Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
The fourth Sunday after Pentecost was called, for a long period, in the West, the Sunday of Mercy, because, formerly, there was read upon the passage from St. Luke, beginning with the words: “Be merciful, as your Father is merciful.” But, this Gospel having been since assigned to the Mass of the first Sunday after Pentecost, the Gospel of the fifth Sunday was made that of the fourth; the Gospel of the sixth became that of the fifth; and so on, up to the twenty-third. The change we speak of was, however, not introduced into many Churches till a very late period; and it was not universally received till the 16th Century.
While the Gospels were thus brought forward a week,—in almost the whole series of these Sundays, the Epistles, Prayers, and the other sung portions of the ancient Masses, were, with a few exceptions, left as originally drawn up. The connection, which the liturgists of the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries had fancied they found between the Gospel and the rest of the Liturgy for these Sundays, was broken. Thus the Church spared not those favorite views of explanations which were at times far-fetched; and yet she did not intend, by that, to condemn those writers, nor to discourage her children from perusing their treaties, for, as the holy reflections they contained were frequently suggested by the authority of the ancient Liturgies, such reading would edify and instruct. We are quite at liberty, then, to turn their labors to profit; let us only keep this continually before us,—that the chief connection existing between the several portions of the proper of each Mass for the Sundays after Pentecost consists in the unity of the Sacrifice itself.
In the Greek Church, there is even less pretension to anything approaching methodical arrangement in the Liturgy of these Sundays. On the morrow of Pentecost, they begin the reading of the Gospel of St. Matthew, and continue it, chapter after chapter, up to the feast of the Exaltation of the holy Cross, in September. St. Luke follows St. Matthew, and is read in the same way. The weeks and Sundays of this Season are simply named according to the Gospel of each day; or they take the name of the Evangelist whose text is being read: thus, our first Sunday after Pentecost is called by them the first Sunday of St. Matthew; the one we are now keeping is their fourth of St. Matthew.
Earlier, we have spoken of the importance of the Eighth day, as the Christian substitute for the seventh of the Jewish Sabbath, and as the holy Day of the new people of God. “The Synagogue, by God’s command, kept holy the Saturday, or the Sabbath,—and this, in honor of God’s resting after the six days of the creation; but the Church, the Bride of Jesus, is commanded to honor the Work of her Spouse. She allows the Saturday to pass,—it is the day of her Lord’s rest in the Sepulcher: but, now that she is illumined with the brightness of the Resurrection, she devotes to the contemplation of his Work the first day of the week, the Sunday: it is the day of Light, for on it he called forth material Light (which was the first manifestation of order amidst chaos); and, on the same day, He that is the Brightness of the Father, and the Light of the world, rose from the darkness of the Tomb.”
So important, indeed is the Sunday’s liturgy, which, every week, is intrusted to honor such profound mysteries,—that, for a long time, the Roman Pontiffs kept down the number of Feasts which were above the rank of semi-doubles; that thus the Sunday, which is a semi-double, might not be disturbed. It was not till the second half of the 17th Century, that this discipline of reserve was relaxed. Then it was, that it had to give way, in order thereby to meet the attacks, made by the Protestants and their allies the Jansenists, against the cult of the Saints. Need was of reminding the Faithful, that the honor paid to the servants of God detracts not from the glory of their Master; that the cult of the Saints, the Members of Christ, is but the consequence and development of that which is due to Christ their Head. The Church owed it to her Spouse to make a protest against the narrow views of these innovators, who were really aiming at lessening the glory of the Incarnation, by thus denying its grandest consequences. It was, therefore, by a special inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that the Apostolic See then permitted several feasts, both old and new, to be ranked as of a double rite. To strengthen the solemn condemnation she had announced against the heretics of that period, she wisely adopted the course of, from time to time, allowing the Feasts of Saints to be kept on Sundays, although these latter were considered as being especially reserved for the celebration of the leading mysteries of our Catholic faith, and for the obligatory attendance of the people.
