Saturday, 22 March 2008

Easter Vigil, Year A, Shaftesbury

Mt 28:1-10
Turn off lights, leave Paschal candle and altar candles lit, read sermon using a little candle.
I want to say a few words about 2 things: hope, and the symbolism of the Easter Candle.

Pope Benedict recently wrote an encyclical on hope. He commented on the fact that many people in our modern society live without hope, they live thinking that this world is all there is, they live thinking that things can’t really get better, or, if they can get better only as a rather limited this-worldly utopia. Many of us will know people who have this kind of existential despair. Some of us will have known it ourselves, or may periodically feel bouts of it.

If life consists only of life in this world, and, as it evident, there is much suffering in this world: How can we hope? What can ‘hope’ possibly mean?

The light in the darkness, is the sign of the reality that is our Hope, and that Hope has a name, and His name is ‘Christ’.
The light in the darkness is a sign that the darkness has not triumphed. Even when darkness seems to have nearly encompassed everything, the light remains. Darkness is real, but it has not triumphed.

To move from the sign to the reality, we must look to the Empty Tomb. The Empty Tomb contains the clearest sign that Death has not triumphed, in fact, Death has been defeated.
Death, judging by the rules of what those without faith think they know, there is no overcoming Death.
But if we look to Him who left the Empty Tomb, then Faith teaches us that Death can be overcome because Death HAS been overcome.
Death and suffering are real, but they are not the final word, and they will ultimately be extinguished by the light that was not extinguished.

We heard in that Gospel text, angel said, “He is not here. He has risen as He said He would.”
“as he said he would” –these words are pivotal.
These words tell us He is Lord, he is the master of time and Lord of History.
“as he said he would” –He knows what He is about, and He is doing it.

To come back to the candle: The blessing words I said as I traced the symbols on it:
He is the “alpha and omega”, Greek for: He is the Beginning and the End
“All time belongs to Him” –why every year the date of the year is put on the candle: 2008.
He is the cause of creation, and He is bringing creation to Himself.

Not even the death and suffering that entered this world with sin can stop His plan.
He took death in His hands on the Cross and defeated it.
Five grains of incense, for the five wounds of the cross, were pressed into the Easter Candle
Why? To show that He has sanctified suffering
He has made it an offering to the Father
He has made it the means of our transition to new life.

The light of the Easter candle is not yet spread through the whole world, and has not yet spread through the whole if any one of us here
But it is the sign that the light cannot be extinguished
And will, in fact, be triumphant and extinguish darkness.
Faith knows this in the mind, grasps it as the truth that endures in darkness.
Hope, the hope that Pope Benedict reminds us must characterise a Christian in our modern world, hope does not just know this in the mind, but in the will, sets the heart on the goal of Christ, on the goal of the Light that cannot be extinguished, the light that enables us to hope even in darkness, the hope that enables us to make sense of the angel’s words: “Do not be afraid”.
This is what the candle shows us.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Maundy Thursday, Shaftesbury

Tonight we remember 2 of the greatest gifts Christ had given us. And, how they were given to us at a crucial moment. Jesus knew what lay ahead of him, he knew that he was leaving his disciples behind. And often, when we leave someone, we try and give them something, something to remember us by, something to continue to make us present. And the gifts that Christ gave the Church at the Last Supper are the gifts of the Mass and the priesthood.

I spent many of the earlier years not knowing why it is that Catholics always have Mass when we gather. Is it because we can’t think of anything better to do? Catholics say Mass because this is the thing that Christ commanded us to do: “Do THIS in memory of me” he said at the Last Supper. He commanded us to do this because this is where he gives himself to us. And this is also where he gives us the perfect prayer.

One of the things that makes us human is our need to pray. All through human history, humans have tried to find a suitable way to pray. We can see this in the pagan temples of so many ancient ruins. But humans have struggled to find an act of worship that is worthy of God. They’ve offered crop sacrifices, animal sacrifices, even human sacrifices. All trying to find something that is worthy of an infinite and all-powerful God.

The perfect prayer could only be offered by Jesus Christ himself. As perfect God his prayer has infinite value. As perfect man he can offer his prayer on behalf of all mankind. This perfect prayer is what he offered on the Cross. All prayer is a gift of self, and he offered his whole self in his life on the Cross. So, as the Catechism says(CCC2606; 2746ff), his prayer on the Cross summed up and drew together all the prayers, all the intercessions that have ever been expressed in human history –those offered before he died, and even those offered afterwards, like those we offer now (because God is beyond our limits of time).

But that perfect prayer on the Cross, that perfect act of worship, isn’t just a dead thing in the past –it’s a living thing in the Church today. When we pray, we are praying through it. And Christ has given us a way to unite ourselves to it, and that’s the Mass. The Mass isn’t a prayer separate from the Cross, it is not a different prayer that Christ left us. The sacrifice of the Mass is the very same as the sacrifice of the Cross. It is, in fact, the sacrifice of Jesus made present again on our altars, and offered up again to the Father on our behalf. This is his great gift to us in the Mass.

Any sacrifice involves death, and as St. Paul said, each time we do this, we proclaim his death (1Cor 11:26). On the Cross, the sign of Christ’s death was his blood separating from his body, draining out of the wound in his side. The sign of that separation is renewed in every Mass when the priest says, “This is my Body”; “This is my Blood”. And this isn’t just a sign –it’s the reality too. The bread totally becomes his Body, the wine becomes his Blood.
And this isn’t a dead sacrifice. Because of the resurrection, it is a living sacrifice. When his Body + Blood are made present, they are the sacrifice of Calvary, offered again on our altar.

There are many things that link the Last Supper with the Cross. It was at the Last Supper that Jesus predicted Judas would betray him, and it was from the Last Supper table that Judas went to do his dirty deed. What happened that night was looking ahead and anticipating the events of Good Friday. And what he gave us in the Last Supper, what he gave us in the Mass, is the memorial of his death on the Cross.

There is a desire in us, as human beings, to offer a suitable prayer to God. And this most perfect and most suitable of all prayers is what he has given us in the Mass:
“Do THIS in memory of me