With the Greeks, this Sunday—their eleventh of Saint Matthew—is called The Kings Parable, who calls his servants to account. In the Western Church, it has gone under the name of Sunday of the deaf and dumb, ever since the Gospel of the Pharisee and Publican has been assigned to the tenth. Today’s Mass, as we now have it, still gives evidence as to what was its ancient arrangement. Our commentary on today’s liturgy will show us this very plainly.
In those years when Easter falls nearest to the 21st of March, the Books of Kings are continued as lessons of Matins up to, but never beyond, this Sunday. The sickness of the good king Ezechias, and the miraculous cure he obtained by his prayers and tears are then the subject of the first Lessons of the Night Office.
Mass.—The learned and pious Abbot Rupert—writing on this Sunday’s Mass previous to the change made in the order of the Gospel Lessons—thus explains the Church’s reason for selecting the following Introit: “The Publican, in the Gospel, accuses himself, saying: I am not worthy to lift up mine eyes to heaven! St. Paul, in the Epistle, does in like manner, and says: I am the least of the Apostles, who am not worthy to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God. As, then, this Humility, which is set before us that we may practice it, is the guardian of the union between the servants of God, because if keeps them from being puffed up one against the other—it is most appropriate that we should first sing the Introit, which tells us that God maketh men, in His house, abide together as though they were but one soul.”
|Deus in loco sancto suo: Deus, qui inhabitare facit unanimes in domo: ipse dabit virtutem et fortitudinem plebi suæ.||God in his sanctuary: God, who maketh brethren abide together in the house: he will give might and strength to his people.|
|Ps. Exsurgat Deus, et dissipentur inimici ejus: et fugiant, qui oderunt eum, a facie ejus. Gloria Patri. Deus.||Ps. Let god arise, and his enemies shall be dispersed; and let those that hate him, flee before his face. Glory, &c. God.|
The Collect, which follows, is most touching, when we see it in the light of the Gospel which, originally, was fixed for this Sunday. Thou that connection has now been broken, yet the appropriateness is still very striking; for the Epistle, as Abbot Rupert was just telling us, continues to urge us to Humility, by proposing to us the example of St. Paul; the Humility of the repentant Publican has been anticipated. Our Mother the Church is all emotion at beholding this Publican—this object of contempt to the Jew—striking his breast, and scarce able to put his sorrow into words: she, with motherly tenderness, comes and takes up his faltering prayer, and gives it her own eloquence. Nothing could exceed the delicate way in which she asks of the Omnipotent, that in his infinite mercy, he would restore peace to troubled consciences, by pardoning them their sins, and granting them what they, poor sinners, are too afraid to presume to ask for.
|Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui abundantia pietatis tuæ et merita supplicum excedis et vota: effunde super nos misericordiam tuam; ut dimittas quæ conscientia metuit, et adjicias quod oratio non præsumit. Per Dominum.||O almighty and eternal God, who, by the abundance of thy goodness, exceedest both the merits and the requests of thy suppliants: pour forth thy mercy upon us: that thou mayst pardon what our conscience fears, and mayst grant what our prayer presumes not to ask. Through, &c.|
The other Collects, as in the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost.
