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.
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.From St. Basil the Great, Homilia in illud dictum evangelii secundum Lucam: «Destruam horrea mea, et majora ædificabo:» itemque de avaritia (Homily on the saying of the Gospel According to Luke, “I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones,” and on greed), §7 (PG 31, 276B – 277A).
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.