When the number of the Sundays after Pentecost is only 23, the Mass for today is taken from the 24th and Last Sunday. But under all circumstances, the antiphonary ends today. The Introits, Graduals, Offertories and Communion Verses for this Sunday are to be repeated on each of the Sundays till Advent, which vary in number each year. Our readers will remember that, in the time of St. Gregory the Great, Advent was longer than we now have it; and that, in those days, its weeks commenced in that part of the Liturgical cycle which is now occupied by the last Sundays after Pentecost. This is one of the reasons for the lack of liturgical richness in the composition of the Sunday Masses which follow the 23rd (which was formerly regarded as the last).
Even on this one, the Church, without losing sight of the Last Day, used to lend a thought to the new season which was fast approaching—the season of preparation for the great Feast of Christmas. There used to be read, as the Epistle, the following passage from Jeremias, which was afterwards, in several Churches, inserted in the Mass of the First Sunday of Advent: "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, and I will raise up to David a just branch: and a King shall reign, and shall be wise: and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In those days, shall Juda be saved, and Israel shall dwell confidently: and this is the name that they shall call Him: The Lord, our Just One. Therefore, behold the days come, saith the Lord, and they shall say no more: The Lord liveth, Who brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt! But: The Lord liveth, Who hath brought out, and brought hither, the seed of the house of Israel, from the land of the north, and out of all the lands, to which I had cast them forth! And they shall dwell in their own land" (Jer. 23: 5-8).
As is evident, this passage is equally applicable to the conversion of the Jews and the restoration of Israel, which are to take place at the end of the world. This was the view taken by the chief liturgists of the middle ages, in order to explain thoroughly the Mass of the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost. Bearing in mind that, originally, the Gospel of this Sunday was that of the multiplication of the five loaves, let us listen to the profound and learned Abbot Rupert, who, better than anyone, will teach us the mysteries of this day, which brings to a close the grand and varied Gregorian melodies.
"Holy Church," he says (De Div. Off., 12: 23), "is so intent on paying Her debt of supplication, and prayer, and thanksgiving for all men, as the Apostle demands (1 Tim. 2: 1), that we find Her giving thanks also for the salvation of the children of Israel, who, She knows, are one day to be united with Her. And, as their remnants are to be saved at the end of the world (Rom. 9; 27), so, on this last Sunday of the year, She delights in them, as though they were already Her members. In the Introit, calling to mind the prophecies concerning them, She thus sings every year: My thoughts are thoughts of peace, and not of affliction. Verily, His thoughts are those of peace, for He promises to admit to the banquet of His grace the Jews, who are His brethren according to the flesh; thus realizing what had been prefigured in the history of the patriarch Joseph. The brethren of Joseph, having sold him, came to him when they were tormented by hunger; for then he ruled over the whole land of Egypt. He recognized them; he received them; and made, together with them, a great feast. So too, Our Lord, Who is now reigning over the whole earth, and is giving the Bread of Life, in abundance, to the Egyptians (that is, to the Gentiles), will see coming to Him the remnants of the children of Israel. He, whom they had denied and put to death, will admit them to His favor, will give them a place at His table, and the true Joseph will feast delightedly with His brethren.
"The benefit of this divine Table is signified, in the Office of this Sunday, by the Gospel, which tells us of Our Lord’s feeding the multitude with five loaves. For it will be then that Jesus will open to the Jews the five Books of Moses, which are now being carried whole, and not yet broken; yea, carried by a child, that is to say, this people itself, who, up to that time, will have been cramped up in the narrowness of a childish spirit.
"Then will be fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremias, which is so aptly placed before this Gospel: They shall say no more: The Lord liveth, Who brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt! But, the Lord liveth, Who hath brought out the seed of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands into which they had been cast.
"Thus delivered from the spiritual bondage which still holds them, they will sing with all their heart the words of thanksgiving as we have them in the Gradual: Thou hast saved us, O Lord, from them that afflict us!
