Another guest post from Fr Martin Williams
Our lives are full of commemorations, public and private. Every year is an anniversary of something or someone famous. Some public commemorations such as Remembrance Sunday have significance for the whole nation, others may be interesting or amusing to some and of no interest whatsoever to others. Private commemorations such as birthdays, wedding anniversaries, year’s minds of our loved-ones, are of intense importance to family members and opportunities for others to share their joys or sorrows.
Every Mass is a Commemoration of significance not just public, and certainly not private, but cosmic! The whole of creation is involved in it, the whole of humanity is affected by it, from Adam to the end of time.
What is commemorated? The redemptive work of God in Christ, above all Christ’s death on the cross, his resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
The whole of creation is involved in the Mass, the whole of humanity is affected by it, from Adam to the end of time.
The new creation
At the heart of the Eucharist, after the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the recital of Jesus’ words over the bread and the cup, “This is my body … This is my blood …”, the Prayer continues with these or similar words: “Therefore, O Lord, as we celebrate the memorial of the saving Passion of your Son, his wondrous resurrection and Ascension into heaven …”
These are the events which inaugurate the new creation and enable human beings to be reconciled to God and to one another in the peace of his kingdom.
Within the commemoration of that once-for-all Act of Redemption the Church commemorates different aspects of Christ’s life in the cycle of feasts centred on Easter, and also, in a cycle of feasts which are celebrated on particular dates of the year, she commemorates Mary, Mother of God, the Apostles, Martyrs and other holy men and women. Whatever else is commemorated on a Sunday, Sunday remains the Lord’s Day, the First Day of the Week, a little Easter.
Whatever else is commemorated on a Sunday, Sunday remains the Lord’s Day, the First Day of the Week, a little Easter.
These different commemorations are reflected in the readings in the first part of the Mass.
The earthly life of our Lord is reflected in the Feasts which are celebrated between Advent and Pentecost: his Conception (The Annunciation), his Nativity (Christmas), his Epiphany (to the Magi and at his Baptism), his Temptations and his Transfiguration (in Lent), his Passion and Death on the Cross (Holy Week), his Resurrection from the dead (Easter). After Pentecost we listen in the Gospel Readings to the account of Jesus’ ministry of teaching and healing.
Called to holiness
Our communion in the Eucharist is above all with Christ, but in him we are in communion with one another. (This is why sacramental communion between Christians is so important and why its loss is so tragic.)
The commemoration of the saints reflects this reality. It also reminds us of our potential – as saints, called to holiness as members of Christ and inheritors of his kingdom. The saints in heavenly glory are our fellow worshippers and intercessors at the Mass and also our friends and an inspiration to us to persevere in the Christian life.
The less we know
Fr Brian Oman, one time Vicar of this Parish, was questioned on one occasion by one of his curates as to why we commemorated saints of whom we knew practically nothing historically, some of whom may not have existed at all! (This was in the days before the reform of the Calendar.) His reply was, the less we know in that way the better!
It is not primarily their example we celebrate, but their fellowship with us and their heavenly intercession. These commemorations are not the result of historical research, but of the Church’s experience of God’s grace and power in the lives of her members. To God be the glory!