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 24 March 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 now in the fifth week of Lent and are rapidly approaching the celebration of the Easter mysteries, the heart of Christian belief. We will commemorate the Last Supper and keep vigil with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, walk with Jesus on the way of the Cross and stand with Our Lady and others at the foot of the Cross. In stillness we will prayerfully remember his burial and rejoice with the angels at his Resurrection. 

In the First Reading of today’s Mass (Daniel 3:14-20, 24-25.28) we hear of the three young men who would not obey the order of Nebuchadnezzar to worship his gods and were duly thrown into the fiery furnace. Here is an excerpt from the end of the narrative:

Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set at nought the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.

Let us pray:

O God of compassion, guide us your people to serve you, the one and only true God, and to surrender ourselves completely to your will, in trust and confidence of your love and mercy for us. 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.

After the Liturgy of the Word at Mass, we enter the Liturgy of the Eucharist, beginning with the collection (on a Sunday). In the early days of the Church the collection was intended for the poor and those in need. As the Church grew, support was needed for the Church itself and for the upkeep of the clergy, as well as for those in need. Nonetheless, part of the collection should always be used for the poor. Sometimes gifts “in kind” were brought to the altar for the poor. The collection is important, not only for the support it gives, but also as an act of giving and sharing from what we have. Christian life is characterized by our willingness to share.

At the offertory, bread and wine is offered for consecration. There are four essential aspects to the Eucharist and, despite some changes in the Mass in history, the four Eucharistic actions have always been present and must be present. They are to be found in the Scriptural accounts of the Last Supper: Jesus took bread, he gave thanks, he broke it and he gave it to his disciples – similarly he took wine, gave thanks and gave it to his disciples. In the offertory of the Mass the priest fulfils the first of the Eucharistic actions, he takes the bread and wine. It is always preferable if there is an offertory procession where the bread and wine is brought forward, although it is not always feasible to do so. And, of course, in this time of pandemic, it is not possible at all. 

The offertory procession should be confined to bringing forward the gifts for the Church/those in need, and the bread and wine. It is not appropriate to bring forward other symbols which may distract from the bread and wine, such as candles, bibles, pictures of saints, and so on. If there other symbols at a celebration, these can be presented at the beginning of Mass.

The celebrant offers the bread to the Father, using words based on traditional Jewish table prayers, blessing God the Creator  for giving us the fruits of the earth and they are offered as the “work of human hands”. Before making a similar prayer for the wine he mixes it with a small amount of water, saying softly “By the mingling of this water and wine may we come to share in the Divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity”. This action can be seen as a reference to the blood and water that flowed from Christ’s side, as a symbol of the divine and human nature of Christ – the divine exchange between Christ’s divinity and our humanity – and as a prayer that we will never be separated from Christ, just as the water and wine can no longer be separated.

After the Blessing Prayers, the celebrant washes his hands, saying quietly, “Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”, a verse from Psalm 51. From Old Testament times the Levites were required to undergo ritual washing before performing their duties. It is possible that the washing of hands at Mass was a practical thing to do in the past, since the celebrant received multiple gifts in the offertory, such as vegetables, fruit and so on, and needed to wash his hands. It is now understood as a symbol of the need for inner purification and integrity of heart.   

The priest then invites the congregation, “Pray brethren (brothers and sisters) that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the Almighty Father”. However, there is only one sacrifice being offered. “My sacrifice and yours” refers to the different natures of the priesthood: the priesthood of the baptized – in which we all share through our baptism – and the ministerial priesthood imparted through ordination. The people respond, “may the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and good of all the Church”. The function of a priest is to offer sacrifice; as we all share in the baptismal priesthood our offering to God is our very lives in their totality, body and soul, our works, our dreams, our happinesses and sorrows – all is offered to God, and we combine our offering with the self-offering of Christ. The ministerial priesthood is responsible for offering the Sacrifice of Christ at Mass, the perfect sacrifice that is never repeated. We share in it as a “memorial”. The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ’s Passover, making it present in the “here and now” – it is the sacramental offering of his unique sacrifice. The memorial is not merely the recollection of past events but they become, in a certain way, present and real.

The celebrant then says the prayer over the offerings which brings the Preparation of the Gifts to completion.

Let us now pray for God’s blessing:

The Lord be with you                                      R/ And with your Spirit

Bow down for the blessing:

Listen to the cry of your people, O Lord, and receive our prayers, as we place all our hope in you. May we feel the effects of your mercy and never doubt your presence among us. Through Christ Our Lord, amen.

May Almighty God bless you, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (+), amen.

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