It strikes me as interesting how much the sun impacts our daily lives. It’s important for temperature, for growing food, for telling time, and it even creates mass chaos on the highways at certain times of day (Ever hear of a sun visor or sunglasses, people? Good grief!) Its amazing what impact that ball of fire has for us every day!
As we begin looking at Eucharistic Prayer III, one of the first things we hear is that phrase, “…you never cease to gather a people to yourself, so that, from the rising of the sun to its setting, a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name.” This is a new translation from the previous Missal, which used the phrase, “from east to west”. Both are intended to get across the idea that a vast gathering of people desires to offer praise and honor to God, but “from the rising of the sun to its setting” is very poetic, and it follows exactly the words of Psalm 113. Also, with us St. Louisans as territorial as we are, you might leave out folks from North or South County!
The sun is something universal – everyone on earth is looking at the same star. But it’s also a powerful symbol for the Christian Church of the Resurrection of Christ. The sun appears to be dying in the evening, disappearing into darkness, but then reappears in glory at the beginning of a new day. In the same way, just as the story of Jesus appeared to be coming to a gloomy end, he was risen and triumphant on the third day!
The rising sun in the east has always been an important part in the liturgy as well. Many probably recall from their childhood the priest praying ad orientem, or “to the east”. For many people, it came across as anti-social or dismissive, but in reality, the priest was called to lead all the faithful, focused in a single direction, toward the rising sun (or Son, pun intended), the risen Christ. Even from the days of the Early Church, prayer to the east, to the Risen Christ, was important for worship.
When we think about our own celebration of Mass, we realize that the universality of the Church isn’t just people all over the world, but the whole Church – in every stage. It’s not just those who are rising, but those who are dying as well. All belong to Christ, and all worship him together when we celebrate Mass: those of us here on earth struggling to be his disciples, those who have gone before us and prepare to see God face to face, and those victorious in heaven, who sit at his right and left, worshipping him together with the angels and saints.
Ha! And you thought 10:30 Mass was packed! It’s nice to remember that we’re in great company as we pray, together offering our prayers and praises in one voice to the Risen Christ!
Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve been completely powerless? Actually, I was in one of those the other evening! Now, apparently everybody thinks that one of my distinguishing characteristics in my homilies is talking about the Cardinals. I’m not saying that you’re right, but I’m going to do that right now. The other night, I’m sure there were a lot of St. Louis fans that felt powerless as our beloved team was destroyed by the San Francisco Giants. It was frustrating. In an age of pitch-tracking technology, all of us could see which pitches were outside or out of the strike one, and now matter how loudly we yelled at the TV for the Cardinals not to swing at that junk, they would always do it! No matter what we did, or what prayers we said, or if we wore our rally caps, nothing was changing the situation. Being powerless is not fun because we like to be in control of our own destiny.
In the Gospel today, we hear about Jesus healing this blind man named Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus is a really interesting and powerful character in the Gospel, and he is struggling with blindness. Now of course, it would be a boring homily to just talk about his physical blindness, and I would have no idea what I’m talking about, so it’s important that we’re seeing this as a spiritual story too. Spiritual blindness is always seen as a lack of faith. It means that Bartimaeus, and all of us when we’re spiritually blind, don’t see what we’re meant to see. It’s an inability to see God present and working in our lives. So he’s blind.
But Bartimaeus is also a beggar, and this is probably a fairly overlooked point. You know, religion is different from any other institution on earth because it proposes a solution to an idea that within our power, we cannot solve. If you think about it, we always want to solve problems, and most of them we can. Car mechanics are great examples of this. Now I have no idea what to do when someone tells me that I have a broken catalytic converter or something, but in theory, with enough time, money, and know-how, there is no problem with a car that someone can’t fix. But it’s not the same with sin. Sin is a problem with the will and the mind becoming twisted and perverse, and more mind or will isn’t going to fix it. No yoga class or aromatherapy is going to fix the problem of sin. Spiritually speaking, we’re all beggars – we can’t fix any of our spirtual problems and we all depend on God. So in this story, we’re meant to identify with Bartimaeus, who like us, is a beggar.
