SUMMARY 2: A SECOND FRAMEWORK-4 RITES, 4 WORDS
Last week, I offered a summary of our survey of the Mass with a set of “pointers” during the liturgy, that is, actions and words that “point toward” a deeper meaning and might invite us to pay closer attention to what we are doing on Sunday and whenever we celebrate together. Today, I want to offer another summary of the structure and meaning of our gathering in four words that suggest the four rites: Gathering (the Introductory Rites), Word (the Liturgy of the Word), Table (the Liturgy of the Eucharist) and Sending (the Dismissal Rite). I will treat them in two groupings: Word and Table, to unify the two central rites and Gathering and Sending, to unify the two ‘minor,’ but still meaningful, rites.
Word and Table:
The Table of the Word and the Eucharistic table are aspects of a single reality. The word of God is “living and effective,” it goes out from God and “does not return until it has accomplished” what it was sent to do. Ultimately, the word of God is Jesus, the full self-expression of God incarnate as a human being. The God of both the old covenant (testament) and the new covenant in the blood of Christ is the same God. The God who fed the Hebrews with manna in the desert is the God who, in Christ, fed the multitudes, broke bread with sinners and shared a meal with his disciples on the night before he died. The God of both covenants feeds his people not because his people are good but because God is good. God doesn’t feed people because we do good things. God feeds us like God sends the rain and sun, without regard for our goodness, but because God’s nature is to do what is good for those God loves. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
We proclaim the death of Jesus when we proclaim the gospel and share the meal as he did, as equals, as people committed to bringing the reign of God to the world without boundaries: “no man nor woman, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free.” We speak the word of God, we tell the truth, we live the truth out in our assembly, and then we live and speak the truth in the rest of our lives. “We pray for the poor and then we feed them,” to paraphrase Pope Francis. “That’s how prayer works.”
Gathering and Sending:
The beginning and ending of every Eucharist are reminders that we come from the world and we go back to it. The Sunday assembly is a waystation on the journey of life, just as the Church in the world is on a continuum through time. We are called together by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit breathed into us in Baptism and Confirmation, given the mission of the Messiah (Christ) in his cross and resurrection to announce the reign of God in the world. Note that I say “announce,” not “bring.” God’s reign is already here. Getting to it is a matter of turning around, changing our goal and values in order to see it and begin living in it.
We have unusual faith in an unusual God. Most of the gods of earth look and act just like us. That’s because we made them. But we are made in God’s image. We come from love; we are meant for love. In God’s reign, everyone belongs. There are no outsiders. There is no in-group and out-group-everyone belongs in the family of God. Everyone is in, but they don’t know it. They need to be told, “shown the ropes,” reassured that real life is not business as usual in the world but the life of belief in the reign of God.
We are gathered we are sent. We are called together; we are pushed out toward others. We are part of the inner life of God who is love, whose very life is always creatively expanding to affirm, nurture and be present to the other. Church is belonging and mission.
In the great mystery of the Eucharist, we are called to this life every week, throughout our lives. We are partners in saving the world. Without God, we cannot do it. Without us, God will not do it. Let’s get going.