The Sunday, or Dominical, Liturgy was not, however, altogether displaced by the celebration of any particular feast on the Lord’s Day; for, no matter how solemn soever that feast, falling on a Sunday, may be, a commemoration must always be made of the Sunday, by adding its Prayers to those of the occurring Feast, and by reading its proper Gospel, instead of that of St. John, at the end of Mass. Neither let us forget, that after the assisting at the solemn Mass and the Canonical Hours, one of the best means for observing the precept of keeping holy the sabbath-day is our own private meditation upon the Epistle and Gospel appointed by the Church for each Sunday.
Mass.—The Church, on the morrow of Trinity Sunday, began the reading of the Books of Kings in her night office. On this very night preceding our Sunday, she entered on the admirable history of David’s triumph over Goliath, the Philistine giant. Now, who is the Church’s true David, but that divine Leader who, for these eighteen hundred years, has been marshalling the army of the Saints to victory? Is not she herself the King’s daughter, who was promised to Him who should win the battle against Satan? That battle was won on Calvary, by our Lord Jessu Christ; he saved the true Israel, and avenged the insult offered to the God of hosts. Filled with the sentiments breathed into her by this episode of sacred history, the Church, the Bride, borrows the words of David, wherewith to celebrate the noble exploits of her Spouse, and to tell the confidence which she has in him, in consequence of his triumph. It is her Introit.
Introit Dominus illuminatio mea et salus mea, quem timebo? Dominus defensor vitæ meæ, a quo trepidabo? Qui tribulant me inimici mei, ipsi infirmati sunt et ceciderunt. The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the protector of my life, of whom shall I be afraid? My enemies that trouble me have themselves been weakened, and have fallen. Ps. Si consistant adversum me castra, non timebit cor meum. Gloria Patri. Dominus. Ps. If armies in camp should stand together against me, my heart shall not fear. Glory, &c. The Lord.
Notwithstanding her confidence in heaven’s helping her in times of trial, yet does the Church ever pray to the Most High, that he would bless the world with peace. If, when the battle comes, the Bride thrills at the thought, that she will then have the chance of proving her devoted love, yet, as Mother, she trembles when she thinks that many of her children, who would have been saved had the times been peaceful, will perish because of days of trouble overtaking them. Let us pray with her in the Collect.
Collect Da nobis, quæsumus Domine, ut et mundi cursus pacifice nobis tuo ordine dirigatur: et ecclesia tua tranquilla devotione lætetur. Per Dominum. Grant us, we beseech thee, O Lord, that, by thy providence, the events of this world may be peacefully arranged for us, and that thy Church may be gladdened by being permitted to serve thee with peaceful devotedness. Through, &c. Second Collect A cunctis nos quæsumus, Domine, mentis et corporis defende periculis: et intercedente beata et gloriosa semper Virgine Dei Genitrice Maria, cum beato Joseph, cumque beatis Apostolis tuis Petro et Paulo, atque beato N. et omnibus Sanctis, salutem nobis tribue benignus et pacem; ut destructis adversitatibus et erroribus universis, Ecclesia tua secura tibi serviat libertate. Preserve us, O Lord, we beseech thee, from all dangers of soul and body; and, by the intercession of the glorious and blessed Mary, the ever Virgin-Mother of God, of blessed Joseph, of the Blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul, of Blessed N. (here is mentioned the Titular Saint of the Church), and of all the Saints, grant us, in thy mercy, health and peace; that, all adversities and errors being removed, thy Church may serve thee with undisturbed liberty.
The third Collect is left to the Priest’s own choice.