|Lectio Epistolæ beati Pauli Apostoli ad Corinthios.||Lesson of the Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle, to the Corinthians.|
|1 Cap. xv.||1 Ch. xv.|
|Fratres, Notum vobis facio, fratres, Evangelium, quod prædicavi vobis, quod et accepistis, in quo et statis, per quod et salvamini: qua ratione prædicaverim vobis, si tenetis, nisi frustra credidistis. Tradidi enim vobis in primis quod et accepi: quoniam Christus mortuus est pro peccatis nostris secundum Scripturas: et quia sepultus est, et quia resurrexit tertia die secundum Scripturas: et quia visus est Cephæ, et post hoc undecim: deinde visus est plus quam quingentis fratribus simul: ex quibus multi manent usque adhuc, quidam autem dormierunt: deinde visus est Jacobo, deinde Apostolis omnibus: novissime autem omnium tamquam abortivo, visus est et mihi. Ego enim sum minimus Apostolorum, qui non sum dignus vocari Apostolus, quoniam persecutus sum ecclesiam Dei. Gratia autem Dei sum id quod sum, et gratia ejus in me vacua non fuit.||Brethren: I make known unto you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you have received, and wherein you stand; By which also you are saved, if you hold fast after what manner I preached unto you, unless you have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all, which I also received: how that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures: And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day, according to the scriptures: And that he was seen by Cephas; and after that by the eleven. Then he was seen by more than five hundred brethren at once: of whom many remain until this present, and some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen by James, then by all the apostles. And last of all, he was seen also by me, as by one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God, I am what I am; and his grace in me hath not been void.|
Last Sunday, the Publican reminded us of the Humility which should exist in the sinner: today, the Doctor of the Gentiles shows us, in the Epistle, by his own example, that this virtue is quite as suitable to a man who, though now justified, never forgets how, in the past, he offended his Maker. The sins of the now just man, even though long since forgiven, are always before him; having a tendency to be his own accuser, he finds, in the fact that God has pardoned and forgotten his sins, nothing but an additional motive for his own never ceasing to remember them. The heavenly favors, which may sometimes come upon him, as a recompense for the sincerity of his repentence—the manifestation of the secrets of eternal Wisdom may be accorded him—he may, perhaps, be permitted to enter into the powers of the Lord, and there get a keen insight into the rights of infinite justice—yet all these favors do but help him to see, more clearly, the enormity of those voluntary sins of his, which added their own malice to the original stains he was born with. As he progresses in sanctity, Humility becomes to him something more than a satisfaction paid to justice and truth, by a mind enlightened from on high—in proportion as he lives with God in closer and closer union and, by contemplation, goes up higher in light and love—divine charity, which is ever pressing him on every side, turns the very remembrance of his past sins into what will make that Charity more ardent. That burning Charity of his fathoms the deep abyss, whence grace has drawn him; and then she darts upwards, from those depths of hell, more vehement, more imperious, more active than ever. Gratitude for the priceless riches he now possesses by the munificence of his divine Benefactor, does not satisfy that sinner of former days—the avowal of his past miseries must and does escape from his enraptured soul as a hymn to his God.
Like Augustine, who was but imitating Paul—”he glorifies the just and the good God, by publishing both the good he has received and the bad of his own acts—and this, in order to win over to the One sole object of his praise and his love the minds and hearts of all who hear him.” This illustrious convert of Monica and Ambrose headed the magnificent book of his Confessions with these words of the 47th Psalm, which so admirably express the object he proposed to himself, by thus telling all about himself: Great art thou, O Lord, and exceedingly to be praised: Great is thy power, and of thy wisdom there is no number. “And yet,” says the Saint, “man wishes to praise thee—man, a mere speck of thy creation, who carries about him his own mortality, and the testimony of his sin, and the testimony that thou resistest the proud; and yet, this man wishes to praise thee—man, a mere speck of thy creation. Thou excitest him to take delight in praising thee. Receive, then, the homage which is offered thee by the tongue that was formed for the purpose of praising thee. Let my flesh and all my bones that have been healed by Thee, cry out: Who, O Lord, is like unto thee? Let my soul praise thee, that it may love thee; and that she may praise thee, let her confess thy mercies. I wish now to go over, in my mind, all my long wanderings, and I will confess the things which fill me with shame, and will make of them a sacrifice of joy. Not that I love my sins, but it is that I may love thee, O my God, that I recall them to mind; it is out of love of thy love, that I now recur to those bitter things, that I may taste thy delights, O Sweetness that never deceives! Blissful Sweetness, that has no dangers, O thou that collectest all my powers, and recallest them from the painful scattering into which they had been thrown by my separation from Thee, O Thou one center of all being! What am I to myself, when I have not Thee, but a guide that leads me to the abyss? Oh, what am I, when all is well with me, but a little one that is sucking in the milk which thou providest, or enjoying Thee, the Food that knows not corruption? And what manner of man is any man, for he is but a man? Let them that are strong and mighty—them that have not, as yet, had the happiness of being laid low and cast down—let them laugh at me! I am a weak man and poor, and I give thee praise. For that I need neither voice nor words; the cries of the thought are what thou hearest. For when I am wicked, my being displeased with myself is a real giving thee praise; but when I am pious, my not attributing it to myself is again a real giving thee praise; for if Thou, O Lord, bless the just man, it is because thou hadst first justified him when he was ungodly.
