Each time we gather to celebrate the Lord’s Sacrifice in the Mass, there are four times that the celebrant greets the assembly. The greeting at the outset of the Mass may take the form of three distinct salutations. Each of these are inspired by greetings used by St. Paul, who often used a distinct form in order to highlight a theological principle known as solidarity.
To modern sensibilities, St. Paul’s writings can seem somewhat egotistical. He often employs the first person singular voice by using the pronoun “I.” As this liturgical year prepares to close, we will hear St. Paul urge the Thessalonians to be his “imitators” to the point of bearing witness to the Gospel with their lives.
In so doing, St. Paul is urging the faithful to imitate the Lord by enduring in the virtues of faith, hope, and love. These were perfectly lived out in the life of Christ. Jesus’ love for the Father who sent Him into the world was so great that in faith He willingly walked to the cross to bring about the hope of the resurrection.
Taking up our cross in the spirit of the risen Lord is ultimately what both St. Paul and the Liturgy urge believers to live out. Since we all fall short in a life full of distracting temptations, just after this greeting in the Liturgy, the faithful are asked to make an act of penance by saying “I confess,” or simply, “Lord, have mercy!”
The Church is often described in media attacks as a champion of trampling on the rights of people, particularly women and those attracted to members of the same gender. Yet, as Archbishop Ignatius
Kaigama of Jos, Nigeria, mentioned at the Synod of Bishops in Rome, all are made in God’s image and likeness and so relative to the hostility that homosexuals face in his homeland, “we do not just throw them away; protect them and embrace them in love.”
Simply calling out engagement in an action as inconsistent with taking up the cross is neither a condemnation of an individual nor a denial of their dignity.
Perhaps it is the media who is guilty of this. In a recent article a journalist called for a new separation of the Church from medicine since so many of the doctors and nurses traveling to Liberia to treat those with Ebola are motivated by their Christian convictions of self-denial, taking up their cross, and treating others as they would like to be. To have it as this journalist wishes would mean leaving the sick to fend for themselves with grossly inadequate medical capability.
In solidarity Christ asks us to follow Him in faith, hope, and love. The Eucharist may be called the sacrament of solidarity since in His Body and Blood, we see what it took for Christ to leave us a lasting memorial of His faith in, hope for, and love of us. Far from a throw-away, the liturgical greeting sure does pack a punch!
FATHER BRYAN BABICK is the vicar for Divine Worship and the Sacraments for the Diocese of Charleston. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.