This is a photo from time out of mind, when I was young and my kids were little. Nothing special, just two of them helping me wash the car (1989 Firebird Formula 5-speed, debadged and optioned with the 5.0 liter TPI, dual exhaust and 16×8 snowflakes. A monster in its day…maybe this is special. Am I digressing?). You can guess how much they are helping. I could surely have done it by myself better and faster, but that’s not the point, is it? No. It doesn’t matter how little they can do; what matters is that they are doing what they can. Likewise as they grew up, they worked around the house in other ways. Virtually every chore they did, we parents could’ve done quicker and better. Again, so what? Helping trains the kids in good habits; and contributing makes them value what they get, because they had to work for it. And it dignifies them: they didn’t get something for nothing as a baby would. And of course, it’s all for their own good. As one says in Latin, ‘Cui Bono’, that is, ‘whose good?’ More easily, ‘who benefits?’ And where these contributions of children are concerned, it’s the children who benefit. Just in the past hour, daughter Alexandra needed to get an old bike in working order so her boyfriend could ride with her. She had to help me the whole 45 minutes or so. Her help was limited to passing me tools, oilcans, holding the bike steady, turning the crank, paying attention and making observations (e.g., those chainlinks need more oil). I could’ve done it alone, but she does not value the working bike if she doesn’t contribute to the fixing. And her contributions, while small, were real. And would I have fixed the bike if she weren’t willing to help as best she could? No indeed. Cui bono? Alexandra.
By asking cui bono there’s a lot about Catholicism that’s easier to understand…maybe everything: Sunday Mass, Lent, Holydays of Obligation, Confession, pre-Cana, pre-Baptism, have to, have to, have to. So, who benefits? Not God, he doesn’t need benefitting. Who’s left? Us. Yeah, it’s for our benefit, not that we like it all the time….or most of the time. Like my kids.
Indeed, there’s a parallel between my kids & me, and us & God. Like my kids’ chores, the work Catholicism requires of us provides training, engenders appreciation, and dignifies us.
Speaking of work, the Greek word for work is ergon, (εργον) as in energy. Ergon is a cousin to the word we use for the work done at Mass: liturgy. In fact, the Mass is called the Divine Liturgy by the Eastern Churches. Liturgy (Leitourgia, λειτουργία in Greek; literally, people-work), a word predating Christianity, means “the public work of the people done on behalf of the people” (Wikipedia). In an Old Testament sense, it’s “the service or ministry of the priests relative to the prayers and sacrifices offered to God” (Strong’s Concordance). And the Biblical concept of the “priesthood of all believers” suggests the inclusion of the people in the priestly work of the New Covenant.
Let’s recall the Mass has two main parts: the Liturgy of the Word (when we read from the Bible); and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which immediately speaks of the ‘people’s work’: “we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made….we have this wine to offer, fruit of the vine and work of human hands…” We do not offer wheat and grape juice. Yeah, so? Well, why not? Because Jesus offered bread and wine, and Melchizedek offered bread and wine. So there. Yes, all true….but maybe more is being hinted at in those opening lines. If we produce grapes and wheat we work, but the work isn’t creative, transformative. Plant a vine, it makes grapes. Plant a wheat seed, it grows into a stalk of wheat. Take care of sheep, they make lambs. That’s all to the good. But offering those things wouldn’t hint at, or participate in, the point of the Mass, which is Jesus transforming mundane matter into his Body and Blood. Consider grass (wheat is a type of grass) and grapes: both predated the creation of Adam and Eve. They’re stuff God created. But when we use them to make bread and wine, they cease to be wheat and grapes anymore. In a physical sense, humans create something else in bread and wine: the wheat and grapes are irretrievably transformed into entirely new stuff. It’s permanent and irreversible change due to human action and creativity. It’s a prelude to the change Jesus will work.
“So the people’s work transforms the plants into something new: bread & wine. Then Jesus accepts these offerings, and transforms them into something new again. Now, 6th grade trick question: can Jesus effect Transubstantion with wheat and grapejuice? Well, can’t Jesus do whatever he wants? Yes, of course….but do you think if we brought up wheat and grapejuice at the Offertory, that they’d become the Body and Blood? No, that wouldn’t work. Right. Why not? Ummmm….
“Ok, think about my daughter and the bike. I wouldn’t do most of the work if she didn’t do a little bit herself. Why not? Because that’s how she shows it really matters to her. Yes. Could she just sit inside and surf the net and tell me the bike’s important? No, she has to do something, she can’t just say it. Yes. If I do the big fixing, she has to do the….ummm, the little fixing? Yes. Likewise at Mass, if Jesus does the big transformation, creating his Body & Blood, we have to do the….little transformation! Yes. First we do our little work by transforming wheat & grapejuice into…..bread & wine! Then Jesus does the big work, changing them into….Body’n’Blood! Yes.”
“The Liturgy, the people’s work, makes it appropriate for Jesus to do his work. As the creative love of husband & wife cooperate with God’s creative love in making new life (also known as….babies!), so does the people’s transforming work in the Mass cooperate with Christ’s work of Transubstantiation. And if the people don’t do their work, will God do his? No! That’s right. He depends on us to do our part. If we don’t, nothing will happen. Can you imagine how much Jesus loves us to depend on us? By the way, since Jesus loves us, why does he require us to do something when he’s powerful enough to do it all by himself? It’s just good if we help. Yes, when we help God, it dignifies us. Just like when my wife used to make brownies with my kids: they were dignified by their work, their contribution. You know what happens to kids who get everything from their parents with doing anything themselves? They’re spoiled. Yes. God doesn’t want to spoil his kids. God helps those who help themselves as much as they can, just like a loving parent should.”
“And this is true for other Sacraments. For example, in Confession God will forgive us, but we have to…..confess out loud to the priest! Yes…but how about Baptism, what does the baby do? Ummm….babies can’t do anything. Right. They can’t even feed themselves….do they starve? No, the parents feed them. So at baptism, if the baby can’t decide it wants to be baptized….? Oh, the parents decide for the baby! Yes, the parents act for the baby. But can parents just drop into church after Mass & say, hey we need our baby Baptized quick, or we’ll be late for a movie? Ha, that’s silly! That’s right, the parents and Godparents have to agree to take charge of the baby’s Christian life, to do the work until it’s old enough to do it itself.”
“So y’all see how Catholics first do the People’s work, and in response God does His work. And y’all see how my blood sons & daughters are required to do work for their own good. It’s like that in class, too. Honorary sons & daughters, in this class can you just sit there in a stupor? No! What do you have to do? Pay attention! Yes, and? Answer questions! Yes. I want you to use your brain to….think! Yes. When you participate, do your work, then I can do mine. Cui bono– who benefits? We do. Yes. And I benefit, too. I’m happy when you learn.”
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