Epistle Lectio Epistolæ beati Pauli Apostoli ad Romanos. Lesson of the Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle, to the Romans. Cap. viii. Ch. viii. Fratres, Existimo enim quod non sunt condignæ passiones hujus temporis ad futuram gloriam, quæ revelabitur in nobis. Nam exspectatio creaturae revelationem filiorum Dei exspectat. Vanitati enim creatura subjecta est non volens, sed propter eum, qui subjecit eam in spe: quia et ipsa creatura liberabitur a servitute corruptionis in libertatem gloriæ filiorum Dei. Scimus enim quod omnis creatura ingemiscit, et parturit usque adhuc. Non solum autem illa, sed et nos ipsi primitias spiritus habentes: et ipsi intra nos gemimus adoptionem filiorum Dei exspectantes, redemptionem corporis nostri: in Christo Jesu Domino nostro. Brethren: I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us. For the expectation of the creature waiteth for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him that made it subject, in hope: Because the creature also itself shall be delivered from the servitude of corruption, into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. For we know that every creature groaneth and travaileth in pain, even till now. And not only it, but ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption of the sons of God, the redemption of our body in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The first fruits of the Spirit are the grace and virtues, which He has put into our souls, as the earnest of salvation and the germ of future glory. Our faith confirms our possession of these divine pledges; and regenerate human nature, even amidst all the trials of this life, is consoled at the very thought of the noble destiny to which it is called. Satan may use his fiercest efforts to regain his loft ground; and the soul may have many and frequent battles to fight for the holding what was once under the dominion of the enemy; but Christian hope is an armor of heaven’s own making. Hope entereth in even within the veil; and then she comes telling the combatant about the disproportion, here mentioned by the Apostle, between the fatigues of the march here below, and the bliss which is to reward our fidelity in the happy land above. He has the promises of God, and the marvellous dealings of the Paraclete in his regard, both in the past and now,—all justifying his expectations of the future glory that shall then be revealed, be realized, in him. The very earth he dwells on, which now so often tyrannizes over him and deceives his senses,—yes, this very earth urges him to fix his heart on something far better than herself; she even seems to share in his hopes. St. Paul tells us so, in our today’s Epistle: the wild upheavings, the restless changes of material creation, are so many voices clamoring for the destruction of sin, and for the final and total triumph over the corruption which followed sin. The present condition of this world, therefore, furnishes a special and most telling motive, inviting us to the holy virtue of hope. Only they can find anything strange in such teaching, who have no idea of how man’s being raised up to the supernatural order was, from the beginning, a real ennobling of the world which was made for man’s service. Men of this stamp have each their own way of explaining God’s creation; but the truth which explains everything both on earth and in heaven,—the divine axiom, which is the principle and reason of everything that has been made,—is this: that God, who, of necessity, does everything for his own glory, has, of his own free choice, appointed that the perfection of this his glory shall consist in the triumph of his love, by the ineffable mystery of divine union realized in his creature. To bring this divine union about is, consequently, by God’s gracious will, not only the one sole end,—but, moreover, is the one only law, the vital and constitutive law, of creation. When the Spirit moved over chaos, he adapted the informal matter to the designs of infinite love. Thereby, the various elements, and the countless atoms, of the world that was in preparation, really derived from this infinite love the principle of their future development and power; they received it as their one single mission to cooperate, each in its own way, with the Holy Spirit; that is, cooperate in leading man, the creature chosen by Eternal Wisdom, to the proposed glorious end,—union with God. Sin broke the alliance; and would have destroyed the world, from the very fact of sin’s taking from it the purpose of its existence,—had it not been for the incomprehensible patience of the God it outraged, and the marvellous renovations of the original plan achieved by the Spirit of love. A violent state,—the state of struggle and expiation has now been substituted for what, in the primal design of the Creator, was to be the effortless advance of the king of creation to his grand destiny, the spontaneous growth of, what some one has called man, the god in the bud. Divine union is still offered to the world,—but, at what a cost of trouble and travail! We may still enjoy the eternal music of triumph, and all the joys of the divine nuptial banquet; but oh! what a long prelude of sighs and sobs must precede!
