and they say that those who don’t follow their plan do not care and do not love children. I think this is the exact opposite of what we need. What if there are intelligent people of good will who do care very much, but believe that this proposed solution will not help, but will in fact do harm? This approach is guaranteed to fail. It completely neglects to look at other people’s point of view. It makes both sides feel more helpless and pushes people farther apart. No amount of browbeating is going to make me accept a solution that I think will just make things worse. Let people make a case for their proposed solution, recognizing that their other side has their case too. We need to go through how it would be implemented in practice. We need to recognize that we are all biased in favor of our own arguments, and we need to work harder on making our case than we think we do.

As a Christian, I believe that the starting point is Jesus, and I highly (very highly) recommend getting to know Jesus better. However, if anything I’ve said resonates with you, my efforts have not been wasted. Let’s move the conversation forward. Let’s make the situation better.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Ascension: Now What?

Dear Folks,
This Sunday we celebrate Ascension Thursday (one of life’s paradoxes). This is a celebration of Jesus going back to heaven (for which I’m sure He was glad) but also a transition to being without Jesus’ visible presence. He will always be with us, but we have a sense of Him being absent.
The Mass is our central and most important prayer, so how could we not have an interest in praying the Mass well? The Second Vatican Council teaches us a great deal about how to pray the Mass well. Whenever we try to pray, we succeed. No one speaks too softly or clumsily for God to understand.
However, there is such a thing as praying better, and that involves bringing more and more of ourselves to God, opening more and more of ourselves to God, and engaging more and more of ourselves (God is already doing His part perfectly).
To pray the Mass well, we need some understanding. “With zeal and patience, pastors of souls must promote the liturgical instruction of the faithful, and also their active participation in the liturgy both internally and externally, taking into account their age and condition, their way of life, and standard of religious culture. By so doing, pastors will be fulfilling one of the chief duties of a faithful dispenser of the mysteries of God; and in this matter they must lead their flock not only in word but also by example (Constitution on the Liturgy #19).”
“The Church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ’s faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators; on the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration. They should be instructed by God’s word and be nourished at the table of the Lord’s body; they should give thanks to God; by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, they should learn also to offer themselves; through Christ the Mediator, they should be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all Constitution on the Liturgy #48).”
We need to respond internally. “For besides intimately linking them to His life and His mission, He [Jesus] also gives them a sharing in His priestly function of offering spiritual worship for the glory of God and the salvation of men. For this reason the laity, dedicated to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and wonderfully prepared so that ever more abundant fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them. For all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne—all these become “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”. Together with the offering of the Lord’s body, they are most fittingly offered in the celebration of the Eucharist. Thus, as those everywhere who adore in holy activity, the laity consecrate the world itself to God (Constitution on the Church #34).”
We need to respond externally. “To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence (Constitution on the Liturgy #30).
So, as we prepare for Mass, we recollect what we have done with whatever God has given us to work with: our 168 hours this week, our material resources, our abilities, our energy (such as it is), and our opportunities. We place it on the altar with the bread and wine (fruit of the earth and work of human hands), so that it may be consecrated. In prayer we participate in offering the One Sacrifice to the Father. In the Mass we are made more perfectly into the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 2:15-23), and this is a body offered as gift to the Father. As it says in the third Eucharistic prayer, “May he make of us an eternal offering to you…”. We seek to respond to Him with our whole selves, so that we may be completely His.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

The Mass as Gift of Self I

Dear Folks,
Jesus says, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him (John 14:23).” Take a moment and soak in that thought: God making His dwelling with us in permanent, personal union. Ahhh. That is abundant life (John 10:10), true freedom (John 8:31-32), and the fullness of Joy (John 15:11, 16:20-22). Let’s take a look at what that means for us.
When the Book of Revelation describes the New Jerusalem, an image of heaven, we are told “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb (Rev 21:22).” We remember there was no temple described in the Garden of Eden. Yes, God is present everywhere, but He touches us uniquely in the liturgy. God call us to places of worship, and we must be intentional about participating in the liturgy because of our limited, sinful perspective, but in heaven it will not be necessary, and the heavenly liturgy will be everything. Fish in the ocean do not travel in search of water. Now we take sips of what will then be an ocean. Now we are distracted by lesser things, less open to receiving Him, and hold back from giving ourselves completely to Him. Jesus teaches us and enables us by grace to give ourselves to Him ever more perfectly. The journey of discipleship is essentially growing in our ability to receive Him and give ourselves to Him. This includes the call to worship, most especially in the Eucharistic liturgy.
We are called to be disciples, and that means we are about knowing Jesus better and sharing Jesus better. This is the way to the fullness of life, the abundant life, and the fullness of joy.
That is the essence of what Church is about.
The essence of the Gospel is the Gift of Self. Our Lord, in His Pascal Mystery, gave Himself as the perfect gift for our salvation. He offered one sacrifice, once for all, that we might be wedded to Him forever. There is a paradox: The Bible says we are to offer sacrifice to the Lord (Romans 12:1: Colossians 1:24; 1Peter 2:4-5; Ephesians 5:1-2). But there is only one sacrifice, therefore we are to offer that one, suffered once in time, eternally before the Father). In the heavenly liturgy in Revelation 5, we see Jesus as “the Lamb who was slain.” He enables us to give ourselves as gift to Him. More on that next time. Participating in the Eucharistic liturgy is not simply one activity among many for Christians, but the “source and summit of life.” It is our most intimate encounter with the Lord this side of heaven, and it gives form and meaning to all other aspects of our lives.
When a couple gets married, they give themselves to each other sacramentally in their vows. Then, when they go out and live their married lives, they give themselves to each other in practice, fulfilling their vows. Their vows would mean less than nothing if they did not intend to live them out in practice, and what they do for each other in practice is given shape and meaning by their vows. Each is essential for each other. Jesus gave Himself sacramentally in the Last Supper, and then in practice by dying on the cross. Without the Last Supper, the cross was just an execution, and without the cross, the Last Supper was just dinner. At Mass, Jesus and we give ourselves to each other sacramentally, then as we go out and live the Christian life, we encounter Him and give ourselves in practice. If you ask which one is more important praying the Mass or living the Christian life, I will ask you which is more important: inhaling or exhaling.
Therefore, coming to Mass is just the beginning. Praying it well is important beyond my powers to describe. How do we pray the Mass well? That, folks, is for next week.
Blessings,
Fr Jim