By the grace of God, I am what I am; the just man should make this language of the Apostle be his own. And when this fundamental truth is thoroughly impressed upon his soul, then may he fearlessly add, with him: His grace in me math not been void. For Humility is based upon Truth, as we said last Sunday; and as it would be contrary to truth were one to refer to man what man has from God, so likewise would it be an injury to truth not to recognize, as the Saints did, the works of grace where God has wrought them. In the former case, justice—in the latter, gratitude would be offended, as well as truth. Now, Humility, whose direct aim is to avoid these unjust infringements on the glory due to God, by repressing the risings of pride—Humility is also the earnest prompter of gratitude, so truly so, indeed, that a proud man can never be a grateful one; or, to say it in other words, the greatest enemy to the generous virtue of gratitude is pride.
It is quite true that it is good and prudent and, generally speaking, necessary, for souls to dwell on the consideration of their faults rather than upon the favours they have received from God, and this more especially in the first beginning of their conversion—still, it is never lawful for any man to forget that, besides being grieved for his past sins and being vigilant as to present temptations, he has also the bounden duty of ceaselessly thanking the divine Benefactor, who gave him both the grace of a change of life, and the subsequent progress in virtue. When a Christian cannot see a grace, or any good, in himself without having immediately to struggle against self-complacency and a tendency to prefer himself to others—he must not be troubled, of course, for the sin of pride is not in the evil suggestions which may arise within him, but in the consent which is yielded to such suggestions; and yet, this weakness which accompanies the thinking on God’s graces is not without its dangers in the spiritual life; and the Christian, who is resolved on making any advance in perfection, must sweetly aim at getting altogether rid of such weakness. Aided by grace, he will gradually find the eye of his soul growing stronger, by the infirmity of nature getting cured, and by the removal of the involuntary remnants of sin, which, as so many vicious humors, falsify the beautiful light of God’s gifts, or even sometimes distort it altogether by an unhappy refraction. If thine eye be single, says our Lord, thy whole body will be lightsome, having no part of darkness; the whole shall be lightsome—the light shall enlighten thee completely and surely, because it will come to thee without any vapory interference or deviation.
If the eye be simple!—yes, it is holy simplicity, daughter and inseparable companion of humility, that will show us how these two things coexist, and mutually tell on each other, when a soul is what it should be—the close deliberate consideration of the favours she has received from heaven, and the clear consciousness of her own miseries. This admirable simplicity will lead us to the school of the Scriptures and the Saints, there to teach us that the soul’s being praised in the Lord, and our glorying in the Lord, is really a giving praise and glory to God himself. When our Lady declared, in her Canticle, that all generations would call her blessed, the divine enthusiasm which was inspiring her was quite as fully the ecstasy of her humility as it was that of her love. The lives of God’s best servants are at ever turn showing us these sublime transports, wherein they make the Magnificat of their Queen become their own hymn of praise to that God, magnifying him for all the great things which he, the mighty One, vouchsafed to do through their instrumentality. When St. Paul—after having expressed the low estimation he had of himself, compared with other Apostles, then adds that grace had not been a failure in him, and that he had even laboured more abundantly than all of them, we are not to suppose that he has changed his tone, or that the Holy Spirit, who guides him, now wishes to recall his previous words, no: it is one and the same conviction, one and the same desire, which inspire these words, apparently so different and so contrary: the conviction and desire that God must not, and shall not, be disappointed in his gifts, either by the self-appropriation of pride, or by the silence of ingratitude.
