I want you to look at our current set up here. I am not talking about the design of the Church, I am talking about where you are sitting and where I am standing. We are looking at each other, obviously, and that is an important element in this liturgy.
Throughout the history of the Church change happened as to where the priest stands and faces during the Eucharistic prayer. There is the way we do it here since Vatican II where I am facing you and you are facing me. There is another way called Ad Orientem, which is actually the preferred stance even after Vatican II. This literally means to the East and it is when the priest has his back to the people. It is not that he is snubbing you, it is more like he is standing in front of you, speaking on your behalf to God the Father through Jesus Christ. Currently, there is a movement to return the priest to that position. That issue is not the reason for my homily today.
I want to talk about the other part where I am here talking to you and we are facing each other. In the reading of the scriptures and in the homily, the priest, bishop, deacon always faced the people for the entire two thousand years of the Church. Obviously, Jesus faced the people when he spoke to them, so did the prophets.
Throughout the Acts of the Apostles you see preaching by the Apostles and this is the way it is done.
The reason is obvious. However, why does this part of the mass exist at all? Why don’t we just pray the Eucharist prayer, receive the Body and Blood of Christ and call that the mass? Clearly the Eucharist, because it is Christ’s gift to us as his body and blood, is the summit of the mass. However, this ancient part is of great importance as well. Why? Look at today’s reading.
St. Peter describes us as living stones built into a spiritual house. That is an ancient symbol of the Church found also in other Christian literature of the first century that is not part of the Bible, what is called apocryphal writing. This part of the mass, the readings where we literally hear the words from God and the homily which explains those words, are there to help you become a stronger spiritual house of God. The you that I use is the second person plural, literally the grammatically incorrect but perfectly descriptive y’all.
This part is to help y’all become stronger as the structure that is the house of God. Not a physical structure but a structure nonetheless in which Christ dwells. The reason is simple. If we look at the structure around us that is the Church building, we can see that people know that the presence of God is in this Church, especially because in that the Eucharist is here, that is quite literal.
When we now transfer the word to y’all, now that same dynamic that exists on 1013 Sea St. or 237 Sea St. exists in your hearts and minds as you go throughout your life in the world. Y’all are a spiritual structure collectively in which you individually support each other in Christ, strengthen each other in Christ as you collectively become that call to others to recognize the power of Christ in the world. We do that by praying for each other, by affirming our faith with each other and by being present to each other all in the name of Christ. St. James admonishes us to bear one another’s burdens.
This part is there to help you to be stronger in your ability to do that. This is an essential point. If we simply celebrated mass, Ad Orientem or not, doing nothing more than the Eucharistic prayers this would be a key element, but without this part which we call the Liturgy of the Word the message here would be similar to a misunderstanding of the role of the laity common prior to Vatican II: that the laity were passengers on a bus to Heaven with the priests driving it. This is not what Saint Peter says, even accounting that buses did not exist in his time. Others say that it is the job of the priest and religious to be holy for the laity. If either of those models were correct, this part of the mass would be unnecessary. However, it is here for a reason because you have been called to be living stones in the spiritual house of God. Your role in being those precious living stones in the world is literally a calling from God, hence why this piece is in the mass. Keeping ourselves as shiny precious living stones is what the Sacraments are all about, especially the sacrament of reconciliation. It is because you are the key elements in this structure. I am also a part of it as well.
Notice something else, my own terminology, I used the words you and y’all. I did not use the words some of you, or the words those of you. I used the word you and y’all. This is all of you, which is literally what y’all means. This means that any excuse you can use to indicate that it does not apply to you, such as your age, your lack of education, your proficiency in English, your health, your hair color or favorite food is wrong, even your struggle with sin. Each of your have been called to be part of this spiritual house described by saint peter. Each of you are a precious stone, and each of you have a duty to recognize this dignity and guard it with the assistance of everyone here and in the entire Roman Catholic Church at large.
You can get into great discussions of whether we should worship ad orientem or not, but this part of the mass has never changed and its inclusion in the mass shows that God recognizes you just as St. Peter says He does living stones in the spiritual structure called the Church. Your role is to be those spiritual precious stones and like the physical structure be present so that those who seek what Christ has to offer may find it because of y’all.
God bless you