Now there’s a really cool detail here. When Bartimaeus is calling out to Jesus for help, he says, “Son of David, have pity on me!” In Greek, that’s “eleison me, eleison me!” Actually, at the beginning of Mass, we say the same thing: “Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison.” Essentially, it could be translated, “Lord, have pity on me. Christ, have pity on me. Lord, have pity on me,” – just like the blind man! At the beginning of every Mass, we’re putting our lives into context. We’re putting ourselves ritually in the position of Bartimaeus in that we realize that we are beggars and we need help. Actually, that’s the virtue of Bartimaeus in the Gospel – he knows that he’s a beggar, and that he can’t fix his own problems, and so he calls out to Christ to save him.
I’m sure that there are a lot of people here who have found themselves in the same situation. There are people who find themselves overwhelmed with the family situation, or health issues, or financial stuff, or the overall situation of the world today. There are people who are overwhelmed with some attachment to sin that they can’t seem to be rid of. And what does that feel like? That’s right – complete powerlessness. No matter how hard you try, you can’t fix this. You can’t do it on your own power. You are a beggar like Bartimaeus, and the only thing you can do in these troubling and desperate situations is call out to God.
It’s an important detail, actually, that Bartimaeus is the only person helped by Jesus who is recorded by name. Scripture scholars have suggested that it was because he probably became an early Christian convert, and so it was Mark’s way of pointing out to other Christians someone they might know by name in their midst. Whether we realize it or not, probably know people who are weak like ourselves, where everything seems stacked up against us. I mean, I’m one of them! That’s why I’m here! St. Paul tells us that “every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring (that’s you), for he himself is beset by weakness and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people.” The second reading is one of my favorites of all time, and was read at my ordination to the priesthood. And honestly, every day that I’m a priest, I realize how true it is. I can tell you for a fact that I’m not worthy to be here. I am not qualified to be here. And only God and I know the full extent of that statement, but it’s the truth. Lots of times, people have trouble going to confession because they worry about what the priest is going to say or think about them. But to be honest, this is what I see: I see a sinner, someone who is weak – like me. But I see someone who, despite being powerless to save themselves is reaching out like Bartimaeus to Christ, striving to be a disciple.
It is tough to have faith. Lots of people start out with faith as children, or have inherited at least the practice of their faith from their parents or friends. But they’re not entirely convinced by it. They can’t see God (obviously). Conversation with God is not exactly the same as it is with anyone else. They want faith – they want to be able to see what God sees – but it’s too difficult or too discouraging. And let’s face it, our society isn’t exactly big on faith. I mean, maybe it enjoys the trappings of faith, like little angels or WWJD bracelets. But when our faith challenges us to live it? When it challenges us to look at our social views, our economic views, or even our political views beyond what we ourselves might want to control? Probably a lot of us find ourselves in a situation where we need faith. And even though people discourage you, or the culture or the situation of your life discourages you, don’t give up. Keep calling. Keep persisting. Keep enduring. That’s ultimately what brought Christ to Bartimaeus’ side, and that is what will bring Christ to ours as well.
When Bartimaeus is called, it’s interesting how he responds – he throws off his cape. Umm, wait a second…he’s blind. If this whole Jesus thing doesn’t work out, how’s he going to find it again? That’s pretty much all his security and protection against rain, cold, or whatever. It’s pretty much everything he has. Do you see what we’re being taught here? He abandons himself to God in order to run to him. That is what faith is: abandonment to God. Faith is leaving behind all the things that we want to keep ourselves self-sufficient, leaving behind all the things we want to control but can’t.
So as we come near to the Lord in the Eucharist today, we recognize that we are beggars totally dependent on the mercy of God to make us whole. May we rise then, leaving our powerlessness behind, and give ourselves to his loving care.
I think one of the most adorable things in the world might be when a child learns to read, and proceeds to read one of his or her childhood books to us. Usually, we don’t expect much content from these sorts of books – “See Bob run. Run, Bob, run!” – but nobody cares, because it’s cute, and we listen anyway. But you might think of Eucharistic Prayer III as a child reading a book to you, but instead of Where the Wild Things Are, the child is reading Plato’s Republic or St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Contra Gentiles! Eucharistic Prayer III sounds nice and pleasant, but it’s jam packed with important Eucharistic theology and doctrine!
