Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Second Sunday after Pentecost—14 June AD 2009
Sunday Within the Octave of Corpus Christi

Ordinary of the Mass

Mass Text Latin - Sunday within the Octave
Mass Text English - Sunday within the Octaveh

English Mass Text - Corpus Christi
Latin Mass Text - Corpus Christi

    Today is the second Sunday after Pentecost—and, since 1264, by decree of Pope Urban IV, it is the Sunday within the Octave of Corpus Christi—thus the white [or gold] vestments, and the second prayers sung in today’s Mass.

    Anyone who has ever given a party understands the underlying message of today’s Gospel.  A few weeks in advance you send out invitations, and your friends think it is a great idea.  Just about everyone you invite says he will be there.  But, the day before the party, the telephone begins to ring, and people begin to leave excuses as to how some terribly important thing has forced them to change their plans:  “I really wish I could be there;  maybe next time.”  Such excuses may be socially annoying, but one gets used to them and life goes on.

    But our Lord is telling a parable—one of those stories that describe something in terms of something else, usually “the kingdom of heaven” in terms of things and activities familiar to the people of Palestine in His time.  It should be pretty clear, then, that the man hosting the supper is no mere party-giver, but is God himself, inviting men and women to eternal happiness.

    Saint Augustine says that the man is Jesus Christ, and those making the excuses were God’s originally chosen people.[1]  Our Lord had sent out invitations many times through the prophets of the Old Testament to the descendants of Abraham.  Sometimes they killed the prophets, as they would deliver Jesus over to the Romans to be put to death.  Augustine seems to rejoice that by excluding themselves from the Supper of the Lord, the excuse makers have caused Christ to force the Gentiles to replace them at the Supper.  We find ourselves in a fortunate position that might not have been so easily ours had the original invitees not made their excuses.

    Augustine goes on to explain the excuses, somewhat metaphorically.  Those that must go and see their lands are people who sought dominion and power.  They do not wish to attend the banquet of Christ because doing so would admit that their dominion and power is very limited indeed, in comparison with the power of Christ.

    He likens the five yoke of oxen to the five senses:  sight, hearing, tasting, and so forth.  He says that those making the excuse about the oxen are those curious people, always poking into other peoples’ business, concerned with the things of the earth, and having no interest in the things of heaven.

    The excuse of just having married a wife comes from those who are consumed by earthly passions and pleasures, and who cannot imagine seeking the fine pleasures of heaven and the love of Almighty God.

    The holy Pope Saint Gregory the Great commented on this same Gospel passage, echoing many of Saint Augustine’s insights, and giving us at least two of his own.[2]  Although he agrees with Augustine that the excuse of a new marriage represents those drawn away from Christ by the pleasures of the world, Pope Gregory emphatically points out that “marriage is good and established by divine providence for the getting of offspring.”  (Augustine tends to have a touch of the Manichean remaining in him when he writes about marriage.)  However Saint Gregory does disparage those “who do not seek [marriage] for the sake of children, but only for bodily pleasure.” [3]

    Pope Saint Gregory also gives us a valuable lesson about the difference between spiritual and material delights—a difference that helps us understand why some are not attracted to the spiritual life, and suggests a remedy.  “The absence of material pleasures tends to heighten the desire for them; but when we possess them and enjoy them fully, they quickly become cloying.”  Too much to eat, too much to drink, too much of anything material, and we loose interest and may even be turned away; at least for a time.

    “In contrast,” Pope Gregory continues, “the delights of the spirit seem unattractive only as long as they are not sampled;  but once we do possess them, the desire grows, and the more we partake of them, the more we hunger for them.[4]  If prayer, and spiritual reading, and attendance at Holy Mass do not delight us, it is only because we have not truly sampled and allowed ourselves to enjoy these “delights of the spirit.”

    If we make the mistake of treating spiritual things as though they were material things—for example, if we say our prayers purely by rote;  or if we read spiritual words without considering their meaning, or if our attendance at Mass is no more than enduring a hard wooden bench for forty-five minutes or an hour—we remain in the domain of material things and fail to enter into that of the spiritual.  Prayer needs to be a consideration of God and holy things;  spiritual reading must be meditated and allowed to draw us to God;  and attendance at Mass must be an acknowledgement that we are actually standing at the foot of the Cross, and actually partaking of our Lord’s Body and Blood at His Supper.

    It we are not delighted by the things of God, it is only because we have not tried them with due consideration.

    Now, Saint Augustine wrote and preached at the beginning of the fifth century.  Pope Saint Gregory the Great flourished toward the end of the sixth century.  Both came at least six hundred years before Pope Urban IV established the feast of Corpus Christi, honoring our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, and placing this Sunday within its Octave.  Had they written later on, they might have interpreted the excuses made for not attending the supper in the Gospel just a little bit differently.

    The first group, concerned for their lands but not for the Supper of the Lord, remain, as Augustine suggested, those descendants of Abraham who rejected the Prophets and crucified our Lord.  This would include, particularly those who today reject even the religion of Moses and the Prophets; whose “religion” consists mostly in obsessive desire to possess the Holy Land without regard for the rights of its other inhabitants.  They may not appreciate it, but we must pray for their conversion.

    In today’s world, the second group, concerned for their dumb animals and rejecting the Gospel’s Supper, are those who have received Christianity and may even call themselves “Catholics,” but have rejected the Mass as the authentic re-presentation of the Last Supper and the Sacrifice of the Cross.  I refer to the followers of Martin Luther, of course, but also to Modernist “Catholics” who deny that our Lord established a priesthood;  who trivialize or disbelieve in the Real Presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament;  to those who dispute the sacrificial nature of the Mass;  and those who preach that Jesus was no more than a man who became God, and Who suffered not for our sins, but merely in solidarity with those beset by worldly troubles.[5] [6] [7] [8] [9]  They too may not appreciate it, but we must pray for their conversion.

    The third group are those who profess the Catholic Faith, perhaps even with complete orthodoxy, but have refused to go beneath the material surface of the Catholic religion;  those who have not “sampled its spiritual delights” as Gregory the Great would have said—those who pray by rote, read words without understanding, and endure the wooden bench.  For them also we must pray, that they may come to sample and take delight in the things of the spirit which they have mistakenly treat like material things.

    Let us pray for all of these groups of people who make excuses—the people mentioned by Saint Augustine and Pope Saint Gregory, and those who come to mind now that we celebrate this Mass within the Octave of Corpus Christi.  May all of them be moved to come and sit down and enjoy the mystical Supper prepared by Jesus Christ for those who love Him.  

    And may all of us do the same!


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