1. The Baptism of the Lord
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:13-17).
The Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, wrote in his Summa Theologica that the sinless Jesus submitted to the baptism given by John in order to make holy the waters of Baptism, that the Sacrament may be truly efficacious for mankind. A similar insight was also preached some eight centuries earlier by St. John Chrysostom who said, “In truth, Christ needed not baptism, neither this nor any other; but rather Baptism needed the power of Christ.”
In reflecting further upon this luminous mystery, we should come to recognize by way of the Lord’s example that we too must inaugurate our participation in His saving work through the waters of Baptism. As the Catechism tells us (cf CCC 1119), Baptism is what “enables” us to participate in the sacred liturgy – that through which the work of Redemption is accomplished in the here-and-now.
Indeed, we should be reminded of this truth every time we bless ourselves with holy water upon entering the church to assist at Mass wherein the “heavens will once more be opened up” just as they were when Jesus emerged from the River Jordan. The liturgy on earth is, after all, nothing less than participation in the liturgy of heaven itself (cf SC 8).
We must be careful to note, however, that Baptism is not simply the “price of admission” to a community event; rather, it is an incorporation into the Body of Christ; it is that through which we are born again as a child of God the Father and a child of the Church, our Holy Mother. Our participation in the sacred liturgy, therefore, is never fruitfully carried out apart from a posture of profound humility; one that embraces the truth of our childlike status and our utter dependence on the Church in all things liturgical. This awareness should serve to remind us that the Mass is not a venue for personal creativity and individual expression; rather, it is a gift that is offered from a Holy Mother and a Heavenly Father to a child that stands in need.
2. The Wedding Feast at Cana
On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples. When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now six stone jars were standing there, for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast.” So they took it. When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him (John 2:1-11).
In the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium we are told that Mary “faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, grieving exceedingly with her only begotten Son, uniting herself with a maternal heart with His sacrifice” (cf LG 58). We can rest assured, therefore, that wherever the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered – the Wedding Feast of the Lamb – our Blessed Mother is truly present.
At Cana, it was through Mary’s act of intercession that the glory of the Lord was revealed; drawing the attention of all present to Him who alone can fill our every desire. Other than presenting the needs of the people to Jesus, the only words that Our Blessed Lady speaks are, “Do whatever He tells you.” The Blessed Virgin Mary in this passage, and in all things, simply points the way to her Son; she reveals His authority and makes known His glory.
In our spiritual dryness; at those times when our attention at Holy Mass tends to wander, or when we run the risk of becoming unduly self-focused, we should seek the Virgin Mary’s aid, that she might intercede for us and lead the way to Jesus, the Source of living water.
One should notice that the first people at Cana to realize that a great miracle had taken place in their midst were the servants, the lowest of all present; probably the only ones there who were not invited guests. This scene calls to mind a number of Jesus’ teachings. “The last shall be first… He who is the greatest among you shall be your servant…” We might also think of the parable of the tax collector who took up a lowly place in the back of the temple and prayed, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am a sinner.”
The lesson for us is clear; we must always approach Holy Mass with the utmost humility, ever aware that we are entering into something far greater than ourselves, even to the point where the words that we say, “Lord, I am not worthy…” will be coming from the very depths of a humble and sincere heart. It is the Blessed Mother’s good pleasure and deepest desire to intercede in love for all of her children, but it is the humble ones among us and those with a servant’s heart who are first in line to witness the glory of her Son.
3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-45).
The Catechism tells us, “In the New Testament the word ‘liturgy’ refers not only to the celebration of divine worship but also to the proclamation of the Gospel and to active charity” (CCC 1070).
Yes, the sacred liturgy is indeed divine worship; it is the action of Christ; it is the work of Redemption being accomplished in the here-and-now – a truth so profound that we call it sacred mystery. Yet, it is also the ongoing proclamation of the Gospel and the call to service in charity. It is all of these things, and we need to be careful not to let the pendulum swing so far in one direction or the other that we lose sight of this reality in all of its fullness.
You see, if we tend to look at the Mass as divine worship alone and we miss the ongoing proclamation and the call to service aspects of the liturgy, we might run the risk of thinking of Holy Mass as that self-contained one-hour on Sunday morning. The truth is, however, the liturgy properly understood is not really self-contained at all; its ultimate end is not the dismissal, but rather the fulfillment of all things in Christ.
