The feast of Pentecost is considered the birthday of the Church, the day on which we commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit and the infusion by that same Spirit of the apostles, thereby continuing the mission of Christ in the world. Last Sunday as we celebrated the feast of the ascension of the Lord we heard Christ promise: “I am with you always.” This Sunday, in the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and the supernatural foundation of the Church at Pentecost, we see that promise fulfilled in the first moments of the Church’s life. Jesus stays with us, teaching, governing, and sanctifying us by his ongoing presence in the Church.
C. S. Lewis, who is perhaps best known for his Chronicles of Narnia, was also a profound Christian thinker. Reading the Chronicles of Narnia aware of Lewis’ faith transforms those well-loved children’s stories into a rich narrative of the Christian life. Lewis was a practicing Anglican who, amidst the vast range of theological opinions amongst Anglicans, held views of the sacraments and the Church with which Catholics can (on the whole) be quite comfortable.
The month of May, dedicated as it is to the Blessed Virgin Mary, presents us with an opportunity to reflect upon the readiness of Our Lady to say yes to God. In the annunciation of the Lord’s will by the message of an angel, the young Mary freely and completely gave herself to God. This act we call her fiat, taken from the Latin phrase of scripture: Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum; let it be done unto me according to thy word (Lk. 1:38). Mary’s yes to the Lord made possible the great act of the incarnation—the coming amongst us of the Word made Flesh; the person of Jesus Christ. Mary’s selfless act of obedience undid the selfish act of disobedience of Eve, and it is for this reason that the Fathers of the Church often call Mary the new or second Eve.
At the heart of the great Easter Vigil, celebrated last Saturday evening, is the Blessing of the Font and the Renewal of Baptismal Promises. So important is this ritual that in this country the bishops have mandated that the Renewal of Baptismal Promises is to be repeated on Easter Sunday morning in order that those who did not attend the Easter Vigil do not miss out. As an extension of this every Sunday during the Easter Season we will begin the Sung Mass with the Rite for the Blessing and Sprinkling of Water in place of the usual Penitential Act. As we are showered with the water blessed by the Priest we recall the graces showered on us in our washing from sin in the waters of the font, and rejoice that through the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, which we have just celebrated in Holy Week, we are restored to paradise and to life in God.
For forty days and nights we have journeyed through the desert of the Season of Lent. Tonight we have reached our Promised Land. In the splendour and joy of this holy night the Church is incapable of restraint any longer, crying out Alleluia over and over again as she rejoices in the salvation brought to us by Christ her Lord. We, the Christian faithful united to Christ through a covenant sealed in his Precious Blood, are filled with that joy as we rejoice with the saints of every age and generation that Christ has saved us from ourselves. In him death is put to death; sin is itself crucified; we are freed from the slavery of our former lives and given eternal life by Christ in the kingdom of his beloved Father.
At the start of these three sacred days, known through the centuries as the Triduum Sacrum, the Church commemorates the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist and the Sacred Priesthood. Each time we come to the Mass we hear in the words of consecration uttered by the Priest of how “on the day before he was to suffer” the Lord took bread and wine, and offered it to his eternal Father before sharing it with his disciples. “In pronouncing the blessing over the bread and wine, [the Lord] anticipated the sacrifice of the Cross and expressed the intention of perpetuating his presence among his disciples” in his Real Presence in the Most Holy Eucharist. In the liturgy of this night we hear more specifically: “On the day before he was to suffer for our salvation and the salvation of all, that is today.” Today is thus the pre-eminent feast of the gift of the Most Holy Eucharist, the sacrament of unity in which we find not only our vocation to holiness—what Saint Thomas Aquinas calls “a pledge of future glory”—but also the very meaning of what it is to be the Church. As Christians we are baptised into the Mystical Body of Christ. We are, quite literally, incorporated in Christ. In the Most Holy Eucharist it is that one and the same Body that is offered and received. As Pope Benedict XVI put it: “The Eucharist is the mystery of the profound closeness and communion of each individual with the Lord and, at the same time, of visible unity between all.”
Almost 40 days ago we began our Lenten pilgrimage toward the great feast of Easter. We began with the dust and ash of Ash Wednesday, and we shall end with the living water and rebirth of Easter Sunday. This is a journey from death to life; from slavery to sin to true freedom in the perpetual light and beatitude—blessedness—of the heavenly kingdom. In walking this way we have followed the example of the Israelite people, who travelled for forty years through the desert from slavery to the Egyptians in a foreign land, to liberation in the Promised Land. Our journey does not take us from physical place to physical place, but it does bring us out from exile to the true Promised Land—our native land; the kingdom of heaven.
Over these weeks the gospel reading at our Sunday Mass has reflected on Christ’s ministry of healing, albeit in a variety ways. Two weeks ago we heard of the Samaritan woman at the well, offered the living water of life by Christ as the antidote to her life of sin. Last week we heard of the recovery of the sight of the man born blind; an analogy for our own cleansing from original sin. And this week we hear the familiar story of the raising of Lazarus.
The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are each rich with the narrative of the life and works of Christ. Together they make up what are known as the “synoptic gospels,” and over the course of a three year cycle the Church nourishes us with these narratives in the readings at Mass. In them we hear described in detail, and from various perspectives, the events of the life of Christ. Alongside these texts we often find ourselves diverted by a reading from the gospel according to Saint John. This gospel not only reinforces the narratives presented by the other three gospels, but also offers a mystical tone that demands a special effort in reading. Little in the text of the gospel according to Saint John is coincidental. Whereas the Matthew, Mark, and Luke provide a storyline for us to follow, John also uses specific words and ideas, in the context of retelling that narrative, to proclaim the great truths of our faith and in particular those regarding the person of Christ.
Given at a Solemn Mass celebrated according to Divine Worship: The Missal on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (Candlemas), in thanksgiving for the successful completion of the Doctorate in Canon Law.
We are gathered here this evening to celebrate the great event of the presentation of the Lord in the temple. Christ, the lumen ad revelationem gentium, has come to fulfil the promise of his Father. The narrative of his nativity comes to a close as we ourselves see the purpose of his condescension; his coming into our midst from the glories of heaven to bring salvation to man. That this takes place in the temple is itself a further sign: God continues to reveal himself to man in divine worship—the worship, ultimately, of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity, in which we are invited to participate here in earth.