The liturgy is the primary catechism of our church. ( Second Vatican Council, SC 2) The liturgy’s more important than any church document, or theologian, or devotion, or church council. It’s more important than going to a university or taking an online course in theology. The liturgy is the daily bread that feeds and nourishes faith.
Lent and easter are especially important times in the liturgy for feeding and nourishing faith, for those entering our church and those already baptized.
The Old and New Testament readings for this 1st week of Lent offer a complete catechism on prayer, for example. The gift of prayer is like rain and snow come down from heaven, the Prophet Isaiah says, completing Jesus’ teaching on the Our Father. (Tuesday)
Thursday’s reading from Ezekiel says that the wicked can become good and the good can become wicked. As we come before God’s altar we all know weakness. “The Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” ( Pope Francis) We’re all weak. We all pray for mercy.
Wednesday’s Old Testament reading from the Book of Esther is a timely reminder that prayer can save a whole people. Prayer’s not limited to ourselves and our own needs. Prayer can change society. It can change the fortunes of people. It can prevent genocide. It can change the situation in the Ukraine.
A lot of people question that.
Queen Esther was a very beautiful Jewish girl chosen for the harem of a Babylonian king, but she was changed by the threatened extinction of her people. She prayed for them and worked to save them.The Jews celebrate Esther in their Feast of Purim, celebrated in late February to March.
Our Old Testament reading this Wednesday recalls, not her clever way to get into the king’s graces, but Esther’s prayer. She prostrated herself on the ground for a whole day and pleaded with God in her nothingness.
The Christian peoples of eastern Europe and Russia have a great devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Most of the icons of Mary they honor, like Our Lady of Czestochowa and Our Lady of Vladimir are associated with wars when Mary saved their lands. The Ukrainians have an icon in Liev, in Western Ukraine, closely associated with Fatima and the conversion of Russia, their powerful eastern neighbor.
Icons like that of Our Lady of Vladimir (above) picture the tenderness between the Christ Child and his mother as their cheeks press together. Tenderness is the grace God must give to the world, lest it fall into hatred and violence. It’s a grace we need today. So lacking today.
Interestingly, according to the Book of Esther it’s the grace felt by the Babylonian king when he received her into his court.
I was looking recently through a New York Times’ section explaining the situation in the Ukraine to children. Lesson plans for teachers. Nothing about religion.
How can we understand what we see in the Ukraine without recognizing religion and the questions religion asks?
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, prayer for us sinners, now and and the hour of our death. Amen.