Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Primary Miracle of the Mass may not be what you think (Sunday homily)

Over the next few weeks,
Father Ang, Father Tom and I, in our homilies,
are going to focus on the Mass itself.

What we do is so familiar,
and yet we might ask:
“Why do we do that?

So, let’s start with a basic question—
why are we here?
What is the Mass all about?

The short answer is:
the Mass is about a miracle.

Now, you might think
I’m talking about the Eucharist, and I am;
but there is a more fundamental miracle,
that we might miss.

It’s not the Scriptures, not the homily,
not the miracle in ourselves, being his People;
not the priest,
being a living icon of Jesus Christ.

Even transubstantiation—that big word means
a total change in fundamental reality,
or substance, while the outward appearance
stays the same.

That’s what happens with the bread and wine.
It keeps the same outward appearances,
but the fundamental reality is totally changed:
truly Jesus, God and man,
body and soul, flesh and blood.

Yes, even transubstantiation
of bread and wine into Christ himself
is not the primary miracle of the Mass—
although we’re very close!

The primary miracle of the Mass
is the Sacrifice!

When the priest steps to the altar,
and there, Jesus Christ himself
makes real for us the very same sacrifice
he offered on the Cross…
That sacrifice is the primary miracle,
everything else flows from it.

So, while we try to be properly disposed
to receive communion, perhaps we aren’t:
maybe we need to go to confession;
sometimes there’s a marriage issue;
not everyone is Catholic;
maybe we neglected the hour of fasting
before communion.

Be that as it may, we are still part
of an awesome, world-changing event!

(By the way: the obligation of every Sunday
isn’t to receive communion, but to be at Mass—
to be present for the Sacrifice.)

In the Gospel, they were so impressed
with healings and with a big meal,
that they said, “Be our king!”
But “the kingdom, the power and the glory”
of Jesus is not realized in full stomachs;
nor in worldly trappings of power,
but only in the Cross.

To see the miracle of bread and fish—
that’s easy;
Seeing the miracle in the horror of the Cross?
That’s a lot harder.

For that, our hearts must be prepared for faith
by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Paul taught that;
it underlies his words in the second reading.
And the same preparation is necessary for us
to enter into the miracle of the Mass.

The Mass presupposes some things:
Catholic faith and unity:
“One Lord, one faith, one baptism,”
as Paul said;
It presupposes
“living in a manner worthy of the call”
we have received.

It presupposes faith when we look at this altar:
will we know it is Jesus truly acting there,
or is it just a fancy table,
with a guy in funny clothes?
Seeing that miracle isn’t so easy.
It takes a miraculous change in us.

This is what the opening rituals
of the Mass emphasize.
We acknowledge our sins,
to remind ourselves, why we needed his mercy;
and what we’re grateful for:
We were washed clean in baptism,
and we’ve been renewed
by frequent confession.

The more we have to be grateful for,
the more we enter into that prayer:
“Glory to God in the highest!”

If we come to Mass,
not able to come to communion,
we still know where that mercy comes from:
from His Sacrifice;
that’s the source of all mercy,
all the sacraments.

When I talk about “entering in,”
we ought to admit, sometimes,
we don’t want to do that.
We’d rather keep our distance.

Remember when we were kids…
or how your own kids, do this:
You take the kids to do something fun,
and what happens—they cross their arms,
dig in their heels, and say,
“Oh no—you can’t make me!”

Grownups do that, too!

Making that transition, from ordinary cares,
to the miracle of the Mass, is hard.

Letting go of cares and worries—it’s hard.
I’ve heard folks say,
“Somebody has to worry about that!”
Yeah—who says it has to be you?
God’ll be up all night, either way!

Let me say: if this hour, here,
is the only real time we pray,
we may find it a lot harder
to make that transition.

This is where daily prayer is so important.
Prayers like the Rosary are so powerful,
because they teach us to meditate,
we can develop the habit of inner quiet,
even when all around is insanity.