Eucharistic Prayer III is the next anaphora on our chopping block as we dissect it down to its most important elements. It is medium length, somewhere between EPII and EPI, but if you get to the nuts and bolts of it, it’s incredibly theologically complex!
Some of us think of ourselves as Roman Catholic, but really, the Roman version of Catholicism used to be but one of several other “rites” within the larger Latin-speaking Church, each with it’s own style and Eucharistic Prayer. Some are still around today – the Ambrosian Rite (celebrated only in Milan, Italy) and the Mozarabic Rite (celebrated in Toledo and parts of Spain) – and others have disappeared completely. Eucharistic Prayer III reaches out to some of these other traditions, including elements from defunct rites in Spain and Gaul (present-day France).
There are two key themes to unlocking the whole thing: sacrifice and the Holy Spirit. Sacrifice is an important element of the Eucharist, period. But in a special way, it is brought out in this prayer. Sacrifice is what the Mass is – it’s a meal, yes, but as we hear constantly throughout all the Eucharistic Prayers, it is our presence at the foot of the Cross as well. So we’ll hear phrases like, “holy and living sacrifice”, a line borrowed from Theodore of Mopsuestia, a theologian of the early Church, and talk of victims and offerings – things that might have a bad connotation in a secular culture, but which are essential to who we are as Catholics, because they were done by Christ with immense love!
The other big theme throughout Eucharistic Prayer III is the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, this poor guy is forgotten in the context of the Mass, or we only call him when we need him to do something. We know that Jesus is the victim of the sacrifice, and we know that he’s offered to God the Father, but sometimes we don’t think of the Holy Spirit, even if we know he’s there. EPIII underlines the action of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist – he gathers us as one people to offer that sacrifice, he transforms the gifts of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, and he transforms us too, giving us meaning to our participation at Mass.
Those are just a couple quick points to introduce you to Eucharistic Prayer III (EPIII, this is All Saints; All Saints, this is EPIII!), but hopefully we’ll be able to pick these things out as we pray together on Sunday! Stay tuned, and Go Cards!!!
Here in America, we love heroes. They are the shining examples of what we’re supposed to be. This past summer, a movie called The Avengers was extremely popular. This is a group made up of “Earth’s mightiest heroes”, called in to defeat alien armies and save the world. But the last time I checked, we don’t have too many 1940’s super soldiers, men wearing custom-fitted and armed suits of mechanical armor, or Viking gods running around, as is suggested in the movie. So it got me to thinking, who are our real heroes? And I think the answer is pretty clear in our society. Our heroes are the firefighters, the law enforcement personnel, and the men and women of the armed forces. Have you ever seen someone mocking a firefighter for running into a burning building, or mocking our armed forces for protecting someone? These are the kinds of heroes we have – they’re people who stand to protect and serve. The natural human instinct, of course, is to run out of the burning building, so for someone to run into a burning building strikes us as noble, selfless, and heroic. It’s a real challenge to be selfless, standing up for something outside ourselves. It’s so easy to look on someone and say how heroic or noble they are, but for some reason, it’s more difficult for us to do it. Preaching the truth and sacrificing our reputation can often be seen as bad. So can suffering – we don’t like to see it, or feel it, or talk about it. In fact, there are a lot of Christians out there who love the cross, but hate the crucifix because it seems too brutal or too “in our face.” None of us want to suffer, but there is something redemptive, something heroic, about suffering. And it teaches us about the heart of Christ. But if we don’t understand suffering, it’s hard for us to understand these readings.
In fact, the first reading comes out guns blazing! “The Lord was pleased to crush him into infirmity”? What is that supposed to mean? But if we read on, we understand what’s going on. This isn’t someone whom the Lord is smacking around just for some kind of disturbed fun fun. This is someone who has freely chosen to embrace that suffering. This is someone who says, “I am willing to go through this suffering, so that my kids will be blessed.” He is suffering, but at the same time, he is still loving – and that’s heroic! It shows us that suffering isn’t always a terrible thing. Obviously, none of us wants to suffer, and none of us should go out of our way to seek suffering, but it shows us that something good can come out of it. That’s a tough thing to grasp. Most of us want heaven, and we want the good things that accompany it, but nobody wants to die!
