Fifth Wednesday of Paschaltide
Psalm 121: 1-2, 3-4ab, 4cd-5
Today’s Gospel of the vine and the branches recurs frequently in the Sacred Liturgy. I have no difficulty whatsoever in the repetition of the same texts. Repetition is integral to the pedagogy of the Church. Anthropologists tell us that ritual is all about doing the same things, in the same way, at the same time, over and over again. Culture flourishes where the same stories are repeated over and over again in the same way. From the point of view of the human sciences, repetition, not variety, is the ground of culture. From the Catholic point of view, it is outward repetition that makes inward change — conversion — possible. It is sameness that makes the difference. It is by hearing the same Word repeated in the same way that our hardened hearts are touched and, by the operation of the Holy Spirit, pierced and opened to holiness.
Though we may, from time to time, read the same text, the Gospel remains always new. Every time the holy Gospel is proclaimed, the voice of the risen Christ resounds in the Church. The Gospel is a sacrament of Christ’s abiding presence. The Church has always been conscious of this mystery. She has, over the centuries, surrounded the Book of the Gospels and the proclamation of the liturgical Gospel with marks of solemnity and of joy. Unlike other books, the Book of the Gospels may be placed upon the altar. In the Corpus Christi procession in some places, the Book of the Gospels is carried by a deacon, under the canopy with the Blessed Sacrament, to signify that the same Christ, who speaks in the Gospel, gives himself as food in the Eucharist.
Christ the Energetic Word
No one, I think, has better expressed this profoundly Catholic sense of the reality underlying the Gospel than the English writer, Evelyn Underhill. “The reading of the liturgic Gospel,” she writes, “is something more than a mere instruction of the faithful. It is a vital moment in the sacred action of the Church. In it Christ the Energetic Word speaks and acts. The ceremonial and reverence with which all the ancient rites surround it, the psalm of joy with which it was welcomed, the Alleluia which announced the Divine presence — also the sacred character which the Eastern Church still ascribes to the Book of the Gospels, and the deep awe with which its entrance is received — may serve to remind us that the words and deeds, indeed the very life of the Incarnate Logos, are themselves sacramental impartings of the Infinite God to man, and the proper causes of his adoring gratitude and joy” (The Mystery of Sacrifice, 9-10).
The Word Comes Forth
In the reformed Roman Rite, the deacon or, in his absence, the priest, takes the Book of the Gospels from the altar during the singing of the Alleluia, and carries it to the place where it will be proclaimed. In both East and West, the deacon or priest goes out from the altar towards the people, sometimes standing in the very middle of the church to proclaim the holy Gospel. “I proceeded and came forth from God,” says Jesus (Jn 8:42).
This movement out of the sanctuary and towards the people signifies the sending forth of the Word by the Father, the holy condescension by which God enters and redeems our finite experience. “Thy all powerful Word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne, into the midst of the land” (Wis 18:15). The Word comes into our midst, pitches His tent among us (Jn 1:14), brings light into our darkness (Jn 1:9), joy into all our sorrows (Jn 16:22), and life into the valley of the shadow of death (Lk 1:79; Jn 11:25).
Presence of the Living Christ
The liturgical practices of our Catholic tradition point to a great mystery. The proclamation of the Gospel is not the mere reading of a holy text. It is the presence of the living Christ who speaks, in every liturgical celebration, a creative word, a word that is divine, a word that contains within itself the power to transform our lives, to heal what is broken within us, to lift up the fallen, to give life to the dead. It is crucial that the proclamation of the Gospel remain — or become —for Catholics, the shining summit of the Liturgy of the Word. Nothing must be allowed to trivialize so sacred a mystery, so wondrous a gift. In the Gospel, the very God who spoke to Moses from the burning bush (Ex 3:2) speaks now in our midst, making the place on which we stand holy ground (Ex 3:4).
Christ is the Vine
Today Christ reveals himself to us as the Vine. He is the source of the life that courses through every branch, that gives greenness to every tendril, producing both the flower and the fruit. Fruitfulness is the distinctive sign of discipleship (Jn 15:8). Fruitfulness is the glory of the Father (Jn 15:8). Spiritual fecundity begins with the hearing of the Word.
Yes to Life
The disciple who says “No” to life; the disciple who, practicing spiritual contraception, shrinks from the responsibilities of supernatural fecundity “is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned” (Jn 15:6). The disciple who honours the charism of spiritual fatherhood and motherhood, and remains open to it, will in one way or another “bear much fruit” (Jn 15:8). Our Lord gives us this teaching on spiritual fecundity for our joy. He reveals these things to us because they will make us happy. “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (Jn 15:11).
The Mystery of Inter-Abiding
The living word of the Gospel comes to us warm with the breath of the Risen Christ. We take it to heart that it may abide deep within, flower, and come to fruition in us. And then, we receive the sacred Body and precious Blood of Christ. The Eucharist completes the Gospel, realizes the Gospel for us here and now. In the Eucharist, the Christ of the Gospel becomes our food and drink. The Eucharist is the mystery of inter-abiding: the life of Christ in us, and of our life in Christ.
Just as the inexhaustible Gospel is never repeated, so too with the inexhaustible Eucharist: every celebration of Holy Mass carries us into new depths of divine intimacy. After the Gospel has been proclaimed, after the Bread has been broken and the Chalice poured out, all resolves into silence. In that silence, germinates the Word.