God is in Control

The Propers for the Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
Please note: an entry in the People’s Missal Project

Missa Omnes Gentes, Plaudite Manibus

JMJ

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 1865 from 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.

Increase Religion

The Propers for the Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
Please note: this is the first entry of my People’s Missal Project

JMJ

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.

Offertory Anthem: Asleep in the Light (1978), Keith Green

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.