We run into that in the Gospel today too. James and John get pretty bold and ask Jesus if they can sit on his right and left in the Kingdom of Heaven. They’re seeking the power and authority of these high positions, but without the suffering, without working or sweating or bleeding to get there. But Jesus’ response to this is to say, “Look, if you want to be great, you have to serve here on earth!” If we want to be great, we have to go through the difficulties, and trials, and sufferings, even putting others in front of you. And actually, just a few pages later in Mark’s 15th chapter, we see what it means to be on Jesus’ right and left. Only on Golgotha, when Jesus is abandoned and broken, and when those on his left and right are in the same condition, only then does the deep irony of the request of James and John become clear. Jesus lets them know that they don’t understand what they’re asking for, but he takes their willingness seriously, and that they will indeed drink that cup of suffering. In fact, James is the first of eleven other apostles to be martyred. John didn’t experience martyrdom like the others, but he suffered persecution, and abandonment, and rejection.
If we’re really going to be serious about being disciples, we have to learn for ourselves the meaning of redemptive suffering. Our bodies, when joined to the Body of Christ, can be transformed into instruments of redemptive grace for others. Here’s an example: Fr. Andrea Santoro was an Italian priest who lived in Turkey. Parts of Turkey, as you might remember, are not always friendly to Christians, especially priests, and Fr. Santoro was assassinated by extremists in 2006. But despite the danger of his life and the suffering, and ultimately the death that he would experience wasn’t an obstacle for him, but it was his way of bringing Christ to those people. He wrote, “I am here to dwell among these people and enable Jesus to do so by lending him my flesh.”
Sometimes it can be hard to lend our flesh to Christ, because we don’t think he understands. But I was reading something in preparation for this homily that said, “God had only one child on earth who lived without sin, but he didn’t have any that lived without suffering.” He knows what it’s like. There is nothing that you could throw at Jesus that he wouldn’t understand. If God allows suffering for our lives, it’s because he knows we can handle it. It becomes a golden opportunity to exercise our trust in him. Think about a young man who is interested in studying for the priesthood. He has to give up a hope of a family for his own. Maybe he has to say goodbye to his girlfriend. But it’s only because of the difficulty and the suffering involved that he can say to God, “You know, this is tough. It’s painful. But because you love me, I know that whatever you ask of me will be the right thing, so I’m just going to follow your lead.” Or think about a happily married couple where one of the spouses falls terribly and seriously ill. That’s devastating – to both of them! The other spouse has to support and run the household, while at the same time caring for the needs of the sick spouse. But they still pray, “Lord, I don’t get this, but if you give me your grace, I will carry this cross for you, just as you carried your cross for me.” In both those cases I just mentioned, it’s because of the suffering and hardship and pain involved that those people are heroic.
The most important thing we can do in the midst of all this is to pray. Looking out at this community gathered here today, I realize that there are many of you who have suffered four or five or ten times as much as I have. I also see that there are some among you who have allowed me to share in that suffering with you – the death of a loved one, serious illness, or spiritual turmoil. Thank you for that privilege to be with you in that suffering and to pray with you. The most important thing that we can do, and really, the only thing that we can do, is to pray. It’s really hard to trust God and understand his will if you don’t pray. And I’m not talking about praying before meals or praying the rosary in the shower or something. In this case, we need to take time alone and in silence to be still with God and present him our needs and sufferings. A great opportunity exists for this at All Saints with our Tuesday evening adoration. It’s quiet, the lights are a little dimmed, and there’s nobody asking you to do anything. Whatever the case may be, prayer is essential for learning the redemptive value of suffering in our lives.
As we’re gathered together today, I’m sure most of us can think of a few ways in which we’re suffering right now. But brothers and sisters, now is also the time for us to do something about it. So let us call those things to mind, commending them to the love of God, and let us go to join Christ at his left and right; not in prestige or power, but at the foot of the Cross. And let us receive him now in this Eucharist with thankful, loving, and trusting hearts.
FYI, my reflections for this homily were guided by the “Sunday, Sunday, Sunday” podcast by Mark Hart, seen here.
When I was growing up, I was in Scouts with a guy who’s claim to fame was that he was something like 154,723rd in line for the throne in England. It’s strange to think about, but if all those people mysteriously disappeared or all died in a freak balloon race accident or something, my friend, by right, deserved to be the King of England!
