The Paralytic carrying his bed is the subject of this day’s Gospel, and gives the eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost its title. It has been thought, by some, that its having the number it bears has caused it to be inserted in the Missal immediately after the Ember Days of autumn. We will not, like the Liturgists of the Middle Ages, (Berno Aug., Chap. 5, etc.) discuss the question as to whether we should consider it has having taken the place of the vacant Sunday, which formerly used always to follow the ordination of the sacred ministers, (Microlog., Chap 29) in the manner we have elsewhere described. (Gueranger, Advent: Ember Saturday) Manuscript Sacramentaries and Lectionaries, of very ancient date, give it the name which was so much in use of Dominica vacat/Sunday Time. (Thomasi Opp. Edit. Vezzosi, t.v., p. 148-149, 309) Whatever may be the conclusion arrived at, there is one interesting point for consideration, viz., that the Mass of this day is the only one in which is broken the order of the lessons taken from St. Paul, and which invariably form the subject of the Epistles, from the sixth Sunday after Pentecost: the Letter to the Ephesians—which we have had already before us, and will be afterwards continued—is today interrupted, and in its stead we have some verses from the first Epistle to the Corinthians, wherein the Apostle gives thanks to God for the manifold gratuitous gifts granted, in Christ Jesus, to the Church. Now, the powers conferred, by the imposition of the Bishop’s hands, on the ministers of the Church, are the most marvelous gift that is known on earth, yea, in heaven itself. The other portions of the Mass, too, are, as we shall see further on, most appropriate to the prerogatives of the new Priesthood. So that the Liturgy of the present Sunday is doubly telling, when it immediately follows the Ember Days of September. But this coincidence is far from being one of every year’s occurrence, at least as the Liturgy now stands; nor can we dwell longer on these subjects without seeming to be going too far into archæology, and exceeding the limits we have marked out for ourselves.
The Introit of the Sunday Masses, since Pentecost, was always taken from the Psalms. From the 12th to the 118th, the Church, without ever changing the order of these sacred canticles, chose from each of them, as its own turn came, the Verses most appropriate to the Liturgy of each Sunday. But dating from today, she is going to select her Introits elsewhere, with one exception, however, when she will again turn to this the Book, by excellence, of divine praise. Her future opening-Anthems, for the Dominical Liturgy, to the end of the Year, will be taken from the various other books of the Old Testament. For this 18th Sunday, we have Jesus, son of Sirach, the inspired writer of Ecclesiastes, asking God to ratify, by the accomplishment of what they foretold, the fidelity of his Prophets. (Ecclesasticus 36:18) The interpreters of the divine oracles are now the Pastors whom the Church sends, in her own name, to preach the word of salvation and peace; let us, her children, pray with her, that their words may never be void.
Give peace, O Lord, to them who patiently wait for thee, that thy Prophets may be found faithful; hear the prayers of thy servant, and of thy people Israel.
Ps. I rejoiced at the things that were said unto me: we shall go into the house of the Lord. Glory, etc. Give peace.
The surest way to obtain grace is to be ever humbly acknowledging, to our God, our deep conviction that, of ourselves, we cannot please his divine Majesty. The Church continues to give us, in her Collects, the most admirable expressions of such an avowal.
May the working of thy mercy, O Lord, direct our hearts: for, without thee, we cannot please thee. Through, etc.
The other Collects, as in the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost.
Lesson of the Epistle of St. Paul, the Apostle, to the Corinthians 1 1:4-8
Brethren: I give thanks to my God always for you, for the grace of God that is given you in Christ Jesus, That in all things you are made rich in him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; As the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, So that nothing is wanting to you in any grace, waiting for the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Who also will confirm you unto the end without crime, in the day of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The last Coming of the Son of Man is no longer far off! The approach of that final event, which is to put the Church in full possession of her divine Spouse, redoubles her hopes; but the Last Judgment, which is also to pronounce the eternal perdition of so great a number of her children, mingles fear with her desire; and these two sentiments of hers will henceforth be continually brought forward in the holy Liturgy.
It is evident that Expectation has been, so to say, an essential characteristic of her existence. Separated as she is, at least as to the vision of his divine charms, she would have been sighing all day long in this vale of tears had not the love, which possesses her, driven her to spend herself, unselfishly and unreservedly, for Him who is absolute Master of her whole heart. She therefore devotes herself to labor and suffering, to prayers and tears. But her devotedness, unlimited as it has been, has not made her hopes less ardent. A love without desires is not a virtue of the Church; she condemns it in her children as being an insult to the Spouse.
