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The extraordinary routine

Sunday, May 27, 2007
Pentecost Sunday

Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 103; 1 Corinthians 12:3-7,12-13; John 20:19-23

Let us reflect briefly on the celebration of a normal mass. If you go to church regularly, you will find that some things I am about to describe will be familiar to you.

The faithful are gathered in the church. Most of them would have “their own” seats, the traditional chairs on which they would have sat since they started to go to mass in that church. Once I made the mistake of taking the seat of an old lady who was late that day. I did not know that this was her seat because it was the first time that I attended mass in that particular church. As she arrived shortly before the beginning of the liturgy, she stared at me rather shocked. Eventually, she took the seat next to me and whispered “young man, you are sitting on my seat, I’m afraid”.

As soon as the organ starts to play, the first baby begins to cry. The priest processes in. The Kyrie is sung by the choir, and you usually wake up again for the Hallelujah. One of the most frightful things of the liturgy can be the shaking hands before the “Lamb of God”. It is supposed to be a generous sign of peace. But it can be difficult, especially if you know you neighbour too much (or not at all). After the mass has ended, you go home with mixed feelings. Sometimes, the liturgy has touched you and revealed something important about God and your life. Sometimes, you are disappointed because you did not find the atmosphere of prayer you would have liked to find. Sometimes, mass is just routine.

The Pentecost scene of St John’s Gospel is very reminiscent of our celebration of the mass. Like us, so the disciples, are gathered in a confined room on the first day of the week. But the circumstances of the disciples were a bit different to ours. They had seen Jesus raising the dead to life, they had observed how he fulfilled the promises of the scriptures and with what boundless love he loved even outcasts. The disciples had entrusted their lives to this man. They had hoped that He was the Messiah and that He would bring a new aeon of peace. But just before we see them gathered in this way, the Romans had crucified Jesus, their brother, friend and master. He was put to death in the cruelest way imaginable.

And than, Jesus simply walks in. His hands and his side still bear the signs of the crucifixion. We can hardly imagine what the disciples felt in that moment. They saw the new aeon walking in, a time of peace and love, a time where death has no power. And Jesus tells them in what this new time consists: in forgiving, love and peace. “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you”.

We should note that the gathering of the disciples derives its sense from the things that happened in their lives before they congregated: the disciples had placed all their trust in Him.

With this background, we can adjust our view of the mass. When the priest processes in, we see Jesus coming into our midst, and with him the affirmation of our time as a time of peace and love. He charges us to be distributors of this peace. He gives us the Holy Spirit so that we can love with divine power. If we discover this power in our daily live, we discover the mass as an ever new treasure. Even though sometimes it continues to seem routine.


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