Talking about being an heir to a kingdom might seem strange to us, but our belief is that we’re heirs in a very real sense – a lot more legitimate than my friend’s claim to succession! We pray in Eucharistic Prayer II that we “may merit to be coheirs to eternal life.” There are two interesting parts worth mentioning here: merit and being coheirs.
The idea of merit in our Catholic faith is something very misunderstood, and as a result, steered away from. Among human beings, it means a general reward or payback owed for the action of an individual. But that doesn’t make sense with God. Merit for us comes from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate himself with us. Anything that we might “earn” or “deserve” by our works of charity for others is first and foremost due to God’s grace. Even when we do something good for others, we believe that it is God’s grace which inspired us to do so in the first place! So the reward we’re given isn’t only because of our generosity to others, but also because of God’s generosity to us!
As for being coheirs, this is a birthright that is given to us at baptism. It’s amazing to think that at our baptism, God radically changed the universe to give us a new identity as his sons and daughters. Romans 8:16-17 tells us as much: “The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”
Actually, a royal heir like my friend is a good analogy for this. If you think about it, a prince or princess as an heir to the kingdom, doesn’t deserve to be king or queen any more than the gas station worker down the street – but they are given that honor by their birth. Imagine how much more extreme that would seem if the heir was adopted! In that case, it’s not even by birth, but by the incredible generosity of the king or queen.
Well, I’ve got news for you: we are those adopted princes and princesses of the Kingdom of God! And it’s not by anything we’ve done to earn that position, but because of waters of baptism, and the incredible generosity of the grace of God. We’re given the same blessing as Christ, God’s only begotten Son: to be risen from the dead and raised to glory.
One of the greatest things about this is that we don’t have to get rid of 154,722 people to receive this honor – it’s already ours by God’s gift! So as we celebrate the Eucharist, let us give thanks to God for his unbounded love!
It’s kind of interesting the questions I get as a priest. 10 years ago, probably the most complicated question I could answer with authority is “Who is playing second base for the Cardinals this evening?” (The answer, by the way, was Fernando Viña.) Now the questions are more complex: “Why doesn’t the Church believe in divorce? Why do I have to get an annulment? Why doesn’t the Church believe in artificial contraception? Why does the Church believe what it believes about homosexuality?” And my favorite, “Why do we have to go to a year’s worth of classes with you just to use the All Saints church for our wedding?” Sometimes, these questions get a little antagonistic or rough, but I think most people just want to understand.
There are times when I wish I could just have them go and talk to Jesus about it to get them off my back! You explain the non-refundable payment for reserving the church for their wedding, Jesus! But I have a feeling that if all these different people came at Jesus with all these different questions, it would look a lot like the Gospel today. Like the people who ask these questions, the Pharisees come because they want to know. And I have a feeling that Jesus would say the same thing to them today that he did back then. He doesn’t do it by explaining a dogmatic statement, but he starts with, “From the beginning of creation…” Whoah! Hold on to your shorts, people, because we’re going way back! Close your Bibles, and open them up again on page 1 with the Book of Genesis!
There are actually two accounts of creation in Genesis. The 7 days of creation that everyone is familiar with is the first. The one Jesus is referring to today is the second, with God creating man out of the clay of the ground. In an incredibly poetic and beautiful scene, God then breathes into the man’s nostrils the breath of life. Now, in the second account, it’s only after God creates Adam that he creates all the other things. Why? Because they are all a gift to him: the lush gardens, the beautiful streams, the shining oceans, the varieties of animals. But what’s interesting is that despite the beauty of these gifts, the more Adam walked around and enjoyed these things, the more he felt alone. Sure, he gets to call the animals anything he wants, but none of them ever call back to him. I’m sure you know what I mean here. If you’ve got a dog, you know that you can love the dog all you want, pet it all you want, put it in ridiculous Halloween costumes, feed it bistro-inspired dog food. But ultimately, you know that it never turns to you and thanks you. It never asks you how your day was. It never tells you it loves you. The same was true with Adam. The deep spiritual relationship was what Adam was lacking, because there was nothing like him in the world.
