November 19, 2023 –
The Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time [Year A]
Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31 + 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6 + Matthew 25:14-15, 19-21
“Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities.”
Being present at Holy Mass is like being present along the Way of the Cross. As the Mass proceeds, we are ascending to its summit, just as on Good Friday the crowds ascended Mount Calvary. Further, just as there are stations—stopping points—during the Way of the Cross, we also see stations during Holy Mass. These three stations reflect the priest carrying out the roles of priest, prophet, and shepherd.
The first station is the priest’s chair. After the entrance antiphon and its procession, the priest speaks to God’s flock as a shepherd. He first gathers God’s flock together through a ritual of penance. He calls God’s lost sheep, including himself, away from their sins and into God’s Presence.
Another example of the priest shepherding from his chair is heard when the priest gathers God’s flock to pray together. The priest says simply, “Let us pray.” The shepherd then pauses, not for the server to bring the Missal, but to afford the flock time to call their own prayers to mind.
In the new translation of the Roman Missal, the prayer that the priest then prays is called by its traditional name: the “Collect”. This prayer “collects” or folds all our individual prayers into the prayer that the priest offers to God on behalf of all present.
The second station of Holy Mass is the pulpit. There the second baptismal role is carried out: the role of prophet. This role is exercised at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Word by laypersons who act as lectors.
Throughout the course of the Liturgy of the Word—the first main part of the Mass—there is an ascent. We start in the Old Testament (except during Eastertide). The next Scripture passage that’s proclaimed is typically one of the Psalms. Then the Church moves to the New Testament, as the Second Reading always comes from one of the writings of the Apostles.
But then the summit of the Liturgy of the Word is reached. The final Scripture passage that’s proclaimed is from the most important part of the Bible: the gospel accounts, where Jesus Himself acts and speaks. In the Old Testament, Jesus is foreshadowed. In the writings of the Apostles, Jesus’s words and works are unpacked. But in the Gospel accounts, Jesus Himself directly acts for us and speaks to us.
Because Jesus’ presence in this part of the Bible is unique, the proclamation of this Scripture passage is also unique. For example, we stand to honor Jesus. The proclamation of the Gospel is prefaced by a dialogue between the priest and laypeople, and everyone blesses himself over his mind, lips, and heart. On particularly solemn Sundays and Holy Days, the Gospel may be incensed, servers may bear candles, and the Gospel may be chanted.
Nonetheless, although the proclamation of the Gospel is the Liturgy of the Word’s summit, it’s not its conclusion. The homily, Profession of Faith, and intercessions conclude the Liturgy of the Word.
Of these three, the homily is where the priest exercises his baptismal role of prophet most specifically. The homily shows where the Gospel bears directly on the lives of those listening. The homily illustrates the demands that the Gospel makes upon Christians, thereby revealing their need for the strength of the Holy Eucharist.
The third station of Holy Mass, then, is the altar of priestly sacrifice. The altar is the final station as the top of Calvary is the goal of the Way of the Cross. If the first main part of Mass is the Liturgy of the Word, the second is the Liturgy of the Word made Flesh. The Word becomes flesh and dwells among us so that He might abide in us, and that we might through Him bear abundant fruit in the world.
Jesus, in every one of His acts of shepherding, is leading you to the top of Mount Calvary. Jesus, in every one of His prophetic words, is telling you to accept Calvary as your destiny, to take up your own cross and follow Him there. Because the Word of God, as powerful as it is, is not the final goal of Catholic worship. There’s only one thing in this world more powerful than the proclamation of the Word of God: the priestly Self-Sacrifice of the Word made Flesh.
Parable of The Talents stained glass window [detail], Cathedral Church of Saint Martin, Leicester, England