“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Fifth Centenary Prayer
Your Word of Life, O God, reached these lands five centuries ago, and calls us still to proclaim the saving message of Christ. We pray today for a dawn of a new evangelization in these lands. Send us out to draw others to You, into Your peace, into the Church, into lives dedicated to the Gospel. As people of many cultures and races, may our voices speak together of hope and welcome to all. May our hands lift high the torch of new life and solidarity. May our hearts yearn for justice and truth. Renew in us the courage and strength to reach out to the neediest in our midst. United in faith and prayer, with Mary, Virgin Mother of the Americas, keep us ever steadfast in Your love as we strive for Your vision of a world renewed. We ask this through Christ, Our Lord.
Almighty ever-living God,
direct our actions according to your good pleasure,
that in the name of your beloved Son
we may abound in good works.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity
of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Neh 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10
Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly,
which consisted of men, women,
and those children old enough to understand.
Standing at one end of the open place that was before the Water Gate,
he read out of the book from daybreak till midday,
in the presence of the men, the women,
and those children old enough to understand;
and all the people listened attentively to the book of the law.
Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform
that had been made for the occasion.
He opened the scroll
so that all the people might see it
— for he was standing higher up than any of the people —;
and, as he opened it, all the people rose.
Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God,
and all the people, their hands raised high, answered,
Then they bowed down and prostrated themselves before the LORD,
their faces to the ground.
Ezra read plainly from the book of the law of God,
interpreting it so that all could understand what was read.
Then Nehemiah, that is, His Excellency, and Ezra the priest-scribe
and the Levites who were instructing the people
said to all the people:
“Today is holy to the LORD your God.
Do not be sad, and do not weep”—
for all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law.
He said further: “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks,
and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared;
for today is holy to our LORD.
Do not be saddened this day,
for rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!”
The infinite goodness and the infinite mercy, which God has shown to mankind down through the ages, is the theme of the lessons read at today’s Mass. These verses of Nehemiah describe the return of the Jews from the Babylonian exile and their resettlement in Jerusalem and Judah. They owed this return to the gracious act of God and they had the good grace to acknowledge this in a public religious ceremony.
This recalling of the Jews from Babylon was part of God’s remote preparation for the coming of his Son, our divine Lord, on earth. Before creation began he had the Incarnation in mind. And the purpose of the Incarnation was to raise man, the highest being in his created universe, to a capacity to share in the infinite happiness of the Blessed Trinity. Man was thus raised to the adopted sonship of God through the descent of God’s Son to take our humanity.
This is expressed in the mixing of the water and wine at the offertory of the Mass when the celebrant says: “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.”
So the story of the return of the Jewish exiles is not just some faded page of past history. It is for us a very important incident in God’s plan for our elevation and glorification. All through pre-history his plan was being slowly but surely shaped. From Abraham, the pagan called from Ur of the Chaldees, to become the Father of his Chosen People, down to Mary the humble unknown young Jewess of Nazareth, who was chosen to be the Mother of Christ, God was drawing the lines of his great design on every page of the Old Testament.
Notwithstanding the open opposition of men, of pagan nations who tried to crush and annihilate his Chosen People, and of the many rebellious sons within his fold who refused to have Him rule over them, he brought his plan to completion. He raised humanity to the status of sonship that be had intend for it from all eternity.
This return from exile then has deep meaning for us Christians today, twenty-five centuries after it happened. It was a very important step in God’s plan to return us from perpetual exile, a merely earthly life, to a spiritual life, and to the home that in his mercy and goodness he had planned for us.
Through God’s infinite generosity we are destined for an eternal homeland. We must thank God for that but, let us not forget, we have not yet arrived there. We are on the way, and we must work our passage. When the work seems dreary and hard, we must remember that we are not left alone. We have such abundant helps from God as will enable even the weakest to reach home if they avail of them.
Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 15
(cf John 6:63c) Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul;
The decree of the LORD is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple.
Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
The command of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eye.
Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
The fear of the LORD is pure,
The ordinances of the LORD are true,
all of them just.
Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
Let the words of my mouth and the thought of my heart
find favor before you,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.
1 Cor 12:12-30
Brothers and sisters:
As a body is one though it has many parts,
and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,
so also Christ.
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,
whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons,
and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.
Now the body is not a single part, but many.
If a foot should say,
“Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,
“it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.
Or if an ear should say,
“Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body, “
it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.
If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?
If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?
But as it is, God placed the parts,
each one of them, in the body as he intended.
If they were all one part, where would the body be?
But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you, “
nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.”
Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker
are all the more necessary,
and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable
we surround with greater honor,
and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety,
whereas our more presentable parts do not need this.
But God has so constructed the body
as to give greater honor to a part that is without it,
so that there may be no division in the body,
but that the parts may have the same concern for one another.
If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it;
if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.
Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.
Some people God has designated in the church
to be, first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers;
then, mighty deeds;
then gifts of healing, assistance, administration,
and varieties of tongues.
Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?
Do all work mighty deeds? Do all have gifts of healing?
Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 694 Water. The symbolism of water signifies the Holy Spirit’s action in Baptism, since after the invocation of the Holy Spirit it becomes the efficacious sacramental sign of new birth: just as the gestation of our first birth took place in water, so the water of Baptism truly signifies that our birth into the divine life is given to us in the Holy Spirit. As “by one Spirit we were all baptized,” so we are also “made to drink of one Spirit.”1 Thus the Spirit is also personally the living water welling up from Christ crucified2 as its source and welling up in us to eternal life.3
CCC 790 Believers who respond to God’s word and become members of Christ’s Body, become intimately united with him: “In that body the life of Christ is communicated to those who believe, and who, through the sacraments, are united in a hidden and real way to Christ in his Passion and glorification.”4 This is especially true of Baptism, which unites us to Christ’s death and Resurrection, and the Eucharist, by which “really sharing in the body of the Lord,. .. we are taken up into communion with him and with one another.”5
CCC 791 The body’s unity does not do away with the diversity of its members: “In the building up of Christ’s Body there is engaged a diversity of members and functions. There is only one Spirit who, according to his own richness and the needs of the ministries, gives his different gifts for the welfare of the Church.”6 The unity of the Mystical Body produces and stimulates charity among the faithful: “From this it follows that if one member suffers anything, all the members suffer with him, and if one member is honored, all the members together rejoice.”7 Finally, the unity of the Mystical Body triumphs over all human divisions: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”8
CCC 798 The Holy Spirit is “the principle of every vital and truly saving action in each part of the Body.”9 He works in many ways to build up the whole Body in charity:10 by God’s Word “which is able to build you up”;11 by Baptism, through which he forms Christ’s Body;12 by the sacraments, which give growth and healing to Christ’s members; by “the grace of the apostles, which holds first place among his gifts”;13 by the virtues, which make us act according to what is good; finally, by the many special graces (called “charisms”), by which he makes the faithful “fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and building up of the Church.”14
CCC 953 Communion in charity. In the sanctorum communio, “None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.”15 “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”16 “Charity does not insist on its own way.”17 In this solidarity with all men, living or dead, which is founded on the communion of saints, the least of our acts done in charity redounds to the profit of all. Every sin harms this communion.
CCC 1227 According to the Apostle Paul, the believer enters through Baptism into communion with Christ’s death, is buried with him, and rises with him:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.18
The baptized have “put on Christ.”19 Through the Holy Spirit, Baptism is a bath that purifies, justifies, and sanctifies.20
CCC 1265 Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte “a new creature,” an adopted son of God, who has become a “partaker of the divine nature,”21 member of Christ and co-heir with him,22 and a temple of the Holy Spirit.23
CCC 1267 Baptism makes us members of the Body of Christ: “Therefore. .. we are members one of another.”24 Baptism incorporates us into the Church. From the baptismal fonts is born the one People of God of the New Covenant, which transcends all the natural or human limits of nations, cultures, races, and sexes: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”25
CCC 1396 The unity of the Mystical Body: the Eucharist makes the Church. Those who receive the Eucharist are united more closely to Christ. Through it Christ unites them to all the faithful in one body – the Church. Communion renews, strengthens, and deepens this incorporation into the Church, already achieved by Baptism. In Baptism we have been called to form but one body.26 The Eucharist fulfills this call: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread:”27
If you are the body and members of Christ, then it is your sacrament that is placed on the table of the Lord; it is your sacrament that you receive. To that which you are you respond “Amen” (“yes, it is true!”) and by responding to it you assent to it. For you hear the words, “the Body of Christ” and respond “Amen.” Be then a member of the Body of Christ that your Amen may be true.28
CCC 1454 The reception of this sacrament ought to be prepared for by an examination of conscience made in the light of the Word of God. The passages best suited to this can be found in the Ten Commandments, the moral catechesis of the Gospels and the apostolic letters, such as the Sermon on the Mount and the apostolic teachings.29
CCC 1469 This sacrament reconciles us with the Church. Sin damages or even breaks fraternal communion. The sacrament of Penance repairs or restores it. In this sense it does not simply heal the one restored to ecclesial communion, but has also a revitalizing effect on the life of the Church which suffered from the sin of one of her members.30 Re-established or strengthened in the communion of saints, the sinner is made stronger by the exchange of spiritual goods among all the living members of the Body of Christ, whether still on pilgrimage or already in the heavenly homeland:31
It must be recalled that… this reconciliation with God leads, as it were, to other reconciliations, which repair the other breaches caused by sin. The forgiven penitent is reconciled with himself in his inmost being, where he regains his innermost truth. He is reconciled with his brethren whom he has in some way offended and wounded. He is reconciled with the Church. He is reconciled with all creation.32
CCC 1508 The Holy Spirit gives to some a special charism of healing33 so as to make manifest the power of the grace of the risen Lord. But even the most intense prayers do not always obtain the healing of all illnesses. Thus St. Paul must learn from the Lord that “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” and that the sufferings to be endured can mean that “in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his Body, that is, the Church.”34
CCC 1988 Through the power of the Holy Spirit we take part in Christ’s Passion by dying to sin, and in his Resurrection by being born to a new life; we are members of his Body which is the Church, branches grafted onto the vine which is himself:35
[God] gave himself to us through his Spirit. By the participation of the Spirit, we become communicants in the divine nature… For this reason, those in whom the Spirit dwells are divinized.36
CCC 2004 Among the special graces ought to be mentioned the graces of state that accompany the exercise of the responsibilities of the Christian life and of the ministries within the Church:
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.37
1 1 Cor 12:13.
