Taste and See: now, to go still deeper

005b.jpgToday begins the period of Mystagogy.  It is a time particularly for those baptised at Easter – a help to their fuller ‘reading’ and understanding of the Mysteries they took part in  as they were Baptised, Confirmed, and Eucharist-ised at the Vigil.

During their catechumenate their focus will especially have been on the word of God, the Scriptures – learning to hear Jesus the Christ in the lections of each Sunday and in the Bible more fully.

Now made fully one with the Church through the Sacraments, they are to be offered extra help in recognising Christ in the Sacramental actions. The help is to do two things: first to read more deeply the moments of initiation; second to to engage still more fully in the continued rhythm of the Church’s life, especially in the weekly participation in the offering of the Sacrifice of Christ, and in the continued experience of that and the receiving of Holy Communion.

Mystagogy is especially for these new Christians – the neophytes – but from the very beginning it has been an important time for Christians longer in the tooth to refresh their awareness of Christ’s presence and Christ’s call.

Each Monday to Wednesday on this Blog we attempt something similar, as we look back to the readings and prayers (especially) of the Sunday just passed, to help us continue to draw nourishment from Christ’s self-gift in the Church.

At the Easter Vigil one of the most notable moments is the singing of the Exsultet – the great hymn in praise of the Light of the World, symbolised in fire and light and in this gift of the Paschal Candle.

Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven,
exult, let Angel ministers of God exult,
let the trumpet of salvation
sound aloud our mighty King’s triumph!
Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her,
ablaze with light from her eternal King,
let all corners of the earth be glad,
knowing an end to gloom and darkness.
Rejoice, let Mother Church also rejoice,
arrayed with the lightning of his glory,
let this holy building shake with joy,
filled with the mighty voices of the peoples.

Therefore, dearest friends,
standing in the awesome glory of this holy light,
invoke with me, I ask you,
the mercy of God almighty,
that he, who has been pleased to number me,
though unworthy, among the Levites,
may pour into me his light unshadowed,
that I may sing this candle’s perfect praises).

V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with your spirit.
V. Lift up your hearts.
R. We lift them up to the Lord.
V. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
R. It is right and just.

It is truly right and just,
with ardent love of mind and heart
and with devoted service of our voice,
to acclaim our God invisible, the almighty Father,
and Jesus Christ, our Lord, his Son, his Only Begotten.

Who for our sake paid Adam’s debt to the eternal Father,
and, pouring out his own dear Blood,
wiped clean the record of our ancient sinfulness.

These, then, are the feasts of Passover,
in which is slain the Lamb, the one true Lamb,
whose Blood anoints the doorposts of believers.

This is the night,
when once you led our forebears, Israel’s children,
from slavery in Egypt
and made them pass dry-shod through the Red Sea.

This is the night
that with a pillar of fire
banished the darkness of sin.

This is the night
that even now, throughout the world,
sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices
and from the gloom of sin,
leading them to grace
and joining them to his holy ones.

This is the night,
when Christ broke the prison-bars of death
and rose victorious from the underworld.

Our birth would have been no gain,
had we not been redeemed.
O wonder of your humble care for us!
O love, O charity beyond all telling,
to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!

O truly necessary sin of Adam,
destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!

O happy fault
that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!

O truly blessed night,
worthy alone to know the time and hour
when Christ rose from the underworld!

This is the night
of which it is written:
The night shall be as bright as day,
dazzling is the night for me,
and full of gladness.

The sanctifying power of this night
dispels wickedness, washes faults away,
restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners,
drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.

On this, your night of grace, O holy Father,
accept this candle, a solemn offering,
the work of bees and of your servants’ hands,
an evening sacrifice of praise,
this gift from your most holy Church.

But now we know the praises of this pillar,
which glowing fire ignites for God’s honour,
a fire into many flames divided,
yet never dimmed by sharing of its light,
for it is fed by melting wax,
drawn out by mother bees
to build a torch so precious.

O truly blessed night,
when things of heaven are wed to those of earth,
and divine to the human.

Therefore, O Lord,
we pray you that this candle,
hallowed to the honour of your name,
may persevere undimmed,
to overcome the darkness of this night.
Receive it as a pleasing fragrance,
and let it mingle with the lights of heaven.
May this flame be found still burning
by the Morning Star:
the one Morning Star who never sets,
Christ your Son,
who, coming back from death’s domain,
has shed his peaceful light on humanity,
and lives and reigns for ever and ever.
R. Amen.

