Reflection on the Readings at Mass for the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A. The Liturgical Sense of the Scriptures Podcast, by Catholic Author and Theologian David L. Gray. READINGS: Malachi 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10, 1 Thessalonians 2:7b-9, 13, Matthew 23:1-12.
The Liturgy of the Catholic Mass is Our Way Home
As we approach the glorious Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, the final Sunday of the liturgical year, the readings for the next three Sundays invite us to reflect on the joint mission of Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The message for today’s reading for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time is that we need to pay heed to the intimate relationship between sacrifice and example. Indeed, those who are in union with the sacrifice of Christ are worthy of following. In particular, His priesthood should be an example for us to follow because they are an extension of His personage among us. On the contrary, if someone is not united with Christ, they are not on a path to Christ but, rather, they are on the path of vanity, self-indulgence, pride, deceit, and perdition, and following them will only lead us to Hell.
When you hear the oracle the Lord gave to the prophet Malachi in today’s First Reading from Malachi 1:14-2:2, 8-10; it is not difficult to associate it with the crisis of lazy men, heretics, and sexual deviants posing as priests and bishops that have been running wild in plain sight in our Catholic Church for going on for over a century. The oracle reads, “And now, O priests, this commandment is for you: If you do not listen, if you do not lay it to heart, to give glory to my name, says the LORD of hosts, I will send a curse upon you and of your blessing I will make a curse. You have turned aside from the way and have caused many to falter by your instruction; you have made void the covenant of Levi, says the LORD of hosts. I, therefore, have made you contemptible and base before all the people since you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your decisions.”
The Book of Malachi, which is the last book of the Old Testament, written approximately 537 to 329 years before Jesus turned over the tables in the Temple, contains six oracles, which are presented in the form of disputes where the Lord responds to questions to clarify why He is angry with Israel for breaking the covenant He made with them. In the context of today’s reading, in 1:6, the Lord states the priests do not honor him rightly, saying, “O priests, who despise my name.” He then assumes their saying, “You say, ‘How have we despised your name?'” He then answers the question He assumed of them by replying, “By offering polluted food upon my altar. And you say, ‘How have we polluted it?’ By thinking that the Lord’s table may be despised.” So, this first oracle reveals that God is not pleased when priests show contempt for the altar by presenting impure sacrifices that are not worthy of His name, such as blind, lame, or sick animals or animals taken in violence. As it was then, so is it today, where priests fall into the error of thinking that sacrifice on the altar belongs to them; that they can do whatever their heart desires, as if the Lord has no concern for pure and worthy sacrifice. These priests today make up their own words of sacrifice and create their own self-indulgent liturgies. They show contempt for the sacrifice of the Mass by introducing worldliness into it. They treat the Mass as a social gathering and offer no evidence that what we have been called is a sacrifice in memorial of Him who sacrificed His natural life for us so that we might have eternal life through Him.
Several years after Malachi had prophesied about the fallen state of the Mosaic priesthood, Matthew, in today’s Gospel Reading from 23:1-12, gives an account of Jesus addressing the fallen state of the teaching establishment, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach, but they do not practice. They tie heavy burdens that are hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.'” Then, in verses 12 through 16, Christ Jesus calls the scribes and Pharisees prideful, hypocrites, and blind guides. So, upon His coming to dwell with us, not only did God find the Temple worthy of cleansing because it had become a den of thieves, but those who taught the law and the Scriptures had also become a curse upon the people.
However, contrast the Jewish teaching establishment whose example Jesus said was not worthy of following with the account of the time that the Apostle Paul and his company spent with the Thessalonians, writing in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-9, 13, “We were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children. With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but our very selves, so dearly beloved had you become to us. You recall brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery. Working night and day in order not to burden any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” Even thousands of years later, it is not difficult to hear the love and humility in Paul’s voice. The only thing that loves desires is the best for its object of love, and by desiring something for the other that is greater than themselves, by their example, they prove their humility.
In this way, the liturgy of the Catholic Mass proves who she serves because all she desires is to unite us with the Father, through the Son and the Holy Spirit, so that we might one day dwell in the place where she has been leading us for as long as we have been Catholics. The liturgy is love and the example of love because she is not only guiding us home, but is the facilitation of God’s grace to conform us to the image of His Son, who is Love and is the Father’s Love for Us.
This is just one way how the readings at Mass this Sunday connect to the Liturgy and how the Liturgy is forming us how to live our lives in the world. Be in the world what you have received through the Liturgy.