Holy Mass has, in other words, a direct relationship with daily life; it is a “sending forth” through which we are nurtured in the Blessed Sacrament and strengthened in Christ to follow in His footsteps unto the proclamation of the gospel to the world and to those acts of charity that absolutely must accompany it.
Now that said, the pendulum can (and often does) swing too far in the “proclamation and service” direction as well, and when it does, we lose sight of the fact the liturgy and the mission to which we are sent forth in service is not truly our own – it is the mission of the Church in which Christ Himself is primarily operative. Our role is worthwhile only to the extent that it is co-operative with, and dependent upon, the Lord.
4. The Transfiguration
And after six days Jesus taketh unto him Peter and James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart: And he was transfigured before them. And his face did shine as the sun: and his garments became white as snow. And behold there appeared to them Moses and Elias talking with him. And Peter answering, said to Jesus: Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles, one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. And as he was yet speaking, behold a bright cloud overshadowed them. And lo a voice out of the cloud, saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him. And the disciples hearing fell upon their face, and were very much afraid. And Jesus came and touched them: and said to them: Arise, and fear not. And they lifting up their eyes, saw no one, but only Jesus (Matthew 17:1-7).
In the sacred liturgy we encounter the Glorified Lord – He who fulfills the Law (as represented in the Transfiguration by Moses) and the prophets (as represented therein by Elijah), but we must resist the urge to which Peter initially succumbed – the desire to stay encamped with the Lord on that privileged mountain top that is the Mass.
We know that the world at large can often be a place of treachery and a battlefield, but in the sending forth at Holy Mass it is here where we are called to build the Kingdom of God on earth in preparation for His return in glory. On our own we haven’t the courage to take even one step; we must listen for the voice of the Savior who encourages us as once He did His disciples on Mt. Tabor saying, “Fear not!”
And lifting up our own eyes, may we like them see Jesus alone – He in whom our only hope of salvation rests.
5. The Institution of the Eucharist
And whilst they were at supper, Jesus took bread and blessed and broke and gave to his disciples and said: Take ye and eat. This is my body. And taking the chalice, he gave thanks and gave to them, saying: Drink ye all of this. For this is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins (Matthew 26:26-28).
Even though Holy Mass is not best considered a re-enactment of the Last Supper, as the Eucharistic words of institution are spoken by the priest in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) it may be helpful to consider that when Jesus “blessed and broke the bread” during the Passover meal, He likely prayed the Hamotzi and the Kiddush – the traditional blessings said over bread and wine by the Jewish people even today; versions of which the priest utters during the preparation of the offering at the altar.
For the bread, in Hebrew: Baruch atah Adonai elohaynu melech ha’olam hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz.(“Praised are You, O Lord our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”)
Likewise, when the Lord took the chalice of wine, He prayed: Baruch atah Adonai elohaynu melech ha’olam bor-ay peri ha-gafen. (Blessed are You, O Lord our God, Sovereign of the Universe, creator of the fruit of the vine.)
In this day and age when the priest most often faces the assembly throughout the liturgy of the Eucharist (a very recent liturgical innovation that was neither envisioned nor encouraged by the Council – discussed in more detail in a previous article here) it is important for us to realize that the Eucharistic Prayers at Holy Mass (just as the prayers of blessing uttered by Christ at the Last Supper) are not truly addressed to us; rather they are spoken by Christ Himself to His Father in Heaven.
Regardless of our bodily positioning at Holy Mass, this Heavenward orientation should be primary for us throughout Holy Mass. The Eucharist as “meal” has been unduly exaggerated in recent decades, but we must realize that this “meal” is utterly meaningless apart from an awareness that it is first and foremost a “Holy and living Sacrifice;” it is the very Source of our communion with God and one another for this very reason alone.
As we reflect further upon the institution of the Eucharist, we should take care to recall that the Last Supper was itself a supernatural, timeless event. Jesus could say, “This is my body… this is the chalice of my blood,” because in some sense the events of Calvary, though as yet unaccomplished in time as He spoke, were prefigured and truly accomplished in that very moment.
As we conclude this reflection on the Most Holy Rosary, let us resolve to take up this “weapon of Mass instruction” often, calling upon the Blessed Virgin Mary as our guide, that we might contemplate its mysteries in such way as to enter ever more deeply into the sacred mysteries that we celebrate at Holy Mass. All glory, praise and honor to Almighty God – Father, Son and Holy Ghost.