  • How is Christ light for you?
  • What are (still) the darker moments of your life?
  • What light does Christ seek to cast there?
  • What are the darker parts of our world?
  • How does Christ invite you to share his light there?

Paschal Candle, Font, and Altar. St Vincent De Paul, Osterley. (c) 2007, Allen Morris

 

Taste and See: Turning the world upside down

star-cross

The second reading at Mass on Sunday had St Paul expressing a certain irony about his situation.

 Let me tell you pagans this: I have been sent to the pagans as their apostle, and I am proud of being sent, but the purpose of it is to make my own people envious of you, and in this way save some of them. Since their rejection meant the reconciliation of the world, do you know what their admission will mean? Nothing less than a resurrection from the dead! God never takes back his gifts or revokes his choice.

Just as you changed from being disobedient to God, and now enjoy mercy because of their disobedience, so those who are disobedient now – and only because of the mercy shown to you – will also enjoy mercy eventually. God has imprisoned all men in their own disobedience only to show mercy to all mankind.

Romans 11:13-15,29-32

If God is the God of surprises, maybe one of the most regular surprises is that God is the God of reverses, of irony and paradox.

If the Chosen people reject God’s Son then one of the tasks of the Christian people is to provoke envy so that their elder siblings might choose to choose. Seems we have a way to go yet!

Death can seem a snuffing out of life, but seen by eyes of faith more truly proves to be a step on the path to eternal life.

Freedom sometimes leads to chains, but God’s mercy overwhelms the both human justice and injustice and works to draws his new people to him in a fresh unity of life and love.

  • What is ‘surprising’ about God’s call to you?
  • And your response to God?

Image found here. 

Taste and See: no favourites

 

magnifying-glass

What is it that makes for a good Catholic?

The first reading at Mass yesterday, the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, challenges our oft-times sense of what is important in the life of faith. Here is the Lord speaking through his prophet, Isaiah.

Thus says the Lord: Have a care for justice, act with integrity, for soon my salvation will come and my integrity be manifest.

Foreigners who have attached themselves to the Lord to serve him and to love his name and be his servants – all who observe the sabbath, not profaning it, and cling to my covenant – these I will bring to my holy mountain. I will make them joyful in my house of prayer. Their holocausts and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar, for my house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.

Isaiah 56:1,6-7

God has no favourites, but blessed are those who favour God and walk in his ways.

Those who have ears to hear will be familiar with the proud and arrogant boasts of so many Christians… Let’s just mention those who trumpet that they are saved because they say ‘Jesus is Lord’. This word of the Lord punctures those boasts.

The true believer is to be characterised by humility and love, which relativizes all other distinguishing marks of culture or Creed. Faithfulness and love humbly lived has the capacity to draw out  the, so-often unexpected, potential for love of the Lord in all humankind.

The One God welcomes all, and all have the capacity to respond.

Image found here.

Taste and See: this saving Bread…

Augustine of Hippo (1)

The Communion Antiphon on Sunday was concise and startling:

The bread that I will give, says the Lord,
is my flesh for the life of the world.
Cf. Jn 6: 51

Like the sacrament of the Eucharist itself, to the eyes a little bread, a little wine, but in very truth something astonishing.

St Augustine spoke of the sacrament in famous words the newly baptised in his Church of Hippo – towards the end of the Great Vigil of Easter….

‘What you see on God’s altar, you’ve already observed during the night that has now ended.

But you’ve heard nothing about just what it might be, or what it might mean, or what great thing it might be said to symbolize. For what you see is simply bread and a cup – this is the information your eyes report.

But your faith demands far subtler insight: the bread is Christ’s body, the cup is Christ’s blood.

Faith can grasp the fundamentals quickly, succinctly, yet it hungers for a fuller account of the matter.

As the prophet says, “Unless you believe, you will not understand.” [Is. 7.9; Septuagint] So you can say to me, “You urged us to believe; now explain, so we can understand.”

Inside each of you, thoughts like these are rising: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, we know the source of his flesh; he took it from the Virgin Mary. Like any infant, he was nursed and nourished; he grew; became a youngster; suffered persecution from his own people. To the wood he was nailed; on the wood he died; from the wood, his body was taken down and buried. On the third day (as he willed) he rose; he ascended bodily into heaven whence he will come to judge the living and the dead. There he dwells even now, seated at God’s right.

So how can bread be his body? And what about the cup? How can it (or what it contains) be his blood?”

