September 17, 2012

HOMILY for the 24th Mon (II)

1 Cor 11:17-26. 33; Ps 39; Luke 7:1-10

At the end of the Ordination rite of a priest, the bishop says these awesome and solemn words to the newly-ordained: “Accept from the holy people of God the gifts to be offered to him. Know what you are doing, and imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s Cross”. It’s been precisely one year since those words were said to me, and it seems fitting today to recall them in conjunction with today’s First Reading.

“Know what you are doing”. St Paul’s account of the Lord’s words which instituted the Eucharist tells us that what the priest is doing in the Mass is proclaiming the Lord’s death. So, in the words of the Ordination rite, the priest is said to celebrate “the mystery of the Lord’s Cross”. As such, the Mass makes present the one sacrificial death of Christ on the Cross. It is, therefore, a visible sign of God’s sacrificial love for humankind, and of his total gift of himself to us in Jesus Christ. When the priest is told to “model [his] life on the mystery of the Lord’s Cross”, then, he is being told to fashion his life and ministry according to the sacrificial love of Christ. Thus, the priest is ordained to make Christ’s love visible to his people, not just in the Mass in which Christ’s Body and Blood is made present at his hands for us, but also in his own flesh. The priest’s own Body and Blood – his energies, efforts, whole self – is given up for the Church too. So, the priest is sometimes called ‘another Christ‘ because of what he does sacramentally for us, and in his own person.

But the Mass does not depend exclusively on the priest, but is also done by and for God’s people. Hence, in the Ordination rite, “the holy people of God” offer “gifts” for the celebration of the Eucharist. Without these offerings of bread and wine the priest cannot celebrate the Mass. Thus his ministry depends on God’s people, and the Mass is celebrated in communion with them; it is “my sacrifice and yours”. This idea of the whole Church offering the Mass is also enshrined in the Roman Canon where the priest says: “For them, we offer this sacrifice of praise, or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them”.

Therefore, it is not just the ordained priest who is called to make Christ’s love visible in his own flesh but you, the people, too. Which explains why St Paul was so frustrated with the Corinthians because when they came together for the Mass, they also feasted together, but the richer Corinthians did so in a selfish way that ignored others; they showed a complete lack of love in their dealings with their fellow Christians, especially the poor and needy.

This lack of love, St Paul suggests, even desecrates the Eucharist because, he says: “When you meet together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat”, and, so, if we receive communion without love for one another, then we have failed to discern what the Eucharist means. Because receiving the Lord in Holy Communion is akin to proclaiming to all our brothers and sisters, with whom we are one Body in Christ: “I love you”. But we can make such a habit of Mass and Communion that we forget this.

So, perhaps, what the bishop said to me, I can also say to you: “Know what you are doing, and imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s Cross.” As we both do this, let us pray for one another, and when we fail, we can recall the plea a Dominican makes on the day of his religious profession: I seek “God’s mercy and yours”. Or indeed, the words of today’s Gospel which we echo in the Mass: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed”.

  1. lawrenceop posted this
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