Sunday Scriptures — Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday) B, Mar. 25, 2018

First Reading — Isaiah 50:4-7

Second Reading — Philippians 2:6-11

Gospel — Mark 14:1-15:47

The liturgy of Palm Sunday can begin with a ceremony of blessing of palms during which the passage telling of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is read. It is taken from the current year’s gospel, except that in Year B there is an option to read the account from John. Thus, if the blessing takes place at a given Mass, we may hear Mark 11:1-10 or John12:12-16. The version from Mark includes Jesus’ sending disciples to borrow the colt for him. John’s version includes an Old Testament quote promising Zion that her king would arrive as Jesus did. Central in significance for both is the people’s acclamation, “Hosanna!” followed by words quoted at every Mass, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” The irony that a few days later a crowd, possibly including some of the same people, would be shouting for his crucifixion is a warning to us all to be v=clear about where we stand. Our human nature can be fickle. Even if we don’t explicitly oppose Jesus, we can ignore his teachings and calls in our life.


The first two readings and responsorial psalm of Palm Sunday are the same every year. The gospel is the Passion Narrative of the gospel being read on Sundays throughout the year. So this year we hear the Passion according to St. Mark.


The first reading — Isaiah 50:4-7 — is the third of four “Songs of the Suffering Servant” in the book of Isaiah. The servant of the Lord undergoes sufferings like those of Jesus, but he has confidence in God that he will ultimately be vindicated.


The responsorial psalm — verses of Psalm 22, with verse 2 as the refrain — is quoted by Jesus on the cross. Like the first reading, it tells of one who is being tormented, but concludes with an expression of confidence in being vindicated by God.


In the gospel — Mark 14:1—15:47 — we hear of Jesus fully aware of what is about to happen to him, saying that the woman who anointed him at the home of Simon the leper had done so in preparation for his burial. Although in the garden he wishes that it weren’t necessary, he accepts it as the will of his Father. At the Last Supper, he gives the Twelve his body and “[his] blood of the covenant.” “Blood of the covenant” is significant because it recalls the blood of the covenant in Exodus 24:8. To ratify God’s covenant with Israel, Moses offers a sacrifice and takes the blood of the animals sacrificed and splashes half of it on the altar and sprinkles the people with the other half, Now Jesus’ sacrifice establishes God’s covenant with his people and brings forgiveness of sins.

Jesus unflinchingly proclaims his Messiahship and accepts his crucifixion. Others actively seek his death (the Sanhedrin), yield to pressure (Pilate), betray him (Judas), deny him (and repent)(Peter), run away (disciples, young man who ran away naked — instead of leaving all to follow Jesus, he left all to stop following), mock him (Sanhedrin members, Roman soldiers, passers-by, chief priests, those crucified with him), follow loyally (women observing the crucifixion), or come to faith (centurion). If we sin, we are yielding, denying, or running away from him, and seeking our own comfort or pleasure. But he will forgive, as he forgave Peter and the other disciples after he rose.

I was at a lecture where someone asked where was Jesus’ mercy when he said of Judas, “better for that man if he had never been born.” The answer is that all of God’s threats are conditional: this is what will happen if you don’t repent and change your ways. When Jesus spoke to Judas, it was a warning and a plea: what you are about to do will turn out very badly for you; don’t go through with it. Judas could have repented and been restored to God’s grace. God’s mercy remained available to him, as it is to all of us.

We might note that the Sanhedrin trial was a kangaroo court. At 14:1, days beforehand, they decide to put Jesus to death. At the trial, failing to get testimony capable of justifying the death sentence, the high priest asserts that Jesus’ claim of Messiahship consistent with Daniel 7:13 is blasphemy. But of course, if true, it isn’t blasphemy. There is no proof that Jesus’ claim is false, just an assertion made in order to justify the predetermined outcome.


The second reading — Philippians 2:6-11 — also speaks of the sufferings of Jesus, putting them in the context of his divinity. As God he was unable to suffer and die, so he became human in order to die for us. His exaltation shows him as Lord, our Savior, deserving of our reverent and grateful praise.


