Summary: The Gospel proclaims the divine reversal--the weak become strong by grace; thus also Word and Sacrament are the means by which weakness is strengthened.

June 15, 2009

Sacramentum Caritatis

Here in the penumbra of the Feast of Corpus Christi, it is particularly helpful to reflect on what many have called “the great reversal.” The Gospel is one frequently quoted to show the power of nonviolent resistence. Go two miles when forced to go one. St. Paul exemplified this attitude in his life. We will probably have to endure it, even celebrate it, in our own Christian life. If you speak the truth, if you stand up for the teachings of the Church, you are called a hypocrite. The less we have materially, the more valuable are our spiritual gifts–think of St. Francis, or, more recently, Mother Teresa.

As the Holy Father turns to the structure of the Mass, after writing on the art of celebration, he reminds us that the Mass is one rite, one act of worship. There is a grand reversal here, too. The most basic and unelaborate of foods–about a penny of bread and two-bits of wine, become the Body and Blood of Christ beyond price. A non-Christian wouldn’t give you a nickel for your Bible, but here is the invaluable Word of God. There is an intrinsic bond between the word of God and the Eucharist. From listening to the word of God, faith is. . .strengthened; in the Eucharist, the Word made flesh gives himself to us as our spiritual food. The Bread of life comes from two tables–the ambo and the altar–the Word and the Sacrament. The word of God, read and proclaimed by the Church in the liturgy, leads to the Eucharist as to its own connatural end.

Thus the Holy Father insists that the proclamation of the word of God is entrusted to well-prepared readers. Those of us who preach the word have to frequently remind everyone of the connection between the Word and the sacrament, and between the historical Jesus and the Word made flesh today. Christ does not speak in the past, but in the present, even as he is present in the liturgical action. The importance of making the Word real as a present reality is why we emphasize the frequent prayer of Scripture–the Liturgy of the Hours in particular. And it is why the Holy Father insists also that the quality of homilies be improved, so that we foster a deeper understanding of the word of God so that it can bear fruit in the lives of the listeners.

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