Catholic Gators
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Catholic Gators

Lenten Homily Series on the Mass: Week Two

Fr. David Ruchinski

Welcome back for week two of my homily series on the Mass. If you weren’t here for Mass last Sunday or went to Mass at a different time, last week I started a series of homilies on the form, structure, and meaning of the Mass and the things we say and do in it. I mentioned that the Church calls for this “necessary instruction” on the Mass, so “that all the faithful be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations called for by the very nature of the liturgy”. I also tried to explain how this “full, conscious and active participation” helps all of us — both the priest up here and you, the congregation out there — to do our part in offering the one perfect sacrifice of the Mass to the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

That was all last Sunday.

Then yesterday we had a beautiful Lenten day of reflection here at the parish focused on the theme “Being Transfigured.” For those who participated in this mini-retreat and heard my talk on the gospel story of the Transfiguration I promised that, if they came to Mass tonight, they wouldn’t simply hear a repeat of what I said yesterday.

But to keep that promise means that I am going to have to introduce another passage of scripture into the homily tonight, one that was not included as one of the three readings for Mass today. It comes from the New Testament, from the Letter to the Hebrews, and here it is.

Read Heb 12: 18–24

“You have not approached that which could be touched and a blazing fire and gloomy darkness and storm and a trumpet blast and a voice speaking words such that those who heard begged that no message be further addressed to them, for they could not bear to hear the command: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so fearful was the spectacle that Moses said, “I am terrified and trembling.” No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.”

Now you may be saying to yourself, “What’s the matter, Fr. David? Aren’t three readings and a responsorial psalm good enough for you for one Mass? Do you really need to add in another reading?”

To which I might respond with the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 131: “such is the force and power of the Word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigor, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life.”

Or I might quote the Church document on Sacred Scripture, Dei Verbum, which says, “The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since from the table of both the word of God and the body of Christ she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life, especially in the sacred liturgy.” (DV, 21)

Or I might simply quote St. Jerome who said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”

The point is, you can never get too much Scripture. Just like some people can never get too much Chick-fil-A (although unlike Chick-fil-A, you can still get the word of God, even on Sunday). It is “strength for the faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life.”

But I chose this particular scripture passage for a reason. In it we hear of the people of Ancient Israel, the people of the covenant, who with Moses as their head and leader, approached the mountain of the Ten Commandments, Mt. Sinai, with fear and trembling because they were terrified by the signs that accompanied the revelation of the presence of God.

And what were those signs? A blazing fire, a cloud that cast a shadow on the onlookers, bright white garments and “a voice speaking words” that terrified the listeners, such that they “begged that no further message be addressed to them.”

This is what happens whenever God comes down to the mountain, when — even for a moment — the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and the full glory of God is seen and heard. It is too much for us. It overwhelms us, as it overwhelmed Peter, James, and John on that day that Jesus “led them up a high mountain apart by themselves and He was transfigured before them.”

“When the Scriptures are read in the Church, God himself is speaking to his people” (General Instruction on the Roman Missal, n. 29) and, thus, we should approach this pulpit like Moses approached the mountain of God, with fear and trembling. There is a reason why, whenever we use incense at the Mass we incense both the Book of the Gospels and the altar of the sacrifice — because we recognize that it is the same Divine Christ, truly present in the Holy Eucharist, who “present in His own word, is proclaiming the Gospel.” (ibid). The presence of God comes to us in the Mass with blazing fire and surrounded by clouds of smoke.

But here’s the good news: there is no need for us to be afraid like the Israelites or the apostles.

That’s the point the author of Hebrews is making and it’s the perfect counterpoint to the story of the Transfiguration that we hear in today’s gospel. We are not approaching a distant, demanding and terrifying God who comes down onto the mountain top, but never really enters into our human experience. The Word of God, that we encounter in the liturgy, doesn’t remain a booming voice from the thundercloud. This Word is made flesh, and makes His dwelling among us. And that flesh takes on the appearance of bread, so that we might eat and be filled with this “food for the soul, and pure and lasting fount of spiritual life”.

And, unlike the Eucharist which we can only receive from the table of the altar, the food we receive from the table of the scriptures can be yours anytime you want. You can go home tonight and continue to be nourished by the Biblical readings we heard proclaimed here at Mass tonight. You can open up your Bible every day and know that you are hearing in it the voice of the living God. You could ready yourself to approach the mountain of the Word of the Lord next Sunday, not just by bringing something to offer for the sacrifice — which we will talk about more next week — but by meditating of the Word of God which we will once again hear proclaimed to the glory of God and for the sanctification of His people.

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