Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Extraordinary Form: God Speaking to You

A consistent theme throughout this series is about how, in our participation of the Mass, we are choosing Christ over the world.  This is reinforced when we come to the conclusion of what has been called "The Liturgy of the Word" by many.  (This classification having been so popular the Ordinary Form now explicitly calls the first half of the Mass this.)

I also think it is one that tends to be frequently overlooked.  For the average Catholic at Mass (whatever his persuasion), the proclamation of the Scriptures are just another part of Mass before Father's homily, which they hope will be something other than awful.  There is the classic stereotype that when it comes to the Scriptures, Catholics really don't pay that much attention.  While false, all stereotypes have a hint of truth to it.

We must remember, the Scriptures are not simply some human book.  Rather, as Leo XIII pointed out, they are inspired by the Holy Spirit, having God as their author.  All forms of worship have a section to where words of wisdom are recalled upon and reflected.  Christianity (and Judaism) is unique in that this section is the very words of God himself. 

First we have a reading known as the Epistle.  The Epistle is frequently a selection from the New Testament (outside of the Gospels) but can refer to anything outside of the Gospels.  They are almost always connected to the other prayers of the day, looking to give us some practical insight how to practice what we have heard so far.  (For this and the Gospel, it is typically custom for them to be read in Latin and in English in the Extraordinary Form.)  Between the Epistle and the Gospel, the following prayer is said by the priest in preparation:

Cleanse my heart and my lips, O Almighty God, Who cleansed the lips of the Prophet Isaiah with a burning coal. In Your gracious mercy deign so to purify me that I may worthily proclaim Your holy Gospel. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

If you take one thing from this prayer, take this:  What is about to happen is not a mere human action.  Unworthy as we may be, we can speak the words of an Apostle without the need for purification.  With the Gospel, we are about to speak the very words of Jesus Christ.  Not only must the priest be purified, but we must elevate our minds and prepare for such an event.

We are reminded of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, who had to have a burning coal placed on his lips before announcing God's words and judgement to the Kingdom of Judah.  The burning coal is ultimately God's grace cleansing us.  At this point, the priest stops speaking with the authority of himself, and begins speaking with the authority of God.

Our Lord confirms this in His discourse with the Pharisees when the following is said:

And concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken by God... (Matt 22:31)
One cannot take the words about to be spoken as simply the words of your parish priest.  If one wishes to learn how to follow the Cross (our purpose so far here at Mass), only God's actual words will suffice.
There are times when there needs to be additional information that will lead to our understanding of the Scripture.  It is for this reason the Homily exists.  While not technically a part of the Mass, it is something which is so commonplace it might as well be for our purposes.  Sometimes the homilies are, to be honest, atrocious.  This need not be.
All too often, the homily ceases to be effective when the priest makes the homily about himself, rather than Christ's words.  They will frequently make the homilies about their own pet projects they feel the congregation needs to hear about.  As great as this or that devotional practice/private revelation/take your pick may be, it isn't Holy Scripture.  On the other side of the spectrum, priests will frequently inject their own political causes into the homily.  I once heard a Good Friday homily about how the passion of Christ was meant to be interpreted as a call to overcome class inequalities.  Even if one were to agree with the priest's pet theory, it holds little application for everyday life.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is primarily about how the truth can not only be known (through Him, who is truth), but that it sets us free from sin.  Our Lord did not come to give talks on systematic theology or geopolitical theory.  He came to proclaim how man in his everyday life can be made right with God, and how to get to Heaven.  Anything that focuses on something other than those words for the day belongs outside of the Mass.  Parish bulletins are made for a reason.  Perhaps if this was included instead of just your run of the mill announcements of raffle ticket sales, people might actually read them.

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