I don’t think I’ll have a chance to write new posts for Holy Thursday and Good Friday, but the readings are the same every year, so you might want to check out those from 2016 in the archive.


Sunday Scriptures — Lent B 04 & 05, Mar. 11 & 18, 2018

Fourth Sunday – March 11

First Reading — 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23

Second Reading — Ephesians 2:4-10

Gospel — John 3:14-21

A unifying thread of these readings is God’s merciful care for his people. Chronicles concludes with the release of the Israelites from the Babylonian captivity. In Ephesians Paul speaks not of a political captivity but of the spiritual death of sin. The Israelites did not effect their own liberation. It was the Persian king, raised up by God to liberate them for the consequences of their violations of the covenant. In the same way, it is not our own works that save us from the death of sin; it is God’s freely given grace. Jesus died and rose, and God has “raised us up with him.”

Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus, quoted in part in this day’s gospel, includes the classic text, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. The passage begins with a reference to the story in Numbers 21:4-9: the Israelites were being bitten by venomous serpents, and God told to make a bronze image of a serpent and mount it on a pole. Whoever looked at the bronze serpent was healed. Jesus, mounted — lifted up — on the cross heals those who look on him with faith. The grace of faith brings us to leave the darkness of our sins behind.


Fifth Sunday – March 18

First Reading — Jeremiah 31:31-34

Second Reading — Hebrews 5:7-9

Gospel — John 12:20-23

In the gospel some Greek believers in Judaism go to one of  the apostles with a Greek name and ask to see Jesus. He gets the other apostle with a Greek name, and they relay the request of those believing gentiles. Jesus’ response, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” seems enigmatic. I think it has to do with the fact that his message is reaching beyond his Jewish followers. His resurrection must take place before the gentile world is evangelized. The text does not say whether Jesus actually met with those Greeks. It is entirely possible that he did. What is important for us is that their request heralds Jesus’ death and resurrection. As in the fourth Sunday’s gospel, Jesus again speaks of being “lifted up” (like the bronze serpent) and drawing everyone, Jews and gentiles to himself.

Jesus is the epitome of self-abnegation for the sake of producing fruit. He willingly accepted crucifixion and death in order to be “the source of salvation for all who obey him,” and invites all to this obedience. But we are also called to share his attitude of “hat[ing] our life in this world.” We will not necessarily have to die directly as a result of following Jesus, but our lives must not be ones of self-seeking.

We believe that Jesus inaugurates the new covenant of which Jeremiah speaks. It is a covenant in which our sins are forgiven and God’s law is written in our hearts — the Holy Spirit guides our consciences.

Sunday Scriptures — Lent B 03, Mar. 04, 2018

First Reading — Exodus 20:1-17

Second Reading — 1 Corinthians 1:22-25

Gospel — John 2:13-25


St. Paul tells us that Jesus is “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” His death and resurrection show God’s power at work in him. He is the authorized spokesman who has a right to specify proper reverence for God’s temple. Wisdom (reason, philosophy) seeks to understand the truth of existence: a worthy pursuit. In this, it has the immense advantage of the truth presented by the revelation of God in Jesus and in scripture, that God loves his people and offers us eternal life where all evil is overcome.

The ten commandments set out minimum standards of living in right relationship with God and with one another as members of his people. The two greatest commandments — love God with all your being; love your neighbor as yourself — provide the basis and context for the ten, as well as for all the developments elsewhere in the Torah, the prophets, and the teachings of Jesus.

Do we regard God’s law as a burden or do we see it as the Jews regard Torah, a great gift, as expressed in the responsorial psalm (Ps. 19:8-11)? There we say, “The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart. … They are more precious than gold …; sweeter also than syrup or honey from the comb.”

The scriptures of this day point us toward Easter and invite us to renew our faith in Jesus as the one sent by God to save us and bring us into holiness and eternal life through his teachings and above all through his death and resurrection which are not only salvific in themselves but also the proof of his Messiahship.