Men, who recognize no other law than that of the flesh, may be as deaf and as indifferent, as they please, to the teachings of positive revelation,—but mere matter will go on ever condemning their materialism; nature, which they pretend to acknowledge as their only authority, will continue to preach the supernatural with her thousand mouths, and will preach it in every nook of the earth; and creation, disturbed though it be, and turned astray by the Fall of Adam, will still keep proclaiming, all the louder because it is in suffering,—that the fallen king, whom it was intended to serve, has a destiny far beyond all finite things. O ye mysterious sufferings of creatures, which the Apostle here calls your groanings, may we not name you, as one of the poets did, and speak of you as the tears of things? Truly, you are like the soul of music of this land of trial; we have but to listen to your sweet plaintive sounds, and let you speak your eloquence, and you lead us to Him who is the source of all beauty and love. The pagan world heard your voice; but its philosophers would have it that you meant pantheism!—The Holy Ghost had not yet begun his reign. He alone could explain to us the strange language of nature, and her vehement aspirations,—all of which had been put into her by himself. All is now made clear to us: the Spirit of the Lord hath filled the whole earth; the divine Witness who giveth us assurance that we are the sons of God, has carried his precious testimony to the furthest limits of creation, for all creation, for all creation thrills with expectancy, impatient to see the coming of that glorious day which is to be the revelation of the glory that belongs to these sons of God. It is on their account that they, too, have had, to suffer; together with them they shall be set free, and shall share in the brightness of their coronation day. St. John Chrysostom compares the earth to “the nurse who has brought up the king’s son; when he succeeds to his father’s kingdom, she, too, is made all the better off … It is much the same with all men;—when a son of theirs is to appear in the splendor of some new dignity, they let his very servants wear richer suits. So will God vest in incorruption every creature, when the day of the deliverance and glory of his children shall come.”
The Gradual tells us how the prayers of Christians, though they are far from being free from sin, ascend up to God. They feel that they are unworthy of his assistance, and yet, for his own glory’s sake, they sue him to have compassion on them. Poor though they be, they are his soldiers; their cause is His. The Alleluia-Verse shows us the Church, though here below she be poor and persecuted, sending up her prayer of confidence to the throne of her Spouse, the most just Judge.
Gradual Propitius esto, Domine, peccatis nostris, nequando dicant gentes: ubi est Deus eorum? Be merciful, O Lord, to our offenses, that the Gentiles may never say: Where now is their God? ℣. Adjuva nos, Deus salutaris noster: et propter honorem nominis tui, Domine, libera nos. ℣. Help us, O Lord, our Savior, and, for the honor of thy name, deliver us, O Lord. Alleluia, alleluia. Alleluia, alleluia. ℣. Deus, qui sedes super thronum, et judicas æquitatem, esto refugium pauperum in tribulatione. Alleluia. ℣. O God, who sittest on thy throne, and judgest justly, be a refuge to the poor in distress. Alleluia.
Gospel Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Lucam. Sequel of the holy Gospel according to Luke. Cap.V. Ch. V. In illo tempore: cum turbæ irruerunt in eum ut audirent verbum Dei, et ipse stabat secus stagnum Genesareth. Et vidit duas naves stantes secus stagnum: piscatores autem descenderant, et lavabant retia. Ascendens autem in unam navim, quæ erat Simonis, rogavit eum a terra reducere pusillum. Et sedens docebat de navicula turbas. Ut cessavit autem loqui, dixit ad Simonem: Duc in altum, et laxate retia vestra in capturam. Et respondens Simon, dixit illi: Præceptor, per totam noctem laborantes nihil cepimus: in verbo autem tuo laxabo rete. Et cum hoc fecissent, concluserunt piscium multitudinem copiosam: rumpebatur autem rete eorum. Et annuerunt sociis, qui erant in alia navi, ut venirent, et adjuvarent eos. Et venerunt, et impleverunt ambas naviculas, ita ut pene mergerentur. Quod cum vidisset Simon Petrus, procidit ad genua Jesu, dicens: Exi a me, quia homo peccator sum, Domine. Stupor enim circumdederat eum, et omnes qui cum illo erant, in captura piscium, quam ceperant: similiter autem Jacobum et Joannem, filios Zebedaei, qui erunt socii Simonis. Et ait ad Simonem Jesus: Noli timere: ex hoc jam homines eris capiens. Et subductis ad terram navibus, relictis omnibus, secuti sunt eum. At that time, it came to pass, that when the multitudes pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Genesareth, And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. And going into one of the ships that was Simon’s, he desired him to draw back a little from the land. And sitting he taught the multitudes out of the ship. Now when he had ceased to speak, he said to Simon: Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said to him: Master, we have labored all the night, and have taken nothing: but at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had done this, they enclosed a very great multitude of fishes, and their net broke. And they beckoned to their partners that were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they were almost sinking. Which when Simon Peter saw, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying: Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was wholly astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken. And so were also James and John the sons of Zebedee, who were Simon’s partners. And Jesus saith to Simon: Fear not: from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And having brought their ships to land, leaving all things, they followed him.
