Modern Liturgy: Lectionary
Summer. Ordinary Time. Nothing extraordinary here. Just the same old mystery of salvation over and over again. Oh, but if we go deeply into that mystery, all that seems ordinary is quite extraordinary.
If you're offering or sharing catechesis this summer, try working from the lectionary. The readings unveil many doctrines of the catholic faith that merit scrutiny.
Let's begin with the end -- of Easter.
7th Sunday of Easter
Glory, glory halleluiah! Not just for the end of the semester, but for a glimpse of the end of time. Stephen sees the glory of God. Jesus gives the glory he has received. And the One seated on the throne speaks the last words of the whole Bible: "Yes, I am coming soon!" Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!
The last week of Easter begins with a vision of the end. The book of Revelation has spoken to us all season long, and today it reveals where the whole Bible has been pointing: the return of the Son of Man. Our catechesis on this reading can highlight the second coming of Christ, and the ultimate goal of the pilgrim church. (See "Lumen Gentium" #48-51.)
Today's Gospel finds us at the Last Supper with Jesus in the midst of his prayer to the Father. It's a touching moment: We find he's praying for us -- not for his disciples alone, but for us, too. And what does he pray for? Peace? Knowledge? Morality? No. Unity. His prayer is for unity. A good week to reflect on the unity of the church. (See Basic Teachings for Catholic Religious Education" #22.)
The martyrdom of Stephen models for us the total gift of self that faith demands. His ecstatic prayer shows how devotion to God leads to love for enemies. This week we can learn about the martyrs of the church past and present - in the Holy Land and in Central America, in Africa and in China. (See the "General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar" #56.)
Topics for this week may include: the resurrection and ascension of Christ, the saints and martyrs of the church, the glory that awaits after our death, forms and purposes of prayer, the unity of the Father and the Son, the union of God with the church, ecumenism, and the expectation of Christ on the last day.
The gift of the Holy Spirit marks the end of the Easter season. Now the mystery is revealed in its fullness: the mission of the Son is completed by the Spirit.
We have more readings than we know what to do with for the feast: The Vigil Mass offers four options for the first reading, all from the Old Testament. This is the first we've heard from the Hebrew Scriptures since the Easter Vigil fifty days ago!.
The Tower of Babel contrasts the confusion of languages with the gift of tongues. The appearance of the Lord on Mt. Sinai details the origins for the Hebrew feast of Pentecost -- an event marked by loud noises and fire in a lofty place. The dry bones of Ezekiel prophesy the coming of the vivifying Spirit. And Joel's prophecy is the one Peter will quote on Pentecost morning in Acts 2.
The familiar story of Pentecost is found in the Mass of the day in the first reading. The story tells of God's dramatic entry into the early Christian community, and the bold proclamation which resulted. This is an important day to catechize on the mission of the Holy Spirit. (See "Basic Teachings" #9.)
The Gospel recounts that Jesus breathed the Spirit on the disciples on Easter Day itself. That Spirit was for forgiveness: "if you forgive sins, they are forgiven." (See Introduction to the Rite of Penance #1.)
The selection from Paul's writings represents the Spirit as the unifying principle for the gifts of the church. The people of God thus share in the prophetic ministry of the whole church. (See "Lumen Gentium" #12)
Catechesis this week may include the work of the Holy Spirit, the mystery of Pentecost, the Old Testament roots of Pentecost, the sacrament of reconciliation, the mystery of sin and forgiveness, the gifts of the Spirit which enliven the Body of Christ.
The saints get feast days, so why shouldn't God have one too? Now that we've celebrated the whole mystery of salvation in slow motion -- creation, redemption, and mission -- we celebrate it all at once in a special feast of the triune God.
The Gospel returns us to the Last Supper where Jesus explains the mission of the Spirit and his union with the Father. It's a pithy passage, but one that sums up nicely the unity of the Trinity. (See "General Catechetical Directory" #47.)
Jesus spoke of the Trinity as an insider. Paul the outsider reveals how the Trinity acts in the redemption of the faithful. In spite of our sins, Jesus justifies us so we may stand before God, filled with the Spirit poured out into our hearts. (See "Basic Teachings" #1.)
Proverbs offers us a speech by Wisdom. Wisdom is the personification of an attribute of God usually linked to the Spirit, as "Word" is linked to the Son. "Wisdom" describes the interior creative principle in the world which also guides moral choice. In today's passage Wisdom proclaims that she was present before creation -- making her an eternal companion of the creative God who stands outside time and place. The Trinity did not begin on Pentecost -- it was active from the beginning of the world. (See "General Catechetical Directory" #51.)
