Online Edition – November 2006
Vol. XII, No. 8
Eucharist: Remembering, Giving Thanks
Homily for Votive Mass of the Holy Eucharist,
Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Convention 2006
Bishop Robert Finn
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Convention, on the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, opened with a Votive Mass of the Holy Eucharist, Friday, September 22, 2006. The Most Reverend Robert W. Finn, Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph, was principal celebrant and homilist. His homily appears here with his kind permission. (The October edition of AB featured the address to the FCS Convention of Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.)
Dear friends in Christ,
The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph is honored to be host to the 29th Annual Convention of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. It is a joy for me to welcome friends from St. Louis, James and Helen Hull Hitchcock, and others at Adoremus, as well as this entire distinguished gathering of scholars reflecting on the heritage of the Church in light of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, promulgated by Pope Paul VI at the Second Vatican Council almost 43 years ago.
I am grateful that the address of His Excellency Archbishop Ranjith, of the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, will be read and will establish the framework for our gathering, anchoring us where we wish to be in the maternal heart of the Church. I am confident that the sense of his presence will be renewed and echoed many times through the rich offerings of the presentations these days.
The place where we are right now was once within the Diocese of St. Joseph, established nearly 140 years ago, and we commend ourselves to his protection as we begin. In the early 1900s the two dioceses of Kansas City and St. Joseph covered fully two-thirds of the State of Missouri. Fifty years ago last month, these two great dioceses became one great diocese. This is a Jubilee year for us, and again, I am pleased that it is imprinted with such a gathering as this which honors our Catholic tradition so meaningfully.
The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph is a local Church with a heritage of deep faith. The faithful Catholic community, though comprising about 10% of the total population, contributes much in faith, service, and positive moral influence.
Over this last half-century we have also had our challenges, and in the time since Vatican II, we have been tested, like other places, by misappropriations of the “Spirit of the Council”.
Indeed Kansas City is home to institutions which, on the one hand, have seen in the Council a license to promote the democratization of the Church and to proclaim, in too many instances, a “prophetic freedom” for departing from the most fundamental of Church teachings. On the other side, an international society of clergy and laity that maintains very serious suspicions about the validity of Catholic Church teachings and practice since the Council has established its US base in our diocese.
The desire we have to fulfill the plan of our Lord Jesus Christ for our unity has been a theme of our Jubilee celebrations, and I welcome the reflections of this Fellowship which I believe will contribute to a more mature hermeneutic on one of its pivotal teachings, Sacrosanctum Concilium, and a deeper love for the “sacrament of unity”. (SC 26)
In today’s first reading, from the Votive of the Most Holy Eucharist (Deut 8:2-3, 14b-16a), Moses bids the people, “Remember! Remember how for forty years now the Lord, your God has directed all your journeying in the desert.” Some verses later, he will tell them, “Do not forget! Do not forget the Lord, your God, who brought you out of Egypt, that place of slavery…”
These passages from Deuteronomy are prelude to others calling the Israelites to a conscientious examination of their destiny in God’s plan, a faithful acceptance of the covenant, and a canticle of thanksgiving. They are in this way a fitting preamble also to the Eucharistic Liturgy, where the faithful are summoned to remember and give thanks.
The orations and proclamation of the Sacred Scriptures and the preaching of the ordained minister similarly transmit the presence and action of Jesus Christ the living Word, within us and among us. If the verbs of the Old Testament — the summons to remember, be faithful, and give thanks — remain the same in the New Testament, the subjects and objects of these divinely inspired exhortations are more fully revealed in the New Testament in the person and saving action of Christ.
Each celebration of the sacred mysteries begins with a call to conversion. The purpose and power of the Penitential Rite is not the same as sacramental Reconciliation, but the ritual has the urgency of the Lord’s own Gospel call to repentance (Jn 6:41-51), and ends with an acclamation of Christ’s Lordship that points to God’s mercy.