This is why quiet—here— is important;
We need a refuge—a sacred place.
This is why I try to calm
the busy-ness of the sacristy—
Why I am reluctant
to “do business” just before Mass.
I need quiet, beforehand, too!

Servers—this is why I ask you
to show up 15 minutes ahead of time—
you need it, as well.

Same for the readers and others.

Maybe a moment ago,
we weren’t really ready;
Maybe we missed our chance to prepare.
OK; let’s pause, then,
and let God give us another chance,
so that at this Mass—today, here!—
we really meet Jesus!

To be open to him, so he can change us.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Father.

This homily will be printed out and given to my children to read before we go to Mass today. They will awake to a special breakfast and your homily will be passed around and discussed.


Anonymous said...

sigh... to live in Piqua!

Tracy said...

Amen Jackie!

Fr. Your message reached my heart before I even read it...I found myself distracted (more than usual) at Mass today, and it was becaue we had a late and rushed am getting out the door, and to Mass later than usual and then one of the the other EM's needing to ask ?s...there was not time to "pray and be" when we go there. It makes a huge difference.

Another thumbs up from the peanut gallery.


Anonymous said...

It is so good to read about the liturgies and prayer life. Something that is also interesting is reading about parish life. What are Catholic people really like within their own enclave? How do they relate to one another?
Didn't you mention, Father, awhile back in your postings, that two parishes in Piqua were going to merge or something? How is that turning out? Was it a seamless transition? Do the Catholic people in dwindling parishes see consolidation as a failure (the loss of their former pastor) or an advantage (gaining a closer relationship with their fellow Catholics from another parish)? How does a priest facilitate such a blending? It seems like it would be both difficult and delicate, yet very rewarding.

Sarada said...

A really excellent homily!

My formed college roommate and I continually discuss Catholic related topics from different sides of the Catholic spectrum. She feels the post-VII Mass was the penacle of Catholicism, and thinks people won't like the new translation because it is different.

I think that the key to acceptance among the people in the pews will be more homilies like this. When people understand what occurs at Mass, they will understand why the new translation is more clear.

Fr Martin Fox said...


Not merging! This may seem a technical point, but not to the people of these two parishes!

Rather, I am pastor to two parishes; and for various reasons, a number of changes come in the wake of this new state of affairs:

* Fewer priests means fewer Masses; we've had to make cuts, and more will come, it is almost certain.

* I believe it necessary to consolidate the offices for both parishes and that will mean consolidation of staff. This makes sense for at least three reasons: 1) my effective working with paid staff; 2) best use of my limited time (shuttling back and forth between two offices 1/2 mile apart seems a poor use of time); 3) better use of strained financial resources.

Certainly a lot of this is a function of the overall state of affairs for the Catholic population in this area, which isn't doing well economically or demographically.

To your larger question -- how are people experiencing it? I don't know yet, too early to say. Is it rewarding? Not exactly. I am not particularly gratified to manage decline well. I'd prefer to manage growth well, and I'll settle for managing growth poorly. In short, whether this new reality is temporary or permanent, I see nothing to "celebrate" but we will make the best of it, and never forget our call to be fruitful.

There are many things to do, one of which is evangelization. Another, which is largely out of my hands, is economic and social development in this community.

Anonymous said...

Father, thank you for your response to my comments. You are very busy and I appreciate it.

You seem to be a charismatic, openminded, spiritual, compassionate, and intelligent pastoral leader, with a great sense of humor. I think it is quite possible the Holy Spirit has a special job in mind for you.

This really could be a moment of explosive growth, because the new dynamic generated by the mingled congregations (they will mingle more & more as limited Mass-time choices send them back and forth across parish lines)can be used to create highly positive new life, new attitudes, and new ways of doing things, for the congregations of each parish.

It is such a big opportunity to be the one who will step in and facilitate these positive changes within the two (and eventually one?) congregations! It won't be easy - but would you be here in this time and place if you weren't the very one who could bring it off? I don't think so!