Fifth Sunday of Easter

May 22, 2011

new texts, timeless meaning

Every Sunday at Mass, we open our ears anew to hear the Word of God.  We know the scripture readings to be the event of the Liturgy of the Word in the Mass. But most of the responses and prayers of the Mass are also taken (at least indirectly) from the scriptures.

This is especially evident in the Revised Order of the Mass that we have been using now for the past six months. Australia will begin to use the revised texts at Pentecost. England & Wales, and the United States, will follow at the end of this year. On the First Sunday of Advent this year we will also use for the first time the revised prayers of the priest, including the new Eucharistic Prayers.

Many of the revised texts of the Mass are direct quotations from the scriptures. Before we process to communion we now pray the words of the Gospel centurion; “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.” (Luke 7:6, Matthew 8:8).

Several times in every Mass we hear the scriptural greeting “The Lord be with you” (Judges 6:12, Ruth 2:4, Chronicles 15:2, Luke 1:28). Our response in the revised text is also directly from the scriptures when we pray “And with your spirit” (2 Timothy 4:22, Galatians 6:18, Phillipians 4:23, Philemon 25).

we grow to mean what we pray

Our rediscovery of the beauty of the Mass is not simply a process of receiving renewed texts. In these months we also receive the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal. This Instruction places the revised texts in the context of the entire celebration of the Mass. 

This encouragement reminds us that in the prayers of the Mass we are not seeking to pray what we mean as we do in our personal and private prayer. Instead, when we gather together as God’s people to worship as a community, our desire is to mean what we pray.

Perhaps that needs a note of explanation. In the Mass we are not seeking primarily to express ourselves to God. This is the wonderful nature of private prayer. God desires to hear our needs and concerns.

But in the Mass it is God who is the primary communicator. This means that the prayers and words and scriptures we hear might not (initially at least) sit all that comfortably with our ears and mouths and hearts. But this is God speaking, calling us beyond our mere human existence into the divine life.

In the Mass we are not simply expressing ourselves to God. Instead at this sacramental source and summit of human existence, we are letting God speak to us. To do this we use the words, gestures, signs, symbols and elements that have been the successful vehicles for God’s communication over centuries.

psalms for procession

In the scriptural Word, God speaks to us of our divine destiny.  We join in the Psalm response after the first reading showing that we have heard the Word. Together we acclaim our response to God.

Every Sunday Mass is also allocated three more (mostly neglected) psalm responses to accompany the processions of the Mass (Entrance, Offertory and Communion). While these three psalms can be replaced on occasion with a hymn, the psalms are hymns that have survived and surpass the trials of time. These ancient hymns have been reliable and robust communicators of the active presence of God throughout Jewish and Christian history. Our ancestors in faith knew these prayers and prayed them by heart and from their hearts. These prayers speak to every human emotion and situation.

The intention is that the psalms at Entrance, Offertory and Communion might be sung by the cantor and people together. The practical advantage is that the people do not need to carry hymn-books, or to focus on a screen to join in the psalms. People are attracted to join in the refrains as a mantra. Your parish or school might consider beginning with a communion psalm as people process to receive the Lord.

in scripture, God speaks to my changing life

And for two thousand years, Christians have gathered on the first day of every week to listen to God anew. We might use the same old scriptural texts and the same prayers. But we have changed.

We last heard today’s readings at Mass on the Fifth Sunday of Easter 2008.

Now just three years later our diocese is a very different place. Twenty-nine miners at Pike River have lost their lives in tragic circumstances. Their families, friends and West Coast community still grieve deeply. Christchurch earthquakes have taken their toll in loss of life and property. Families are still distraught. Homes and workplaces have been destroyed and damaged.

And today the readings of the Mass speak to us about “architecture” and “building”. 

“There are many rooms in my father’s house.” (John 14:1-12) What is the foundation on which we build? Do we place all our hope and security in family, home, friendship and buildings? While these may be the structures of our society, our foundation must be more solid. For Christians “the Lord is the living stone….set yourselves close to him, so that you too, the holy priesthood that offers the spiritual sacrifices which Jesus Christ has made acceptable to God, may be living stones making a spiritual house…the stone rejected by the builders has proved to be the keystone”. (1 Peter 2:4)

rebuilding: with God as our keystone

These passages do speak about buildings. In our present struggles and focus we think of the effects of loss of life and livelihood in the mine and earthquakes. We have families, lives and the masonry of a city to rebuild. But as always the Word of God moves us to a deeper level. We might create a more secure and safe mine. We may  build an ‘earthquake-proof’ city. But if God is not the keystone of our lives (both personal and in society), we will crumble.

The scriptures tell us that this is true. The story of our history affirms this. Our personal experience of real successes and apparent failures have taught us that without God our endeavours come to nothing, since He is “the way, the truth, and the life”  


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