We have many different calendars in our lives: The yearly calendar, the fiscal calendar, the school calendar. One calendar that affects all Catholics is what we call, “The Liturgical Calendar”. This is the calendar that informs us what spiritual event or Saint we celebrate on each day of the year. For example, the liturgical calendar informs us what day we celebrate Easter, each year.
Many Catholics are unaware that there are many different celebrations throughout the entire year: The feast day of St. Francis (October 4), the feast day of Nativity of Mary (September 8), the feast day of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (June 8). Because we have so many different feast days that have been added to the calendar over the 2,000 year history of the Church, it is rare that anything would be added to the calendar (not unlike a family’s calendar). Admittedly, not all of these feast days are Holy Days of Obligation, however, they are still of great importance.
On March 3, 2018, Pope Francis made the rare move and actually added a feast day to the official calendar of the Church. He declared that every Monday after Pentecost would be celebrated as “Mary, Mother of the Church.” The Blessed Virgin Mary has the most feast days of any Saint in our Church (18, before this new celebration), and with good reason. So, it is even more surprising that, yet another Marian feast day would be added to the calendar. However, Pope Francis truly felt this conviction from the Holy Spirit to bring the new feast day to the Church.
We know that Mary is the Mother of God in that she is the mother of Jesus and Jesus is God (Mary, Mother of God feast day is January 1st). She has always been taught to be the Mother of the Church as well, going back to St. Augustine (d. 430 AD). In the proclamation about this new feast day, it was written, “Indeed, the Mother standing beneath the cross (cf. Jn 19:25), accepted her Son’s testament of love and welcomed all people in the person of the beloved disciple as sons and daughters to be reborn unto life eternal. She thus became the tender Mother of the Church which Christ begot on the cross handing on the Spirit. Christ, in turn, in the beloved disciple, chose all disciples as ministers of his love towards his Mother, entrusting her to them so that they might welcome her with filial affection.” As Jesus was on the cross, he said to John, “Behold, your mother.” And with that statement, Mary became the one to care for the entire Church.
“This celebration will help us to remember that growth in the Christian life must be anchored to the Mystery of the Cross, to the oblation of Christ in the Eucharistic Banquet and to the Mother of the Redeemer and Mother of the Redeemed.” So it is with great joy that every year on the Monday after Pentecost, we will celebrate Mary, Mother of the Church.
At the beginning of every Mass, we make the sign of the cross. Following that, is the first greeting. There are several different options for the priest to greet the people: “The Lord be with you,” or “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” or “The grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
These greetings are not merely creations of the priest at the moment. Rather, they come directly from the Bible. St. Paul, in his letters, often begins with a salutation, similar to the beginning of our letters today when we write, “Dear So-and-so.” However, if we pay attention to the greetings of St. Paul, they are not simply a way to say “hello” to one another, they are a theological statement.
St. Paul wants his readers to recognize that even in their greeting they are living in the grace of God. St. Paul was so connected to Jesus Christ, that he would not forget about Jesus, even when writing to others. It was Jesus Christ who taught him how to treat his neighbors, how to treat the Romans and the Ephesians; how to love the Corinthians and the Thessalonians. It was Jesus Christ who shaped everything in his life, including his friendships.
And so, at the beginning of each Mass that we Catholics celebrate, we greet each other, not as mere acquaintances, but as people who have been baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As a result, when we begin our Mass, we do not merely say “hello” to each other, but rather, we greet one another in the grace of Jesus. This type of greeting ought to remind us why we are gathered together each Sunday morning. We are not a social club, but a people who know that God loves us and that we are gathering to give God worship, praise, and honor.
And so, the priest greets the people in the grace of God and the people respond, “And with your spirit.” This is a rather recent re-translation of the Mass and its meaning is much more obvious than in the previous translation. When the people say “spirit,” we are acknowledging that we are entering into a spiritual reality, a spiritual encounter with the true and living God. We are preparing for a moment of grace as we celebrate the Mass together.
So at the beginning of Mass, let us all pay attention to the words we are using to greet one another and let us see that we gather as a people prepared to encounter the grace of the divine.
As was mentioned in last week’s bulletin, some of our young people will be receiving their First Communion this weekend. It is a great time for not only celebration, but also for all of us to reflect on what Holy Communion means for us in our faith.
First, we make a distinction in our faith between the terms “Eucharist” and “Communion.” When the Church uses the term “Eucharist,” the first meaning of the word is the entire celebration of the mass. This might surprise people because we often use the term “Eucharist” to refer to the consecrated host, however, the first meaning of the term Eucharist is the entire celebration of the mass from the opening hymn to the proclamation to “Go in peace.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The Eucharistic celebration always includes: the proclamation of the Word of God; thanksgiving to God the Father for all his benefits, above all the gift of his Son; the consecration of bread and wine; and participation in the liturgical banquet by receiving the Lord's body and blood. These elements constitute one single act of worship.” (CCC 1408).
The term “Communion” or “Holy Communion” refers to the part of the Eucharist where Catholics, who are properly prepared, come forward to receive communion. The term “communion” is an interesting phrase. When we break down the term “communion” we conjoin two words “union” and the prefix “com.” The term “union” is rather obvious; it is the act of joining together. The prefix “com” means “with.” So, when we put the two together, we see that communion literally means “joining with.”
In our Catholic faith, we recognize that when one comes forward to receive Holy Communion, there is a “joining with” that occurs. In fact, there are two “joining with” events that occur. First, when we receive Communion, there is a joining with our Lord and God. The consecrated host may appear to be bread, however we understand from the words of our Lord at the Last Supper that it is not merely bread, but rather it is the real presence of Jesus Christ. So when we receive Holy Communion, we are uniting ourselves to the very person of Jesus Christ. It is very important that we see with the eyes of our hearts that this is the God who died for us and rose from the dead for us.
The second “joining with” that occurs when we receive Holy Communion is that we are joined with all the other people who receive communion. We are one Church in the Body of Christ, and thus, when we receive communion, we become united with all the members of that Body, both those who are on earth now as well as those who have gone before us and are in heaven: all of our loved ones who are in heaven and the Saints. So we must see that intimate connection as well.
This weekend, please pray for those young people who are receiving Communion for the first time at the Eucharist. Let us pray for our parish and the whole world, that we might all grow in our appreciation of the great gift that it is to receive Holy Communion.