Preparing for the Mass of the 6th Sunday of Easter

We are coming to the end of the liturgical season of Easter – and very soon will be celebrating the great feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost.

Those feasts mark the Lord’s leaving the disciples to return to our heavenly Father, and the gift of the Holy Spirit to sustain them in faith and mission.

Our first reading this summer reminds of the fruitfulness of faith in the earliest days of the Church. The sections from the chapter of the Acts of the Apostles from which the first reading is drawn also reminds of how faith and religious allegiance can be abused – by Simon Magus – and how freely faith is given to those whose hearts seek the truth.

  • Where do you see faith and religion somewhat missing the point in your local community?
  • Where do you see faith active and attractive?

First reading: Acts 8:5-8,14-17

8.1b And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. 3 But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

Philip Proclaims Christ in Samaria
4 Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.

5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. 6 And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was much joy in that city.

Simon the Magician Believes
9 But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” 11 And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.

14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.

18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”

25 Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch
26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opens not his mouth.
33  In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”

34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. 36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

Photograph: Descent of the Holy Spirit. St Trophime, Arles. (c) 2017, Allen Morris

Preparing for the Mass of the 6th Sunday of Easter

The verses of the psalm provided for Sunday focus on the past works of the Lord, notably the saving of the people of Israel at the Red Sea.

Omitted though are the words about the saving actions of the Lord for the psalmist and his contemporaries – tested by having ‘men ride over our heads;’ having us pass ‘through fire and through water,’ but then bring ‘us to a place of plenty’. We perhaps need these additional words as we bring the words of the Liturgy to our prayer.

We ourselves, as individuals may not have had things too bad during the present crisis – at least not yet – but the Lord’s love and protection is there for us as a people whatever the particular trials and tribulations which have tested us as individuals.

Through thick or thin, God, does reject our prayer, nor withhold from ushis merciful love.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 65(66):1-7,16,20

Psalm 66 (65)

1     For the Choirmaster. A Song. A Psalm.

      Cry out with joy to God, all the earth;
2     O sing to the glory of his name.
      O render him glorious praise.
3     Say to God, “How awesome your deeds!

      Because of the greatness of your strength,
      your enemies fawn upon you.
4     Before you all the earth shall bow down,
      shall sing to you, sing to your name!”

5     Come and see the works of God:
      awesome his deeds among the children of men.
6     He turned the sea into dry land;
      they passed through the river on foot.

      Let our joy, then, be in him;
7     he rules forever by his might.
      His eyes keep watch on the nations:
      let rebels not exalt themselves.

8     O peoples, bless our God;
      let the voice of his praise resound,
9     of the God who gave life to our souls
      and kept our feet from stumbling.

10   For you, O God, have tested us,
      you have tried us as silver is tried;
11   you led us, God, into the snare;
      you laid a heavy burden on our backs.

12   You let men ride over our heads;
      we went through fire and through water,
      but then you brought us to a place of plenty.

13   Burnt offering I bring to your house;
      to you I will pay my vows,
14   the vows which my lips have uttered,
      which my mouth declared in my distress.

15   I will offer you burnt offerings of fatlings
      with the smoke of sacrificial rams.
      I will offer bullocks and goats.

16   Come and hear, all who fear God;
      I will tell what he did for my soul.

17   To him I cried aloud,
      with exaltation ready on my tongue.

18   Had I considered evil in my heart,
      the Lord would not have listened.
19   But truly God has listened;
      he has heeded the voice of my prayer.

20   Blest be God, who did not reject my prayer,
      nor withhold from me his merciful love.

Early Christian carving – Crossing of the Red Sea, Musée Départemental Arles Antique. (c) 2014, Allen Morris

Preparing for the Mass of the 6th Sunday of Easter

What a pity that the Lectionary clips the passage from Peter’s First Letter so as to omit most of the reference to the Jesus’ descent to the dead, in the Resurrection, and his liberation of them.

In these days of Easter many communities use the Apostles’ Creed which makes reference to this profound and mythic event. It is is a truth of faith which reminds that the Resurrection is not ‘just’ an event in Jesus life but is an event of cosmic significance.

So much for what the reading does not offer us. What it does offer is a reminder of the continuing significance of the Resurrection – again not just an event in the life of Jesus, but in our on-going lives.

  • Where in your life do you need fresh help?
  • Where have you received it, and to what effect?

Second reading: 1 Peter 3:15-18

Suffering for Righteousness’ Sake
3.8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For

“Whoever desires to love life
and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from speaking deceit;
11  let him turn away from evil and do good;
let him seek peace and pursue it.
12  For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,

15 but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,

19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

Stewards of God’s Grace
4.1 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. 3 For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. 4 With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; 5 but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.

7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Photograph. Print of the liberation of the dead. Beatrizet. Collection of the British Museum. (c) 2017, Allen Morris

Preparing for the Mass of the 6th Sunday of Easter

The Holy Spirit, a gift poured out for us by Father and Son, is a gift given to help sustain us in faithfulness. The Spirit helps us confront our challenges and concerns confident that fault and failing is never intended by God to separate us from him.

