Sunday, May 28, 2017

The point of the Ascension -- of the Mass -- and of ad orientem -- is heaven (Sunday homily)

The feast of the Ascension is NOT about Jesus leaving us. Rather, it’s about where Jesus wants to take us: he goes ahead of us, to heaven. That’s where he wants us. The Ascension is about heaven; Jesus wants to take us to heaven.

So that caused me to think of a connection, between today’s feast, and the Parish Priorities I’ve been talking to you about recently. That is, the priorities I am urging us all to pursue, together, as a parish. And if you recall, the first one is cultivating devout worship.

The connection is this: our worship together is likewise about getting us to heaven.

This isn’t something everyone understands. There are a lot of folks in our society who think what going to church on Sunday is about isn’t going to heaven – because they take that for granted. So instead, whether Catholic or Protestant, lots of people think of church as about giving them a good outlook on life; maybe giving them something to think about. Above all, about making them feel good. 

I know this is true because I’ve had people tell me that. I’ve had priests tell me that. Mass should make people feel good after a long week. Mass should be uplifting and encouraging. While those are good things, none of that is the point.

Rather, the point of the Holy Mass – the point of you taking part in Mass, and the point of me offering the Mass – is to get us to heaven.

When we come to Mass, and we listen to the readings, the prayers, some of which are sung, and we hear the homily, who knows whether it’ll make you feel good or not? If God tugs at your conscience, or reminds me of things I’ve neglected, maybe we’ll feel bad, along the way to making the changes we need. 

The point of the Mass is exactly the same as the “point” of the Cross: Jesus came from heaven, to be with us, one of us, all in preparation for offering himself for us on the Cross. To die for us…why? To get us to heaven.

Each and every Mass, then, is a re-presentation of this cosmic drama: that’s why, if you listen closely to the prayers of Mass, you will hear words like sin and judgment and damnation, as well as words like forgiveness, grace, conversion and salvation. Jesus sheds his blood for all those whose souls hang in the balance – and your job, here, is to pray for them. That’s why you’re here. There’s a house on fire, and Christ is the one putting out the fire. And you are here, not to watch, but to help pass the buckets!

To make another connection: our worship together, as a parish, is central to the task of sharing Christ with our community. Yes, there are lots of great things that happen in our parish, to bring people together, to help folks in need, to make our community a better place. But we remember that the First Commandment is, “I am the Lord your God, you shall not have other gods before me.” Everything else follows from that. The point of our parish – like the point of the Mass and the point of the Ascension – is to get people to heaven. And so, when you and I offer our worship together with reverence, bringing our best, and doing it with the mind of the Church, this is the best thing we can offer to our community. We’re offering people the face of Christ – and that’s what they want to see and need to see.

This gives me a chance to explain something I’ve been doing at daily Mass. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, I’ve been offering the Mass on the high altar, meaning the people and I are facing the same way. Why have I been doing that?

The point to doing that is the same as the point of this feast: the focus is heaven.

Right now, I’m facing you. Why am I facing you? Because I’m speaking to you, of course. (Turning around away from people): of course, I could give the homily facing away from you – but doesn’t that seem odd? (Turning again to face the people.) Maybe some of you would prefer it that way!? But it makes sense for me to face you when I speak to you.

OK then: when I’m at the altar, am I speaking to you? Am I asking you to forgive sins, and to deliver people from hell? No, of course I’m speaking to God. So that’s the reason it makes sense for the priest and the people to face the same way, symbolizing us facing heaven, our common destination.

So, in August, when we celebrate the Feast of the Assumption, I’m going to celebrate one of the Masses on that feast day in this fashion, so you can experience it. Give it a try.

This is a good time to talk about our volunteers, who are so important to having Mass celebrated well. We rely on ushers, musicians, readers, extraordinary ministers of holy communion, and altar servers. Especially our altar servers – you make a difference. No less than the Archbishop has complimented our altar servers, and we want to keep a high standard.

But we have a problem. There are times when our altar servers can’t get here. I understand, things happen: sports, prom, homecoming – nevertheless, it is a problem when the servers don’t show up.

And I thought it might be helpful to explain why we need them to be here 15 minutes before. The first five minutes is grace time; at ten minutes, I have to get subs. Maybe I find some subs by eight or seven minutes till. Then the kids have to get their albs or cassocks on – and you may not realize this, but sometimes kids don’t get dressed quickly! So now it’s 5 or 6 minutes till; then I may have things to explain, and they have all these candles to light. So sometimes things get rushed, and they get missed. We have started Mass late sometimes. So I need your help to ensure our servers are here. I have an idealistic notion that it should be the kids’ responsibility to know when they are supposed to be here; but I’ve had parents smile and say, “Father, that’s not how it works – it’s mom who remembers.” I understand; but whichever way, I need your help on this.
Let me also say something similar about our extraordinary ministers of holy communion. Sometimes we don’t always have all here who are supposed to be here. It’s not obvious, because someone always jumps up to fill in. But that’s not fair to those folks, especially if they have children they have to leave in the pew. So if we can work on this, that would be great.

Let me come back to where I began: the point of the Ascension, the point of the Mass, is to get us to heaven. Jesus told us in the first reading, he would send power upon us – that power is at work in the Mass. Nothing any of us will do today is as important as what we do here, in the Mass.  

1 comment:

rcg said...

Very interesting. I urge your congregation to participate and discuss this because it will yield very great spiritual strength for them.