The Catholic Church celebrates each of the twelve Apostles with an annual liturgical Feast. Some of the Apostles indeed have to double up. Saints Simon and Jude go together in October, and Saints Phillip and James in May. St. Matthias of course replaces Judas the betrayer. Here in Scotland St. Andrew, as Patron of the Country, is celebrated with a Solemnity. But Saints Peter and Paul stand out from all the others. Each has his own secondary Feast: the conversion of St. Paul on January 25th, and the Chair of St. Peter on February 22nd. Then today, 29th June: not only a Feast; not even only a Solemnity, but also - still! - a Holy Day of Obligation. So today, Catholics have to come to Mass, in order to celebrate Saints Peter and Paul. That’s a way of stating publicly that these two Saints, and also the Mass itself, have an essential place in our faith: they are cornerstones, pillars; permanent reference points; perennially fruitful sources for us of grace and blessing. Without them there is no Catholic Faith, and no Catholic Church.
Nowadays people often remark that they are spiritual, not religious. What they tend to mean is that they are not specially interested in Truth, but in what suits their feelings. They accept nothing externally imposed, either in belief or in practice. They reject with horror the very idea of obedience. As for morality: what they like to do, they consider licit; what they dislike other people doing, they consider forbidden. They are happy to get along agreeably enough with fellow travellers; but no strong bonds of communion are formed, or even allowed to exist, because in their view each person must be left free to go his own idiosyncratic way.
Au contraire: today we proclaim once again that what we believe is what we have received from the Apostles. We believe it on their authority, and with the obedience of faith. We are Catholics because of our continuing communion with the Apostles, and with their successors. For us, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Faith is an objective reality, and it’s worth dying for, as SS. Peter and Paul underwent martyrdom, sanctifying the Church and City of Rome forever by their blood.
So here we are now at Mass, in cheerful and willing obedience to the command of Jesus Christ, and of our Bishops, and of our own chosen Rule of life. We carry out this action, incidentally, in conformity with the liturgical laws established by the Church. We don’t make it up as we go along, in order to please ourselves, nor do we weigh its fruits according to how we feel. For we believe this is no mere human ritual. No: the Lord conferred authority on his Apostles, and they passed that on to their successors, with the result that this sacramental action is made efficacious by the power of the Holy Spirit, and its principal actor is Christ himself. So we come to Mass because it brings us to God, and it brings God to us. In every Mass Christ makes intercession for us. In every Mass Christ, both Head and Body, offers perfect worship to his Father. In every Mass we offer ourselves to God in union with his sacrificial death, and in return we receive Jesus Christ himself, under the sacramental signs.
35 years ago today two young men were ordained to the Priesthood in this Church. One is now our Abbot, the other, having been our Abbot, is now our Bishop. How many Masses have they celebrated since? I should say that both habitually celebrate daily. Perhaps on very rare occasions a day might have been missed, because of sickness or travel. Any such omissions, though, would be more than outweighed by the occasions when, for whatever reason, more than one Mass has been celebrated in a day. Calculating then an average of 365 Masses per year, minus one for Good Friday, but plus four because of Christmas and All Souls, and adding extra days for leap years, but ignoring other variables, I come to the sum of 12,891 Masses offered by each, or a joint sum of 25,782 Masses in total. Round about. Each Mass, we know, has infinite value; and that infinite value has been applied (round about) 25,782 times, as a result of that ceremony here, 35 years ago. Thank God!
And at each of those Masses, our two heroes have been exercising, at least analogously, the divinely conferred power of the keys of the Kingdom of heaven. They have been binding souls into the communion of the Church, and into communion with God. And they have been loosing sins, and setting free the working of the Holy Spirit in human hearts. The metaphorical gates barring us from the Kingdom of God have been flung open, and the no less metaphorical gates of the underworld have been shut up fast. And all the while our two Priests have been standing securely on the rock of the Church’s faith, and through their ministry they have led others to build on that rock, which can withstand every flood and blast that the world, the flesh and the devil choose to unleash against it.
I hesitate now to calculate how many times our two men have celebrated the divine Office over the past 35 years. Let us at least say: lots of times! And through it all, with SS. Peter and Paul, with the whole Church on earth and in heaven, they have been blessing, thanking, praising, worshipping God. They have blessed God because he is good, and because his mercy endures for ever (Ps 116, I Vespers). More specifically, they have blessed the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who as St. Paul says, has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph 1:3), or who, as St. Peter says, according to his great mercy, has begotten us again into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Today then is an occasion for us to thank God for all these gifts and blessings, with a Te Deum on our lips and in our hearts. And now we very consciously unite ourselves with our two beloved brethren. Through their Mass and ours, through the Divine Office, through the whole of life lived out in the communion of the Church, and especially through the whole Benedictine life, which incidentally continues on, even when obedience leads a monk outside his monastery: through all that, I say, may Christ may be honoured, and served, and proclaimed; may the Holy Spirit be powerfully present and active, for our salvation and sanctification; and may God in all things be glorified (1 Pt 4:11).