Holy Face of Jesus: February 2013 Archives

Dominus Illuminatio Mea

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A Mass of the Transfiguration

It is a curious fact of liturgical history that originally this Second Sunday of Lent had no Mass of its own. The Roman clergy and people were tired from the long night vigil that began on the evening of Ember Saturday and ended at dawn with the Holy Sacrifice. Only when the solemn night vigil was pushed back to Saturday morning did it become necessary to put together a separate Mass for Sunday morning. But what a Mass it is! From beginning to end today’s Mass bathes in the radiant light of the transfigured Christ.

Introit

The Introit is, in many places, the same one sung on August 6th, the summer festival of the Transfiguration: “Of you my heart has spoken: 'Seek His Face.’ It is your Face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not your Face from me” (Ps 26:8-9). The Church sings of what she holds deep in her heart: the desire to gaze upon the Face of Christ. The melody itself rises and lingers over the words vultum tuum, your Face. The Introit ends in a plea, at once humble and confident: “Turn not away your Face from me” (Ps 26:9).

The Way

The Church, in every age and in all her children, is called to fulfill the command addressed to Abram: “Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and out of thy father’s house, and come into the land which I shall shew thee” (Gen 12:1). The Church knows that so long as the Face of her Lord shines before her she can follow Him even along the way of the cross. He who says, “I am the way” (Jn 14:6), was lifted up on the cross, becoming the signpost pointing to “what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor 2:9). Relentlessly God calls us out of what is familiar, out of our routines (even our pious ones) into the uncharted vastness of faith, “into the land that He will show us” (Gen 12:1).

Seeing Only Jesus

In the Church’s choice of today’s Introit there is a very practical teaching for our own Lenten journey. We are to focus not on our sins, nor on our weaknesses, nor on the roughness of the path beneath our feet, but on the Face of Christ. The Introit wonderfully anticipates the words of Saint Matthew in the gospel: “And they lifting up their eyes saw no one but only Jesus” (Mt 17:8).

Psalm 26

The psalm that accompanies the Introit describes the fear of one threatened by attackers on all sides. Psalm 26 is the prayer of one thrust into the fray of spiritual combat. And yet, it teaches us to say, even in the midst of the battle: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the protector of my life: of whom shall I be afraid” (Ps 26:1). Again, note the link between the introit and the gospel. “And Jesus came and touched them: and said to them, 'Arise and fear not’” (Mt 17:7). Looking into the eyes of her Saviour, the Church says in the words of the psalmist, “Of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps 26:1).

Ad Gloriam

This Sunday of the Transfiguration follows the Sunday of the Temptation. This too is full of meaning and of practical teaching for us. Saint Paul addresses Timothy with a stern realism: “Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God” (2 Tim 1:8). The beginning of the way of the cross is beset with hardship, with temptations. Holy Father Benedict knew this well. He speaks of all the things that are hard and repugnant in the way to God” (RB 8:8). The return to God is through “the toil of obedience” (RB Pro: 2), the hard listening that changes life. There is no return to God apart from the way of the cross, and there is no other way to glory. The ultimate tragedy is our refusal to follow Christ ad gloriam, to glory (RB Pro: 7).

Eyes Fixed on the Face of Christ

Dame Aemiliana Löhr says that “the essence of temptation is the desire to make short-cuts in the way, to come of one’s own power to glory, and to despise the appointed hours; to go round the cross.” “Man’s part,” she says, “is only to go his way, to be patient, to suffer, and to wait. The final glory is God’s to give at the hour which He alone knows” (The Mass Through the Year, Volume I, p. 171). Today’s liturgy says, “Go your way, but with your eyes fixed on the Face of Christ. Be patient, suffer, and wait, seeking at every moment and in all things His Face.”

Collect

The Collect reminds us that without the sustenance of God’s word we will suffer spiritual malnutrition, grow weak, and falter. This is why the Church has us pray: O God, who commanded us to listen to your Son, the Beloved, deign to feed us inwardly by your word.” The soul who, engaged in spiritual combat, slacks off in the practice of lectio divina or allows herself to become indifferent to it, will become spiritually anemic. The soul “inwardly fed by the Word of God” will enjoy a growing clarity of vision. Seeing more clearly, she will be able to follow Christ more closely. Strengthened inwardly, she will be able to walk more securely, until, as the Collect says, “with the eyes of the heart made pure,” she rejoices at the sight of the glory of God.

