Liturgical Conference – September 2005

“You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

It is fitting that we begin this conference on the feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. For each time, we gather in obedience to the Lord’s command to celebrate the sacred mysteries we indeed do sing the Lord’s praises in the sight of the angels. At every Mass, angels are given a special mention in the preface. In today’s liturgy three angels in particular are signaled out for the role they played in Salvation History. These biblical messengers, God’s emissaries as it were, signify God’s transcendence and loving care: Michael (meaning “Who is like God?”), Gabriel (God’s strength) and Raphael (God’s remedy).

In celebrating this feast of the archangels, we are reminded as Sacrosanctum Concilium, Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy insisted that the full liturgical assembly includes not just the people gathered in a parish church at a particular time and in a particular place but the full liturgical assembly includes angels, saints and indeed the entire cosmos.

As Pope John Paul II said in Ecclesia de Eucharistia paraphrasing that same Vatican II document, “The Eucharist is really a glimpse of heaven appearing on earth. It is a glorious ray of the heavenly Jerusalem which pierces the clouds of our history and lights up our journey.”

“You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Indeed, the key to interpreting the Book of Revelations from which our first reading was taken is to understand it in terms of the Eucharist, itself. The Book of Revelation is essentially a description of the heavenly liturgy, of which our Mass is only the foretaste. In the heavenly liturgy the saints contemplate the Lamb once slain face to face. In the Mass, we contemplate the same Lamb, our Lord Jesus Christ made present Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in the sacred actions that make present to us the saving sacrifice of Calvary. But, we contemplate him hidden under the appearances of bread and wine.

This year’s theme “Savor the Mystery” can help remind us that Liturgy is not something “we do” – as if it were a purely human work; rather, liturgy is a gift we receive, for it is always first and foremost Christ’s work. In this sense, the theme is consistent with the theme of our first Diocesan Synod, Starting Afresh from Christ. And, the theme captures the sense of Pope Benedict XVI words when on the solemnity of Corpus Christi he said that “communion implies adoration, it implies the will to follow Christ, to follow the One who goes ahead of us”.

40 years after Sacrosanctum Concilium which brought the reform of the Roman Liturgy we are at the threshold of what some have called “the reform of the reform”. A new translation of the Roman Missal is being prepared – to the joy of some, and the trepidation of others. In the past year, we have – I think successfully – negotiated the changes from when the chalices are to be filled. But this is not really what the reform of the reform is about – tweaking, as it were, the choreography of the Mass. And that is not what we should be mainly about. Liturgy is not about how many cups are needed, or which verses are to be sung and when. Liturgy is fundamentally about Christ! Too often in the years following the counsel, “Full, active participation” became a mantra justifying superficial and trendy innovations that often resulted in a trivialized and too often vulgarized celebration of the Sacred Mystery. “Full, active, conscious participation” is not about the vernacular, or about multiplying new liturgical roles and ministries; it means allowing oneself to be penetrated by the life of the One who is Lord, the One who is my Creator and Redeemer. Thus, the goal of every Holy Communion, which our participation in the liturgy normally culminates with, is to assimilate my life to his, it is to bring about my transformation and conformity to the One who is living Love.

For this reason, no one should be afraid of “the reform of the reform”. The Synod on the Eucharist that will begin in a few days holds great promise for the Church, especially in light of Ecclesia de Eucaristia and Mane nobiscum Domine, and the Instrumentum laboris, of the Synod itself. They are truly inspirational teachings that really help guide us as we seek to make reality the vision of Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium.

“You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

In Christ, God humbled himself – first by taking on our human nature in the Incarnation, and then, by allowing us to participate in his own divinity, through our communion in His Body and Blood. The Eucharistic celebration unites heaven and earth – It focuses our attention on heaven; but at the same time the Eucharist calls us to make this world a better place. As Pope Benedict reminded those who attend the Corpus Christi procession celebrated this May in Rome: “We cannot ascend” to the dwelling place of God, except “by going out on the roads of the world, carrying the Gospel to all nations, carrying the gift of its love for men at all times.” “If the goal of our journey is Communion with God”, Pope Benedict continues, “then in the sacrament of the Eucharist, the Lord is always moving toward the world,” and that “the power of the sacrament of the Eucharist goes beyond the walls of our churches.”

Our devotion to Christ present in the Eucharist does not represent in any way a flight from the world; the Eucharist brings us to engage the world. The Mass must always lead to Mission :Ita, Missa est. can be rendered as, Go, do the mission.

The mission of course is Jesus’: it is the mission of redemption, of salvation, the mission of reconciling all things in Christ, which happens when we make Jesus’ “Yes” to the Father our own through our worthy participation in his Paschal Mystery. .It is that mission that leads us into battle, into that fight between hell and the faithful of Christ spoken about in first reading.

The war has already been won – for Christ through his passion, death and resurrection, has destroy the dominion that Satan, sin and death had over us. Michael, Gabriel, Raphael. Do not the very names of these archangels point to the mystery we find in the Eucharist: God himself – our strength, our remedy.

“Who is like God?” indeed! Christ’s victory is ours. But the battle, our battle, is not yet over. We must count on God’s strength; we must rely on God’s remedy.

And so, the ancient prayer once prayed after “low Mass” loses none of it relevance.

St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen..

Bishop Thomas Wenski
September 29, 2005