So just, and at the same time so intense, were, and from the very first, these her aspirations, that Eternal Wisdom wished to spare his Bride by concealing from her the duration of her exile. The day and hour of his return is the one sole point upon which, when questioned by his Apostles, Jesus refused to enlighten his Church. (Matthew 24:3, 36) That secret constituted one of the designs of God’s government of the world; but besides that, it was also a proof of the compassion and affection of the Man-God: the trial would have been too cruel; and it was better to leave the Church under the impression, which after all was a true one, that the end was nigh in God’s sight, with whom a thousand Years are as one day. (2 Peter 3:8)
It is this which explains how it was that the Apostles, who were the interpreters of the Church’s aspirations, are continually recurring to the subject of the near approach of our Lord’s coming. St. Paul has just been telling us, and that twice over in the same breath, that the Christian is he who waiteth for the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, and for the day of his Coming. In his Epistle to the Hebrews, he applies to the second Coming, the inflamed desires of the ancient Prophets for the first; and says: Yet a little, and a very little while, and He that is to come, will come, and will not delay. (Habakkuk 2:3, Hebrews 10:37) The reason is that under the New Covenant, as under the Old, the Man-God is called, on account of his final manifestation, which is always being looked for, he that is coming, he that is to come. (Matthew 11:3, Apocalypse 1:8) The cry, which is to close the world’s history, is to be the announcement of his arrival: Behold! the Bridegroom is coming. (Matthew 25:6)
And St. Peter, too, says: “Having the loins of your mind girt up, think of the glory of that Day, whereon the Lord Jesus is to be revealed! Hope for it, with a perfect hope!” (1 Peter 1:5, 7, 13) The Prince of the Apostles foresaw the contemptuous way in which future false teachers would scoff at this long expected, but always put-off, coming; Where is his promise, or his Coming? For, since the fathers slept, all things continue so, from the beginning of creation! (2 Peter 3:3-4) Yes, he foresaw this, and forestalled their sarcasm by answering it in the words which his brother Paul (2 Peter 3:15) had previously used: (Romans 2:4) The Lord delayeth not his promise, as some imagine; but, beareth patiently, for your sake, not willing that any should perish, but that all should return to penance. But, the day of the Lord shall come as a thief, in which the heavens shall pass away with great violence; and the elements shall be dissolved with heat; and the earth, and the works that are in it, shall be burnt up. Seeing, then, that all these things are to be dissolved, what manner of people ought ye to be in holy conversations and godliness, waiting for, and hastening unto, the coming of the day of the Lord, by which, the heavens being on fire, shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with the burning heat of fire? But, we look for new heavens and new earth, according to his promise, in which heavens and earth, justice dwelleth. Wherefore, dearly beloved, waiting for these things, be diligent that ye may be found, before Him, unspotted and blameless in peace … Wherefore, Brethren, knowing these things before, beware! lest, being led away by the error of the unwise, ye fall from the steadfastness, which is now yours. (2 Peter 3:9-17)
If, in those last days, danger is to be so great that the very powers of heaven shall be moved, (Matthew 24:29) our Lord, as we are told in our Epistle has providentially confirmed in us his testimony and our faith, by continual manifestations of his power. And, as it were to confirm that other word of the same Epistle, that he will thus confirm unto the end them that believe in him—he is almost prodigal of prodigies in these our times, as though they were precursors of the End. Miracles are forcing themselves on the world’s unwilling notice; and our modern facilities for propagating news are made to tell this glory of the Lord all over his earth! In the name of Jesus, in the name of one or other of his Saints, but especially in the name of his Immaculate Mother, who is preparing the final triumph of the Church—the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, every misery of both body and soul is suddenly made to yield. So incontestable, indeed, and so public, is the manifestation of supernatural power that business managers of all kinds, though they must, out of regard for incredulity, laugh at the facts, yet are they most serious in turning the occasion to their profit! Such very material agencies as Railway Companies have been but too glad to be obliged to put on extra Trains to accommodate the Faithful thousands, and carry them as quickly as they could to the favored sanctuaries, where the holy Mother of God has appeared. It is not in Catholic countries only that the divine power has made itself felt. Quite recently, in the very center of Mahometan infidelity—have we not read it in our papers how the city of the Sultans rejoiced at hearing of the marvels done by the Queen of heaven within its own walls? The water of the miraculous fountain has been carried even into the city of Mecca, where is the tomb of the founder of Islam, and into which, until but lately, it was death for any Christian to enter.
