Each week in every parish, the Sunday Liturgy of the Word is celebrated with four scripture readings. The Rite of the Mass also gives three psalms to accompany the Entrance, Offertory and Communion processions of the Mass.
The scriptures also feature in many of the prayers of the Mass. You will notice that the revised peoples’ prayer before Communion is a quotation from Luke 8: “Lord I am not worthy, that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed”.
Every Liturgy is rich with the voice of the Word of God. The response “and with your Spirit” is also a precise quote from the scriptures.
To be honest, there are some weeks when, even with so much divine inspiration, I find it difficult to find something to communicate to parishioners in the Sunday homily. This is never because the passages of scripture are not relevant. Nor is my struggle because God is going through a ‘quiet patch’ and has stopped talking to me. The problem is always with me. Some weeks I get caught up in the routine and responsibilities of life. I forget to listen.
We are all a bit like this. We forget to listen to God, the one who communicates most lovingly to us. God is speaking to us not only in every word of scripture, but in every moment of life. We need often to be reminded to remember.
This is the prime reason for the Church teaching the “obligation” of Catholics to participate in Sunday Mass. This is not an external rule, but a natural compulsion of the human heart. The healthy heart obliges the believer to gather with our family of faith that we might together remember. “Do this in memory of me.”
There are other weeks when every word of the given Sunday scriptures speaks volumes to me. Some days the scriptures seem to shout. Today is one such day. “Be holy!”
Without a doubt my openness has been helped by many of the circumstances I have found myself in over these days. I think of the great energy and enthusiasm at the parish meetings (Sockburn Parish Council last week and Darfield on Thursday). The same positive perspective and excitement was also visible and audible at the meeting of parishioners in Darfield last Sunday.
Much of the discussion at these meetings was about the Pastoral Plan of the Christchurch Diocese, and particularly our local (Christchurch West Pastoral Area) response. Submissions need to be received by the bishop before 31 March. (ref. the Pastoral Plan document)
The tendency (expectation even) in such pastoral planning meetings is that parishioners will ‘fight’ for their own personal preference of Mass time and Church. This may be a sign of the commitment that people have to parishes and to the worshipping community.
The remarkable thing about the parish meetings I mentioned above was that while those attending do have their own strong personal preference for Mass times and Churches, these were set aside in the light of the bigger Pastoral-Area picture.
The most important thing is not whether we retain a church building or a Mass time. The most essential question is ‘how can our parish (and Pastoral Area) be a more effective communicator of the Gospel to ALL the people who live in our parish’. To say this another way, we could quote the first verse of the first reading at Mass today: how can we as a parish, a pastoral area and a local Church of the Diocese of Christchurch “BE HOLY”.
What does it mean to BE HOLY?
Holiness is not achieved simply by living the doctrines and practices of the Church. While it is essential that we do keep these commandments, this adherence to the letter of these good laws is not what makes us holy.
Keeping the letter of any set of rules is easy if the rewards are attractive or the punishments severe enough. It is God who gives holiness, and this relationship satisfies every desire of the human heart. Remember the Gospel last Sunday: “You have heard how it was said, but I say to you.”
Holiness is a gift of God which is given in generous abundance to anyone who knows their desire for God. Thankfully God gives this gift in the midst of our struggle and suffering. Our acknowledged human imperfection is a magnet for this great gift of God.
This is why we begin every Mass with an invitation: “Brothers and sisters, let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.”
The Catholic liturgy is not a human attempt to make ourselves feel better by the music we choose and the prayers we pray. Instead the Liturgy of the Church begins with an acknowledgement of our human reality (our sinfulness), and then through word and prayer, ritual, song and action, the Liturgy tells us what God is like.
In the Liturgy we do not seek to pray what we mean. The Liturgy of the Church is a the gift that nourished the Apostles, and the growing early Christian community. This unfolding Liturgy has been the food of life for pilgrims in Aotearoa and popes in Rome. These sacred prayers and real rituals formed the faith of our Catholic ancestors in Ngahere, Waimate, Whataroa and Addington.
We have a responsibility to ensure that the gift of faith that we have received, and which is expressed, taught and celebrated in the Liturgy, is passed on to future generations.
In the Liturgy we (as have those before us) receive this gift anew. In the Mass we seek to mean what we pray. We celebrate not create the Mass.
When we regularly submit ourselves to this ultimate action of God, we become holy.