This Sunday’s first Scripture for Holy Mass is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of the Prophet Isaiah.
The Book of the Prophet Isaiah is one of the longest and most beautiful texts in the Bible and it is a theological commentary on some of the most important, and cataclysmic, events in the history of the Israelites. The Book of the Prophet Isaiah spans several centuries and presents the prophet’s visionary look at Israel’s past, present and future.
A principle concern of the Prophet Isaiah is worship. What and how does Israel worship? In this regard, the Prophet testifies that the Israelites are far from what the one, true God wants and he warns them that the what and how of the people’s worship is the great indicator of the state of their souls and of their culture. Remember, the root word of culture is cult, and therefore is you want to know what a culture is all about, look at its cults, consider that a culture worships.
Israel is supposed to worship the one, true God and tell the nations to know who the one, true God is and to invite them to worship God as he wants to be worshipped. In fact, a great temple had been built by King David’s son, Solomon, so that this mission could be accomplished.
Except, the worship of that temple had been compromised, as the Israelites decided that their cult would not be the worship of the one, true God, but instead, false gods- gods of wealth, pleasure, power and honors.
The one, true God could stay, but only inasmuch as his temple and his priests ratified, approved or just looked the other way as the Israelites gave their lives over to the false gods of wealth, pleasure, power and honors.
Of course, all this false worship brought the house of Israel crashing down on their heads. In the year 587 BC the false gods delivered Israel into the hands of their enemies and the people lost everything they thought was important- king, land, temple- all their wealth, pleasure, power and honors. It was all gone. The one, true God was faithful- but they refused to have faith in him. They put their faith in false gods, who are always fickle, not faithful.
The thing about false gods is that they make promises that seem to be for our benefit, and even deliver benefits to us, but this short term benefit comes at a long term price and the price paid for the worship of false gods- the worship of wealth, pleasure, power and honors- is that those false gods consume us. They eat us alive.
This is what happened to the Israelites.
Thus the urgency of asking ourselves in terms of our own culture, what are our cults? What gods do we really worship? There is always an urgency to begging the answer to this question, lest our own houses come crashing down on our heads.
Today’s excerpt from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah presents in a kind of coded language a vision of right worship- of the kind of worship that happens when we worship the one, true God.
The “holy mountain” the Prophet Isaiah makes reference to is Mt. Zion, the place where the temple of Jerusalem had been built. Isaiah envisions that this temple would be rebuilt and restored, that God would do this for his people, and that when he did, the purpose of Israel would be fulfilled- all the nations would come to know and worship the one, true God.
We Christians believe that Isaiah’s vision of the new and restored temple happens in Jesus Christ- but it happens in a surprising way. God does not create a new building for the sake of worship, but a body. In Jesus Christ, the one, true God accepts for himself a human nature and lives a real, human life.
In accepting a human nature, God accepts a human body, and in this revelation of God in our flesh, God in a body, the new temple is revealed. The new temple is the Lord Jesus himself and the new worship is what we experience in the Mass, when we temple of Christ’s Body is opened up for us and we receive, through the Body of Christ, communion with his divine life and divine presence.
This is what the Mass is all about. It is all about the new temple of Christ’s Body and the worship that takes place in that new temple. It is through the new temple of Christ’s Body and the worship that takes place in that temple that the Church, as the new Israel, introduces the nations to the one, true God and gathers them to worship God as he wants to be worshipped.
Isaiah speaks about the new temple of Christ and the new worship of the Mass in symbols- the Church gives us the new temple and new worship in their reality.
That’s what the Mass is all about!
And it is important to remember. The worship that God in Christ gives to the Church is not musical entertainment or a faith based seminar. It is not a lecture or a platform through which we affirm ourselves in our opinions and ideologies. It is not a celebration of community values.
The worship that God in Christ gives to the Church is temple worship, and through this worship he gives us communion with his divine life. Our places of worship are not “worship centers” or assembly halls or theaters, but temples.
This is why the highlight of the Mass is never simply something we are doing, but what God in Christ is doing for us. The highlight of the Mass is when God gives us communion with his divine life in the Blessed Sacrament- when he makes himself really and truly present in his Body and in Blood. That’s true worship. Anything we do during worship is meant to serve the gift of Holy Communion, and if what we are doing distracts from this gift, our worship is not the worship God in Christ wants.
We don’t make God in Christ present through our efforts. God in Christ does that for us. Our efforts during the Mass are meant to help us to be attentive and receptive- to receive him with gratitude and love when he reveals himself.
Christ’s Gospel is also about the new temple and the new worship. He delivers his teachings about both in the coded language of a parable about a king whose invitations to his guests to come to the wedding of his son are met with the most bizarre and extreme refusals and then when some who accept the invitation show up for the wedding, they can’t seem to fathom the importance of the event.
The refusals and inappropriate behaviors lead to terrifying consequences.
As I said, this parable is all about the new temple and the new worship (which we experience in the Mass).
The clue is discerned in the image of the wedding banquet, which is a biblical symbol of what happens in true worship- God and humanity come together as a bride and groom, as a husband and wife, this union generates life and love. This is what true worship is meant to do and it is what the Mass accomplishes. Christ and the Church come together and their union (holy communion) generates life and love.
Now, God invites many to his wedding banquet called the Mass. And what is the response to this invitation? “The time is inconvenient.” “It’s so boring.” “It’s needs to be short.” “I’ve got better things to do.” “The kids have sports.” “I don’t like the other guests.”
And if many do come, what kind of attitude do they clothe themselves in? Negativity? Resentment? Indifference?
Now, mind you, think about all the weddings invitations we have accepted, the testimonial and fundraising events that we move heaven and earth to get to. We wait in long lines for tickets to concerts and movies. Even set up tents to sleep on sidewalks outside stadiums and stores to support teams and buy consumer products. Think of what people will spend to prepare themselves for a wedding, concert or dinner party.
Look at the cult and your will understand the culture.
God invites us to the Mass. The Mass our route of access to the new temple and it is Mass is the worship that God wants from us.
The Mass is the wedding banquet of God’s only, beloved Son, and the wedding feast he gives to us is the food of eternal life and the drink of eternal salvation.
And what is the response of so many? The response is perplexing to say the least.
And, the response of far too many, Lord Jesus says, is very dangerous. Not sharing in the divine life that is given to us in the Church’s worship is dangerous- refusing God’s will to give us his life and love is a catastrophe.
God in Christ does not want us living with the regrets of our refusal.
So he sends us out as his servants to gather the nations into his temples and he insists in his Gospel that he is tired our excuses and that now is the time to accept his invitation and get ourselves ready for the wedding feast of the Son of the King.