The worship which we owe the eternal God orients the Church in submission to that mercy, to the adoration of the divine majesty, and to a vision of our heavenly destiny with the suffering souls and the communion of saints.
And can there be true worship without oblation and sacrifice? The one saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary, renewed in an unbloody manner on the altar, is the climax of the work, carried out on behalf of the faithful at the hands of the priest, and consummated in a Communion in the Body and Blood of the Lord.
Dear friends, in the Sacred Council the Fathers announced their “desire to impart an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful”, through “a reform and promotion” of the Sacred Liturgy, (SC 1) which would help it be seen more readily as the very font and summit of the whole Christian life. (SC 10) This renewal had everything to do with the dynamic embrace of the acts which are inherent in the mystery of the Sacrifice of the Mass: the remembering, the giving thanks, the interior conversion and change of heart, the adoration due God alone, the oblation of our hearts united to the pierced heart of Jesus sacrificed for our sins, the eating of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Communion of the Mystical Body, and the sustaining hope of new life in Christ’s triumphant return.
These are the constitutive elements of a “full, active, and conscious participation” (SC 14) which, by the power of the Holy Sacrament itself, is ready to be made alive in the Church and in her members, each time the Lord’s sacrifice is offered.
The renewal of the Liturgy is most about the interior embrace of these various invitations: Repent and change your heart; heed the Word of the Lord; Let the grain fall to the earth and die; take up your Cross; Eat, This is My Body; Go now and serve the Lord. In the person of Christ the Head, the priest ritually summons us to be joined to the Lord Jesus Christ who has once and for all made it possible for us to participate in His work of salvation. The call to renewal in the Second Vatican Council was timely, but it was not a message unique to our age and culture; nor could it ever hope to be accomplished through merely external modifications in vessels, language, logistics, posture, music, art, architecture, or a redistribution of liturgical functions.
This is not to say that any of these latter elements is inconsequential. To the contrary, the Council exhorts Holy Mother Church to examine many of these as to their significance in the “restoration of the liturgy.” (SC 21, 27ff.)
It is perhaps true that in an earlier era there was a deeper awareness of the transcendent power of the sacred rites and the efficacy and finality of each ritual action of the priest at Mass. In fact, we are celebrating the same Holy Mass, under the same divine mandate, and with the same infallible purpose and result. Certainly we would be at odds with Sacrosanctum Concilium and the discipline of the Church if we, as individuals, were to add, remove, or change the well-defined elements of the Church’s liturgy. (SC 22.3)
We would be enriched, as priests, to contemplate more frequently the simple and sublime elements and actions entrusted to us at the altar. We would be more convinced of the awesome reality of their unadorned magnificence, and of who we are as priests and pastors. The faithful would have a less obstructed access to the sacred mysteries which they are meant to have.
At times, it seems as though the pendulum is still swinging somewhere between innovation and restoration, and that we are not much closer to home than when we started. At other moments, it is possible to hope that we are getting near the top of the hill, and some day soon we will fall gently over the tipping point, onto the other side of our disunity and lingering disarray — and wonder happily how we got here and why it took so long. Over the last years the Church’s documents, Dies Domini, Liturgiam Authenticam, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, The Revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal, and Redemptionis Sacramentum, to name a few, have given helpful impetus to the continuing reform.
I have prayed much these past months for our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, as I imagine him laboring over his anticipated apostolic exhortation, fruit of the Synod on the Holy Eucharist. Let us pray for him.
And in the meantime, while in these days we reread and study where we have been and where we must go at the beckoning of Sacrosanctum Concilium, we ask for the light and fire of the Holy Spirit. This Gift will help us belong completely to the Church with filial trust, and at the same time cry “Abba” to the heavenly Father who is wanting to draw us to His Son. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him.” (Jn 6:44)
We turn to Mary, who adored the Father in spirit and in truth, and was more closely united to Christ’s sacrifice than any other human person: O Mother of the Word Incarnate, Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, despise not our petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer us. Amen.