The Roman Missal: Ecce Agnus Dei

So this next part has to do with one of my favorite parts of the new translation, “Behold the Lamb of God.”   I mean, I love it all, but this is one of my favorites, and part of that is because of the word “behold.”  Think about it.  This is certainly a better translation of the Latin word “ecce” than “this is”.

The previous translation of “this is” sounds pretty bland, and could really point out anything.  You could say, “This is my pet ferret, Gladys.”  Or you could say, “This is where I got sick last week.”  But “behold” has a special connotation.  Instead of the previous things, you would say, “Behold!  Gladys!  The ferret of the ages!” or “Behold!  The site of my holy regurgitation!”  Behold is a word that means more than simply to look at something, but it is to look with awe and respect.  To behold something is to be placed in the presence of something or someone extraordinary, and to soak in their glory.

If we look at the context of the word “behold” in scripture and in the Mass, we can really gain an understanding of what the Church is trying to show us here.  John the Baptist invites his followers to “Behold the Lamb of God!” (Jn 1:29), pointing out to them that Jesus is the one!  He’s the one that God had promised all the way back in the Book of Genesis that would save his people from their sins, and who would rescue them.  In a sense, we’re being invited to “behold the Lamb of God” as well.

The word “behold” also evokes the imagery from the passion of Jesus.  “Behold the Man” are the terrible words that we hear from Pontius Pilate after Jesus has been scourged and mocked (Jn 19:5).  Think of the horrible scourging scene in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, and how Pilate then presents the horribly beaten savior to the crowd.  So when we hear this at Mass, it reminds us of the connection to the Passion, and the fact that the Mass is a re-presentation (not a representation, but a presenting again) of the sacrifice of Christ.  That same beaten and bruised man is presented again to us in the Eucharist – beaten, bruised, scourged, and crucified for you, and for the salvation of your soul!

The second half of the invitation for communion is from the Book of Revelation: “Then the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.’” (Rev 19:9)  Revelations is a vision of heaven and of the end times, and although it’s probably more popular for the Horsemen and the end of the world, it’s specifically a vision of the heavenly liturgy.  In fact, lots of parts in the Mass can be compared to parts in the Book of Revelation (although despite how boring our homilies are, we priests are not the Horsemen).  That’s because here on earth, in this Mass we’re celebrating, we’re sort of touching the heavenly liturgy, experiencing an appetizer or hors d’oeuvres for that great feast in heaven – all to give us hope!

My old composition teacher used to say that a summary was supposed to sum up all the main points of your argument, so in a sense, this short part of the Mass sums up the argument of the Mass: The Eucharist is the re-presentation of Christ, who suffered for our sake, and who is both God and Man, the Savior of the world.  And our partaking in this is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.  Whew!  Lots to think about next time you’re at Mass!

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Does anyone here know what Foakley’s are?  They’re fake Oakley-brand sunglasses.  Some people don’t really care if their sunglasses are fake Oakley’s.  In fact, some people could care less what their sunglasses are like.  But for those of you who are concerned about this, there are a few ways to tell them.  One of them is by seeing how fragile they are.  Knockoffs are made of cheaper plastics, and they are more brittle than real Oakley’s.  They can snap apart easier, or the joints become loose and fall apart.  Once these fake Oakley’s are tested a little, once they’re stretched to their limits, they fall apart, but the authentic Oakley’s stick with it.

I think the same is true with faith.  We have a great example of it this morning in our Gospel readings.  So for just a second, place yourself in this Gospel, place yourself in the part of the friends who brought this paralytic to Jesus.  They believed, they had faith, and they knew that Jesus was kind of meandering their way, but of course, the only way they could know that was hearsay or by messengers, or by chance that Jesus just happened to be the place where they lived.  But they knew that they would have to drag their sick friend along.  Imagine carrying someone on a stretcher at the very least to Mid Rivers Mall, while being on a time constraint trying to get there before Jesus leaves.  That was rough!  Their faith really required some persistence.  How easy it would have been to give up at the beginning – thinking it’s a good idea, but then thinking about what’s involved and switching back to your DVR’ed American Idol episode.  But then think about when they got there, seeing how many people were crawling around Jesus!  How much easier it would be to give up there!  But they persisted.  And why?  Because they had faith – not just a passive faith or an intellectual assent that Jesus was a good role-model, but a faith that was active and alive, a faith that motivated them to get up and find Jesus, and a faith that drove them to climb up on a roof, lift up their friend, and then lower him down to Jesus.  You see, an authentic faith, like authentic Oakley’s, holds firm with the obstacles that it’s presented with, and produces real action.  And Jesus, when he saw this, latched onto it and did miraculous things.

