TODAY’S OPENING COLLECT is quite clear that God’s power is most evident in his Mercy. And then we ask for his mercy. What is God’s mercy?
A note in my missal says that originally this prayer asked for God’s grace it was changed at the Council of Trent to request his mercy. In fact, several changes in the Liturgy happened at the Council of Trent (q.v. The Mass of the Ages). One major change was moving the propers to different Sunday in the calendar from where they had previously been while keeping the readings assigned to the same place. This is noted in The Liturgical Year, by Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B. His comment is that we must trust the church when she makes such changes – and that the connections clergy imagine between the various propers are not “really” there: but are only the product of meditation and can be wrong – or changed to another meaning. I can imagine that clergy the time of Trent were greatly confused, especially with the Protestant Reformation happening around them, to have these changes happen suddenly. A sermon that had always worked on thus-and-such a Sunday suddenly no longer had the same context. The same council also, for the first time, took all of the liturgical texts and compressed them into the Missal that we now have. Prior to that time, it took several books to celebrate the Mass. None of the texts were to be found in one place. So, what was “grace” in the old pile of texts became “mercy” in the one-volume New Mass from the Council. And everyone moved on.
This Tridentine change, however, is corrected in the Novus Ordo, where the collect is restored fully to the original form, asking God – who is most powerful in his Mercy – to pour his grace upon us.
Deus, qui omnipotentiam tuam parcendo maxime et miserando manifestas, gratiam tuam super nos indesinenter infunde, ut, ad tua promissa currentes, caelestium bonorum facias esse consortes.
Although this blog project is intended to provide commentary on the 1962 Missal, I would like today to play with this difference between grace and mercy as we meditate on the Publican and the Pharisee. I do not wish to contrast them too greatly: grace is not opposed to mercy. In the biblical Greek the word for mercy ἔλεος eleos comes from the same root as oil. The implication is of soothing, or comforting. We ask God to comfort us with his mercy. Grace, on the other hand, is the Greek word χάρις charis. It implies the active presence of God in our life in his energies, as the Byzantine say. I don’t think you can separate grace and mercy: certainly God’s grace acting in our life is comforting and certainly, his comfort is his presence. Still, we do tend to think of grace and mercy as different things. We wouldn’t have different words otherwise.
Where were these men before this moment? Our Lord does not say, but they both went up to the Temple to pray. We might imagine that the Pharisee went often, perhaps whenever he could. But did the publican go up all the time? To be honest, I can’t imagine to be so, but maybe.
But notice here that both men are rich. The Pharisee is a class of scholars and political leaders, (semi)respected elders in the community. The Publican is filthy rich and quite literally so, having acquired his ill-gotten booty by betrayal, grift, bullying, embezzlement, and politically-empowered thievery. Both have wealth – sometimes understood as a sign of God’s blessing – and show by their lives that they have no heavenly right to that. Both men would not have been liked by Jesus’ listeners, but they would have known the Pharisee was the “good guy” in God’s eyes and the Publican the “really bad guy”.
It is grace that makes the change possible. So it is grace that the Publican is working with as he stands before God and begs for mercy. Standing in the Temple, both men are literally standing in the fount of all graces, but one man is ignoring them while the other is responding to them.
As the Epistle says, all these graces are given by the same Spirit. We are not at peace until we humble ourselves (as the Publican does) in order to open ourselves to God. Begging God for his for his soothing Mercy is a way to open ourselves to Grace, as are the sacraments. The Secret asks that the Holy Mysteries might become a remedy for our sins, as oil (mercy) is a remedy for our souls.
The Alleluia begs God – having saved us – to keep us safe. We can still fall away in our pride. We should all be afraid of being a religious performer like the Pharisee. He speaks as if God does not know his heart, as if God were not listening, or even not there. “The fool says in his heart, there is no God“.
The Offertory bring our own souls before God – not the offerings as is often traditional. We are the holy and living sacrifice offered to God. Having been humbled, and filled with God’s presence in the sacrament, the quotation from David’s Psalm of Repentance in the Communion verse makes perfect sense: Psalm 50 (51) says that only after our our “sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart”. The Pharisee has nothing to be broken or contrite about: he’s done everything right. The publican knows he’s done nothing right at all. That’s why he’s the one made right.
