Easter Sunday — 2016

Regrettably, I didn’t have time to write a post about the Easter Vigil celebrated on Saturday evening. It is the central liturgy of the whole year. I hope I’ll be able to write something in time for next year’s vigil. But now, as the Sunday comes to a close, hear are some thoughts about the scriptures for the Mass for daytime Sunday.

 

 

The first reading — Acts 10:34a, 37-43 — is taken from a sermon by Peter in the house of a gentile centurion named Cornelius. Up to this point, Jesus’ followers were all Jews. But now a series of visions had caused Cornelius to send for Peter and Peter to accept Cornelius’ request that Peter visit him. Peter was speaking to a number of Cornelius’ friends and relatives. He gives a synopsis of Jesus’ ministry and then testifies to his death and resurrection and to his status as judge of the living and dead and to the forgiveness of sins which comes to believers through Jesus. Following this passage, we are told that the Holy Spirit fell on those listening to Peter, and ordered that they be baptized. This definitively marks the admission of uncircumcised gentiles into the Church.

The passage witnesses to us of the belief in the resurrection and Lordship of Jesus already present in the early days of the Church.

 

The responsorial psalm — Ps 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23, with verse 24 as the refrain — contains verses used to support the idea that one rejected by the authorities could be the Messiah: “the stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.” This was read as a prophecy of Jesus’ Lordship, and t must be God’s doing. The resurrection is a powerful act by God, one which ultimately promises us life. Our response is to recognize the day of the resurrection, and by extension, every Sunday — which is our holy day because it commemorates the resurrection of Jesus — as “the day the Lord has made,” a day for rejoicing.

 

There are alternative second readings.
Colossians 3:1-4 refers to its hearers as having died and having been raised with Christ, which happens in baptism. This sharing in the death and resurrection of Jesus has consequences: we should care more about the things of heaven, our ultimate destiny, that about those of this earthly existence.
1 Corinthians 5:6b-8 spells out the consequences more specifically. Using the metaphor of the Jewish Passover rule of removing all yeast from the house in advance of the holy days (so that they would eat only unleavened bread), Paul calls on his hearers to remove malice and wickedness from their lives, which are now a perpetual Passover marked by sincerity and truth, with Christ as the paschal lamb.

 

In Jesus’ time, belief in a resurrection at the end of time was common among Jews other than the Sadducees, but it was not easy for Jesus’ disciples to grasp the concept of a resurrection happening before then. That is why the final verse of the gospel — John 20:1-9 — tells us that “they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” We see a similar incomprehension in the other gospels when Jesus predicts his passion and resurrection. This is the beginning of John’s account of Jesus’ appearances after his resurrection. At first, Mary Magdalen seems to suspect tat the empty tomb was the work of grave robbers, but John comes to believe that Jesus was raised. The appearances of Jesus will make it clear to them all.

 

Jesus, our Paschal Lamb is risen and shares his life with us.
Our celebration of the Lord’s resurrection will continue through the fifty days of the Easter Season to Pentecost. as we hear the gospel accounts of his appearances after his resurrection and consider the meaning of our participation in his life.

Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday) — 2016

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper, as its name indicates, commemorates Jesus’ last supper with his disciples before his arrest, trial, and death on the cross. The first reading — Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14 — gives the prescriptions for the Israelites’ first Passover, celebrated the night before their exodus from Egypt, with its sacrificial lamb and unleavened bread.

We see the lamb, whose blood protected the Israelites from the the destroying angel, as a prefiguring of Jesus. When John the Baptist saw Jesus, he called him “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) Jesus’ offering of himself, his self-sacrifice, redeems us from our sinfulness. We will be able to leave the Egypt of slavery to sin and ultimately enter the promised land of heaven.

The unleavened bread prefigures the bread of the Lord’s Supper. In John 6, Jesus said that we must eat his body and drink his blood to have life, and he said that the bread he would give us is his flesh. The gospels suggest that the Last Supper was the Passover meal. At it, Jesus fulfills the promise of his flesh and blood by identifying the unleavened bread as his body and the cup of wine as his blood. We believe that at every Mass, the sacrifice of Calvary is made present as it was at the Last Supper. That is why the priest repeats John the Baptist’s words, “Behold the Lamb of God … who takes away the sins of the world.”
In the responsorial psalm — Ps 116:12-13, 15-16bc, 17-18, with a refrain based on 1 Corinthians 10:16 — we anticipate the next reading and reflect on death and sacrifice.
The second reading —1 Corinthians 11:23-26 — gives us Paul’s account of Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. It was written before the gospels, and witnesses to the tradition which informed them. Jesus declares that the bread he shares is his body, that is for them, and the wine is the new covenant in his blood. They are to repeat his action in remembrance of him — proclaiming his death until he returns.
The choice of John 13:1-15 for the gospel may seem surprising: why not one of the synoptics, with their accounts of the institution of the Eucharist? For one thing, we already have the equivalent in the second reading. For another, we have the Feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord (Corpus Christi) to underline the doctrine of the Real Presence. The account of Jesus’ washing the feet of the disciples, and commanding them to serve one another, following his example, shows us what the effect of our participation at Mass must be. Jesus didn’t give us his body and blood, sacrificed on Calvary, for their own sake. They are to gives us a life conformed to his life, a life of love for one another and of the service which naturally flows from that love. In the Latin the Church used for centuries, the word for “commandment” that Jesus uses is “mandatum,” which, in an anglicized form, “maundy” gives the title under which this day is often designated: Maundy Thursday.