Sunday Scriptures — Lent B 01 & 02, Feb. 18 & 25, 2018

First Sunday – February 18

First Reading — Genesis 9:8-15

Second Reading — 1 Peter 3:18-22

Gospel — Mark 1:12-15

Every year, the gospel for the first Sunday of Lent tells of Jesus’ forty days of fasting in the desert and  his temptations. The current year, Year B, features the Gospel of Mark, and Mark’s account gives none of the details of the temptations we hear of in Matthew and Luke. This gives a chance for us to hear a bit of the context going forward, namely, the beginning of his public ministry: proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom of God. The verses preceding this selection tell of Jesus’ baptism by John, and that provides a connection to the second reading, which in turn connects with the first.

The three “synoptic gospels” — Matthew, Mark, and Luke — record the same sequence of events: Jesus is baptized, anointed by the Holy Spirit, and proclaimed God’s son; Jesus undertakes a 40 day period of fasting and prayer in the desert, during which he undergoes temptation; Jesus begins his public ministry. (John gives us the baptism and inauguration of the ministry, but doesn’t mention the desert.) This has significance for our lives. Most obviously, we have entered on a period of forty days of prayer and fasting (and almsgiving). It is a time of preparation for Easter, which is the time for adults to be baptized and begin their ministry as members of the Body of Christ, proclaiming the Kingdom of God. For those already baptized, Easter is a time for renewing our baptismal commitment to proclaim God’s Kingdom by our lives, in our circumstances; and Lent is when we prepare to reinvigorate our lives of witness to the gospel, overcoming temptation and opening ourselves to the Holy Spirit through our Lenten practices of a more intense living of lives based on faith.

In the second reading, Peter sets baptism in the context of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the saving act which is the culmination of the ministry which began after his baptism. Baptism incorporates the believer into this saving act of Jesus, in effect making him or her a sharer in that act, a recipient of its benefits. The water of the flood destroyed the sinfulness of the world in the time of Noah, just as baptism takes away our sins and puts us in a covenant relationship with God.


Second Sunday – February 25

First Reading — Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18

Second Reading — Romans 8:31b-34

Gospel — Mark 9:2-10

The gospel for the second Sunday of Lent yearly presents an account of the transfiguration of Jesus — this year from Mark. First though, we hear the harrowing account of Abraham and the uncompleted sacrifice of Isaac. (For the people of ancient Israel, this was at least an implicit rejection of the practice of human sacrifice.) Some of the detail* is omitted from the reading, to concentrate on the essentials. We hear of Abraham’s obedience to God, and God’s promises in response to Abraham’s faithfulness. God spares Abraham’s son, but, as Paul points out, he does not spare his own son. That sacrifice acquits us of our sins.

* Isaac carries the wood for the sacrifice, making him a “type,” a prefiguring, of Jesus, who carried the wood of his cross to the hill of sacrifice. In response to Isaac’s question, “Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” Abraham promises that God will provide, which he dies.

Paul tells us that Jesus not only died but was raised for us and is at the right hand of the Father. The transfiguration gives the apostles a vision of Jesus in the glory of his resurrection. The presence of Moses and Elijah — representing the Law and the Prophets — shows the continuity of the revelation of the Old and New Testaments. Jesus fulfills that revelation.

The voice from the cloud repeats the proclamation that was made at Jesus’ baptism: he is God’s son. This resonates with the baptismal facet of Lent. As a result of our baptism, we have the promise of a like glory when we are resurrected. The Jews of Jesus’ time knew that there would be a resurrection at the end of time, but they didn’t expect anybody to rise before that general resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection promises ours.

Our baptism makes us spiritual descendants of Abraham, so that in us, along with the Jews, “all the nations of the earth shall find blessing.”

Sunday Scriptures — OT B 06, Feb. 11, 2018

I think that listing the assigned scriptures at the beginning can make it easier to relate them to one another, so I’m giving it a try.

