Sunday, November 22, 2015
The Sunday Propers: The End of the Church Year
With this Sunday’s Mass, the liturgical year draws to a close. Starting the next week, the priest will be in purple, the Gloria will be gone, and we will be into the advent season, where we prepare our hearts, and the hearts of the Church, for the birth of Our Lord. While the liturgy will never “end” so long as we are on this earth, the Church wants us to ponder several things at the conclusion of this season of Pentecost. In today’s challenging environment, it would do us well to reflect upon them.
The first thing worth reflecting upon is the permanence of God’s word. The Catholic Church of 2015 is a deeply divided Church. There’s no point saying otherwise, we have to accept that reality. Our leadership does not trust each other, and as a result (among other things), there is a lack of trust between Catholics in the lay and ordained state. This lack of trust goes from the person in the pews all the way up to the Bishop of Rome. So deep is this division, we’ve lost the ability to talk to each other about even the simplest of things.
In today’s Gospel, Christ gives His people words of comfort. “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My Word will not pass away.” Though we find ourselves in a factional Church, those factions will pass away. While we ourselves might be part of this or that faction, that does not define us as a Catholic. Christ’s word is available to us all, and it will always be available to us. It will be available to us no matter whom the pope is, no matter which reform movement is big in the Church at the time, or how much we like whoever our current Bishop is. Not only is that word available to us all, all Catholics must strive to be faithful to it. Even if we cannot speak to each other, we must never forget we are all striving to adhere to the same Christ. We may fundamentally disagree about how to do so, and that disagreement matters. But that struggle to adhere to His word should help us to at least have compassion towards others.
The second lesson the Church wishes us to learn can be found in the Epistle, where St. Paul advocates “longsuffering in joy.” To suffer is hard for us Catholics today. To do so joyfully? I think that’s one thing missing from all circles of the church today. Where was the joy in the discussions surrounding the Synod? Where was joy in everything from the pope’s words down to the news article about the synod you read?
We Catholics often have a false concept of longsuffering with joy. Often, we equate it to a putting our head in the sand approach to things. Sometimes, we stress that we should ignore all the negative, and only focus on the positive. To acknowledge such challenges is said to place the faith of Catholics at risk through scandal. While these views are popular, they are wrong.
To practice longsuffering in joy means you have to acknowledge the suffering part. That means that while you shouldn’t despair, you have to look at the world and Church as it exists. The joy part comes not from the crisis in the Church, but in the fact that, at this moment in salvation history, God placed you here to combat that crisis. We might not have the mind of a St. Augustine, or the austerity of a St. Francis, or the holiness of St. Terese. Yet if we give ourselves over to God, we might be given those gifts. Every little thing we do not only contributes to our own holiness or sin, but contributes to solving the crisis, or prolonging it. The solution to this crisis will not come from some grand papal reform or from an educated elite, but from every Catholic, from the bottom to the top, embracing their vocation and mission.
To assist us in embracing that vocation, the Collect calls us to “seek more earnestly the fruit of this divine work”, that work being the Eucharist. We traditionalist are viewed as liturgical snobs, and sometimes, sure, the shoe fits. Yet if traditionalism had a “mission” it would be this part of the Collect. We seek to draw Catholics of all stripes and vocations closer to the divine work of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Without the mercies provided by the Mass and the Eucharist, nothing else is possible. At Mass, we worship in the same faith, the same creed, and are given the same grace. Any lasting reform of the Church has gone hand in hand with a reform of the liturgy.
Sometimes that involves the modification of certain practices. More often, it involves the faithful Catholic drawing deeper from the wellspring of graces that is the liturgy. That’s what I’ve tried to do here at Catholic Exchange the last year. I’ve invited you, the reader (most of you who aren’t even familiar with the Latin Mass) to draw deeply from our shared tradition. I’ve asked you to consider how the liturgy forms us for such important practices such as penance and evangelization. I’ve based my understanding of the liturgy in that it asks us to follow the precepts of Christ, and those precepts, while occasionally difficult, are realistic. Not only are they realistic, they can change your life for the better, and that of the whole world. As we conclude this series that is what I hope readers will call to mind. Wherever you worship, the liturgy can change your life. And if you are seeking something more, I believe the Extraordinary Form can provide whatever you are seeking. If I can help you in that journey, I will.
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