Those men had to struggle and sacrifice to do what they did, and they were richly awarded.  In our time, rather than traveling to other towns by foot, Christ is just a stone’s throw away in the nearest tabernacle in church.  At the most, it’s probably a 20-minute drive, and Christ is literally available any time.  In our time, rather than climbing over others to have the forgiveness of sins, confession is celebrated every week, soon to be twice a week, or you can make an appointment for it any time you want.  In our time, rather than having to memorize stories of Jesus, or asking to borrow the only copy of the Scripture in your town, we’re able to find the entire corpus of the teachings of the Church, from the catechism to the papal writings to Sacred Scripture, all in a tiny phone.  There is literally an app for that.

So what’s the deal?  We’re not under any persecution (at least not overtly yet).  We’re not in mission territory where we don’t know about the faith, at least as of 1911.  I think in an age where we have such instant access to such things, such instant gratification, it’s easy for us to take our faith for granted.  It’s easy for us to take for granted the example of these men who struggled, sacrificed, risked their reputations, and even lowered a guy from a roof (for goodness sakes) in order to live out their faith in an active way.  Faith for our culture has become something inside, something personal.  People might still come to church, but it might be for the music, or because they grew up that way, or because their parents give them nasty looks if they find out they skipped.  But I think what each of us has to remember is that while faith is supposed to be something that is our own, it’s also manifested to others through our words and actions.  Christ in the Gospels only performs miracles when people make an act of faith.  Not an intellectual assent, not a rolling out of bed.  It comes from doing good for others and from true worship – not the motions alone, but the worship of the heart as well.

We need to reclaim this.  We need an active, living, vibrant faith, or it’s pointless to continue.  So many times, we expect God to fix everything in our lives, or to solve all our problems, to heal us like he did the man in the Gospel, simply by the wave of our hand or by waiting around.  But true faith, the faith that Christ latches on to, is a living, active faith.  It’s a faith that demands sacrifice and perseverance.  It’s a faith that requires action.

How do we increase our active faith?  Here’s a couple ways.  Share it.  We have a number of ways to do that in our parish, with CRHP retreats and programs galore.  Or try reaching out to a fallen away Catholic, inviting them to Mass.  Defend the moral truths of our faith from those nasty people on Facebook or at work, who just love bashing the Church for any excuse they can get their hands on.  Blessed John Paul II said that “faith is strengthened when it is given to others.”  You can also learn about it, by reading a good Catholic book or joining us for watching the Catholicism series that’s advertised on posters all over the place.  It’s free, it’s easy, and it’s an hour or so a week.  You can also practice it.  Of course each of us are expected to be at Sunday Mass, but try swinging by a weekday Mass before work, or on Saturday morning.  Make the sacrifice to get up a few minutes early to do this.  You can also try many of the devotional things in our Church: pray the Rosary, say the St. Michael prayer after Mass, wear a scapular or a crucifix.  All these things have been given to us from centuries upon centuries of people who found them as a way to strengthen their faith.  They’re not meant to replace our faith, but to reinforce it!

As you might remember, Lent is just around the corner, starting on Ash Wednesday this week.  It’s a time for all of us, who are in such need of strength in our faith, to rededicate ourselves.  Traditionally, this involves prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  Essentially, that means prayer (there’s really no other way to say that one), sacrificing something, and giving something extra of ourselves.  These are the sorts of things that we can use to show Christ that our faith is indeed authentic, that it’s real.  As we approach the Lord today in the Eucharist, thankfully we don’t have to lower ourselves through the roof of the church/gym, but let us each strive to live our faith in a way that is vibrant, active, and authentic.  Amen.