Listen to an audio recording of Fr. Jeremy’s homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 29, 2018
Mom, where’s my shoes? Honey, have you seen my keys. Hurry up kids, we’re going to be late. No, you don’t have time for one more cartoon. Again(?!?), you just went potty 3-minutes ago, we need to be leaving or we’ll be late. Put on your shirt. No, you can’t wear your superman costume. Hurry up and brush your teeth… and your hair. Oh my, look at the time! We really have to be leaving! Come on everyone, to the van. You can finish putting your shoes on in the car. Let’s go… Come on.
Likely, a somewhat typical Sunday morning for many each week. I’m one of 5 kids. Mom and dad each week had a chore rounding us all up and hurrying us to the car. And in those days, mom and dad didn’t even have to deal with the five-point harness of child car seats… or seatbelts for that matter.
Getting ready for Mass, gathering everyone together, coming here is no easy feat. I suspect a few of you feel anything BUT rested, prayerful, peaceful, or centered when you pass through those church doors. Sometimes the victory is just passing through the them at all. And if that is true on the individual family level, multiply that out across the whole gathered congregation. There is likely some serious agitation, anxiety, even apprehension, as we all come together. And this, all before we even consider the very real personal struggles, hardships, and worries we bring with us here each week. It can be hard to transition into prayer, into presence, into peaceful participation.
We see a similar struggle in the Gospel, a foreshadowing to the importance of the gathering. “The Jewish feast of Passover was near. When Jesus raised His eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to Him” (Jn 6:4-5). First, with Passover on the horizon, which we Christians should instantly connect with the Last Supper and the Eucharist, Jesus sees a crowd coming to Him. Gathering to Him, with all their wants, their needs, their anxieties, their hungers. Jesus sees them coming, recognizes their struggles, worries, hardships, and hunger. Jesus sees this chaotic crowd and does something first to bring them together, not just in one place, but as one people in one meal. He has them sit and organize and “recline” upon the grass. Then, only then, can He feed them, but not until they are first gathered together. This is so true in the Mass as well. We must first gather, we must first come together, we must ‘recline’ – that is be open to resting in God, if we are going to fed and nourished.
This is part of the reason, that the first part of the Mass is so important, even though it is relatively short. The overall Mass is composed of 4 rites or parts: 1) Introductory Rite, 2) Liturgy of the Word, 3) Liturgy of the Eucharist, and 4) Concluding Rite. Obviously, just from the titles, one can guess the Liturgy of the Word & Eucharist are the major/most important parts. But the Introductory and Concluding Rites are not to be overlooked.
The Introductory Rite of the Mass begins with an (1) entrance procession. This is not just pomp & circumstance. It is not just show. It is a physical demonstration of the community gathering together and going up to the Ambo and Altar. You yourselves have processed from your homes. You have walked (briskly, even run) into the church. We gather signs of Christ’s saving work (Crucifix), the coming of Christ’s light (candles), the Coming of Christ’s Word (Gospel), the coming of Christ the high priest (celebrant) come together in procession. Leading, joining, gathering all together. The hymn is not just cover. It is meant to join our voices and minds by focusing & sharing a single voice. The text of the hymn heightens the themes of Scriptures to come. Once we are all in the place together, there is the (2) Greeting – the marking of ourselves in the sign of our salvation (Cross) and the Mystery of our Faith (the Trinity). We are joining ourselves together as God’s people. We invoke the presence of the Lord and the Spirit which unite us with the Father – The Lord be with you… and with your spirit. We then pause, to center, to reflect, to call to mind our sins. We humble ourselves, not to demean, but to be honest with ourselves and one another – we are sinners in need of salvation, of forgiveness, of mercy. We give verbal expression to our penitential nature by the (3) Confiteor (I Confess) or Kyrie (Lord have mercy). And recognizing God’s infinite mercy and forgiveness and our lack of merit to receive it we sing glory and praise to our God in the (4) Gloria. We say thank you by echoing the joy of the angels at the Savior’s birth… a birth to bring you and I, us, to new life. And then, gather as one by voice, by thought, by humble request, by shared glory and thanks, we raise our united hearts in prayer, in a shared, joined, and united (5) Collect or opening prayer. Only then, when fully gathered, do we dare to raise our voice in prayer. Only once gathered & collected. Only once spiritually ‘reclining’ together before the Christ in the Spirit, do we pray. The Introductory Rites, seemingly routine, irrelevant, insignificant, inconsequential, unimportant… actually serves to move us from the chaotic nature of our broken hurried lives to the ordered whole of God’s Chosen People prepared to be fed & nourished with hearts, heads, hands open to receive from the Lord.
I know it can be difficult to be here on time, not to be rushed, not to be frantic. I know you try your best. I don’t say any of this to chastise, but to teach. The way we gather, or fail to, influences the way we receive from God. The better we come to Jesus – personally and communally – with expectation, with ease, with earnestness, the more we receive from the Mass. If you’ve ever felt you were not fed by the Mass, I would encourage you to attend first to how you gather for Mass. For that great crowd, those five thousand & more, reclining upon the Galilean hillside, they ‘received their fill, as much as they wanted’ but only once gathered and reclined (Jn 6:11-12). We must first gather together, not just physically, but mentally, communally, spiritually to encounter Christ who wants to feed us in Word and Eucharist.