The prophet Isaiah testifies this morning that the practices of the faith cannot be used as a kind of pious smokescreen that we use as an attempt to distract God from our sins.
Cruelty, indifference to the poor, selfishness, greed, gossip, idolatry- all remain sins for which we remain accountable even if our attempts at prayer, fasting and almsgiving are exemplary. We should never use the practices of the faith as a subterfuge through which we try to appear to be virtuous, when in fact we really are not.
If you are attentive to the Gospels, you will discover that the testimony of Isaiah is reiterated by the Lord Jesus in his critique of the spiritual disposition of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Christ’s criticism is not a condemnation of Israel’s Faith in particular or of religion in general, but is instead a criticism of thinking that in terms of Faith in God that appearances matter more than substance.
Not so. Christ reminds us. Not so.
The insight of the prophets is that the worship of Israel can only be maintained in its integrity if from it the people become more virtuous. Christ ratifies this insight and extends it as a rule for the new Israel, his Church.
The Church’s practices of worship, in the Mass, in popular devotions, in bible study, catechesis, faith formation all these works of the Church are leading us to and are supposed to be perfected in works of mercy. If the Church’s practices of worship do not find fulfillment in works of mercy what our worship becomes is nothing more than a subterfuge, a smokescreen, an attempt to obscure rather than illuminate.
And the prophet Isaiah proclaims and the Lord Jesus confirms that God sees right through it to our truth.
The Lord Jesus makes an interesting claim about himself in his Gospel.
He testifies that he is the Bridegroom. What does this mean?
That Christ is the Bridegroom means that his relationship to the Church can be likened to that of a bridegroom to his bride, a husband to his wife.
In other words, Christ does not found an institution called the Church, he creates for himself a bride, a spouse, a beloved wife. The union of Christ and the Church is a nuptial union, a union through which his divine life and presence are “birthed” into the world.
Like Eve was drawn from the side of Adam, so to mystically, the Church is drawn from the pierced side of Christ on the cross.
This mystical reality becomes real for us in the Mass. How so?
The Book of Revelation refers to the Mass as “the wedding feast of the Lamb”. This means that the Mass is our participation in the nuptial union of Christ and the Church. In every Mass, the union of Christ, the Bridegroom and the Church, the bride is re-presented to us. The ritualized rapport of the priest and the people is meant to signify the wedding of Christ and the Church. All the words, gestures, signs and symbols of the Mass are representations of the wedding feast of the Lamb of God- Christ Jesus, who presents himself to his Bride, the Church.
In the wedding feast of the Mass, the two become one flesh- Christ and the Church are united as bridegroom and bride, husband and wife.
The Mass is not meant to be an expression of faith-based entertainment or a platform for our ideologies or a tool for institutional development.
When we attempt to do these things, the Mass is defaced and the work of the Holy Spirit is frustrated. The wellsprings of divine grace dry up and the mission of the Church falters.
The Mass is the holy communion of heaven and earth, Bridegroom and Bride, Christ and the Church.