This morning at Mass a detail in the Gospel pericope struck me with force. Buried in the longish reading is the key, probably, to its selection by our forebears, who so lovingly polish the gems of our sacred liturgical rites and bequeathed them to us with hope. Yes, there is the chronological element, but there’s more to it.
As a bit of a preamble, two points.
The first has to do with “active participation”. This in its fullest sense means, for most people at Mass, active receptivity to what is being offered. When you are the priest, reading the Gospel, you are in mainly offering mode, though hopefully you are open to receiving as well. So, keeping your head in the Mass as lay participant can be a real challenge. Listening with full attention to what is being offered is hard. Minds and thoughts can drift. Something that can help you remain in the game, as it were, is to condition yourself to remember that every reading ought reflect the fact that it, too, is a sacrificial offering being raised back to God from whom it came. That’s the second point. The readings are also sacrifices raised back to God. Words of Scripture, during the sacred liturgical action, rise like incense. Readings should be offered vocally to God. They aren’t dramatic pieces. They aren’t educational moments, though all Scripture which, is God-breathed or inspired, is always useful for instruction (cf 2 Timothy 3:16). So, the priest or deacon or subdeacon – or in junior mode – installed lector (can we please stop with people trooping up to read?) has a responsibility to read well and properly so that the transforming power inherent in God’s word can be properly received by the baptized. You, as baptized Christians, share in Christ’s priesthood in your own way. This enables you to offer pleasing sacrifices. When you are receiving the Word, you are also offering it by your active receptivity.
That’s really easy to do, right? NO! But what is easy about what occurs during Holy Mass? Why should you be infantalized and treated like dopes who can’t fulfill your roles without also sorts of choochoo or airplance noises as daddy or mommy raises the pre-chewed and easily digestible goop spoon?
Okay… I’m ranting. Back to my ramble.
It’s not just during Mass that my lumber-yard of a mind makes connections.
After Mass today I baptized infant twins, a week old. In the sacred ritual we have the ephphatha moment. The priest touches the ears of the one to be brought into the Church, saying, “Be opened”.
In a way, doesn’t this sum up everything about Christ’s message and our participation at Mass?
“But Father! But Father!” some of you less nimble libs might squeak, “you are now running wild. That’s not at all what ephpa…apath… that word is about. It’s all about fellowship and sharing, like when Jesus performed the miracle of getting everyone to share their food with each other. But you don’t get this because you HATE VATICAN II!”
Okay… fine. Be obtuse. I will, however, quote Benedict XVI, who in a 2012 audience said of ephphatha, “a small but, very important word; a word that in its deepest meaning sums up the whole message and the whole work of Christ.”
So, what goes through this priest’s head during the Gospel of Mass and during a baptism?
Let’s have the whole Gospel from this morning first.
Continuation +?of the Holy Gospel according to John
R. Glory be to Thee, O Lord.
At that time, the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also. For on his account many of the Jews began to leave them and to believe in Jesus. Now the next day, the great crowd which had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took the branches of palms and went forth to meet Him. And they cried out, Hosanna! Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel! And Jesus found a young ass, and sat upon it, as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Sion; behold, your King comes, sitting upon the colt of an ass. These things His disciples did not at first understand. But when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him, and that they had done these things to Him. The crowd therefore, which was with Him when He called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness to Him. And the reason why the crowd also went to meet Him was that they heard that He had worked this sign. The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Do you see that we avail nothing? Behold, the entire world has gone after Him! Now there were certain Gentiles among those who had gone up to worship on the feast. These therefore approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, Sir, we wish to see Jesus. Philip came and told Andrew; again, Andrew and Philip spoke to Jesus. But Jesus answered them, The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it brings forth much fruit. He who loves his life, loses it; and he who hates his life in this world keeps it unto life everlasting. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am there also shall My servant be. If anyone serves Me, My Father will honor him. Now my soul is troubled. And what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour! No, this is why I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name! There came therefore a voice from heaven, I have both glorified it, and I will glorify it again. Then the crowd which was standing round and had heard, said that it had thundered. Others said, An angel has spoken to Him. Jesus answered and said, Not for Me did this voice come, but for you. Now is the judgment of the world; now will the prince of the world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to Myself. Now He said this signifying by what death He was to die. The crowd answered Him, We have heard from the Law that the Christ abides forever. And how can You say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man? Jesus therefore said to them, Yet a little while the light is among you. Walk while you have the light, that darkness may not overtake you. He who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light. These things Jesus spoke, and He went away and hid Himself from them.
R. Praise be to Thee, O Christ.
S. By the words of the Gospel may our sins be blotted out.
Just a few thoughts.
Context: In vv 1-11 we are six days out from Passover. Hence, it is about the same point for us in relation to Good Friday. The Lord was just a Bethany where He had raised Lazarus from the dead. Mary has anointed His feet and dried them with her hair as the thieving Judas complained that the nard should have been sold. He wanted the money. The next day, five days from Passover, huge crowds are flooding to Jerusalem, singing the Ascent Psalms. They see Jesus riding on the foal of an Ass and in light also of Zachariah they immediately understand Him to be, like Solomon, the Davidic priest king who, according to Ps 118 would go to the Temple to offer sacrifice. They associate the moment with the realization of the fulfillment of what they celebrated at Sukkot when palms were waved at the altar. They shift from Passover mood to Sukkot mood and wave branches at Christ, meshiach. Christ enters Jerusalem.
Then we hear that Greeks want to meet Jesus. Gentiles. Christ says, “the HOUR has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” and the Father’s voice booms, as it did as His baptism and transfiguration, revealing Him to be divine.
His HOUR had come. h?ra
The Lord was furious with the money changers, etc., especially because they had taken over the Temple’s Courtyard of the Gentiles, denying them a place to pray. They, too, came to worship on high holy days. That Gentiles came to the Lord, in this context, was a sign that at last the time had arrived when all things had been fulfilled and His Passion would begin. The conversion of the Gentiles was an eschatological sign. John 10:16: “And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.” This would be the “day of the Lord” or the “hour”. During the Agony in the Garden of the “olive press” , Gethsemane, Christ repeated the word “hour” several times.
This is the definitive moment when Christ’s destiny was to be fulfilled.
From the CCC:
1165 When the Church celebrates the mystery of Christ, there is a word that marks her prayer: “Today!” – a word echoing the prayer her Lord taught her and the call of the Holy Spirit.34 This “today” of the living God which man is called to enter is “the hour” of Jesus’ Passover, which reaches across and underlies all history:
Life extends over all beings and fills them with unlimited light; the Orient of orients pervades the universe, and he who was “before the daystar” and before the heavenly bodies, immortal and vast, the great Christ, shines over all beings more brightly than the sun. Therefore a day of long, eternal light is ushered in for us who believe in him, a day which is never blotted out: the mystical Passover.35
34 Cf. Mt 6:11; Heb 3:7-4:11; Ps 95:7.
35 St. Hippolytus, De pasch. 1-2 SCh 27,117.
And, at the end of this strange ramble, I would remind you that when Christ used the word ephphatha as he healed the man who was deaf and mute, he did so in the region of the Decapolis, that is, in the territory of the Gentiles. And so we come full circle.
Anyway, those are some thoughts and thoughts about thoughts, for what they are worth.