The Lord of Glory

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Twenty–Third Sunday of the Year B

Isaiah 35:4-7a
Psalm 145:6c-7, 8-9a, 9bc-10
James 2:1-5
Mark 7:31-37

This morning a single phrase from the Epistle of Saint James dazzles me with its brightness. This is the phrase: “You hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory” (Jas 2:1). The Lord of Glory! These words illuminate everything else for us. This is the shining faith of Saint Peter on the morning of Pentecost: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Ac 2:36). This is the jubilant faith of Saint Paul: “God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Ph 2:9-11). In another place, Saint Paul adds: “None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:8). This is the faith of the Church confessing the sovereign lordship of Christ in the Te Deum at every solemn vigil: Tu rex gloriae, Christe!

I think of the magnificent depictions of the Lord of Glory in the dome of Cefalù and the other great byzantine churches of Sicily. I think of the Gloria of the Bach B Minor Mass. I think of the sometimes austere, sometimes exuberant beauty of the Church’s ancient chants to Christ, the Lord of Glory, in the Kyrie eleison of the Mass. With unveiled face (2 Cor 3:18), the Church fixes her eyes upon “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). She cannot but sing again and again: “For You alone are the Holy One, You alone are the Lord, You alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father.”

Even in the barest and poorest settings Holy Mass is, essentially, a mystery of glory: the glory of the Father shining, in the Holy Spirit, on the Face of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the glory of Christ, the Lord of glory reflected, in the Holy Spirit, on the face of the Church. The Offertory Antiphon given in the Roman Gradual for today’s Mass could not be more appropriate: Illumina faciem tuam super sanctuarium tuum.

Let your Face shine upon your sanctuary,
and graciously look down upon this people
over whom your name is invoked, O God(Dan 9:4, 17–19).

The Fourth Mode melody that clothes the prophet Daniel's prayer in this antiphon reaches its musical and theological summit over the words, Illumina faciem tuam super sanctuarium tuum, "Let your Face shine upon your sanctuary" (Dan 9:17). I find it extraordinary that at the very moment the priest approaches the altar to prepare the Sacrifice, this should be the prayer of the Church. The light of the Eucharistic Face of Christ, the "Lord of Glory" (Jas 2:1) illumines the sanctuary during the Holy Mysteries. "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor 3:18).

This is why the Church has always striven, and still strives to make the sacred liturgy an experience of glory, a foretaste of the kingdom, something tinged with a terrible beauty. In doing this, said Pope John Paul II, “the Church has feared no extravagance” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, art. 48). “Thus,” he says in another place, “the prayer of the Church already becomes participation in the heavenly liturgy, an anticipation of final beatitude” (Orientale Lumen, art. 11).

“You hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory” (Jas 2:1). One cannot adhere to this faith without undergoing a radical transformation of one’s vision. Saint James would have us look upon the man with gold rings and fine clothing and the poor man in shabby clothing through eyes illumined by the Lord of glory (1 Jas 2:2). Only then can we see that God has indeed “chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He has promised to those who love Him” (Jas 2:5). Contemplation of the Lord of glory transforms our gaze. It converts us. It changes the way we look at one another, at things, at life. It fills our eyes with a transforming and penetrating light. “They shall see the glory of the Lord,” says the prophet Isaiah; “then the eyes of the blind shall be opened” (Is 35: 2, 5).

Saint Gregory the Great recounts Saint Benedict’s vision of the entire world gathered up, as it were, in a single ray of light. Long familiarity with the glory of the Lord Christ in lectio divina and in the Opus Dei had given Saint Benedict a vision utterly transformed in which the poor and the pitiful, the weak and the strong, the pilgrim, the guest and the stranger, the old man and the child, the physically and morally infirm, were enveloped in a gaze that saw in all and in each, “heirs of the kingdom of heaven” (Jas 2:5).

It is this Christian vision of men and of things, illuminated by contemplation of the Lord of glory, that gives us the courage to cry out with the prophet, “Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, fear not! Behold your God!’” (Is 35:4). It is this vision of things — the only true one — that makes us bring ourselves and one another to the Lord of glory in the Eucharist. “And they brought to Him a man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech; and they besought Him to lay His hand upon him” (Mk 7:31). Who among us is not deaf to the Word of the living God? And who among us has no impediment in his speech frustrating the flow of pure praise from the heart to the lips, and from the lips to the ear of God? Who among us stands without the need for open ears and released tongue?

Behold, the Lord of glory has taken us aside from the multitude into this assembly of the faithful, into His Church. Here, the Word of Glory, the Word made flesh, touches our flesh no longer with His fingers and spittle alone, but with the divine and life giving mysteries of His Body and Blood. The Word made flesh touches us in our flesh; this is the law of the Incarnation decreed by the Father and realized by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin, in the womb of Mother Church, and in the mysteries enacted upon the altar. “Christianity,” said Pope John Paul II, “does not reject matter” (Orientale Lumen, art. 11). Touch and spittle, breath and fragrance, water and fire, bread and wine, manifest “what no eyes has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor 2:9).

Today’s gospel is an epiphany of the Most Holy Trinity. The Lord of glory “looks up to heaven,” that is, to the Father (Mk 7:34). This is the reality of the liturgy here and now: the eyes of the whole Christ, Head and members, turned towards the Father. “He sighed” (Mk 7:34). What is the meaning of this sigh if not that the Body of Christ is filled with the Holy Spirit, with the very Breath of God? Finally, the Word utters the word by which ears are opened and tongues released: “Eph’phatha,” that is, “Be opened” (Mk 7:34).

The liturgy is no mere echo of the word uttered in the distant past. It is the very word addressed to us by the Lord of glory today, here and now. It is an efficacious word, doing that which it signifies, accomplishing that which it purposes, prospering in the thing for which it is sent (Is 55:11). “Eph’phatha” is the word realized for us here and now by our partaking of the mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood.

The “Eph’phatha” pronounced by Christ is realized for us even as we open our mouths to receive His sacred Body and moisten our lips with His Precious Blood! “Eph’phatha,” He says. “Be opened” (Mk 7:34). One cannot choose to come forward to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord of glory and remained closed to the transformation He would work within us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Here, it is no longer by fingers in our ears and by spittle on our tongue, but by a word of power and by His own Body and Blood given as food and drink that He opens all that is closed, floods our darkness with the light of His glory, and releases our tongues for His praise.

“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Ac 2:4). What is the Sacred Liturgy if not the Spirit giving utterance to the Church? The Word of glory sends us to the altar of glory. Let no one hold back, no one remain deaf and mute. Rather, “let us lay aside all earthly cares that we may receive the King of all who comes escorted invisibly by angelic hosts. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia” (Byzantine Liturgy).

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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