Sunday, February 27, 2011

Source and Summit: The Mass and the Roman Missal

Homily for the Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Isaiah 49.14-15 Psalm 62 1 Corinthians 4.1-5 Matthew 6.24-34

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) file of this homily.

The Mass is the most important thing we do as Catholics. It is here at the Mass that we gather together as a community to bring our prayers and needs to God. It is here at the Mass that we listen to God’s word in Scripture and begin the process of applying Scripture to our daily lives. It is here at the Mass that we remember we are part of God’s family, a family that includes people of every race, language, and way of life. It is here at the Mass that we are reminded of the need to serve one another and are given the strength to do that service. It is here at the Mass that we are nourished by Christ’s Body and Blood, the sacrament of grace that unites us to God and to one another more than anything else we can do. If all we do as a Church is celebrate the Mass, and celebrate it well, then we are doing what we are supposed to be doing. But if all we do is celebrate Mass, and this celebration doesn’t impact the way we act away from here, the way we treat one another, the personal relationship with God that is developed through prayer – if all we do is come to Mass, then we’re missing something. That’s why the Second Vatican Council called the Mass the source and summit of our faith. It is the high point of what we do as a Church – the summit of Church life – but it’s also the source of service, love, prayer, and community leading us from this table to be God’s presence in the world. But sometimes we don’t completely understand or appreciate what the Mass is all about.

Over the next year or so, we’re going to be spending a lot of time looking at the Mass – breaking down the parts of the Mass, trying to understand why we do what we do, looking at the words we say, the postures and gestures we make, the approach we bring to this celebration of the Eucharist. We’ll look at everything from why there’s a blessing at the end of Mass to the role of silence in the liturgy, from the purpose of the petitions or prayers of the faithful to meaning of the sign of peace, from why we stand and sit and kneel to the meaning of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Of course, this isn’t the only thing we’re going to be doing as a parish over the next year, but you’ll notice a theme in homilies, faith formation programs, Bible studies, and meetings. The Mass is so important that every once in a while it’s good to step back and think about what we do and why we do it.

But this focus on the Mass is something that will happen not just here, in this parish, but in every Catholic parish across the United States. And it comes as part of a specific context. You may have read in the bulletin or The Criterion that there are some minor changes coming to the texts of the Mass in English. Starting nine months from tomorrow/today, on November 27, we will be using a new English translation of the prayers of the Mass. These prayers are part of what’s called the Roman Missal, the book that contains the texts for all the parts of the Mass except the Scripture readings: the dialogues between priest and people, the prayers the priest says, and the common prayers like the Gloria, the Creed, and the Holy, Holy, Holy. These prayers are the same in every language around the world – it’s part of what makes the Church universal. In order to keep the prayers as faithful as possible to their origin and to one another, each language translates these prayers from a Latin original. About ten years ago, a new version of the Latin book of Mass prayers was published, and since then, bishops, scholars, and linguists have been working on translating these prayers into English. It’s this new translation that will be used starting this coming November 27.

Most of the prayers themselves are the same, but the rules of translation have changed since the 1960s, the last time these prayers were translated into English, and the translators have gotten better at translating. The new translations are closer to the original Latin; they bring back Scripture references that are hidden in the translation we’re using now; they are more accurate theologically, helping us understand the depths of the faith; and they have more of a cadence – a rhythm – when they’re proclaimed in public. Really, the changes are minor – but in many ways the new translation is more beautiful and meaningful than the translation we’re using now. And there is a lot that’s not changing – the translation of Lord’s Prayer isn’t changing, several of the responses aren’t changing, the Scripture readings aren’t changing, and the order and structure of the Mass itself isn’t changing. But it will take some getting used to new words, and it will take some preparation to help us understand why some of the prayers we have been praying for 40 years will sound different.

After spending a lot of time looking at these new translations, I’m convinced that it’s really nothing to worry about – and if Jesus tells us not to be anxious about what we are going to eat or what clothes we’re going to wear, we certainly don’t need to be overly anxious about changing some of the words we say at Mass. But it is important, and it is giving us an opportunity to better understand and appreciate the most important thing we do as a Church – the celebration of the Mass. We have a group of parishioners who are working on designing a period of formation and study, especially for next fall, as we prepare to implement the revised Mass texts at the end of November. There will be many opportunities to learn about the new translations and ask questions between now and then. But before we start talking specifically about the new translations, we’re going to focus on the Mass itself. As St. Paul says, we are “stewards of the mysteries of God.” And while there are great mysteries that we celebrate at the Mass, it doesn’t have to be mysterious. It’s the source and summit of everything we do as Catholics. Here, at this table, from the book of Scripture, in the midst of this community, we meet God and we learn how to love. And there’s nothing more important than that.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Love Your Enemies

Homily for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Leviticus 19.1-2, 17-18 Psalm 103 1 Corinthians 3.16-23 Matthew 5.38-48

To follow Jesus – to be what we call today a Christian – means loving all people, especially your enemies. All the rest is important, but if we don’t love our enemies, then there’s nothing that sets us apart.

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) file of this homily.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

I Love Us

Homily for the Sixth Sunday in Ordiary Time, Year A
Sirach 15.15-20 Psalm 119 1 Corinthians 2.6-10 Matthew 5.17-37

God has already said how much he loves each of us. Saying, “I love you,” back to God is good, but it’s not enough. We have to learn what it means to say, “I love us,” I love the relationship that God and I have developed, I love the good that I can choose because of what God has given me, I love the union of humanity and divinity that can be found in the depth of my heart.

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) file of this homily.