First Reading — Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46

Second Reading — 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1

Gospel — Mark 1:29-39


Leprosy, diagnosed by a priest, excluded a person from contact with the community of Israel. A cure also had to be diagnosed by a priest, and a sacrifice was offered when the cure was confirmed. Jesus was not concerned with the prohibition of contact with a leper, but cured him by touching him and speaking an effective word of healing. To enable the man to return to the community, Jesus tells him to follow the rules of the Law to have his cure certified. There are three aspects that invite some reflection.

First, Jesus in effect trades places with the leper. The reading tells us that the result of the leper’s proclamation of what Jesus had done, the crowds that mob Jesus when he enters a town make it necessary for him to stay in deserted places, as the leper previously had to, while now the leper is free to go around in the towns and villages. Jesus also trades places with us. He takes away our sins by dying on the cross in our place. We are the ones who deserve to be punished by death, but Jesus accepted death for our sake.

Second, the leper feels compelled to spread the good news of what Jesus had done for him. In last week’s second reading (1 Corinthians 9:16-23, esp. 16-17), St. Paul stated that he also felt obligated to announce the gospel. Do we feel a similar compulsion to share the good news about Jesus? We don’t need to buttonhole strangers in public and tell them all about it, or pass out tracts on the subway. In fact we’d probably do better not to do that. But do we want to take advantage of chances people give us to speak of our faith. Do we show the joy of a redeemed life?

Third, Jesus heals the leper, and he wants to heal us spiritually. Lent — which began as the time of final preparation of catechumens for Baptism, which was conferred at Easter — soon also became the time for notorious sinners to perform public penance in preparation for being reconciled with the Church by the bishop at Easter. Now the Sacrament of Reconciliation is available all year, and for lesser sins as well as notoriuos ones. But Lent is still a good time for us to do penance for our sins, using the three practices mentioned in Matthew 6 (read on Ash Wednesday) — prayer, almsgiving, and fasting — to a higher degree than during the rest of the year. Jesus wants to heal us of any “spiritual leprosy” we have incurred; and the Sacrament of Reconciliation is his chosen means for doing so, especially for serious sins, which separate us from God. After the encounter with Jesus in the sacrament, people have a feeling of joy and relief, as did the leper.


St. Paul’s words can also help us think about our approach to Lent. Like everything else, Lent is for the glory of God. This ties in with the gospel reading for Ash Wednesday, which tells us not to do good things in order to win praise. If we make a show of it, there is no merit in it for us. We are to pray, fast, and give alms as quietly as possible. When we do that, our acts are done for the glory of God, not for our own glory. Even our own sanctification, which these things lead to, is for the glory of God. Beyond that, our quiet holiness gives an example of a life well lived which can help lead others to goodness as well.

Sunday Scriptures — OT A 15, Jul. 16, 2017

I’m back to work after neglecting the blog for a while.



This past Sunday’s readings include the first of the “Parables of the Kingdom” in chapter 13 of the gospel of Matthew. This parable, like the next few, has an agricultural theme, and the first reading uses related imagery. These images are used to tell us of God’s word.


The first reading — Isaiah 55:10:11 — uses the metaphor of rain to illustrate the action of the word of God, which will accomplish God’s will. We can think of God’s word at creation: when God says, in Genesis, let something be or happen, it is created or happens. When the prophet announces God’s word, we can be sure that God will cause his will to be done. We also should think of the opening of the gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,. … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1, 14) Jesus, the Word of God, accomplished the purpose for which the Father sent him into the world — the salvation of the world, the establishment of the Kingdom of God.


The responsorial psalm — verses of Psalm 65 with a refrain based on the gospel — has us reflect on the action of rain as described by Isaiah in the light of the bountiful harvest which good soil produces.


The second reading — Romans 8:18-23 — is part of a series of selections from Romans continuing over several Sundays. It tells us of fallen creation’s need for the redemption brought by Jesus. We share in that need. Of course, by the time Paul wrote, Jesus had done the work of redemption, but it was not, and still is not, brought to complete fruition in people or the other elements of creation. There will be a new heaven and a new earth, the Book of Revelation assures us, in which all creation will be raised from its fallen state along with human beings. This will happen when Jesus returns at the end of time.


