Sunday, April 17, 2011

Manoah & the Angel

 continued from the prior post

After the priest receives the bread and wine, he says the Invitation to Prayer: "Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father." And we reply, "May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands..." What's the sacrifice? Jesus? Umm, not yet, what just got brought up at the Offertory? Bread and wine. Yes, there's no change yet...but we're getting there. Is the bread nice and fluffy? No it's flat. Why isn't it fluffy? Because Moses couldn't wait for fluffy bread. Right, for the first Passover the Israelites made their bread without leavening so they could leave Egypt quickly. So our New Passover meal has flat bread, too.

Next we sing the Sanctus, you know it: "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest." Who remembers in the Gospels when people said 'hosanna' to Jesus? He was coming into a town...they were waving palms...Palm Sunday! Yes, when Jesus entered...Nazareth! No...Jerusalem! Yes. People had heard he was the Messiah. Not a meek Messiah, but one like...King David! Yes. But when we say 'hosanna' at Mass, we know Jesus isn't an earthly king...where is he king? In Heaven. Yes. In fact, the first part of the Sanctus, "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts. Heaven and earth are full of your glory" is mostly said in Heaven, not here on Earth. Let's look in Revelations to see what goes on in Heaven while we're at Mass.

In Revelations chapter 4, St. John has a vision of the Heavenly Liturgy: "At once I was in the Spirit, and lo, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne! And...round the throne was a rainbow... Round the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clad in white garments, with golden crowns upon their heads." [I draw & talk] Here's the throne...who's sitting on it? God? More specifically, please. Jesus? Good guess, but no. Mary? Well, she's Jesus's mom, but no. God the Father?  Yes. And here are the elders, pretend that's 24 of them....with crowns...there. Who remembers the Greek word for "elder"? Presby-something? Yes, presbyteros; and we shorten it to...priest! Yes; so think of them as priests. And what's a priest's job? C'mon, y'all know this. To say Mass?  Partly, but specifically what do priests do? Aztec priests, Catholic priests, Levite priests, they all...sacrifice! Yes, they offer sacrifice.

"And round the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures...the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle." Who might these 4 creatures represent? We have an angel, a bull, a lion, and an eagle...four saints, their pictures always show them writing...MatthewMarkLuke&John! Yes, who are...gospel writers!  Yes, evangelists.

"And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all round and within, and day and night they never cease to sing, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!" We say this at Mass because they're saying it in heaven. "And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever.." When they give thanks they 'eucharisteo' in Greek, just like we do with the Eucharist.

Now with all these elders, these presbyters, these...priests, yes, standing around the throne, what should they be doing? Praying? Hmm...tell me again, what's a priests job? To offer sacrifices? Yes, so offering a sacrifice? Yes. So what's missing? A sacrifice? Yes. What would be a good typical sacrifice? A lamb? Yes! John says, "And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain." This Lamb would be...Jesus?  Yes [I add the Lamb]; how about that? It looks like a dog. Please, be charitable. And I need a red marker because the Lamb needs...blood on it! that's a slain lamb! "...and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints...and they sang a new song, saying, "you were slain and by your blood did redeem men for God." So we know the Lamb is...Jesus, yes, and the elders are singing, and playing music, and burning incense, and saints are praying, all of which should remind you of...Mass? Yes. The communion of saints on earth and in heaven are doing the same things. And which of those things do we do at Mass? Well...all of them?  Yes. Heaven and earth are connected at Mass.

So in heaven we have the priest-elders, whose job is to...offer sacrifice, yes, and we have a victim, a... lamb, who is...Jesus, yes. But what's still missing? Do you offer sacrifices on a sofa? No, an altar! Right!

John writes, "And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer" So there is an altar: "and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God." When we burn incense at Mass, remember that our prayers go up to heaven and mingle with the prayers in heaven. [I add  incense and the altar]

Now all of this is like Mass because Mass is like a Passover sacrifice in the Meeting Tent or the Temple. When Moses made the first Meeting Tent, did Moses decide how everything would be? No, God told him what to do. Yes, God said the design was based on the pattern in heaven. The Church, Temple and Tent are all patterned on this worship in heaven.