The prophecy and promise made by Jesus to Simon the son of John is now fulfilled. We were in amazement, on the day when the Holy Ghost came down, at the success which attended Peter’s first fishing for men; he cast in his nets, and it was the choicest of the sons of Israel that he took, and offered them to the Lord Jesus. But the bark of Peter was not to be long confined within Jewish waters. Insignificant as it seems to human views, the ship is now sailing on the high seas; it rides on the deep waters, which are, so St. John tells us, peoples and nations. The boisterous wind, the surging billows, the storm, no longer terrifies the boat-man of Lake Tiberias; for he knows that he has on board Him who is the Master of the waves, Him, that is, who has given the deep as a garment to clothe the earth. Endued with power from on high, Peter has cast his net, the apostolic preaching, all over the great Ocean; for it is large as is the world, and is to bring the sons of the great fish, the divine Icthus, to the eternal shore. Grand indeed is the work assigned to Peter. Though fellow-laborers have been joined to him in his divine enterprise, yet does he preside over them all as their undisputed head, as master of the ship where Jesus commands in person and directs all the operations to be done for the world’s salvation. Our today’s Gospel very opportunely prepares us for and sums up all the teachings included in the Feast of the Prince of the Apostles, which always comes close on the fourth Sunday after Pentecost. For that very reason, we leave for the Feast the detailed enumeration of the glories inherent in the Vicar of Christ; and limit ourselves, for the present, to the consideration of the other mysteries contained in the text before us.
The Evangelists have left us the account of two miraculous fishings made by the Apostles in presence of their divine Lord:—one of these is related by St. Luke, and the Church proposes it to our considerations for this Sunday; the other, with its exquisite symbolism, was put before us by the Beloved Disciple, on Easter Wednesday. The former of these, which took place while our Lord was still in the days of his mortal life, merely describes that the net was cast into the water just as it served the fisherman’s purpose; that it broke with the multitude of the draught, but no notice is taken, by the Evangelist, as to either the number or kind of the fish; in the second, it is our Risen Lord who tells the fishermen, his disciples, that it is to be on the right side of their boat that the net must be let down; it catches, and without breaking, a hundred and fifty great fishes; these are brought to the shore where Jesus was waiting for them, that he might join them with the myterious bread and fish that he himself had already got ready for his laborers. The Fathers are unanimous in the interpretation of these two fishings—they represent the Church; first of all, the Church as she now is, and next, as she is to be in eternity. As she now is, the Church is the multitude, without distinction between good and bad; but afterwards, that is, after the resurrection, the good alone with compose the Church, and their number will be forever fixed. The kingdom of heaven, says our Lord, is like to a net cast into the sea, and gathering together of all kind of fishes; which, when it was filled, they drew out, they chose out the good into vessels, but the bad they cast forth.
To speak with St. Augustine (Serm. 248-252, passim.), the fishers of men have cast forth their nets; they have taken the multitude of Christians which we see in wonderment; they have filled the two ships with them, the two peoples, Jew and Gentile. But what is this we are told? The multitude weighs down the ships, even to the risk of sinking them; it is what we witness now,—the pressing and mingled crowd of the Baptized is a burden to the Church. Many Christians there are who live badly; they are a trouble to, and keep back, the good. Worse than these, there are those who tear the nets by their schisms or their heresies; they are fish which are impatient of the yoke of unity, and will not come to the banquet of Christ; they are pleased with themselves. Under pretext that they cannot live with the bad, they break the net which kept them in the apostolic track, and they die far off the shore. In how many countries have they not thus broken the great net of salvation? The Donatists of Africa, the Arians in Egypt, Montanus in Phrygia, Manes in Persia; and since their times, how many others have excelled in the work of rupture! Let us not imitate their folly. If grace have made us holy, let us be patient with the bad, while living in this world’s waters. Let the sight of them drive us neither to live as they do, nor to leave the Church. The shore is not far off, where those on the right, or the good, will alone be permitted to land, and from which the wicked will be repulsed, and cast into the abyss.
