Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: Our action in the Holy Mass is to become one with Christ, to become holy through His grace, and to preach the truth of the Gospel.

Monday of 7th Week in Easter

Spirit of the Liturgy

At Ephesus, there were some disciples. They were probably emigres from Palestine who had settled in Asia Minor. They had received the baptism of repentance that John the Baptist had preached three decades earlier. This shows that there was a “John movement” running parallel to the “Jesus Movement” or “the Way” which we know as the Catholic Church. Baptism in the name of Jesus is not another way to baptize. It means a baptism that is the first of a series of sacraments of initiation that is the new way of life Jesus taught. It contrasts with baptism in John’s name, which is merely a decision to turn away from sin and follow the Jewish law. Jesus’s baptism culminates in the receipt of the Holy Spirit and the exercise of spiritual gifts to bring the world to faith in Christ. It is clear from Matthew’s Gospel that the form of baptism has always been in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We are disciples of Jesus Christ, spirit, soul and body. In Liturgy, we have for the past 48 years lived with the Latin term participatio actuosa. It is often translated “active participation,” but that is a misleading English phrase. It seems to imply that we have to be “doing something” in every moment of the Mass. But that is a superficial and misleading interpretation. The word “part-icipation” refers to a principal action in which everyone has a “part.” (171) To understand our “part,” we must first “determine what the central actio is in which all the members of the community are supposed to participate.”

The Holy Father, writing in The Spirit of the Liturgy, says that the central action of the Mass is the Eucharistic Prayer, called the “oration.” This means a “solemn public speech [that]. . .attains its supreme dignity through its being addressed to God in full awareness that it comes from him and is made possible by him.” But that’s only part of the meaning of “oration.” The priest, in the Eucharistic prayer, “steps back and makes way for . . .the action of God.” And, more than that, the priest actually assumes the person of Christ, is in fact caught up into Christ, and speaks the very words of Christ, the words of praise and sacrifice. He does not say “this is Christ’s Body.” He says this is MY Body. This is MY Blood. The oratio is the prayer of Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, to the Father. The priest “knows that he is not now speaking from his own resources but in virtue of the Sacrament that he has received, he has become the voice of Someone Else, who is now speaking and acting. This action of God, which takes place through human speech, is the real ‘action’ for which all of creation is in expectation. The elements of the earth are transubstantiated, pulled, so to speak, from their creaturely anchorage, grasped at the deepest ground of their being, and changed into the Body and Blood of the Lord. The New Heaven and the New Earth are anticipated.”

Now how do we who are not priests participate in this oratio? The Sacrifice of the Word of God is once-for-all and is already accepted by God. “But we must still pray for it to become our sacrifice, that we ourselves. . .may be transformed into the Logos. . .conformed to the Logos, and so be made the true Body of Christ.”

In the revised translation we will be using next Advent, we all together, just before the Eucharistic Prayer, respond to the priest’s invitation to make the sacrifice our own: May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.

The word “holy” describing the Church has not been added. It has been put back where it belongs. The point of being at Mass is to be made holy, both as an individual and as a united Body of Christ. There is really only one action–ours and Christ’s–because we have been made one Body with Him. The fact that different people have different parts in the Mass is subordinated to the reality of our oneness in Christ. The Holy Father gets very pointed here: “The almost theatrical entrance of different players into the liturgy. ..especially during the Preparation of the Gifts, quite simply misses the point. If the various external actions. . .become the essential in the liturgy, if the liturgy degenerates into general activity, then we have radically misunderstood the ‘theo-drama’ of the liturgy and lapsed almost into parody.” We need to be educated to understand that the whole point of the Mass is to transform us into holy persons, a holy nation that endeavors to make holy the whole world through the preaching of the word and the Eucharistic reality.

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