The infidel may talk as he please but there being no God! (Psalm 13:1) If he hear not the divine testimony, it is because corruption or pride has more power over him than the light of reason—just as it was with the enemies of Jesus, during his life upon the earth. He is like to the asp of the Psalm, (Psalm 57:5-6) which maketh itself deaf; it stoppeth its ears that it may never hear the voice of the divine Enchanter, who speaketh that he may save. His life is one piece of madness (Psalm 57:5-6) and folly; (Psalm 13:1) he has done his best to drawn down vengeance upon himself.
Let us not be like him; but with the Apostle, let us thank God for the rich profusion of Grace, which he has so mercifully poured out upon us. Never were his gratuitous gifts more necessary than in these our miserable times. True, it is not a first promulgation that we stand in need of; but the efforts of hell against it have become so violent that in order to withstand them there is a need of a power from on high, equal in some sense to that we read of as being granted in the beginning of the Church. Let us beseech our Lord to bless us with men powerful in word and work. Let us, by the fervor of our fastings and prayers, obtain from his divine Majesty that the imposition of hands may produce, now more than ever, in them that are called to the Priesthood, its full result: that it may make them rich in all things, and especially in all utterance, and in all knowledge. May these days of ours, in which all principles are growing shadowy, find that the supernatural light, at least—the light of salvation—is kept up, in full splendor and purity, by the zeal of the Guides of the flock of Christ. May the compromises and flinchings of a generation, in which all truth is being etiolated and minced, never lead our newly ordained Priests, either themselves to shorten or permit anyone else to curtail, the measure of the perfect man, (Ephesians 4:13) which was put into their hands in order that they might apply it to every Christian who is desirous of observing the Gospel! In spite of all threats—in spite of the noisy passions which are boisterous against any Priest who dares to preach the truth—let their voice be just what it should be—that is, an echo of the Word: let it, that is, possess the holy firmness and vibration of the Saints!
In the Gradual, the Church repeats the Introit-Verse, to celebrate once more the joy felt by the Christian people at hearing the glad tiding, that they are soon to go into the House of the Lord. That House is Heaven, into which we are to enter, on the last day, our Lord Jesus Christ leading the way. But the House is also the temple, in which we are now assembled, and into which we are introduced by the representatives of that same Lord of ours—that is, by his Priests.
I rejoiced at the things that were said unto me: we shall go into the house of the Lord.
℣. Let peace be in thy strength, and abundance in thy towers.
℣. The Gentiles shall fear thy name, O Lord: and all the kings of the earth thy glory. Alleluia.
Sequel of the holy Gospel according to St. Matthew 9:1-8
At that time: Jesus entering into a boat, he passed over the water and came into his own city. And behold they brought to him one sick of the palsy lying in a bed. And Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the man sick of the palsy: Be of good heart, son, thy sins are forgiven thee. And behold some of the scribes said within themselves: He blasphemeth. And Jesus seeing their thoughts, said: Why do you think evil in your hearts? Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins are forgiven thee: or to say, Arise, and walk? But that you may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then said he to the man sick of palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go into thy house. And he arose, and went into his house. And the multitude seeing it, feared, and glorified God that gave such power to men.
In the 13th Century, in many Churches of the West, the Gospel for today was that wherein our Lord speaks of the Scribes and Pharisees as seated on the chair of Moses. (Matthew 23:1-12) The Abbot Rupert, who gives us this detail in his book on the Divine Offices, shows how admirably this Gospel harmonized with the Offertory, which is the one we still have, and which alludes to Moses. “This Sunday’s Office,” says he, “eloquently points out to him who presides over the House of the Lord, and has received charge of souls, the manner in which he should comport himself in the high rank, where the divine call has placed him. Let him not imitate those men who unworthily sat on the Chair of Moses; but let him follow the example of Moses himself, who, in the Offertory and its verses, presents the heads of the Church with such a model of perfection. Pastors of souls ought, on no account, to be ignorant of the reason why they are placed higher than other men: it is not so much that they may govern others as that they may serve them.” (Rupert, Divine Office 12:18) Our Lord, speaking of the Jewish doctors, said: “All whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do; but according to their works, do ye not: for they say, and do not.” (Matthew 23:3) Contrariwise to these unworthy guardians of the Law, they who are seated on the Chair of doctrine “should teach and act comformably to their teaching,” as the same Abbot Rupert adds; “or rather,” says he, “let them first do what it is their duty to do, that they may afterwards teach with authority; let them not seek after honors and titles, but make this their one subject—to bear on themselves the sins of the people, and to merit to avert, from those who are confided to their care, the wrath of God, as we are told in the Offertory, is the example given them by Moses.” (Rupert, ubi supra.)