My friends, these realities are called sacraments because in them one thing is seen, while another is grasped. What is seen is a mere physical likeness; what is grasped bears spiritual fruit.

So now, if you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the Apostle Paul speaking to the faithful: “You are the body of Christ, member for member.” [1 Cor. 12.27]

If you, therefore, are Christ’s body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying “Amen” to what you are: your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear “The body of Christ”, you reply “Amen.” Be a member of Christ’s body, then, so that your “Amen” may ring true!

But what role does the bread play? We have no theory of our own to propose here; listen, instead, to what Paul says about this sacrament: “The bread is one, and we, though many, are one body.” [1 Cor. 10.17]

Understand and rejoice: unity, truth, faithfulness, love. “One bread,” he says. What is this one bread? Is it not the “one body,” formed from many? Remember: bread doesn’t come from a single grain, but from many. When you received exorcism, you were “ground.” When you were baptized, you were “leavened.” When you received the fire of the Holy Spirit, you were “baked.”

Be what you see; receive what you are. This is what Paul is saying about the bread.

So too, what we are to understand about the cup is similar and requires little explanation. In the visible object of bread, many grains are gathered into one just as the faithful (so Scripture says) form “a single heart and mind in God” [Acts 4.32]. And thus it is with the wine. Remember, friends, how wine is made. Individual grapes hang together in a bunch, but the juice from them all is mingled to become a single brew. This is the image chosen by Christ our Lord to show how, at his own table, the mystery of our unity and peace is solemnly consecrated.

All who fail to keep the bond of peace after entering this mystery receive not a sacrament that benefits them, but an indictment that condemns them.

So let us give God our sincere and deepest gratitude, and, as far as human weakness will permit, let us turn to the Lord with pure hearts. With all our strength, let us seek God’s singular mercy, for then the Divine Goodness will surely hear our prayers. God’s power will drive the Evil One from our acts and thoughts; it will deepen our faith, govern our minds, grant us holy thoughts, and lead us, finally, to share the divine happiness through God’s own son Jesus Christ. Amen!

The Bread and Wine are truly Christ, and by his grace we are truly members of Christ. As Augustine says elsewhere, not only Christians but other Christs.

  • What is it about the Eucharist that is most important for you, at present
  • What aspect of Eucharist is most often highlighted in you parish celebrations?
  • What element is most neglected?

Image of St Augustine (and St Monica) from here – visit the site to read reflections on St Augustine from Pope Benedict XVI.

Taste and See: They bowed down before him…

Exposition, Cracow, Poland

Again, we return to Sunday’s Gospel.

Both liturgical prayer and private prayer are strengthened by repetition.

Repetition helps us to relax into a meditative and reflective state, still aware of the general flow, but freed now to be attentive to particular detail and to bring our response to that to God in a more focused time of prayer and dialogue.

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he would send the crowds away. After sending the crowds away he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, while the boat, by now far out on the lake, was battling with a heavy sea, for there was a head-wind. In the fourth watch of the night he went towards them, walking on the lake, and when the disciples saw him walking on the lake they were terrified. ‘It is a ghost’ they said, and cried out in fear. But at once Jesus called out to them, saying, ‘Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.’ It was Peter who answered. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.’ ‘Come’ said Jesus. Then Peter got out of the boat and started walking towards Jesus across the water, but as soon as he felt the force of the wind, he took fright and began to sink. ‘Lord! Save me!’ he cried. Jesus put out his hand at once and held him. ‘Man of little faith,’ he said ‘why did you doubt?’ And as they got into the boat the wind dropped. The men in the boat bowed down before him and said, ‘Truly, you are the Son of God.’

Matthew 14:22-33

This episode ends with the disciples’ worship and adoration of Jesus as the Son of God.

Their experience and their reflection on that experience has brought them to need to give him worship.

Sometimes our worship is prompted by habit – the established rhythm of the week giving us the Day of the Lord, and of the year, giving us the seasons and feasts; the established rhythm of our own private pattern of prayer – half an hour in the morning, or fifteen minutes last thing at night, for example.

Building into that rhythm and habit a time of conscious and deliberate reflection on the detail of our daily lives is also a good thing, and often will prove to be occasion for an engaging and urgent prompt to prayer of petition and contrition, and adoration of the living God

Photograph: worship of the Eucharist outside of Mass, the Dominican Church, Krakow, Poland. (c) Allen Morris, 2013.