The Postcommunion returns us to grace, asking that God never leave us needing his grace. Which is mighty merciful of him to do.
TODAY’S COLLECT BEGS GOD to help us in our asking: let us only ask for the things we should. Let us only ask of the things that please then. The rest of the minor propers, though, seem to want God to smite our enemies. It seems counterintuitive given that we’re supposed to pray for our enemies. However, if we realize that the only enemies we have are the minions of the evil one then these verses make sense. In low Masses in the Extraordinary Form, we are used to praying to Saint Michael, asking him to “cast into hell Satan and all his evil spirits that prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.” This is the same thing: these are our enemies mentioned in the Introit and in the Alleluia. Asking God for help like this is one of the things that please him.
The Epistle gives us a list of things to avoid. At first glance it may seem like a regular list of sins: do not covet, do not be gluttonous, do not commit fornication. Yet, in fact, the Apostle sees all of these as subcategories of the first item mentioned: do not be idolators. Paul gives us reasons that each one of these is a subcategory of idolatry. He goes on to say that we should not tempt God with our idolatry, and then we should not murmur or complain for we will be destroyed by the one who destroys: that is the Evil One. And he counsels us not to be prideful to say we are standing – that is to trust in our own success -for it is God who is faithful.
What are these idolatries? Eating, sex, acquisition of things. These are normal things they become idolatries when we view them or use them in disordered ways. Fathers of the Church are very clear: it is disordered to acquire and not share. The father’s counsel us at the extra shoes we have in our possession and do not wear belong to the poor. The food that we have in storage that goes bad was food that we stole from the hungry. The clothes that we haven’t worn belong to the naked on the street.
All of these belong to God and have only been lent to us. God, whose name is magnificent above the whole of creation, as were reminded in the Gradual owns everything and has given us these things exactly to share. When we hoard, cling, or misuse, they become idols. The demons drive us to this distraction, but God will protect us from our enemies. (Alleluia)
In the Gospel we see two very different faces of God for he weeps over us for our idolatries. Then he scourges us.
Jesus weeps because Israel will not hear her promised Messiah speak. He knows and this deafness will continue. But then he goes to the Temple and purges it. While there are some who say that this was simply because no one should be doing business in the temple, that was not the case. The merchants were there with permission, in fact at the invitation of the temple itself. The individual Merchants were not making a profit for themselves, but rather for the Temple. Money that was stored in the Temple was able to be loaned to the poor for interest. Jesus was interrupting the entire economic system of oppression. Later, one of the first acts of the First Jewish-Roman War was the burning of the debt records in the archives.
The temple was holding on to its idols: and Jesus was driving them out, disrupting the system at its roots. Shortly after this moment in Jesus own life, the religious people of his day will call on the government people of his day to sending federal agents to defend government property. Arrested in an unmarked van, he will be dragged away for a secret trial and death.
This Gospel is not a comforting one when God is speaking to his chosen people and saying everything you see here will go away, for the sake of the Kingdom. The Church is the New Jerusalem. Jesus weeps over us for our sins for God is merciful and loves us. But he will not leave us alone in our sins. And, for the sake of our Salvation, he would rather destroy everything that has been built up that we might be purified and be his bride. We are in such a state right now, when everything is being destroyed and we have a choice: we can cling to our precious things, or we can recognize the visitation of God and repent.
Also, remember that our bodies are called the Temple of the Holy Spirit. We receive Jesus in the Eucharist, sacramentally or spiritually, and he cleanses us. It’s not a comforting thing for he destroys the systems of Oppression that dwell within us. He overthrows the money changers that we have allowed to be set up by our enemies, the evil ones who would use us to oppress others, calling us in the name of “Law & Order” to oppose “Anarchy” we are opposing Jesus.
We should not be party to this. On the contrary, the Offertory Reminds us that God’s commands are joy to the heart and that his judgements against us are sweeter than honey. For his correction is, St Paul says, like a father to his son: God loves us and wants us to come to him as his children and if we will not learn in the good ways we still must learn.
In the Secret we again ask God, as we did in the Collect, to help us to pray: “grant that we may be worthily present” that the “work of our redemption” may be “made effective”. What is the work of our Redemption but the in-dwelling of justice and peace and wholeness in our lives, in our relationships with others, and in the world around us? The Communion carries this thought forward, reminding us that through the virtue of the Eucharist we abide in God and God abides in us. The communion of the Holy Trinity pours forth not just between us and God but between us and those around us. The Postcommunion prayer caps off this thought: may we be purified from sin and also united with each other.