The Spirit strengthens us and sustains us in peace.

Like Judas in the passage below, we may want these gifts for ourselves, only. But they are gifts given to be shared. With us and by us – gifts for the whole world.

Gospel: John 14:15-21

I Am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life
14.1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.

25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. 30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, 31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.

Image of the Holy Spirit. St Andrew’s Cathedral, Glasgow. (c) 2019, Allen Morris

Preparing for the Mass of the 5th Sunday of Easter

Stephen is venerated as the first Martyr, venerated for his imitation of Christ in his teaching, in his humility and in his love even for those intent on his death.

But his first claim to fame, was being part of a team of people from a minority community called to service. Their task? To ensure that justice is done for all in the Church in the sharing of its resources in care of the needy and vulnerable…

  • How do you share in this same work?
  • Where and why do you resist its challenge?

First Reading: Acts 6:1-7

(NB the text set for Sunday is given below in bold and in ‘quote sections’ below; the rest is the immediate biblical text from which the Lectionary text is extracted)

 7.42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.

Seven Chosen to Serve
6.1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.

7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

Stephen Is Seized
8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. 10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, 13 and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” 15 And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

Acknowledgements

  • Translation of Scriptures: English Standard Version (c) 2001-9, Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
  • Commentary: (c) 2020, Allen Morris
  • Photo. Fresco of St Stephen, Chartreuse, Villeneuve les Avignon.(c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Preparing for the Mass of the 5th Sunday of Easter

The Lord’s love for his people is an active love.

It is love to which we properly respond to in song and praise.

Our contemplation of his goodness leads us to hope, to trust and to peace.
It enables us to live even now in the peace of his kingdom.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 32(33):1-2,4-5,18-19

(NB the text set for Sunday is given below in bold and in ‘quote sections’ below; the rest is the immediate biblical text from which the Lectionary text is extracted)

Psalm 33 (32)

1     Ring out your joy to the Lord, O you just;
      for praise is fitting for the upright.
2     Give thanks to the Lord upon the harp;
      with a ten-stringed lute sing him songs.

3     O sing him a song that is new;
      play skillfully, with shouts of joy.

4     For the word of the Lord is faithful,
      and all his works to be trusted.
5     The Lord loves justice and right,
      and his merciful love fills the earth.

6     By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
      by the breath of his mouth all their host.
7     As in a flask, he collects the waves of the ocean;
      he stores up the depths of the sea.

8     Let all the earth fear the Lord,
      all who live in the world revere him.
9     He spoke, and it came to be.
      He commanded; it stood in place.

10   The Lord frustrates the designs of the nations;
      he defeats the plans of the peoples.
11   The designs of the Lord stand forever,
      the plans of his heart from age to age.

12   Blessed the nation whose God is the Lord,
      the people he has chosen as his heritage.
13   From the heavens the Lord looks forth;
      he sees all the children of men.

14   From the place where he dwells he gazes
      on all the dwellers on the earth,
15   he who shapes the hearts of them all,
      and considers all their deeds.

16   A king is not saved by his great army,
      nor a warrior preserved by his great strength.
17   A vain hope for safety is the horse;
      despite its power it cannot save.

18   Yes, the Lord’s eyes are on those who fear him,
      who hope in his merciful love,
19   to rescue their souls from death,
      to keep them alive in famine.

20   Our soul is waiting for the Lord.
      He is our help and our shield.
21   In him do our hearts find joy.
      We trust in his holy name.

22   May your merciful love be upon us,
      as we hope in you, O Lord.

Acknowledgements

  • Translation of Psalms: From The Revised Grail Psalms: A Liturgical Psalter. (c) 2010.
  • Commentary: (c) 2020, Allen Morris
  • Photo Sainte Croix, Bordeaux (c) 2018, Allen Morris.

Preparing for the Mass of the 5th Sunday of Easter

St Peter contrasts our inherent human fragility with the resilience that becomes ours in Christ.

We were as grass that withers, we are like new born infants in faith – but we are also, in Christ, living stones, a spiritual house.

And not passive but active – we are both Temple and the priestly community that serves God and people in the work proper to a Temple, but transferred from cult to daily life.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:4-9

(NB the text set for Sunday is given below in bold and in ‘quote sections’ below; the rest is the immediate biblical text from which the Lectionary text is extracted)

1.22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for

“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
25  but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

A Living Stone and a Holy People
2 .1 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

7 So the honour is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”

8 and

“A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.

10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honourable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Submission to Authority
13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 honour everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. honour the emperor.

18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Acknowledgements

  • Translation of Scriptures: English Standard Version (c) 2001-9, Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
  • Commentary: (c) 2020, Allen Morris
  • Photo. Stone cross, St Nicholas Boldmere.(c) 2015, Allen Morris.