Sunday, 15 November 2009

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Today is the 2nd last Sunday of the liturgical year. There is a feeling that we are neither here nor there because the readings will be some sort of a repeat next week! The 1st Reading and the Gospel are apocalyptic enough as they warn us of the impending end time. Daniel gives a vision of the resurrection and also the reward or the retribution for how we live this life. We know that the end time will come. Just that the Gospel tells that that time is known only to God. Thankfully, we have the 2nd Reading as it ties in very well with the theme: The eternal perfection of all whom Christ is sanctifying.

The 2nd Reading is the occasion for the misunderstanding of some people of what we do here every Sunday. We celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass. But, for some time, especially after Vatican II, we began to call the Mass by any other name except that of a sacrifice. We thought of the Mass as a memorial meal because we were supposed to remember a meal that Jesus had with the disciples before His passion on the Cross. Or, in many cases, it was basically considered a fellowship meal as its function was reduced to helping us build our relationship with one another. But, the Mass is more than just a memory of the past and the occasion for fellowship. It is the perfect sacrifice of Christ offered once and for all. At this point, I would like to make a little digression here. If the Mass were basically a fellowship meal, then both the posture and the music must serve that function. For example: a less solemn and easier going posture and the music light and easy. [One of the Pater nosters that some choirs use sounds like “Puff the Magic Dragon”]. But if the Mass is sacrifice, then the posture, for example, the priest facing the Crucifix, and the music solemn makes more sense. Later, I will say more of why the posture and music is important.

But, for now, let me return to the phrase "offered once and for all" because it raises a fundamental question. There in Hebrews, it clearly says that Christ does not have to offer Himself again and again, like the high priest going into the sanctuary year after year. Thus, if Christ offered Himself as sacrifice on Calvary once and for all, then what are we doing here?

Let us see how we can answer this. First, Calvary and the Last Supper are inseparably linked because they are both the one and the same sacrifice. The Gospel of John gives you a glimpse of that close connexion. When the soldier pierced His side to see if He were dead, according to John’s Gospel, blood and water gushed out. The Church interprets the blood and water to be the fountain of sacramental life, namely the sacraments of Eucharist and baptism. You hear this beautiful description in the Preface for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Second, if we accept that Calvary and the Last Supper were one event, then we begin to understand that there is a difference between "time" and "time". The ancient Greeks make a distinction between two experiences of time. One is chronological in the sense that there is a past, present and future. Our common experience of time is linear which means that an event has a beginning or an ending in time. As such, chronological time is quantitative because you can measure it. However, there is another time which is more qualitative and they call it “kairos” and the quality of this time is an experience of eternity. Why? Because, for God, all time is the same in which the present takes in the past as it projects the future. Even though both the Last Supper and Calvary are chronological events in the past, meaning that they happened some two thousand years ago but they are, in God, events that are still present and so in a sense, they can touch our lives here and now. Therefore, kairos transcends chronos because it is a kind of time in which a reality, even though past, becomes ever-present. This kind of time, kairos, is the basis for us to say that at baptism, we enter into the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, even though chronologically, the passion, death and resurrection of Christ happened more than 2000 years ago.

Hence, kairos is the basis for the “anamnesis” of our Mass. The command, “Do this in memory of me” is not a commemoration of the past in the sense that we are simply recollecting a past event in chronological time. Instead, it is a living memory in the sense that we are calling to mind that there is an event that has the capacity to touch our lives even now. Anamnesis means that we are present in the kairos sense at the Last Supper. The Eucharist we celebrate now is thus a sacrifice because through it, with it and in it, we are perpetually making present the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. Now I return to the earlier point I made about posture and music. The posture of facing the Crucifix is appropriately sacrificial. We are making ourselves present to Christ being present to us in offering Himself [and we with Him] as sacrifice to the Father.

It is precisely this re-presenting that allows the theme to speak of the Eucharist as the “eternal perfection of all whom Christ is sanctifying”. Only the sacrifice of Christ can take away our sins and make us holy. And this act of Christ is only possible if we can in some way come face to face with THE event that took place chronologically 2000 years ago. The Council of Trent through the Doctrine on the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass taught that, “in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the mass, that same Christ is contained and immolated in an unbloody manner, who once offered Himself in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross... For the victim is one and the same, the same now offering by the ministry of priests, who then offered Himself on the cross, the manner alone of offering being different”. [22nd Session of Trent. Doctrine on the Sacrifice of the Mass]. Thus, the sacrifice of the Mass is the very action of Christ washing away our sins with His Blood shed on the altar of the Cross.

So, brothers and sisters, we are warned that chronological time is apocalyptic. It can come to an end and the worst possible scenario is painted by Daniel and Christ: to be caught unawares. And yet, kairotic time gives us the assurance that we will never be caught unawares, that is, if we keep before us the true source of our sustenance: Christ Himself who becomes present to us really through the Sacrifice of the Mass that we celebrate every Sunday.