Taste and see: Lord! Save me!

image

We return to yesterday’s Gospel

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he would send the crowds away. After sending the crowds away he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, while the boat, by now far out on the lake, was battling with a heavy sea, for there was a head-wind. In the fourth watch of the night he went towards them, walking on the lake, and when the disciples saw him walking on the lake they were terrified. ‘It is a ghost’ they said, and cried out in fear. But at once Jesus called out to them, saying, ‘Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.’ It was Peter who answered. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.’ ‘Come’ said Jesus. Then Peter got out of the boat and started walking towards Jesus across the water, but as soon as he felt the force of the wind, he took fright and began to sink. ‘Lord! Save me!’ he cried. Jesus put out his hand at once and held him. ‘Man of little faith,’ he said ‘why did you doubt?’ And as they got into the boat the wind dropped. The men in the boat bowed down before him and said, ‘Truly, you are the Son of God.’

Matthew 14:22-33

Headstrong, proud, ambitious? Whatever his faults truth is Peter did at least begin to walk to Jesus across the water.

This is not easy. Try it. (Preferably somewhere shallow)

  • For what are you ambitious?
  • Called to be like Jesus, where/how do you want to grow/develop?
  • How/when do you ask Jesus for help?

Image found here.

Taste and See: Saints of God, called to holiness by God

Popes

The Prayer over the Offerings used on Sunday speaks our being sanctified by God’s grace.

Accept, O Lord, we pray, the offerings
which we bring from the abundance of your gifts,
that through the powerful working of your grace
these most sacred mysteries may sanctify our present way of life
and lead us to eternal gladness.

Through Christ our Lord.

The prayer reminds of one of the foundational teachings of the Church, that all people are called by God to holiness. This universal call received fresh emphasis at Vatican II, in the teaching about the Church, Lumen Gentium, ‘Light of the peoples’.

There is still a tendency to think of the saints whose names pepper the Church’s calendar as the real saints, and that we are called to something less. But no: those named saints are exceptional, and singled out as being such, but holiness, sanctity, is not so rare.

Pope John Paul II, now himself declared a saint by the Church, canonised more saints during his pontificate than had been formally declared saint in the whole history of the Church up until that time! And one major reason for his doing so was to show that saints are present in the church in every age, every land, every state of life.

The Church’s recent practice, including the canonisation of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII, and the forthcoming beatification of Pope Paul VI, seems to be continuing the re-visioning of the place of the canonised in the Church, begun by St John Paul II.

It returns us, almost, to the Pauline vision that all the baptised are called to be, and are – by virtue of God’s grace, the saints of God.

Everyone in the Church, whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness…

This holiness of the Church is unceasingly manifested, and must be manifested, in the fruits of grace which the Spirit produces in the faithful; it is expressed in many ways in individuals, who in their walk of life, tend toward the perfection of charity, thus causing the edification of others; in a very special way this (holiness) appears in the practice of the counsels, customarily called “evangelical.” This practice of the counsels, under the impulsion of the Holy Spirit… gives and must give in the world an outstanding witness and example of this same holiness.

The Lord Jesus, the divine Teacher and Model of all perfection, preached holiness of life to each and everyone of His disciples of every condition. He Himself stands as the author and consumator of this holiness of life: “Be you therefore perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect”. Indeed He sent the Holy Spirit upon all men that He might move them inwardly to love God with their whole heart and their whole soul, with all their mind and all their strength and that they might love each other as Christ loves them. The followers of Christ are called by God, not because of their works, but according to His own purpose and grace. They are justified in the Lord Jesus, because in the baptism of faith they truly become sons of God and sharers in the divine nature. In this way they are really made holy. Then too, by God’s gift, they must hold on to and complete in their lives this holiness they have received. They are warned by the Apostle to live “as becomes saints”, and to put on “as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience”, and to possess the fruit of the Spirit in holiness. Since truly we all offend in many things we all need God’s mercies continually and we all must daily pray: “Forgive us our debts”

Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history.

The classes and duties of life are many, but holiness is one—that sanctity which is cultivated by all who are moved by the Spirit of God, and who obey the voice of the Father and worship God the Father in spirit and in truth. These people follow the poor Christ, the humble and cross-bearing Christ in order to be worthy of being sharers in His glory. Every person must walk unhesitatingly according to his own personal gifts and duties in the path of living faith, which arouses hope and works through charity.

From Lumen Gentium, Chapter 5

  • Where is holiness manifest in your life?
  • And the lives of those around you?
  • How is holiness different to ‘good works’?