The gospel — Matthew 13:1-23 — gives the parable of the sower and the seed. Then there is a discussion of the reason for Jesus’ use of parables, followed by an interpretation of the parable. The seed is the word of the Kingdom, the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. In Isaiah, we heard that God’s word accomplishes his purpose. Here we learn that God accomplishes his purpose through us, as seed needs soil. Some people can fail to further God’s purpose. We are not passive. We can refuse the grace which would enable us to further the kingdom, or we can accept the word and provide a “multiplier effect” for the word sown in us and thus be instruments for the accomplishment of God’s will.

If we haven’t rejected the word, it is important that we not lose sight of its centrality to our existence. We mustn’t let created things draw us away from doing God’s will for us, because it is in doing God’s will that we give the witness to our faith which can draw others toward God’s Kingdom and help to make them good soil.

The basic thought in the explanation of why Jesus speaks in parables is that some people refuse to listen to the word of God. It is their choice to be hard, unreceptive ground. For them, no presentation of God’s word will matter, but for those who are open to God’s word, the parables bring a better understanding than a dry, theological treatise.


When we believe the word of God and conform our lives to the teachings of scripture, we become fruitful in accomplishing God’s purpose of establishing his kingdom among us.

Sunday Scriptures — Sixth Sunday of Easter A, May 21, 2017

As Eastertide enters its last two weeks, the readings turn our attention toward the Holy Spirit.

The first reading — Acts 8:5-8, 14-17 — tells of the reception of the gospel in Samaria. Philip was one of the seven who were appointed to “wait on tables” to insure equity in the daily distribution, as we heard in last week’s first reading. In chapters 6 and 7 we hear of Stephen’s works, preaching, trial, and martyrdom. Now another deacon is preaching the gospel. Despite the reason behind their selection for ministry (with an installation which has marks of ordination), they cannot refrain from proclaiming the gospel.

Stephen’s activity was in Jerusalem, but Philip goes to Samaria. Up to this point, we have only heard of the Church in Jerusalem — the work and preaching of the Apostles there and the opposition from the Sanhedrin, culminating with the martyrdom of Stephen. Philip is the first to proclaim the gospel outside Jewish territory. The Church had to verify that this extension of the faith into foreign territory was authentic.

The apostles’ prayer brings the Holy Spirit manifestly upon the Samaritans. Although Baptism brings the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which Jesus promises, there was with Jesus and the early Church an empowering anointing by the Holy Spirit which believers received. We can see this as corresponding to Confirmation.

The responsorial psalm — verses of Psalm 66 — speaks generally of our joy in the goodness of the Lord. Our joy is based on the Resurrection of Jesus, with all it means. The response, extending the call for joy to all the earth, can remind us of the extension of the gospel beyond Judea.
In the second reading — 1 Peter 3:15-18 — there is a “stream of consciousness” which calls us to good conduct of various sorts and concludes with a reminder of Jesus’ saving work. This connects with the theme of the Holy Spirit in two ways. There is an explicit reference to the Spirit’s place in Jesus’ resurrected life. Beyond that, it is the Holy Spirit who empowers us to sanctify Christ, to give respectful explanations of our faith, and to keep our consciences clear by avoiding evil conduct and doing good.
The gospel — John 14:15-21— like last Sunday’s is an excerpt from Jesus’ discourse at the Last Supper. He is looking forward to the time after his ascension. He promises the sending of the Holy Spirit, here called Advocate and Spirit of truth. This promise was first fulfilled at Pentecost, again at Samaria and on other occasions recounted in Acts, and the Holy Spirit continues to be given to believers, to dwell in us.

Jesus then promises that his ascension will not leave us orphans: he will come to us. He will return at the end of time to gather those who love him to himself. It seems there is more to this promise than simply that. We will see him when the world no longer sees him. We see him in the sacrament of his Body and Blood. We see him in another way in the least of his brethren.

Next, Jesus tells us that he is in the Father and in us, and we are in him. Elsewhere he has told us the Father is also in him (John 14:10). Implicitly, then when we are in Jesus, we are also in the Father and the Father is in us — and as Jesus had just said, the Holy Spirit is in us. This reciprocal indwelling of the faithful and the Trinity is the form which our baptismal adoption takes. We participate in the life of God, which is eternal life.