This Sunday’s propers are a challenge to us. We struggle when we see the world hating Christians but that was all we were ever promised. Furthermore we struggle against what we think might be God’s judgment on us. But that is a sign of his love. The same God that drives the money changers out of our temples also weeps over us for our failures to understand. It is entirely possible to hear these texts as pointing only towards a historical event in the Earthly life of Jesus. But we miss that these texts are intended to have application in our present moment. The church is not worried that we might be selling books or candles in the back of the nave. Whether we are being called to not participate in systems of Oppression.
Yet, too often we find ourselves held up, elevated by those systems of Oppression: we make Idols of them. God will destroy them for us if we do not destroy them for him.
THE COLLECT TODAY REMINDS us that we do not exist without God. God is the ground and source of our being, our very essence is tied to his continual will for our being. We are not of the same essence as God, but rather even the constant motions of atoms and the very being of our spirits is a continual act of his will for our well-being. And this is not only collective abstraction: God does not only will that all things continue in being. He wills it individually, personally. You and I are here as a blessing from God, by an act of his will, that sustains us for all things and through all things. But for what end? The Collect adds to live according to Thy will. We have things to do here. Much of the rest of this Mass is about what and how to do those things.
In the Introit we sing of having received God’s Mercy. In Latin it is “misericodiam”, but in Hebrew it is חַסְדֶּ֑ךָ chesed and in Greek it is ἔλεός eleos. We think of “mercy” in nearly a punishment way: the master is whipping us and we cry out, “Have mercy, master!” That is not what mercy means at all. I desire mercy not sacrifice does not say, “Don’t beat up sinners.” Instead, it means something further down the scale: comfort them. Chesed is such a hard word to render that the translators of the King James Bible made up a new word: Lovingkindness. The Greek word, eleos, comes from the same word as olive oil. Give me comfort, soothe my wounds, bind up my aches and pains. Have mercy, Lord: today is hard. In the temple, in the Liturgy – here, at Mass – we have been soothed, healed. As Christus/Moshiach means anointed, here in the Mass we are anointed with God’s chesed and made little Christs.
To what end? St Paul tells us directly in the Epistle: we are not to do the works of the flesh, but rather the works of the Spirit. We are not to let our flesh lead us around, but rather to follow the Spirit. We are not here in fear, but in love. We no longer expect God to merely stop beating us, we call on our Father’s mercy, his chesed. What is this division between the works of the flesh and of the spirit? We already know what God wants us to do, what having God as our Father empowers us to do. The clue is in what we have received from God in the Mass. In Micah 6:8 we see that we have a very simple duty: He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly (Mishpat), and to love mercy (Chesed), and to walk humbly with thy God? We already know chesed, but mishapt is new. It can mean law or judgment, but it is most often used for the description of how to treat others, especially the poor, the orphan, the widowed, the oppressed. This is the work of the Spirit.
So often we are given to imagine that “The work of the spirit” is something etherial, otherworldly, but this is how we walk with God: in works of justice and in love of mercy. The works of the flesh are physical works: lust, greed, gluttony. But they are not wrong because they are physical (as opposed to spiritual) but rather because they are selfish. In our greed we steal from others. But in the spirit of adoption which God has given us we are Sons, like Jesus himself. We no longer need to be greedy: for All Is Ours.
The Gradual and Alleluia inspire us to confidence in God and to the courage to act, dwelling in the shadow of his refuge. What is there to fear? The world will hate us. But we knew that already. Still, there is nothing to fear. I have hoped in God and nothing will trip me up.
Now comes one of the most confusing Gospel readings in the whole of our tradition: the Parable of the Unjust Steward. The Fathers have an interesting read on this, for they see the Certain Rich Man as a symbol of God the Father. The unjust steward is, well, you or me. He’s us. We are all rightly accused of squandering God’s wealth. In his Commentary, Fr Haydock says:
Verse 1. There was a certain rich man, &c. By this parable, our Saviour advises his disciples to accompany their penitential works with deeds of mercy to the poor. Ven. Bede. — There is a certain erroneous opinion, that obtains pretty generally amongst mankind, and which tends to increase crimes, and to lessen good works: and this is, the foolish persuasion that men are not accountable to any one, and that we can dispose as we please of the things in our possession. S. Chrys. — Whereas we are here informed, that we are only the dispensers of another’s property, viz. God’s. S. Amb. — When, therefore, we employ it not according to the will of our Master, but fritter and squander it away in pleasure, and in the gratification of our passions, we are, beyond all doubt, unjust stewards.