We have purposely limited our reflections to the truths suggested by the concluding lines of our Epistle, because they complete what we had to say on Humility, that indispensable virtue, on which depends not only all progress, but even all surety, in the Christian life. What St. Paul here says regarding the Resurrection of our Lord, which is the basis of the apostolic preaching and of the faith of mankind, is a subject of quite equal importance; but this grand doctrine—which, through the Paschal solemnity, gives to the Liturgical Year its both pivot and centre—has been treated of, during the Eastern Octave, with all the fullness it deserved.
The Gradual, according to some of our most esteemed Liturgists, is offered us as the thanksgiving of the humble, who are healed by God, according to the hope they had put in him.
|In Deo speravit cor meum, et adjutus sum: et refloruit caro mea: et ex voluntate mea confitebor illi.||My heart trusted in God, and I was relieved; and my body hath recovered its strength: and I will praise him, with my whole heart.|
|℣. Ad te, Domine, clamavi: Deus meus, ne sileas: ne discedas a me.||℣. To thee, O Lord, have I cried out: be not silent, O my God: nor depart from me.|
|Alleluia, alleluia.||Alleluia, alleluia.|
|℣. Exsultate Deo, adjutori nostro: jubilate Deo Jacob, sumite psalmum jucundum cum cithara. Alleluia.||℣. Exult in God, our helper: joyfully sing to the God of Jacob: sing a hymn of joy upon the harp. Alleluia.|
|Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Marcum.||Sequel of the holy Gospel according to Mark.|
|In illo tempore: exiens Jesus de finibus Tyri, venit per Sidonem ad mare Galilææ inter medios fines Decapoleos. Et adducunt ei surdum, et mutum, et deprecabantur eum, ut imponat illi manum. Et apprehendens eum de turba seorsum, misit digitos suos in auriculas ejus: et exspuens, tetigit linguam ejus: et suscipiens in caelum, ingemuit, et ait illi: Ephphetha, quod est, Adaperire. Et statim apertæ sunt aures ejus, et solutum est vinculum linguae ejus, et loquebatur recte. Et praecepit illis ne cui dicerent. Quanto autem eis præcipiebat, tanto magis plus prædicabant: et eo amplius admirabantur, dicentes: Bene omnia fecit: et surdos fecit audire, et mutos loqui.||At that time: Jesus going out of the coasts of Tyre, he came by Sidon to the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis. And they bring to him one deaf and dumb; and they besought him that he would lay his hand upon him. And taking him from the multitude apart, he put his fingers into his ears, and spitting, he touched his tongue: And looking up to heaven, he groaned, and said to him: Ephpheta, which is, Be thou opened. And immediately his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke right. And he charged them that they should tell no man. But the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal did they publish it. And so much the more did they wonder, saying: He hath done all things well; he hath made both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.|
Jesus is no longer in Judea; the names of the places, mentioned in the beginning of today’s Gospel, tell us very clearly that the Gentile world has become the scene of the divine operations for man’s salvation. What manner of man, then, is this who is led to the Saviour, and the sight of whose miseries make the Incarnate Word heave a sigh? And what is the meaning of the extraordinary circumstances which produce the cure? A single word of Jesus could have done it all, and his power would have shone forth all the more brightly. But the miracle, which is here related, contains a great mystery; and the Man-God, who aims mainly at giving us a lesson by this his mercy, makes the exercise of his power subordinate to the teaching which he desires to convey to us.
