Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
Had it not been for the calendar reform
of Pope Saint Pius X, or if today were not Sunday, we would be celebrating
the feast of the Holy Name of Mary, for “on September 12th 1683, after a
forced march begun in Poland on the August 15th feast of the Assumption, John
Sobieski turned back the 300,000 Moslem invaders besieging Vienna. The feast of
the Holy Name of Mary was inscribed in the calendar of the Universal Church by
Pope Innocent XI «as a perpetual memorial of the great blessing of that signal
victory won at Vienna in Austria over the cruel Turkish tyrant who had been
grinding down the Christian people.»”
Don’t anyone worry—I am not going to
preach about burning the Koran. But Catholics ought to be aware of the
nature of Islam, and one way of becoming aware is to pay attention to the number
of feasts in the Church calendar which celebrate the repulsion of Moslem
invasions over roughly thirteen centuries.
“Every one that exalteth himself, shall be
and he that humbleth himself, shall be exalted.”
As Catholics, we are sometimes
criticized by outsiders for having too many external things in our
religion. Holy water, palms, and ashes ... fish on Fridays, the Sign of
the Cross, and genuflections ... rosaries and scapulars for the laity, fancy
vestments and head gear for the clergy, incense, and an ancient language in the
Mass. What our critics fail to realize is that the Jews of the Old
Testament, up until the time of Christ, had many similar external things.
Perhaps more to the point, a fair amount
of the Jewish externals were prescribed by God Himself. Jewish men were to
have fringes or tassels on their garments;
men and women habitually covered their heads; men wore phylacteries or tefillin
(ןיליפת), which are leather boxes containing
brief prayers, on their foreheads and arm while praying, as well as prayer
shawls. Oil lamps or candles were lit to welcome the Sabbath, and to
memorialize the death anniversaries of loved ones. The ancient liturgical
language, Hebrew, was the language of Jewish prayer even though Palestinian Jews
all spoke Aramaic in daily life.
In the Temple, the priest “shall be
vested with a linen tunick, he shall cover his nakedness with linen breeches: he
shall be girded with a linen girdle, and he shall put a linen mitre upon his
Water was used for purification,
but more commonly things were sprinkled with blood, and occasionally with ashes.
And just as in the Catholic church, the Temple had a tabernacle in which dwelt
the true presence of the Living God, and sacrifice was offered daily before that
In this morning’s Gospel we encounter
one of the greatest external rituals of the Old Testament, the observance of the
Sabbath. On the seventh day of the week, the Jew was to do no work—not
he, not his wife or children, not his servant, not even his animals. He
chopped no wood, gathered no sticks, built no fire, cooked no food, washed no
dish—all of these things had to be done before or after the Sabbath.
“A Jew was permitted to travel 2,000 cubits on the Sabbath (Exod. 16: 29 and
Num. 35: 5), about 1.2 km. (3/4 mile), and the Mount of Olives was within this
distance from Jerusalem (Acts 1: 12).”
By God’s command, the cities of the Levites were designed to fit within
a Sabbath day’s journey.
On the Sabbath, the Old Testament Jew went to the synagogue, or to the Temple if
he lived in Jerusalem, where sacrifices would be offered.
Breaking the Sabbath was a capital
crime: “Six days shall you do work: in the seventh day is the
Sabbath, the rest holy to the Lord. Every one that shall do any work on this
day, shall die.”
Today’s Gospel finds our Lord in the house of a Pharisee,
invited to dinner; that is, “to eat bread.” One can be sure that the
dinner was strictly according to the regulations of the Sabbath, prepared in
advance so no work would be done—precisely because the Pharisees took great
delight is showing off how well they kept the Jewish Law of Moses. As our
Lord condemned them elsewhere: “All their works they do for to be
seen of men.” The Pharisee had to be larger than life. “For
they make their phylacteries broad, and enlarge their fringes. And they love the
first places at feasts, and the first chairs in the synagogues, And salutations
in the market place, and to be called by men, Rabbi.”
It is likely that our Lord knew He was in no danger of
being accused of Sabbath-breaking when He healed the man with dropsy—He knew
for a fact that no one, not even a Pharisee, would abandon his animal fallen
into a pit, much less a fellow man—but He also knew that their vainglorious
pride would keep them from admitting such. “They remained silent.”
Then He took them to task for their conceit in taking the best places—the
“first seats”—at table.
It is essential that we understand that our Lord was not
telling anyone that they should stop keeping the customs of the Jewish people.
Many of these customs were praiseworthy; indeed, commanded by God Himself;
they were in no way to be abandoned by the Jews. Many of these customs
were public actions—some were even prescribed by God as the public worship of
the Temple—They could not be hidden. Nor should they be
hidden—for when the pious person performs the customs of God’s religion, he
gives glory to God. What our Lord condemned was the practice of religious
custom with the intention of giving glory to one’s self, rather than to God.
If you have been following the Scripture outline we publish
in the Bulletin, last week your read the Book of Ecclesiasticus. It
described the proper Jewish conduct at dinner: “If you are chosen to
preside at dinner, be not puffed up, but with the guests be as one of
themselves; take care of the first before you sit down; when you have
fulfilled your duty, then take your place to share in their joy and [you will]
win praise for your hospitality ... you may talk ... but temper your wisdom, and
do not disturb the singing.”
The Jewish ideal was precisely what our Lord said: If you humble yourself
you will win praise.
If we put this lesson into a modern day context, we will
see that for us, just as for the Jews of our Lord’s time, it is praiseworthy
to keep the customs of our holy Faith. But we must keep them because they
give glory to God, and not because they make us somehow noteworthy.
One ought not to be afraid to be a Catholic and—apart
from times of serious persecution—to be seen acting like a Catholic.
Your Rosary ought to be in your hand when you pray it, even walking about—not
in your pocket, and certainly not at home in your drawer, behind the socks.
Wear your scapular, even at the beach. If you know the responses at Mass,
say them, even though there are others who do not. If you can sing the
hymns, do so—if you are off key, those on key will just have to sing a little
louder. Don’t be afraid to order fish on Friday, to make the Sign of the
Cross, and to recite the blessing—whether you are alone, with family, at home,
or in a restaurant. There are many other Catholic customs, and we should
keep them faithfully. But, do
all these things for the glory of God—not to achieve notoriety by standing out
from the crowd—not to glorify yourself at God’s expense.
Finally, realize that it is not always possible to know why
other people do things or don’t do them. None of us have the ability to
read minds and to know what is in the hearts of others. You have no way of
knowing why someone is wearing a particularly large cross around his neck, nor
do you have any way to know why he doesn’t sing the hymns in church. One
ought to assume the best about people until they demonstrate otherwise.
Worry about your own behavior—worry about your own vainglory—worry about
your own lack zeal for the honor of God.
“Every one that exalteth himself, shall be humbled;
and he that humbleth himself, shall be exalted.”