Catechesis this week may include the Trinity, creation, principles of moral choice, eternity, salvation, and the roles of the Father, Son, and the Spirit in redemption.
The Body and Blood of Christ
Holy Thursday is filled with themes: Eucharist, priesthood, repentance, and service, for example. The church has given us a special feast to dwell on the sacrament which is the center of our faith: Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist.
Luke's multiplication of the loaves gives us a "foretaste" of the Eucharist. In the context of service to the hungry, Jesus performs a ritual blessing for an arranged assembly, and fed a multitude with food and wonder. The verbs here are the same we find in the Last Supper: he took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. A good Sunday to reflect on the meaning and structure of the Mass, and the demands placed on Christians to fill the hungers of the world. (See "General Instruction of the Roman Missal" #7-8 and "Economic Justice for All" #239-247.)
Paul's letter contains the earliest written account of the Eucharist, predating the Gospels. This text holds an exalted place in our Scriptures for it age, purpose, and meaning. Catechesis this week may focus on our theology of Eucharist. (See "General Catechetical Directory" #58.)
The brief passage from Genesis gives an early reference to the custom of a priest offering bread and wine for sacrifice. Today's Psalm (110) is chosen because it refers specifically to this passage. In the Letter to the Hebrews 5-7 Melchizedek reappears as an image of Christ. (See “Presbyterorum Ordinis" #1-2, 5.)
Catechesis this week may focus on Eucharist, priesthood of Jesus Christ, the sacrament of orders, the liturgy of the Mass, and the moral demand to feed the hungry.
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Sundays in Ordinary Time return at a pivotal moment in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus is beginning his journey to Jerusalem. Setting his face toward the city of his death, he is like someone diagnosed with a fatal illness, who sees life differently now and becomes more resolute in teaching and behavior. From the beginning of summer's ordinary time, the cross is in full view.
The journey to Jerusalem begins with a lesson in what it means to follow Jesus. The joy is great, but the demands are rigorous. Catechesis today may explore the sorrows that come with the journey of discipleship. Glory is real but so is the cross. (See "Basic Teachings" #17.)
The first reading recounts the challenging story of Elisha's decision to follow Elijah. Clearly an example of the readiness to serve emulated in the Gospel, the story demonstrates the complete dedication of discipleship. (See "General Catechetical Directory" #63.)
This week's second reading together with next week's concludes a semi-continuous reading of Paul's letter to the Galatians. Here Paul takes up the theme of Christian liberty -- a freedom of service, not of sin. Our reflections can explore what that means for Christian life. (See "Gaudium et Spes" 316-17.)
Catechetical themes this week include the demands of discipleship, suffering, Christian liberty, service, sin, and moral behavior and decision making.
In between the hot dogs and the fireworks it's good to recall that this day is about the birth of a nation -- a nation called to live in a world of ideas and ideals. Rereading the Declaration of Independence can offer food for thought as responsible Christian citizens.
Catechesis could reflect on the differences between civil and liturgical calendars. (For example, when is our ecclesial "birthday celebration"?) It could also consider freedom, loyalty, and the moral issues of colonialization, inculturation, social grace and social sin. Where do the Christian and national codes of conduct work together? Where do they conflict?
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
This holiday weekend will find many strangers in our churches and many friends away from home. As disciples on the road, we can just imagine Jesus' instructions to the 72 disciples.
Sending the disciples on their mission, Jesus warns them they will meet resistance. Religion is controversial. But the 72 return in jubilation at their success. Jesus reminds them it's not earthly success that matters, but joy in heaven. The Gospel is a sending forth into the world to preach. This week we remind ourselves of the duty to bring the Christian message from the Church to the marketplace. (See "Gaudium et Spes" $43.)
Isaiah proclaims the joy of the messianic age. He envisions a day of prosperity, peace, and comfort when the Messiah arrives. The reading prepares us for the joy the disciples will experience in the Gospel, in spite of Jesus' warnings that not all will welcome their message. Today we may reflect on the legitimate hope of Christians. (See "General Catechetical Directory" #67.)
At the end of his letter to the Galatians, Paul finds himself in the midst of the controversy over how important it was to be Jewish in order to be Christian. He cries in exasperation that circumcision does not matter. "All that matters is to be created anew." This passage invites us to reflect on the requirements for membership in the Church, and the place of law and prayer in living the faithful Christian life. (See the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults #42 and #120.)Catechesis this week may include the following: the nature of preaching, the role of laity in the world, discipleship, law and spirit in Christian life, and the requirements and expectations for church membership.