The holy Fathers tell us that this man represents the entire human race, exclusive of the Jewish people. Abandoned for four thousand years in the sides, that is, in the countries, of the North, where the prince of this world was ruling as absolute master, it has been experiencing the terrible effects of the seeming forgetfulness on the part of its Creator and Father, which was the consequence of original sin. Satan—whose perfidious craftiness has caused man to be driven out of Paradise—has made him his own prey, and nothing could exceed the artifice he has employed for keeping him in his grasp. Wisely oppressing his slave, he adopted the plan of making him deaf and dumb, for this would hold him faster than chains of adamant could ever do. Dumb, he could not ask God to deliver him; deaf, he could not hear the divine voice; and thus, the two ways for obtaining his liberty were shut against him. The adversary of God and man—Satan—he may boast of his tyranny. The grandest of all God’s creations looks like a failure; the human race, in all its branches and in all nations, seems ruined; for even that people whom God had chosen for his own, and was to be faithful to Him when every other had gone astray, even that has made no other use of its privileges than the denying its Lord and its King, more cruelly than all the rest of mankind!
What, then! is the Bride, whom the Son of God came to seek upon the earth—is the society of saints—to be limited to those few who declared themselves his disciples during the years of his mortal life? Not so: the zeal of the newly formed Church, and the ineffable goodness of God, produced a far grander result. Driven from Jerusalem, as her divine Spouse had been, the Church met the poor captive of Satan beyond the boundaries of Judea; she would fain bring him into the kingdom of God; and through the apostles and their disciples, she brings him to Jesus, beseeching Him to lay his divine hand upon him. No human power could effect his cure. He, deafened by the noise of his passions, it is only in a confused way that he can hear even the voice of his own conscience; and as to the sounds of tradition, or the speakings of the prophets, they are to him but as an echo, very distant and faint. Worst of all, his hearing is gone, that most precious of our senses while on earth—so likewise is gone the power of making good his losses, for as the Apostle teaches, the one thing that could save him is Faith, and Faith cometh by hearing, and his hearing is dead.
Our Jesus groans when they have brought this poor creature before him. He was grieved at seeing the cruelties the enemy had inflicted on this his own privileged being, this beautiful work, of which He himself had served as model and type to the Blessed Trinity, at the beginning of the world. Raising up to heaven those eyes of his sacred Humanity—those eyes, whose language has so much resistless power—he sees the Eternal Father acquiescing to the intentions of his own merciful compassion. Then, resuming the exercise of that creative omnipotence, which, in the beginning, had made all things to be very good, and all his works be perfect, he, as God and as the Word, utters the mighty word of restoration: Ephpheta! Be thou opened! Nothingness, or rather (in this instance) Ruin, which is worse than nothingness, obey the well-known voice; the ears of the poor sufferer are opened, joyfully opened to the teachings which his delighted Mother the Church pours into them. She is all the gladder, because it was her prayers that won this deliverance; and he, in whom Faith comes now through his ears making him a changed being—he, finding that his tongue can speak, speaks, or rather, sings out a canticle of praise to his God—a canticle none the less well sung because it is the first time he has been able to be its chanter.
And yet, as we were observing, this merciful Lord of ours, by this cure, aims not so much at showing the power of his divine word, as at giving a glorious teaching to his followers; he wishes to reveal to them, under certain visible symbols, the invisible realities produced by his grace, in the secret of the Sacraments. It is for the sake of such teaching that the Gospel has mentioned such an apparently trifling detail as this—that when the deaf and dumb man was brought before him, he took him apart, apart, so to say, from the multitude of the noisy passions and the vain thoughts, which had made him deaf to heavenly truths. After all, would there be much good in curing him if the occasion of his malady were not removed and he were to relapse perhaps that same day? So then having, by this separation, taken precautions for the future, Jesus inserts into the ears of the man’s body his own divine fingers which bring the Holy Ghost, and make to penetrate right to the ears of his heart the restorative power of this Spirit of love. And finally, more mysteriously, because the truth which was to be expressed is more profound.—He touches, with the saliva of his sacred mouth, that tongue which had become incapable of giving glory and praise; and Wisdom (for it is she that is here mystically signified)—Wisdom that cometh forth from the mouth of the Most High, and flows for us from the Savior’s fountains as a life-giving drink—yes, this Wisdom openeth the mouth of dumb man, just as she maketh eloquent the tongues of speechless infants.
