Mercy Sunday Vigil Mass
National Shrine of St. John Paul II, Washington, D.C.
A. Eleven years ago tonight, on the eve of Mercy Sunday, St. John Paul II went “to the house of his heavenly Father”. There he encountered the Risen and Exalted Lord Jesus Christ in whose light our humanity, our dignity, and our destiny is fully revealed.
B. Now, in the joy of Easter, we gather as the family of the Knights of Columbus to dedicate the altar in this chapel resplendent with images of the Luminous Mysteries, a living legacy of St. John Paul II’s true devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In dedicating this altar, already hallowed by the relic of St. John Paul II’s blood, we focus first on the last of the Luminous Mysteries, namely, the Institution of the Eucharist, “the source and summit” of the Church’s life. It is this mystery, the Institution of the Eucharist that sheds its light on the other Luminous Mysteries depicted upon these walls, revealing their beauty as sources of divine mercy in our lives of faith.
II. My Lord and My God!
A. “The Eucharist”, Pope John Paul II wrote, “is a mystery of light” – for as we celebrate the Sacrifice of Christ offered once for all on Calvary and are nourished with his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, we encounter the One who is “the light of the world!” (John 8:12). Urged on by the prayers of St. John Paul II, we must open ourselves in faith to all that the Eucharist is and all that it means for our lives and for the Church!
B. Let us do so by first reflecting on the Liturgy of the Word through the lens of the disciples at Emmaus, depicted upon these walls. Walking toward that village, these disciples were joined by the Risen Lord, even though they did not yet recognize who it was that accompanied them. As they journeyed, Jesus opened their minds to the understanding of Scripture. He showed them how the Law and the Prophets all point to the Christ and to his saving Death and Resurrection. So too in every Mass, when the Scriptures are read, the Risen Lord speaks to us, seeking to open our minds to the understanding of Scripture, seeking to penetrate our souls with the light of his Word and to flood our hearts with mercy and peace the world cannot give. Thus are we prepared to recognize Jesus “in the breaking of bread” – to behold in faith the “Eucharistic face” of Jesus and in his light to see “the face of the Father of mercies!”
C. Let us turn now to the Liturgy of the Eucharist and to see it through the lens of the altar we are dedicating, an altar “founded” upon the teaching and witness of the Apostles. In the back of the altar where the celebrant stands is the figure of the Apostle Thomas putting his hand into the side of the Risen Christ, as described in today’s Gospel. As Thomas touched the body of the Risen Lord he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” What a reminder for me and for every priest who will celebrate Mass on this altar: that we must believe with every fiber of our being in the mystery of the Eucharist and that we must seek to engender a genuine Eucharistic faith in those we serve, – – coupled with deep gratitude for this gift in which the Body of Christ touches us and touches the wounds of our existence with healing and mercy. Like St. John Paul II, the relic of whose blood we lovingly venerate, all of us must allow Christ’s blood to comingle with ours, to course through our veins, so that one day we may fully partake in the Paschal Banquet of heaven, celebrated in the new and heavenly Jerusalem, also depicted upon these walls.
III. The Baptism of the Lord
In light of the Eucharist, we see the Lord’s Baptism, the first of the Luminous Mysteries, with new clarity and splendor. As the Incarnate Son of God took his place in the line of sinners awaiting purification, and then went down into the waters of the Jordan, he foreshadowed the baptism of the Cross he would undergo for us and our salvation. At his Baptism, Jesus is revealed as the Father’s well beloved Son and John recognizes him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Let us recognize in this sacred event the source of our own Baptism by which we share the mercies of the Risen Lord and through which gain admittance to the banquet of his Sacrifice.
IV. The Wedding Feast of Cana
Also in light of the Eucharist we glimpse another mystery of light, the Wedding Feast of Cana. The wedding feast of a young couple from Galilee, their names lost to history, becomes a sign, indeed the first of the Lord’s signs, by which, in the Holy Spirit, our minds and hearts are flooded with the light of faith. The Mother of Jesus mercifully intercedes with her Son for this couple whose wedding feast is about to be ruined because they are running out of wine. Jesus heeds her request and changes water into wine – – just as at every Mass, with Mary praying with us and for us, wine is changed into the blood of Christ. This is indeed the blood of the New Covenant, the life-giving marriage feast between Christ the Bridegroom and his Bride, the Church, the people he has redeemed by the Blood of his Cross. In the earthly liturgy, celebrated upon this altar, we partake by way of foretaste in the great wedding feast of heaven, celebrated in new and heavenly Jerusalem.
V. The Proclamation of the Kingdom
All around us are mosaics aglow with the words and deeds of Jesus as he went about proclaiming the Kingdom of God. So we see Jesus healing the paralytic in body, mind, and spirit, saying to him, “My child your sins are forgiven” (Mk. 2:5). So too we see Jesus kneeling before a woman caught in adultery, whom the self-righteous, in their hardness of heart are about to kill by stoning. On this Mercy Sunday, let us not overlook the mosaic of the parable of the Prodigal Son, the parable par excellence of the Father’s merciful love proclaimed by Jesus. We see also Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus drove the spirit of the evil one, encountering the Risen Lord in the Garden where he had been buried. He speaks her name as he points to his heavenly Father, just as Jesus speaks our name, calls us personally & points us to the Father of Mercies. How truly Pope Francis spoke when he said, “Jesus of Nazareth, by his words, actions, and his entire person, reveals the mercy of God” (MV, 1). May his kingdom of mercy take root in our souls as we proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes again.
VI. The Transfiguration
At length, we gaze upon the mosaic of the Transfiguration which elevates us to the heights of Tabor where the glory of the Christ is revealed in the presence of Peter, James, and John and in the company of Moses and Elijah. The humanity of Christ, his face, his flesh, become luminous with the glory he shared with his Father from all eternity, Jesus revealed his glory to his chosen Apostles and now to us so that we might have the courage to travel the Eucharistic way of the Cross, there to crucify our sins, there to nail them to the Tree, and thus to share ourselves, even now, in the glory of the Resurrection. In this way, our humanity becomes luminous with self-giving love, a living proclamation of “the glory of God shining on the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).
Dear friends, St. John Paul II truly loved our Order, the Knights of Columbus and through this Shrine and Chapel we express our love and devotion for His Holiness. This chapel glows with the mystery of light of Christ and soon the altar itself will glow as it is anointed with the oil of gladness and is consecrated for its inexpressibly sacred purpose. As this unfolds before our eyes of faith, let us unite in a single intention: that we and the entire family of the Knights of Columbus may be ever more luminous; that we may shine ever more brightly, ever more visibly, in the Church and in the world, in the goodness of our charity, the warmth of our fraternity, the strength of our unity. May the glory of the Lord shine brightly as we defend human life and dignity, promote the family, reach out in love to persecuted Christians, and continue the work of our founder in caring for “the needy and the outcast.” “Just so,” Jesus says to us, “your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Mt. 5:16).