"The words we use in the Offertory: Out of the depths I have cried to Thee, O Lord, clearly allude to the same events; for, on that day, His brethren will say to the great and true Joseph: We beseech Thee to forget the wickedness of Thy brethren! (Gen. 50: 17) The Communion: Amen, I say to you, all things whatsoever ye ask, when ye pray, etc., is the answer made by that same Joseph, as it was by the first: Fear not! Ye thought evil against Me: but God turned it into good, that He might exalt Me, as at present ye see, and might save many people. Fear not, therefore, I will feed you, and your children (Ibid. 19-21)."
In more modern times the Epistle is taken from St. Paul to the Philippians:
Brethren: Be imitators of me, and mark those who walk after the pattern you have in us. For many walk, of whom I have told you often and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the Cross of Christ. Their end is ruin, their god is the belly, their glory is in their shame, they mind the things of earth. But our citizenship is in Heaven from which also we eagerly await a Savior, Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who will refashion the body of our lowliness, conforming it to the body of His glory by exerting the power by which He is able also to subject all things to himself. So then, my brethren, beloved and longed for, my joy and my crown, stand fast thus in the Lord, beloved. I entreat Evodia and I exhort Syntyche to be of one mind in the Lord. And I Beseech thee also, my loyal comrade, help them, for they have toiled with me in the gospel, as have Clement and the rest of my fellow-workers whose names are in the book of life.
The Clement, whose name is here mentioned by the Apostle, is that of St. Peter's successor. Very frequently, the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost comes close upon the Feast of this great Pope and Martyr of the 1st century. Disciple of St. Paul, and later on, in close intimacy with St. Peter, and named by the Vicar of Christ as fitting to succeed him in the apostolic chair—St. Clement, as we have seen on the 23rd of November, was one of those Saints who, in those early times, were the most venerated by the faithful. The mention made of him in the Sunday Office, just before his appearance on the Calendar of the Saints, excited the Christian people to joy, and roused their fervor; it reminded them that one of their best and dearest defenders would soon be visiting them.
At the time when St. Paul was writing to the Philippians, St. Clement, who was long to survive the Apostles, was prominently one of those men spoken of in the Epistle—that is, one of the imitators of those illustrious patterns, who were called to perpetuate in the flock confided to their care (1 Peter 5: 3), the pattern of holy living; and that, not so much by their zealous teaching, as by the force of example. The Church, the One true Bride of the Divine Word, was known by the incommunicable privilege of possessing within Her the Truth—not only its dead letter, but its ever living self, and this by Her holiness. The Holy Ghost has not kept the Books of Sacred Scripture from passing into the hands of the sects separated from the center of unity; but He has reserved to the Church the treasure of Tradition, which transmits, surely and fully, from one generation to another, the Word Who is light and life (John 1: 4). Yes, this Tradition is kept up by the truth and holiness of the Man-God; they are ever existing in His members, they are ever tangible and visible in the Church (1 John 1: 1). Holiness, which is inherent in the Church, is Tradition in its purest and strongest form, because it is the truth, not only preached, but reduced to action and work (1 Thess. 2: 13), as it was in Christ Jesus, and as it is in God. It is the deposit of Faith (1 Tim. 6: 20), which the disciples of the Apostles had the mission to hand faithfully down to their successors, just as the Apostles themselves had received it from the Word, Who had come upon the earth.
Hence St. Paul did not content himself with entrusting dogmatic teaching to his disciple St. Timothy (2 Tim. 2: 2); he said to him: Be thou an example to the faithful, in word and living (1 Tim. 4: 12). He said much the same to St. Titus: Show thyself an example of good works, in doctrine and in integrity of life (Tit. 2: 7). He repeated to all: Be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ (1 Cor. 4: 16). He sent St. Timothy to the Corinthians, that he might remind them, or, where it was necessary, might teach them, not only the dogmas of his Gospel, but, likewise, his ways in Christ Jesus, that is, his manner of life; for, this manner of life of the Apostle was, in a certain measure, his teaching everywhere in all the churches (1 Cor. 4: 17); and he lauded the faithful of Corinth for their being mindful to imitate him in all things, which was a keeping to the tradition of Christ (Ibid. 11: 1-2). As for the Thessalonians, they had so thoroughly entered into his teaching, taken from their Apostle’s life, that, as St. Paul says of them, they had become a pattern to all believers; this silent teaching of Christian revelation, which they showed forth in their conduct, made it superfluous for the messengers of the Gospel to say much (1 Thess. 1: 5-8).