Christians’ participation in the Body and Blood of the Lord must lead to loving service. I think Pope Francis is re-emphasing this point for us.

Sunday Scriptures — Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday) C, Mar. 20, 2016

This Sunday’s liturgy opens with a rite commemorating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The remainder of the Mass focuses on his passion and death. Jesus, by rights a king, accepts humiliation and death to bring us mercy and forgiveness.
In the opening rite, the priest blesses palms, reminding us of the palm branches which some gospel accounts tell us the people strewed on the road ahead of Jesus (Matthew 21:8, Mark 11:8). After the blessing of palms. the gospel of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is read. This year’s gospel is Luke — Lk 19:28-40. Jesus rides on a colt, not a magnificent stallion, as might be expected of a king. This indicates his humility: he is not an earthly king, although the people, paraphrasing Psalm 118:26, acclaim him as a king and repeat the words of the angels at his birth proclaiming peace and glory. Some of the pharisees tell Jesus to quiet the crowd lest this seem to be a revolt against Rome, but Jesus insists that the acclamations are necessary, even though he has and seeks no political power.
The first reading of the Mass — Isaiah 50:4-7 — is the third of four “Servant Songs” in Isaiah. (We’ll hear the fourth on Good Friday.) It describes the servant’s sufferings in terms similar to what we read of Jesus in the gospels. But the servant does what the Lord calls him to do, and he has confidence in God’s help, so that his suffering will not be the final word.
The responsorial psalm — verses of Psalm 22 — has for its response the words of verse 2 which Jesus quoted on the cross (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34). The selected verses tell of mockery and dividing of garments which, which we will also hear of in the gospel. Then we have a prayer for God’s help such as the suffering Servant of Isaiah counted on. The servant will proclaim God’s name.
The second reading — Phillipians 2:6-11 —takes us from Jesus’s inherent equality with God, through his laying aside of that equality in order to undergo suffering and the death on the cross, and culminating with his resurrection and glorification — an very compact account of the work of the Messiah.
The gospel — Luke 22:14 – 23:56 — takes us from the Last Supper to the burial of Jesus. At theLast Supper, Jesus emphasizes that they must serve one another, following his example. He gives Peter the role of confirming the faith of the others, and then predicts his threefold betrayal. After his agony in Gethsemani he is betrayed by Judas with a kiss. Peter fulfills the prediction of his denial. The Sanhedrin convicts him os blasphemy, but to Pilate they accuse him of opposing Roman power. While neither Pilate nor Herod find the charges valid, a crowd is incited to demand his crucifixion, and Pilate gives in. In his words to the women on the way to Calvary, there is perhaps a foreshadowing of the persecutions which his followers will have to undergo.

Twice on Calvary Jesus shows mercy: first praying for the forgiveness of his executioners, and later promising Paradise to the believing criminal crucified beside him.

Afte his death the centurion, a gentile, recognizes his innocence as do the Jewish crowd. The women followers know where he is buries, so they will know that the empty tomb of Easter is truly where he was buried.

Sunday Scriptures — Lent C 5, Mar. 13, 2016

Today’s readings culminate with the gospel account of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. The earlier readings do not seem to be closely connected to it, but they present themes which are found in the gospel as well. The readings also continue ideas presented in previous week: return to God and mercy.

The first reading — Isaiah 43:16-21 — is one of Isaiah’s prophecies of the return of the exiles from the Babylonian captivity. He recalls the Israelites’ crossing of the Red Sea at the time of the Exodus, with the death of the pursuing Egyptians. But what God is about to do will be even more spectacular, preparing a way for the people to return to their homeland.

The responsorial psalm — Ps 126:1-6 — takes us to the time after the exile. We thank God for his saving action. The saving action for which we are grateful above all is being saved from sin through the action of Jesus which we celebrate in Holy Week and Easter (the Sacred Triduum).

In the second reading — Phlippians 3:8-14 — St. Paul reminds us of his own case. What matters is knowing Jesus as his savior. It is not observance of the law which saves him, but faith in Jesus, risen from the dead. Apart from that, everything is “rubbish,” and he is content to lose it all. We might ask us whether we are of the same mind? Could we live without all the entertaining things which surround us. In a society which tells us that we must have an active sex life, can we live chastely as single (and celibate) or married (and faithful) individuals? In a society which tells us we must have the latest technology, can we be content with whatever serviceable devices we already have. Do we “need” the finest food, the latest fashions and popular designer labels?

