Lectionary Readings: Ex 20:1-3, 7-8, 12-17 (shorter) / Ps 19 / 1Cor 1:18, 22-25 / Jn 2:13-25
At the end of last week’s Gospel, we read, “As they [Jesus, Peter, James and John] were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.” (Mk 9:9-10) I think the Peter, James and John finally received the answer that they were looking for in today’s Gospel “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (Jn 2:19) Jesus at the of last Sunday’s Gospel and this week’s Gospel foretells of His death and resurrection.
I think we have heard much about the resurrection of Jesus, however, I wish to reflect on overarching theme in today’s Lectionary readings, and that is the nature of Sunday. There is a question I sometimes get from friends and colleagues, “Why does Lent start on a Wednesday with Ash Wednesday? Why not the first Sunday of Lent so that more people will have the opportunity to receive ashes?” Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting and abstinence. If we remember what the forty days of Lent consists of, it excludes the six Sundays of Lent, because every Sunday we celebrate the resurrection of Our Lord, Jesus Christ and thus, each Sunday, even those of the Season of Lent are “Easter Sundays.” Therefore, we do not observer fasting and abstinence on these joyful days, and thus, we begin Lent with fasting and abstinence, and have ashes imposed on our heads on a Wednesday.
In the first reading from the book of Exodus today, we hear of the class Ten Commandments. I remember having to memorize them in Vietnamese for First Communion Catechism class… almost every Vietnamese Catholic child had to have the Ten Commandments memorized and the children would be able to repeat them like a parrot by the time of their first confession. Back in the time of the Old Testament, in recognizing only One God (Ex 20:2), the people were commanded to, “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.” (20:8) When God chose His own people, out of the seven days of the week, one day, the Sabbath was set aside for the Lord, and for the Work of God, for prayer and worship. With Christ’s resurrection on the first day of the week, Christians now observe a new Sabbath. St. John Paul II stated in his apostolic letter, Dies Domini, “there emerged a unique connection between the Resurrection and Creation…This link invited an understanding of the Resurrection as the beginning of a new creation, the first fruits of which is the glorious Christ…” (DD 24) The eighth day after Sabbath starts a new week, and thus, “it symbolizes the new creation ushered in by Christ’s Resurrection.” (CCC 2174)
It is with this understanding, that Sunday, the day of resurrection, renewal of all things in Christ, that we gather every Sunday at our churches to celebrate the celebration of the Eucharist, the Sacred Liturgy. “The Sunday celebration of the Lord’s Day and his Eucharist is at the heart of the Church’s life.” (CCC 2177) We gather in our churches, gather as the people of God, the mystical body of Christ, the mystical body which can never be destroyed. Therefore, we show special respect to the churches, though built of bricks and mortar, they are consecrated to God for the sole purpose of prayer and worship, built for the glory of God and His Church. St. Peter reminds us in his epistle, “like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1Pet 2:5) The beauty of our churches show the importance of what takes place in it. It is there that the people of the resurrection gather to “proclaim [Christ’s] death and profess [His] resurrection until He comes again,” and it is there that Christ truly becomes present among His people in Word and Sacrament.
It is a pity, though, when restrictions of such low capacities such as that in Toronto, even when retail stores will open at 25% capacity on Monday, our churches are still capped at a 10-person capacity. As indicated in a letter dated March 5, 2021 from Thomas Cardinal Collins, Archbishop of Toronto indicated, “Next week, a funeral at St. Michael’s Cathedral (capacity 1,500) will be capped at 10 people, while around the corner dozens can enter the local liquor store and thousands will visit the Eaton Centre. This makes no sense.” Here in Toronto, we have been going without the Mass for several months, from Advent, Christmas, Ordinary Time (I) and now Lent without the Sacred Liturgy. I myself must still continue to utilize livestreamed Masses and it is not the same – watching in livestreamed Mass is in no way a replacement of in-person Sunday Mass. With Holy Week coming in less than a month, the Archbishop of Toronto is striving his best and calling on the faithful to petition their provincial members of parliament and premier Doug Ford to allow for a higher capacity in our places of worship.
I pray that churches will be open soon so that Catholics may be able to actively participate in the most important work of Sunday, that is, to take part in the celebration of the Eucharist. How beautiful if the government of Ontario will allow Toronto to have modest liturgical celebrations at 30% capacity, or even at a 30-50 people. The 10-person limit is simply unreasonable. While we must care for our neighbour, the government must take reasonable approaches, and the ones I see now, with 25% retail store capacity versus a 10-person cap in our churches is unreasonable. We have been a year without Holy Week, the highest point of the liturgical year, and provided the circumstances, a Holy Week this year will give us great hope, and something to look to during these days of the Lenten season.
On that note, let us look at ourselves and examine our attitude towards Sunday, the day of the Lord’s resurrection. Do we observe the Lord’s Day? Do we truly live in the spirit of the Lord’s Day?