The Church is a magnificent Temple, which is built up, to the glory of God, by the living stones, which let themselves be set into its walls (Eph. 2: 20-22). The constructing of these sacred walls, and on the plan laid down by Christ, is a work in which all are permitted to share. What one does by word (1 Cor. 14: 3), another does by good example (Rom. 14: 19); but both of them build, both of them edify the holy city; and, as it was in the apostolic age, so always—example is more powerful than word, unless that word be supported by the authority of holiness in him who speaks it; unless, that is, he lead a life according to the perfection of the Gospel.
But as the giving of edification to those around him is an obligation incumbent on the Christian—an obligation imposed both by the charity he owes to his neighbor, and by the zeal he should have for the house of God—so likewise, under pain of presumption, he should seek his own edification in the conduct of others. The reading of good books, the study of the lives of the Saints, the marking or observing, as the Epistle says, those holy people with whom he lives—all this will be an incalculable aid to him, in the work of his own personal sanctification and in the fulfillment of God’s purposes in this regard. This devout intercourse with the elect of earth and of Heaven will keep us away from men who are enemies of the Cross of Christ and who mind earthly things, and put their happiness in carnal pleasures. It will make our conversation to be in Heaven. Preparing for the day which cannot now be far off, the day of the coming of the Lord, we shall stand fast in Him, in spite of the falling off of so many amongst us, who, by the current of the world's fashion, are hurried into perdition. The troubles and sufferings of the last times will but intensify our hope in God; for they will make us long all the more ardently for the happy day when our Redeemer will appear and complete the work of the salvation of His servants by imparting to their very flesh the brightness of His own divine Body. Let us, as our apostle says, be of one mind in the Lord; and then, as he bids his dear Philippians, let us rejoice in the Lord always, for the Lord is nigh (Phil. 4: 4, 5).
The Gospel assigned in more recent centuries for this Sunday is taken from the ninth chapter of St. Matthew:
At that time: As Jesus was speaking to the multitude: Behold a ruler came up and worshipped Him, saying, "My daughter has just now died; but come and lay Thy hand upon her, and she will return to life." And Jesus arose and followed him, and so did His disciples. Now a woman who for twelve years had been suffering from hemorrhage, came up behind Him and touched the tassel of His cloak, saying to herself, "If I touch but His cloak I shall be saved." But Jesus, turning and seeing her, said, "Take courage, daughter; they faith has saved thee." And the woman was restored to health from that moment. And when Jesus came to the ruler's house, and saw the flute players and the crowd making a din, He said, "Begone, the girl is asleep, not dead." And they laughed Him to scorn. But when the crowd had been put out, He went in and took her by the hand; and the girl arose. And the report of this spread throughout all that district.
Although the choice of this Gospel for the 23rd Sunday has not great antiquity on it side, yet it is in most perfect keeping with the liturgy for the Season after Pentecost, and confirms what we have stated, relative to the character of this portion of the Liturgical Year. St. Jerome tells us, in the homily selected for the day, that the woman suffering from hemorrhage, healed by Our Lord, is a type of the Gentile world; whilst the Jewish people is represented by the daughter of the Ruler of the Synagogue (In Matt., c. 9). This latter is not to be restored to life, until the former has been cured; and this is precisely the mystery we are so continually commemorating during these closing weeks of the Liturgical Year—the fullness of the Gentiles recognizing and welcoming the Divine Physician, and the blindness of Israel at last giving way to the Light (Rom. 11: 25).
