“Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your kingdom”.
This, of course, was the refrain for today’s responsorial psalm. And one such friend of the Lord was Bartholomew whose feast day we celebrate today and whom the gospel according to St. John identifies as Nathaniel.
“Your friends make known the glorious splendor of your kingdom”. This verse I think could also serve as a succinct job description for you and all those who serve the People of God, that new and heavenly Jerusalem, as liturgical ministers of one sort or another.
You too are to make known the glorious splendor of God’s kingdom which is actualized for us – on this side of heaven – in the worthy celebration of the Sacred Liturgy.
As liturgical ministers, you attend to “The bride, the wife of the Lamb” as she celebrates the Eucharistic banquet daily in his memory. With your able assistance – each one according to his or her proper role and competence – you help the Church to continue to make the redeeming sacrifice of her Bridegroom part of our human history. Through our participation in the liturgy, this redeeming sacrifice is made sacramentally present in every culture and in every age.
You should see then your ministry as a humble service to Christ and his Church. Your task is to make known the “glorious splendor” of the Kingdom of God and thereby encourage the full, active participation of the People of God in the Sacred Mysteries. But, as Pope Benedict says in Sacramentum Caritatis, “the proper way to foster the participation of the People of God in the sacred rites is the proper celebration of the rite itself.” Good liturgy requires planning, good liturgy requires hard work, a lot of effort. I appreciate your willingness – and indeed your eagerness – to make this effort. Your presence at this conference bears witness to your commitment to give the liturgy your best efforts. But, while good liturgy requires a lot of effort, good liturgy in its execution should seem “effortless”.
This means more than not letting them see you sweat. The words that Pope Benedict directs to priests in this same Apostolic Exhortation are instructive: priests, the Holy Father writes, “must never put themselves or their personal opinions in first place, but Jesus Christ. Any attempt to make themselves the center of the liturgical action contradicts their very identity as priests. The priest is above all a servant of others, and he must continually work at being a sign pointing to Christ, a docile instrument in the Lord’s hands. This is seen particularly in his humility in leading the liturgical assembly, in obedience to the rite, uniting himself to it in mind and heart, and avoiding anything that might give the impression of an inordinate emphasis on his own personality.”
These words – with appropriate adaptations – could apply to any one with a role to play in the liturgy from the deacon who assists the priest at the altar to the hospitality minister at the back of the church.. It bears repeating: liturgy is not something “we do” – as if it were a purely human work – liturgy is a gift we receive, for it is first and foremost Christ’s work, Christ’s work, not our own. It is the work of his passion, death and resurrection through which his mission for the salvation of mankind and the forgiveness of sins is accomplished.
“Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your kingdom”. And so Phillip tells Nathaniel-Bartholomew, son of “Tholomew”, “Come and See”. And Nathaniel encounters the Lord and he becomes the first apostle to confess his faith in Jesus, the Son of God and King of Israel. Before the great mystery of faith can be celebrated, it must be believed. The liturgy is, of course, for the initiated. It presupposes faith. It assumes that those gathered in the assembly are indeed “friends of the Lord”. Yet, today given the prevailing winds of secularism in our culture there is a true lost among many of the sense of the sacred. How many times do people write me asking to be married at Disney Wedding Pavilion? And so those involved in the liturgy have to be concerned more than just the “choreography” of the liturgy. We ourselves have to know – and to help others know– not only what to do but also why we do what we do – understanding the why’s and what’s of good liturgical practice comes easy once we know – through an intimate and personal relationship – the who, namely Jesus Christ,– the main protagonist of the Church’s liturgy.
Then, like Nathaniel-Bartholomew, we will see great things. With the eyes of faith, we who celebrate the Paschal Mystery see “the heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man”. Today the Church honors the Apostle Bartholomew not only as a confessor of the faith but also a martyr. Tradition does not give many details about his martyrdom but popular devotion has him being skinned alive. In the Michelangelo’s depiction of the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel he painted him holding his own skin in his left hand, on which the artist left his self-portrait. As a friend of the Lord, he believed, he celebrated and he lived the Paschal Mystery.
Pope Benedict said again in Sacramentum Caritatis,” “… every Eucharistic celebration sacramentally accomplishes the eschatological gathering of the People of God. For us, the Eucharistic banquet is a real foretaste of the final banquet foretold by the prophets (cf. Is 25:6-9) and described in the New Testament as “the marriage-feast of the Lamb” (Rev 19:7-9), to be celebrated in the joy of the communion of saints (100).”
May the prayers of Bartholomew and all the saints assist us on our pilgrimage, so that we too may be considered “friends of the Lord” and so that it may also be said of us:
“Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your kingdom.”