Taste and See: Christ’s Sacrifice, our sacrifice

Melchizedek, San Vitale, Ravenna

The Prayer over the Offerings we heard on Sunday evokes the worship of the Old Testament as we participate in the worship of the new covenant.

O God, who in the one perfect sacrifice
brought to completion varied offerings of the law,
accept, we pray, this sacrifice from your faithful servants
and make it holy, as you blessed the gifts of Abel,
so that what each has offered to the honour of your majesty
may benefit the salvation of all.
Through Christ our Lord.

The language of sacrifice is something that has been newly highlighted in the current English translation of the Roman Missal. In the 1970s translation of the Missale Romanum many of the references to sacrifice were softened or excluded, because of sensitivity to the neuralgic quality of the metaphor for protestant Christians.

More recently Catholics and other Christians have come to rediscover value in the metaphor.There is a new appreciation for the way in which the metaphor is renewed in Christ: in him sacrifice is not a something exterior that is offered to God, symbolising our desire to be in right relationship with him, but it is Christ’s own being. The sacrifice and the one making the offering are one and the same.

That integrity between the act and the acting-person, perfectly achieved in Christ, is beautifully foreshadowed in the person (and sacrifice) of Abel, whose offering is remembered in Eucharistic Prayer I.

Some of the old disputes about the appropriateness of using the language of sacrifice to describe Christian life and worship have found some sort of resolution today. Catholics recognise more clearly that the Mass is the Sacrament of the Sacrifice of Christ. We do not offer a new sacrifice to the Father in the Mass. But we do in the Mass re-present to him, in Sacrament, the once and for all Sacrifice, in and with Christ.

This Sacrifice is made newly efficacious for us through liturgical offering, for it re-connects us with the saving love of Christ so that, in him we might lovely be. So that we too might present ourselves in the ordinary circumstances of our daily lives as sacrifice, an offering of ourselves, lives lived so as to be pleasing to God.

Mosaic of the Offerings of Abel and Melchizedek, San Vitale, Ravenna. (6th Century)
Photography (c) Allen Morris, 2004.

Taste and See: the longed for harvest

Samuel_Palmer - The_Harvest_Moon

The shorter version of the Gospel offered in the Lectionary for yesterday’s Mass, strips away a number of the parables of the Kingdom, and the commentary on this particular Gospel.

You might find it helpful to read this parable over to yourself a couple of times, gently seeing what it connects with in your life, and then bringing it to the Lord in prayer.

Jesus put another parable before the crowds, ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everybody was asleep his enemy came, sowed darnel all among the wheat, and made off. When the new wheat sprouted and ripened, the darnel appeared as well. The owner’s servants went to him and said, “Sir, was it not good seed that you sowed in your field? If so, where does the darnel come from?” “Some enemy has done this” he answered. And the servants said, “Do you want us to go and weed it out?” But he said, “No, because when you weed out the darnel you might pull up the wheat with it. Let them both grow till the harvest; and at harvest time I shall say to the reapers: First collect the darnel and tie it in bundles to be burnt, then gather the wheat into my barn.”’

Matthew 13:24-30

The owner of the field, the sower of the seed, waits patiently for the harvest. He trusts in the goodness of the seed, and that, despite the weeds that surround it, it will flourish and provide a good harvest.

How often we lack that patience and trust. And how often our desire to put things right ends up doing more damage!

St Paul, as usual, sees how it is in our acknowledging our inability to get things right, that we are most open to God’s saving work.

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant… (2 Corinthians 3:4-5 ESV)

Image is of The Harvest Moon, by Samuel Palmer.
For a brief talk on the painting, click here.

Taste and see: sing the praise of the God who loves you.

sparrow in the Alhambra, Granada

The Roman Missal offered two alternative Communion antiphons for Mass this Sunday.

Here is one of them:

The sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for her young:
by your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
Blessed are they who dwell in your house,
for ever singing your praise.
Cf. Ps 83: 4-5

The particular sparrow featured in the picture had found his home in the glorious Courtyard of the Lions, in the Alhamabra, Granada.

Court of the Lions

Court of the Lions 2

Conservators may have problem with the sparrow making its home amidst such splendour, but most of the rest of us find it a delightful sight. Just like the psalmist did, seeing in the incongruence something of the surprising delight God takes in us.

Rejoice in your littleness, and your contingence, Beloved of God.

sparrow in the Alhambra, Granada

 

Photographs (c) Allen Morris, 2014