Last Thursday, our priest oblates (diocesan priests living in the spirit of the Rule of Saint Benedict, and spiritually anchored in the monastery, whilst labouring in the vineyard of the Lord) met at Silverstream for a day of recollection. I spoke to them of the Propers of the Mass: the Introit, Gradual, Alleluia, Tract, Sequence, Offertory, and Communion, as given in the Roman Missal and in the Roman Gradual. Together we reviewed article 65 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which text authorises the priest to preach on the Proper of the Mass, something rarely done.
65. The homily is part of the Liturgy and is strongly recommended, for it is necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life. It should be an exposition of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or from the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners.
Our oblate, Father John Fisher, who serves in a parish that follows the usus recentior, took up the challenge and preached on the Introit of the Mass of the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Here is his homily:
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Save us, O Lord our God! And gather us from the nations, to give thanks to your holy name, and make it our glory to praise you. (Ps 105: 47)
Before the singing of hymns was permitted at Mass after the Second Vatican Council, the introit (or Entrance Antiphon as it is now called) was sung by the choir as the priest made his way to the altar in the entrance procession. Some of you may well remember Canon Pentony’s famous choir singing those beautiful Latin texts. In the modern liturgy, the introit chant has been shortened to a one-line antiphon that is supposed to be sung but is usually recited by the priest. However, this simplification is no excuse for ignoring the meaning and importance of an integral text of the Mass which the Church, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, gives to her children to help them enter more fully into the sacred liturgy they are about to celebrate. Each Mass has its own unique antiphon. It is usually a verse from the psalms, the prayer book which Our Lord himself prayed while he was on earth, or from some other book of the Bible. The antiphon is meant to be a spiritual voice that welcomes us, sets the tone of the Mass of the day and points us in the direction of the deep spiritual meanings that the texts of that particular Mass want to reveal to us. You might sometimes have heard a particular priest welcome people at the start of Mass and say, “The theme of today’s Mass is….”. He needn’t have bothered! The tone or theme has already been set by the Entrance Antiphon.
If the antiphon is a voice, then who is it that is speaking? On rare occasions, on the feasts of saints, it is the voice of the actual saint being commemorated that day. But normally it is one of two voices: either the voice of Christ speaking to the Father, or the voice of the Church (which is the body of Christ) calling to Jesus Christ, her God and spouse. If we look at today’s antiphon it is easy to see that this is the voice of the Church, crying out to her Lord in desperation to save her and to lead her back from her exile so that she can then do what is her very purpose and destiny: to praise and thank her God.
When this psalm was written, the Jewish people experienced the pain of exile and alienation. They were evicted from the Holy Land and had to live for years in exile in Babylon, prisoners of a pagan people who did not share their religion or way of life. This pain has always been felt by the Church throughout her history and is most keenly felt today. The Church, unlike Israel, does not have a country to call her own. Christians must always live and work in a world that does not always accept the teachings of Christ and at times does not even tolerate our beliefs or morals. One of our earliest Christian writings, the Epistle to Diognetus, vividly describes the predicament of Christians in the Roman Empire:
“Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. They live in their own countries, but only as aliens; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their homeland, and every homeland is a foreign country. They marry like everyone else, and have children, but they do not leave their unwanted children to die. They share their food but not their wives. … They live on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. … They love everyone, and by everyone they are persecuted. They are unknown, yet they are condemned; they are put to death, yet they are brought to life. … They are dishonoured, yet they are glorified in their dishonour; they are slandered, yet they are proven right. They are cursed, yet they bless; they are insulted, yet they offer respect. When they do good, they are punished as evildoers. Those who hate them are unable to give a reason for their hostility. In a word, what the soul is to the body, Christians are to the world.”
Today’s Entrance Antiphon reminds us that the Church has ever lived in this predicament. At certain times and in certain places she feels this alienation more sharply. Catholics here in the north often felt marginalised, aliens in their own country as they endured discrimination and hatred because of their religion. Today, that is the experience of good Catholics throughout the western world as countries that were traditionally Christian become secularised. We increasingly find people with power and the influence of the media not just scorning the gospel but trying to force us to conform to modern values which are profoundly anti-Christian. The ways of the nations, of the ‘modern world’, are not the ways of God. They are not our ways. They leave us hurt and alienated. In a world where liberal capitalism has run amok and over 80% of the world’s profit goes to 1% of its people, Christians can only cry out in the voice of our antiphon: “Save us O Lord! Gather us from the nations.” In our own area, where the fruits of the drug trade which begins with gangs in far off lands, bring only grief and anxiety to families, we can only cry out: “Save us O Lord! Gather us from the nations.” As the right to life of the unborn is threatened throughout Ireland so that the State would no longer “cherish all the children of the nation equally” as the Eighth Amendment currently does, we can only cry out: “Save us O Lord! Gather us from the nations.” And lest we ever become like England where one in five pregnancies now ends in abortion, or like Holland or Belgium where even the vulnerable sick and elderly are also killed, or like Canada where businesses must actually state that they uphold immoral practices including abortion in order to receive government grants, we pray to our Saviour with all our heart: “Save us O Lord! Gather us from the nations.”
In today’s readings God answers this cry. In the first reading he promises to send strong, prophetic leaders to his people who will teach them God’s ways and not the ways of false gods. Please pray at this time for our bishops and for all pro-life workers and politicians that the Lord will strengthen them and help them win the struggle to protect the most basic and precious right to life in Ireland. As Christians it is our duty to pray for this country and all its people and to try to influence it for the good: to be the soul for the body of the country, in the words of the Epistle to Diognetus. Let us not grow weary in this, our sacred duty. Let us pray with the responsorial psalm that our fellow citizens’ hearts will not be hardened but that they will hear the voice of Truth. In the gospel, Jesus defeated the evil spirits. He is the Holy One of God. Against him, the Prince of this world, the devil, cannot stand. As Ven. Fulton Sheen said: “God has his day. The devil has his hour.” Strong in this faith, may we endure our current dark hour in the history of civilisation knowing that soon the day will dawn when Christ the Sun of Justice will once again shine out in all his splendour. If we stay strong in faith and hope and active in charity we will merit some day to reach our true homeland with all the elect gathered from every nation. There will our happiness be complete as we give thanks to God for his mercy and goodness and find our eternal glory in praising Him.