The unusual times we live in should not surprise us by the changes demanded of us to be faithful to Christ under these different circumstances.
According to Archdiocesan regulations Masses may resume on Monday, May 25th, with certain cautionary steps taken to provide for the health and safety of Mass participants. To abide by recommended distancing it will require limiting gatherings in church to smaller groups, which in turn led Archbishop Schnurr and the other Bishops of Ohio to suspend for a time the Church practice of directing us all to Sunday Mass attendance and instead extend the days of fulfilling our Mass obligation to all the seven days of the week. In this way by spreading our Eucharistic gatherings over several days smaller groups (50-70 at the most at Saint Gabriel’s) could be accommodated more safely in our church buildings and everyone would have the opportunity to worship God at the Table of the Lord once a week. For example, as part of the precautions the church needs to be sanitized after each Mass and thus reduces the number of Masses that can be scheduled on a daily basis.
This will mean for most of us a shifting of our habitual Mass participation to a different day of the week out of loving concern for others.
Our Mass schedule at Saint Gabriel’s is being finalized and will be published shortly.
Lessons Learned in the Early Days about Unity in Worship
Before we leave our reflections on what is called The Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 let us take a second look at the way the Holy Spirit guided the early Church to preserve unity in the body of Christ for which Jesus prayed at the Last Supper.
The Church was heading toward a split into two groups — the Church in Jerusalem and the Church in Antioch. The Church in Jerusalem was made up mostly of Christians of Jewish origin; the Church at Antioch was a mixture of Christians of both Jewish origin and Greek speaking origin. The two cities had different cultures. In Jerusalem the milieu was mostly Jewish traditions, including the food in the shops was in our terms kosher; in Antioch the Greek (or pagan) practices were prevalent, e.g. some meat in the shops had come from pagan temple worship. So some Christians in Jerusalem ask why aren’t they like us and strictly follow Jewish law, e.g. eating “clean” foods and ritual circumcision. In Antioch and the north Peter and the other bringers of Good News ran into a different response to God’s activity, especially word and Spirit. The famous example was Peter’s encounter with God in the house of the Roman Centurion Cornelius (Acts 10). These people accepted the Gospel without going through what the Jewish Christians had experienced. Peter even remarked I see the same Holy Spirit in these people as in us (i.e.in us who were circumcised). How then could I refuse to baptize them — which he did. So the Christian community, even in Antioch, was breaking up into two groups and the antagonism was increasing. To solve the question a delegation was sent from Antioch to Jerusalem to meet with the Church there (considered the Mother Church).
In this meeting we have the spirit-filled leadership of the Apostles Peter and James as recorded in Acts 15. Peter recounts the situation mentioned above and out of it states something central to our belief — God works by inner faith in the name of Jesus Christ, not by certain rituals. Cornelius had the faith before he was baptized. The rituals express externally what is first within the person. Peter’s exact words were: God purified their hearts by faith [in response to the word of God]… we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they. Note it is the “Lord” Jesus. For him that is the risen Christ.
James uses the chronological approach. The Bible attributes the religious practice of circumcision to Abraham. Prior to Abraham we are told of Noah who disembarked from the Ark and God said: ‘I am now establishing my covenant with you and with your descendants to come, and with every living creature that was with you: birds, cattle and every wild animal with you; everything that came out of the ark, every living thing on earth. God sent his Son and raised him from the dead for the salvation of all mankind. God can choose whatever way he wishes to unite his creatures to his plan of salvation, even apart from certain Jewish practices. Along with Peter and James we see this happening through his gift of the Spirit.
The psalms (perhaps even composed before the editing and inclusion in the Bible of the Noah accounts) frequently sing of God saving the whole world. The Church chose such responsorial to follow the reading of Acts 15, e.g. Psalm 57 I will sing your praises among the nations; Psalm 100 Let all the earth cry out to God with joy. The Jews clearly saw themselves as blessed by God and so be instruments of salvation for the rest of mankind.
Now the final solution to the original question which the Council of Jerusalem presented is not one sided. There is something for the Christians of Jewish background and something for those of “Greek” culture. Both sides must practice mutual respect for unity sake — same for us today. The messenger dispatched from Jerusalem to Antioch carry a double message: 1) respect God’s gift of the Spirit in those who have not been circumcised because they too share in salvation; 2) respect ancient Jewish faith that puts the Father of Jesus first in everything — there is no other god, life comes from God and is sacred, the marital union symbolizes the covenant union between God and his people and is sacred as well. This is what is meant by believing in Father, Son and Spirit and accepting that gift of Christian faith according to our baptism.
United as Church we say: There is one Body, one Spirit, just as one hope is the goal of your calling by God. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, over all, through all and within all (Ephesians 4:4-6).
Great lesson from the past. Same for today.