Saturday, December 07, 2013

Do the I's have it?

One of the awesome responsibilities of being a priest is to give voice to Jesus Christ.  We priests get to say - in fact, are obliged to say - the words of Jesus Himself in an efficacious way, that is, in a way that brings about what is spoken. 

Christ Himself indicated that this is His mode of engaging the world, when on His visit to the synagogue in Nazareth, there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:17-21)

He was quoting the prophecy of Isaiah 61:1-4, but in speaking it, Jesus also fulfilled it. This act of Jesus was not a once-and-done action, but an indication of how he would interact with all who were not blessed to be in that synagogue at that instant.

He continues to engage the world with His words, which are now themselves Scripture, spoken by those men prepared and ordained to act in His person (in persona Christi) within the action of the Church known as the Sacred Liturgy.  This use of the first-person is strictly defined, carefully governed, and more than a little intimidating. 

These privileged actions are the sacraments.  The priest speaks in the first person the words of Christ, it is Christ speaking through the priest, and this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing:  Take this all of you and eat of it, for this is my body.   I absolve you of your sins... your sins are forgiven. 
The other time during the liturgy the words of Christ are spoken in the first person is in the proclamation of the Holy Gospel.  This is one of the reasons this task is reserved to ordained ministers – bishops, priests, and deacons.  Even then, Christ's words are clearly spoken as "in quotation marks" and in the context of the passage.  There is an understood distinction between the words, and the one who proclaims them.

If this gives you the impression that the Church uses carefully Jesus’ first-person statements during worship, you are correct.  They have power and purpose.  They shape the self-understanding of the Church and her members. 

That is one of the purposes to our worship: to inform, or shape, our self-understanding.  There is no better way to understand oneself than to participate in an authentic relationship.  How we speak of ourselves in a relationship both reveals and shapes that relationship.  If we assert that we are someone or something that we are not, that undermines the relationship.  It is important to the health of any relationship that we be attentive to how we speak of, or assert, ourselves.

No relationship is more essential and revealing than our relationship with our Creator and Redeemer.  How we behave in the context of that relationship is formative.  How we speak in that relationship is formative.  It is important to examine how we speak of ourselves in our worship, because it is entirely possible to do so in a way that weakens or undermines the strength and health of our relationship with God.

Though I am privileged to give voice to Christ as He brings about His presence in the elements of the Eucharist, I am not the bread of life.  Neither are you.  Why would we tell someone we love, we are who He alone is?   Next week we will examine this and other situations in which the I’s certainly do not have it.

Monsignor Smith

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