When the steward begins to give away his master’s belongings, his master actually Praises him. Since all things belong to God, and since God has given them to us freely, we are to participate in the giving: to give away all. Sell all you have and give to the poor. And we are to do this without fear for in doing so we are participating in the nature of God whose self-gift is unending, unrestrained, and the source of all that we have or are. More than this, Jesus comments that the children of this world are more inclined to look out for their own care than we, as Christians, are inclined to look out for our soul’s well-being. How many Christians do you know are as zealous for souls as a Wall Street Banker is for profit? How many Christians do you know are a zealous for their own salvation and Heavenward journey as a political activist (of any stripe)? Truly, the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.
Conversely, how many Christians do you know who are more zealous for others to be punished “justly” for their sins? The Unjust Steward goes around forgiving the debts of others who owe him nothing. So are we to forgive others – even if they “only” sinned against God. Here I do not mean offer sacramental absolution: that is a priestly function. But rather, how many of us want to get “righteously angry” about protests or graffiti, about violence against the church, real or imagined, or about oppressions we are made to endure? Instead, we should be “loving mercy” and “doing justice” ourselves, like the Steward: we should say, “How much do you owe our God? Here, it’s now only half that…”
At the beginning of the first Gulf War, under President Bush the Elder, protesters gathered in front of the United Nations daily and they filled the streets around my 2nd Avenue work place in New York City. Monday, walking back to the office after lunch I saw a mounted squad of New York City Police ride into the crowd at the corner of 44th and 2nd. There was stunned silence for a few moments as people wondered what was to happen next. A group of priests, standing only a few feet from me on the corner, under the street sign, looked at each other, nodded, and took out their stoles which they draped over their clerical suits. They stood looking at the policeman who sat on their horses and looked at the priests. There was stony silence and the clerical stoles move gently in a breeze. Then the policeman turn their horses and rode away.
Rejoice: all is ours, and there is nothing to be afraid of.
In the Secret the priest prays that our lives will be fulfilled in this world and in the next. The world of “the flesh” are greed and lust. But nevertheless it is possible to be made holy here and now, “in the flesh,” if we but do the works of our Abba. This thought is repeated in the Postcommunion which asks God to heal us (the Latin is “repair us”) in Soul and Body. Again, that’s in this world. We are not gnostics: the flesh is not in opposition to the Spirit, only we want it to be out of balance. We use our fleshly passions and say, “This must be my spirit.” God wants us to embody the actions of His Spirit in our flesh.
The Communion verse underscores our hope in God as we taste and see that he is good.
More than praise for his gifts, God calls us to embody his action in the world: to act in lovingkindness, to be merciful at every turn. In a world where greed and self-interest are the norm, God calls us to act in merciful justice, to give away everything he has given us so that he can continue to give us more – to give away.
There is no need to fear in this action, for we already know they hate us.
THE TIMES ARE CERTAINLY STRANGE. Between the Plague, the Denial of the Plague, political doctors, riots by white people with guns complaining about their right to endanger others, protests by people of color complaining about their inability to live without being endangered by power structures white people have built, and corporate greed driving so many false messages in and through all of the above, we can perhaps be forgiven for wandering in confusion through our days. The Collect though, reminds us the God is in control.
O God, Whose providence in the ordering of all things never fails; we humbly beseech Thee to put away from us all harmful things, and to give us those which are profitable for us.
Deus, cujus providentia in sui dispositione non fallitur : te supplices exorámus ; ut noxia cuncta submoveas, et ómnia nobis profutura concedas.
This collect reads like the Advent antiphon, O Wisdom, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly. O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodidisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviter disponensque omnia.
Since it is the wisdom of God to order all things, then how can anything be unjust? This is sort of the default how can anything be evil question isn’t it? If your God is so good why is there evil in the world? If your God is so good why are there poor people who are slain by tsunamis on Christmas Day? Christians have an answer for that question but no one likes the answer.
