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 28 April 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.

As we begin to feel the chill in the air during the nights, we are reminded again that the season is changing and winter will soon be upon us. The cycle of the seasons is indicative of the cycle of life – things emerge and things pass. The Covid 19 pandemic will also, one day, fade away. In the meantime we need to persevere in patience and consideration for the health of others. Welcome to this reflection. In the Gospel of today’s Mass (John 12:44-50) we hear these words from St John:

At that time Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And he who sees me sees him who sent me”.

Let us pray:

O God, life of the faithful, glory of the humble, blessedness of the just, listen kindly to the prayers of those who call on you, that they who thirst for what you generously promise may always have their fill of your plenty.  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.

The prayer was taken from the Collect of today’s Mass. We believe in Jesus, but what is it that we believe about him? We too “see” Jesus (not physically, as in the past, but with eyes of faith). Who is it that we see? The most graphic, astounding and unsettling image of Jesus Christ is Jesus hanging on the Cross – indeed a stumbling block and folly to many people (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:23). We believe in a Christ who is broken and beaten, a Christ whose life is poured out from his body.

After the sign of peace at Mass, we enter into the third action essential to the Celebration of Eucharist. You will recall the four necessary actions: Jesus took bread, he gave thanks, he broke it and he gave it to his disciples. It is a pity that the breaking of the consecrated bread at Mass, referred to as the fraction rite,  is not better emphasised as it is integral to the celebration. At the Last Supper, Jesus broke the bread  and shared it among his apostles. This symbolic action manifests the Eucharist as a time of sharing and participation. So important was this action that the early Church referred to the ritual which we now know as the Mass, as the “breaking of the bread”. It symbolizes, and brings into reality, unity among believers who share the one Body of Jesus Christ, and thus become one body among themselves. It is a unity achieved through the broken Body of Jesus and his outpuring on the Cross for the reconciliation of sinners.

It is our communion with each other, as well as communion and participation in the life of Jesus Christ. It expresses the fact that we do not attend Holy Mass as individuals, nor do we only pray individually. We attend Mass as a community, and the prayers of Mass are our community prayers. It is really important and essential for us to understand this, especially for those who live in big cities. Cities can become an anonymous way of life, a place of isolation and loneliness. Living as a community in a city requires a lot more effort  than, for example, if you live in a small village. Our baptism has called us into the Church commnity, into the family of God. This is why attendance at Sunday Mass is central to our Christian vocation. There are some who say something like, I can pray at home; or perhaps, there are so many distractions at Church I can concentrate better at home. We cannot, and must not, separate ourselves from the Church community – we are required to play our part. Presence in the community is part of keeping “the Sabbath holy”. The gathering together as the community of believers is in itself a central part of our prayer and worship. Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I will be present among them[1], Jesus taught us. We can also remind ourselves that Jesus regularly attended Synagogue prayer. In these times of Covid, when many people are not able to attend Mass through no fault of their own, they should join a livestreamed Mass and make a spiritual communion, and in that way unite themselves to the community.

As the presiding priest breaks the Bread, the Agnus Dei is said or sung. It calls on Jesus, the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29,36) who has conquered sin and death (1 Peter 1:18; Revelations 5:6, 13:18). The priest also breaks off a little of the Bread and places it in the chalice containing the Blood of Christ, saying quietly May this mingling of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it. This action is called the fermentum and dates back to the early Church as a sign of communion between the Bishop with the local churches. In those days, not everyone could take part in a papal Mass. Parts of the Bread from the Pope’s Mass was broken off and then taken to the local churches so that they would not feel separated from communion with the Holy Father. This was similarly done by Bishops to express community with local churches.[2] The Pope is the symbol of communion in the Universal Church, and a mark of our catholicity is to be in communion with the Pope, just as much as the Bishop is the symbol of communion in the local Church (the diocese) and we always act in communion with him.

After the fermentum the priest will quietly pray a prayer of preparation before he receives the Body and Blood of Christ. It is an opportunity for each person to say a private prayer of preparation, so that we can receive Communion worthily. One of the two prayers the priest says personally is, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who, by the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit, through your death gave life to the world, free me by this, your most holy Body and Blood, from all my sins and from every evil; keep me always faithful to your commandments, and never let me parted from you. After this prayer he will genuflect (or make a deep bow) and  then raises the consecrated host and wine for all to see saying, “Behold the Lamb of God…” – but more of this next week.

Let us now pray for God’s blessing:

The Lord be with you                                      R/ And with your Spirit

Bow down for the blessing:

Heavenly Father, so often we can negelct to recognize the presence of your Son Jesus in our lives at times of brokenness and emptiness, and we neglect to see Christ in the brokenness of others. Fill our hearts with faith, compassion and mercy so that we will never doubt your guidance and that we may look kindly and generously on those in need of our help. Through Christ Our Lord, amen.

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

[1]    Matthew 18:20

[2]    Oesi-Bonsu, Jospeh  Understanding the Mass, St Francis Press, 2016

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