2 Jn 19:34; 1 Jn 5:8.
3 Cf. Jn 4:10-14; 738; Ex 17:1-6; Isa 55:1; Zech 14:8; 1 Cor 10:4; Rev 21:6; 22:17.
4 LG 7.
5 LG 7; cf. Rom 6:4-5; 1 Cor 12:13.
6 LG 7 # 3.
7 LG 7 # 3; cf. 1 Cor 12:26.
8 Gal 3:27-28.
9 Pius XII, encyclical, Mystici Corporis: DS 3808.
10 Cf. Eph 4:16.
11 Acts 20:32.
12 Cf. 1 Cor 12:13.
13 LG 7 # 2.
14 LG 12 # 2; cf. AA 3.
15 Rom 14:7.
16 1 Cor 12:26-27.
17 1 Cor 13:5; cf. 10:24.
18 Rom 6:3-4; cf. Col 2:12.
19 Gal 3:27.
20 CE 1 Cor 6:11; 12:13.
21 2 Cor 5:17; 2 Pet 1:4; cf. Gal 4:5-7.
22 Cf. l Cor 6:15; 12:27; Rom 8:17.
23 Cf. l Cor 6:19.
24 Eph 4:25.
25 1 Cor 12:13.
26 Cf. 1 Cor 12:13.
27 1 Cor 10:16-17.
28 St. Augustine, Sermo 272: PL 38, 1247.
29 Cf. Mt 5-7; Rom 12-15; 1 Cor 12-13; Gal 5; Eph 4-6; etc.
30 Cf. 1 Cor 12:26.
31 Cf. LG 48-50.
32 John Paul II, RP 31, 5.
33 Cf. 1 Cor 12:9, 28, 30.
34 2 Cor 12:9; Col 1:24.
35 Cf. 1 Cor 12; Jn 15:1 4.
36 St. Athanasius, Ep. Serap. 1, 24: PG 26, 585 and 588.
37 Rom 12:6-8.
St. Paul is urging his Corinthian converts to appreciate and be grateful to God for the wonderful gifts he has given them. Not only have they received the gift of the true faith, but God is proving the truth of that faith in their very midst by the miraculous powers he is giving to individuals amongst them. But they must never forget that these gifts are not for their own benefit or glory. They are given to help build up the whole new Christian community.
To drive this lesson home, he compares the new Christian community–the Church–to a human body. Man’s body has many and various members, but each member is there for the good of the whole body. No one member can survive on its own, the brain needs the stomach, as the stomach needs the brain, the eye needs the foot as the foot needs the eye and so on. All the members must work for the good of the whole body, using the capabilities given it, and it is only thus that the body will survive and thrive.
Now for St. Paul this comparison of the Christian community to the members of a human body, is not merely a metaphor, it is a reality. “You are the body of Christ,” he says, “member for member.” This consoling doctrine that the Church is the mystical body of Christ was not invented by St. Paul–he invented the name only–it follows of necessity from the doctrine of the Incarnation. When the Son of God took on human nature, he made us one with him. As Christ himself said: “I am the vine, you are the branches” (Jn. 15: 5). i.e. we form one tree with him. This is the same idea as the body and its members.
We Christians then (and all men of good-will who are not actually in the Church through no fault of their own) are intimately united with the risen and glorious body of Christ in heaven. He is the Head, the director, of his new Chosen People. We are the other members of his body, whom he uses to spread the life-stream of grace and growth to the whole body until it reaches its full stature in the future life. What a glorious position is ours. What an exalted status the Incarnation has given us mere mortals!
Do we think often enough of our privileged status? Do we especially realize our obligations as members of that body? Do we always do all that Christ expects of us to promote the welfare of the whole body? If I think that I am doing enough by providing for my own spiritual well-being, and take no interest in the needs of the other members, I can be sure I am not in fact providing for my spiritual well-being. If the foot says: “I am tired of walking and looking for food for that stomach,” and rests in comfort, it won’t be long until the foot feels the bad effects of a starving stomach and will not be able to walk.
Each one of us must ever keep before his mind this inspiring thought that we are individual members of Christ’s body and that it is only by the full cooperation of all members that that body, which means all of us, will reach its full maturity.
Today especially, in a world which is growing daily more materialistic, more individualistic, more selfish, the Church must set a shining, noticeable, example of unselfish dedication to the material and spiritual welfare of all mankind. And the Church can do this only if each one of its members, that is you and I, will begin today to use the gifts, material and spiritual that God gave us, for the benefit of the community in which we live.