The Introit reminds us that God is the “great king over all the Earth.” Everyone is invited to praise him. Clap your hands, all ye nations: shout unto God with the voice of joy. So, again, why is there Injustice in the world?
In the Epistle St Paul speaks to the Romans, reminding them that they used to be in their sins “because of the infirmity of the flesh”… offering their body to “uncleanness” ἀκαθαρσία akatharsia in the Greek. This means “impurity” or, more to the point, “unpurified”. Think of unrefined silver, with all the impurities still in it. This status of non-purification leads to something else: lawlessness ἀνομίᾳ anomia. But more important for our discussion, it’s ἀνομίᾳ εἰς τὴν ἀνομίαν anomia eis ton anomian. Lawlessness unto lawlessness. Sin builds on sin, as was discussed earlier in this post citing ⁋1865from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it becomes easier to sin. As Saint Paul says elsewhere our conscience becomes seared as with a hot iron. We no longer see something is bad. We just do it. When we first began to sin we might have been aware that we were committing a bad action. But the more we do it the easier it becomes to do it. And not only our current sin other sins as well. Our chosen sin becomes a gateway to other actions: we need a bigger hit, a stronger dose to feel like we’ve done something. It engenders vice by repetition of the same acts. Then, citing St John Paul, (in ⁋1869) Thus sin makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them.Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. “Structures of sin” are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a “social sin.” This ἀνομίᾳ εἰς τὴν ἀνομίαν which arises from our impurity creates structures of sin in which our society runs amok.
Sins all lead to death, but St Paul does not leave us there. There is hope for us! In Christ we are now to yield our body to δικαιοσύνῃ εἰς ἁγιασμόν dikaiosune eis agiasmon: righteousness until sanctification. See the parallel: instead of “lawlessness unto lawlessness” we are now “righteous unto sanctification” and as the old bondage lead to structures of sin woven through the world, so our righteous living will lead to structures of sanctification – not just in our hearts but in all our lives through the world, to the proper end of mankind, τέλος ζωὴν αἰώνιον, telos zoen aionion, to life everlasting. Here St Paul uses ζωή, Zoe, which means not the life of “the breathing” but the everlasting life which is our participation (by Grace) in the very life of God. But this is only the final end: it’s our time now not to “yeild fruit” of those things which we are now ashamed. Rather we are to become “servants of God” with “fruit unto sanctification.”
As the whole pattern of individual sin wove together to form fractal patterns woven through all of society, so also our personal motion in theosis is intended to save the whole pattern of the world. “Acquire the Holy Spirit,” says St Seraphim of Sarov. “And thousands around you will be saved.” This is our job as Christians.
The Gradual and the Alleluia call us to praise God, but also they call us to come to him for enlightenment that our faces might not be ashamed. How is that tied in? When we see the Lord, then we know that we are the Servants of all. But we know this because he has given us Grace. We are no longer confound it, no longer ashamed of our servant status. We follow him who became a slave to save us. In this way no matter how we lower ourselves in the service of others, we can never be lower than he who now raises us to heaven.
St Matthew challenges us in the Gospel to bear fruit. Worse, Jesus threatens us: if we do not bear fruit we will be cut off and cast into the fire. This is not a kind or comforting passage. We should hear this as a threat, quite literally. When I look at my life do I see fruit that glorifies my Lord? Absolutely not. What is the will of Our Father in heaven? If we do this we will inherit eternal life. St Paul has told us that this is the fruit leading to sanctification. It’s not something that comes after our salvation, it’s the very process itself. The fruit leading to sanctification are the little steps we take to weave God’s kingdom into the world around us.
We know that our actions of righteousness, of justice do not benefit the individual: a rising tide raises all ships. As you become more Christlike, you participate (in emulating him) in the salvation of the world. God is ordering the world through you and you are participating in his ordering of it.
Matthew tells us that not everyone who calls Jesus Lord will inherit the Kingdom. How many days do I spend simply going through the motions with Christianity, the daily actions of liturgy without ever once performing an action inside the kingdom of God? How often do I fail to weave the kingdom of God into reality around me? I can say Jesus is Lord without ever needing it to be true in my life or in the world around me. I can pray a rosary, walking down the street, shedding curses on those I step over as they sleep, homeless. This is not the kingdom, this will cause me to be cut off and cast into the fire. What is the will of God? The salvation of all where “salvation” means the wholeness – the all-around health – of all. If I am not weaving structures of holiness into the world around me, then I am building structures of sin instead.