So God sees Adam’s depressing Facebook status, and says, “I will create a suitable partner for the man.” Adam didn’t ask for this, and he didn’t get to design the woman however he wanted. Rather, through all the animals, God awakened within him the keen awareness of his need for someone else – for a relationship. And so when God does create the woman, when Adam sees her standing before him, he sees a body like his, but different. And he realizes that he is created for this woman, and that she is created for him. Blessed John Paul II called this the “spousal meaning of the body.” Try to imagine the first time Adam saw Eve. After seeing water buffalo after water buffalo for what must have seemed like ages, he sees her standing there, and she must have been the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. And so he looks on her, gazes upon her – not judgmentally, not lustfully, not as an object to be exploited, but as more than that – and they see each other as God created them. They are made for each other, to give of themselves for each other. How true that is! Masculinity and femininity are made for each other – not to take out the trash, not to fulfill base desires, but for the mutual self-giving and receiving of each other. In short, they were created for communion.
And it’s for this reason, Jesus tells us, that a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So when people ask if the Church hates or looks down on sexuality, uh…the answer is no, not at all. Sexuality has dignity! Not only is it a good thing, but a holy thing – the very thing we were created for! Real sexuality is a desire for union, not the lust after bodily needs. Animals are drawn together from carnal or uncontrollable instincts, but human beings are drawn together for communion! What greater example of this, what greater image of this, than marriage. Obviously, the Church understands marriage as a sacrament, a channel of grace and a participation in the life of God, but it’s kind of the proto-sacrament. It was a sacrament before sacraments were cool!
But the Pharisees point out that there is a flaw in the equation, and as Jesus says, it was never supposed to be this way, but was harmed like most other perfect things in the world by evil. There are so many good and holy people in our parish who are suffering in their marriages – separated, divorced, going through the annulment process. It may be one spouse’s fault, it may be the other spouse’s fault, or it may be nobody’s fault – but they’re suffering. And that’s not right. As Jesus told us, that was not the way that things were supposed to be. Marriages suffer from the presence of evil in the world – there’s no other way to put it. And I think it’s important that we have a special place in our hearts for these people whose marriages suffer. They need our support, they need our love, and they need our prayers.
It’s crazy how well evil is able to manipulate the good in our world. If you look around to movies or TV shows or the internet or advertizing, you can see this clear as day. Mutual self-gift has been reduced to self-gratification. The body is no longer seen as a thing of beauty and holiness, but things like music have reduced it to meat. It has become an object to attract buyers, a means to make money for clothing companies everywhere. And even the styles of clothing reduce men and women from God’s creation to an object of lust, and a temptation against others’ purity. Things in our world are no longer about communion, but about letting the good times roll. How did this happen? How did people forget all this?
Well, I for one think that people are a lot smarter than they let on. I think that somewhere inside the deepest part of the soul, people have an innate understanding that it doesn’t make sense to love and to take for oneself at the same time. Normally, I try to make my homilies at least sort of practical. But not today – partly because I’m running out of time, but mostly because of the ideal. I want to place the ideal of marriage, the ideal of creation, and the ideal of communion before you as a reminder and a challenge. Remember that ideal of love. Even when the kids are screaming or crying in the cart at the grocery store, remember that ideal of love. Even when your gutters overflow, your basement floods, or your front porch collapses, remember that ideal of love. Even when you’re on a completely different work schedule than your spouse and you only get to see them for an hour or two a day, remember that ideal of love. People know that the ideal of marriage exists, but it’s tough, and people need more than just an ideal – people need witnesses. They need the example of your marriages as a mystery of self-giving love. They need the example of your marriages as a union with God. They need the example of your marriages as life-giving, love-giving, and lasting communion with each other.
We need you! We the single, we the celibate, we the youth, we the separated, we the divorced, we the widowed, we the Church need you. As we celebrate this great mystery of communion in the Eucharist today, my prayer is that you see what it is that you represent, and respond to it. May you have the courage and strength to give witness to the presence of God in the union of husband and wife in marriage.
One of the questions that I get every once in a while is, “Why should I go to Mass at all? God is everywhere, so as long as I pray every so often and be generally a good person, do I need to go to Mass every week?” It’s actually a good question, and in some ways, I think Eucharistic Prayer II gives us a pretty good answer.
