Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost—7 September AD 2008
“By the sanctifying grace of Thy sacraments, O almighty God, may our passions be subdued and our eternal salvation assured.”

He shall come again to judge the living and the dead.

 Ordinary of the Mass
English Text
Latin Text

    If you own a missal—and it really is a good idea to have one—you might find it helpful to read the texts for the day before Mass starts.  It won’t take but a few minutes, but if you start with the Introit (or Entrance Hymn) and read through to the Postcommunion prayer, you will often find that the Mass has an underlying theme or motif connecting all of the prayers and readings together.  The theme for today’s readings seems to be preparation for the coming of our Lord on Judgment day—preparation so that we may await him in a sinless state of grace.

    “Thou art just, O Lord, and Thy laws are right ... happy are they whose way is blameless; who walk in the law of the Lord.”[1]

    The collect continues this theme:  “Grant, O Lord, unto Thy people grace to withstand the temptations of the devil, and with pure minds to follow Thee, the only God.”  In the traditional Mass we often hear a number of collects, and the one prayed during this season after Pentecost is a prayer to obtain the assistance of the Saints:  “Defend us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, from all dangers of mind and body; that through the intercession of ... all the saints, mercifully grant us safety and peace;  that all adversities and errors being overcome, Thy Church may serve Thee in security and freedom.”  The third collect this morning asked God’s protection against the power of the hurricanes.  Some of these requests are for our well-being in the here and now, but, ultimately, that well-being ought to be a time of living the spiritual life in preparation for life in heaven.

    Saint Paul’s letter was directed to the Christians at Ephesus (in modern day Turkey), but it is equally instructive for us.  His theme presupposes the love of fellow man that our Lord urges in the Gospel, but it goes a little bit farther.  The love that we have for our neighbors ought to unite us with them in the society of the Church—we are urged to be united in “one Lord, one faith, one baptism. One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all.”[2]  Each person is responsible for his own salvation, through his faith and his conduct, but by joining with our fellow Christians in the Church, we have three things:

    The first is a powerful means of mutual support in living a holy life.  Sometimes, when we are tempted, it is good to have the advice and the support of those who have experienced and overcome the same temptations.  Sometimes it is good to have the fraternal correction of those trying to keep us from making the same mistakes they once made.

    The second is the power of the Sacraments to make us holy.  Baptism and Confession, of course, but also the continuing nourishment of Holy Mass—something we can do each day to unite ourselves intimately with our Lord in Holy Communion.  In Holy Communion were are united to Jesus Christ, and we are also united to one another.  Think about that:  If Jesus is within me, and within you, and within him, and within her, and if Jesus is one, then Jesus is like a point on a sheet of paper.  If I draw my circle around the point, and you draw your circle, and she draws her circle, our circles have to overlap (or be one within another)—it is not possible for them to be completely separate.  We are individuals, but as that collect told us that when we are granted “safety and peace;  [and] all adversities and errors being overcome, Thy Church may serve Thee in security and freedom.”  The Church is constituted of Its members, with Jesus Christ as Its Head, leading us in the public worship and service of God the Father.

    The Gospel sheds its unique light on the theme of the Mass.  It first reiterates the two great commandments of the law.  I say “reiterates” because we heard them only a few weeks ago in that Gospel about the Good Samaritan.[3]  We are to love God with our whole heart, and mind, and strength, and soul—and then we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Clearly, this too is an injunction to live the spiritual life of God on earth, in order to prepare to live it, as well, in heaven.

    The second part of the Gospel, where our Lord asks the Pharisees, “What think you of the Christ; whose son is He?”—that part might seem a little cryptic to you, particularly if you are not familiar with the Psalms.  If I might digress just a little bit, I will remind you that the Psalms were the religious poetry of the Jewish people, more than poems they were hymns that might be sung as they traveled in groups about the countryside.  Some of the Psalms taught the history of the People.  Some were penitential in nature.  Nearly all of the Psalms glorified God in some way.  And some spoke about the Messias who was to come and deliver His people from the bondage of sin.  Nearly all of the Psalms were more or less attributed to the authorship of King David, the father of Solomon, and ultimately the remote ancestor of Jesus Christ.

    In today’s Gospel the Pharisees, familiar with the Messianic traditions and the Psalms correctly answered that the Christ was “David’s” son.  But then our Lord quoted one of the Messianic Psalms (Psalm 109):  “The Lord said to my Lord, sit Thou at my right hand until I make Thine enemies thy footstool.”  Well, since these are the words of King David, he is quoting God the Father (The Lord) and the Father is addressing the Messias, to whom David refers as “my Lord.”  Even though the Messias will take his human flesh from the descendents of King David, the Messias will be David’s superior, and not his inferior, as would be a great-great-grandchild.  At least indirectly, King David is acknowledging the divinity of the Messias, for the King is God’s anointed on earth, and King David acknowledges the Messias as his Lord.

    The Pharisees would have known Psalm 109 by heart (you might want to go home and read it for yourself from your Bible).  They knew immediately that the Psalm told other important things about the Messias:  He was “begotten before the daystar,” a theologically correct expression that the Second Person of the Trinity was “begotten, not made”—and that he was “begotten” before all creation; in this case, before the creation of the Sun, the “daystar.”[4]

    Psalm 109 also goes on with the Father proclaiming that the Messias is “a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedec.”[5]  Melchisedec, you will recall was the king and priest who offered a sacrifice in bread and wine for Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, back in the book of Genesis.[6]  Thus the Messias would be both King and Priest—and His sacrifice, under the appearances of bread and wine, would replace the burnt animal offerings of the Old Law.

    These ideas must have frightened the Pharisees, for they were the proud descendents of the Machabees, who fought and died for the Old Law and the Temple where the sacrifices were offered, and who hoped for the restoration of the Jewish king and kingdom.  It did not sit well with them that Messias begotten before creation was going to replace both their temple and their throne.

    The Gospel records that they stopped asking Him questions—perhaps for fear of what other unsettling things they might learn.

    But we have learned that the Messias will “come again to judge the living and the dead, and of His kingdom there shall be no end.”[7]  And with this knowledge we are urged to live a holy life, following the Commandments, loving God and our neighbor, joining with our neighbors in the Church to worship God and to grow in the spiritual life.

    The theme of this Mass concludes with the prayer we call the Postcommunion—after we have received Holy Communion and had a few moments to meditate on God within us and uniting us to each other:

“By the sanctifying grace of Thy sacraments, O almighty God, may our passions be subdued and our eternal salvation be assured.”



[1]   Introit:  Psalm cxviii: 137, 1.

[2]   Epistle:  Ephesians iv: 1-6.

[3]   Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost:  Luke x: 23-37.

[4]   Verse 3.

[5]   Verse 4.

[6]   Genesis xiv: 18.

[7]   Nicene Creed.






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