Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Trinity: Present at Every Mass

As we celebrate the great feast of the Trinity this weekend, it's good to review just how the Trinity is present at every Mass through the year. That presence is integral to the act of celebrating Mass. It is mysteriously  multi-faceted and continually shifting in focus.  

Gathered into one voice by the Holy Spirit, the Assembly, led by the priest celebrant, prays the entire Mass through the Son to the glory and praise of the Father. The clues are in the prayers of the Roman Missal.

We sing the Gloria to the almighty Father, the only begotten Son, with the Holy Spirit in the glory of the Father. The formula which ends the Collect and other orations "..through our Lord Jesus Christ our Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever" pretty much defines the nature of the Trinity.

Christ the Word, and the Holy Spirit, the active active agent of God's Word and will for the hearers, are active during the Liturgy of the Word, according to the Introduction to the Lectionary, challenging those who hear to be open to the will of the Father.  We hear the Old Testament narratives of the Father's history with his people, respond, using psalms written in praise and supplication to the Father, followed by the New Testament letters interpreting the meaning of Christ and his teachings. We then hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ and respond in praise to him. The homily should help us sort out what God is saying to us in our time, and it, too, is influenced by the Spirit.

As the bread and wine are offered to the Father, the priest calls the Spirit upon them to change them into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The Eucharistic Prayer is offered to the glory of the Father through, with and in Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. That prayer is punctuated by the Sanctus, sung to the Father ("Lord, God of Hosts"), acknowledging and praising his sending of his Son - "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" - the words of the heavenly host of angels and saints gathered at the heavenly banquet..

The faithful say Amen, pray to Christ the Lamb and receive the Eucharist assenting to becoming more like Jesus. They are sent forth in his  name, following his Cross into the world, to glorify him with their lives.

In short, the language and movements of every Mass are permeated with the dynamic presence of the Triune God. We celebrate that in particular this Sunday, but it is by no means the only time we should be aware of the presence of the Three-in-One God.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Necessary Losses: The "Missing" 7th Sunday of Easter

This weekend, in many dioceses around the world, Catholics will celebrate Ascension, which was moved in the late 1990's from Ascension Thursday  to the following Sunday. This was done because most people were not going to Mass on Ascension Thursday, even though it was a Holy Day of Obligation.

Certainly, the Ascension of the Lord is a major feast - and it is worthy of the additional attention it gets by pre-empting the Seventh Sunday of Easter. However, what we lose is also something important: our opportunity to hear Jesus' final discourse and his prayer for the unity of his church:
Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed saying:
“Holy Father, I pray not only for them,
but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
so that they may all be one,
as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
that they also may be in us,
that the world may believe that you sent me.
And I have given them the glory you gave me,
so that they may be one, as we are one,
I in them and you in me,
that they may be brought to perfection as one,
that the world may know that you sent me,
and that you loved them even as you loved me.
Father, they are your gift to me.
I wish that where I am they also may be with me,
that they may see my glory that you gave me,
because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
Righteous Father, the world also does not know you,
but I know you, and they know that you sent me.
I made known to them your name and I will make it known,
that the love with which you loved me
may be in them and I in them.” (John 17:20-26)
Jesus prays for his believers - and says that the world will understand the Father better if believers are "one". Over and over he says the word "one".... emphasizing the importance of Christian unity to the coherence of the message of the Gospel.

This is the reading from which Blessed John Paul II drew the title of his great document on ecumenism: Ut Unum Sint ("That They May be One").  It is an important reading because it provides the biblical basis for Catholic ecumenical dialogues with other Christians. It is quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph 820 as the basis for an understanding that the Church is ONE.

Recently, I gave a talk on Catholic teaching on ecumenism at a regional parish event in an adjacent diocese.  A number of people in the audience confided that before my talk, they had never even heard of the word "ecumenism".  It is true that the subject has gone out of fashion in many dioceses. All the sadder that we lose the natural opportunity to hear preaching on the necessity of Christian unity for effective evangelization when this gospel is replaced by the one for Ascension.  When cultural practice (not attending Mass on weekday Holy Days of Obligation) necessitates a change, but we are far away from a time when the Lectionary will be revised to reflect that, we have a necessary loss... and sadly, an important one.