6th Sunday of Easter
Preached May 26, 2019; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
Last Sunday I spoke about the new heaven and the new earth, the new Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven from God – a reality that is already fully realized in the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary – and about the indwelling of the Most Holy Trinity in the souls of the baptized as a here and now participation in the reality of the heavenly kingdom. Both those themes are taken up in today’s readings, the 2nd reading and the Gospel.
Today, I want to speak about this same reality in relation to the Mass.
The 2nd reading elaborates a little on what we heard last week. Once again the new Jerusalem is described as coming down out of heaven from God. It is described now as radiant with the glory of God. It also has twelve gates guarded by twelve angels, three to the east, three to the north, three to the south, and three to the west. It also has twelve foundation stones with the names of the twelve apostles. Also, it some verses that were skipped over the city is described as being layout in a perfect square.
Now one thing the congregation never sees on the altar, though the ministers do see it, is what is called the ‘corporal’, the linen cloth on which the vessels that hold the Body of Christ are set. The corporal marks out a sort ‘altar’ within the altar.
Traditionally, the linen corporal has been seen as a reminder of the burial shroud of Jesus, a reminder that the Body of Christ, which was once offered upon the Cross and then laid in the tomb, is here and now being offered anew in sacrifice.
Liturgical symbolism, however, is by no means one dimensional, but can have many points of reference. The traditional shape of the corporal is square and it is folded into nine parts, so that when opened up on the altar there are three parts along each side, just as in the new Jerusalem, laid on in a square, there are three gates on each side.
What do we find on the corporal? Only the Son of God and Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, in his Body and Blood. Just as in the new Jerusalem we heard: I saw no temple in the city for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb. The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb.
Yet we find on the corporal not only the Lamb, offered in sacrifice, but the whole redeemed city. Yes, because what is first set on the corporal is the bread, in the form of various small hosts and one larger host, and the chalice of wine. It is not yet the Body and Blood of Christ.
When the chalice is prepared a drop of water is poured into the wine accompanied by the words, by the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity. The drop of water represents the whole congregation of the faithful to be united to Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of the Virgin Mary.
As for the hosts of bread, they also are the offerings of the faithful and so represent the whole life of the worshipper, offered to God, through, with, and in Jesus Christ, our High Priest and Savior.
St. Augustine wrote: “The whole redeemed city, that is to say, the congregation or community of the saints, is offered to God as our sacrifice through the great High Priest, who offered Himself to God in His passion for us, that we might be members of this glorious head, according to the form of a servant. … this also is the sacrifice which the Church continually celebrates in the sacrament of the altar, known to the faithful, in which she teaches that she herself is offered in the offering she makes to God.” (City of God, X.6)
The reality on the altar, which represents then the whole redeemed city, offered to God in sacrifice, through Jesus Christ, the High Priest, also comes out of heaven from God. It comes out of heaven because it is by his gift – the gift of creation – that we exist and have our own selves to offer; it is by his gift – the gift of redemption – that we are in fact able to offer ourselves, through, with, and in Jesus Christ; and it is by his gift, through the invocation of the Holy Spirit, that the offerings upon the altar become the Body and Blood of Christ and are so given back to God.
Finally, the eternal reality of the new Jerusalem is both the gift that comes from God and the gift that is given back to God. Last week we heard that the new Jerusalem coming from God was compared to a bride on her wedding day; in eternity the bride whom God fashioned for himself, gives herself continually and completely back to God, and God, the divine Bridegroom, gives himself continually and completely to his Bride.
Here and now, through the sacrifice of the Mass and through its fruit, which is Holy Communion, God wants to reproduce the reality of the new Jerusalem in the soul of each one of the faithful. That is the meaning of Jesus’ words, Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him – this makes us to become a sort of mini Jerusalem. The reality o the divine indwelling is the peace that he would give to us, interiorly, not as the world gives; that is the peace that should lie at the foundation of all our relationships as members of the Body of Christ; that is the peace that should be on our minds and in our hearts when we turn to our neighbor and say, Peace be with you.
All the exterior practice of religion, which is very necessary – just as Jesus’ humanity, which is inseparably united to his divinity, is necessary – is for the purpose of fostering and nourishing within us the indwelling of the most Holy Trinity, which is the beginning in us of the life of heaven. Everything we think, do, or say in this passing world, great or small, has real value not according to any human measure of success, but according as it proceeds from and returns to God, who dwells within us. This heaven and this earth will pass away, but the new Jerusalem that begins within us will not pass away.