Pour Out Your Very Best for the Lord
by Fr. Ambrose Criste, O.Praem.
Holy Week Homily: Monday, April 11, 2022
Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair (John 12: 3).
Holy Mother Church gives us in this holiest week of the year a tremendous opportunity to imitate Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha (and in the best strands of Catholic tradition, the Magdalene), in pouring out our very best for the Lord. We consecrated men are the poor whom the Church will always have with Her, poor by profession, poor in everything except that one thing we always want to think is still ours, our precious time. The Sacred Liturgy, demanding so much of our time and attention this week, is where we can pour out our costly oil for love of our Blessed Lord, anointing His feet, drying them with our hair. Judas and the world will scoff, “What a waste of time!” The devil within will tempt us not to show up, or to show up but not to participate, to check out or to fall asleep. For us canons regular, the Sacred Liturgy is not only our most sublime work and responsibility, but it is our heaven-on-earth and our home! It is our food and drink, our greatest treasure, our greatest joy! It is the best expression of our deepest love for Our Lord, our costly perfumed oil poured out lovingly over His feet, and it is the source of anything good that happens in anything else we do as priests and religious.
In 1932, a certain Franciscan named Father Athanasius wrote in his devotional manual for priests, the Pusillum as follows:
“Remember the precept of Our Lord: ‘Watch ye in the charge of the sanctuary and in the ministry of the altar, lest indignation rise upon the children of Israel’ (Num. 18, 5). Devotedness to the sacred Liturgy will bring you and your people blessings. Indifference to it will hinder those blessings, for the priest himself and for his people!
Then, too, remember that solemn ceremonies have their purpose, as declared by the Council of Trent: ‘Human nature being so constituted that it does not readily rise to the contemplation of things Divine without external helps, Mother Church has lovingly instituted the custom of saying some things at Holy Mass with bated voice, others aloud. She has in the same way instituted ceremonies such as the mystical blessings, the candles, the incensations, the vestments, and many other observances, in keeping with Apostolic teaching and tradition; so that the sublimity of the August Sacrifice may be brought out, while the minds of the faithful may be animated, by means of these visible signs of Divine worship and devotion, to meditation on the profound mysteries latent in the sacrifice (S. 22, Chap. 5).
Santa sancte!” (Holy things must be treated in a holy manner!)
We prayed at the beginning of Holy Mass, Grant, we pray, almighty God, that, though in our weakness we fail, we may be revived through the Passion of Your Only Begotten Son. By this point at the end of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week, we have certainly found ourselves to have failed in our weakness, and we may face the liturgical rigors of the week ahead with some reluctance, and yet we can trust that Our Blessed Lord will give us everything we need (and so much more!) in the angelic work we undertake as members of this choir.
St. Hildegard Von Bingen compares our canonical work here in the choir to that of the angels, inasmuch as we share in the angels’ twofold service of both praising God and coming to the aid of mankind (Scivias I.6.1). What’s more, she also teaches that God created mankind to fill the tenth and highest choir of angels, left empty by the fall of Lucifer and his companions (Scivias III.2.19). The angels and the archangels offer their service both in praise of Almighty God and to God’s creation, mankind, with a humility that St. Hildegard would have us canons imitate especially. She writes:
“Therefore, have peace and charity and humility among you … and let each fulfill his office faithfully. How? Let those who are vowed religious, like the archangels, renew their powerful assistance whenever there is a great occasion of necessity in the Church; and let those who have the office of clerics, like the angels, do their business in the daily life of their institution; and let people who want to attain to supreme beatitude faithfully receive their words” (Scivias II.5.36).
St. Dionysius teaches that any knowledge of God that reaches human beings is always mediated through the angelic hierarchy. Knowledge of the One True God is passed down in a specific order through the hierarchies and wherever the higher order wishes to pull upwards the hierarchy of angels and men below it. Dionysius states, “When the first rank has directly and properly received its due understanding of God’s Word from the divine goodness itself, then it passes this on, as befits a benevolent hierarchy, to those next in line. It also pulls up the one next in line towards God.” We take our place, my dear brothers, in this spectacular hierarchical order of receiving and passing on knowledge and love from Goodness Himself, and then in returning the needs and the praise of our fellow man and of all creation back up the hierarchical chain to the Divine Majesty. And that place, our place, is right here in the choir, where we pour ourselves out like so much precious costly oil for our Beloved Lord.
May we waste all our time with Him in the days of this Great Week to come and fill this house with the angelic fragrance of that oil. Amen.
Listen to the audio version below.
At the beginning of today’s Gospel, Jesus says to the twelve: “Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” After signaling to John who it is, but not hearing the answer, Peter hears Jesus say to him: “Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times.” One imagines that Peter understood Jesus to be answering John’s question by identifying him as the soon-to-be traitor.
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