The Collect for today’s Mass makes quite a striking request. Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, it begins, semper in nobis paschale perfice sacramentum. Almighty everlasting God - perfice - perfect, bring to completion, fully accomplish- semper in nobis - in us always, the paschal mystery. What does it mean to perfect in us always the paschal mystery?
The Paschal Mystery is Christ’s dying and rising again; his passing from this world to the Father. It’s the mystery of the new Passover, which fulfils what the old one pointed towards. That is: Christ leads those who belong to him out of Egypt. He rescues us from servitude to the devil, draws us out of our enslavement to sin and to death, and he leads us into the freedom of the children of God. Perfect this mystery in us, then, we pray. Make complete, fully accomplish our belonging to, our identification with Jesus Christ our Lord. Conform our whole life to the pattern of his death and his resurrection. May Christ be so completely our life, that we walk constantly in his friendship, in his grace, in his truth. May the paschal sacrament, which is our baptism, have its full effect in us. That is, may we be entirely dead to sin, with all our sinful passions and desires truly crucified within us. May we walk no longer according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit (cf. Romans 8:4). Perfect our baptism in us, we pray, so that we live constantly, even now in this life, as citizens of heaven. May we live worthily as Temples of the Holy Spirit, consecrated to God’s service, equipped to give him glory, in union with all the Angels and Saints. May our lives too be a constant intercession for the Church and the world, for those we love, for those in need, for all who suffer or are oppressed. And may all this be the case “always”; so that we never step aside from God’s presence; so that we truly pray without ceasing; so that sin has no foothold whatever in our hearts.
The prayer of today’s Mass goes on: Ut, quos sacro baptismate dignatus es renovare - so that those you were pleased to make new in Holy Baptism. The newness of our Baptism is like the newness of the New Testament, or the newness of the new Commandment: it never fades, never becomes weary, never fails to give new life. So as Christians we sang from Psalm 97 in our Introit today: Cantate Domino canticum novum - Sing to the Lord a new song! The well spring of this newness is the Holy Spirit. As living water within us He impels us ever forward: towards God, towards heaven, towards perfection. In His power we can do astonishing things. We can love, forgive, hope, be patient, pray, give thanks, intercede, bear effective witness. But also, alas, we know that for all sorts of reasons we can block Him off, turn aside, and fail to draw from this source as we should. So we read in Acts today how the Christians in Pisidian Antioch received a visit from Paul and Barnabas. They needed that, in order to have fresh heart put into them, to receive encouragement to persevere in the faith; to be reminded that it’s through many hardships that we enter the Kingdom of God (cf. Acts 14:22). May we ourselves never lack such encouragement, and may we be ever ready to offer it to others who are struggling in their faith!
Ut, quos sacro baptismate dignatus es renovare, sub tuae protectionis auxilio - so that those you were pleased to make new in Holy Baptism may, under the help of your protection. Our prayer reminds us here that God never abandons us. Whatever life serves up to us, whether it be cause of joy or of sorrow, we know that we are not alone, and that Divine Providence never ceases to guide us. At one time God’s protection gives us healing, encouragement, happiness; at another it leads us to share in Christ’s Cross, and ultimately in his saving death. Whichever way we are led, God remains within us, around us, beside us, before us, over us. In every circumstance God guides us, loves us; and draws us ever more closely towards himself.
Ut, quos sacro baptismate dignatus es renovare, sub tuae protectionis auxilio multos fructus afferant - so that those you were pleased to make new in Holy Baptism may, under the help of your protection, bear much fruit. The Christian has to be with Christ the grain of wheat that falls into the ground and dies, in order to bear much fruit (Jn 12:24). He has to be as a branch united with the Vine, which is pruned in order to bear ever more fruit, for God’s glory (Jn 15:8). We could define this fruit simply as loving according to the measure of Christ’s own love (Jn 13:34). From this will come other fruits: all the virtues; good works; holiness, and also apostolic fruits, whereby the salvation we ourselves have received is communicated or mediated to others.
But what’s it all ultimately for? Our prayer ends: Ut ... ad aeternae vitae gaudia pervenire concedas - so that we may come to the joys of eternal life. As Christians, the whole of our life on this earth is directed towards heaven. Far from dreading that, we eagerly look forward to it. Today’s reading from the Apocalypse offers an image for heaven: a holy City, coming down from God, all beautiful like a bride dressed for her husband (Apoc 21:2). A bride eagerly looks forward to her marriage, because then at last the two who love each other will belong to each other definitively; they will live together, and they hope also to have children together. But any earthly couple know that their marriage will also have its trials and difficulties. By contrast, Heaven won’t have any. It will be far better than earth in every way. There we will live always with God. But also there we will all be perfectly beautiful; truly worthy to be loved by him. In heaven not only will all tears be wiped away, but also all sins, all defects of character, all bad habits of mind and body.
Externally a Christian need be no different from anyone else. Temporal and political issues certainly have their importance for us; but we know that everything in this world will pass away. So we may, just incidentally, be pro-Brexit, or anti-Brexit, as we think fit. But we certainly won’t let such relative trivialities divide us from our fellow Christians. What alone is supremely important is our faith in Jesus Christ, and our hope in him, and our love for him. Therefore we come to Mass on Sundays. Here we express and nourish our faith. Here we strengthen and renew our life in Christ. And here we participate in the communion of the Church: in anticipation of our communion with her forever in heaven.