Prayer and Reflection by Archbishop Stephen Brislin

Archbishop Stephen Brislin offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Wednesday 17 February 2021, during this time of the coronavirus pandemic. It is also available on the Archdiocese of Cape Town’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. Please also see below the text of his reflection, primarily for the deaf.

Today we begin the season of Lent, a time of grace as we focus on the tender mercy and forgiveness of God. The more we experience God’s compassionate mercy, the more we become aware of our own incompleteness, our need to humble ourselves and how much we thirst for God in our lives. Welcome to this reflection. I have taken an excerpt from the second Reading of today’s Mass, 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2:

Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, “At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation”. Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

Let us pray using the Collect of the Mass:

Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint. We make this prayer through Our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever, amen. 

Lent is a time of grace, a time of new growth and renewal of our resolve to follow Jesus Christ faithfully by integrating his teachings into our lives and daily activities. We can compare it to a time of pruning when fruit trees or other plants have the dead wood cut away in order to stimulate growth and fruitfulness. We are invited by the Church to look carefully at our lives and to become aware of the clutter and “dead wood” that is part of us but does not belong to God. We undertake more intense prayer, abstinence and fasting, as well as sacrificial good works as a remedy against the clutter and as a commitment to learn and adopt new habits making us into an acceptable offering to God and making us worthy of the name “Christian”. To accomplish this we need God’s grace. Grace, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church is favour, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life (CCC1996) and is a participation in the life of God (CCC1997). “It is the gift of the Holy Spirit who justifies us and sanctifies us”. How beautiful it is in Mass when we are welcomed with the words, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all, or, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

A very worthwhile effort during the Lent, as we strive to improve and deepen our prayer life and spirituality, is to reflect on Holy Mass, what it means and how essential it is for us as Catholics since it is the source and summit of Christian life. For that reason, and because it is the Year of the Eucharist,  I would like to talk about the Mass over the next few weeks so that we can renew and re-find the beauty of Holy Mass as a true communion between ourselves and God.

As you are aware, every Mass consists of two fundamental parts – the Liturgy of the Word when we hear the Scriptures proclaimed and application of the Word given in the homily, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist where we fulfil the command of Jesus, “do this in memory of me”. The “this” refers to his actions at the Last Supper as recorded in the Gospels, and encompasses his passion, death and resurrection. Before we enter into the Liturgy of the Word there are the introductory rites, and after the celebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist there are the concluding rites.

Mass really begins as people begin to assemble – we all are familiar with the words of Jesus, where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them (Matt 18:20). So Jesus is present as the faithful begin to gather who, as they wait, pray silently and in their hearts, preparing themselves inwardly for the spiritual event that is about to take place. When the appointed time arrives, the entrance procession of the priest and ministers is usually accompanied by a hymn praising and thanking God. All prayer should begin with praise of God as we acknowledge his bountiful gifts which he bestows on people, most especially the gifts of creation (life) and salvation. The hymn of praise enables us to focus on the reason for us being in Church – to acknowledge God as God and our relationship with him as the created. After the priest venerates the altar which, in itself a symbol of Christ who is priest sacrifice and altar, and speaks aloud and makes the sign of the Cross, a custom that begins most of our prayers as Catholics, and which again help us to focus on God. We are gathered in the name of the Triune God, not merely in our own name. The celebration is being conducted in God’s name and everything that is said and every action performed should lead us more deeply into God’s presence. The people then make their first response “amen” – it is so – thereby expressing their own consent and understanding of what has been said. It should be understood that the Mass is a dialogue. While both priest and people are all focussed on God, they have different parts and are in dialogue with each other in words of prayer and faith. The Mass is prayer from beginning to end.

Then come the wonderful words I was talking of earlier, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, or another similar greeting such as, the Lord be with you. These are words taken from Scripture – again, we should remember that the whole Mass is Scripturally based. If we are truly to appreciate the Mass we must recognize its Scriptural foundation. The greeting is beautiful and expresses unity between priest and congregation who respond “and with your spirit”. The words convey a desire for well-being, goodness and God’s blessings on all assembled, who are united in their faith in the one Triune God, despite being diverse and different people in so many ways. I will continue talking of the Mass next week.

Let us now pray for God’s blessing:

The Lord be with you                                                                          R/ And with your spirit

Father, may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, your love, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with your people at all times, through Christ our Lord, amen.  And may Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.