Jesus reminds us of false prophets – that speak in the name of God but fail to proclaim God’s Gospel. They do not bear the right kind of fruit: instead, they are greedy, ravening wolves. They prey on the sheep – sexually abusing them, financially abusing them, theologically abusing them by denying the teachings of the faith, downplaying the sexual morality of the church, or making liturgy “fun”. They are popular, yes, but they damn us to hell. Equally false though, are those who deny the actions of Justice that result from the faith. Usury is wrong, racism is a sin, oppression of others – even those who disagree with us – is wrong.
The verse sung for the Offertory today may seem out of place in all this context. But the prophet Daniel reminds us that our actions, done in praise of God, are equal to thousands of burnt offerings pleasing to him. And as we serve God, there is no confusion. Indeed, as sin replicates more sin, the closer you come to God, the easier it becomes to continue to serve him. An old hymn says, “The longer I serve him the sweater he grows”. God’s grace moves through you to pull you more and more into his will for you, and the more it happens, the more you freely cooperate with him. There is no confusion in this, but enlightenment (as mentioned in the Gradual).
The Secret sums all this up, asking that our sacrifice will be both an honor to God and for our salvation. Remember, our sacrifice here in the Mass is not a new thing but rather a participation in the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary 2000 years ago and here today. And yet, here today it is a discrete action: an individual action of our congregation and of our priest, here and now. It is a part of the building of the kingdom of God on this Earth in the same way that our individual acts of justice and righteousness are performing the same construction. The Mass, as well as our individual actions of economic justice, racial equality, and political liberation all work together to bring the Kingdom into the presence of the world.
The Communion verse asks God to deliver us, using the Hebrew, לְהוֹשִׁיעֵֽנִי, meaning to save (and using the root that also gives the name of Our Lord). Finally the Post-communion speak of deliverance and healing, bringing us into the ways of righteousness.
The whole motion of this Mass is one of repetition: we praise God (clap our hands) in order that we might do the works of righteousness in order that more acts of righteousness may come to pass in the world, in order that the world may come to praise God and the whole cycle repeats. This is the order of the world as we set aright (by God’s grace) those things that have destroyed righteousness and justice around us.
IT IS TRADITIONAL when reading the propers for a Sunday to think of the scripture readings, the Epistle and the Gospel, as one thing and then prayers and other verses and some other thing. However, the propers of a Sunday go together as a set: they are combined together to give us a picture to meditate on. There is not a rank – the Gospel first, the Epistle, then everything else. Some preachers might think of each proper as a piece, and then think of what picture might be constructed of each piece. Others might focus on the Gospel to make some point and then see if other pieces might line up – keeping or discarding each one. Contra this, it seems it might be better to look at the collect, the prayer of the day, wherein the Church has seen fit to sum up her thoughts, the root intentions if you will of the whole enterprise. It seems the collect is the key by which we may unlock the intended meanings of all the other parts. Let us begin there.
Deus virtútum, cujus est totum quod est óptimum : ínsere pectóribus nostris amórem tui nóminis, et præsta in nobis religiónis augméntum ; ut, quæ sunt bona, nútrias, ac pietátis stúdio, quæ sunt nutríta, custódias.
O God of power and strength, from whom comes every perfect gift, implant in our hearts the love of your name, and increasing us True Religion; foster what is good in us and protect with your watchful love what you have fostered.
Literal Translation: O mighty God of hosts, of whom is the entirety of what is perfect: graft the love of Your Name into our hearts, and grant in us an increase of religion; so that You may nourish the things which are good and, by zeal for dutifulness, guard what has been nourished.
Fr Z notes this is still the collected for the 22nd Sunday, Tempus per Annum.
Let us start with the word “religion”. The Romans understood religio as coming from the root meaning to bind. It is a complicated word indicating things that bind us to the gods, to tradition, and to each other. Religion is the bonds that creates society. That’s all well and good for a pagan but we are Catholics. All of these bindings are still true but they are no longer generic. Religion is what binds us to the Holy Trinity, to the Catholic faith, and to each other in the body of Christ. What is religion? My 1962 missile has us looking for something it calls True Religion however the literal translation does not have the word “true” in it. Increase in us religion. What could that be? Increase in us the bonds that hold us together? The prayer can be read that way:
Make us love your name Increase religion in us Nourish in us the good and by increasing our zeal help us to hold on to the good.
