Fr. Patrick Fitzgerald-Lombard, O.Carm., is parish priest of the parish of St. Thomas of Canterbury, Mayfield, Sussex. He is a member of the Aylesford Community. Today, Fr. Patrick is reflecting on the readings from yesterday's Mass. Please read Fr Patrick's introduction on these reflections before carrying on:
From this Sunday, we are once again following the Gospel of Mark. For the past five Sundays, the Gospel has been a presentation of Jesus as the Bread of Life from the Gospel of John. Back in 1970 when the Lectionary was drawn up it may have seemed a good opportunity to read that Discourse once the feeding of the crowd had been reached in Mark’s story. Yet such is the arrangement of the Lectionary the result is that the Gospel of John appears in bits and pieces during the year and there is no sense of that Gospel as the complete story which it is.
We are now picking up the story of the Gospel of Mark from the feeding of the crowd by Jesus. This was followed by a boat trip with Jesus coming to the disciples walking on the water. This concludes with a note about the hardened hearts of the disciples. By contrast, after landing, Jesus and his disciples are faced with the enthusiasm of the crowd for Jesus the healer.
Our Gospel this Sunday then presents an interlude before Jesus leaves for the Gentile lands around Tyre and Sidon. The interlude prepares for this journey with two themes, tradition and purity. The Pharisees ask Jesus a question about purity. Jesus then criticises their attitude towards tradition before he speaks in a different way about purity to the crowds and then to his disciples. With the accompanying reading from the book of Deuteronomy, the emphasis this Sunday will be on the role of tradition. Jesus’ teaching about purity in the second part of the Gospel is also an important theme today in a society where standards have fallen. This part of the reading has been trimmed and the change of audience from crowd to disciples is not made clear. Indeed, we can note this Sunday the tendency of the editors to omit anything which is difficult (Jesus’ example to the Pharisees about Corban) or unpleasant (the mention of toilets when speaking to the disciples). What Jesus says to the crowds and disciples though takes a much freer approach to issues of purity than that of the Pharisees and their lawyer friends from Jerusalem with which the reading begins.
The emphasis this Sunday is therefore about tradition; the word occurs six times. The context is set with the reading from the book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy means “second law” and is probably a later edition of the law founds in the earlier books. Evident throughout Deuteronomy is always choice, and the choice of life is found in the observance of the laws and customs taught in the book. Keep the commandments and add nothing to them is the point today so the world may see that no other people are as wise and prudent as this great nation. Law is life giving, but that is not law in an Anglo Saxon sense, rules which have to be kept. The Hebrew Torah translated “law” is far more flexible than that. It is teaching, guidelines for a way of life, a behaviour which gives life to both individual and community. The passage we hear today follows on from a lengthy presentation of the history of Israel, of all that God has done for his people. Now it is for us to respond. (There something similar last Sunday with the reading from the book of Joshua. The people committed themselves to serving God having had recalled their memory of God’s guidance and protection.)
In due course, Law does become a law, a fixed set of rules. That is almost inevitable. The Pharisees for example in their scrupulous seeking to obey the law had extended to all people customs only intended for the priests. The great emphasis on the washing of hands explained at the beginning of the Gospel was such an extension. In the process, a healthy concern for purity had become rigid and no longer life giving, tradition had become fixed. So Jesus seizes the underlying point and points to the double standards of the Pharisees and uses a Scripture quote against them, taken from the prophet Isaiah. On that basis, he is able to challenge the Pharisees and us with his distinction between the commandments given by God and the way they can become human traditions.
That awareness of tradition always presents a challenge to the Church itself. As an institution, the Church is also a very human organisation. As such it is easy to become fixed in its ways and unable to respond to the needs of the times. The Church is heir to a 2,000 year tradition of living the Good News of Jesus and witnessing it to the world. That is a tradition firmly based in Scripture, it is the two together with the magisterium which enables the Church to be constantly a Church of reform and renewal. That was indeed the purpose of the Second Vatican Council which after four years produced a vision for the Church pointing it towards the future. The traditions of the Church of the counter reformation needed review and to be revitalised so that the Church could continue in mission in the world of today. The new vision largely came from looking from the whole history of the Church, especially its early centuries.
As we know there has been much resistance to this change, a clinging on to the Church of the recent past. This has been expressed above all by those who continue to celebrate Mass according to the missal of 1962, the final revision of the Tridentine 1570 Missal. In line with the vision of the 2nd Vatican Council, the missal was overhauled in 1970 with its latest revision that of 2008. The Tablet I find uses a lot of confusing language: New Rite, Latin Mass, Extraordinary Form and so on. The choice is a choice of Missal and that choice expresses an understanding about the Church and its traditions.
Important as well is the emphasis Pope Francis places on tradition is his recent document:
Guardians of the tradition, the bishops in communion with the Bishop of Rome constitute the visible principle and foundation of the unity of their particular Churches. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, through the proclamation of the Gospel and by means of the celebration of the Eucharist, they govern the particular Churches entrusted to them.