Last Sunday I was invited to celebrate Mass at St Paul’s Church in Birkirkara in the Extraordinary Form, in place of the Chaplain who couldn’t make it for that day due to other commitments. So I had to prepare two homilies as the readings’ cycle differs from that of the Ordinary Form of the Mass. It was quite enriching to celebrate the two forms of the Mass in one day as I am convinced that there’s no one better than the other. The Liturgy is the action of the entire Christ (Christus totus), Head and Body, and we participate fruitfully in this action if we celebrate Mass with a proper disposition. The litugical assembly was quite interesting: young and old, singles and families with siblings, locals and foreigners… So, here’s my homily which brings together the Readings in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Form of the Mass.
“Cast thy care upon the Lord and He shall sustain thee. When I cried to the Lord he heard my voice from them that draw near to me”. These verses from Psalm 54, given to us for meditation in the Gradual of the Mass, echo the Liturgical theme of the Readings of the Mass in the Ordinary Form. In the latter we are following The Gospel according to Matthew, the Gospel of God’s Reign amongst us. In chapter 10 Jesus exhorts his disciples to have no fear in the mission he entrusted them with. Similarly, in the Epistle proclaimed in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, we are encouraged to humbly cast all our care upon HIM while passing through the test of our adherence to the Gospel.
In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus exhorts us to stand firm and be steadfast in our nearness to HIM firstly by listening to the words he whispers in our ears and by having the courage to stay with HIM in the dark. One cannot help thinking here of Nicodemus who loved to listen to Christ in the secret of the night. Mystics identified this adherence to Christ in the darkness of faith, perhaps even in the uncertainty of faith, as the maturity stage of the Dark Night which is more luminous than the day. Secondly, Jesus encourages us to trust that GOD takes care of us. GOD cares for us as much he cares for house-sparrows, in truth, even more so. Thirdly, Jesus admonishes us acknowledge HIM before others and not to deny HIM. In other words, Jesus exhorts to be focused and rooted in GOD. We are called to allow ourselves to be taken by GOD, to trust GOD, to build ourselves on GOD .
The Epistle in the Extraordinary Form then speaks of humility, placing before us as an ideal for life “to be humbled under the mighty hand of GOD” which nonetheless does not humiliate us but “exalts” us because GOD cares for us in our struggle with the adversary. Our faith is not ours. Our struggle is not ours. Our righteousness is not ours. Everything comes from GOD’s grace and call. It is GOD who perfects us, confirming us, establishing us in HIM, in HIS REIGN.
Today’s Gospel for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is taken from Luke and it drives this point home by telling us something about Jesus’ reaction to the murmuring Pharisees and Scribes, who we know stand for obsessive self-righteousness in striving to be always as one should be, or is expected to be, or better what they thought they were expected to be. So, Jesus responds by telling the story of the Shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to reach out to the lost sheep and that of the woman who anxiously searches for the lost drachma. So the Shepherd leaves the 99 in the desert to perfect, confirm, establish, the lost one in the fold with the rest. In this way Jesus saves both by caring for the lost and humbling the just.
Dear sisters and brothers let us remain focused on what is really essential to our faith in GOD who saves by scandalously reaching to the lost, humbling the just as it is only GOD’s righteousness which is our salvation.