So, after the sermon what do we stand up and say together? The Creed? Yes, the Nicene Creed; and you can tell it’s a creed because the first words are what? We believe in one God? Yes. Y’all know it already, but let’s look at few of the last lines from the Creed before we start on the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
First: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead; and his kingdom will have no end.” A couple of weeks ago we learned all about the Second Coming and the New Jerusalem; what book of the Bible was that? Revelations? Yes. And we also say we believe in the Resurrection of…Jesus! Umm, yes, but wait a second and try again. “We believe in the Resurrection of…the…body! Yes, which also is described in what book? Revelations. Yes.
Next: “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” What’s that mean, the Church is “apostolic?” That the apostles started it? Mmm, almost; how do we know the bishop in Charleston is a real bishop? ‘Cause they laid hands on him! Yes, and how far back does laying hands go? Back to the the apostles. Yes, that’s why the Church is apostolic.
Let’s look at one more line, from the Apostle’s Creed. It’s very similar to the Nicene Creed. Sometimes we use the Apostle’s Creed at Mass instead of the Nicene. “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.” What’s the Communion of Saints? Umm….when saints go to communion? Good guess; what’s a union [on the board]? What’s it mean to be united? To be all together? Yes. Well, a co-union, a communion [comm- is added to union], is when a group of people is so like-minded in what they believe that they’re close, like a family. They love each other. So why would we mention the Communion of Saints at Mass? Who are the Cloud of Witnesses? The Saints! Yes, and when we are at Mass…they are too. Yes, we’re ‘surrounded’ by them. So why the Communion of Saints? Is it like the Cloud of Witnesses? Yes, but more. St. Paul calls people who are alive on earth and in God’s grace saints, too, not just souls in heaven. So the Communion of saints might include…us? Yes, we’re part of a huge saint family. We want to get to heaven and the saints there want us in heaven, too. And they’ll pray that God gives us the grace to get there, especially if we ask them to pray for us.
Now the Liturgy of the Eucharist starts. ‘Eucharist’ is the Greek word for ‘thanksgiving.’ We use that word because at the Last Supper, Jesus “took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves…he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In Greek “gave thanks” is eucharisteo [on the board], it’s almost exactly the same as our word Eucharist. So we give thanks, too.
First we have the offertory. What happens? We put money in the basket? Yes, but more important, what do the people bring up to the front of the church? Bread and wine! Yes. Do they bring it up to the altar? No, they give it to the priest. Yes. Why don’t the people take it up to the altar? ‘Cause they aren’t priests! Yes, they aren’t set apart for that job. But why do altar boys get to tootle around the altar, they aren’t priests either. But they might be priests when they grow up. Yes, or deacons; it’s a training period for them.
Now let’s have a look at this handout.
You’ve seen the first two plans before, Moses’ Meeting Tent and Solomon’s Temple. They’re essentially the same, but the Temple is way bigger and made of stone. It doesn’t look bigger. Yes, the paper is too small to draw the Temple at the same scale as the Tent. This is more a drawing of what happens in these spaces than a drawing of the spaces themselves. Let’s quickly review the Tent and Temple. On the left, the people bring their offering, let’s say a…lamb. Yes. They stop at the front of the altar and the priest takes the offering. He washes his hands before he sacrifices and offers the lamb. Behind him is the Holy Space where God’s presence dwells. Does Y-H-W-H (don’t pronounce it!) have a body? No! Right, so he doesn’t dwell there physically. There’s a bread offering, an incense offering, candles, and a veil so the Levites can’t look right at the Ark. Only the High Priest goes into the very back, where the Ark is guarded by no-nonsense cherubs. What’s in the Ark? The Ten Commandments? Yes, and? The miracle bread…manna! Yes, and Aaron’s staff. None of those things are God, but they are God’s stuff.
Now let’s look at the church plan; it’s very similar to the other two. The people space is bigger because we all come at once, but how it all works is still basically the same. People bring up the offering, which isn’t a lamb…bread and wine! Yes, and who offered bread and wine for Abraham? Melchizedek! Genius, you remember, good. And there are still candles, an incense offering, and a washbasin. Where’s the incense? Good question, you tell me: is there a piece of furniture in church for burning incense? No, the altar boy carries it. Yes, so it’s not on the drawing, but incense is still burned.
After the priest receives the bread and wine, he says:
“Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands; it will become for us the bread of life…we have received the wine we offer you: fruit of the vine and work of human hands; it will become our spiritual drink.”
Speaking of humans doing work, “liturgy” is yet another Greek word. In fact, the Mass is called the ‘Divine Liturgy’ by the Eastern Churches. Liturgy [on the board] (Leitourgia, λειτουργία), means “people-work;” it’s the work the people and the priest do at Mass. What’s ‘energy’ [on the board under liturgy]? Power? Yes, power for what? To make stuff happen? Yes. Energy is the capacity to do work. The -urgy in liturgy is the same as the -ergy in energy; it means work. So let’s look at this people-work; tell me the people-work when you hear it again: “…we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands- that’s people-work! Yes; and the same for the grapes and the wine.
So we offer bread’n’wine, not wheat’n’grapes. Umm, OK. Well, why not? Because Jesus and Melchizedek used bread and wine? Yes….but maybe there’s more to it. If we produce grapes and wheat we work, but the work doesn’t change anything. Plant a vine, it makes grapes. Plant a wheat seed, it grows into a stalk of wheat. They’re stuff God created. But when we use them to make bread and wine, they stop being wheat and grapes anymore. Human work creates something else in bread and wine: can you get the wheat and grapes back out again? No. Right; it’s a permanent change, and there’s no more wheat or grapes. It’s a bit like the change Jesus will work. So if we first do the people-work, then Jesus can do…the God-work? Yes!
The people’s work transforms the plant stuff into something new: bread & wine. Then Jesus accepts these offerings, and transforms them into something new again. Now, trick question: can Jesus make his Body’n’Blood out of 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?
OK, last year my younger daughter needed to get an old bike in working order so her boyfriend could ride with her. I agreed to fix it, but 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! No indeed. 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. And 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, like so[on the board]:
Wheat > Bread > Body
Grapes > Wine > Blood
The first steps are up to us, and none of the work is reversible. The Liturgy, the people’s work, makes it possible for Jesus to do his work. It’s like when married people make babies. It’s God’s creative power that flows through the parents; but if they won’t do their part, God can’t do his part. And at Mass, if the people don’t do their work, will Jesus 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….? The parents decide for the baby! Yes, the parents act for the baby. But can parents just drop into church after Mass and say, hey we need our baby Baptized quick, or we’ll be late for a movie? No, 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 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 work 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, and do your work, that makes it possible for me to do mine.
Let’s stop here. Praised be Jesus Christ!
Now and Forever!