An Italian Salesian daily missal I got many years ago draws this point out in a way that explains why Jesus’ command at 15:12 is not “Love your neighbor,” but “Love one another as I have loved you.” The love which exists among the followers of Jesus is of a higher order that that which can exist with non-believers, since it is a share in the internal love of the Persons of the Trinity. Nevertheless, we are also called to love all our fellow humans. It seems to me that this love is analogous to God’s love. The love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was so great that it “had to” express itself in the creation of a loved universe, including humans with whom the love could be reciprocally shared. God loves all people and wants them to be saved, and the divine love in us must also overflow into to love for all and a desire for them to be saved. This love should motivate us as it motivated Philip’s preaching in Samaria. We should not neglect opportunities to explain the reason for our hope; and our lives — keeping Jesus’ commandments — should reflect God’s goodness.

Sunday Scriptures — Fifth Sunday of Easter A, May 14, 2017

The past three Sundays have given us readings from Acts and 1 Peter. Two of the gospels have been from John and one from Luke. The pattern continues, with some changes of scene.
In past weeks, we’ve been hearing from Peter’s speech to the crowd on Pentecost as recounted in Acts 2. This Sunday’s first reading — Acts 6:1-7 — takes us forward to the situation in which the first deacons were appointed to ensure fairness in “the daily distribution.” In the gospel we will hear Jesus tell us that he is the image of the Father. Here, the deacons become the image of Jesus, who came to serve, not to be served. This passage is an example for us. We too should be images of Jesus, and thus of the Father, by our service to others through performance of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. We should also note that it is a well ordered community that enables attracts others to the faith and experiences growth.
The responsorial psalm — verses of Psalm 33, with v. 22 as the refrain — calls us to trust in God, foreshadowing Jesus’ exhortation to the disciples to have faith in him.
In the second reading — 1 Peter 2:4-9 — we have a metaphor of stones. Christ is a living stone, and we too are to be living stones built into a “spiritual house,” the Church, with Jesus as the foundation. As parts of the Church, we are not inert. Being living stones, we are to be a priesthood, offering sacrifices to God. Of course the most important sacrifice is the one in which we join with the Church as the Church unites with Jesus in offering the sacrifice of Calvary. Beyond that, through Christ we can offer our personal sacrifices to the Father by enduring sufferings and obeying God’s will as we understand it.
The gospel — John 14:1-12 — presents a scene at the Last Supper. First, Jesus promises that he will prepare a place for the disciples (and us) in his Father’s house and he will take us there. He tells Thomas that he is the only way to the Father, the truth, and the (eternal) life. He assures Philip that his identification with the Father is so close that to see him is the same as seeing the Father.

Although Jesus is the sole way to the Father, we are told in Matthew 25:31-46 that explicit faith in him is not required. Works of mercy toward his least brothers are sufficient.

The Father is in Jesus and Jesus in the Father, so that he is the image of the Father. In the same way, the parable of the vine and the branches, John 15:1-10, tells that Jesus is in us and we are in Jesus, which makes us images of him and, by extension, of the Father, which is what imposes on us the duty of loving one another and letting our love overflow in service to our neighbors.

Sunday Scriptures — Fourth Sunday of Easter A, May 7, 2017

As I wrote last year, “In all three years of the lectionary cycle, the Fourth Sunday of Easter is “Good Shepherd Sunday.” The opening prayer of the Mass (the same all three years) prays that the flock may follow where the shepherd has led, namely, to heaven. Each year’s gospel is taken from chapter 10 of the Gospel of John, in which Jesus calls himself both the gate of the sheepfold and the good shepherd.: Year A, verses 1-10; Year B, 11-18; and Year C, 27-30. The first two readings do not directly relate to the theme of the sheep and the shepherd. The title of Good Shepherd was popular with early Christians. Images of the shepherd with the sheep on his shoulders (Luke 15:5) were common as depictions of Jesus, and the logo for the current Jubilee Year of Mercy develops the image, substituting a human for the sheep.”


