Sunday, August 09, 2015

Turning toward Calvary -- and heaven (Sunday homily)

Three weeks ago, when I began this sermon series on the Mass, 
I described it as climbing a mountain—to Calvary. 
Last week, we looked at how we pause to listen to the Word of God; 
we also talked about how Scripture plays a role in the music of Mass.

Now, it turns out I stirred up some people with that. Sorry about that! 
Let me explain my purpose. 
I’m not talking about turning things upside down. 
So I am not proposing we stop using hymns. 
I’m just suggesting some additional options, 
which, by the way, we’ve used before I even got here.   

But yes, I did want to provoke some reflection. 
You and I are on a pilgrimage. 
We’re not at the Promised Land yet. 
Can we climb higher? Can we go deeper?  

At this point, we move from the first part of the Mass, 
the “Liturgy of the Word,” to the “Liturgy of the Eucharist.” 
In the early Church, people who weren’t baptized, 
confirmed Catholics would actually leave at this point of the Mass. 

Why would they leave? Think of a family. 
There are times when a family welcomes guests into its home; 
but more intimate family matters wait till the guests depart. 
When we pass into the second part of the Mass, 
we are entering a privileged moment. 

While the Mass today is entirely public, 
this part still has a private dimension: 
only those who really know, who see with the eyes of faith 
– realize the truth of it. 
Without the eyes of faith, people see, yet they don’t see. 
The mystery is hidden, despite being in full view!

So it’s fitting that we recite the Creed, 
identifying ourselves as believers who can enter this “private” moment.

And the prayers of the faithful, which come next, are also fitting here; 
because we are summarizing the prayers
we want to bring to the Sacrifice, where Jesus intercedes for us.  
But we know that many more prayers remain in our hearts.

So notice what the priest soon says: “Lift up your hearts!” 
And you respond: “We have lifted them up to the Lord.” 

I’ve mentioned this before, but I want to mention it again – 
the question of the posture of the priest at this point in the Mass. 

Many think this was something Vatican II changed; 
but it actually came after. 
And while it’s almost universal, it’s not a requirement. 

At this moment, I’m facing you, naturally, because I’m talking to you. 
But when I am at the altar in a few minutes, 
is it really you I’m addressing? 

Maybe you haven’t really thought about it. 
But at today’s Mass, pay close attention. 

Listen to the prayers I say there. 
Even if some of what I say there is directed to you, 
it’ll be clear that they are spoken not to you, but for you; 
and not to you, but to God.

Here’s what Pope Benedict said in his book, the Spirit of the Liturgy. 
When the priest faces the people, 
the priest…becomes the real point of reference for the whole liturgy.
Everything depends on him.
We have to see him, to respond to him,
to be involved in what he is doing.
His creativity sustains the whole thing.

Now, Father Amberger made a concerted effort 
to downplay this focus on the priest; and I want to continue that. 
But let me be candid about a way Father Amberger and I are different. 
He’s quieter and subdued; I’m not! 
Priests have always had different personalities. 
But don’t you see? 
When the priest faces the other way, 
he becomes, in a sense, “faceless.” 
It becomes far less about the priest!

Pope Benedict made the point that having the priest face the people 

…turned the community into a self-enclosed circle…
the common turning towards the East
was not a "celebration towards the wall";
it did not mean that the priest "had his back to the people":
the priest himself was not regarded as so important.
For just as the congregation in the synagogue
looked together toward Jerusalem,
so in the Christian liturgy
the congregation looked together "towards the Lord."

That’s the key: it’s about all of us turning together toward the Lord.

So, here’s the thing: I’m not going to make any huge change. 
But I would like to give you an opportunity 
to see what I’m talking about, and experience this. 

So how about this? On Saturday mornings, at the 8:15 am Mass, 
I will begin offering the Mass in this fashion. 
Come and see what you think. 
And please tell me what you think. 
I don’t expect everyone to like it; but you may be surprised. 
And if Pope Benedict is right, then you will experience some benefits. 

Let’s continue our climb. The readings emphasize food for the journey. 
Elijah needed strength for the journey; and in the Gospel, 
Jesus told the people that he, himself, is that food, the Bread of Life.

This is a good time to talk about how 
two different realities come together in the Mass. 
We understand that the Eucharist is food; and the Mass is a meal. 
But what can’t be lost is that it is equally a sacrifice. 

God’s People in the Old Testament had many forms of sacrifice. 
One in particular was the todah, or a sacrifice of thanksgiving. 
In this sacrifice, something would be offered in sacrifice; 
after which, the ones making the offering would eat the sacrifice. 
The best known of these was the Passover itself: 
the lamb is offered, and then consumed. 

The last line of today’s Gospel reminds us of this: 
“The Bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

This is one reason we use incense at this point; 
incense was always offered in the temple during the sacrifices. 

And the Book of Revelation mentions incense 
as a sign of our prayers rising to heaven. 
The priest incenses the bread and wine, 
but then the priest, and the people, too, are incensed. 
It isn’t just the bread and wine that are offered; we offer ourselves.

When all this has happened, the priest lifts up his eyes and—
speaking for the entire assembly—addresses the Lord God. 

It is “right and just” that this be sung, because it is so solemn. 
The prayer I’ll use today refers to the “paschal mystery”—
that means the new Passover, Jesus dying and rising for us. 
It may sound like we’re reminding God, but he already knows. 
Instead, it is we who are remembering. That’s what the Passover was.

But we also look forward. 
Notice the prayer I pray will mention “angels and archangels, 
thrones and dominions”—in other words, heaven. 

We aren’t journeying only to Calvary; but from there, to heaven! 

So it’s fitting that when the priest has prayed this prayer, 
all of us sing the Sanctus: “holy, holy…” 
It’s painted up there, over the altar. 
That’s what the prophet Isaiah heard, in the temple, 
as he was given a vision of the Lord. It is the song of the seraphim. 
I absolutely believe the angels do sing this at every Mass, 
but we never hear it; so we sing it ourselves.

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