Monday, April 27, 2009

Cleansing the Temple at every Mass

From Praying the Mass, chapter 4:
When Jesus entered Jerusalem the week of his Crucifixion (on the day we commemorate as Palm Sunday), he went into the Temple area and “caused a scene.” He drove out the money-changers, men who “helped” Jews on pilgrimage by trading their foreign currency for the coinage used in the Temple… at a lousy exchange rate. After chastising these dishonest bankers, Jesus turned his attention to the blind and the lame, and he healed them. We commemorate – and enter into – his cleansing of the Temple and his healing of the infirm at every Mass. It is called the Penitential Act.

The purpose of the Penitential Act, in the words of the Missal itself, is to “prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.” To do this in honesty and sincerity before God, we must examine ourselves and admit our sin and our sinfulness, asking the Lord for His mercy. Jesus tells us to be reconciled with one another before we present our offerings and ourselves at the altar. (cf. Matt. 5:23-24) In the words of the Catechism, “the first movement of the prayer of petition is asking forgiveness. … It is a prerequisite for righteous and pure prayer.” (Catechism 2631) This is true both in the liturgy and in our personal prayer.

After the priest invites us into this act, there is a brief pause for silent reflection and examination. Make proper use of this silence by calling to mind your sins – the ways you have failed to live out the Gospel in your daily life – and repenting of them. There has been a loss of the sense of sin in our world, with dangerous effects: so long as we’re healthy, wealthy, and wise (in the eyes of the world) we think we’re “all right.” On the contrary, Fr. Thomas Kocik wrote in Loving and Living the Mass that Jesus might say in our contemporary language, “it is better to enter heaven with a guilt complex than to enter Gehenna brimming with self-confidence.” (p. 43)

So how is this anything similar to the wild-but-tender side of Christ that we see in Matthew 21:12-14? “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?” (1 Cor. 6:19) “We are the temple of the living God.” (2 Cor. 6:16) We are temples, but we are marred by the stain of sin, as guilty as the money-changers though our sins might be completely different. We are temples, but we are plagued with sickness, as in need of Christ’s healing touch as were the blind and the lame. In the Penitential Act, Jesus Christ comes to us to cleanse us and to heal us of our sins.

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