The first reading — Acts 2:14a, 36-41 — gives the conclusion of Peter’s address to the people on Pentecost. Peter’s testimony proves persuasive and the hearers come to faith. The first thing for a believer is to be baptized. We learn two things about the effects of baptism. It brings forgiveness of sins and confers the Holy Spirit. Peter follows this with an indication that the salvation Jesus brings extends beyond the people of Israel: it will include Gentiles. The remainder of the Book of Acts will tell the story of the work of the apostles, including Paul, in spreading the gospel to Jews and Gentiles.


The responsorial psalm — Ps 23 with the first verse as the refrain — is the Good Shepherd psalm, anticipating the gospel reading.


The second reading — 1 Peter 2:20b-25 — tells of Jesus’ patient acceptance of his sufferings and death. This is an example for us: we are called to accept suffering which comes to us as a consequence of our good lives. But more fundamentally, Jesus’ suffering and death, patiently borne, have freed us from our sins — the forgiveness which we receive at baptism, as we heard in the first reading, as well as access to forgiveness of sins committed after baptism. The reading concludes with another foreshadowing of the Good Shepherd theme.


The image of the shepherd is familiar from many passages of scripture: King David had been a shepherd; psalms refer to God as shepherd of Israel and the psalmist’s shepherd; Ezekiel tells of God describing himself as a shepherd who judges between sheep, much like the king in Jesus’ parable of the judgment of the nations in Matthew; Jesus tells of the shepherd who seeks the lost sheep. In today’s gospel — John 1:1-10 — there are two images Jesus uses for himself. the shepherd and the gate of the sheepfold. In both of them he makes a contrast with the thieves and robbers. There may be a tendency to ask, “Well, which is it: shepherd or gate?” but these are just different ways of illustrating Jesus’ care for us. Like the shepherd, he leads us to nourishment and safety. Like the gate of the fold where he gathers the sheep for the night, he protects us from thieves and predators — whatever would take us away from our life in God. Jesus promises us abundant life, eternal life, if we listen to his voice and follow him. Implicit in this is the requirement for us to be careful not to be led astray by voices other than his, by the temptations which come from the devil, from elements of culture which are contrary to the gospel, and from our own appetites and propensities which St. Paul calls “the flesh.” But the central message today is one for redemption and eternal life thanks to the saving work of our Good Shepherd.

Easter Vigil — 2017

The Easter Vigil is the central liturgy of the Church’s year. It is a Mass, with the regular elements of liturgy of the Word, which is what I concentrate in in my posts for Sundays and major feast days, and liturgy of the Eucharist — with presentation of the people’s gifts of bread and wine, and themselves; consecration of the bread and wine, making them the Body and Blood of Jesus; and Holy Communion. But at the Easter Vigil, some secondary parts are expanded into major rites, and the readings are more extensive.
Mass usually begins with a procession and introductory rite leading into the liturgy of the Word. At the Easter Vigil this rite is vastly expanded. First, a fire is lit; a large candle, adorned with various symbols of Christ, is lit from the fire; and the candle is carried in procession to a tall stand in the sanctuary. Meanwhile, the people’s candles are lit with candles lit from the Easter candle. The Easter candle represents the risen Christ, and its flame the light he gives to the world. When the clergy and ministers have arrived in the sanctuary, an ancient chant, called “Exsultet” (“Rejoice”) from its opening word in Latin, proclaims the praise of the candle as representing Jesus’ work of our salvation.
Normally, the liturgy of the Word consists of three readings, with a responsorial psalm after the first and an acclamation before the gospel. At the Vigil, there are seven Old Testament readings before the (non-gospel) New Testament reading, acclamation, and gospel. Not all seven O.T. readings are required to be read, but Exodus 14:15-15:1, which tells of the Israelites’ crossing of the Red Sea, is required. Not only does, it remind us of Passover, with the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb (a type of Christ), which immediately preceded the Exodus, but it also foreshadows baptism, which liberates us from slavery to sin by our passage through the water.

