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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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RESPONSORIAL PSALM

Along with the general expansion of the Mass readings, the reforms after the Vatican II Council give greater prominence to the psalms in the liturgy. This is particularly the case with the expanded short gradual recited between the Epistle and Gospel of the Mass.  While it is normative to render the psalm with intermittent responses, it is my understanding that it can also be done as in the Liturgy of the Hours or breviary, with the response or antiphon at the beginning and end of the psalm.  Psalms can be recited but there is a preference, when possible, that they be sung or chanted. 

Tradition tells us that King David composed many of the 150 psalms. As in the breviary, a few psalms are missing and others are clipped in respect to the sensibilities of believers.  The times may change but human nature does not. The psalms reflect the human condition with all its emotions and needs, even those that are negative and destructive.  One of the missing verses from church is from Psalm 137:8-9: “Desolate Daughter Babylon, you shall be destroyed, blessed the one who pays you back what you have done us! Blessed the one who seizes your children and smashes them against the rock.” The Church would discern in this that God desires justice; however, the Hebrews received the revelation with hearts bent on revenge.  The problem of such psalms is that lines like this would hijack the liturgy and compel the homilist to spend what little time he has in trying to reconcile the notion of a vengeful God with Jesus as the Divine Mercy.  Again, this particular line speaks more about the human condition and our feelings than about the divine nature and the truth. While not denying the value of even the difficult passages of Scripture as divinely inspired, the Church tends to employ psalms that focus on the themes of longing, mercy, healing, restoration, respect for persons and honoring the Almighty. It should be said that there is frequently a prophetic element to the psalms, about the history of God’s people and/or about the coming of a Messiah. 

(The psalms have long constituted the Jewish prayer book, albeit in the format of memorization and less so as written.)  Catholicism heavily employs the psalms in the Mass and in her printed prayer book, the Liturgy of the Hours.  They lend a meditative element to the liturgical movement. Often they echo the readings. The most important of the psalms may be those that point to the Messiah. Psalm 2 intimates a unique relationship of the Messiah to us as God’s Son. 

Psalm 2:1-6 – “Why do the nations protest and the peoples conspire in vain? Kings on earth rise up and princes plot together against the LORD and against his anointed one: ‘Let us break their shackles and cast off their chains from us!’ The one enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord derides them, Then he speaks to them in his anger, in his wrath he terrifies them: ‘I myself have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.’”

Psalm 110:4 – “You are a priest forever in the manner of Melchizedek.”   

Psalm 22:2; 16-20 – “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? . . . As dry as a potsherd is my throat; my tongue cleaves to my palate; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs surround me; a pack of evildoers closes in on me. They have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones. They stare at me and gloat; they divide my garments among them; for my clothing they cast lots. But you, LORD, do not stay far off; my strength, come quickly to help me.”

The psalms reveal how we are naturally wired for God and for the meaning that he alone can give to human existence.  As his creatures, we are utterly dependent upon the Creator.  He is all good and we cry out for his forgiveness and protection.

READINGS

After the Collect, the people are seated and invited to listen attentively to Sacred Scripture. The Word prepares us for the Sacrament to follow. There are many critics of missals for the people because most liturgists are of the opinion that this is the time when we “listen” and not “read.”  Of course, this assumes that everyone can hear and that is not always the case.  Many parishes will use interpreters for the deaf to sign the message to hard-of-hearing congregants. However, not everyone knows sign language and interpreters can be hard to come by and may strain the Church budget.  Missals can be useful in such situations.  Speaking for myself, I believe the value of a personal missal is that it allows the faithful to read and to begin their reflection on the assigned Scriptures prior to Mass.  If at all possible, we should not engage God’s Word cold in the pews.  Rather, hearing the verses and then listening to the preaching should deepen what we have already received. The lectionary insures that a good segment of the Bible is covered. Despite certain Protestant naysayers, Catholics are the original Bible-Christians. The Bible possesses saving truth and it is crucial that we make it our own.  We may not always know chapter and verse, but we should each develop a familiarity with Scripture and read the Bible every day.  Indeed, many who cannot make weekday Masses will follow the daily Mass readings at home or at work.  That is why most parishes list the daily readings in the weekly bulletins distributed after Sunday Masses.  God’s Word has the power to transform or mold us. It is a mighty bulwark against the efforts of the world to replace Christian formation with a non-theistic secular humanism.     

