Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Ps 66, Rev 21:10-14, 22-23; Jn 14:23-29
Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your Apostles: I leave you peace, my peace I give you. These words are very, very familiar to Catholics the world over. They form part of the Communion Rite and teach us much about the liturgy we celebrate each Sunday when we gather for Mass. Specifically, they teach us much about why and how we celebrate the liturgy.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples: Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you. So we can see that our liturgy, our celebration of the Eucharist, directly finds its roots in sacred scripture. But we notice, also, that it is not simply a parrot-like repeat of the words from Jesus. Does this mean that we have it wrong? Does this mean that the Mass fails to follow the words of our Saviour? No, it does not.
Liturgy, like all prayer, is dynamic. It is not static, it does not stay put in one place and at one time, rather it reflects, feeds and nourishes our spiritual lives in Christ. We cannot hope to maintain a personal relationship with Jesus if we fail to attend to our liturgy and we cannot participate fully in the liturgy if we fail to live our lives in union with Christ. Put simply, Jesus feeds us through his word and body, most especially during the great celebration of thanksgiving; The Mass.
Almost half a century ago the Council Fathers led us in a reform of the liturgy. Many changes were made, some good, some not so good, but all for the greater glory of God and the sanctification of his people. One of the most revolutionary changes was the move to celebrate the Mass in the vernacular, in the language of the people. It brought about a brave new world where all peoples could come to know the words of the prayers in use; could hear the words and understand them. Yet clearly there remained a sense of the sacred. If prayer be communication with God then we must use a language which is familiar to both the listener and the talker, a language familiar to God and man. That language is, of course, the liturgy itself. Whether it be Latin, English, Spanish, Greek, Gaelic or Urdu it mattered little compared to the need to ensure it spoke with reverence, due dignity and above all, noble simplicity.
This doesn’t mean, however, that we just change the liturgy at will. ‘Whatever suits Father’ is never a good maxim. The liturgy we celebrate today is precisely that which Jesus instituted when he said ‘do this in memory of me’. Yet we know also that this remembrance is an action, an action begun by the Son, directed to the Father and continued in the Holy Spirit. We are engaged in this action of the Holy Trinity, we are in the midst of God himself. It doesn’t get any better than this.
And yet through our words and actions, our liturgy, God comes to us and makes us holy. He speaks to us through these words and actions and we, therefore, are nourished. This is why we need to come to Mass every week; to be fed. The simple truth is that God has no need of our praise and yet such is his love for us that he let’s all the peoples praise him: Let the peoples praise you, O God, let all the peoples praise you. Indeed, we do praise him, every Sunday and holy day of obligation. Isn’t it good to praise our God, isn’t it good to visit the heavenly Jerusalem, isn’t it good that we should be here today!
My peace I give you. This peace, which we know the world cannot give, is freely available to us through our liturgy. When we celebrate well the mystery of our salvation then we will experience this peace. How often have I heard people say that they come to Mass for the peace they get? There is something in this peace which sustains us and enables us to continue in our battle over evil. There is something in this peace which is the pearl beyond price. There is something in this peace which can only ever be won when we come to Church, when we participate in the liturgy.
The peace of the Lord be with you always!