06 November 2018

Homily - 1 November 2018 - The Solemnity of All Saints

The Solemnity of All Saints

Dear brothers and sisters,

Within the celebration of the Holy Mass, after the offering of the bread and wine mixed with a little water and before the celebrant washes his hands, the rubric for the Priest reads as follows: “After this, the Priest, bowing profoundly, says quietly: With humble spirit and contrite heart may we be accepted by you, O Lord, and may our sacrifice in your sight this day be pleasing to you, Lord God.”[1] Consequently, these are not words many people ever hear, but they are nonetheless worthy of our consideration today.

The first aspect to consider is the pronoun. The priest does not say “may I be accepted by you,” not even if he offers the Mass with no server or congregation; he says “we.” He does not speak in the royal we, meaning only himself, but meaning the entire people gathered at the altar, those who have come to render praise to God. “The true congregation is a gathering of those who belong to Christ, the holy people of God, united by faith and love… This we is not spontaneous, but the carefully nurtured fruit of genuine congregation.”[2] The priest, then, speaking on behalf of the congregation, asks the Lord to accept not only the gifts of bread and wine, which will soon be changed into the very Body and Blood of Christ, but also each person, so as to incorporate us into the Body of Christ.

The second aspect to consider is the word humble. In an age in which self-confidence is seen as an important virtue and something greatly to be desired, the virtue of humility often strikes us as something quite foreign. The humble, we think, are weak, and the self-confident strong and independent, two American characteristics which – if we are honest - do not sit comfortably in the Christian life because, as Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us, “humility suppresses hope or confidence in self more than it uses it; wherefore excessive self-confidence is more opposed to humility than lack of confidence is.”[3] The Saints are not those who trusted in themselves; rather, they are those who acknowledged their weaknesses and very dependence on the mercy of God.

In The Etymologies, Saint Isidore of Seville tells us the word humility is closely related to the Latin homo acclines humus, meaning “the man bent to the ground.”[4] The one who is humble bends toward the earth because he keeps in mind and heart the truth of his own existence. He or she remembers what we hear on Ash Wednesday: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This is why humility “is the foundation of prayer,” and why the priest bows profoundly as he makes this prayer; he knows the proper posture before God is one of submission and humble adoration.[5]

The third aspect of this quiet prayer of the priest is the phrase “contrite heart.” It is a phrase taken from the lips of King David who sang, “My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn” (Psalm 51:17). David was very much aware of the depth of his sinfulness and that he could not trust in own strength; he entrusted himself instead to the mercy of God and offered himself to the Lord. Would that we all followed his example, acknowledging our sinfulness and offering ourselves to the Lord, keeping in mind the warning of Saint James that “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

The fourth and final aspect to consider is the petition that we be “accepted by you.” It is worth noting that this is not in the active voice, but in the passive. We cannot simply walk into God’s presence on our own initiative; rather, we must be received by him. What we do here in the Lord’s sanctuary is not our own action, but his; it is for his honor and glory and the praise of name; we are participants in the worship of heaven. He summons us into his presence; we give him what is right and just; and he gives us himself. All of this is pure gift.

The great multitude of Saints whom we honor today and for whom we give grateful praise are those who humbled themselves before God and, trusting not in themselves but in God’s merciful love, acknowledged their sinfulness. They are those who offered themselves to God and who have been received into his presence and united to himself because their lives of faith, hope, and love were pleasing to God.

So it is that we have gathered this evening at the altar of the Lord to heed these words of our heavenly patron, Saint Augustine of Hippo:

…let us celebrate their feasts, as indeed we are doing, with the utmost devotion, soberly cheerful, gathered in a holy assembly, thinking faithful thoughts, confidently proclaiming their sanctity. It is no small part of imitation to rejoice together in the virtues of those who are better than we are. They are great, we are little; but “the Lord has blessed the little with the great.” They have gone ahead of us, they tower over us like giants. If we are not capable of following them in action, let us follow in affection; if not in glory, then certainly in joy and gladness; if not in merit, then in desire; if not in suffering, then in fellow feeling; if not in excellence, then in our close relationship with them.[6]

Because friends become like friends, may we, through ever-deepening friendship with the Saints, become like them and be found pleasing to God, that we, too, may be accepted by him and received into so great a company. Amen.

[1] “The Order of Mass,” Roman Missal, 26.
[2] Romano Guardini, Meditations Before Mass, (Manchester, New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press, 1993), 100.
[3] Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, III, q. 161, art. 2, ad. 2.
[4] Cf. Saint Isidore of Seville, The Etymologies, X.
[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2559.
[6] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 280.6.

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