Offertory Antiphon

Today, the Offertory Antiphon is the voice of the Church reflecting on everything spoken to her in the Liturgy of the Word. The command of the Father speaking out of the bright cloud calls for a response. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: listen to Him” (Mt 17:5). While the bread and wine are made ready she takes a moment to ponder what has been said to her, and she makes a resolution. What does she resolve to do? “I will meditate on your commands which I love exceedingly; with arms flung wide I will stretch toward your commandments for I love them” (Ps 118:47-48). The antiphon is taken from Psalm 118 wherein every reference to the commandments, the law, the statutes of God become, for the Church, a reference to Christ, the beloved Son. The Church resolves today to “set nothing before the love of Christ” (RB 4:21). She addresses the Father who spoke to her in the Gospel, and moved by the Spirit, makes this bold resolution. The melody itself is full of energy and tenderness. “I will meditate on your Christ whom I love exceedingly; with arms flung wide I will stretch toward Christ for I love Him.” It is this prayer that readies us for the Holy Sacrifice.

Shines Like the Sun

We cannot step into the sacrosanct core of the Mass without encountering the love of Christ, without coming face to face with “the love of God which, being perfect, drives out all fear” (RB Pro: 67). Every fear, every terror “melts like wax before Him” (cf. Ps 67:3) whose “Face shines like the sun” (Mt 17:2). Exposure to the brightness of the Eucharist, -- a brightness veiled beneath the appearances of bread and wine -- is exposure to the love of Christ and to the radiance of His Face.

And Night Shall Be No More

After Holy Communion, made aware of this we will pray to the Father, saying that, “while we are yet on earth He gives us to partake of things of heaven.” What are these things? The book of the Apocalypse tells us what they are: “And they shall see His Face: and His name shall be on their foreheads. And night shall be no more and they shall not need the light of the lamp, nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall enlighten them, and shall reign forever and ever” (Ap 22:4-5).

My Light and My Salvation

With the Face of Christ before us and His light surrounding us we can go forward, even into the dark uncharted territories of faith. “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” (Ps 26:1).

The Human Face of Divine Mercy

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The painting (1488) is by Bartolomeo di Giovanni and was commissioned for the Hospital of the Innocents in Florence. The six-sided altar at the centre of the composition points to the Sixth Day Sacrifice of the Cross. There is fire burning on the altar, a sign of the Holy Spirit. The Blessed Virgin Mary's gesture indicates that she is offering the Infant Christ and participating in His sacrifice. Simeon's gesture is one of acceptance; he is an image of the Eternal Father. Saint Joseph holds the turtle doves in his cloak; Joseph was chosen by God to veil the mystery. Anna, entering the painting at the extreme left, holds the lighted candle of her faith and hope as she witnesses the arrival in the temple of the long-awaited Priest and Victim, the Consolation of Israel.

The Face of a Little Child

In today's splendid Introit we sing that we have received Mercy "in the midst of the temple" (Ps 47:10). At the heart of today's mystery shines the face of a little Child, the human face of Divine Mercy. The four other figures in today's Gospel -- Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna -- are held in His gaze. In a homily for January 1, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI spoke tenderly of the Face of the Infant Christ. "God's Face took on a human face, letting itself be seen and recognized in the Son of the Virgin Mary, who for this reason we venerate with the loftiest title of Mother of God. She, who had preserved in her heart the secret of the divine motherhood, was the first to see the face of God made man in the small fruit of her womb."

Today we meet the gaze of the Infant Christ, "made like His brethren in every respect" (Heb 2:17) and, looking into His eyes, we see that He is already our "merciful and faithful High Priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people" (Heb 2:17).

The Presentation of Christ Our Priest

Today in the midst of the temple the Father presents His Christ, our Priest, to us; and today the Father presents us to Christ our Priest. Of ourselves we have nothing to present; we can but receive Christ and allow ourselves to become an offering in His hands. "We have received your Mercy, O God, in the midst of your temple" (Ps 47:10).

The Infant Christ, presented to us as our Priest, presents us, in turn, to the Father. It is fitting that the symbol of the Infant Christ should be the living flame that crowns our candles. This Child has a Heart of fire, and so the prophet says, "But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire . . . and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the Lord" (Mal 3:2-3).

The Infant Priest and Victim

Today is the World Day for Consecrated Life. Consider the images that the liturgy sets before us: a flame that burns, consuming the wax that holds it aloft; a Child with the all-embracing gaze of the "Ancient of Days" (Dn 7:13); an Infant who is already Priest and Victim.

