Thursday, April 05, 2007
Pope Benedict's Chrismal Mass Homily
Pope Benedict XVI celebrates the Chrismal Mass in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 5, 2007. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi (VATICAN)
~translated by the Papa Ratzinger Forum
Dear brothers and sisters,
The Russian writer Leo Tolstoi has a short story in which a stern king asks his priests and wise men to show him God, so he could see Him. The wise men were not able to satisfy the king's desire.
Then, a shepherd who had just returned from the fields, offered to take on the task. He told the king that his eyes were inadequate to see God.
Well, then, the king at least wanted to know what God does. "To respond to your question," said the shepherd, "we should exchange clothes."
Reluctantly, but impelled by curiosity, the king agreed. He took off his kingly garments and put on the simple garment of the shepherd.
Now, he had his answer. "This," said the shepherd, "is what God has done."
Indeed, the Son of God - true God from true God - left behind his divine splendor: "...he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross" cfr Phil 2,6ff).
As the Fathers said, God underwent the sacrum commercium, the sacred exchange: he assumed that which is ours, so that we could receive that which is His, to become like Him.
St. Paul, to describe what takes place at Baptism, explicitly uses the image of garment: "When you are baptized in Christ, then you become clothed in Christ" (Gal 3,27). This is what happens in Baptism: we are clothed again in Christ - He gives us His vestments, and these are not exterior. It means we enter into an existential communion with Him, that His being and ours flow together and compenetrate each other.
"No longer I, but Christ, lives in me" - Paul says in his Letter to the Galatians (2,20), describing his own Baptism.
Christ has put on our garments: the sorrows and the joys of being man, the thirst, the hunger, the tiredness, the hopes and disappointments, fear of death, all human anguish including death. And He has given us His 'garments.'
What he presents in the Letter to the Galatians as the simple 'fact' of Baptism - the gift of new being - Paul describes in the Letter to the Ephesians as a permanent task: "... you should put away the old self of your former way of life... and put on the new self, created in God's way in righteousness and holiness of truth. Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry but do not sin..." (Eph 4, 22-25).
This theology of Baptism returns in a new way and with new insistence in priestly ordination. As in Baptism, there is an 'exchange of garments', a change of life, a new existential communion with Christ. In the priesthood, one undergoes a change: in administering the sacraments, the priest acts and speaks in persona Christi.
In the sacred mysteries, the priest does not represent himself, he does not speak to express himself, he speaks for the Other - for Christ. So the Sacraments make dramatically visible what being a priest means, in general: what we expressed by our "Adsum" - I am here, I am ready - during our priestly consecration: I am here so you may dispose of me.
We make ourselves available to Him who "died for everyone, so that those who live no longer live for themselves" (2 Cor 5,15). To put ourselves at the disposition of Christ means we allow ourselves to be drawn into His 'for everyone' - being with Him, we can truly be 'for everyone'.
In persona Christi – at the moment of sacerdotal ordination, the Church made visible and tangible for us the reality of 'new garments' even externally, through being clothed in liturgical vestments. In this external fact,she wants to make evident the interior event and the task that comes from it: to be clothed in Christ, to give ourselves to Him as he gave Himself to us.
This event, this clothing ourselves in Christ, is represented anew every time we vest ourselves for Holy Mass. To put on the liturgical vestments should mean more than the external fact: it means entering anew into the Yes of our responsibility, that "no longer I" in Baptism which priestly ordination re-confers on us but at the same time demands of us.
The fact that we are at the altar, dressed in liturgical vestments, should make visibly clear to to those present that we are there "in the person of Another." Priestly vestments, as they have developed in the course of time, are a profound symbolic expression of what the priesthood means.
Therefore, dear brother priests, I would like to explain on this Maundy Thursday, the essence of the priestly ministry by interpreting the liturgical vestments which, precisely, are meant to illustrate what it means to be 'clothed in Christ', to talk and to act in persona Christi.
Putting on the priestly garments was at one time accompanied by prayers which help us to better understand the single elements of the priestly ministry.
Let us start with the amice. In the past - and even today, among the monastic orders - it was first placed on the head, like a hood, as a symbol for the discipline of the senses and thought that is necessary for the proper celebration of the Mass.