In the Offertory, the Christian army sues for that light of faith, which alone can make it sure of victory; and this, because it tells where the enemy is, and what are his plans. For a servant of God who is thus enlightened, night has no dangers; the brightness of heaven’s beams keeps off from his eyes that fatal sleep which implies defeat and death.
Offertory Illumina oculos meos, ne unquam obdormiam in morte: nequando dicat inimicus meus: Prævalui adversus eum. Enlighten mine eyes, that I may never sleep in death; lest the enemy should ever say: I have prevailed over him.
The gifts offered on the altar for the all-mighty transformation of the Sacrifice, are a figure of the Faithful themselves. It is on this account that the Church prays, in the Secret, that our Lord would draw to himself our rebel wills, and change them, as he is about to do with these gifts. Let us remember, that of all the Fish that were in the mysterious net, those only, as the Fathers tell us, will be the elect of the eternal shores who “live in such wise as to deserve to be introduced, by the fisherman of the Church, to the banquet of Christ Jesus.”
Secret Oblationibus nostris, quæsumus Domine, placare susceptis: et ad te nostras etiam rebelles compelle propitius voluntates. Per Dominum. Receive our offerings, we beseech thee, O Lord, and be appeased thereby; and mercifully compel our rebel wills to yield unto thee. Through, etc. Second Secret Exaudi nos, Deus Salutaris noster: ut per hujus Sacramenti virtutem, a cunctis nos mentis et corporis hostibus tuearis, gratiam tribuens in præsenti, et gloriam in futuro. Graciously hear us, O God, our Savior; that, by virtue of this sacrament, thou mayest defend us from all enemies, of both soul and body; grant us grace in this life, and glory in the next.
The third Secret is left to the Priest’s own choie.
That God who enabled David’s weakness to triumph over the giant Philistine, gives himself to us in the sacred Mysteries. Let us sing the Psalm, from which the Communion-Anthem is taken: let us sing these few words in praise of his merciful power, which makes itself become ours by means of this adorable Sacrament.
Communion Dominus firmamentum meum, et refugium meum, et lberator meus; Deus meus, adjutor meus. The Lord is my support, and my refuge, and my deliverer: my God is my helper.
St. Augustine gives the name of Sacrament of Hope to the divine mystery wherein the Church daily proclaims and restores, here below, her social union. The real union, though at present it be veiled, of the Head and Members in the banquet of eternal Wisdom, is a pledge of the future glories of regenerate humanity, far exceeding that restless expectation of creation, of which the Apostle spoke to us in today’s Epistle. Let us pray, in the Postcommunion, that our defilements may be removed, an dmay not impede this holy Sacrament from producing its full effect in us;—for such is its virtue, that it is able to lead us to the consummate perfection of salvation.
Postcommunion Mysteria nos, Domine, quæsumus, sumpta purificent, et suo munere tueantur. Per Dominum. May the mysteries we have received both purify and defend us, by the gift they bestow. Through, &c. Second Postcommunion Mundet et muniat nos quæsumus, Domine, divini Sacramenti munus oblatum, et intercedente beata Virgine Dei Genetrice Maria, cum beato Joseph, cumque beatis Apostolis tuis Petro et Paulo, atque beato N. et omnibus Sanctis, a cunctis nos reddat et perversitatibus expiatos, et adversitatibus expeditos. May the oblation of this divine Sacrament, we beseech thee, O Lord, both cleanse and defend us; and by the intercession of Blessed Mary, the Virgin-Mother of God, of Blessed Joseph, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, of Blessed N. and of all the saints, free us from all sin, and deliver us from all adversity.
The third Postcommunion is left to the Priest’s own choice.
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)