The first reading is the account of creation in Genesis 1:1-2-2. God creates the universe and it is very good. In Jesus, God recreates humanity, making it very, very good, and ultimately he will recreate the universe — a new heavens and new earth promised in Revelation.

Second is Genesis 22:1-18, the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham. At the end, God stops Abraham from killing his son, but God did not spare his own son in order to reconcile humanity to himself.Third is the reading from Exodus.

Next is Isaiah 54:5-13, in which God presents himself as the redeemer of Israel, promising reconciliation, “enduring love,” glory, and peace. We see Jesus as the one who brings these about, beginning in time, and fulfilled in eternity.

The fifth reading is also from Isaiah — 55:1-11. There is a promise of abundance. Gentiles will come to the Lord. God is forgiving, and his word — Jesus, in our understanding — sent to the earth, will accomplish his mission.

The sixth reading is Baruch 3:9-15, 32-4:4. God, the creator of the stars that rejoice before him, calls Israel back to his wisdom, his peace, which we understand are in Jesus.

Seventh is Ezekiel 35:16-17a, 16-28. Our sinfulness has caused our exile among the nations. For the sake of his own glory God will bring us back to the promised land. He will cleanse us of our sins by sprinkling clean water (baptism) on us and putting his spirit in us, enabling us to live according to his will.

In an ordinary Mass, the first reading is followed by a psalm, and then the second reading. In the Vigil, each of these readings has its psalm, but then there is a prayer recited by the priest before the next reading. It alludes to the preceding reading, asking God to deal kindly with us as indicated by the reading.


When the Old Testament readings, with their psalms and prayers are completed, the hymn “Glory to God in the Highest” is sung. This usually concludes the entrance rite, before the liturgy of the Word, so we might expect it to be placed before the first reading, rather than in the middle of the liturgy of the word. I suspect the reason for its current placement is that when Pope Pius XII revised the Vigil into its current form, Sunday Mass had only two readings, epistle and gospel. The Gloria came immediately before the first of the two readings, so the idea was that epistle and gospel were a separate unit and the Gloria should precede them. The Old Testament readings were probably seen as separate, not part of a continuum with the final two readings. At any rate the Gloria is sung, and then the prayer which would normally follow it to conclude the opening rite is said.
The epistle — Romans 6:3-11 — tells us that our baptism is a baptism into the death of Jesus, bringing us newness of life in union with his resurrection. Our baptism is thus also a death to sin.


The gospel this year, Year A, is Matthew’s account of the resurrection — Matthew 28:1-10. As the women approach Jesus’ tomb on that first Easter morning, there is an earthquake and an angel rolls the stone from to stone covering the entrance to the tomb. The angel tells the women that Jesus has risen. They are to tell the disciples to go to Galilee to meet Jesus. On their way, the women see Jesus, who gives them the same message for the disciples.

It was only this time hearing that gospel that I realized that Matthew implies that Jesus had already risen before the angel rolled back the stone. Possibly the earthquake was the moment he rose and left the tomb, or possible it had happened earlier, but in any case, Jesus (unlike Lazarus) doesn’t have to wait for the stone to be removed before he can leave the tomb. Just as he can enter the upper room through locked doors, in his glorified body, he leaves the tomb while it is still sealed.

Another point that occurs to me is that the reason for the angel’s message is that it prepares the women for encountering Jesus himself. Without that preparation, they would have been overwhelmed by meeting the resurrected Jesus, but ow they could accept it.


It may be expected that the liturgy would focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection. The heavy additional emphasis on baptism in this liturgy is because in ancient times, the Easter Vigil was the occasion on which people were baptized. This leads to the next difference from normal Sunday Masses. In place of the recitation of the Nicene Creed, which normally follows the gospel, there is a blessing of water for baptisms (or for sprinkling the people if there are no baptisms). Adults are then baptized, and then the people renew their baptismal renunciation of sin and profession of faith, following which they are sprinkled with the water, in commemoration and renewal of their own baptism.

After this, the Mass continues as usual.