Identification with Christ the Victim

One consecrated in the monastic life is a taper offered to the consuming flame of love. One so consecrated has eyes only for the gaze of Christ, revealing a Heart that is all fire. One consecrated is presented and handed over to Christ the Priest. One consecrated is inescapably destined for the altar of sacrifice, for identification with Christ the Victim. Monastic life cannot be anything less than this, nor can it be anything more. This is why the Apostle says, "I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Rom 12:1).

The Woman Wrapped in Silence

Each of the four figures surrounding the Infant Christ in the temple is an icon of consecrated life, beginning with his all-holy Virgin Mother. How does today's Gospel present her? She is a woman wrapped in silence. Even when addressed by Simeon, she remains silent. Her silence is an intensity of listening. She is silent so as to take in Simeon's song of praise, silent so as to capture his mysterious prophecy of soul-piercing sorrow and hold it in her Immaculate Heart. She is silent because today her eyes say everything, eyes fixed on the face of the Infant Christ, eyes illumined by the brightness of his gaze.

Wordlessly, Mary offers herself to the living flame of love. She is the bride of the Canticle of whom it is said, "Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold you are beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil" (Ct 4:1). Consecrated life in all its forms, and monastic life in particular, begins in the silence of Mary that, already in the temple, consents to the sacrifice of her Lamb and to the place that will be hers beside the altar of the Cross.

Joseph and the Divine Desires

Turning to Saint Joseph, what do we see? Joseph shares Mary's silence. Silence is the expression of their communion in a tender and chaste love, a love that is ready for sacrifice. Joseph listens with Mary. Saint Joseph is the first to enter deeply into the silence of the Virgin. It is his way of loving her. It is his way of trusting her beyond words.

Saint Joseph: Tenderly Focused on the Face of Christ

The silence of Saint Joseph becomes for all consecrated persons a way of loving, a way of trusting, a way of pushing back the frontiers of hope. I recall what Pope Benedict XVI said concerning the silence of Saint Joseph. "The silence of Saint Joseph," said the Holy Father, "is an attitude of total availability to the divine desires. . . . He stands beside the Church today, silent, listening, tenderly focused on the face of Christ in all his members." Consecrated life is just that: availability to the desires of God, a listening silence, and a way of focusing tenderly on the face of Christ in all his members.

The Old Priest Sings

Saint Simeon represents the ancient priesthood disappearing into the light of Christ, our "merciful and faithful high priest before God" (Heb 2:17). Simeon is the old priest pointing to the new. He speaks; he sings his praise; he utters prophecy. Saint Simeon models the vocation of every priest charged in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with the calling down of the Holy Ghost over altar, bread, wine, and people. Simeon has a particular relationship with the Holy Ghost. Three times in as many verses Saint Luke emphasizes the mystical synergy of Simeon and the Holy Ghost: "The Holy Ghost was upon him. . . " (Lk 2:25); "It had been revealed to him by the Holy Ghost. . . . ; (Lk 2:26); "He came in the Spirit into the temple"; (Lk 2:27). In the Holy Spirit, Simeon contemplates the face of the Infant Christ; in the Holy Spirit he raises his voice in prophecy and in thanksgiving. In all of this Simeon shows us the characteristic traits of the new priesthood called to serve in the Holy Spirit.

Anna of the Face of God

Finally, there is Anna the prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel whose name means "Face of God." The widow Anna has made the temple her home. Abiding day and night in adoration, she emerges from the recesses of the temple only to give thanks to God and speak of the Child. Drawn into the light of the face of Christ she cannot but praise and immediately publish the good news "to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem" (Lk 2:38).

Anna of the Face of God models the vocation of every consecrated woman called to be at once fully contemplative and fully apostolic. The old woman's encounter with the Infant Christ energizes and rejuvenates her. In some way, Anna is the first apostle sent out by the Holy Spirit. Before Mary Magdalene and before the twelve, Anna announces Christ. She is compelled to speak but does so out of an "adoring silence." She appears in the temple to publish the long-awaited arrival of Mercy, and in her eyes shines the light of his Face. Mercy in the flesh was passed like a living flame from the arms of Mary and Joseph into the arms of Simeon and, then, undoubtedly into the embrace of holy Anna. "We have received your Mercy, O God, in the midst of your temple" (Ps 47:10).

The Consuming Fire of the Most Holy Eucharist

We, who welcome Mercy in the midst of the temple, are compelled to present ourselves to Mercy at the altar, to give ourselves back to Mercy, to give ourselves up to Mercy, to surrender to Mercy's sweet, purifying flame. "Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire" (Heb 12:28-29).

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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