My thoughts should not wander to and fro among the concerns and expectations of my daily routine. My senses should not be drawn to anything within the Church that may casually catch the eye or the ear. My heart should open itself obediently to the Word of God and reflect on the prayers of the Church, so that my thought may be oriented by the words of the Gospel and the prayers.
And the eye of my heart should look to the Lord who is in our midst: that is what ars celebrandi means - the proper way of celebration. If I am with the Lord, then my listening, speaking and acting will also draw the faithful into communion with Him.
The texts of the prayers interpreting the alb and the stole are along the same line. They recall the festive garment that the Father gave the prodigal son when he returned home in dirty rags. When we take part in liturgy to act in the person of Christ, we all become mindful of how far we are from Him - how much filth there is in our lives. Only He can give us the festive garment, make us worthy to preside at His table, to be in His service.
So the prayers also recall the words of the Apocalypse according to which the robes of the 144,000 elected ones were worthy of God, but not through their merit. The Apocalypse says that they had washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb, and in this way, the garments had become as candid as the light (cfr Ap 7, 14).
As a child, I asked: But when one washes something in blood, it certainly does not become white. The answer is that 'the blood of the Lamb' is the love of the crucified Christ. That love makes our dirty garments clean and white, it enlightens our shadowed spirit, so that notwithstanding all our personal shadows, it transforms us to be 'light in the Lord'.
When we put on the alb, we should remember: He suffered for me. And only because His love is greater than all of my sins am I able to represent Him and be a witness of His light.
But in the garment of light that the Lord gives us in Baptism and once again in priestly ordination, we can also think of the nuptial garment that he talks about in the parable of the wedding feast.
In the homilies of St. Gregory the Great, I found a reflection worthy of note. Gregory compares Luke's version of the parable to that of Matthew. He is convinced that the parable inLuke refers to the eschatological wedding feast, whereas, the version transmitted by Matthew refers to the anticipation of that wedding feast in liturgy and in the life of the Church.
In Matthew, and only in Matthew, the king comes into the crowded hall to see his guests. And among the multitude, there is one who is not in wedding clothes and is thrown out into the shadows.
So Gregory asks: " What garment was he lacking? Everyone who has been received into the Church has received the new garment of baptism and the faith; otherwise, they would not be in the Church. What then was lacking? What nuptial garment must be added?" Pope Gregory answers: "The garment of love."
And unfortunately, among the guests to whom he had earlier given new garments, the white garments of rebirth, the king found some who did not have the red robes signifying love for God and for one's neighbor.
"In what condition do we wish to approach the heavenly feast," asks Pope Gregory, "if we do not put on the wedding garment - love, which alone can make us beautiful?"
A person without love is dark within. The outer shadows that the Gospel speaks of are only a reflection of the interior darkness of the heart (cfr Hom. 38,8-13). And as we prepare ourselves to celebrate the Holy Mass, we should ask ourselves if we have this garment of love.
We ask the Lord to drive away every hostility from our spirit, to rid us of any sense of self sufficiency, and to clothe us truly in the garment of love, so that we become creatures of light rather than belonging to the shadows.
Finally, a brief word about the chasuble. The traditional prayer when one is putting it on sees it as a representation of the yoke which the Lord imposes on us as priests. And it recalls the words of Jesus when He invites us to carry His yoke, and to learn from Him, who 'mild and meek of heart' (Mat 11,29).
To carry the yoke of the Lord means above all to learn from Him.
To be always ready to 'go to school' by Him. From Him we should learn gentleness and humility - the humility God showed in becoming man.
St. Gregory Nazianzene once asked why God wanted to become a man. For me, the most important and moving part of his answer was: "God wanted to experience what obedience means to man, and to measure everything according to His own suffering out of love for us. In this way, he would experience directly what we experience - what is asked of us, how much indulgence we deserve - measuring our weakness according to the measure of his suffering" [Dicourse 30: Disc. teol. IV,6).
At times, we want to say to Christ: Lord, your yoke is by no means light. Rather, it is a very heavy one in this world. But then, looking at Him who has borne everything - who in Himself knew obedience, weakness, pain, all possible darkness - then, we stifle our cry. His yoke is for us to love with Him. The more we love Him, and with Him, become persons who love, then the lighter the yoke becomes, even if it seems heavy.
Let us pray to Him to help us become, with Him, persons who love, so that we may experience ever anew how beautiful it is to bear His yoke. Amen.