Third Sunday in Ordinary Time: Year C
Fr. Miguel Marie Soeherman, MFVA
Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament,
Hanceville, AL
24 January 2010

When we come to Mass, we literally come to Christ!

At the head of every celebration of the Mass is Jesus Christ Himself.  He is the principal agent of the Eucharist.  He is the High Priest of the New Covenant.  It is He Himself who presides invisibly over every Eucharistic celebration.  It is in representing Him that the bishop or priest presides over the assembly.  It is in representing Him that they preach after the readings.  It is in representing Him that they receive the offerings and say the Eucharistic Prayer.  The bishop or the priest act in the person of Christ the Head!  They act in the person of Christ the Head during the Mass the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist (cf. CCC 1348).

The readings today particularly highlight the Liturgy of the Word.  During Mass, the Liturgy of the Word covers all the readings, the homily, the Credo, and the General Intercession.  The Liturgy of the Word is an integral part of sacramental celebrations.  To nourish the faith of believers, the signs which accompany the Word of God are emphasized.  Sometimes we have the procession of the Book of the Gospels before its proclamation; and this emphasizes its importance and veneration.  Like this morning, we have the incense and the candles during its proclamation to show its importance and veneration.  And the place where it's proclaimed from the lectern or ambo also emphasize that the Word of God is being proclaimed.  The audible and intelligible reading, homily, and the responses of the people are more signs which accompany the Word of God being emphasized (cf. CCC 1154).

The Liturgy of the Word during Mass is prefigured all the way back to the time of Ezra.  We heard from the Book of Nehemiah in the First Reading the description of what Ezra, the priest, did in the synagogue.  It’s very similar to what we do at Mass.  Ezra was standing at one end and standing higher up; that’s what the priest or deacon does: standing at one end and standing higher up.  As Ezra opened the scroll, the people rose up; that’s what happened at the Gospel during the Mass, the people stand to listen the Gospel proclaimed.  Then Ezra interpreted the reading for the people; and that’s what the priest or deacon or bishop does after the proclamation of the Gospel, he gives the homily.

Whenever we read the Old Testament, we try to keep in mind Jesus Christ because everything written in the Old Testament leads us to Jesus Christ.  He is the fulfillment of all prophecies in the Old Testament.  Ezra, too, prefigures Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest, which we heard in the Gospel today.  Jesus was handed the scroll of Isaiah to read and then He gave his “homily” by saying: Today, this passage is fulfilled in your hearing.  Again, the Liturgy of the Word goes back all the way to Ezra’s and Our Lord’s time.  The people were attentive in hearing the readings being interpreted by Ezra and by Our Lord.

So, the Liturgy of the Word is like a form of a dialogue.  God speaks to us through the readings and the homily; and we respond to Him by our profession of faith and interceding on behalf of the Church as a whole.

Mother Angelica gives us her advice on how to listen to sermons. She said: “Don’t shut off the Word, because you’re going to miss a lot of graces in your life.  Don’t say, ‘I’ve heard all of this before.’  Listen to what the Spirit wants to say to you right now…  Now, maybe you don’t like his interpretation.  Fine.  You don’t have to like it.  There are a lot of speakers that I don’t like.  But there have been times where the worst speaker will say something that hits me like a rock.  So please don’t sit there with a Christian Science grin.  Wake up and listen.  Really listen!  There is no sermon that you cannot get something out of .  I don’t care who gives it.  It’s not what they are saying.  It’s the Word!  You need to ask only one question when that homily begins: ‘What is Jesus going to say to me today?’”

Also, for your information, the Church provides the faithful an indulgence for listening to the homily.  “A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who assist with devotion and attention at the sacred preaching of the Word of God.”  The key words is: “who assist with devotion and attention at the sacred preaching of the Word of God.” 

For us, priests, preaching is indeed an important office we’ve been given to fulfill faithfully.  As the Holy Father said to us, priests, in Lourdes in September 2008: “What marvels surround our work [of administering the divine sacraments] in the service of God’s word!  We are instruments of the Holy Spirit; God is so humble that he uses us to spread His word.  We become His voice, once we have listened carefully to the word coming from His mouth.  We place His word on our lips in order to bring it to the world.”

We are being formed through the preaching of the word of God.  This is when we decide to leave sin behind during the preaching of the word of God.  This is when we convert during the preaching of the word.  It is during the preaching of the word that we decide to embrace the life of the Gospel and abandon the worldly life.  It is during the preaching of the word that we decide to strive for virtue and abandon vices. 

As the Second Vatican Council states: “The People of God is formed into one in the first place by the Word of the living God, which is quite rightly sought from the mouth of the priests.  For since nobody can be saved who has not first believed, it is the first task of priests as co-workers of the bishops to preach the Gospel of God to all men.  In this way they carry out the Lord’s command ‘Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature’ (Mk 16:15) and thus set up and increase the People of God.”

So we are being formed during the preaching of the Word of God including the priest himself who preaches from the pulpit.

I want to conclude with an insight of St. John Marie Vianney, the patron of all priests, about preaching.  Through his words, he speaks to us, priests, and to the rest of the People of God.  First, he calls us, priests, to model after the good thief on the cross; and then, he speaks to the lay faithful.

Be like ministers who offer Jesus Christ to God his Father and make him the sacrifice of all they are, and take as a good model the good thief on the cross.  What progress he makes during the three hours that he finds himself in the company of his dying Savior!  First, he opens the eyes of his soul to recognize his deliverer; then, fastened to the cross, and having nothing that remains free but his heart and tongue, he offers both to Jesus Christ.  He consecrates his heart to him by faith and hope, and humbly asks of him a place in paradise; and he consecrates his tongue to him by proclaiming his innocence and holiness: “It is just that we should suffer,” he says to his companion, “but as for Him, He is innocent.” …

My children, you listen when you like the preacher; but if the preacher does not suit you, you turn him into ridicule…  We must not think so much about the man.  It is not the body that we must attend to.  Whatever the priest may be, he is still the instrument that the good God makes use of to distribute His Holy Word.  You pour liquor through a funnel; whether it be made of gold or of copper, if the liquor is good it will still be good.

So preparation is important when we come to Mass!  There is no chewing gum during Mass!  When we come to Mass, we come to Christ.  Let us ask Our Lady to help us always prepare for the Mass.  Let us ask Her every time we assist at Mass, we would do it with love and devotion.  Let us ask Her to prepare our hearts, our minds, and our souls to receive Her Son as if it would be our first time, as if it would be our last time, as if it would be our only time.

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