It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord. For through his Paschal Mystery, he accomplished the marvellous deed, by which he has freed us from the yoke of sin and death, summoning us to the glory of being now calleda chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for your own possession, to proclaim everywhere your mighty works,for you have called us out of darknessinto your own wonderful light… PREFACE II OF THE SUNDAYS IN ORDINARY TIME
… For out of compassion for the waywardness that is ours, he humbled himself and was born of the Virgin;by the passion of the Cross he freed us from unending death,and by rising from the dead he gave us life eternal. And so, with Angels and Archangels, with Thrones and Dominions, and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven, we sing the hymn of your glory,as without end we acclaim:
I stand praying the preface on humble ground. This is the earth on which Christ emptied himself of heavenly affections. I stand on common soil with Jesus who bent down to write in the sand words of forgiveness for an adulterer. This is the soil that he mixed with saliva to heal the blind and the ill. This is the earth in which chaos, wars and violence still rage as we live his command for peace. On this ground, Jesus sacrificed his life, his ministry and teaching on a cross between two thieves. This is the ground, the sacred earth in which Christ rose from the dead after three days in the dark cave that held his body.
This ground of sacred prayer is anything but ordinary. These prefaces during Ordinary Time are not throwaway prayers. They are not meant to be prayed out loud only while people fumble with kneelers, change positions, calm children and ready themselves for the consecration of the bread and wine. These prayers reveal the vulnerability of people who beg God for healing as we all try to make sense out of our lives. These prayers summarize the mystery we celebrate even far from the altar table, as God possesses us. Mighty works are revealed in our humility during Ordinary Time.
I pray these texts often feeling awkward and out of place. I have not always felt emotionally comfortable standing on the earth. I have often felt unworthy to stand in the position behind the altar because I have been reluctant to claim my place among God’s chosen. I have spent years in therapy healing the past, in spiritual direction claiming the Spirit in the present, allowing my spirit and body a place on the planet. I pray these prayers walking on the earth, ministering among the marginalized, discovering my own life and God’s love within me.
As a priest and human being, I know I must continue to claim my faith among this holy nation of believers. I hear so often from other priests that they are burned out from always proclaiming the Paschal Mystery. So many ordained men never really believe the reality of love and forgiveness within their own lives. I listen to clergy beaten down by age, restlessness and severe loneliness.
Many years ago as a younger priest, I facilitated a retreat for clergy. I heard volumes of anger from priests about their positions behind the altar as leaders of parishes and larger institutions. They were exhausted from proclaiming, preaching and teaching about faith because so many priests in that group had not experienced God’s consolation and love. They were so angry amidst God’s people and the larger institution of the Church. They wept with me in private conversations and among one another about not finding meaning standing alone at the altar table.
I remember one priest screaming at me that there must be something more than the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. He asked me to find some other method of teaching, pattern of healing or philosophy of life to speak about. I wept with him as he cried on my shoulder. I tried to comfort him with only what I had come to realize even as a young priest, that I find a place on the earth only in the healing love of Jesus, the Christ. I felt the darkness of his life on my shoulder and in my heart. I stood with him as if I were at the altar table, offering his life to God. I cannot predict outcomes or change people or even heal them. I can only remind people that we are all among God’s possessions being lifted from yokes of burden. We live even among the shadows of the healing light of Christ’s presence.
I still muster the courage to stand on the opposite side of the altar from people. The longer I pray there, the deeper my commitment is to people who are searching for something more in their lives. The preface of the Eucharistic Prayer invites every person into a dialogue of life. This dialogue goes well beyond simple words no matter the translation. This dialogue back and forth between priest and people is about the deepest aspects of our lives.
I recently met a twenty-something young man who has just been released from prison. During his incarceration because of selling drugs, he found God. He spoke with me in a soft voice in the dimly lit chapel before Mass. He told me he just spent the weekend exploring a vocation as a priest and a monk. He also told me that he has yet to be baptized. He is confident that God is calling him to be ordained.
I saw deep within his brown eyes, the desire to be healed of his heroin addiction. His sad eyes told me that perhaps moving out of the last pew to the other side of the altar would take his pain away. Perhaps being a priest would release him from his wayward ways. He longs for God to free him from the yoke of sin, addiction and heartache. I wanted to remind him that waywardness and heartache does not disappear once you get to the other side of the altar. I longed to tell him that God is in his present darkness and the light will lead him one step at a time.
Perhaps the heroin addict and the priest should change places on some days. The addict needs to constantly offer his pain up to God in order to survive another day. The priest needs to be honest about his suffering and come to need God more than anything in order to survive another day. This is the real dialogue the preface suggests. We are a chosen people who need God. We are a royal priesthood that constantly offers up our pain and suffering to God so we will all be healed. Every person on the earth is God’s possession.
Every worshipping community needs to explore this sacred dialogue. The people and the priest, the daily suffering and the daily offering to God becomes the flow of the Paschal Mystery. I have yet to imagine another place to go for meaning when a homeless mother comes and says that suicide seems to be the only answer. I do not know where else to turn when a young man is struck by a car days before his graduation. We do not know where to place our trust when a young mother offers up her newborn child in death. We turn in any worshipping community to the Lord who invites our hearts to rest and be freed from the yoke of pain, suffering and grief.
I admit that priests will have to get used to many of the prayers of the new translation of the Mass. However, many priests will also have to take stock of their life of prayer, their ability to discover God’s consolation for their lives and receive the people in real dialogue of faith. These texts from Ordinary Time will take time to settle into the hearts of priests and people. The faith behind the words will continue to show us Christ’s love and compassion for us all.
God still has compassion for our waywardness. We turn to God in the dialogues of war and destruction and his call for nonviolence. We turn to God’s compassion when we blame people living in depression and other forms of mental illness for their disease. We turn to God to feed people who are starving especially for love. We turn to God in this sacred dialogue when priests do not believe and when addicts grasp newborn faith.
I am deeply grateful for my position at the altar to articulate our communal praise to God. Even the heavens ring with praise for what is loved on the holy soil of earth. Thankfulness and gratitude form the church in prayer when our dialogue of life and faith begins at the Table of the Lord. God emptied himself of heavenly form and walked among us. He still feeds us in our humility and welcomes us in our waywardness.
As I pray these various forms of the preface behind the altar, I plant my feet safely on the earth. Here on the rich soil of our earthly home I have come to know my place among people who live on the daily bread of hope. I stand behind an altar lifting up to God my fearful heart and lifting up the lives of people who desperately need God for human survival. We are all given a share in the richness of Christ’s resurrection so we will all find our footing in the Kingdom of Heaven. Our gratitude is without end.