Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Ave Maria!

Fourth Sunday of Lent--Lætáre Sunday30 March AD 2014

Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647)—The Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes—c.1620

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
Lenten Observance

    Today is called Lætáre Sunday, from the Latin first words of the Mass’s Introit: “Lætáre, Jerúsalem,” which mean “Rejoice Jerusalem,” and which are taken from the book of Isaias.[1]  Holy Church bids us “rejoice” because we have fulfilled a little bit more than half of our Lent—the suggestion is that after rejoicing today, we get back to the business of keeping a spiritually profitable Lenten observance.  The rose colored vestments reflect the idea of rejoicing, but we will go back to the darker purple for the rest of the season.  We had a number of important saints’ days fall during the past three weeks, with corresponding dispensations from the Lenten fasting—for the next three weeks the only notable saint’s feast will be that of Pope Saint Leo the Great, and even then there will not be a dispensation.

    The epistle this morning may seem a little strange.[2]  We live in an egalitarian society, so the notion of Abraham treating his two sons so differently seems odd to us.  The idea of a second wife and the lower rank of her children are Old Testament notions, foreign to us.  Saint Paul’s primary reason for writing about them is to remind us that through the redemptive act of Jesus Christ, men and women have been promoted to a new level by the action of sanctifying grace.

    This “new level” is sometimes described as Christian men and women becoming “heirs” of God the Father, “inheritors” so to speak of the Father’s bountiful kingdom—but, perhaps, it is more correct to say that grace makes us the adopted sons and daughters of God.

    Note that Christ died for the redemption of all mankind—we are all capable of receiving His grace—but not all people elect to do so.  We hear almost every Sunday in the reading of the Last Gospel:

    He came unto his own, and his own received him not.  But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name.[3]

    Saint John further describes the sons and daughters of God as:

    [Those] Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.  And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us … full of grace and truth.[4]

    Later this year, we will hear Saint Paul again, writing to the Romans

    Whosoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.  For you have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear; but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba (Father).[5]

    The Aramaic word “Abba” suggests a very intimate and personal relationship with the Father.  In English it might be as though His sons and daughters are allowed to call God “Dad,” or even “Daddy.”

    But let us be sure we understand what is required for us to achieve this intimate connection with God.

    Over time, the people of the Old Testament came to know that there is but one God, and that we must keep His commandments.  Some of them chafed under His rule—in the Exodus from Egypt we hear God calling them “perverse” and “unfaithful,” and even see them sacrificing their own children to the false “gods” of the people they encountered along the way.

    They provoked him by strange gods, and stirred him up to anger, with their abominations.  They sacrificed to devils and not to God … And he said: I will hide my face from them, and will consider what their last end shall be: for it is a perverse generation, and unfaithful children.[6]

    But eventually, they came to understand the Law of God as a precious gift, not given to any of the other nations:

    He has proclaimed His word to Jacob,  His statutes and His ordinances to Israël.  He has not done this for any other nation;  His ordinances He has not made known to them.[7]

    But the Law did not confer grace; nor did the rituals and sacrifices of the Law.  At best, it made God’s people just, and prepared them for the Kingdom of grace that would flow from the Sacrifice of the Cross.  The Sacrifice of the Cross would alter all of mankind’s relationship with God.  This redemption made it possible for men and women to do what was positively pleasing to the Father.  Remember:  By receiving Jesus Christ we are promoted from the ranks of the servants and become sons and daughters of God.  A father does not love his servants when they do what they are paid to do—but he does love his children, even when they do lesser things, but for the love of him.

    So how do we receive Jesus Christ—how do we receive His grace—and how do we take on this status of adoption?  We just barely begin to see the answer to this question in today’s Gospel.[8]

    It is nearly Passover and our Lord is preaching in the area around the Sea of Galilee.  Many of his listeners have come from a good distance, and He did not want to send them home without something to eat.  But a few loaves and fishes are all that they have.  So Jesus worked the miracle we just read about.  Thousands of people are fed from the few loaves and fishes, and a large amount of fragments are left over.  Clearly this is a precursor to the Holy Eucharist—the body and blood of Christ are miraculously made present wherever Holy Mass is celebrated, and they are shared by literally millions of people—with enough particles remaining that the body and blood, humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ can be retained in all the churches of the world.

    The reading is taken from the first few verses of Saint John’s sixth chapter—I am going to ask you to read the rest of the chapter when you go home.  It is an essential part of the Catholic Faith.  The people who witnessed this miraculous multiplication of loaves were then privileged to hear our Lord explain that His Father would give them “true bread from heaven” and that He Himself was that bread—

      I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall not hunger: and he that believeth in me shall never thirst…. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give, is my flesh, for the life of the world.[9]

    Not surprisingly, some in the crowd scoffed:  “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  It is very important to remember that He answered their doubts by reiterating what He had already said:

    Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.  He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day.[10]

    And when the doubters began to walk away, He did not call them back to say that He was speaking figuratively or symbolically—He did not call them back, because He meant exactly what He said.  He would give all those who believe in Him and His teachings His true Body and Blood.  He did this a year later, at the Passover in Jerusalem, just hours before His body and blood were offered in Sacrifice on the Cross.

    There are other Sacraments, of course.  Baptism is essential, Confession is extremely necessary, the others more or less so.  But it is from the Sacrifice of the Cross that all of the others derive their efficacy.  Priests are priests because they have received the power to offer this Sacrifice, they can hear Confessions because they share in this sacrificial atonement to God.  There would be no Baptism without the redemption of the Cross.

    The Sacraments are the means of grace by which we become God’s adopted children, and by which we grow in the holiness by which we hope to be united with our Father in eternity.  So, certainly, today is a day for rejoicing with Holy Mother Church.

    Rejoice today, but do be sure to get back to the Lenten observance to prepare well for Holy Week and Easter when we live out the Last Supper, the Sacrifice of the Cross, and our Lord’s glorious resurrection.

    Rejoice, and please don’t forget to read the rest of Saint John’s sixth chapter!


[2]   Epistle:  Galatians. iv: 22-31

[3]   John i: 11, 12

[6]   Deuteronomy xxxii: 16, 17, 20

[7]   Psalm cxlvii: 19-20   Confraternity version

[9]   John vi:32,  35, 51, 52

[10]   Verses 54, 55.

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