Yet what is religion, this love of the good, that is a perfect gift from God? St James tells us (James 1:27): Religion clean and undefiled before God and the Father, is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their tribulation: and to keep one’s self unspotted from this world. He uses there the same word, religio, which is a translation of the Greek θρησκεία thréskeia referring to religious actions, ceremony, liturgy if you will. The true liturgy, the true religion, is to take care of orphans and widows and avoid sin. To increase religion, then, means to increase the Corporal Works of Mercy. That is the key: give us the Love of your Holy Name, and the love of orphans and widows. With this key we can unlock the rest of these texts.
The Introit reminds us that everything depends on God.
The Lord is the strength of His people, and the protector of the salvation of His anointed: save, O Lord, Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance, and rule them forever. Unto Thee will I cry, O Lord: O my God, be not Thou silent to me, lest if Thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit. Glory.
The Lord is the strength of His people, (O God of power and strength)and the protector of the salvation of His anointed (from whom comes every perfect gift). It to this All-Powerful Lord that we turn asking him to give us good gifts and to nurture the gifts in us so we do not leave them behind in our pride.
The Epistle reminds us that by virtue of our baptism we have been slain with Christ. “Our old self is crucified with Him, that the body of sin may be destroyed, and that we may serve sin no longer” and we are dead to the values of this world. This world “no longer has dominion over us.” This is what makes the Corporal Works of Mercy possible: the outpouring of love that becomes part of us in Christ continues through us as a result of our baptism. Everything becomes an act of kenosis, self-emptying, an imitation of Jesus. This kenosis is participating in our Salvation, responding of our own free will the grace that is given to us. And as we are dead now so we shall be alive with Christ. Chrysostom says that Paul leaves it up to the believe to work out in his conscience, but he also says, “When then the fornicator becomes chaste, the covetous man merciful, the harsh subdued, even here a resurrection has taken place, the prelude to the other (the Resurrection on the Last Day – DHR)”. When we turn from our life of sin and begin to do the works of mercy, we experience the resurrection here and now.
In the Gradual we are reminded that God has always been our refuge from generation to generation. God, our refuge, fosters what is good in us and protects with his watchful love what he has fostered (Collect). And the same reminder comes in the Alleluia. In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped, let me never be confounded, these are not pleas to have God protect us from the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, but rather to keep us safe so that we can do his will. We’re are “planted with Christ” as the Epistle says, referring to a mystical burial, but it is as the seed falls to earth and then yields a hundred-fold harvest. It required nurturing, protection from God the farmer.
Tradition reads the Gospel story as prefiguring the Eucharist, yet it is so much more. Isaiah prophesied that when the Lord restored the kingdom of Zion everyone would be said on the mountainside. And the Lord of hosts shall make unto all people in this mountain, a feast of fat things, a feast of wine, of fat things full of marrow, of wine purified from the lees. (Isaiah 25:6) Unlike the Eucharist – open only to believers – this Feast on the Mountainside was open to all. It is an apocalyptic enactment. God is calling food out of nothing and restoring Harmony. Tht this takes place on the model of the Eucharist – Jesus, to the apostles, to their “churches” in groups around the grounds – indicates a deeper meaning for the Eucharist itself. The heavenly banquet is a sign of the kingdom of God. But also our acts of feeding others are a sign of the heavenly banquet. When we share from the abundance that God has given us to others who are poor we are enacting in an Earthly way the Heavenly Eucharist. When the priest gives us with the host and says the body of Christ it is a foreshadow of the Heavenly food. But when we give food to the poor we are serving the body of Christ itself in the person of the poor, just as Jesus had the Apostles do on the hillside.
Church fathers especially underscore this two-fold feeding of earthly and spiritual food. Jesus would not send the crowds away hungry lest they faint on the way. You cannot do the will of God always on an empty stomach. As God gives us spiritual food in the Mass, he also gives us the sustenance needed for our bodies. And if we turn to the starving and merely give them a host and perhaps a blessing (or only a blessing) have we done anything at all? From the Holy Mass we draw the life of the world himself – who has told us to feed the hungry. This is why he gave us the Mass – that we might have the spiritual strength to do the physical works he asks us to do as part of our salvation and the repair of the world.
