By Dr. Judy Bullock
In the previous column for Liturgy Matters the focus was on experiencing God’s forgiveness in the sacrament of reconciliation. As we begin this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy it is an opportune time to take a closer look at the other side of mercy: the challenge we have to be the face of mercy in the world in which we live.
In the Book of Exodus we hear the account of Moses going up on Mount Sinai to pray and seek God’s help for his people who had turned away from God. Moses came down the mountain with the Ten Commandments, the basic rules to follow to lead a good life. Centuries later Jesus changed the paradigm, going beyond these fundamental commandments, preaching the commandment of love. In the Sermon on the Mount this model for behavior is explicitly expressed in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. These works of mercy are our “to do” list for living out our Christian mission.
When we celebrate the liturgy we are reminded over and over, not only that God freely offers us love and mercy, but of the responsibility we have to carry this to others.
St. John Paul II said this:
“The authentic sense of the Eucharist becomes itself the school of active love for neighbor. … The Eucharist educates us to this love in a deeper way; it shows us, in fact, what value each person, our brother or sister, has in God’s eyes, if Christ offers Himself equally to each one, under the species of bread and wine. If our Eucharistic worship is authentic, it must make us grow in awareness of the dignity of each person. The awareness of that dignity becomes the deepest motive of our relationship with our neighbor. We must also become particularly sensitive to all human suffering and misery, to all injustice and wrong, and seek the way to redress them effectively.”
In the liturgy we encounter this concept in the introductory rite when we pray together the Confiteor. Not only do we publicly acknowledge our sinfulness but we express our sorrow, “for what we have done and what we have failed to do.” The second part, “what we have failed to do,” is the red flag that points to our sins of omission. We can sin not only by failing to keep God’s commandments but also by failing to do what is good.
In the Liturgy of the Word, especially in the Gospel accounts, there are numerous examples of Jesus’ acts of unconditional love for sinners. While relieving the pain and anguish of those suffering from illness or adversity, Jesus first forgave the person’s sins. Mercy was always tied closely to his loving care.
In the Prayer of the Faithful our petitions are presented to our loving Father, with an understanding that with God’s help, we are called to make these intentions a reality by our prayers and good works.
In the great Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass we give God thanks and praise. We ask God to send his Holy Spirit to change bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ and to sanctify us when we receive these sacred elements. This transformative action enables us to go out and be Christ to the world.
One of the most poignant dismissals we hear before leaving Mass is “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord with your life.” Most especially in this Year of Mercy let us make a strong commitment to live in the manner of our calling by devoting ourselves to these spiritual and corporal works of mercy. “Be doers of the word and not hearers only” (James 1:22).
Dr. Judy Bullock is the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.