Okay. Let’s see who has been paying attention. On Sundays so far this year, we have been reading from the Gospel according to Saint …? Mark. Amen.
True or false: The gospel of Mark is the lengthiest, wordiest, most long-winded gospel.
Amen! False. St. Mark wrote the briefest, tersest, most to-the-point gospel. So brief that it does not take an entire year of Sundays to read it. It doesn’t even take a full eleven months of Sundays.
We have an extra month to work with here. We have the golden opportunity to read one of the most pivotal, one of the most fascinating, one of the most illuminating chapters of the entire Bible. This particular chapter also happens to be wicked long—69 verses.
So today we start reading… John 6! Amen.
All four evangelists recount the Baptism of Christ, and all four narrate Holy Week and Easter. Other than that, there is only one episode in the Lord’s life that all four gospels recount, namely…The Feeding of the 5,000!
Not a co-incidence. The Lord revealed His divine intentions on the hillside that evening. God became man in order miraculously to feed the hungry of every time and place, including us. He did some things which have produced the stunningly wonderful effect of providing us with nourishment for immortality. Let us pause to consider what He did, as the Fathers gathered at the Second Vatican Council fifty years ago paused to consider it:
When we wandered in ignorance and the shadow of death, the Word made flesh came to offer us “bodily and spiritual medicine.” Fulfilling His divine mission, the Son of God consecrated bread and wine as His Body and Blood, which He proceeded to offer for our sakes on the cross. As He slept the sleep of death, the soldier pierced the Lord’s Sacred Heart with a lance, and the “wondrous sacrament of the whole Church” poured out.
Christ rose from the dead and sent His Apostles to the ends of the earth. Christ Himself had been sent to the earth on a mission; He continued the mission by sending out His Apostles. Christ commanded the Apostles to proclaim salvation, and to accomplish it, by means of the Holy Sacrifice and the sacraments.
Now, studying the entire documented history of Christian prayer and worship can and does require more labor than any of us could muster. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council enjoyed the fruits of extensive research which many diligent scholars had undertaken during the first part of the twentieth century. One could review all the documentation and practically drown in the enormous variety of ways in which Christians have prayed and consecrated themselves, through two millennia and in every corner of the world.
But one could also look at this dizzying array of findings and still see the clear and simple picture that the Council Fathers saw, namely this: A distinctive way of praying, of worshiping God and seeking holiness; a distinctive way of coming together in mutual love and fraternity; something totally distinctive and unique began in Jerusalem on Pentecost Sunday. It arose from the words and deeds of Jesus Christ. It has extended its unique self and continued through twenty centuries, to the present time. We have received this way of praying from our forebears as something vital, as the flowing lifeblood of our Christian faith. We call it: The “liturgy.”
Now, we could get into some thorny discussions regarding the particular revisions of the Roman Rite which occurred after the Second Vatican Council. We could get into that…but we are not going to. More illuminating, I think, to try to focus on something else.
On any given Sunday morning in any given parish church anywhere in the world, the customary comings and goings take place. Every parish church everywhere has its own local personalities, dramas, and issues. Every parish church—and every grand cathedral, for that matter—every church building frequented by human beings has its own particular stories.
Here in scenic southwest Virginia, it’s a hot summer day. So-and-so arrived at church this morning in a bad mood. So-and-so is distracted right now, thinking about what’s for dinner/brunch. So-and-so has a pretty new pair of shoes on. So-and-so should have shaved this morning, but he neglected to do so.
This is our life; this is our life together. We all have to stop at the grocery store sometimes, and the gas station, too.
But: Because this is the Sacred Liturgy of the Church of Christ; because we are praying the way the Son of God Himself directed us to pray, and His directions have been preserved lovingly by countless generations of believers who have gone before us—because this is not just a motley crew of local yokels, but also happens to be a Mass: Because of this, the distance between us and Jesus Christ is: ZERO. The distance between us and Almighty God: ZERO.
Okay. More on this next week.