Matters Liturgical: May 2007 Archives


Days of Fire and of Light

In the traditional Roman liturgical calendar the glorious solemnity of Pentecost has its own Octave: eight days under the grace of the Holy Spirit, eight days of joy in the fire and light of His presence, eight days of thanksgiving for His gifts. The Octave of Pentecost was one of the most beautiful moments in the Church Year, not only by reason of the liturgical texts, but also by reason of its effect in the secret of hearts. Each day of the Octave the Church would sing her “Golden Sequence,” the Veni, Sancte Spiritus: a chant of such unction that one never tires of repeating it.

The Suppression of a Great Joy

In some places in the Catholic world, Whit Monday was a reason to have a civil holiday, as well as a liturgical celebration. In this way, the mysterious presence of the Holy Spirit marked even the secular culture. It came as shock, and brought no little distress to the faithful, when in 1969 the Octave of Pentecost suddenly disappeared from the calendar. It would appear that not even the Pope was apprised of the suppression of one of the Church’s great joys.


Fifth Wednesday of Paschaltide

Acts 15:1-6
Psalm 121: 1-2, 3-4ab, 4cd-5
John 15:1-8


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.

Always New

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).


Fifth Tuesday of Paschaltide

Acts 14:19-28
Psalm 144:10-11, 12-13ab, 21
John 14:27-31a

My Peace I Give to You

Today’s Gospel gives us the very words of Christ that are repeated in every Mass. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (Jn 14:27). “Lord, Jesus Christ, who said to your apostles, Peace I leave you, my peace I give you, look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will. Who live and reign forever and ever.” This prayer for peace, addressed to our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, is familiar to all of us. We have heard it hundreds of times.

Prayer Reposes on the Words of Christ

The prayer begins by repeating to Christ the words of Christ. Our Lord’s own words are the foundation and support of our petition. The basis of our prayer is not in something we have conjured up; it is in those solemn words of Christ uttered in the Upper Room on the night before His Passion. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (Jn 14:27). This is a particular application of one of the universal laws of prayer: prayer begins not with our word addressed to God, but with the Word of God addressed to us.

The Faith of So Great a Cloud of Witnesses

After recalling the words of Christ, the prayer asks Him to turn His gaze from our sins and to fix it, instead, upon the faith of his Church. No matter what the failings, weaknesses, and even betrayals of individual members of the Church may be, the faith of the Church, the Bride of Christ, remains virginal, shining, and indomitable. The faith of the Church encompasses and perfects the faith of Abel, of Enoch, of Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets (cf. Heb 11:1-32). The faith of the Church is the faith of the Mother of God, and of the Apostles. It is the faith of the martyrs and of the saints of every age.


There is comfort in knowing that when our own faith is weak and faltering, we can take refuge in the faith of “so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1). This is the secret of that strong, efficacious prayer recommended by Christ in the gospel. “I say to you, if two or three agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (Mt 18:19). It is helpful, even necessary at times, to lean upon the faith of another in our prayer. It is good to seek the intercession of the saints, good to ask for the prayer of the Church. In the Third Eucharistic Prayer the Church commemorates the saints "whose intercession in Your presence is our unfailing pledge of help.”

Does this make our own prayer less effective or less pleasing to God? On the contrary, the poverty and truth of such a prayer pleases the Lord who takes pity on the lowly and the weak. It makes our prayer resemble that of the father who prayed for his child, saying, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mk 9:24).

Peace: A Gift from Above

Our petition, then, will rest upon a secure foundation: the words of Christ himself, and the faith of Christ’s Bride, the Church. The request itself is direct and unadorned: “Graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will.” We are not asking here for a sentimental kind of peace nor are we asking to experience a feeling. Peace is not a feeling. Feelings are subjective; they originate within ourselves. The peace and unity for which we pray originate not in man, but in God. Peace and unity descend from above, “coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (Jas 1:17).

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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