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
Saint Augustine says that the man is Jesus Christ, and
those making the excuses were God’s originally chosen people.
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.
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.”
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.”
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
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.
may all of us do the same!