We have three readings for weekdays: the First Reading, the Responsorial Psalm and the Gospel.  There are four readings on Sundays and Holy Days, an additional reading after the Responsorial.  The typical pattern on Sunday is as follows:  Old Testament, Psalm, New Testament (usually an epistle) and the Gospel. An effort is made to thematically connect the first reading with the day’s Gospel. 

The liturgical calendar for Sundays is divided into three cycles: A (Matthew), B (Mark) and C (Luke).  The Gospel of John is used heavily during the season of Easter. The Weekday cycle is divided as I and II.  We sit for the readings from the Old Testament, the Psalms and the Epistles.  We stand for the proclamation of the Gospel out of respect for the life of Christ.  The first reading is ordinarily from the Old Testament but we hear the Acts of the Apostles during the Easter season. The second reading is always taken from the Epistles or the Book of Revelation in the New Testament.  Whenever we read or hear the Word of God, we should begin by personally invoking the Holy Spirit.  There is much about the Bible we cannot begin to understand without both the direction of the Church and the help that comes from the Spirit of truth.  While the homilist will likely make some connections for us, this does not excuse us from seeking how the Scriptures may speak to us as a community and individually in the here-and-now.  The Scriptures present to us the story of salvation. The homily invites us to interject our stories into this great story that we might know the intervention of Christ.  The Old Testament gives a promise that is fulfilled in the New. God reveals himself and his truths in the passage of human history      

COLLECT or OPENING PRAYER

After the Gloria hymn, the priest says to the congregation, “Let us pray.” Too often the celebrant, myself included, speeds immediately to the opening prayer itself.  Ideally, he places his hands together and pauses.  It is during this time that everyone should maintain sacred silence and call to mind all the needs and intentions we bring to the celebration.  Indeed, the name of the opening prayer signifies how the priest “collects” the entire gathered community with all their personal intentions into his prayer that is prescribed by the Church. Congregants should reflect and compose these intentions either before coming to Mass or during a quiet time of preparation before the liturgy begins.  Just as the priest can apply the fruits of the Mass that come to him for others; those in the pews should remember their needs and those for whom they have promised to pray. The Mass is our most effective prayer and should not be neglected in its power to bring grace and healing.  The Mass is not just the sacerdotal work of the priest but belongs to all who join themselves to his prayer and offering of Jesus to the Father.  Our worship has rubrics but it should not be done in a robotic or mindless manner.  While too many people miss Mass, many more in the pews fail to “collect” their thoughts and to appreciate what they are doing. If not announced at Mass, parish bulletins usually publish the various priest-intentions for Masses on Sunday and during the week.  However, the worshipper is not obliged to restrict his prayers to the public intention of the priests. Various fruits or spiritual benefits come to all who conscientiously participate at Mass. Later in the liturgy, particularly in the bidding prayers and the Eucharistic prayer there will again be opportunities to recall our secret petitions and the general intentions for the Church, for the living and for the dead.  

We can mentally bring almost anything to the Mass. When a Catholic tells others that he will pray for them, this applies not just to bedtime prayer but to our dialogue with God at Mass.  Like all prayer, it should come from the heart.  If the love of God brings us to worship him, then it is this same love that spills over in our prayers for family, friends and yes, even enemies.  We pray for the sick and for those who have died.  We pray to discern our vocation.  We pray for employment so as to keep a home and provide for loved ones.  We pray for the Church in general or maybe the local priest in particular.  (This may in part be the antidote to so much calumny in the modern Church.)  The list goes on and on.  Given that there is no limit to the graces available in the Eucharist, a family might even write out a private list to recall when going to Mass.  This does not mean that we can go to Mass once and be done with prayer.  While the graces of the Mass are infinite, our capacity to receive grace is limited by our disposition for divine help.  Just like eating— we need to eat a little each day— not eat a month’s worth of food at one sitting. 