The Offertory continues the theme of blessing and nurturing the blessings: Perfect Thou my goings in Thy paths, that my footsteps be not moved: incline Thy ear, and hear my words: show forth Thy wonderful mercies, Thou who savest them that trust in Thee, O Lord. When you unpack the words mercies and savest. There’s a whole theology implied:
– Mercies is the Hebrew word חֲ֭סָדֶיךָ lovingkindness, as the Authorized Version has it: it’s God condescending to fulfill our needs – again, not just the spiritual sort. – Savest is מוֹשִׁ֣יעַ from the same root that gives us Jesus name, יָשַׁע. We are seeking a greater love of his name to be planted in us (as we asked in the Collect). God’s salvation is not only spiritual. It’s all of our life (mind, soul, body) that he is saving. This is why God was incarnate as one of us and why we cannot let the cries of the poor go unanswered.
The Secret which is said over the gifts before they are consecrated: Be appeased, O Lord, by our supplications, and graciously accept these offerings of Thy people: neither suffering the hope of anyone to be in vain, nor his prayer to remain unheard, that we may obtain that for which we faithfully pray. We lay out our offering in firm faith that God will not let the prayer or hope of anyone fall unheard. This is not a prosperity Gospel: but our prayers down’t bounce back off the ceiling. God’s purpose is to save us. Nothing we ask rightly to that end will be denied us – and there are some for whom salvation requires the very next meal, a new set of shoes. God has appointed us to provide those. God hears the prayer of the poor. And asks what are we going to do about it?
Naked did you not drop from the womb? Shall you not return again naked to the earth? Where have the things you now possess come from? If you say they just spontaneously appeared, then you are an atheist, not acknowledging the Creator, nor showing any gratitude towards the one who gave them. But if you say that they are from God, declare to us the reason why you received them. Is God unjust, who divided to us the things of this life unequally? Why are you wealthy while that other man is poor? Is it, perhaps, in order that you may receive wages for kindheartedness and faithful stewardship, and in order that he may be honored with great prizes for his endurance? But, as for you, when you hoard all these things in the insatiable bosom of greed, do you suppose you do no wrong in cheating so many people? Who is a man of greed? Someone who does not rest content with what is sufficient. Who is a cheater? Someone who takes away what belongs to others. And are you not a man of greed? are you not a cheater? taking those things which you received for the sake of stewardship, and making them your very own? Now, someone who takes a man who is clothed and renders him naked would be termed a robber; but when someone fails to clothe the naked, while he is able to do this, is such a man deserving of any other appellation? The bread which you hold back belongs to the hungry; the coat, which you guard in your locked storage-chests, belongs to the naked; the footwear mouldering in your closet belongs to those without shoes. The silver that you keep hidden in a safe place belongs to the one in need. Thus, however many are those whom you could have provided for, so many are those whom you wrong.
The Communion verse is a line of praise to God. I will go round, and offer up in His tabernacle a sacrifice of jubilation; I will sing, and recite a psalm to the Lord. What is the sacrifice of jubilation? The word rendered jubilation can also mean “War Cry”! How do we make sacred a war cry? God would have us tear down the oppressions around us, to destroy the system that lets it happen, that continues it.
And finally the Post Communion Grant, O Lord, that we who have been filled with Thy gifts, may be cleansed by their virtue and strengthened by their help. What is our goal, as stated by the Collect? That God plant in our hearts a love of his name and increase religion – the care of the poor and the widow. These are two sides of the same coin. Latin is actually good word play here: Repleti sumus, Domine, muneribus tuis:tribue quæsumus; ut eorum et mundemur effectu, et muniamur auxilio. While two different words are coming into play here, the “mun/mun/mun” creates an alliteration and the “mundemur/muniamur” is a reflection – we want the strength of the Eucharist to strengthen us.
The 16th Century Anglican post-communion prayer (written by Thomas Cramner) ask God, by the gift of Holy Communion, “so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in.” This is where this Mass leaves us, asking God to assist us with his grace to walk in all the Good Works he sends our way, to foster what is good in us and protect with your watchful love what you have fostered.