Archbishop Stephen Brislin offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Wednesday 24 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.
We are still in the early stages of Lent and I hope that you have adopted some sacrificial commitments and that you will be able to keep to them throughout Lent. Should you slip up, don’t give up but simply start again. Welcome to this reflection and, as usual, let us listen to an excerpt from today’s Gospel (Luke 11:29-32):
The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgement with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.
Let us pray:
Convert us, O God our Saviour, and instruct our minds by heavenly teaching, that we may benefit from the works of lent. 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.
Repentance is a major theme of both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament the prophets frequently called the people of Israel to repent of their wickedness and evil deeds and return once more to the Lord. For example, as we hear in the First Reading of today’s Mass, Jonah was sent to the people of Nineveh, who were not Jews, to proclaim to them that they would be destroyed because of their sinfulness. Surprisingly, the people of Nineveh took the message very seriously and their king ordered all the citizens to fast and wear sackcloth as signs of their repentance and commitment to change for the better. For that reason, God did not destroy them. This is a pattern throughout the Scriptures – time and time again we hear that God is merciful in response to true repentance and does not wish punishment or death on anyone (e.g. Ezekiel 33:11).
In the New Testament John the Baptist preached repentance in preparation for Jesus’ coming ministry, and gave a baptism of repentance (Mark 1:4). Jesus himself appealed to people to “repent and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). Repentance is not only a fundamental teaching of the Scriptures but it is also fundamental to our relationship with God. In building and deepening our unity with God it is imperative to acknowledge our imperfection and sinfulness. In this way we also become more and more aware of our need for forgiveness and our need for God’s grace. We become more aware that we are the created and by ourselves we cannot achieve eternal life, and thus we turn to the Saviour. Those who do not have a sense of their sinfulness will find it difficult to accept that they need Jesus Christ, that they need a Saviour. Repentance demands true sorrow and it demands humility. It is not easy to admit to our mistakes and the times of infidelity to God’s law. It is also not easy to break with our favourite sins.
Thus it is important in all our prayer to express sorrow for our failings and our commitment to do better in the future. So it is in the celebration of Mass as well. After the greeting, which I spoke about last week, we are invited to express sorrow for our sins. There are different formulations for this but they are all truths about a loving, forgiving God and an appeal to his mercy. Once again, we should remember that these truths arise from the Scriptures themselves: “Lord Jesus, you were sent to heal the contrite of heart”, “you came to call sinners”, “you are seated at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us”, are all profound truths about Jesus from the Bible.
The Confiteor, the longer formulation, also conveys the communal aspect of our need for forgiveness – we not only confess to Almighty God, but also to you, “my brothers and sisters”. We acknowledge imperfection not only to God but to the family of God as well. And we specify the type of sins we commit, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do. Thoughts, words, actions and inactions all contain the possibility for sinfulness. It is important to realise that there are sins of commission (the wrong things I have done) and those of omission (the good I could have done but failed to do). So often we see sin only as wrong-doing, whereas we very often do not make use of many opportunities that come our way when we could actually do some good, perhaps because of our insensitivity, laziness or just because we could not be bothered. In praying the confiteor we are taking responsibility for our sin – we did not sin because of the devil, or because of other people, I have sinned “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault” – repeated three times to ensure that I understand that I am responsible.
The Confiteor also expresses our need of prayer, not only from “you, my brothers and sisters” but also Mary ever virgin, the angels and saints. The Church is united, here on earth and the Church in glory and we pray for each other that God will be merciful to each and every one. After our plea for mercy, the priest proclaims the prayer, on behalf of all, asking God for his forgiveness, he says: “May Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins and bring us to everlasting life”. We then sing or say the “Lord have mercy”, the kyrie eleison (which, remember, is Greek and not Latin).
If it is a feast day, we will then sing (or say) the Gloria, a hymn of praise addressed to Jesus Christ. It glorifies Christ and our belief in who he is – “you alone are the holy one”, “you alone are the Lord”, “you alone are the most high”. Occasionally it happens that in a parish the words of the Gloria are changed because there may be a more “snazzy” tune. However, we should never change the words of the Gloria – if we cannot sing it as it is, we should then recite it. It is true of the whole Mass – we are not entitled to change it as we like, because it is the Liturgy of the Church and unites us in common worship with all our brothers and sisters throughout the world. The Gloria is a beautiful, profound and rich hymn of praise to Jesus Christ.
After the Gloria the celebrant will pray what is called the “collect”, which is always addressed to God the Father. It ends with the formulation of our Trinitarian belief,” we ask this through Our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever”. The prayer is made to the Father but through Christ who is the mediator between God and Man (1 Timothy 2:5), our link to God and the revelation of the very being of God. It is made in unity with the Holy Spirit because God is a communion of three persons and, in our faith, we too are brought into that unity. The collect ends the introductory rites of the Mass and we then enter into the first of the two great pillars of the celebration, the Liturgy of the Word, which I will speak of next week.
Let us now pray for God’s blessing:
The Lord be with you R/ And with your spirit
May your faithful be strengthened, O God, by your blessing: in grief, may you be their consolation; in tribulation, their power to endure; and in peril, their protection. Through Christ our Lord, amen. And may Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.