Back to Mass on earth: after the 'Holy Holy' what do we do? Kneel down. Yes; this is most important part of Mass, the Eucharistic Prayer. The priest says: "...most merciful Father,we make humble prayer and petition through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord: that you accept and bless these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices." And what's being offered at this moment? Bread and wine. Right, maybe $10 worth of bread and wine. If you were God, would you let that offering atone for our sins? No! Why not? It's not good enough. That's right.

The priest then reminds us that all of us saints on earth are praying along with all the saints in heaven: "In communion with...the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ, and blessed Joseph, her Spouse," that is, Jesus's...parents. Yes, and "Peter and Paul, Andrew, James, John, Thomas, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon and Jude," who are...apostles. Yes, and "Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus [and] Cornelius"...any idea who these guys are? That's ok: they're the first men to be pope after Peter. And then we hear, "Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian" who are some of the first martyrs. The Church doesn't name all these people to fill up time, but to remind us of all the saints who are praying with us at Mass.

Now, we are still offering bread and wine at this point, but the priest prays, "approve this offering in every respect; make it spiritual and acceptable, so that it may become for us the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ." And when did bread & wine first become Body & Blood? At the Last Supper? Yes, so the priest takes the bread, and prays, "On the day before he was to suffer, he took bread in his holy and venerable hands, and with eyes raised to heaven to you, O God, his almighty Father, giving you thanks (eucharisteo!), he said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, saying: take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my body which will be given up for you." Of course this is straight out of the Gospels. Then he holds the chalice and says, "Take this, all of you, and drink from it. For this is the chalice of my blood; the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me." And what happens? They change into body and blood! Yes. This moment is called the Consecration: when the bread and wine are made sacred, holy.

Then he prays: "look upon these offerings...and...accept them, as once you were pleased to accept the gifts of your servant Abel the just, the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith, and the offering of your high priest Melchizedek, a holy sacrifice, a spotless victim." Tell me quick, Abel offered...a lamb! Yes; Abraham offered...a ram!  Well, before the ram...Isaac, yes, his son. And Melchizedek...bread and wine! Yes, and at Mass do we offer bread and wine? Yes! And a lamb? Yes! And a son? Yes! Good; Mass recalls all those offerings.

Now let's look at this handout:

What's that a picture of? Mass. Yes, but it's also like the story of Manoah and the Angel. Remember Samson's parents, Manoah and his wife, were told by an angel that they were going to have a baby. They were so happy that Manoah made a thanksgiving-in-Greek-Eucharist offering to God.  "So Manoah took a young goat with the cereal offering, and offered it upon the rock to the LORD, to him who works wonders. And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar while Manoah and his wife looked on; and they fell on their faces to the ground."

 And here's what the priest says next: "In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God: command that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy Angel to your altar on high in the sight of your divine majesty..." What does that sound like? It's like what Samson's parents saw! Yes, it's like the angel taking Manoah's offering  from the altar on Earth up to heaven. But the picture and the prayer are both from....Mass! Yes! We don't see the angel who does this, but it's part of our prayer, we believe it happens. Why can't we see this? C'mon, we're blinded by something....oh, sin! Yes, and to believe in something we can't see we Yes. All the saints in heaven can see it, though. And what is the angel taking up? Well, the offering. Yes, but what's being offered at this point? Umm, bread and wine? No, there's no more bread and wine. Oh, Jesus is the offering! Yes. That's Jesus being carried up; not some goat like Manoah offered but a perfect Lamb. And we are offering Jesus to whom? God. More specifically, please...God the Father. That's it.

"What's everybody doing in the picture? Well, they're at Mass. No, I mean their posture, they're all bowing their heads; why is that? No takers...let's read the last bit about Manoah again:  "...the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar while Manoah and his wife looked on; and they fell on their faces to the ground." Why'd they fall on the ground? They were scared when the angel took off. Yes, a bit scared I'm sure, but they were in the presence of a miracle, and it made them feel very humble. If I had seen that, I'd have fallen on the ground because I had passed out. People long ago would lie down on the ground in the presence of God, or even a king. Nowadays we just bow our heads, lying on the ground is messy. But notice at Mass, at the Consecration, the altar boys bow way down, their heads almost touch the ground when they bow. They bow like Manoah in the presence of God's miracle.

