Thirty–Third Sunday of the Year B
Psalm 15:5, 8–11 (R. v.1)
Hebrews 10:11–14, 18
Know That He Is Near
Next Sunday will be the last of this liturgical year, the end of another year of grace. In the hourglass of the liturgy, the sand of time has nearly run out. In two weeks time, Mother Church will turn it over, and the cycle of holy time will begin again. Already, on this next-to-the-last Sunday of the Church year, we find ourselves in a mysterious climate of “already” and “not yet.” The Word of God today draws us out of ourselves into a kind of expectant tension. “Know that He is near, at the very gates” (Mk 13:29). We are magnetized by the promises of Christ. Today’s Mass lifts us out of ourselves and projects us into the certainty of the glorious advent of the Son of Man.
Ever In My Sight
In the Responsorial Psalm, we heard the verse: “I keep the Lord ever in my sight” (Ps 15:8). This is the voice of the Church speaking of Christ; it is the voice of the Bride speaking of her Bridegroom. “I keep the Lord ever in my sight” (Ps 15:8). How does the Church keep the Lord ever in her sight? By means of the sacred liturgy. “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:24). Today’s Postcommunion refers specifically to “these things your Son has commanded us do in remembrance of Him.”
The Grand Plan of Salvation
The liturgy is the means by which we, wide-eyed and full of wonder, are present to the whole mystery of Christ: present to His Passion and His Death, present to His descent into hell, present to His Resurrection and to His glorious Ascension, present to His enthronement at the right hand of the Father, present to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in violent winds and tongues of fire on the day of Pentecost. This is the marvelous plan of the Father, designed and willed from all eternity, an economy of mercy and of love, a grand plan conceived in the inscrutable depths of eternal wisdom! The liturgy is the Father offering us Christ, and Christ offering us to the Father in the Holy Spirit.
God’s Eternal Now
The sacraments connect us to the very life of God. They send a current of redeeming love coursing through the Church. The liturgy makes us contemporaries of Christ, not by throwing us back in time, but by projecting us forward into God’s eternal “now.” We come together, Sunday after Sunday, not to indulge in the nostalgic remembrance of what once was, but to enter into the fullness of what is: the Death, the Resurrection and the Ascension of Christ, the mystery of His Pasch, the glory of His exodus from this world to the Father, from death to life, from time to eternity!
The Eighth Day
We are here, not as spectators watching a dramatic representation of certain historical events forever fixed in the past and lost to the present. We are here as partakers: the mysteries of Christ are our mysteries. We live them in Him. He lives them in us. In the liturgy what is past becomes present, and what is present anticipates what is to come: and all of this in the eternal today of God, the eighth day, the day outside of time.
The Today of God
Holy Mass is a door opening onto the eighth day, the today of God. Cross its threshold; an eternal sabbath awaits you on the other side, rest from labor (Heb 4:10), milk and honey (Ex 3:8), balm in Gilead (Jer 8:22), springs of water (Is 41:18), grain and wine and oil (Jer 31:12). We are here to anticipate Christ’s coming in power and in glory, accompanied by the angels. “Let us lay aside all earthly cares, sings the Byzantine liturgy, that we may receive the King of kings who comes escorted invisibly by angelic hosts” (Cherubic Hymn).
Already and Not Yet
Holy Mass is a mystery of already and not yet. Under the veils of sacred signs — bread and wine — intelligible to our senses, the Eucharist is already possession of “what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor 2:9). In the long, dark night of history, the Eucharist radiates the light of heaven; it is a glimpse of the Jerusalem above where the blessed shine “as brightly as the vault of heaven, as bright as stars for all eternity” (Dan 12:13).
The Ascension of the Church into Heaven
The Old Dispensation announced in figures and shadows a reality promised but not yet given. Christ was the object of every hope, the “desire of the everlasting hills” (Gen 49:26). The New Dispensation possesses the fullness of all that was hoped for: Christ as portion and cup, Christ as prize, Christ in sight ( cf.Ps 15: 5-8). And this is why we celebrate Holy Mass. The Eucharist is Christ as portion and cup: Christ given, Christ poured out. The Eucharist is eternity in time, and time in eternity. The Eucharist is the descent of heaven into the Church and the ascension of the Church into heaven.
The End of the Sacraments
Today’s gospel, in spite of its “Dies irae” motif, is nothing less than Good News. It trumpets the definitive unveiling of what is already ours, though concealed for the moment beneath sacramental veils. The return of Christ in glory will be the end of the sacraments! We cannot live without the sacraments and yet we cannot but long for their end! He who is concealed and revealed, He who acts in the power of the Holy Spirit by means of water and oil and bread and wine, will return at the hour we least expect. The veils will fall once and for all. In the meantime, the liturgy will have made us familiar with the accents of His voice. In every Mass we inhale the unmistakable fragrance of His divinity. Then, however, we shall find ourselves face-to-face with Him. “We know that when He appears we shall be like Him,” says Saint John, “for we shall see Him as He is” (1 Jn 3:2).
With Him in Glory
The Lord is faithful to His promises. “When I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (Jn 14:3). For the time being, our life as members of the Risen and Ascended Christ is hidden. “Your life,” says Saint Paul, “is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Col 3:3-4).
The Wedding Feast Anticipated
Our hope — to gaze upon Christ face-to-face — is sure and firm, unshakable and certain, because it is founded on the very promise of Christ himself: “I will come again and will take you to myself” (Jn 14:3). This is why the liturgy is suffused with joy. This is why we anticipate the festival. This is the reason for song, for incense and fire, for candlelight, flowers, and splendid vesture. The liturgy is the irrepressible hope of the Church anticipating what has been promised, dancing before the wedding feast has begun.
“Without having seen Christ, we love Him; though we do not now see Him we believe in Him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy” ( cf.1 P 1:8). So sure are we of obtaining what we long for, that we cannot wait for the wedding banquet to begin the feast! The Church is sure of her reunion with the Bridegroom. The entire liturgy attests to her hope. In the Credo: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” At the heart of the Eucharistic Prayer: “We make known your death, O Lord, and we confess your resurrection, until you come!” After the Our Father: “. . . as we await the blessed hope, the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ.”
Stay Awake and Stand Ready
“As for the day and the hour, no one knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, no one but the Father” (Mk 13:32). If we “stay awake and stand ready”( Mt 24:42), if we “stay awake, praying at all times” (Lk 21:36), if we are faithful to the foretaste of heaven in the festival of the liturgy, receiving the sacred mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood, the day and the hour of His return will be the glorious revelation of a life already shared, of an intimacy already familiar, that of the Bridegroom and the Bride, Christ and His Church. “Surely, I am coming soon. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20).