Paul’s conclusion reminds us of Isaiah’s call to look to the future rather than the past. We have a goal which we must always have in mind: life on high with God. That is what makes it possible to consider everything else rubbish.

The gospel — John 8:1-11 — tells us of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery. Jesus is given a seemingly insoluble dilemma of either abrogating God’s law about adulterers or letting a woman be stoned for her sin. But Jesus is the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount. He does not abolish the law. He elevates it. Killing is wrong, but so is anger. Adultery is wrong, but so is lust.. We are not to resist those who harm us, but to forgive. We must pay attention to the beam in our own eye rather than the speck in our brother’s — that is, not judge others but acknowledge our own faults. In that light, only the faultless are in a position to punish others for their faults.

One lesson is that we should avoid the sort of self-righteousness or legalism which makes us ready to condemn others for the faults we see in them — the sort of thing which leads people to say certain people should be excluded from the church or to say that they must live up to our standards if they want to be welcome.

Another lesson is, once more, the mercy of God. He does not condemn. He calls us. He calls us to live holy lives, but he never gives up on us.

Sunday Scriptures — Lent C 4, Lætare Sunday Mar. 06, 2016

My apology for being so late with this. I got tied up with other things. I’ll try to be more timely hereafter.

The title of the 4th Sunday of Lent, Lætare Sunday, comes from the beginning of the traditional Latin Introit Chant for the day. “Lætare, Jerusalem …” (Isaiah 66:10-11) “Rejoice, Jerusalem …” These chants consisted of an opening verse, usually from scripture, followed by a psalm verse, followed by the short doxology (Glory be to the Father …), followed by a repeat of the opening verse. In earlier times, there might have been several psalm verses, with the opening verse repeated after each one, in the manner of our contemporary responsorial psalms. At any rate, the first word or phrase of the introit was used as the title of the Mass in which it was used. A few have survived in use today to designate Sundays or Mass texts: Lætare, for this Sunday, Gaudete for the Third Sunday of Advent, and Requiem, for funeral Masses. Additionally, Quasimodo, for the Sunday after Easter, is known as the name of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, who was born on that day.

It may seem counterintuitive that “Rejoice” should be the theme for a Sunday in the penitential season of Lent. It comes at the midpoint of the season, and is taken as encouragement: “We’re halfway to Easter!” Rose colored vestments can be worn on this day and Gaudete Sunday to increase the feeling of encouragement.

The first reading — Joshua 5:9a, 10-12 — tells of the first Passover celebrated by the Israelites in the Promised Land, after their forty years of wandering in the desert. Throughout their wanderings, they had been subsisting on the miraculous food, manna. Now that they have arrived in the Promised Land, normal food is available; the manna is no longer needed, so it ceases. We can see the as suggesting our life’s journey. On our way to heaven, we are sustained spiritually by the Eucharist, but in heaven we will no longer need it.

The responsorial psalm — Ps 34:2-7, with 9a as the response — seems to be chosen for that response, “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord,” which picks up on the notion of eating, whether manna or the produce of the land. The verses meditate on that goodness: we praise the Lord because he delivers us from fear and distress in answer to our prayers, as he delivered the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt.

The second reading — 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 — begins by contrasting newness in Christ with old things of the past. For the Israelites, the old things of Egypt and the desert had passed away when they entered the Promised Land. Paul says that the old things of estrangement from God because of sin have passed away because we have been reconciled by God to himself through Christ.

The gospel — Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 — gives us one of three parables Jesus gives in response to those who object to his welcoming of sinners and eating with them: the Prodigal Son. The other two are the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. In a way the prodigal son’s return to his father is like the arrival of the Israelites in the Promised Land. Although the Israelites had arrived in Egypt in good condition, they ultimately became oppressed, and God led them back to the land where Abraham had lived, as the son returned from the foreign land to his own land and his father’s house. We treat both the bondage in Egypt and the actions of the son in leaving his father and squandering what he has received from his father as symbols of sin. The son repents and returns and is reconciled with his father, as St. Paul urges the Corinthians and us.

One very important message is, of course, the mercy of the father, who not only lets the son come home but honors him with the finest robe, a ring, and a celebration — restoring him to the family. The father can’t do that until the son has come back, but he isn’t passive. He’s looking, and as soon as he sees the son, he runs to welcome him. This is the message for all who are conscious of being sinners. They have nothing to fear from God, whom the father in the parable represents. God always wants to welcome them back into his good graces.

Beyond this assurance of God’s mercy, we should also consider the context. We are told this parable is directed to the Pharisees and scribes who objected to Jesus’ welcoming of sinners. They are represented in the parable by the older brother. In this light, the parable is a warning to us not to think that there are people excluded from God’s love: that we’re okay but they aren’t (whoever “they” happen to be in our eyes. We should be as anxious as the father to see people returning to him, and we should realize that in some way or ways we are all prodigal sons who need God’s mercy. Lent is a time for conversion, and this parable encourages us all to convert in whatever way(s) we need to.