Summary: To receive the full power of the Scriptures, we need to celebrate with the "little texts" of the Mass.
Lent 4th Sunday 2010
“The Other Scriptures”
“Rejoice, Jerusalem, and assemble together, all you who love her. Rejoice with great joy, all you who were mournful: that you may exult and be satisfied by the sweet milk of your consolation.” The words of the Introit of today’s Mass. And from the Confessions of St. Augustine: I remember the tears I shed at the Psalmody of Thy Church, in the beginning of my recovered faith; and how at this time, I am moved, not with the singing, but with the things sung
Today I would like to introduce you to the not-quite hidden Scriptures of the Mass, the short Biblical songs that the Church gives to us to sing together, or to hear from a choir or schola, at the three processions of the Mass. It is my intention to preach on these texts for the next eighteen months or so–not ignoring the Gospel, of course–for a number of reasons.
First, the Introit, Offertory and Communion verses give us a fuller appreciation of the message of God in both the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Take the Introit I just read. There are many interpretations of how it relates to today’s Gospel, but I like to think of the poor prodigal son, half-dead from overwork and starvation. In his best hunger-induced dreams, he expected to spend his first night at home in the slave quarters, fending off foraging rats, but at least with a full stomach for the first time in weeks or months. Instead, he finds himself the honored guest at a banquet, celebrated for his humility and homecoming by a father to whom he had shown nothing but contempt, and even by his O-so-firstborn elder brother. “Rejoice with great joy and be satisfied” indeed!
Second, the three processional verses add an affective dimension to our Scriptural proclamation. The Offertory verse, which isn’t even printed in your pew missals, is usually a response to the Gospel and homily. Today it reads “Praise the Lord, because he is kind; sing psalms to his name, because he is delightful. Whatever He wills comes into being, in heaven and in the earth.” Our Catholic vocation is not just an intellectual assent to the truths of our faith. Our vocation–even in the toughest times–is a vocation to constant praise. And that means it is a vocation to a real conversion of heart, of attitude, and of behavior. I was working with some particularly complex lab equipment last week, and it was not doing what I needed it to do. After I got it working, I realized that the words I was muttering under my breath as I struggled with it were not songs of thanksgiving. I won’t quote myself. But I am reminded by this Offertory verse that St. Paul teaches us to give thanks in all circumstances, whether we are keeping festival with the first-fruits of the land or making do with the out-of -date produce in the remnants bin. These little Scriptural songs draw our wills–which are often so difficult to convince with mere thoughts–by their affective power to turn themselves over to the will of God.
And the last reason I will share with you for appreciating these infrequently used gems from Scripture has to do with our communion, our koinonia, our coming together to say “Amen” to God’s call and to share the Body and Blood of our Savior. The Introit and Offertory are most often shared by all three years of the liturgical cycle. So they take on new meaning every year as we hear them in the light of the Old Testament and New Testament readings. But the Communion verse is usually tied closely to the Gospel. So today we would hear repeated the words of the Father to the elder son: It behooves you to rejoice, my son, because your brother was dead and is revived; he was lost and has been found. As we approach the final days of Lent, we look forward to the reception of thousands of new Catholics into the Church at the Easter Vigils all over the world. Because of our prayers and preaching, enemies have become friends. The lost have been found and will commune with us at the altar of sacrifice. No inconvenience to ourselves because it’s hard to find a parking place at Easter, or we have to squeeze into the pews with all the crowd–no inconvenience is too much when we are celebrating this new life. Because we, too, have been prodigal sons and daughters. My greatest boast is that I am a once-wretched sinner redeemed by the precious blood of the Son of God. And, spiritually inept as I am, I have hope of some day being a saint in the presence of the Father.