We have celebrated during this Year of Grace all the Grand Mysteries of Redemption, and this ought to enable us to appreciate the glorious economy, as the Fathers love to call what we admire under another name. The spirit of the Church's Liturgy, at this the close of Her and our Year, lets us see the world as though its end were come; it looks as though it were sinking away, down into some deep abyss—and yet, no; it is only that it may shake off the wicked from its surface, and then it will come up again blooming in light and love. All this has been the divine reality of the Year of Grace we have had put before us; yes, and in us, by our sweet Mother the Church; and now we are, or ought to be, in a mood to feel a thrill of admiration at the mysterious, yet, at the same time, the strong and sweet ways of Eternal Wisdom (Wisd. 8, 1). At the beginning, when man was first created, sin soon followed, breaking up the harmony of God's beautiful world, and throwing man off the divine path where his Creator had placed him. Time and wickedness went on, till there was a family on which God's mercy fell; the light which beamed on that privileged favorite, only showed the plainer the thick darkness in which the rest of mankind was vegetating. The Gentiles, abandoned to their misery—all the more terrible because they had caused it and loved it—saw God's favors all bestowed on Israel, whilst they themselves were disregarded, and wished to be so. Even when the time came for original sin to be remedied, it seemed as though that was just the time for the final reprobation of the Gentiles—for the salvation that came down from Heaven in the person of the Man-God, was seen to be exclusively directed towards the Jews and the lost sheep of the House of Israel (Matt. 15: 24).
But the people that had been treated with so much predilection, and whose Fathers and first rulers had so ardently prayed for the coming of the Messias, was no longer up to the position made for it by the holy patriarchs and prophets. Its beautiful religion, founded as it was on desire and hope, was then nothing but a sterile expectancy, which kept it motionless, and unable to advance a single step towards its Redeemer. As to its Law, Israel then minded nothing but the letter, and at last turned it into a mummy of sectarian formalism. Now, whilst in spite of all this sinful apathy, it was mad with jealousy, pretending that no one else had any right to Heaven's favors—the Gentile, whose ever increasing misery urged him to go in search of some deliverer, found one, and recognized Him in Jesus the Savior of the world. He was confident that this Jesus could cure him, so he took the bold initiative, went up to Him, and had the merit of being the first to be healed. True, Our Lord had treated him with an apparent disdain; but that had only had the effect of intensifying his humility, and humility has a power of making way anywhere, even into Heaven itself (Ecclus. 35: 21).
Israel therefore, was now made to wait. One of the psalms he sang ran thus: Ethiopia shall be the first to stretch out her hands to God (Ps. 67: 32). It is now the turn for Israel to recover, by the pangs of a long abandonment, the humility which had won the divine promises for his Fathers, the humility which alone could merit his seeing those promises fulfilled.
By this time however, the word of salvation has made itself heard throughout all the nations, healing and saving all who desired the blessing. Jesus, Who had been delayed on the road, came at last to the house, towards which He had first purposed to direct His sacred steps; He reached, at last, the house of Juda, where the daughter of Sion was in a deep sleep—she is in it still! His almighty compassion drives away from the poor abandoned one the crowd of false teachers and lying prophets, who had sent her into that mortal sleep, by all the noise of their vain babbling: He casts forth forever from her house those insulters of His own Divine Self, who were quite resolved to keep the dead one dead. Taking the poor daughter by the hand, He restores her to life, and to all the charm of her first youth; proving thus, that her apparent death had been but a sleep, and that the long delay of dreary ages could never belie the Word of God, which He had given to Abraham, His servant (Luke 1; 54-55).
Now therefore, let this world of ours hold itself in readiness for its final transformation; for the tidings of the restoration of the daughter of Sion puts the last seal to the accomplishment of the prophets. It remains now for the graves to give back their dead (Dan. 12: 1-2). The Valley of Josaphat is preparing for the great meeting of the nations (Joel 3: 2); Mount Olivet is once more (Acts 1: 11) to have Jesus standing upon it, but this time as Lord and Judge (Zach. 14: 4).
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