After the consecration, the priest prays, “Therefore, as we celebrate the memorial of his Death and Resurrection, we offer you, Lord, the Bread of Life and the Chalice of salvation, giving thanks that you have held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you.” It’s kind of hidden away in the rest of the prayer, but has a very important meaning with two parts.
The first part is about being in God’s presence. Now, if you think about it, we’re in God’s presence all the time, right? God is omnipresent, and is with us every moment of every day. But there’s something special about being in God’s presence at Mass. I came across a blog called Grumbling and Gratitude by a neuroscience grad student named Jessica, who had a profound experience of this prayer at Mass. She pointed out that “being in Mass is only partially about being in his presence. By devoting time to sit quietly and pay attention to God, I’m showing that I want to be near him.” (By the way, pray for Jessica! She’s thinking of becoming Catholic!)
Think about it like this: a husband and wife live together and are with each other all the time, but regular “date nights” are still important to foster that relationship as special time together. Jessica said, “My relationship with God is the same way; He luckily already knows me, but I need to dedicate time to know him.”
God is present in a special way at Mass, however. Even though God is everywhere, we’re particularly in his real presence in the tabernacle. We’re in the same room (physically) as Jesus! That’s awesome! And that leads us to the second half of this prayer, which is ministering to him.
This word packs a lot of meaning, especially in a church. Each of us are there to minister to Jesus, but not necessarily in the same way. The priest, for example, ministers in a special way because of his priesthood. So the work “ministry” in a technical sense applies to his service. But let’s think about this word in the context of the Gospel of Matthew. After Jesus was tempted in the desert, “angels came and ministered to him.” (4:11) Now, were they wearing vestments and swinging incense? Maybe. But what the Gospel is getting at is the angels attending to his needs. They were serving him. That’s how we can “minister” to Christ – by worshipping and exalting him in the context of the Mass!
God doesn’t want us to roll out of bed grudgingly for Mass on Sundays. We should realize that it is truly a blessing to be able to worship, and to be in God’s presence and worship him. When you wake up tired and grumpy on a Sunday, think back to this prayer. It’s not that I have to go to Mass, but that I get to go to Mass!
When I was in Scouting, one of the greatest feelings on a campout was waking up refreshed (which hardly ever happened), unzipping the “door” of the tent, and stepping out into the cool morning air. I remember that you had to be careful in the way you set up the tent overnight, not wanting any clothes or bags to touch the walls of the tent, or they would be soaking wet in the morning from the heavy dew. The morning dew was a beautiful sight, lightly shining in the sun on the grass.
So how did dew make the new translation of Eucharistic Prayer II? It reads, “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall…” For most of the priests I know, this was one of the changes that they would always joke about because it stood out so much! Dew seems like kind of a strange analogy for us today, but it’s important that we take a look at how the people of ancient Israel viewed it.
Dew was actually something important in the Bible, and has numerous references from the Psalms and Isaiah. In the arid climate of Israel, dew was a major source of moisture for the vegetation in the desert, and therefore was a source of life. Dew is also something that doesn’t fall from the sky like rain during a thunderstorm, but appears seemingly unseen from an unknown source.
The Book of the Prophet Hosea writes: “I (God) will be like the dew for Israel: he (Israel) will blossom like the lily…his splendor will be like the olive tree and his fragrance like the Lebanon cedar.” (14:5) I think this is the image that our Eucharistic Prayer is getting at, asking that the Holy Spirit come down like dew upon us and upon our gifts placed at the altar. Like the dew in the desert, God’s grace is a gift to us, giving us that nourishment, refreshment, and life that we need to survive.
This is especially important for those of us who find ourselves in a spiritual desert. There are certainly times of dryness and aridity in prayer, where no matter what we seem to do, our prayer feels lifeless. It seems rather counterintuitive, but the best thing we can do when we struggle with dryness in prayer is to pray more. We need to keep praying for the Holy Spirit to come into our lives and re-energize us, drawing sustenance from the dewfall of the Spirit like a desert flower. When you receive the Eucharist at Mass, pray for the energizing and the refreshing power of the Holy Spirit to pour into your heart, and give you life to the full!