The opening prayers vary from Sunday to Sunday, although there are special prayers for saints, special occasions, particular liturgies as in weddings and funerals, and daily seasonal prayers as during Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter.  The Collect regularly gives us the theme of the liturgy. The priest extends his hands and prays.  After the priest has spoken the prayer, the people respond, “Amen.”  They have joined their prayers as one. They have affirmed the prayer of the Church.

Disposition is crucially important if we are to avail ourselves of the riches that come from the liturgy.  Each part is linked to the rest as a whole: Introit or Entrance Son, Sign of the Cross, Greeting, Confiteor, Kyrie, Gloria and Collect. All together the introductory rites have prepared us for the Word of God.

GLORIA or GLORY TO GOD

The Gloria uses five words in sequence as synonyms for each other:  “We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you,” and then a fifth closely aligned word, “we give you thanks for your great glory.”  Certainly there is a matter here of emphasis that comes with repetition.  But there are also nuances of meaning that expand upon our response to God’s majesty.  

We “praise” God for just being God.  Even if we were given nothing in return, it is the posture of the creature to praise the Creator.  Men and women as the stewards of creation do this in a conscious and active manner. The lesser acknowledges the greater.

As in the psalms, all of creation just by its existence “blesses” God who is the source of all blessings.  Something of the divine spark that breathes life into things and gives them order and purpose is reflected back.  “Bless the LORD, my soul; all my being, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, my soul” (Psalm 103:1-2). This form of blessing and praise is spontaneous, akin to a necessary reflex.  We see this in Psalm 148.  God is blessed or praised “in the heights,” by “all his angels,” by “sun and moon,” by “shining stars,” by “highest heavens,” by “waters above the heavens,” by “sea monsters,” by “lightning and hail, snow and thick clouds,” by “storm wind,” by “mountains and hills,” by “fruit trees and cedars,” by “animals wild and tame,”  by “creatures that crawl and birds that fly,” by “kings and all peoples,” by “young men and women too,” and by “old and young alike.”

When we “adore” or offer adoration to almighty God we are literally praising God on the level of worship.  Catholics also use the word adoration for devotion to Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.  This is a testimony to his divinity as divine worship is restricted to God.  Such praise offered directly to anything less would constitute false worship and the sin of idolatry. We may offer special devotion to Mary and veneration to the saints but true worship is always directed to God.  Indeed, the proper object for all Christian prayer is almighty God, even when we beseech intercessory prayer from one another and the saints in glory.  We are asking them to pray with and for us to almighty God.  The highest or most important prayer of adoration or worship is the Mass.  Giving “glory” to God is literally to join the angels in what is the eternal operation of heaven, glorifying God.  There is nothing lacking in God that we can give him.  Giving glory really reflects a movement in the creature.  All eyes in paradise share the beatific vision in seeing God.  The creatures of heaven, angels and men, find themselves in glorifying God. It is at the heart for which we are made. As the old catechism relates, God made us so that we might know him, love him and serve him in this world and give glory to him forever in the next. Our spiritual penetration of the Trinity will allow us as finite creatures to enter ever deeper and deeper into the divine mystery.  We will know God and share in divine love but such glorification of God can never exhaust who he is. Rather, beginning now, we are the ones transformed and graced by such worship, first at the Mass and later at the heavenly banquet table.        

We also give “thanks” to God, yes for his glory but also for how this glory has been expressed or realized in his revelation and many gifts to us. God gives us life and those things necessary for sustaining and enriching life.  He also gives us his Son, Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  Indeed, this is why the word Thanksgiving or Eucharist becomes a sacred name for this holy sacrament.  The whole Church around the world and throughout all human history joins with the hosts of heaven in giving thanks to God.  The Gloria concludes almost as if it were a creed.  We profess both the divine unity (the natural revelation and faith that God is one) and the supernatural understanding of God as a Trinity of persons.

The hymn of the angels on the night of the first Christmas becomes our own.  The incarnation realizes God coming down from heaven so as to enter the family of men.  Similarly the Mass will allow this same Christ to be present in bread and wine as our saving food.  Nothing and no one could force God’s hand.  The Word becomes flesh purely because God so loved us that he sends his beloved Son, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity.  He would lay down his life and then take it up again.  Nothing would ever be the same.