The Roman Missal: The Institution Narrative (Part I)

Say the magic word!  Of course, every child knows what the magic words are to get a cookie or a favor or pretty much anything else – “please” and “thank you”.  These are the words that do everything, the most important words for opening doors and new opportunities.  Actually in magic tricks, you’ll hear the magic words as being something like “Hocus Pocus”!  But did you know that this phrase is actually a mockery of Catholicism, especially of the Eucharist?

“Hocus Pocus” is a mockery of the Latin words used at Mass, in which the priest says “Hoc est enim corpus meum,” meaning “This is my body.”  This is a criticism of the Mass by people who think that our celebration of the Mass is magical, comparing the words of Jesus to words that might do the impossible.  In their mind, Jesus saying that bread becomes his body is about the same as a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat!

To put it bluntly, the words that we speak at Mass are not magic words – they are the words of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  These particular words spoken by Christ, and the narrative that is formed around them, is called the Institution Narrative.  If you listen, the Eucharistic Prayer changes gears from being a prayer to the Father to recounting the events of the Last Supper, when Jesus instituted the Eucharist.  The words of institution, the words Christ spoke to his disciples saying “This is my body,” and “This is my blood,” are the Words of Institution, and they are the holiest and most important part of the Mass.

So why are they so important, if they’re just words?  We might have a tendency to think of them like magic words.  But these aren’t our words designed to manipulate God into doing something for us.  They are the words of Christ.  Are they just words?  Were they just words that God spoke to create the heavens and the earth?  Were they just words that Jesus spoke to heal people of their sickness?  Very simply, God’s word does what he says it does.  So if God can speak and create trees and oceans and clouds and breakfast cereals out of nothing, I’m pretty sure he can change bread and wine into his body and blood.

Just as Jesus spoke those words at the Last Supper, he speaks them again at every Mass through the priest to do the same thing.  Because of the power of these words, a priest can’t change them.  Priests are not really supposed to change any wording of the Mass for their own purposes anyway, but the Words of Institution are non-negotiables.  In fact, if a priest just made up his own words here (“…and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘I LOVE YOU GUYS!  YOU’RE AMAZING!’”) they would be invalid.  And of course, that really stinks for everyone going to Mass, because they have to stick around and go to Mass again for their Sunday obligation, listening to the same boring homily.

You’ll notice that the Words of Institution are different from the previous translation, in both minor and significant ways.  Does that mean that we’re changing the words of institution?  No.  Does that mean that all the new translation Masses we’ve been saying for the past few months are invalid?  No.  They were the same Latin as they were in the previous translation.  It’s a different translation, not new words altogether.

As I mentioned, some of these changes are pretty significant, so next time, we’ll pick up these important words again, and explain what they’re about!

Homily From the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Isn’t it kind of interesting how history is broken up into different eras?  I’m German, so I like organization, but wow!  It’s crazy!  You’ve got the Middle Ages, the Age of Discovery, the Age of the Enlightenment, the Modern Era, the Postmodern Era, the Post-postmodern era.  Since World War II, you’ve got the Atomic Age and the Space Age.  Then of course after the invention of the personal computer, you’ve got the Computer Age, otherwise known as the Information Age.  And then since 2001, apparently we’re currently in the Big Data Age, whatever that means.  But who decides these things?  How can you tell?  Is there a buzzer that goes off every couple years that announces “Now leaving the Information Age; Welcome to the Big Data Age…where all your dreams come true!”?

Well, in the Gospel today, we’ve got a little different view of history.  Jesus starts things off by saying, “Now is the time of fulfillment!”  What does that mean?  Fulfillment for what?  It sounds like a bad Gatorade commercial.  Well, in a sense, he’s beginning a new era in human history.  You see, to Christ, and really to all of us Christians, time doesn’t depend on who invents what, but on our friendship with God.  First, you had the Age of Creation, or the Age of Innocence.  It was a time of fullness of communion with God, a time when we lived in paradise and walked with God in the garden.  There was complete friendship with God.  I can just imagine if it were that way today, that Adam and God would be texting each other.  (Adam would text “OMG!!!” and God would text back “What? LOL!!!”)  But then all this came to an end with our fall from grace and the first sin.

So then comes the second age, the Age of the Promise.  This begins right away in Genesis 3:15, even right after God discovers Adam and Eve’s sin.  God promised that he would send a savior.  And so much of this time was spent on preparation and waiting.

But then comes the third age, the one Jesus is thinking about – the Time of Fulfillment.  This is the time of salvation!  About a month ago, we celebrated how God came into time and space at Christmas.  This age started with Christmas, but continues even today, through the activity of the Church!  We’ve gone forth, baptizing all nations, just as Jesus commissioned us to.  And then, of course, at the end of time, Christ will usher in a new age, an age of glory, when all evil is destroyed forever and we are once again united fully with God.

Sounds great, right?  If we think like this, if we realize that we’re living in blessed times, where Christ has fulfilled his promise to us, it can really fill us with peace and purpose.  But the problem is, sometimes, it doesn’t seem that way, and we forget to see things this way.  Sometimes we can feel like we’re on a ship on the ocean.  I don’t know if you’ve ever been on one o those huge cruise ships or not.  It’s like a floating city, honestly.  But at first, when you board the ship, you feel every wave.  You stumble around and might even get sick, but you’re very aware of the beauty of the ocean and the rhythm of the water.  But then as time goes on, you get more and more used to the shift in the boat, and you can walk fine.  And then, you get so involved in what’s going on inside that you might even forget completely that you’re in the middle of the ocean.  If you’re not careful, you can take it all for granted.

Sometimes, we forget to look at our lives as part of God’s plan for history.  Maybe when we first experience that closeness of God, or when we have those extraordinary moments of prayer or of a beautiful Mass, we feel God close to us, and it’s very clear that we live in blessed times.  But then we get into our routine.  And then it’s busy days and busy nights.  There’s always something to do, always something to pay for, always something to repair.  There’s always another meeting or appointment to get to.  And we get so caught up in these things that we forget where we are in God’s plan!

But you see, Christ doesn’t want us to sit idly by while he saves the world.  He doesn’t want us to feel like we’re living in an ant farm.  Instead, he is constantly inviting us to take part in his plan.  What happens in the Gospel today could be said of any one of us in our lives.  Peter, Andrew, James, and John are just sitting around, doing their normal thing.  They were living their lives, working hard so that they could put food on the table.  They were exactly like you and me, and indistinguishable from anyone else around them.  But then, Christ comes along and calls each of them by name.  When he looked at them, he didn’t see just average people, passengers on the salvation train.  He saw people who would play a beautiful and active role in his plan!  And today, he does the same with us.  God calls us to be his disciples and to be Fishers of Men!  We are each called to be like ambassadors for Christ in our lives.  This means that we go into those everyday, repetitive things like work, our family, shopping at Wal-Mart, getting gas at Quik-Trip, and all the other ordinary events of our day, and then we transform them into extraordinary opportunities for holiness!  Christ calls each of us to aid him in his work of redemption by converting it from the inside out, like the leaven in bread.

Today, he calls us again, by offering himself to us in the Most Holy Eucharist.  As we pray around this altar, we are reminded of God’s plan for human history, a plan that found its fulfillment in Jesus.  But then he calls each of us to participate in that plan, and to renew our response and follow him.  May that call, that friendship with Christ found most especially when we receive the Eucharist, be at the center of our lives.