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Sunday, March 30, 2014

The 4th Sunday of Lent

I have been attending the TLM for the last five years and have written about the richness of that liturgy. I attended the Novus Ordo today, and am absolutely pleased that I did, precisely because this liturgy is so much richer in the Novus Ordo than it is in the TLM. Why do I say that? Because of the liturgical readings.

The TLM readings for today are restricted just to Gal 4:22 (the two sons, representing the two covenants) and John 9 (Jesus feeds the 5000). But the Novus Ordo! Ahhh!! If I have called the Novus Ordo a child's Mass, it is with regard to the consecration prayers, but with regard to the Scripture readings, there is simply no contest - the Novus Ordo has a depth and breadth the TLM can never match.

Today's example is a superb case in point. It revolves around the theme of "sight".

It begins with the Samuel anointing David king of Israel. This story is a classic demonstration of the four senses of Scripture. "Bethlehem" means "house of bread". Samuel does not go of his own accord, rather, he is sent by God to anoint the king, he is a prophet, an apostle of God. When Samuel first arrives, he sees a son of Jesse and moves to anoint him. God says "No! Don't see as men see, see what God sees." Samuel does not know who the king is. It is only when David arrives that God opens Samuel's eyes, it is only with the arrival of the 8th son that Samuel finally recognizes and anoints the king. Immediately upon being anointed, the "Spirit rushes upon him (David)."

Read according to the four senses, it is the story of God in the Eucharist. When you go to find God in the House of Bread, don't see with the eyes of men ("it's only bread!") see with the eyes of God ("This is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, the God-man"). Only then will you see the son of the Resurrection, who raised Himself up on the 8th day (crucified on Friday, resting in the tomb on the 7th day, rose on the 8th day). It is through the power of the Spirit that we are able to see the King of Kings in the House of Bread.

The Psalm Response is Psalm 23: "the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want." This Psalm is used several times throughout this liturgical year, but it has a special poignancy here.
You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Not only does baptism anoint me king as Samuel anointed David king, baptism also allows me to participate in the Eucharistic feast, within sight of my enemies. The second reading, taken from Ephesians 5, continues on this theme, considering exactly who those enemies are:
You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord...Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light.
I was once one of the enemies. Now, through my baptism, God has enlightened me. All shameful deeds, even my own, are exposed to the light and become visible. 

And this theme of darkness to light, blindness to sight, is crowned with the Gospel reading: Jesus healing the blind man. Jesus uses His own saliva - for Jesus is the source of living water - along with the dust from which we are formed to make a paste which He uses to anoint the blind man's eyes. Water and dust combine to give sight, just as baptismal water and a living human being combine to give us sight into Him who is divine. Samuel anointed David's forehead, empowering his mind to understand God's ways, Jesus anoints the blind man's eyes, empowering him to see Divinity Himself. 

But the paste by itself is not sufficient. Jesus sends the man to Siloam, which means "one who is sent", to wash the paste off. Another word for "one who is sent" is "apostle." Mary is often called the Apostle to the apostles, because she is sent by God to bring Jesus, the first Apostle, into the world and give Him to the Twelve. This blind man is also sent by God, he is also an apostle, but he is sent to Siloam, sent to the Apostles, so that he can soak in their teachings; through their teachings, they will give Christ to him. 

Baptism begins the work, but only after we wash in the teachings of the apostles can we truly begin to see. Once the man has been washed in this teaching, he is able to successfully argue with the scribes of the Temple about who the Christ really is. 

Elsewhere, Christ says "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do what they say...". Christ requires us to possess a certain amount of respect for those who do not believe. Yet, in this passage, the formerly blind man actively mocks the Pharisees, pointing out to them the failures in their logic, the gaps in their understanding. They have not been anointed, they have not accepted the teaching of Him who the Father sent, Jesus: the first Apostle. The Pharisees and scribes have not the grace, the power to understand. They are blind. 

Only after the man is thrown out of the synagogue does Jesus seek him out and reveal Himself to the man. Yet, even at this point, the man is unsure of Christ's identity: "Who is he, Sir, that I may believe in Him?" He cannot identify Christ.

He may wonder who anointed his eyes with mud, he may speculate about why he was sent to this pool of Siloam and not some other pool, he may think himself ill-used by the Pharisees, he may be uncertain of many things, but of one thing he is unshakably certain. He knows God healed him. 

It is at this point that Christ fully reveals Himself. The man does not know Jesus after baptism, or after soaking in the apostolic teachings, or even after defending his new Faith to the point of persecution. It is only after all these things, only because of all of these things, he can see. God has given the man the tools he needs so that when Christ reveals Himself, the man with sight can now see Him. Now the Spirit of God rushes upon the man and he falls down and he worships the King of Kings. 

And here we see the glory of the Novus Ordo. It is on THIS day that the candidates for Easter baptism are subjected to their third and final scrutiny. It is on THIS day that the Church wears rose vestments, a lightening of the penance, for on THIS day, the baptismal candidates begin to fully see what their baptism will entail. Now they finally begin to be enlightened.

They may be uncertain of many things. They may wonder, question, speculate. But even though they do not fully understand, now they begin to see the need for baptism, the need for apostolic teaching, the need to defend the Faith despite persecution. They begin to understand more fully their desperate desire for the light of Christ. They are given firm hope, grounded in God's own word, that Jesus will reveal Himself to them when all these things have come to pass. 

Their loads will be lightened because the sacraments, the apostolic teaching, the persecutions, their steadfast defense of the Faith, will enlighten them. Through these, they will become intimate followers of Jesus Christ, God.

In this regard, compared to the Novus Ordo, the liturgical readings of the TLM are weak and empty by comparison. The power of the Novus Ordo readings for this day are found not just in the readings, but in the way the Novus Ordo Mass intertwines the liturgy into the lives of those about to enter into Christ's body through baptism. There is simply no comparison. On this, the fourth Sunday of Lent, the Novus Ordo's Liturgy of the Word is incredibly superior to the TLM's Mass of the Catechumens.

If we could combine the enormous beauty of the TLM's consecration prayers with the power of the Novus Ordo reading cycle and RCIA liturgy, what a Mass we would have! 

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