The Gospel which speaks of the Scribes and Pharisees who were seated on the Chair of Moses has now been appointed for the Tuesday of the second week of Lent. But the one which is at present given for this Sunday equally directs our thoughts to the consideration of the superhuman powers of the Priesthood, which are the common boon of regenerated humanity. The Faithful, whose attention used formerly, on this Sunday, to be fixed on the right of Teaching, which is confided to the Pastors of the Church, are now invited to meditate upon the prerogative which these same men have—of forgiving sins and healing souls. As a conduct, in opposition with their teaching, would in no wise interfere with the authority of the sacred Chair, from which, for the Church and in her name, they dispense the bread of doctrine to her children—so whatever unworthiness there may happen to be on the soul of a Priest, it does not in the least lessen the power of the Keys, which he has had put into his hands, and which open heaven and shut hell. For it is the Son of Man—it is Jesus—who, by the Priest, be he a saint or be he a sinner, rids of their sins His brethren and His creatures whose miseries He has taken upon Himself, and has atoned for their crimes by His Blood. (Hebrews 2:10-18)
The miracle of the cure of the Paralytic, which gave an occasion to Jesus of declaring his power of forgiving sins, inasmuch as he was Son of Man, has always been especially dear to the Church. Besides the narration she gives us of it from St. Matthew, in today’s Gospel she again, on the Ember Friday of Whitsuntide, relates it in the words of St. Luke. (Luke 5:17-26) The Catacomb frescoes, which has been preserved to the present day, equally attest the predilection for this subject, wherewith she inspired the Christian artists of the first centuries. From the very beginning of Christianity, heretics had risen up, denying that the Church had the power which her divine Head gave her of remitting sin: such false teaching was equivalent to the irretrievably condemning, to spiritual death, an immense number of Christians who, unhappily, had fallen after their baptism but who, according to Catholic dogma, might be restored to grace by the Sacrament of Penance. With what energy, then, would not our Mother the Church defend the treasure, we mean, the remedy, which gives life to her children! She uttered her anathemas upon, and drove from her communion, those Pharisees of the New Law who, like their Jewish predecessors, refused to acknowledge the infinite mercy and universality of the great mystery of the Redemption.
Like to her divine Master, who had worked under the eyes of the Scribes and his contradictors, the Church too, in proof of her consoling doctrine, had worked an undeniable and visible miracle in the presence of the false teachers; and yet she failed to convince them of the reality of the miracle of sanctification and grace invisibly wrought by her words of remission and pardon. The outward cure of the Paralytic was both the image and the proof of the cure of his soul, which previously had been in a state of moral paralysis; but he himself represented another sufferer: that other was the human race, which for ages had been a victim to the palsy of sin. Our Lord had left the earth when the faith of the Apostles achieved this their first prodigy, of bringing to the Church the world, grown old in its infirmity. Finding that the human race was docile to the teaching of the divine messengers and was already an imitator of their faith, the Church spoke as a Mother and said: Be of good heart, Son! thy sins are forgiven thee! At once, to the astonishment of the philosophers and skeptics, and to the confusion of hell, the world rose up from its long and deep humiliation; and to prove how thoroughly his strength had been restored to him, he was seen carrying on his shoulders, by the labor of penance and the mastery over his passions, the bed of his old exhaustion and feebleness, on which pride, lust, and covetousness had so long held him. From that time forward, complying with the word of Jesus, which was also said to him by the Church, he has been going on towards his house, which is heaven, where eternal joy awaits him! And the Angels, beholding such a spectacle on earth of conversion and holiness, (Luke 5:26) are in amazement, and sing glory to God, who gave such power to men.
Let us also give thanks to Jesus, whose marvelous dower, which is the Blood he shed for his Bride, suffices to satisfy, through all ages, the claims of eternal justice. It was at Easter Time that we saw our Lord instituting the great Sacrament, which, thus in one instant, restores the sinner to life and strength. (Wednesday, 5th Week after Easter) But how doubly wonderful does not its power seem when we see it working in these times of effeminacy and well-nigh universal ruin! Iniquity abounds; crimes are multiplied; and yet the life-restoring pool, kept full by the sacred stream which flows from the open Side of our crucified Lord, is ever absorbing and removing, as often as we permit it, and without leaving one single vestige of them, those mountains of sins, those hideous treasures of iniquity which had been amassed during long years by the united agency of the devil, the world, and man’s own self.