And in the picture that's Jesus on the cross: are we nailing Jesus on the cross at Mass? No, of course not. He was crucified once. But we offer Jesus's sacrifice at every Mass because Jesus offered himself at the Last Supper. Part of what we "do in memory" of Jesus is offer him when we co-memorate, commemorate, the Last Supper at Mass. That way Jesus's sacrifice is always present at the altar at Mass, just like the slain Lamb is always present at the altar in heaven.

Then we hear, "that all of us, who through this participation at the altar receive the most holy Body and Blood of your Son, may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing." Let's review for a second. At the offertory, what do the people bring up to the priest? Bread and wine. Yes, then does the priest offer the bread and wine to God the Father: here's ten bucks' worth of bread and wine, Father, please forgive our sins? Ha, that's silly! Yes, so the priest offers what? Jesus. That's right; that's the perfect sacrifice that atones for our sins. And who turns the bread & wine into Jesus' body & blood? The priest. Wow, he must have super powers. Let's remember, Mass isn't mostly about what people do, it's about.....what God does, yes, so who made it happen? God. Yes. But Jesus works through the priest, so that was a good guess. Then we see in the picture the angel carries our offering from the altar on Earth up to the altar in Heaven...bye! So how do we "at the altar receive the most holy Body and Blood" if it all went to heaven? Well, some got left behind? Sort of...think about it this way:

When my wife puts on Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner, she spends a fortune, and does a ton of cooking and preparation. The guests know she worked hard for days. When the guests arrive they usually have something with them, what would that be? A present? What kind of present do you bring to a dinner, a power tool? Ha, no, food! Good guess, and maybe for the adults something...wet? Yes indeed. Why do guests bring presents? 'cause they are glad you invited them! You got that right! They are not just saying 'thank you' but showing it by bring a thanksgiving offering. Now if someone brings my wife a nice bottle of wine, does she say thanks, and put it away for another occasion? No, I bet you drink it right then! Right! She says thank you so much, let's open it right's a glass for you, let's all have some. It's like Mass: she does all of the important work; the guests show their thanks by offering a small gift; she is gracious and offers them back some of their offering. God does the same thing: we offer bread and wine; God gives us back Jesus. We offer Jesus; God says thank you, y'all have some too. And when we "receive from this altar the sacred body and blood" do we put it in our pocket for later? No, we eat it right then! That's right! That's how we show thanks at a feast: we eat it all right then! And remind me: what was that Israelite miracle bread called? Manna!  Yes; could they eat it later? No, they had to eat it when they got it. Yes, just like we do when we get our miracle bread.

New topic: tornadoes. Tell me about tornadoes. They blow around? Yes; where do they start? In the sky. Yes, in the clouds. They are powered by the atmosphere; and what happens? They make a funnel and go down to the ground. And what happens to small things they might run over? They get sucked up! Yes, and plopped back down later.

Look again at the Mass picture, see how it looks swirly toward the top? Yes. Well, I like to think of what happens at Mass as a Holy Tornado: God swirls it from Heaven down to our altar, and it carries the angel and the Body & Blood up to the altar in heaven, zhoop! Then it sends Jesus's Body and Blood back down for us to eat, phhhhht! How long do tornadoes last? A few minutes? Yes, and like regular tornadoes, a Holy Tornado is over pretty quick, too. But Masses are being celebrated all over the world, 24/7. Imagine thousands of Holy Tornadoes all around the world, zhooop, zhoop, zhoop, connecting heaven and earth for a few seconds each time. Let's draw that connection [under the drawing of the Heavenly Worship]. This is in church...what's this big blocky thing? The altar? Yes, like the one in heaven. And an altar is for...sacrifice, yes. And we have this guy...the priest,...yes, the presbyteros, the elder, like in heaven. And altar boys burn... incense, yes, heaven. Yes...there we go. And here's the Holy Tornado connecting both altars with the same sacrifice, which is...Jesus. Yes. That makes sense because Jesus is both man...and God, yes, so he fits well into both places.

One last bit and we're done for tonight: this block thing isn't just an altar. What else is it?  When the priest says, "this is my body, this is my blood, do this in memory of me" what are we doing in memory of Jesus? The Last Supper?  Yes, which was...supper? Yes, a meal. So the altar is also...a table? Yes. And this meal isn't just any old's like Christmas dinner at my house...a feast! Yes. We'll learn about that next week, which is our last class. Your suffering will soon be over!

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever!