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Works without faith

In the March 2015 issue of Catholic Insight, a letter to the editor opines that “many Catholics tend to treat Sunday Mass and receiving Communion as the principal, and sometimes only action required of them.” The letter writer sees Holy Mass as “only a start to our following His teaching.” He believes that once we leave the church after Sunday Mass, many of us are “oblivious to the rest of Christ’s teaching, which is centred on love of your neighbour.” The writer states that it doesn’t really matter whether we receive Holy Communion standing or kneeling, in the hand or on the tongue. He further suggests that we need to spend less time in the temple and more time in the market square: “Jesus might prefer His followers to be out of the temple doing some good work for our fellow humans.” He concludes his letter with valid examples of the areas where corporal works of mercy are clearly needed. While the letter is well-intentioned and stems from his understanding of love of neighbour, some areas need to be addressed.

The Holy Mass is not the start to our following Christ’s teaching. It is the source and the core of our discipleship. It is in the Holy Eucharist that we receive the supernatural graces needed to perform corporal works of mercy. The Sacred Liturgy is not “community service” as the letter to the editor states. Holy Mass is worship, adoration, sacrifice, sacrament, prayer, beauty.

The homily posted on the Priest Blog for 7 September 2014: Sacred Liturgy and Catholic Culture teaches us that “the Sacred Liturgy is the pre-eminent means through which we receive proper religious formation and education in virtue,” both of which are necessary in order that we may love our neighbour as ourselves. The homily goes on to say that “[p]ersonal prayer, evangelization and the works of mercy—all of which are needed and all of which are to be exercised by each member of the Church—those derive their meaning from the Liturgy. The Second Vatican Council taught us that ‘every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others’ (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7:4 December 1963).”

The Priest Blog homily for the fourth Sunday in Lent, Life’s Meaning and Purpose, explains the centrality of the Sacred Liturgy to our life of service, our life of discipleship. “We are created for good works. God created us to be good and to share this goodness, and in His goodness. The sacraments, especially the Eucharist, enable us to share in this goodness ontologically; that is to say, at the very level of our being. God transforms us from within and as this happens sacramentally we come to appreciate and understand that the Sacred Liturgy, our worship, is truly the benchmark of life. Everything in the celebration of the Liturgy is done in the beauty of holiness and the holiness of beauty in the hope that exposure to this Wonder before us will orient us, heal us and lift us up.”

In the book Dominus Est—It Is the Lord! Bishop Athanasius Schneider clearly explains why reception of Holy Communion on the tongue is the most reverent way to receive Our Lord. The more we understand and therefore develop an intense love of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ who humbles Himself to come to us hidden in the bread and wine, the more we desire to reverence Him by receiving Him in humility on our knees; and the more we realize that we are not worthy to touch Him with hands that are not purified. Bishop Schneider writes that receiving the Holy Eucharist on the tongue while kneeling is “an impressive sign professing faith in the Real Presence of God in the midst of the faithful.”

Jesus frequently sought out quiet places where He prayed for many hours. He did not perform any good works without first going to the Source of those good works, God the Father. Our Lord’s life was one of sacrifice and He exhorted us to follow His example. For Catholics, our life of sacrifice begins at Holy Mass where we unite our works, sacrifices, sufferings, and love to the Sacrifice of our Lord (cf. Catholic Insight‘s Priest Blog). In this way we are transformed so that the life we live is no longer our own but the life of Faith in Christ. In this way we are united to Christ crucified. Only when we are united to Jesus on the Cross can we truly serve our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Countless agencies, initiatives, and other well-meaning people have tried to eliminate all the wrongs which afflict the world. They are overflowing with good works. But just as faith without good works means nothing, so is good works without faith doomed to failure. Consider the many groups and agencies which address so many worldly ills but do not have the Gospel at the centre of their operations. Despite billions of donated dollars, the most qualified experts in their respective fields, and impressive ad campaigns, they are no further ahead in eliminating devastating problems.

A final point to consider is the virtue of humility that those who frequently attend Holy Mass possess. An observation I have made at my parish is that the people who attend Holy Mass often and not just on Sunday, who are present at Eucharistic Adoration, who quietly pray before the Blessed Sacrament, and take advantage of the Sacrament of Confession regularly are the same people who lead or participate in many of the parish ministries and quietly perform works of mercy in the community. The virtue of humility which they receive because of their profound love for the Sacred Liturgy and Holy Communion allows them to love their neighbour well, without the need to announce the good works which they accomplish. Therefore, I contend that they are indeed going out into the “market square” driven by love of God and love of neighbour but as the Gospel admonishes they “do not let the left hand know what the right hand is doing” (Mt 6:3).

The first three of the Ten Commandments tells us how we are to love God. Only after that are we given seven commandments that teach us how to love our neighbour. When Jesus answered the question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” He replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Mt 22: 36-40). In his rule, St. Benedict taught his monks that nothing is more important than the love of God. His rule hinged on two pillars: ora et labora, pray and work. Prayer comes before work.

The Holy Mass is far from being “community service.” Time spent in other “lengthy services” is not “superfluous” nor does it “lessen the time available for Catholic action.” These are the arguments put forth in the letter to the editor.  Church teachings, the lives of the saints, and the life of our Blessed Lord clearly tell us that time spent in the temple, that is to say, time spent in prayer, worship, and adoration must be frequent, unhurried, and come before all else.

Copyright-free photo courtesy of MorgueFile.com.

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