Sixth Sunday of Pascha, Year A
Acts 8: 5-8, 14-17
1 Peter 3: 15-18
At First Vespers
The Magnificat Antiphon at First Vespers of Sunday is our first contact with the Sunday Gospel, the first taste of the Gospel that we will proclaim and hear, and repeat in various ways, praying it, and holding it in our hearts. The Magnificat Antiphon at First Vespers is the key to our Sunday lectio divina. It is a threshold text and, as such, it opens onto the Mystery. It invites into “the banqueting house” (Ct 2:4) so as to be able to say, Sunday after Sunday, with the bride of the Canticle, “With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste” (Ct 2:3).
The Magnificat Antiphon is our introduction to Mass on Sunday. “I will pray my Father, and He will give you another Paraclete, alleluia” (Jn 14:16). Even more, the Magnificat Antiphon at First Vespers introduces us into these last two weeks of Paschaltide: days of joy brought to fulfillment, days marked by the glory of the ascending Christ, and by persevering prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Magnificat Antiphon gives us the mystical core of the Sunday Gospel: Christ’s prayer to the Father and the promise of the Consoler, the Defender sent to our side to “help us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought” (Rom 8:26). The text of the antiphon encloses and reveals the adorable mystery of the Trinity: the Son in prayer to the Father, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
O King of Glory
As this week progresses through the Ascension of the Lord toward Pentecost, yearning for the promise of the Holy Spirit will become all-pervasive in the liturgy. We will intensify our prayer for “the Counselor” (Jn 14:16), “the Spirit of Truth” (Jn 14:17 and dispose ourselves to receive his seven gifts. Already, we are growing into the great cry that will well up from the heart of the Church on the evening of the Ascension: “O King of glory, leave us not orphans; but send upon us the promise of the Father, the Spirit of Truth, alleluia” (Magnificat Antiphon, Second Vespers of the Ascension).
The Simplicity of His One Prayer
The gift of God is proportioned to our desire. Desire grows with prayer, and prayer with desire. I speak not of our desire and prayer but of Christ’s desire and prayer in us. This is what the liturgy communicates to us: the one desire of the Heart of Christ and the one prayer of His Heart to the Father. Growth in holiness has to do with yielding the multiplicity of our desires to His one desire, and the abandonment of the complexity of our prayers to the simplicity of His one prayer. “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (Jn 14:20).
The Communion Antiphon
Attention to the initial contact of the Sunday Gospel with the palate of the soul — the Magnificat Antiphon at First Vespers — makes us sensitive also to that fragment of the Gospel that accompanies our reception of the Body and Blood of Christ, the Communion Antiphon. The liturgy gives us two texts today. In the Roman Missal we have: “If you love Me, keep My commandments, says the Lord. And I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Paraclete, that He may abide with you forever, alleluia” (Jn 14:15-16). The Communion Antiphon repeats John 14:16, the very text given us at First Vespers. This is an example of the principle of contemplative repetition that is integral to the liturgy and, by that very fact, integral to our prayer, even to our most secret prayer.
The Implanting of the Word
In the Roman Gradual the Communion Antiphon is: “I will not leave you orphans: I will come to you again, alleluia: and your heart shall rejoice, alleluia” (Jn 14:18). Taken again from today’s Gospel, this is the promise that Our Lord addresses to the Church and to each of us at the very moment of offering us His Body and Blood. The Church intends that the Communion Antiphon be repeated over and over as the faithful approach the mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood. Be attentive! There is something deeper here than mere repetition: there is an efficacious implanting of the Word.
Saint James says, “Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (Jas 1:21). “To save,” in the Bible, means, “to make whole.” The implanted word is an agent of inner healing. It disinfects, cleanses and, imperceptibly, continues to work in the secret places of the soul on the condition that, following the word of the Apostle, we receive it with meekness, that is with humility. “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you will,” says the Lord, “and it shall be done for you” (Jn 15:7). The Church takes this to heart; she so organizes and structures the Sacred Liturgy as to foster this indwelling of the words of Jesus. Thus do we leave the celebration of the Holy Mass, nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ and holding His prayer, His promise in our hearts.
A Wondrous Exchange
Leave at the altar every desire and every prayer other than the desire and prayer of Christ. This is the astonishing reality of the Eucharist: that in exchange for the limited desires we bring to it, Christ gives the immensity of His own single desire; and that in exchange for our paltry prayers, he gives us His own filial and priestly prayer to the Father. Thus does the Holy Spirit “help us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought” (Rom 8:26). Come, Holy Spirit!