Saturday, March 28, 2009


(5th Sunday of Lent, B)

You will notice, brothers and sisters, that upon our arrival at this fifth Sunday of Lent, a shift has occurred. When we listen to the readings and pray the prayers that make up the Mass we offer today, we see right away that our attention is now directed much more explicitly on the Lord’s Passion. This shift was much clearer in the old calendar, before the reforms and changes that were made after the Second Vatican Council, when these last two weeks before Easter were called Passiontide. Perhaps you will remember how statues and sacred images were veiled in violet starting today. Even though this custom has become rare, these last two weeks of Lent still invite us to begin a more intense reflection on the Passion of our Lord.

“The days are coming” announces the prophet Jeremiah, when God will make a new covenant with his people. But this new covenant will be different than the previous covenants. It will not be something outside of us that we are supposed to follow, but will call upon us from within our humanity. Instead of giving us a code of external demands, God will place this new covenant within the hearts of his people.

This is exactly what is accomplished in the Lord’s Passion and is renewed in the Mass as its perfect commemoration. In fact, this is an important way to understand what the Mass is: the historical event of Christ’s Passion extended spiritually through time and space. In the Holy Communion we receive, God’s purpose is fulfilled as the new and everlasting covenant in Christ’s blood enters into our bodies and unites us to Christ.

Jesus proclaims in the Gospel today: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Jesus himself is that grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies for us. But the “much fruit” the Lord speaks of is us, brothers and sisters. The fruit of the Lord’s Passion is the gift of eternal life for us. Jesus’ body is broken on the Cross and his blood is poured out. In this the grain of wheat falls to the ground. But in his Resurrection the wheat rises again into the Bread of this Mass as the unbloody manifestation of the one sacrifice of the Cross.

Here at the Eucharist we receive the broken Body of Christ into our bodies, and his Precious Blood is poured out over our hearts. This is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah who looked forward to the new covenant written on the heart. This covenant is God’s promise to lift us up to eternal life with Christ, both now in the spiritual strength and consolation we receive in Holy Communion, and in our sharing in the Lord’s Resurrection in the life to come.

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