The Offertory speaks to us of the figurative altar, which was set up by Moses, for the reception of the oblations of the figurative Law, which oblations foreshadowed the great and only true Sacrifice, at which we are now present. After the Anthem which is still in use, we will append the Verses which were anciently added. Moses is there represented as the type of those faithful Prophets mentioned in the Introit; he is shown to us, as the model of those true leaders of God’s people, who devote themselves in procuring mercy and peace to those whom they guide. (Rup., ubi supra) God sometimes seems to resist them; but he always lets himself be overcome! and in return for their fidelity, he admits them into the most intimate manifestations of his light and his love. The first Verse shows us the Priest in his public life of intercession and devotedness for others; the second reveals to us his private life, of which prayer and contemplation are the main occupation. We shall not be surprised at the length of these Verses, the singing of which would far exceed the time for offering the Host and Chalice, such as is now the custom—if we remember how it was the ancient usage that the whole assembly of the Faithful, present at the Holy Sacrifice, took part in the oblation of the bread and wine needed for the Liturgy. So, likewise, the Communion, which at present consists of only a few lines, was originally nothing but the Antiphon to an entire Psalm, which in the ancient Antiphonaries was appointed for each day, when it was not the same as the Introit-Psalm; the Psalm was sung, repeating the Antiphon after each Verse, until the number of communicants was completed.
Moses consecrated an altar unto the Lord, offering whole burnt offerings thereon, and slaying victims: he made an evening sacrifice for a sweet odor unto the Lord God, in the sight of the children of Israel.
℣. The Lord spake unto Moses saying: Come up unto me, upon mount Sina, and thou shalt stand on the top thereof. Moses rising up, went up the mountain, where the Lord had appointed him: and the Lord came down unto him in a cloud, and stood before his face. Which Moses seeing, he fell down and adored, saying: I beseech thee, O Lord, forgive the sins of thy people. And the Lord said unto him: I will do according to thy word.
Then Moses made an evening sacrifice.
℣. II. Moses prayed to the Lord and said: If I have found favor in thy sight, show me thyself openly, that I may see thee. And the Lord spake unto him, saying: For man shall not see me, and live; but, be thou on the height of the rock, and my right hand shall protect thee, till I pass: whilst I pass I will take away my hand, and then shalt thou see my glory: but my face shall not be seen by thee; for I am God, showing wonderful things in the earth.
Then Moses made.
The sublime eloquence of the Secret is beyond all comment. Let us get thoroughly imbued with the high teaching, here so admirably summed up in a few short words: let us come to understand that our life and conduct should have a something divine about them, in order to our being true respondents to the mysteries which are revealed to our understandings, and incorporated into us, by the venerable “commercia” (it is our Mother’s word, and we presume not to alter it)—the veneranda commercia of this Sacrifice.
O God, who, by the venerable participations of this sacrifice, makest us partakers of the one supreme divine nature: grant, we beseech thee, that as we know thy truth, so may we show it by a worthy conduct of life. Through, etc.
The other Secrets, as in the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost.
The Communion-Anthem is addressed to the Priests, and, at the same time, to us all; for if the Priest offers the Victim, which is the holiest that can be, we should not think of accompanying him into the Court of our God without bringing up, that it may be united to the divine Host, that other victim, which is our own selves. It is God’s injunction: Thou shalt not appear empty before me! (Exodus 23:15)
While giving thanks in the Postcommunion for the priceless gift of the sacred mysteries, let us beseech our God to perfect within us the grace of always receiving it worthily.
Bring up sacrifices, and come into his courts: adore ye the Lord in his holy court.
Being fed, O Lord, with the sacred gift, we give thee thanks, humbly beseeching thy mercy, that thou wouldst make us worthy of its reception. Through, etc.
The other Postcommunions, as in the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost.
The psalms, capitulum, hymn, and versicle, as above.
ANTIPHON OF THE MAGNIFICAT
The paralytic took up his bed, on which he had been lying, magnifying God; and all the people, as soon as they saw this, gave praise unto God.
LET US PRAY
May the influence of thy mercy, O Lord, direct our hearts: for, without Thy help, we cannot please Thee. Through, etc.
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)