Therefore it is that the Church—in order to show us that the event recorded in today’s Gospel is figurative, not merely of one individual man, but of us all—has prescribed that the circumstances which accompanied the cure of this deaf and dumb sufferer shall be expressed in the ceremonies of holy Baptism. The Priest, before pouring the water of the sacred Font on the person who is presented for Baptism, puts on the Catechumen’s tongue the salt of Wisdom and touches his ears, saying: Ephpheta! that is, Be opened!
There is an instruction of another kind included in our Gospel, and which is worthy of our notice, as closely bearing on what we have been saying regarding Humility. Our Lord imposes silence on those who have been witnesses of the miraculous cure, although he knew that their praiseworthy enthusiasm could never allow them to obey him. By his injunction, he wishes to give a lesson to his followers—that if, at times, it is impossible to keep men from being in admiration at the works they achieve—if sometimes the Holy Spirit, in opposition to their wishes, forces them to undergo public applause for the greater glory of the God whose instruments they are—yet must they always do all in their power to avoid being noticed; they must prefer to be despised, or at least not talked of; they must love to be hid in the secret of the face of God; and after the most brilliant, just as truly as they would after the most menial duties, they must say from the heartiest conviction: We are unprofitable servants, we have but done what we ought to do.
It is again the hymn of the humble, whether delivered or healed or glorified by God, which is sung in the Offertory.
|Exaltabote, Domine, quoniam suscepisti me: nec delectasti inimicos meos super me: Domine, clamavi ad te, et sanasti me.||I will extol thee, O Lord, because thou hast upholden me, and hast not gratified the desire of mine enemies against me. Lord, I cried out to thee, and thou healdst me.|
The assembly of God’s servants beseech him, in the following Secret, graciously to accept their gifts; and in this holy Sacrifice, to turn them into the homage of their delighted service, and the support of their weakness.
|Respice, Domine, quæsumus, nostram propitius servitutem: ut quod offerimus, sit tibi munus acceptum, et sit nostræ fragilitatis subsidium. Per Dominum.||Look down, O Lord, we beseech thee, on our homage; that the gifts we offer thee may be acceptable to thee, and a help to our weakness. Through, &c.|
The other Secrets, as in the Fourth Sunday After Pentecost.
No more appropriate Anthen could have been selected as the Communion, for the season which finds men busy in harvesting the fruits of the earth. Oh! yes, we should make it our first thought to give to God, through his Church and the poor, the first fruits of these blessings which He himself has bestowed upon us. But in order becomingly to honour the Lord in this, we must take care not to boast, as the Pharisee did, in this our fulfilment of a duty so imperative, and yet so very profitable to ourselves who obey it.
|Honora Dominum de tua substantia, et de primitiis frugum tuarum: et implebuntur horrea tua saturitate, et vino torcularia redundabunt.||Honor the Lord out of thy substance, and with the first fruits of thy crops; and thy barns shall be filled abundantly, and thy wine-presses shall overflow.|
The heavenly remedy of these sacred Mysteries acts upon our body and soul: it is for the salvation of both, and therefore we should love these Mysteries as our best glory on earth. In the Postcommunion, the Church prays that her children may be blessed in the whole fullness of these blessings.
|Sentiamus, quæsumus Domine, tui perceptione sacramenti, subsidium mentis et corporis: ut in utroque salvati, cœlestis remedii plenitudine gloriemur. Per Dominum.||May we experience, by the participation of these thy mysteries, we beseech thee, O Lord, help in body and mind: that, in the salvation of both, we may enjoy the full effect of this heavenly remedy. Through, &c.|
The other Postcommunions, as in the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost.
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)