The Daily Bread, 28th March 2020.
Entrance Antiphon: Cf. Ps 17: 5, 7
The waves of death rose about me; the pains of the netherworld surrounded me.
In my anguish I called to the Lord, and from his holy temple he heard my voice.
Collect or Opening Prayer
Let us pray.
May the working of your mercy, O Lord, we pray, direct our hearts aright,
for without your grace we cannot find favour in your sight.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
When preaching, a priest may base his remarks on any text of the Mass, not just the scripture readings. For all the texts of the Mass have a rich and deep history in the teaching, life and worship of the Church. When I was saying Mass this morning, both the entrance antiphon above (which is from Psalm 17) and the “Collect”, as it is called, struck a chord and made me pause.
You may have heard Pope Francis yesterday (a translation of his address is on our website). He based it on the episode in the Gospel in which the apostles are terrified of drowning because the “waves of death” were rising around them in their boat. Jesus was asleep but “heard their voice” and calmed the storm. So, the entrance antiphon, Psalm 17, could almost have been scripted for the apostles in that scene.
But both the entrance antiphon and the collect cried out to me one word: helplessness. Our natural condition, especially if we are on our own, is one of needing help. There are lots of things we can have and do to help ourselves, of course, as far as our life on this earth goes. But when it comes to life and death themselves, to knowing how to please God and so to win from his mercy the gift of life, we can do nothing without his assistance. We are helpless.
The collect speaks of the “working of your mercy, O Lord.” The original Latin says the “operatio” of mercy, the “operation” of mercy. And indeed, God “operates” on our hearts with his mercy. He operates through our hearts with his mercy. In fact, he operates for our hearts in the great work of mercy which was his Cross. As his heart was pierced, ours were healed. We gained divine help as he became ever more helpless on the Cross.
The collect also has the sense whereby God’s work on our hearts directs them, gives them the correct purpose and orientation. The blood and water, that is the Spirit of Christ, flowing from his side flow into our hearts and make us “favourable” to God, pleasing to him. The Spirit gives certainty of footing and direction to our waywardness.
Like the apostles in the storm-tossed boat, we at this time need more than ever to raise our anguished call as a race to the Lord. Our hearts can be swamped by the “pains of the netherworld” or hell to doubt Him, rail at Him, reject Him because of the waves of death around us. Instead, our anguish needs to open our hearts out all the more to him, to implore his mercy, yes to demand the direct operation of his mercy within us, so that our response to Him and to one another in this terrible crisis will be favourable in His sight.
One last thought. The entrance antiphon ends, “from his holy temple he heard my voice.” His holy temple in our parishes is our parish church where He is truly and really present. What a trial for us that these, too, must be closed. But however far your house is from the church, still “from his holy temple he hears your voice.” Don’t ever doubt that. Jesus hears the voice of those he loves through all the wind and storms that may seek to drown them out. Including the storms of our own fears and uncertainties. And his voice only ever speaks to calm those storms so that we can hear the majestic power and reassurance of His voice. Our helplessness dissolves before the divine assistance.